I’ve been running an ad campaign for Al’Rashad for the past couple of weeks on Project: Wonderful and it has been an interesting experience to see what has proven to be a worthwhile investment. A lot of my initial predictions about which comics would prove the best advertising space have been correct; a lot have not been correct. Meandering thoughts follow:
1. Ad size and placement matter. This is probably so obvious that it does not need to be said, but: leaderboard ads at the bottom of a page are less effective than leaderboard ads at the top of a page. Skyscraper sideboard ads get less effective the further down the page they are. Half-banner ads with less visual real estate are less effective than leaderboard ads that are twice the size. And so forth. This was most dramatic on Girls With Slingshots, where I had a half-banner ad running and which received over two million page-views of the ad itself, but a clickthrough rate that was abysmal. On top of which, while my banner and halfbanner ads were, I think, quite elegantly designed, the leaderboard and skyscraper ads were just better: more art illustrating the fantasy world concept more dramatically, the opportunity to use a cool slogan (“Welcome To The Next Grand Adventure” – I went full Stan Lee on it), etc.1
2. Site selection is harder than it looks. I had a shortlist of sites I wanted to consider advertising on, either because I admired their work or because I thought they’d have a reader base more inclined to click through or both. Many of these ideas did not work on the metric I was using, which is “cost per clickthrough.”2 Girls Without Slingshots, for example, was a relative failure, even if I do love Danielle Corsetto’s work and felt her audience might be receptive to an LGBT/minority-friendly fantasy adventure (the ad campaign started the week of the Alric reveal). Axe Cop was an outright failure: expensive, very few clicks. Hark! a Vagrant and Dinosaur Comics (both of which I wanted to advertise on because, hey, fellow Canadians) were both mediocre advertising opportunities. The Jinxworld forums underperformed sharply and I kept those ads up for “visibility” longer than I should have done. The Giant in the Playground forums were, on the other hand, solid performers throughout, and my MVP turned out to be Gunnerkrigg Court, which sent me engaged comic readers at excellent price points.
3. Avoid overpriced traffic. Early on I decided that I wanted to concentrate on getting clickthroughs as efficiently as possible, and gave myself a certain level of expense per clickthrough in order to make that happen: I wanted the largest number of potential readers as opposed to the more nebulous “let’s raise our public profile” objective some people want out of an advertising campaign. The problem with this is that a lot of PW traffic is so overpriced that getting efficient clickthroughs becomes nearly impossible. H!AV and Dinosaur Comics are both good examples of this: the problem was not that they didn’t send me a reasonable number of clicks as compared to total unique readers visiting their sites, but that because they are Stars of the Webcomic World, the price for those clicks was too expensive; I mean, if I get an engaged reader for my comic, I don’t care if they came from Dinosaur Comics or a furry porn website.3 And those two comics weren’t nearly as bad as Questionable Content (insanely expensive, never justified the cost) or Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (high-priced, reader base didn’t really transfer) or, and this surprised me a lot, Oglaf. I thought Oglaf readers would be a lock to enjoy Al’Rashad but, although they sent a reasonable number of readers my way, not nearly in the numbers I expected given their readership nor did those readers come at an affordable price point.
All of this said: the advertising campaign was quite a success and readership of the comic has clearly spiked in a sustainable way, because – and I say this with a bit of ego at least – there’s a lot of good comic for people to read, and that’s the most important thing.
OK, so this is possibly premature. It’s only the first issue, after all; this isn’t even like watching the pilot episode so much as watching the first ten minutes of the pilot episode. But the first issue of the new Ms. Marvel is definitely something to love. And not just because it’s a genuinely different perspective on the superhero story, created by people who have a genuinely different and interesting take on the “teenage hero” subgenre; this is a great comic because it’s awesome.
