DC Backs Away From Original Graphic Novel Plans

At the end of last year, DC announced Earth One, two origin retellings of Superman and Batman that would go direct to book format (original graphic novels, or OGNs, as they’re called in trade lingo). In that announcement, we were promised an “ongoing series of OGNs in a new continuity, on a new Earth.”

Superman: Earth One cover
Superman: Earth One
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Big questions at the time were left open, the most important of which was pricing and release dates. Superman: Earth One is due out November 2 as a 136-page, $20 hardcover (just about a year after it was first announced). There is no Batman listing yet.

But since that first PR, DC management has changed, which leads to the latest news about the line (found by Kevin Huxford): DC seems to be backing away from the original graphic novel idea, the only thing that kept this project from being yet another case of “big name writer decides to redefine major character origin, only to be forgotten two years after when he’s moved on to other things”. (Writer J. Michael Straczynski already did that with Spider-Man.)

As Comic Book Resources reported at the San Diego Superman panel,

The fan asked whether [Straczynski] plans on continuing the “Earth One” stories. The writer revealed that the hardcover release will be followed up with by single issues, which will later be collected.

So much for the “ongoing series of OGNs”. Instead, it sounds like they’re planning to establish a new continuity, rather like Marvel’s Ultimate line, that springboards from the origin hardcover into new comic issues, which are then reprinted in book format. In other words, business as usual instead of experimenting with new formats for the bookstore customers. Or as Huxford summed it up, “if they’re ready to bail out on it before it has even hit shelves, that says more negative about DC as a publisher than the initial plan said positively about them.”


34 Responses to “DC Backs Away From Original Graphic Novel Plans”

  1. david brothers Says:

    That is a positively silly decision. Why flirt with the format? Why can :01 and Fantagraphics and Vertigo everyone else make OGNs, serialized or otherwise, work and DC doesn’t even want to try?

  2. Michael Says:

    I have a feeling in a hundred years, even if comics survive DC won’t. WB really needs to either back off or get people they can trust or something. Start with firing Dan DiDio. That man is comics’ version of Sarah Palin.

  3. Dan Says:

    I think this is a matter of misinterpreting what was written.

    DC is likely doing the following:

    1) Releasing OGN to bookstores.
    2) Serializing OGN for comic stores.
    3) Collecting serialization as a TPB for comic stores.

    Before we report information as “news,” we really ought to try and get an answer from the source. Until then, it’s fair to question the statement, since its pulled from Newsarama’s and CBR’s hastily-written CCI coverage.

  4. Johanna Says:

    David: Those companies don’t have to worry about ticking off comic shops, since they’ve either diversified their market or never focused on the direct market in the first place.

    And frankly, as some notable retailers have pointed out, double dipping makes sense. The bookstore market doesn’t care whether something’s been serialized or not first so long as it makes a good book. You can have those sales, or those sales + comic shops, which still want serialization.

    Dan, even if you’re right, based on the original plans for Earth One, the phrase “single issues” should never have come anywhere near this concept.

    Now, considering what you’re suggesting — retro serialization makes even less sense to me than changing horses in midstream with OGNs, in part because the story will seem old and stale to those fans who just want to know what happens. But I look forward to your reporting once you get clarification from JMS. :)

  5. Nick Marino Says:

    what a shame. i was really looking forward to this OGN experiment.

  6. James Schee Says:

    Honestly the more I hear of these series the less I become interested. I don’t really want serialized stories in these. What I was hoping they would be are done in one Superman (or Batman or whomever they decide to use )stories I could pick up a couple of times a year and get my fix for those characters stories.

    Without having know whatever crossover, other writer’s take in Book X or the like type of deal. Oh well!

  7. Chad Says:

    Honestly the more I hear of these series the less I become interested. I don’t really want serialized stories in these. What I was hoping they would be are done in one Superman (or Batman or whomever they decide to use )stories I could pick up a couple of times a year and get my fix for those characters stories.

    Seconded!

  8. DeBT Says:

    Chalk this up as just another disappointing move from DC, along with the cancelation of their CMX line. It seems like every move they’ve been doing since has been to focus solely on the remaining S-hero comics crowd. Even though I have no interest in purchasing these comics, it would’ve been interesting to see them veer towards the European model, where one comic volume is created every year.

