With DC and Marvel both re-visiting past concepts and characters this spring in Secret Wars and Convergence, comic book retailers hope publishers approach the events strategically.
What do retailers think would be strategic? The list isn't as long as you'd think. Newsarama wrote to retailers across the country to find out their thoughts about DC and Marvel's upcoming spring events, and what advice they'd give the publishers as they plan their Convergence and Secret Wars.
What resulted is some friendly advice for publishers and hopes for their events:
Release Pertinent Collections
With so many old stories being highlighted in Convergence and Secret Wars, there's a potential for significant trade paperback sales, according to the retailers we contacted.
"Anytime something old comes into play, retailers have a chance to make old stock very applicable," said Jermaine Exum, general manager at Acme Comics in Greensboro, N.C. "Many things are out of print for one reason or another. Ideally there would be some sort of paperback available with content specific to each idea in play that retailers could present."
Christina Blanche, co-owner of Alter Ego Comics in Muncie, Ind., said comic fans like learning more about the history of the characters they read about, and these events feed into that idea.
"There's always a nostalgia factor attached to comics. People know their first comic, the first time they read about this character or that event, things like that," she said. "I think with all the movies and television shows coming out and all the Easter Eggs they are throwing in, there is a real 'want' from readers to know more about the earlier storylines and characters."
Impact the Monthlies
Some of the retailers we contacted were concerned that the events are being seen as "fill-ins" instead of must-readers.
Cliff Biggers, owner of Dr. No's Comics & Games SuperStore in Marietta, Ga., said the more impact events have on the regular monthly line, the better their sales usually are. "If these events actually have lasting impacts on the two comics universes, then they'll do more for sales," Bigger said. "If they're just isolated event story lines, they won’t have a lot of impact."
The retailer is particularly worried about Convergence, because it seems the least connected to the regular line — and the entire DC line is taking a break. "All the regular books are going on hiatus, so readers are being offered a jumping off point that could impact sales further down the line," Biggers said. "Thus far, it's being promoted as a two-month fill-in."
"The events will only help sales after the event if they lead into a new status quo the way previous epics like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Civil War did," said Carr D'Angelo, owner of two Earth-2 Comics locations in Southern California. "We really don't know how the Marvel event is going to be scheduled, but the question about the DC event in terms of sales is: will the Convergence books sell as well as the books they are replacing that month? Batman is a best-selling book and it's a little nerve-racking to go two months without those guaranteed sales. Anything that breaks the monthly habit for our customers is going to raise concern. Fortunately, DC has always been inventive about mitigating the risk on these new launches."
Exum said customers are hoping — and even expecting — some of the "old" characters from Convergence to stick around. And although there are loyal New 52 readers, he believes DC is hoping to recapture some of the readers the company lost after the reboot.
"There is a consistent hope and expectation that characters, ideas, and even costumes will bleed back into the New 52," the retailer said. "Anything is possible, but I don't know how likely that is, as DC probably wants to stick to their guns. Hopefully they are willing to be flexible if it means returned readers."
If the New 52 goes back to business as usual, some retailers think it could be detrimental. "Unless this event is going to remedy some of the reader concerns about the separation of the New 52 and the classic DCU, these books aren't going to be perceived as must-reads," Biggers said.
Take a Break After the Event
While retailers like seeing excitement from readers, they also see a lot of confusion because events never seem to stop.
Charlie Harris, owner and operator of Charlie's Comic Books in Tucson, Ariz., pointed out that "Marvel tends to move on to the next thing" too quickly.
"Marvel is more guilty of this than DC," agreed Adam Casey, manager at Ssalesfish Comics in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Some customers don't bother reading the last few issues of the current event because marketing for the next event spoils the ending. We often see sales fall on the later issues of a crossover/event book because through the next event's marketing the readers often know how the story ends and at $5 an issue, why should they stick around to find out they were right?"
"We usually see a spike [in sales during events], but there's the reality that people only have so much money to spend on anything, including comic books," Blanch said. "Sometimes people have to drop other series to get the event books. We'll just have to wait and see."
Make Ordering Easier
Events won't work in the Direct Market if retailers can't effectively order the events, and so far, retailers don't know enough yet about Secret Wars and Convergence to even guess what the numbers will be.
"We've seen a lot of teasers without enough specific supporting info," Biggers said. "[We] haven't seen enough to determine if the concepts are going to boost sales or frustrate readers who simply want to follow their favorite characters."
Yet Casey pointed out that events are often tough to order even when retailers know a lot about the story. "These kind of events are somewhat impossible for retailers to order effectively. What numbers do you base an order on?" he said. " The current sales of a similar title? Or hypothetical sales? Will Superman wearing red panties again cause more or less people to pick it up? Do fans still care about Fall of the Mutants?"
Mixed Reactions to Approach
Retailers aren't surprised the two major superhero publishers are doing similar stories in the spring, but some of them question the approach taken by one company or the other — and whether they're relying too much on nostalgia.
"[Building other, past worlds into the DCU] seems a logical progression with the way DC has been 'world building' for the past three years, to build their alternate worlds now that Earth One and Two have been so methodically introduced," Harris said. "I think that DC has been carefully planning everything since the beginning of New 52. After three decades of selling comics, I'm at a loss as to what the hell Marvel is doing beyond confusing the few readers they haven't alienated or lost altogether."
But Blanch said she's hearing mixed reviews about Convergence. "I have heard two totally different opinions," the retailer said of the DC event. "Several people have said they need to change the title to 'Just take my money, DC,' while others are confused as to what they are doing since they seem to be rewinding the characters back to Pre-New 52. There is a lot of confusion about this.
"For Secret Wars," Blanch continued, "I think people are a little confused as to what is going on. However, that said, after Original Sin, which I wasn't sure about, I am giving Marvel some leeway. I thought that would be just another event and it was amazing. I absolutely enjoyed everything about it, and our sales increased almost every week due to that event."
Exum said he believes Convergence "is specifically designed to attempt to bring back fans displaced by the New 52 line-wide initiative three or so years ago."
"This event will let those readers know that 'their' stories and characters are still out there and are accessible, though New 52 is the main universe regularly being visited," he said. "The goal is to get anyone who picks up Convergence to sample something New 52, although I'm not sure what threads from the event will connect to monthly series. I have no idea how New 52 fans with no history with DC beyond that will react to this story."
D'Angelo agrees, but he hopes the fans who come back will stick around. "Bringing together different versions of major characters from different timelines and parallel worlds is always a great way to get the readers interested, and I'm sure the hope is to lure back some fans of those old storylines," he said.
New With the Old
D'Angelo said he understands the publishers' business motivation to utilize all the characters and concepts within their brand — even those from past storylines. But he wonders if publishers are testing these "other" timelines for future, new stories.
"Marvel announced the event with a series of logos and it has been their habit to look for ways to re-spin successful events," the retailer said. "Almost every Marvel event has been followed by a 'What if?' version of that event a few months later.
"DC seems to be responding to the fans who still ask questions about the pre-New 52 universes and characters," he added. "Maybe this is a test-run to see if the market will support series set in these different timelines."
Casey said he hopes the trend toward nostalgia won't make comics stagnant — and that both publishers will utilize these events to point readers toward fresh, new concepts.
"[Rehashing old storylines too much] is a bit unfortunate in the long term," Casey said. "Mainstream superhero comics have long-running continuities, so obviously there are unresolved plot lines, call backs to previous stories, and new information about past events.
"While nostalgia sells, it's not a long-term model for growing business," he said. "New characters and telling fresh stories are the keys to success."