Monday, September 12, 2005

Oh, The Possibilities

I know we've been teasing with this "King" thing, but it truly is an initiative that will help everyone's future in comics. You'll understand more of course when we can truly begin to talk about it.
-- Joe Quesada at Newsarama

How many posts can I get out of the last "Joe Fridays"? It looks like at least two.

On the off chance that this isn't hucksterism of the "internet cracking" variety, what could Joey DaQ be talking about? Marvel teased an image with the word "King", and this will somehow help everyone's future in comics? Rumors and clues have started to leak, and all signs point to Stephen King writing for Marvel. But how is one writer an "initiative"?

Stephen King has already done some interesting things in publishing by trading off the strength of his name - the serializations of The Green Mile and the Dark Tower both come to mind. These were experiments in publishing that were only greenlit off the strength of King's name. He was so massively popular that his books would sell even in unusual formats. So imagine a series of graphic novels penned by King, published in a tankubon-like format (like the new Sin City reprints). In that format, with good marketing and distribution, when those get released they would go straight to the front display table at your local Borders or Barnes & Noble. Right? This would even hit Target and WalMart. Though it's a comic, and though King's name isn't what it was ... a new King is a new King.

However, this means eschewing the Direct Market and aiming a OGN missile straight at the heart of "The Mainstream". If this gets serialized as a comic .... it's just another comic. Stephen King writing a comic book won't be that big. From distribution outlets to exorbidant cost to sheer unfamiliarity with monthly releases ... it'll just be another comic book, cannibalizing the die-hard without increasing the fanbase. Perhaps there will be a slight uptick from the King die-hards, but Marvel won't be tapping into the airplane reader that makes up the bulk of his sales. Once the eventual trade paperback comes out, it'll go straight to the back of the store in the tiny shelf next to the manga aisles. It's release in "floppies" would dilute the punch of a release, and keep it off those front display tables, and therefore off the bestseller lists.

I can't see many other ways a rumored Stephen King signing would "help everyone's future in comics". Though comics continues it's climb to the mainstream, Chris Ware is one thing ... Stephen King another. If Marvel plays it's cards right, this could be something special ... or it could be "just another comic book". We'll see.


Brian in Munich said...

I don't understand how the comic being released in singles will affect the display of the trade. If people completely ignore the DM comic stores, even for a Stephen King comic, then the trade should be treated like a new book upon its release.

I do agree with you about the formatting, though. Something a little smaller will penetrate newsstands more easily than a full-size trade. I think it could be an interesting option a year or two after the inevitable hardcover is released.

Mark Fossen said...

I think that if it's originally released in "floppy" format, the book industry buzz goes from "the new Stephen King Novel" to "a reprint of his comics side-project". It will still be shelved, but with only a fraction of the buzz.

Jeffrey said...

But didn't Joe Quesada say it didn't make financial sense to release graphic novels?

Brian in Munich said...

I don't think that the book industry buzz and the comic industry buzz are necessarily the same things.

A publisher could promote Stephen King singles to the DM mentioning a coming hard-cover collection.

The usual suspects in the DM would buy the singles, with maybe the die hard King fans coming into comic stores. A second promotional push could easily be made for the collection in book stores. I don't think that comic singles would cannabalize the book sales very much (because of the size of the direct market), and with planning, it could even be used to promote the collection.

I could see sales tactics like, "Stephen King's currently doing a comics series that we'll have in hardcover in June."

I know that's counter intuitive, but I've seen these sorts of tactics used to ramp up the German-Language edition of Harry Potter. Stores display the original editions prominently, but always with the translation's release date in the display. People will often end up buying both editions.

As long as a King collection was promoted to bookstore customers as a new product, I don't think that single sales in the direct market would matter. This would require some agreesive promotion on the part of Marvel before a collections release, but since most bookstores don't carry single comic issues, I'm inclined to believe they'd treat a King collection as a new release.

Mark Fossen said...

"inevitable hardcover"
"financial sense to release graphic novels"
... It's that kind of "business as usual" that I would want to avoid. "Business as usual" won't "help everyone's future in comics".

Though I worked in book retailing for a few years, I'm no expert. It's just a feeling I have that a "business as usual" trade collection would not generate near the level of buzz as an original release. It certainly wouldn't be showing up at Target, WalMart, supermarkets, airport newsstands and the like. A new King novel (even if it included pictures) might.

Brian in Munich said...

New King novels are always first published in a format that's expensive and rarely appears in supermarkets or newstands. His new novels are always first published as hardcovers. This doesn't affect the sales of his paperbacks, even though those merely reprint old material. Bookstores don't chuck new Stephen King paperbacks in the back just because they've lost the buzz of being first released.

Effectively promoting this project could result in very nice sales in the direct market and the bookstore market in two or three different formats. I don't have faith in Marvel pulling that off, but that has far more to do with effective promotion that the book's format.

Mark Fossen said...

"New King novels are always first published in a format that's expensive and rarely appears in supermarkets or newstands. "
Not The Green Mile, which appeared as a monthly series of mass-market paperback novellas.

I thought that some others had appeared in paperback first, but my research isn't turning up any confirmation of that.

But with at least The Green Mile, King's name proved enough to change the way business is usually done.