I Can’t Believe My Favorite Book Got Cancelled!

This week we got the news that Atlas – the freshly re-launched Marvel series about a band of 50s do-gooders brought into the modern era – has been cancelled as of Issue #5. This isn’t the first time a Marvel series has suffered a quick exit in recent memory:

  • S.W.O.R.D. cancelled after the first arc
  • The Order cancelled after 10 issues
  • Doctor Voodoo cancelled after an arc
  • Captain Britain & MI-13 cancelled after 15 issues
In each of these cases, the books were (in my opinion) well written, deviated from the normal formula that’s so commonplace in mainstream superhero comics, and were beautifully illustrated. And in each case the sales just weren’t there to support the book.
Gabriel Hardman Avengers vs. Agents of Atlas 1 (Wood's page)Atlas is a title near and dear to my heart, and it’s my love for that band of characters that led to my becoming friends with Gabriel Hardman (the artist on Atlas) and friendly with Jeff Parker (the brilliant writer). I loved this series. I own several pages of original art from Atlas-related books (yes, this page is hanging on the wall of my comic room). This is a series I didn’t want to see cancelled. But I wasn’t surprised to hear that it was. 
But no matter what the sales of a book may (or may not) be, chances are it’s a favorite of SOME group of comic book fans. And we fans have armed ourselves with voices. So when the news hit that Atlas was done after just one arc, it didn’t take a lot of work to find angry Tweets and disappointed forum posters and the requisite lamentations of podcasters. So the perception might be, to some, that these books had a stronger base of support than they really did. But here’s the thing folks (WARNING: I am about to put my “SUIT” mode on)…money talks. It’s perfectly natural to want to blame someone because your favorite books got the ax too soon, but if the sales aren’t there (and they weren’t in the aforementioned titles), it just doesn’t make sense to continue.
But what you rarely see is a writer willing to come right out and speak to the economic realities of a mainstream book. That’s why I need to tip my cap to Jeff who not only made the decision to end Atlas (yes, he wasn’t forced into it by the Marvel higher ups), but spoke to Comics Alliance about his rationale.

Jeff Parker (JP): Me neither, so I might as well rip the bandaid off now. I'm killing "Atlas" at issue 5.
Comics Alliance (CA): Oh no!
JP: Yeah. So there, haters who predicted we'd go down- you win! Don't you feel great and wise? But at least it was me who went out back and shot Lenny while he looked for bunnies, not Marvel.
CA: So what brought this on?
JP: Well first, maybe we should embed an audio file for mood. I'd suggest "Parting of the Sensory" by Modest Mouse. 
Anyway, our orders for ATLAS 1 started off in the low 20ks, which isn't surprising because a lot of things are coming in low right now, and we've always been on the fringe. Atlas has actually always sold better than a lot of books that get to go on much longer- a good bit of DC's line. But the Marvel danger zone is 20k more or less, and since books tend to trend downward, that always sets off alarms. I know some people think I try to cram them in everywhere, but that's really more editors suggesting it, and me usually agreeing. I brought up at least four different characters for "Deadpool Team Up" that were shot down before I finally said "uh… Gorilla Man?" and got greenlit. And that issue has ordered really well, so that makes me think Gorilla Man is probably a character who will have some legs after Atlas. Namora too.
CA: So this is the end?
JP: Yeah. I could have kept it going, but the options offered were to tie the book into another crossover mini-event, I just wasn't feeling it. I did it a couple of times already and feel we got some good stuff out of it, but I'm just not interested in doing it again, introducing the team again, all that. This 3-D Man story really turned out to be pretty great, it's going to be a definite highwater mark. And I don't want to follow it with something that would probably be less inspired. Because the whole reason for doing the book is to do the kinds of stories I set the book up for, and if we're not going to do that, there's not much point.
CA: I know you know this better than anybody, but man, it sucks that it's got to end, even if it goes out on a high note. It was really a book that led the way in shining a light onto more obscure corners of the Marvel Universe where there's so much untapped potential, much like "Hercules" or even "Nextwave," although the approaches there are obviously different.
JP: Thanks! It's really hard to get people to buy a Marvel or DC comic that doesn't focus on a character or team they grew up with, right now. Which is too bad, because I'd like to see Marvel doing horror, sci-fi, mysteries- all the stuff I was wanting to use Atlas as an outlet for. But I'm still going to try to get that across in my other work. The agenda will not fade. It's kind of interesting how the book became more a rallying point for other creators- no doubt because we have excellent artists. Everyone from Leonard Kirk to Gabriel Hardman has gotten really invested in the book and really shown off what they can do. In the end, I think we've helped influence some other cartoonists if nothing else. We're like the Velvet Underground of comics. Maybe though we'll be able to do a yearly special or something. The regular readers of Atlas are pretty hardcore in their love of the book, and I'd like to do something once in a while they can look towards.

