The future of the Newsarama Front Page

<p>Sometimes the stories happening outside the pages of comic books are as interesting as what goes on in their fictional confines. Newsarama knows it first-hand in its covering of the industry over the years. In the past twelve months we’ve seen big news, big sales, big surprises and some big mistakes happen, and it’s come from all corners of the industry. 2014 finds the comics industry at a time of flux; between the changing dynamic of digital and print to the pressures and rewards outside media adaptations have done to comics itself, there are numerous things pushing and pulling on the fabric of the comic industry. <p>Although Newsarama doesn’t have any fortune tellers on staff, we have put our heads together to come up with the top 10 events that we foresee happening that will do much to shape the course of comics in the future. Some are specific to characters, while others follow the business of publishers and the idea of formats. In some cases there’s larger issues outside of comics that continue to make a sizable effect on the comics you read every week. We’ve narrowed it down to 10 potential events, along with a few what ifs that you should bear in mind.

The Return of Weekly Comics

The de facto release schedule for comics is monthly, but publishers have at various times been quicker (and slower) in those releases. After a sharp increase in bi-weekly releases at Marvel in 2013, in 2014 DC plans to bring back one of its more popular release schedules with weekly comics. Currently there are two weekly comics planned -- <I>Batman: Eternal</I> and <I>The New 52: Future’s End</I> -- and possibly more in the works. Marvel hasn’t announced any new weekly series, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if something – even just a weekly miniseries – might be in the works. <p>For a fan, the idea a new issue every week engenders a chase to keep up with the series – something fans would enjoy. But that’s if the concept and the earlier issues warrant the interest overall. Also, if there’s any bumps on the road some fans might back away from the weekly buying schedule and instead choose to wait to buy the issues in bulk, or wait for the eventual trade. <p>For brick and mortar retailers, the allure of a new issue of a top selling series coming out every week is an appealing notion as it encourages customers to visit their stores on a weekly basis rather than on a more prolonged schedule. But it only works when it’s a high-selling title – if the books have a low sell-through rate, then the newest issues will cast a shadow over earlier ones, which would be just a week or two old, creating an epic pile-up on their limited comic book shelves. <p>For publishers however, doing a weekly comic series is a logistical mess. Essentially, a weekly comic series is four monthly books, but with the added complication that the issues mustn’t deviate from their release schedule (or order) and that it means you have, at minimum, two or three writers and four to five artists working simultaneously to keep up with the schedule. When you factor in inkers, colorists, letterers, production staff and editors, one weekly book for any publisher essentially employs a full-time crew of more than a dozen people – larger than the size of some smaller publishers entirely. All that going on <I>and</I> you have to keep the book’s sales high to justify this large expenditure and structure. <p>Another added factor we have in these upcoming weekly comics we didn’t have during Marvel and DC’s previous weekly comics is the digital storefront. Since both publishers are on a same day digital-and-print release schedules, it opens doors for high sales if interest by casual fans is attracted. Also, the publishers might also consider some aggressive sales to get readers “in the door” so to speak, but as always it must be careful not to raise the ire of their still primary customers – the brick and mortar retailers.

Vertigo at a Crossroads

It’s important to be known as much for what you’re doing now as what you did in the past. But as we enter 2014, DC’s Vertigo imprint is at an awkward transition between what they were and what they might become. It’s flagship series <I>Fables</I> is counting down to an ending in early 2015, and the return of an earlier flagship -- <I>Sandman: Overture</I> -- is experiencing significant delays and at the end of the day is only a limited series. With a history of greatness from <I>Sandman</I> to <I>Preacher</I> to <I>Fables</I> and most everything in-between, what will Vertigo look like at the end of 2014? <p>As it sits currently, <I>American Vampire</I> is shaping up to take the place of <I>Fables</I> as the line’s default flagship, although the upcoming relaunch of <I>The Unwritten</I> could potentially vie for that top spot. Vertigo has launched several new series in the past few months, but none have seemed to capture audiences (yet) the way previous big sellers at Vertigo have. The return of <I>100 Bullets</I> in the form of the <I>Brother Lono</I> series has failed to light fires at least in terms of single issue sales, and the recent adoption of <I>Astro City</I> hasn’t captured the high sales and interest it did during its Wildstorm incarnation. <p>And with the impending move of DC’s offices to California, Vertigo is bound to lose some of its staffers. Rumors abound about Group Editor Will Dennis and editor Mark Doyle will be declining an invite out west, leaving a sizeable hole in the Vertigo staffing pool. 2014 looks to be very a much a rebuilding year for DC’s innovative mature readers imprint – but it seems at the mercy of DC higher-ups if they have the funding, the desire and the drive shore up the imprint’s foundation for the future ahead.