Pretty much every page has a laugh-out-loud line, from Kamala’s unseemly interest in bacon on page one (“delicious, delicious infidel meat”) through to her Avengers/My Little Pony fanfic (which has almost 1000 upvotes on freakingcool.com) to her explanation that she wants to be just like Carol Danvers, “except I would wear the classic, politically incorrect costume and kick butt in giant wedge heels.” G. Willow Wilson makes Kamala instantly charming, funny, relatable and sympathetic, while giving the reader a look at a cultural experience that doesn’t share a whole lot with Peter Parker or Richard Ryder or Christopher Powell or…wow, there’ve been a lot of whitebread teen heroes out there over the years.
But again, I don’t want to say that this is a “worthy” book, even though it is, because what strikes you about it isn’t that it’s saying something important about race and religion and cultural relations and the very real prejudice that second-generation immigrants from Muslim countries face, and the difficulties they have in fitting in with their native culture while keeping true to the cultural heritage of their families. I want to say that this is a good book, because it’s well-written and amazingly drawn by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring and it really made me want to see what happens in the next issue. And ultimately, that’s what you should want out of your comics on a monthly basis. That’s what I love about comics. And I’m happy I took a flyer on this one.
Yesterday, I went into a comic book store and I picked up a comic book set in mainstream Marvel continuity for the first time since…2007? The last thing I really remembered reading was ‘World War Hulk’, which I gave up on because I realized that it had been four years since a major Marvel story had actually involved superheroes fighting bad guys. I may have bought something since then, but if I have it didn’t stick in my memory. Which probably doesn’t argue well for it anyway.
What changed my mind? The new ‘Ms Marvel’. I read about it and decided that a) a superhero who had a different point of view than other superheroes, written by a writer who had a different point of view than other writers at Marvel, might result in something (surprise) interesting and surprising and different. And b) I had, on my own blog, taken Marvel to task for writing something that was designed to appeal to people other than its existing fanbase, only to market it squarely at its existing fanbase because Marvel Does Not Know How To Market Things, and then shrug lazily when it fails and say that all the whitebread fanboys who say that Marvel should stop trying to appeal to anyone other than them must be right after all. And I realized that if I was going to do that, I should really actually buy the comic instead of talking about how it deserved more support and not actually supporting it.
So I went in, and I bought the ‘Marvel Now Point One’ special. And what did I think? Well, first off, it’s almost impossible not to notice the way that Marvel has changed itself to be more like the Marvel Cineverse. It’s not just the obvious stuff, like Coulson making a cameo on the SHIELD helicarrier where he and Loki had a scene together on the prison set from the ‘Avengers’ movie. There are fundamental changes to the basic personalities of the main characters and the dynamics between them. Loki has transformed from a cartoonish supervillain into a complex antihero solely to take advantage of the Tom Hiddleston death cult. (Of which I’m a member as well, don’t get me wrong. I did not expect to walk out of ‘Thor: The Dark World’ thinking I’d want more Loki, but that’s exactly what happened.) The Avengers, as a team, are turning into a partial adjunct of SHIELD, primarily because that’s what makes sense to the new comics fans out there. Black Widow is being given new prominence in the Marvel Universe because to someone just walking in the door from the movie theater, she’s a major player in the superhero world and significantly more famous and important than Captain Marvel. Even the space opera stuff feels like it’s getting ready to tie in to the future ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movie.
In case it’s unclear, this is not a complaint. This is actually a lot of appreciation for Marvel’s editorial savvy; in a world where comics are a weird, ghettoized marginal medium that’s perpetually five years away from being unviable as a business model, the only possible way to survive is to latch on to whatever freaking trends you can and milk them dry. In the Seventies, Marvel survived by picking up the ‘Star Wars’ license and riding that pony, and in the Nineties, they hung their hat on multiple covers and shock twists. Right now, the movies are making money on a scale ten thousand times what the best-selling comics do; they would be foolish not to adapt. I am proud of them for doing so. And even thought it’s not enough to tip the scales and get me back into buying Marvel comics in general…yet…as someone who has counted himself as more of a “Marvel movie fan” than a “Marvel comics fan” for quite a while now, it was nice to come back into a comic book and feel like I was being made welcome.