    I always thought Togashi Yoshihiro (of HunterXHunter fame) was following this model when his frequent hiatuses resulted in only one-two volumes released a year after having time to create the chapters himself and not adhere to a constant deadline. It reminded me very much of the interview Urasawa gave on the limitations of adhering to a rigid schedule.

  9. Johanna Says:

    That’s a good point, that they seem to be retrenching to their core business, the thing that only they and Marvel can do. Over the years, DC has always been more diverse in both material (with a variety of imprints) and format than their main competitor, but Marvel has been more successful. I wonder if someone has taken the wrong lesson from that?

  10. Kevin Huxford Says:

    I think Dan might be right in what their approach here is (retroactive serialization), which, as you pointed out, Johanna, is still something that doesn’t make much sense in relation to this project.

    I do get his point that things can be misinterpreted due to the situation, but that’s why I suggested on my blog that a rep from DC should have clarified the answer at the time and still left it all open to interpretation. FTR, I did recognize that it could be bailing out on OGN formating for future Earth One volumes or the retroactive serialization, but settled on both being disappointing outcomes.

    Thanks for picking up on the post and citing it. It’s greatly appreciated.

  11. Anatole Wilson Says:

    Frankly, I wasn’t very excited about this project anyway. I’m not sure who an alternate reality in graphic novel form would appeal to–not the casual book buyer, who would probably be perplexed by the only vaguely familiar character. I might be more inclined to take a risk on this in a $3.99 format rather than plopping down $20 at one time.

  12. Marc-Oliver Frisch Says:

    And the cat keeps chasing its own tail, in bigger and bigger leaps.

  13. Johanna Says:

    Your question about target audience is a good one, Anatole. DC is wedded to keeping its marks active and relevant, but sometimes a new character would be a better choice if the result — trying to make something familiar more relevant — winds up neither fish nor fowl.

  14. JeffG Says:

    Not that this interested me, but the crack at JMS seems pretty misplaced as it was Joe Quesada that decided to a) rewrite history and leave a lot of loose ends, b) make Spidey a groovy single dude again, c) sell his soul to the devil to accomplish a and b. I’ve read a lot of Spidey as it was a major influence on a kid growing up in the 70s, having managed to lose the epic issue where PP gains 4 more arms to be a real ‘spider’ man before I even got back from the store (although I had read it already!), and I read all of JMS run on the comic. I haven’t bought another issue since Quesada stepped in and bent poor Peter over. I spend more time on the noir side of the street now, but I used to like having one book to remind me of what excitement I got out of comics when I was young and there were 2 tv stations. Thanks a lot Joe, you s**thead.

  15. Johanna Says:

    It wasn’t intended as a crack, and I wasn’t talking about the One More Day stuff, but the spider-totem approach before that. I was also thinking about the previous Birthright Superman origin rewrite, and other examples that go back a good while. I agree that losing Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane was a bad idea.

  16. JeffG Says:

    Ok, but I kind of liked the totem stuff, maybe a more, um, I want to say believable but that’s not right in this medium ;-), err, rich backstory. But then we’d have to lose the FF as no one wants to look at their backstory for gaining their powers! Stan was kind of on a roll with this stuff back in the day…

    Biggest ongoing issue to me was that maybe he was too powerful, making it hard to bring him back to going against C list guys like Tarantula, etc. But ongoing continuity in characters perpetually locked in-between 15 and 25 years old forever is tough, and worsens with cross-over-itis. I think I prefer things like Legends of the Dark Knight and whatever that Spiders Web or whatever for telling one offs for these characters. I’ve pretty much given up on anything that isn’t a closed universe or self contained type of story these days – there’s more than enough great titles out there from smaller presses deserving attention than I can keep up with as it is to bother too much about the DC/Marvel U outside of kids comics and cartoons I can share with my daughter. Guess I’m just holding a bit of a grudge against the whole One More Day thing to let it go ;-).

    BTW, really enjoying recommendations like Courtney Crumrin (bought them all on amazon after reading about them here) and will likely check out Amelia Rules as my daughter looks for more sophisticated YA fare than say Tiny Titans provides.

