Editor’s note: DC Comics President Paul Levitz returns for his second post here on Blog@Newsarama to answer some of the questions he received last week.
There’s no way to answer everybody’s questions and still do my day job, and I trust the collective web will understand if I skip the questions that ask us to plead guilty before we can answer, as well as ones that touch on relationships with specific creators in ways that I can’t possibly answer fully in a public forum. (And thanks to all of you who offered up kind personal remarks in your posts.) Given that I was writing about graphic novels, I tried to cull the related questions to follow up:
* Many of you raised questions about why specific series are or aren’t available in collections: Alexander asked after Mike Grell’s Green Arrow run, wondering if the more “mature” material was the issue…bjooks wondered why we changed our mind about the DeMatteis/Giffen/McGuire Justice League…Brian Davison wondered why ‘80s series are being overlooked and asked if trade take too long after the hardcovers…Sroman asked about Amethyst…and Laura G seems to have summed it up with “What is DC’s policy on collecting currently ongoing series?”
There’s no one size fits all answer to this, but I’ll try to give you a sense of how it works. Way out in advance (I think we’re in Spring 2009 now) we rough out how many titles we think we can publish in a season, divided by the different formats and imprints or major characters. It’s a guess of what the market will be willing to absorb, how much staff time we’ll have available to do them, and other, fuzzier factors. Some of the spots are pretty obvious (next volumes of successful series, launch volumes of new series we have high hopes for, etc.), and then we look at a list of suggestions for the remaining spots in each category. Obviously as the graphic novel business has gotten better we’ve been able to try more projects and more formats (hence Marc and Keith’s JL) but we still can’t do everything. We’re able to do most everything from Vertigo now, and most of the major current DCU titles (WildStorm works similarly, but Jim guides that process). Some runs have passionate advocates but don’t make the cut, others, probably equally worthy, just slip through the cracks. If you want your voice heard on this, post on our boards, which the guys check regularly.
On the trades following hardcovers question, we used to simply wait until the hardcover sold out or we thought its potential sale had run out. That doesn’t work as we’ve needed to match the systems of the bookstore distribution channel, so now we have to pick a specific date long before publication, usually 6 months to a year later. You’ll be able to predict better, but the odds of our running out (or having extra hardcovers to burn) go up.
* Greg Thompson asked: “Why does Vertigo print on such crappy paper? The comics would look 50 times better on paper a step above what I line my birdcage with.” And more warmly, Michael vanGriethuysen inquired, “How is it decided on what type of paper to use in a hardcover collection?” And Luke H wanted to know my personal paper preference.
The biggest factor in paper choices is always cost, of course, especially at a time like this when paper prices are literally going up every month or so. There’s no easy way to know if readers would be happy paying more for a better paper on a given book, so we guess—looking at the paper used for the original periodical, the style of the art and coloring, and the economics of the volume. There was a particularly loud debate on this on the Kirby Fourth World Omnibus series, where we felt the work was best served by a better modern equivalent of the newsprint Jack prepared the art for originally.
My personal preference over the years was Baxter or Rebax 45#, a nice matte white paper with no show through. I’ve never been a big fan of glossy paper for comics, except ones with painted art or super-saturated color palettes. The best thing about paper lately is that VP-Manufacturing (and paper wizard) Allison Gill found us a recycled paper we could use for some titles, and we launched with Jack of Fables #19.
* Dirk Deppy asked which do you think will be selling better five years from now: Jeff Smith’s Bone, or Jeff Smith’s Shazam?
I thought Jeff did the best take on Shazam! of anyone in years, but Bone is a work of art and passion in a uniquely personal voice. I think it’ll be a classic of the field for a generation.
* John Smith and Con ask if the high price is turning off new readers.
Certainly not for graphic novels, where we’re getting new readers at a very fast pace and research indicates the price range (generally) feels appropriate for the customers. Harder to tell for the periodicals, since the way they’re created and sold means that we ask a new reader to commit to a lot very early on—weekly visits to a comic shop, multiple titles of characters and crossovers, and the like—but those factors are also part of what makes the experience of comics so exciting.
* Scott and Lightning and chemicals wanted thoughts on the Humanoids deal and the market for European material in American comic and book stores.
I wish it had worked better, and hope Marvel does better with the Soleil deal. There’s so much great European material that I wish would succeed more here. I’ve loved Asterix since I was in high school, and never could figure out why it couldn’t do 1/10 as well here as it does in Europe. (But then I love puns enough that I count Murphy Anderson as a dear friend…)
* Johnny Blaze asked how do sales (both single issues and TPB) contribute to determining which books stay and which go (i.e. Exterminators).
We try to look at the combine profitability. Transmetropolitan was the first periodical that we were losing money on where the profits from a successful trade paperback series made the difference in keeping the periodical going some years ago, and now that’s not an unusual pattern, at least for Vertigo. Over on the DCU side, for the most part our successful collected editions are almost always collections of reasonably successful periodicals.
* Rob S wanted to know about the revamp of the Archives series.
I think the details have all been announced in various places, but the essence is that in recent years the Archives sales have slowed down as we’ve gotten most of the key issues in print, and fans interested in older material have been overwhelmed by the choice of good stuff available. It’s been almost 20 years since the Archives began, and the world has changed. When I was in fandom, I could fit all the books about or reprinting classic comic books on a single bookshelf and have room left over. Now, happily, you can fill a room with them.
So we’re taking a few steps to revitalize and change the program: increasing the discount available to retailers who buy them on a non-returnable basis, offering up some of our existing inventory as promotional copies. narrowing the number of new volumes per year, and taking advantage of the changes in scanning technology to go to versions of the original pages that are more direct scans rather than reconstructed ones that were intended to recreate the original color process (think the material in our Chronicle Plastic Man history rather than in Plastic Man Archives).
Filling in the gap, we’re adding more high end hardcovers of classic DC material, but selected for significant runs or stories rather than with the completeness of the Archives. The Len & Berni Swamp Thing hardcover that Bill requested will be coming as part of this line.