How Big Could Crowd-Funding Be For Comics Publishers?

Since it’s launch in 2009, Kickstarter has been an invaluable part of many would-be comic series, graphic novels and comics creators. But in 2013 we saw two publishers – Top Cow and Fantagraphics – go to crowd-funding route to raise funds to publish their works. Historically publishers are looked at as the ones responsible for the capital to publish books, but this decision -- and the resulting successes – have opened the door for even more. <p>In November, Fantagraphics raised $222,327 dollars to publish 39 graphic novels and assorted comic projects. It was done due to an unexpected loss of income from the death of one of its founders, but what if it were to again go to Kickstarter to essentially get an advance on its summer catalog? And what if other publishers, due to lack of capital or possibly just to fund a new initiative, turn to Kickstarter or some other crowd-funding method? This is pure speculation – but imagine if Image Comics wanted to launch a line of creator-owned digital comics and wanted to crowd-fund it? Or what if a new publisher came onto the scene with a high-profile editor/publisher or even creator, and wanted to trade in on their popularity to raise funds to establish their new venture? <p>Two years ago it would be hard to imagine a major publisher like Fantagraphics going to crowd-funding – and doing so successfully – so with that imaginary situation a reality, what’s next?

Image Expanding Beyond Expectations With Expo & More

On January 9th, Image Comics’ will once again hold a company convention/ pep rally for its books and to announce its slate of new titles coming in 2014 and beyond. Although not the first publisher to do a company convention, Image Expo has reinvented the idea and turned it into a small-scale event a la tech giant Apple’s new product announcements. <p>It’s a broader sign of Image beginning to operate less as the 3rd largest comic company behind Marvel and DC but instead acting as the largest bastion of original creator-owned comics in America. In the past three years, the Eric Stephenson-led company has done much to brand itself with its creators and in stark difference to the Big Two. It’s also been the recipient of many formerly exclusive Big Two creators wanting to get into creator-owned works, from Grant Morrison and Bryan Hitch, to Rick Remender, Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen and numerous others. That, with the continued success of Robert Kirkman and Mark Millar’s works inside (and outside) comics, has led to some explosively growth for the publisher that is quietly approaching, percentage-wise, to the size of the company during its launch in the early 1990s.

Marvel Cosmic – The Publisher’s Next Frontier?

In recent years, Marvel has steadily been re-developing it’s exploration of space with the return of several ongoing series -- <I>Nova</I> and <I>Guardians of the Galaxy</I> -- and specifically nourishing interstellar threats in its normally more Earth-bound titles. Cosmic titles aren’t new for Marvel, but in the past they’ve sometimes been regarded as an oddity for the publisher given that the common Marvel formula is a mixture of mundane reality and superhuman powers. But with these coordinated pushes – and the upcoming release of the <I>Guardians of the Galaxy</I> movie – Marvel hopes to be turning its “cosmic” titles into an informal fourth family of titles, alongside the Avengers/Marvel Heroes, X-Men and Spider-Man groups. <p>The <I>Guardians of the Galaxy</I> movie has a lot to prove. In some ways it can be compared to the risky proposition the 2008 <I>Iron Man</I> movie had before its release. At the time it was considered a superhero with marginal public awareness, but the boldness and creativity of the performance turned it from an underdog to being the point man for Marvel’s movie success. The Guardians of the Galaxy’s public recognition is nearly non-existent; Marvel has made some positive steps at fixing that by featuring the team prominently in its animated shows and video games, but it’s still realistically several levels below Iron Man before his movie success. But given the <I>huge</I> wave of support the Marvel brand has for its movies, it could work well with a virtually unknown project to create an overnight success – even though it’s been decades in the making. <p>Going back to the comics themselves, Marvel has positioned <I>Guardians of the Galaxy</I> and <I>Nova</I> well with high profile creative teams and strong concepts. In 2014 don’t be surprised if Marvel announces a third – and possibly forth – ongoing series set entirely in space. And that’s without counting Jim Starlin’s <I>Thanos: The Infinity Revelation</I> and the already-announced space-based arcs of high profile series like <I>All-New X-Men</I> and others. And of course an announced sequel to the <I>Guardians of the Galaxy</I> movie should it prove successful.