Jeff brings to light a number of truths that often go unsaid in mainstream comics. In discussing this situation on the 11 O’Clock Comics forums, a number of our forum members asked thoughtful follow-up questions which I thought I would address in this article because I suspect lots of people are asking the same things.
Q: Does Marvel really have a higher minimum sales expectation compared to DC before a book faces cancellation?
A:  Neither Marvel nor DC make their publication decisions known to the public, with good reason. So it’s hard to say with certainty that what Jeff is saying is true. But empirically, we can look at the Diamond 300 sales charts each month and compare that against which titles get cancelled, and come to the conclusion that – at least on the surface – Marvel does seem less tolerant of low-selling titles right out of the gates. But they’re not as far apart as one might think. If a new title isn’t selling, it’s not long for this Earth.
For example, recently cancelled Marvel titles include: 
  • Atlas #1 sold 22,756 copies, and declined from there
  • Cable was cancelled after #24, which sold 30,132 copies
  • Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth was cancelled after #13, which sold 30,677 copies
  • Dr. Voodoo was canceled at #5, which sold 12,154 copies 
  • Spider-Woman was cancelled after #7, which sold 25,437 copies
  • S.W.O.R.D. ended at #5 selling 11,259 copies
  • Wolverine: Weapon X was effectively cancelled at #13, which sold 29,733 copies
  • Web of Spider-Man was cancelled with issue #8, which sold 19,623 copies
Now compare that to some of DC’s recent low-selling books:
  • Warlord started off with sales of 17,540 – and sales fell to below 10,000 (9,892 copies) by issue #7. But DC continued to publish this book up to Issue #18. When the series was announced for cancellation (after Issue #13), the book had sold just 8,130 copies.
  • Magog started off with a respectable 26,352 copies sold, but fell to just 10,700 copies by Issue #4. Yet DC kept it alive until Issue #12, deciding to cancel the book after Issue #8 sales fell below 8,000 (7,743 copies).
  • The Shield launched at just 19,088 copies and fell to 6,444 copies by the 5th issue. DC kept that book afloat until Issue #10. Similarly, The Web went from first issue sales of 19,535 to 5,809 copies by #5. It too was cancelled with Issue #10.
Q: How can Marvel (or DC) not make money off a book that sells 20,000 copies, when independent comics would kill to have those numbers?
Apples and Oranges (search via Creative Commons)A: This unfortunately is a case of comparing apples and oranges. While it’s true that almost any independent creator would do somersaults if their book sold 20K copies per month, that’s not the reality for the Big 2; which have an instantiated fan base and fiduciary responsibilities to their corporate parents and shareholders. Marvel and DC can put out as many books as they want in a given month, but they need to optimize their cost structure. So while they may turn a profit on a lower-selling book, the question they must continually ask themselves is…”Could we be deploying the resources devoted to this book to another project that would sell better?” It’s about INCREMENTAL MARGIN, not absolute profit. In the indie world, turning a profit is an added bonus in many cases to more intrinsic value like seeing your work in print and/or raising your profile for future projects.
Now as to the actual economics of a Marvel comic and what the “breakeven” is…that’s difficult to triangulate because most industry people are tight lipped about their financial arrangements (again, understandably so). But here are some generic issues to consider:
  • Page rate for interior pencils (22+ pages x artist’s negotiated page rate)
  • Page rate for inks (less than a penciler, but still # of pages x page rate)
  • Page rate for colorist (see above)
  • Costs of cover art (usually a higher page rate for all involved)
  • Costs of variant cover art (a lot more commonplace than you may realize)
  • Costs of lettering
  • Costs of editorial (an editor is capacity constrained, and the costs of their salary should be spread across the number of titles they’re working on at a given time)
  • Overhead costs (office space, IT, shipping, PR, sales, executive management)
  • Printing costs
  • Shipping costs
Now remember that comic publishers don’t get the $2.99 or $3.99 you plunk down at the store. Diamond gets its cut and the store owner gets his/her piece of the pie. A general rule of thumb is that the publisher keeps 35%-45% of the cover price. So splitting it down the middle, let’s say Marvel is capturing between $1.20 and $1.60 per issue. A $2.99 book selling 20,000 copies yields roughly $24,000 in gross revenues to Marvel. When you start checking off all the aforementioned expenses that go into putting out that book, it’s pretty easy to see that no one is getting rich off the sales of that particular book.
Q: Do publishers change creative teams sometimes because the sales require it?
A: Absolutely. Not all comic book writers and artists are created equally. You can be sure that Marvel pays Brian Michael Bendis a lot more per issue than what someone gets for their very first writing gig at the House of Ideas. Likewise, you can bet that Gary Frank commands a higher page rate than a previously unpublished penciler would who is given their first big break on a DC one-shot. As a result, the costs and expectations of an individual title vary with the creative team attached. One notable recent example of this was DC’s re-launch of The Brave & The Bold with Mark Waid and George Perez. Waid was very open about the fact that he wanted to continue on the book, but DC couldn’t justify keeping he and Perez on the project given where the sales were. That kind of thing happens all the time, especially with creators who are under exclusive contract. 
