by Beau Smith
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, the DC Universe relaunch has begun!
You may not know it, but I was VP of marketing and promotions for Image Comics from 1994 through 1998. I was there for those very historic and sometimes wacky owner’s meetings that established what Image Comics would be as a publishing house. For better or worse, I never throw things away. I’m about one storage unit from becoming an episode of HOARDERS. Among those things I have kept are boxes and boxes of notes, memos, contracts and other various forms of business papers. Needless to say, I’ve got a ton from those Image Comics meetings. No fun to store, but always entertaining to read from time to time.
You may be wondering why I’ve brought Image Comics up when this column topic is about DC Comics and their relaunch. Well, it’s because I’m seeing a lot that reminds me of those early Image Comics days.
Granted, we didn’t really have the internet like we do today, but the roll out for the DCU reluanch is very reminiscent of what we did back in 1994 at Image. Back then it was more in print magazines rather than blogs and sites, but we did the same style of appearance barnstorming that everyone has seen in the last few days. Please remember that my friend and one time boss, Jim Lee, is now a part of the powers that be at DC, so you can figure Jim didn’t forget what we talked about in those meetings in the 90s. Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio were hardcore comic book fans/readers before they went to work for DC, so you know the early 90s must have had a bigger influence on them than some of the younger guys in comics today.
If you’ve noticed, there are also quite a few former Marvel creators and editors recently added to the employment of DC Comics. These hires were working at Marvel during Jim Lee’s original spotlight days as a creator at Marvel. God bless Jim for always being a loyal guy as well as having an eye for talent. He proved that at Wildstorm as well.
So I’m seeing the early years of Image Comics, especially Wildstorm studios, being a major influence with the “new” DCU. The art style, even beyond the obvious of Jim Lee’s work, has the same flavor and uniform look of the Wildstorm days. Of course, it’s much more polished and sophisticated than it was all those many years ago, but it is there.
I’m seeing that Image Comics influence in the marketing of the “new” DCU as well. All of this can be great, or it can be not so great.
Back in the 90s at Image, we tended to focus more on the art and style than we did the characters and stories. To see this, all you have to do is read the back issues or check the sales that eventually led to many of the Image studios to shrink, change, or just plain vanish. I found a memo from my former boss Todd McFarlane saying that if SPAWN sales ever got down to 200,000 a month we’d have to cancel the book. We all know that didn’t happen.
As a reader, a creator, and as a marketing guy, what I’m hoping for is that Jim, Geoff and Dan will take all of that experience from the past and use it to make this relaunch something new and not something from the past that will fade after a year and a half. Take the best from the what has come before and make it even better. Take the mistakes and leave them buried in the past.
The sales from the “false bottom” 90s are gone. The comic book business has been suffering from those times ever since and recovery is still not on the horizon. It’s a very different landscape and we need new creative structures to be built on a strong foundation of the past.
First and foremost I don’t want to see DC Comics make art and flashy formula-event style take precedence over characters and compelling storylines. I hope I don’t see page after page of heroes not acting like heroes. I hope I don’t get panel after panel of heroes flying around with their mouths open, screaming dialogue reserved for characters so wooden you’d get splinters from looking at them. How long before we have to see “It’s payback time!”, “Let’s do this!” or “My powers are beyond your comprehension, insect!” come spewing out of a character’s mouth?
I wish my friends at DC Comics all the best as a friend, a creator, and most of all as a comic book reader. I’m paying over $3.00 for your comics, entertain us all.
The Flying Fist Ranch