DC Turns MAN OF STEEL & ARROW’s Success Into A Multi-Faceted Movie/TV Mega-Franchise

It’s easy to contract DC and Marvel’s movie strategies and ask that one mimic the other, but in the case of DC’s movie/tv plans for 2014 and beyond it wouldn’t hurt for Warner Bros. to look towards DC’s distinguished competition for ideas on broader box office sales beyond just one or two franchise. <p>2015’s <I>Man of Steel</I> sequel is already primed to launch modern versions of Batman and Wonder Woman which could launch both into their own movies, but it’s easily conceivable that Warner Bros. could greenlight other DC Comics’ to get a shot at solo stardom. They don’t need to rush a <I>Justice League</I> movie just yet, but that could be a destination to plan for once they firm up their foundation beyond just the <I>Man of Steel</I> franchise. <p>DC and Warner Bros. has always been strong on the television front, and with the success of <I>Arrow</I> they’ve got three other live-action series in the works. While not all of them could pan out, even if only one succeeded it could do much for DC’s bottom line and further broaden their reach. On the animated side things seem to be in flux between the animated movies and series such as <I>Beware The Batman</I>, but they have a talented roster of artists and directors and arguably the most well-known family of characters that make it just one release away from getting their house in order.

DC Ditches NYC for Burbank

It won’t be complete until 2015, DC Comics is already busy working on their relocation of DC Comics from their Manhattan offices to Warner Bros.’ headquarters in the Los Angeles’ suburb of Burbank. <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/19425-dc-comics-moving-to-burbank-to-join-dc-entertainment.html>Announced in late October</A>, the long-rumored move will see DC Entertainment’s comic division from New York City where it’s had history going all the way back to 1934. Although DC Comics’ will be uprooting itself for sunny California, there are reports that numerous staff members, including some prominent editors, will not be making the move with the company. With New York City being the hub of comics going all the way back to the early 1900s, when complete this will be the end of an era. <p>Although the “New 52” in 2011 was seen as a turning over of a new leaf for the Warner Bros.-company, internally this enormous move will also change the office culture inside the walls at DC. It’s a chance for Diane Nelson and the Warner Bros. parent company to literally rebuilt DC Comics’ from the ground up, making room for the ideas, initiatives and staff that fit its modern vision while using the relocation to stop any efforts outside of its long-term plan. <p>As stated, expect significant staffing changes as the transition occurs, both with popular editors and executives leaving as well as the effect of new hires of staffers based in California (or willing to relocate). It’s possible that comics staff based at other California companies like Boom!, IDW, and elsewhere might be prepping their resumes, as well as other individuals from the broader entertainment spectrum. Who knows – you might even see a subconscious Wildstorm reunion as the former company-turned-DC imprint was among the first to be based in California, and alums from that 1990s company have gone on to found and work in numerous other companies. <p>It’s also important to consider this as a re-alignment as of DC as a publishing company (whose industry is largely based in NYC), to a Hollywood-leaning multimedia company which obviously is based in California. The real question for fans though is how will it change the comics? With both Metropolis and Gotham City being fictional versions of New York City itself, could we see the rise of a new (or retrofitted) fictional city with its own heroes in its place?