Q: Why won’t Marvel and DC let new titles find an audience? It’s disconcerting to think that the sales of the first few issues seal the fate of any new project, isn’t it?
A: As a comic book fan, I share your frustration.  The direct market is predicated on PRE-ordering, so one can correctly deduce that books like Dr. Voodoo and S.W.O.R.D. were cancelled after only an issue or two were on the stands. One might posit that the quality of those books were high enough that, had they been given a longer leash, word of mouth and positive reviews might have altered their course. Seinfeld was a low rated show in its first season, but was given a shot at finding its audience and the rest is history. Comics should be the same, right?
Unfortunately we aren’t dealing with how things SHOULD be but rather how things ARE. The simple (and disappointing) truth is that, with very few exceptions, comic titles do not grow audiences anymore. Sure there are exceptions like the Walking Dead and Invincible, but those are EXCEPTIONS. The average comic book loses 15%-20% of its audience from the first to second issue, and then attrition continues until, hopefully, the book levels off at a reasonable sales range. From there it’s a question of goosing sales back up every now and again through  inclusion in an event or crossover (as Jeff mentions in his quote), or exclusive variant covers, or a major change in creative team, or…renumbering. But I would challenge any of you to look at the sales of mainstream Marvel and DC titles and find me a non-core book that ever shows a steady increase in sales. It just doesn’t happen. And everyone involved in the process, from the executives to the editors to the creators to the LCS owners knows it. It’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts because store owners automatically adjust their orders down for each issue until their sell through matches inventory.
Q: So if it’s so hard to establish new characters and concepts, why do Marvel and DC even bother?
A:  There are lots of reasons to try new things, even if the likelihood that they’ll be monster hits is hard to forecast. The most obvious answer is IP. Marvel and DC are intellectual property companies first and foremost. There is value in keeping their vast repository of characters refreshed, modernized and present within the cultural lexicon. Another more obvious reason is because it pays to do so. Marvel puts out 80-100+ titles per month. They understand that not every book is going to be a blockbuster. But so long as the marginal rate of return is above their internal threshold, putting out the book is better than not putting out the book. That $24,000 they probably made off Atlas is $24,000 they wouldn’t have had and might have otherwise ceded to DC or a smaller publisher. And last but not least, sometimes it DOES work. Atlas might not have captured the hearts and minds of enough readers, but the Young Avengers did. Runaways did.  The final reason for putting out mid-list books is talent evaluation and engagement. Consider the writers associated with some of these failed titles: Jason Aaron, Paul Cornell, Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, Jeff Parker and Rick Remender. The lack of success on these titles was hardly a condemnation of the creators involved. The quality shone through regardless of the revenues. And that likely played a big role in Marvel and DC committing to these creators on bigger, more commercially-viable projects. 
Q: How nonsensical is it that we fans are forced to pre-order books, sight unseen, months in advance in order to assure they won’t be cancelled. Does that make any sense?
A: Again, I sympathize. I know quite a few comic fans who don’t pre-order, and they get by just fine. I don’t mind pre-ordering, in fact I love it, but as we discussed a few weeks ago, that comes down to personal preference. You can criticize the direct market for requiring pre-ordering, but that doesn’t change the reality. If you really want to try to save mid-list books that you love, the best way is to pre-order them and make sure your store owners are stocking them. But WANTING to do that and feeling OBLIGATED to are very different things. You don’t owe the publishers anything. You have every right to buy what you like, in the form you like, at the time you like. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 
I have one nitpick with the logic of the question, though. Comics aren’t the only medium that asks us to pony up our money before we’ve sampled the merchandise. Movies are the same. We have to rely on word of mouth, reviews, trailers and press junkets to determine if we want to spend our $$$ at the theater. The only difference is the immediacy of the payoff (or disappointment). When you pay your $10 at the theater, you’re going to know in a few hours whether it was worth it. When pre-ordering comics your satisfaction (or disappointment) is delayed by a few months. 
At the end of the day, seeing your favorite titles get the ax sucks. But rather than blame the publisher for not sticking with a book, or the store owners for not stocking mid-list titles, or your fellow fans for not liking what you like, recognize that it’s just part of the way the system works in 2010. It’s not optimal per se, but it is rational. I’ll miss Atlas. But I’ll be seeing lots more of Gabriel’s work at Marvel (he’s now an exclusive) and Jeff has Thunderbolts and Gorilla-Man and much more looming. 

Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him on Twitter.



  1. This was actually the first I heard of Atlas getting cancelled and it makes me really sad. I went out of my way to reserve it because I was afraid of this happening… The politics of the business are harsh but at least we get an arc. Sometimes I think my mutant power is to like things that get cancelled.

  2. I think you mean Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth got cancelled after 13 issues. Deadpool Corps is still ongoing.

  3. @bentheo Yes, thanks for the catch. I edited it to show the correct title.

  4. I think there’s a difference between paying for a movie you’ve been able to read reviews of, discuss with knowledgable people who have read it, etc, and ordering a book three months ahead of time that literally no one has read.  That may not even EXIST yet.  I’m not saying it doesn’t make business sense, but it certainly creates a messed-up system of incentives.  I can see it’s somewhat analagous to the amount of weight that gets put on opening weekend box office, but we’ve almost always had some chance to see reviews, if we want them, before we buy a ticket, even on opening night.  Plus, movies that are expected to need good word-of-mouth — non-blockbuster movies — often get a staggered-release that allows that word-of-mouth to build up.  Comics don’t get the benefit of that.  It might or might not make a difference — the audience that cares about these kinds of comics may be too small — but it is kind of a flawed analogy.

  5. Not that it stings any less, but I believe like Jeff did with Atlas, Matt Fraction chose to end The Order before the numbers ‘demand’ it be canceled.

    As always, Jason, great job.

  6.  If you like what gets cancelled then it sucks but when a title you think that sucks gets cancelled it’s a feeling of I told you so!

  7. *with knowledgable people who have seen it

    And to add to David’s comment, at least part of the incentive here is that Marvel probably wants to put Parker on books and the many talented Atlas artists on books that will actually sell.  Fraction & Kitson seem to have been in a similar position re: The Order.  