Second, it was tremendously amusing to watch Norrin Radd try to grow hair and fail.
And third, I really liked the new Ms Marvel. The character is smart, she’s self-determined and has interesting and accessible character conflicts, she has a good sense of humor and a cool powerset that she uses in fun and visually dynamic ways, and the art really lends itself to the story. (Oh, and I like the costume. It looks homemade in a good way.) It’s only an eight-page preview, but it left me really looking forward to issue #1 and thinking that while Marvel Does Not Know How To Market Things, they picked a great creative team. I’m excited about this.
Although I confess that I still expect it to be canceled by issue #12, and the character to die in a crossover within the next five years when Captain Marvel becomes Ms Marvel again. But I may just be a pessimist at heart.
David Uzimeri on Twitter complained thusly:
legitimately sad shailene woodley won't be mary jane because i'm still annoyed by the nerds saying she wasn't hot enough
— David Uzumeri (@DavidUzumeri) January 21, 2014
And I had heard nothing of this, mostly because I tend to ignore nerd news about casting unless people make a fuss about it somewhere I might read it (e.g. not Ain’t It Cool News or one of the myriad websites that wish, for some reason, that they were Ain’t It Cool News). So I Googled “Shailene Woodley not attractive enough to play MJ” and confirmed for myself that, yes, this was a nerd thing. And there are two points I have to make here, and then I’m going to ramble for a bit.
Firstly: by any reasonable standard, Shailene Woodley is really very pretty. Quite lovely. Definitely good-looking. And so forth. The idea that she is not attractive enough to play Mary Jane in a Spider-Man movie is just kind of weird.1
Secondly, though, is the thing that caused this: the ongoing idea that Mary Jane has to be otherworldly levels of hot, which is the root cause of people being stupid and saying that a beautiful young actor is somehow not beautiful enough to play Mary Jane; Mary Jane must be played by someone who is the ne plus ultra of beauty, beauty dialed up to eleven, beauty of the gods. And typically I find this is because people have no idea who Mary Jane is, as a character, besides “she’s super hot” – which explains why, then, that people have to have Mary Jane played by a goddess in human form. If the only quality you assign to Mary Jane is hotness, then a Spider-Man movie where Mary Jane is only very pretty would be like a Batman movie where Batman doesn’t fight crime.2
Of course, this is stupid. Granted, I say that as someone who is a big Mary Jane fan – Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is one of my favorite comic books ever – but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Mary Jane is best when she’s defined by her toughness, not her hotness. Just after Civil War and just prior to the Mephisto marriage reboot, Matt Fraction wrote a great Amazing Spider-Man annual that was basically the pro-MJ argument summed up: she’s tough and she’s smart and once she picks her side (which is Peter, obviously) she is there. (“He’s my husband. You’re just some guy.” That line is a fucking hammerblow, Thor should be envious of that line.)
Emphasizing MJ’s hotness as being somehow a superpower is also, I think, one of the key reasoning flaws behind why the “Peter/MJ marriage doesn’t work” argument is such bunk; one of the key elements of that argument is that Peter is meant to have a hard life (undeniably true, he’s a fortitude-based character, his hallmark is that he endures hardship on all levels, that’s what it is to be Spider-Man) and that being married to MJ somehow undoes this because she is beautiful. I am not being reductionist in any way when I say that’s the argument: numerous people have said precisely this very thing,, that Spider-Man having a hot wife undoes the character, as if somehow “hot wife” means “everything right in the world” or for that matter that being hot somehow requires a character to have no burdens in life.
