Grotesque Anatomy
Friday, September 19, 2003
  JLA/AVENGERS: Does Joe Blow Care?
Noticed this morning that Dirk Deppey linked to my comments on Michael Hutchison's comments on the order figures for JLA/AVENGERS #1. I'd just like to clarify that I have no insider contact on the matter either; I'm just speculating away. And as reader HS emailed to tell me, my speculations may be way off: It could be we're not seeing mainstream coverage of JLA/AVENGERS simply because the mainstream media aren't interested in the "event":
I read your 200k snippet, and although your argument seems well-founded, it makes a major assumption: That all comics are interesting to mainstream media. The reason Sandman got so much mainstream coverage was likely because the writer is well-known among the mainstream/book media. The first thing editors think about when deciding what to cover is how meaningful the topic will be to their readers; in most cases these are the Average Joe. Although JLA and Avengers are familiar to us, they’re not to the average person. That puts one strike against it. If it were Superman vs. Spider-Man, it would likely be a different story. So, yes, Marvel’s old maxim—it’s the characters that matter—still holds true. These characters collectively as a team don’t matter to the people reading or writing for mainstream press. The only exception: If something groundbreaking happened in the arc, ie. A major DC or Marvel character were killed or a major character were to permanently change universes (imagine if Batman stayed in the Marvel universe).

The other strike against it is that it’s a comic. Again, like the topic, the format isn’t something that is widely embraced by the average person. Right now, comics are considered a niche form of entertainment/publishing. Only recently has Entertainment Weekly begun reviewing comics (and video games) on a regular basis. That’s a huge step toward comics becoming an accepted form of mainstream entertainment. Yes, the occasional comic gets reviewed in something like USA Today, but they’re not dedicating ongoing space to them. Until comics make up a significant (or at least noticeable) portion of the entertainment industries enormous revenues and shake the perception that they’re read by geeks of all ages, they will continue to be the ugly stepchild who only gets to come out for the occasional debutante's ball. It’s much the problem that video games faced several years ago. No one outside the enthusiast publications wanted to cover games. However, the high-profile launches of consoles and the open endorsement from celebs like Justin Timberlake and Julia Roberts changed that, and the perception of the industry. Comics need something similar to spark media’s ongoing interest.

Finally, consider that the demographic for a publication like USA Today is women, age 25-54. Yes, CNN and Forbes are more targeted to men, but likely not the men who are reading comics. Again, the topic needs to be appealing in some way to the reader, and the people in the demographics for these publications aren’t going to care about JLA/Avengers.

So, it’s likely that Marvel/DC did try to get coverage, but they were turned away at the door by the press. It’s just not news. At least until someone famous says they’re reading it.

These are all good points, but of course I have some thoughts in response:

I don't know if my assumption was so much that all comics are interesting to mainstream media as it was that this particular comic should be interesting to mainstream media. Though perhaps even that assumption is flawed. As HS points out, the titles "JLA" and "Avengers" aren't likely to mean much to the average Joe or Jane. Although there's a cartoon version of JLA on Cartoon Network, it goes by the name "Justice League." And "Avengers" probably still brings to mind that crappy movie remake with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes. I think any mainstream coverage of JLA/AVENGERS would have to focus on the individual Big Names (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) rather than the teams. As Michael Hutchison wrote in his original piece: "The general public loves these characters, which is why their movies do so well. Superman wielding Thor's hammer and Captain America's shield is something even the public at large thinks is cool." It's still a big assumption, yes, (does the general public know who Thor is, much less what his hammer looks like?) but I figure it couldn't hurt to try.

As for comics' continued status as the ugly red-headed stepchild of entertainment, I don't know how to gauge comic books' current public perception. I'm sure the notion that "comics are for kids" is still widespread (even though most modern comics aren't for kids anymore (exception: manga)), but I also feel as though the mainstream media covers comics much more frequently than it ever has before. Perhaps my perception is due to the fact that I'm more aware of the coverage—I read the online comics sites, so I see the links to all the stories on comics. Maybe mainstream coverage of comics isn't as common or pervasive as I think.

And if HS is reading this, I'd like her to clarify one point. You wrote: "The other strike against it is that it’s a comic. Again, like the topic, the format isn’t something that is widely embraced by the average person." Were you referring to the format of the "floppy," i.e., individual issues of a comic; or were you referring to the general "format" of comics overall (i.e., comics as a medium)? If the former, what do you think about my suggestion that Marvel and DC market the collected edition of JLA/AVENGERS? Do you think casual readers will be more comfortable with a format that more closely resembles "real" books? If the latter, I guess all I could offer in response is the general trend of graphic novels being a growth market in mainstream bookstores and comic shops alike. Although I honestly don't know how much of those sales are for "capes & tights" comics. From everything I read, it seems as though manga are the real powerhouse in graphic novel sales.

I can imagine a scenario where Marvel and/or DC approached the mainstream media with this story and they said "Eh, thanks, but we'll pass. We're more interested in this Sandman book." I believe I've read accounts online where fans wondered why certain series or "events" weren't promoted in mainstream publications, and the answer given was, "We tried, but they weren't interested." However, given the fact that Marvel and DC aren't even advertising JLA/AVENGERS on their own sites, it also seems likely that they're simply not marketing it very aggressively. Perhaps because it would require a coordinated effort between the two rivals?

Thanks to HS for writing (I'm hereby starting the official campaign to get her to write her own blog), and to Dirk Deppey for linking my comments within his larger (and more interesting) entry about sales of Sandman: Endless Nights and other stuff in the direct market. If you haven't read his piece yet, do so now. It's a great read as usual, tying together a number of interesting threads in a fresh and cohesive manner. 

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