  8. Atlas got cancelled after five issues? Ha! I could have told you that that second rate ionic powered strong guy from the Thunderbolts couldn’t sustain a solo title. At least Wonder Man made it to 29 issues!

  9. solid article Jason. good job

    You stole the Seinfeld analogy right out of my mouth

  10. Very insightful article.

    Thanks for the last question/answer. While I don’t have it at my current LCS, my last one always made me feel guilty when I updated, especially dropping something, my pull list. Not so much a "don’t drop anything" guilt, but just the look/aura of "great, more work for me." While my enjoyment/wallet won out, that kind of guilting by the LCS really just turned me off.

  11. I love these Jason Wood columns, keep up the awesome.

  12. Fantastic article as usual, Jason. Please keep ’em coming. Also, too fascinating to see/hear Marvels danger-zone rates around 20k. Very interesting…

  13. The thing that makes the analogy with film ring hollow is the fact that Hollywood falls prey to the same affliction that is crippling the mainstream comic book industry. The problem is that they have decided that regurgitating the same stories over and over is the safest way to keep making money. And the sad thing is that the consumer base seems to be proving them right. Why take a risk on making an interesting original story when you can make Transformers 2 and be guaranteed to make money. I’m petrified that Christopher Nolan’s new film is going to flop because it’s original. I’ve heard nothing but complaints from studio ad execs because they can’t imagine how to market a movie that they concede is brilliant but isn’t another Batman movie. Comics are the same way. Why take a risk on letting a comic like ‘Atlas’ or ‘Sword’ or ‘Doctor Voodoo’ breathe when they can just publish another Spider-man or Batman book? We as an audience need to show the publishers that we appreciate intelligently written, original material before we can expect that they’ll make a lot of it.

    I know I’m rambling, but I think a lot of the onus is on the publishers for poor advertising also. I don’t see a lot of ads for things like ‘Atlas’, I see ads for ‘JLA’ and ‘Avengers whatever’. What do those books need advertising for? Self perpetuating cycle. They don’t advertise it, so it doesn’t sell well, it’s not going to sell well, so why bother advertising it?

    I’ve been extremely tempted to stop buying mainstream comics for a long time, because they can’t or won’t take the risks necessary to make new stories. Hearing a pro like Jeff Parker so openly admit the limitations of the big mainstream publishers just pushes me one step closer to taking that plunge.

  14. Another very interesting article Wood!

    I’m curious what the numbers on the Hercules book are.  Frankly I’m shocked, mostly delighted but still a little shocked that Marvel has allowed Pak, VanLente and co to continue their story for so long.  Sure the original title has ended and we’ve since seen the fall of an avenger and heroic age: prince of power minis but it’s essentially still the same storyline.  Is Hercules a higher profile character than any of the Atlas characters, Captain Britain, Beast, or Agent Brand?  Did continuing Incredible Hulk’s numbering that big of a deal?  Is tying into events enough to get another year of issues? 

  15. I feel like if I had read stuff like this back in my teens, when I would shoot my mouth off half cocked at the comic shop, I probably would have been perceived as less of a deuche. 

    Keep up the awesome Jason.

  16. Were Cable and Spider-Woman really canceled? I thought Cable ostensibly ended, and Maleev simply quit on Spider-Woman. I mean, it wouldn’t make sense to continue a Cable book after his death, and I’m sure that was planned as soon as he departed into the future with Hope nearly 3 years ago. As far as Spider-Woman is concerned, I refuse to think of that explanation by Bendis as political spin, or whatever. The day I have to look at my favorite creators with the same scrutiny and skepticism that I would a politician, is the day I stop reading comics altogether.

  17. I love these articles. Very interesting stuff.

  18. Understanding that comic publishers don’t publish a billion copies of something (insert ’90s comic joke here), I’m perfectly okay with pre-ordering something I want to try or something I read on a regular basis. It only took me a long time to settle on a store, because I’m cautious of where my money goes and not all LCS are equal.