Just because MJ has been an actress/supermodel in the past does not mean she has to continue being these things. J. Michael Straczynski gets a lot of crap for his comics work, and some of it deserved, but one thing his era of Spider-Man brought to the table was that MJ could have a failing career and this would not in any way harm the integrity of the character because, surprise surprise, being pretty doesn’t guarantee anything. JMS’ MJ was trapped in a failing Hollywood career and towards the end of his run was considering becoming a drama teacher, which isn’t a bad job but is hardly the ideal of glamorous-as-hell. (As an aside: JMS’ idea that Peter should be a high school science teacher was brilliant, the single best thing he contributed to Spider-Man, and Marvel shouldn’t have walked away from it because having underappreciated overworked Spider-Man be, in civilian life, in the most underappreciated overworked job there is? That’s just perfect.)
True story: the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I don’t mean “to me personally in a loving kind of way” but rather “objectively, we are talking Botticelli’s Venus times a kajillion,” worked in a video store. I mean, this woman was stunning, literally jaw-droppingly beautiful, and I remember this not just because she was amazing looking but because one time, when I was renting a movie3 this schlub in front of me asked her why she wasn’t a model and she shrugged and said “I tried, but it’s all who you know.” Which isn’t surprising because that is how everything works.4
And there’s no reason it shouldn’t work for MJ as well. Plenty of physically beautiful people fail because that is how life happens; only a small subset of people get to be glamorous and everybody else gets shut out, even if they are a perfect 10. Hell, if the whole Shailene Woodley flap teaches us anything it is that people will discount astounding prettiness for whatever reason they choose.
I read this in IDW’s April solicitation for its Transformers comic: “MEGATRON joins the AUTOBOTS! The perfect jumping-on point for new readers!” This may in fact be the least true statement in comics.
I don’t know, it seems like the whole point of Megatron is that he is irredeemably evil. I guess it’s the cannon. When I was a kid I couldn’t help but notice all the good guy robots had little pistols, and the head bad guy robot had this giant arm-mounted nuclear bazooka and I was like “That’s not faiiiirr!!!” To me that’s the basic appeal of Megatron–he is a machine hardwired to be a dick.
Granted, this is probably a turning point in a larger story, where Megatron’s shifting loyalties are competently explained, and this unlikely alliance will lead to a return to the status quo. But stuff like this is exactly why I could never get into the Transformers comics, even though I love the ’80s cartoon. Once in a while I’ll be watching that hokey old cartoon, and be like “Gosh, I can’t get enough Transformers, I wish there was more of it!” And then I’ll think of the comics and be like “Ennh, actually, this is plenty right here.”
It always seemed more chic to prefer the comics to the cartoon. The comics had Simon Furman and detailed mythology and half-naked cyber-ladies and that one ninja Skeletor guy. The cartoon had Bumblebee and Spike getting a giant can of bug spray to fight the Insecticons. Nevertheless, I feel like the cartoon had a better grasp of the concept, which is–let’s face it–pretty simplistic. Transformers is fundamentally just good toys in an endless war with evil toys.
David Wise, who wrote the cartoon’s finale, once compared the Transformers’ war to Doctor Strangelove–the only major developments turned on some silly new gimmick which was inevitably adopted by both sides. On the surface that theme comes across as a crass marketing tactic, but it also forced the cartoon to set its stories within the “doomsday gap.” Optimus Prime and Megatron can’t dwell on the big picture, or dream up some truly novel way to turn the entire war upside down. Their forces are deadlocked in a war of attrition, and it’s all either of them can do to maintain the stalemate. The drama is in how the characters cope with that–Prime can’t lower his guard and it’s giving him an ulcer, Megatron’s authority is constantly challenged by Starscream, etc. Most of the cartoon’s plots were frankly interchangeable, but all of them provide that sense of getting a snapshot of life in the trenches.
The comics, to me anyway, never seem satisfied with that. Every time I take a look somebody is becoming a robot god, or there are parallel universes, or a somebody decides to create a third force in a definitively dualistic conflict. I suppose the realities of selling a monthly comic force you to employ those kinds of plot devices. But it ends up feeling more gimmicky and cheap, ironically, than the toy line itself.