Room At The Table For A New Major Publisher

Carrying on a thread from the previous entry in this countdown, the massive staffing changes that will result from the DC move will also flood the hiring market for well-trained comic book editors and executives. This, combined with the already obvious free agent status of alums such as Vertigo founder Karen Berger and recently retired Marvel editor Ralph Macchio open the door for a well-financed visionary to be able to have their choice in top talent to staff an upstart new company. <p>We’ve already seen an portent of things to come; just last month mega-video game company Take Two Interactive hired former Marvel publisher Bill Jemas to launch a seemingly robust comics company. Legendary did it two years ago when it hired esteemed editor Bob Schreck away from IDW. It’s conceivable that Take Two or Legendary could hire DC alums (as well as others) to help staff up his burgeoning new enterprise, but we could also see other well-financed parties similar to Take Two do the same. Here’s some speculation: imagine Hollywood producing outfit the Weinstein Company giving Karen Berger the bankroll to go create a modern-day Vertigo? With her sizable rolodex and the strong relationships she has with many of today’s top talent, she’s a key figure. <p>And you can’t leave creators out of this equation. With the quiet decline in the number of exclusive contracts being offered by the Big Two, there are a number of top writers and artists available for the right vision and the right price. <p>Imagine a situation similar to the rise of Crossgen in the late 1990s. Despite its final fate, many of the same kind of pieces are play on the comics industry chessboard – but now with even more money due to the strength of the comics market and the Hollywood money so closely associated with it. Could it happen? Should it happen? Let’s wait and see.

Something Completely Unexpected

Surprises can be a good thing, or they can be a bad thing. There were a number of events which occurred in 2013 that we didn’t know to point out when we did this countdown last year, and there’s no reason why 2014 won’t hold similar curveballs coming out way. These could be game-changing initiatives within the industry, the surprise faltering of a top company, or even the surprise success of something ala <I>The Walking Dead</I>. <p>There are a number of interesting (and sometimes alarming) scenarios that could happen. If you rule out the expected and the probable and leave your mind to imagine “What If?”, numerous things come up. <p>What if Marvel decides, as rumored, to pull out of ComiXology and become the exclusive digital distributor of its comics? In 1994 they attempted that for the direct market, but that didn’t turn out to well for them. <p>What if there’s an unexpected price increase? In 2011 there was a lot of talk about price increases to $3.99 for many of Marvel and DC’s top books. You might think it’s too soon to talk about another increase, but with the changing economics of comics we could see the Big Two – and other publishers – experimenting with larger price points for premium content or digital/print combinations. <p>What if Disney ends Dark Horse’s 23-year long continuous license of <I>Star Wars</I> comics? Marvel is seemingly waiting in the wings for that possibility to happen, and would be a major change for both publishers. While it’s not a certainty, it’s a Sword of Damocles hanging above Dark Horse’s head that they themselves can do nothing to dissipate. <p>What if Disney buys another major character library? They bought Lucasfilm for <I>Star Wars</I>, and they bought Marvel for its intellectual properties. Although Disney has stated it’s not looking to make any other major moves – if they were, would they advertise the fact and show their hand? Or imagine if another outside party similar to Disney did so with another company or group of intellectual properties? <p>There’s many questions we don’t have answers for – but the question remains… What if?

The Return of Peter Parker

It’s not a question of if, but when. <p>In comics death has lost much of the finality that it has in real life, but in that realization fans have come to embrace a hero’s inevitable return similar to Norse mythology’s cycles of death and rebirth. But we’re not talking about Thor here, but Spider-Man – Peter Parker. And while the adventures of Otto Octavius in the body of Peter Parker as Spider-Man in <I>Superior Spider-Man</I> have been some of the most compelling and cliffhanger-filled issues that franchise has seen in years, it’s also propelled fans to miss, need and want new Peter Parker stories now more than any time before. As big a story as the death of Spider-Man was in December 2012, the bigger story is his eventual return. And as big a fan of Peter Parker as Dan Slott is, it’s hard to conceive that he didn’t have a plan to bring Peter Park before he wrote his “death” in 2012. <p>In this summer’s <I>Amazing Spider-Man 2</I> movie you’ll definitely see Peter Parker, and the countdown to that release is definitely a countdown inside the offices of Marvel Comics to an ideal time and place to bring about the return of Aunt May’s baby boy. Marvel would be leaving money on the table and expectations out to dry if new Parker stories weren’t available coinciding with May 2 release. Marvel’s smarter than that, as is Spidey scribe Dan Slott. What that means for Spidey/Ock remains to be seen, however. The face-off between the <I>Superior</I> and the <I>Amazing</I> Spider-Men would be inevitable, but the whereabouts of Otto after that are up for grabs. Is there room for more than one Spider-Man in the 616?

10 to Watch for 2014: Comic Book INDUSTRY Events

Date: 03 January 2014 Time: 08:00 PM ET