Comic Book Extras

There are a lot of ways Marvel/DC/Image/Dark Horse could use their Websites to give comic book readers more “plus value” and, boy, could they ever use it. If Joe Quesada or Dan Didio ever read this piece I imagine they’d plead poverty; they couldn’t possibly afford to “give away” their backlist or bear the expense of building the kind of Websites I’m talking about. But then this has always been an industry that has always been done on the cheap; when you can make a profit by doing almost nothing there’s precious little incentive to make an effort.

While most everyone in this industry seems to casually accept the axiom “the product sells itself” we all know it does not. We sell the product and I think we could sell more of it if the customer got more for their money. I mean, wouldn’t it be gratifying if after reading (not to play favorites) a Marvel comic you could go online and receive exclusive material? Like…

During that long, painful Civil War hiatus would it have been nice if Marvel had prepared some side stories focusing on individual characters or expanding on a scene from the current issue (with footnotes in the comic informing you the only place to see this material was the Marvel Website)? And of course the extra material could later be collected for the inevitable hardcover and trade paperbacks – making them even more attractive to the reader who’s been buying the individual issues.

DVDs have commentaries and making of shorts, sneak peaks, etc.; this is the kind of material comic book companies already give away for free to fan magazines and news sites to publicize their product. But what if their Websites gave fans an all access backstage pass to their creation? Looks at original scripts, unlinked pages, and first crack at interviews with creators, exclusive first looks at upcoming products, etc.

And what about original online material? Conventional wisdom acknowledges it’s hard to sell anything but super-heroes to an audience which primarily wants super-heroes, leaving companies like Marvel with lots of characters that’ll never see the light of day again. What better way to utilize these vacant intellectual properties inexpensively than putting them online. Why couldn’t Marvel every month put up on its Website an eight pager featuring some forgotten character from a genre that wouldn’t be cost effective in print?

I’m talking post-modern takes on The Two-Gun Kid, Ziggy Pig & Silly Seal, Patsy Walker, Creatures on the Loose (to me it’s nothing less than amazing that in a Yu-Gi-Oh saturated world Marvel has apparently never tried to exploit its vast library of creatures as collectible card game system/animated series/line of action figures), etc. Let’s not forget we’ve seen formerly web exclusive characters like PRINCESS NATASHA move onto to other venues.

I just checked the Dark Horse Website and I see they’re still selling copies of their Bonelli books; part of an attempt from the late 90s to bring over Italian comic book characters like Dylan Dog and Nathan Never. They released them in nice little paperbacks, giving the reader 96 black and white pages for only $4.95. Great characters, great stories and a great bargain, but they were also a great failure. Americans weren’t familiar with the characters and so the non-pamphlet format (this being before manga ruled the earth) didn’t seem like much of a deal. And the line died a quiet death.

Of course now the sensible thing to do would be to let readers become familiar with them via the Internet by putting up some of the material online. Sure nobody would make any money up front, but the material already exists, Bonelli would have another chance for their characters to ‘break the States’ and Dark Horse could test material they could later collect.

Their Websites would be a perfect place to conduct some test marketing. It’s no secret I strongly disapprove of the content of a lot of modern super-hero comics while the publishers smugly insist they’re just giving the fans what they want. But of course the truth is that neither of us “knows,” so wouldn’t it be nice if in copies of Marvels Flipbooks there were some kind of incentive to get their newsstand (grocery/drug/book store would be more accurate but I suppose we’re stuck with this anachronistic term) readers to fill out an online questionnaire?

You could make the prize an exclusive online comic done by top creators that could only be accessed after the questionnaire had been filled out. Or, hey, here’s a radical idea; why not give away a couple of those Activision Marvel Alliance games they’re shilling so hard on the Marvel Website? Surely the publishing arm must receive at least a couple of comps.

One More Thing. My favorite part of reading Anita Blake Vampire Hunter #1 was the full page ad announcing Marvel was going to be printing the Dabel Bros. translated version of the European graphic novel series XIII. The next thing you know they’ll be publishing American versions of Spirou and Blake & Mortimer.