    That said, I do wonder how much this rather no-growth business model is turning new readers away. If I love to read and am used to being able to go to say Amazon.com and order practically any book printed since 1480, this might even be as big of barrier for buying as being intimated by Superman #700 or Captain America #504. And it creates an incredible buying dilemma for LCS.

    And once again, to grow audiences, the Big 2 really need to scale up their advertising departments.

  19. And advertise to who? They don’t make enough money to spend money on mainstream outlets.

  20. Good article, good break down of situation.  I love Atlas and am disappointed it’s ending again so soon but am past being upset about this kind of thing.  There’s just not enough demand or diversity of readership in comics to keep this type of book in print.  It’s no one’s fault and at the same time you can spread the blame everywhere because the system isn’t currently built to support most fringe books for very long.

    I know there’s still plenty of comics out there for me to enjoy and one of them will be by Parker and Hardman.  One example of looking on the bright side of a cancellation – I loved Mike Carey’s Vertigo series Crossing Midnight.  It was cancelled, the story was cut short, it sucked.  But Carey started a new Vertigo series, The Unwritten, which I think (no offense to Crossing Midnight) is better and more interesting.

  21. @Jason Wood: I can’t believe that you can’t believe that it got cancelled. Enough people clearly weren’t interested it.

  22. Great analysis once again Mr. Wood.

  23. Wow, at least I had SWORD #3 in hand before I knew it was being cancelled. Atlas #3 hasn’t even shipped yet.

    Disappointing, but unsurprising, news.

  24. @mangaman The title wasn’t meant to reflect my feelings, I think I made it pretty clear that I wasn’t at all surprised to see the title cancelled. The title is meant to invoke the reaction we all have when one of our own personal favorites is cancelled.


  25. An interesting look at the issue. I’m of the opinion that the pre-ordering mentality of the direct market has killed a lot of the innovation in the field. The sooner digital distribution can undermine that, the better for readers and creators.

    Some nitpicks about your choice of titles used for comparison numbers of sales figures:
    -Cable’s cancellation was partly/largely an editorial decision going into X-Men: Second Coming.
    -Spider-Woman wasn’t cancelled, but ended by the creators. Maleev’s was reportedly burned out after the extra work for the motion comic and Bendis didn’t want to continue with another collaborator. I’d also argue that it’s not a great series to use for metrics, as the Motion Comic aspect probably means it had different conditions for "success" than a typical comic.
    -Wolverine:Weapon X is one I wouldn’t even consider a cancellation, just a retitling. Wolverine #1 is replacing it with the same writer a few months later now that the original "Wolverine" title is available again post Dark Reign as part of the push of X-books following a major crossover 

  26. @tylerw Fair points, and most I largely agree with. But the article was already very lengthy, so I didn’t delve into the nuances. You’ll note that I do hit on the things publishers do to goose sales though. With Wolverine, the fact it’s still Jason Aaron reinforces the point though. Renumbers and renaming a book just to get sales back to an acceptable level. It’s a sad gimmick that we shouldn’t have to rely upon.


  27. If they had day and date digital releases of all their books, DC and Marvel would have a ton more sales, probably outstripping the print sales.

  28. Two books that come to mind that were canceled that I absolutely loved were Chase and Aztek both from DC. But I’m sure there are dozens more if I go through my longboxes.

  29. @Josh – I think it’s more of a matter they don’t want to spend money on advertising. DC has an initiative in place that helps LCS with paying for advertising in local media (Marvel used to). However, it’s up to the shop to create the ads and set up the ad schedule – with reimbursement coming later on, and usually only if the shop uses the correct imagery and/or orders a certain amount of specified product.

    But, what if DC took some of that money and bought a Scalped ad on Law and Order reruns on the USA Network? Or if Marvel took some of their movie money and bought a PunisherMAX ad in an issue of Sports Illustrated? (I know movie money isn’t publishing money, but the more people who care about the comics could likely turn into another movie ticket purchase).

    Both companies are eventually going to eat themselves and the entire industry if they don’t grow the audiences. Will advertising work? Who knows – big-budget Hollywood movies don’t seem to move more issues – but outside of house ads in comic books, trade magazines and banner ads on genre websites, it hasn’t been tried outside the core comics audience.