  17. Brian Hibbs Says:

    David Brothers:

    “That is a positively silly decision. Why flirt with the format? Why can :01 and Fantagraphics and Vertigo everyone else make OGNs, serialized or otherwise, work and DC doesn’t even want to try?”

    Putting aside that Vertigo IS DC (and people accuse ME of “Math Fu”!), DC (“proper”) has, in fact, released at least 3 OGNs this year:

    JONAH HEX NO WAY BACK
    BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM MADNESS
    DONG XOAI VIETNAM 1965

    There’s also one from Wildstorm:
    A GOD SOMEWHERE

    (plus another 9 from Vertigo)

    From the June 2010 ICv2 figures:

    BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM MADNESS HC 7,393
    JOKERS ASYLUM CLAYFACE #1 21,806

    (the latter is the worst ordered of the 5 one-shots that month — the best seller was nearly 30k ordered)

    *******

    JONAH HEX NO WAY BACK HC 4,963
    JONAH HEX #56 13,441

    *******

    Comics sell somewhere between 2 and 3 times what “roughly the same” material sells in book-only format… and can be sold again in book format once there is enough material…

    (this one is May)
    JONAH HEX WELCOME TO PARADISE TP 2,072
    Reprints 1970s Jonah stories

    (this is April)
    JONAH HEX SIX GUN WAR TP 1,925
    Reprints #44-49 of the current series

    So, that would probably be why…

    -B

  18. Wacky World LinkBlogging: Using Comics to Quit, More on DC OGNs, Two Fun Bad Reviews » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] you’re curious about reaction to the news that DC is changing its OGN plans, check out this iFanboy thread on the subject, where many fans are disappointed by DC’s cold [...]

  19. Johanna Says:

    Brian, those sales figures are first month of release, right? How do we track the book’s sales figures over its viable period, which is much longer than a periodical (which is about a week)? Comics outsell books in the first month, sure, but how do we trace the long tail of book sales for a more accurate comparison?

    That difference, that the new product can’t accurately be tracked using old methods, is why people think DC isn’t getting it.

  20. Johanna Says:

    Jeff, we are of similar minds on this: “there’s more than enough great titles out there from smaller presses deserving attention”. And I’m glad you’re finding recommendations helpful for your daughter!

  21. Brian Hibbs Says:

    “How do we track the book’s sales figures over its viable period, which is much longer than a periodical”

    Um, by looking at the charts?

    If a work has “legs”, then it will continue to show up month-over-month on the charts — Diamond’s charts go down to 300 places, which, for June at least, was around 420 pieces sold.

    Let’s look at something from a year ago — June ’09 the #1 book was FINAL CRISIS HC

    6/09 8219
    7/09 1845
    8/09 1083
    9/09 940
    10/09 547
    11/09 532
    12/09 537
    1/10 782
    2/10 369
    3/10 611
    4/10 (under 332)
    5/10 (under 360)
    6/10 (under 420) — TP is released: 5168

    The HC sold out sometime recently, though I can’t say with certainty exactly when, I sold MY last copy on 5/22, and the TP was released 6/2.

    What’s worth noting, however, is that the 9 months following the “first month”, the combined sales still don’t sum up to that first month…

    Further, I’m not sure “we” need to see proof of anything — DC has up-to-the-minute sales figures of everything they publish, in every channel, and I’m reasonably sure that Bob Wayne knows how to plot out a print run to keep up with demand adequately.

    Finally, let me say that as a guy who sells book format comics as his primary source of dollars, the overwhelming majority of titles DON’T keep selling indefinitely, UNLESS there continues to be MORE releases that reinforce the original book… OR the work enters the consciousness as a “classic”. You’ll be lucky if 1 in 10 books are selling any meaningful numbers a year-after-release.

    (Like, according to BookScan, in 2009, Alex Ross’s JUSTICE v1 sold, er, TWELVE copies via any bookstore that reports to BookScan [which includes Amazon]) — That’s freakin’ Alex Ross doing the freakin’ Justice League, fer cryin’ out loud (and, yes, it was in print during this period)

    And for OGNs, that number tends to drop to 1-in-20 or lower… (generally because there isn’t/can’t be “follow up”)

    -B

  22. Johanna Says:

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear about what I was thinking — since most comic shops are set up to sell periodicals, their customers are trained to look for the new. So for an accurate picture of book sales, we’d need to look to the book market. Which is kind of a “which came first, chicken or egg” question in this case, since we’re talking about a new line.

