Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Treat Your Art Like An Investment

The success of Guardians (See Guardians Zoom to $94 Million Dollar Weekend) and the ongoing success of the Avengers franchise in mainstream entertainment creates a ripple effect reaching into the comics and other media. Guardians is getting a TV series (See Marvel Announces New Guardians Series). Staple Avengers characters are getting diversity makeovers (See On the New female Thor and a Black Captain America). Other Avengers characters are getting high profile spin off comics (Loki, Hawkeye and Black Widow). As the public perception of these properties rise, Marvel is putting more energy into them.

Meanwhile, other properties are getting less attention. From where I’m sitting, franchises like the X-Men are losing currency in the comic book universe. While the X franchise still has a large percentage of the books coming out every month, they are being marginalized from a story perspective. They’re not the focus of many of the tentpole events of the past few years (Secret Invasion, Civil War, Siege, etc.) and there was a major storyline killing off most of the mutants in the Marvel Universe and sending the rest of them to live on an isolated island. To top it all off, the major event of this summer is killing off Wolverine. The X-Men have been the best selling and most popular franchise for the past twenty years of Marvel Comics. All that might be changing now.


I think part of the reason has to do with lack of control and lower revenue. Marvel has far greater control of the Avengers and Guardians characters than they do with X-Men. The X-Men film license is held by Fox (and the Spider-Man license is held by Sony in a co-production agreement). Those licenses were created when Marvel had very little leverage because of their recent bankruptcy. The revenue from those movies and their associated merchandise programs, helped put the company in a position to make films like Iron Man and Captain America, but deals that made sense then aren’t as attractive now.

The X-Men and Spider-Man deals are still making money for Marvel. But from a business standpoint, it makes more sense to focus on the characters who generate more money. Changing focus means some characters get more attention, while others get less. This thinking explains part of the reason for the shift (See Marvel Shorting X-Men Due to Fox Deal)

Marvel’s strategic creative choices offer useful guidance for emerging and independent creators both inside and outside of comics. When you strip away all the fanfare, details and nuances of each tactical move, the basic idea can be expressed in three parts.

1) See your stories and characters as investments of your skill, time, energy and passion
2) Take the long view of your stories and characters when considering their business potential
3) Focus your energy on those projects that fit with your long term goals

I could be wrong about the direction of X-Men comics. This transfer of focus could be a temporary move designed to reinvigorate the franchise or regain complete control if and when the film license expires. Either way writers and artist can learn the concepts of artistic investment by watching the way the big boys play.

Have fun.

Monday, August 4, 2014

What Message Should You Take from the GoG Success?

At this point, the internet is saturated with reaction from the monster opening weekend of Guardians of the Galaxy (See Guardians Sets New August Record). Some see this as a new plateau in the golden age of comic book movies (See Films Based on Comics are Serious Business). Others assume saturation is just around the corner. Either one of those perspectives could be accurate. In certain ways, they’re probably both right. But as writers and artists, what should you take away from the breakout success of the latest Marvel film?

Answer: You never know which property is going to be successful and you never know when.

Consider the doubt many people expressed leading up to the release of GoG (See Guardians Will Be a Flop). A film based on a group of unknown characters created in 1969 and only loosely linked to the Avengers franchise didn’t have the established mainstream fan base widespread support of Spider-Man, Batman or even Hulk. I think quite a few people saw the “inevitable” failure of GoG as the beginning of the end of the comics based movie era, especially in the light of disappointments like Green Lantern, Amazing Spider-Man 2 and The Wolverine. But when an obscure property makes $94,000,000 in its first four days of release, people take notice. When a film opens as a historic success, as part of a string of top grossing film and merchandise campaigns, the potential of comic based entertainment can’t be ignored.

All this means you can’t afford to ignore the legal status of your property either.

  • Yes you might be working on your first self-published book.
  • Yes, you might still be looking for a creator owned deal.
  • Yes, the vast majority of comics will not become movies or TV series or anything else.
  • Yes, it might take decades before Hollywood (or in the future Amazon, Netflix or its successors) stumbled upon your little book.

Even if all of this is true, can you afford to be cut off from ownership and potential future earnings? In his new book Words for Pictures, Bendis suggests you treat your story like it’s going to be the next big thing when it comes to dealing with your contract. It might be optimistic to the point of being delusional, but it is still sound advice for anyone in comics, even if your book doesn’t have a talking raccoon character.

Have fun.