  30. Either of those ads would cost more than the book makes in profit.

    Do you honestly think that if they could afford it, or that it would be effective that no one would have considered that by now?

  31. There’s been an ad for FABLES that has been playing on BBC America recently.

    Here’s the ad.

    I’d be curious to know the story/economics behind it because Josh is right, mainstream media advertising is expensive and would wipeout what meager profits these books make already.

  32. Agree with points made by Dan and JonSamuelson

     It’s a disheartening reality that mainstream comics are intellectual property vehicles first, and good stories about their characters second.

     Very good article, sir. Will read again.

  33. there’s a a reason why i avoid Marvel at all costs. f@*# ’em.

  34. Bummer about Atlas!!!

  35. @fanbla72 – and that reason is that they make their publishing decisions based on sound economic formulas? The right bastards.

  36. Somebody mentioned to me, re the FABLES ad, that you can get basic cable ad space via Google, and it isn’t that expensive (relative to a marketing budget).  I’ve seen more ads for prose books in similar format, lately, so it may be a thing publishers are doing.  I thought it was pretty smart ad placement — during a BBC America ‘Doctor Who’ marathon, you’re going to have a lot of potential fans.  Plus Vertigo’s website URL was prominently displayed, so it’s a backdoor ad for the whole line. 

  37. (This is different, obviously, than buying a network ad on primetime, where the economies most likely aren’t there.  But seeing Vertigo use the same strategies that are apparently working for prose publishers seems sensible).

  38. No one knows if advertising comics on a wider scale works or not because it hasn’t been done, but to shut that door before even stepping through it is a little short sighted. If they want to grow their audience – something just about every comics executive says in any interview they give – they need to think outside just the already comics-prone audiences of genre shows, web sites and magazines.

    But these are multi-million dollar companies. Don’t get me wrong – I know and understand a very small percentage of that income comes from publishing. But there is plenty of money coming in from licensing, and it you want to grow that audience that wants your cartoon DVDs and action figures, you need to get them to the source, and that’s the comics.

    You really think finallyfast.com has more money to spend than DC or Marvel? And those damn ads are everywhere.

  39. A lot of Captain Britain & MI13/Excalibur fans talked about this situation last year.

    A lot of folks over at CBR posted at length when SWORD got cancelled, too. In fact I wrote an extensive Blog piece at that time:


    I mentioned a fair number of the points above there.

    One thing I would add though, is that I personally feel the reason that these books fail to launch because of a combination of two things:

    1) A flood of Event tied books being marketed as more important to the reader.

    and 2) Marvel having dropped in-house Editorial, Spotlight and Checklist pages from all their monthly books.

    Back in the 90s Marvel still cultivated the style of publicising their smaller titles with a rhetoric that still made them sound as important as the Big Books. It was through those mini-solicits in the checklist pages that I picked up titles like Thunderbolts, Quicksilver and Heroes for Hire. I’m glad I did.

    A small article and a bit of aert in every Marvel book that month CAN make a huge difference. The bottom line is that second tier titles tend to feature characters most readers would never pick up a book because OF, on the grounds they have no idea who they are. A brief outline of the book’s premise, the hook, or of the characters involved is tthe only wway you’re going to persuade a new reader to take an interest.

    Modern Marvel do not do this any more. Instead they commision an artist like John Cassaday or Greg Land to do an impressive cover for a new second tier book, which they use as a textless full page advert. Nice idea. But flawed. Because if the reader know nothing about those characters, that image doesn’t give them end infoermation which would lead them to show an interest, let alone pick up, the book. Where’s the hook? 🙂

    Kind of a wasted effort.

    One thing is for sure, Atlas is the 4th book in the last year to be cancelled by Marvel effectively on pre-orders for the first 3 issues alone. SWORD, Doctor VooDoo, eXiles and now Atlas. Even if every damn copy of those books which was ordered by stores in North America had sold out it would still have been impossible to have kept those titles going.

    When the retailers themselves cannot be persuaded to buy enouigh copies, let alone readers, surely somebody at Marvel has to think ‘Hold on… we’re getting something wrong here’. I mean they thre EVERYthing at the Atlas relaunch – far more than any other title in danger or cancelled ever had in the last five years.

    Is the threshold unrealistic? Or is Marvel just publicising these books in the wrong way?

    Somebody needs to work it out, because this can’t keep happening. It’s not good for Marvel. Not good for the creators they bring in with the promise of monthly work. And certainly not good for the reader.

  40. as far as advertising, the big 2 are part of mega media conglomerates. Marvel (Disney) and DC (Time Warner) If they felt that advertising and cross promoting comics on their TV networks and shows was advantageous they’d do it. Do they advertise comics during Smallville episodes? I see cross promotion on ESPN (Disney) for ABC shows all the time so they know how to do it.

    Comics are a bit of a self contained niche audience. A review on a site like this is better advertising for a comic than any TV spot or magazine ad. 

  41. A review on a site like this is better advertising for the audience they already have held captive.

  42. @Dan: Why waste millions on advertising the publishing side that makes hardly any money when compared to the licensning side. Of course the publishers want to grow their audience because they’re in charge of the books. But clearly they don’t need to advertise the books more to make the licensing super profitable. People who dont’ read comics are going to buy the toys, video games, and DVDs regardless of the comic books.

  43. Actual curious question…  Where is this advertising that they spend quite a bit on?  In their own magazines?  In Wizard?  On sites like this?  I’m not an advertising mogul, so I certainly don’t have the answer, but there’s just got to be a way to reach out to the larger public, and successfully find a larger audience.  There’s just gotta be.

  44. @Conor:

    Your point is taken, and in all honesty I agree with you, and Josh also.  All that said though, there’s GOT to be something that the Big-2 publishers can do to advertise their books in a more effective manner.  To both grow the audience in general, and also to find a reasonable audience for books that don’t star Batman/Superman/Spider-man/Wolverine.  I simply can’t believe that the medium that I enjoy SO MUCH is so repulsive to the man-on-the-street, that no conceivable advertising campaign could possibly succeed.  And it really feels that the Big-2 have essentially come to that conclusion.

  45. It’s a bit of a misnomer that comic companies don’t advertise. They do spend quite a bit on advertising. What they don’t do is spend money on 30-second TV spots or pepper other periodicals with ads for their books. But I think that’s a rational decision given the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of that kind of traditional advertising formula on something so niche.


  46. @JonSamuelson – exactly.

    @Conor – who knows if it is a waste or not – that’s my point – it hasn’t been tried. You put together a good campaign instead of "hey. Iron Man fans. Look at this book — AND IT HAS PICTURES IN IT!!!" and you’re going to bring someone to the comics.

    The point I was trying to make about the licensing is that to say these companies don’t have money isn’t true – it just doesn’t come from publishing. But let’s talk licensing – how likely is it that that 5 year old playing with the Spider-Man blow-up ball is going to be interested in Spider-Man when he’s 15, or 25, or 35? Aside from the occasional summer blockbuster and reminising about childhood over a few beers, probably not very. He’ll do the whole "Oh, that’s kids stuff" kind of thing when you, me and everyone else on this site know comics haven’t really been "kids stuff" for about 30 years now. Let’s get that kid interested in reading these stories after he’s watched the cartoon and seen the movie and played with the pool toy. Throw an ad up on the screen during the Spider-Man cartoon; put a comic shop locator url on a sticker on the ball or on the package of the toy.  They both should feed each other.

  47. @Dan: The licensing division and the comic division are two entirely seperate audiences. It would be a waste to pour money from the super profitable division to the slightly profitable division, which really only exists at this point to create IP for the licensing.

  48. But without the comics creating the characters in the first place, there’s no lunchboxes or bouncy balls to be sold.

  49. Agreeing to disagree at this point.

  50. all this talk about when/where advertising would/could work made me think about Hastings moving into the market and I’d be interested to see how they market the comics and if that could bolster sales to these fledgling titles by (hopefully) attracting readers who don’t know what they are suppose to read yet.