    If DC is basing their decision-making for their OGN project on pre-sales to the direct market, that’s like a restaurant that’s previously mostly served kosher Jews saying that they can’t sell bacon cheeseburgers. Of course not — the audience is elsewhere. Generally speaking. In this particular case, I do think that this is a poorly designed project, so it doesn’t surprise me that sales are disappointing and DC appears to be retreating from the idea.

    That’s an interesting observation about how few book-format comics are truly perennial. I think you have commented before that DC and Marvel collect too many things, that they should be more selective in their book comics, a stance I agree with. Makes sense that with so many choices every month, it’s hard to remember to buy an older book.

  23. DC says plans for the Earth One original graphic novels ‘have not changed’ | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] until this past Sunday that people really started to take notice of that sentence — Kevin Huxford, Johanna Draper Carlson, Heidi MacDonald and Augie De Blieck Jr. have all posted about [...]

  24. Brian Hibbs Says:

    To the best of my knowledge, bookstores order way WAY before the DM even SEES the solicitations for the first time. Bookstores order, IIRC, quarterly, rather than monthly as the DM does.

    I reject your second premise that books will automagically sell better into a bookstore environment than the DM pretty emphatically. While there certainly are SOME examples of that happening, it isn’t the majority of cases, as far as I can tell (comparing BookScan numbers to DM numbers)

    I also don’t really see any numbers-based evidence that OGNs sell better in the bookstore environment than TPs.

    -B

  25. Brian Hibbs Says:

    “That difference, that the new product can’t accurately be tracked using old methods, is why people think DC isn’t getting it.”

    Also, to go back to this one point, now that you’ve clarified what you meant, DC most certainly has a subscription to BookScan, which means they can get minute-by-minute (well, probably not, but certainly daily) tracking of exactly what is selling, and how… not just for books they publish, but all books from any company whatsoever.

    “People” think a whole lot of dumb, misinformed things, y’know, but I’d be willing to wager hard Yankee dollars that DC has an excellent grasp of what sells and in what quantities in the Bookstore market. Probably better than in the DM, actually — because they track sell-THROUGH, and we track sell-IN.

    -B

  26. Kevin Huxford Says:

    I’m sure DC Comics has a much better grasp on how their products sell in all markets than the average fan, Brian. But we’re talking about them using pre-orders from one or both sources to potentially start panicking about what was supposed to be a new type of effort that they have no real track record to go off of.

    And then there is your argument being based on Diamond numbers while suggesting that it paints a complete picture for making a case that the old way is the only way to go. While it is possible that your conclusion might still be borne out by sales added in from Bookscan numbers, it is still worth pointing out that it is an incomplete picture. When you make the case that DC may be doing this because of the reasons you suggest (purely Diamond short term numbers), it will lead to others saying that kind of decision making on their part is one of their shortcomings, dumb & misinformed or not.

  27. J. Michael Straczynski Says:

    Why is it nobody checks with me to confirm what was said before going out with these stories?

    Guys…I was asked about the format of the graphic novels, was it going to be single issues collected as is the rule or a straight-up GN, to which I said it was a novel, unlike B&B, which was single issues gathered into a hardcover (thus trying to promote the book, which is coming out this week), having a little fun with it when the fan said he was confused, and I said I was too. That was it. Somemhow these two statements concerning two different books got conflated into one.

    The one has nothing to do with the other, folks.

    J. Michael Straczynski

  28. Brian Hibbs Says:

    “But we’re talking about them using pre-orders from one or both sources to potentially start panicking about what was supposed to be a new type of effort that they have no real track record to go off of.”

    If, indeed, “Earth-One” is a bookstore-driven product, and if, indeed, DC is “panicking” it would logically be from bookstore numbers. And if those bookstore numbers are low enough to make them “panic”, then that would seem to me to be a reasonable reason to do so (target market not hitting target sales)

    However, it is pure, 100% speculation to think that DC is, in fact, “panicking”.

    “When you make the case that DC may be doing this because of the reasons you suggest”

    The only case I’m making is that it is axiomatic that any project that is an OGN would need to beat the net dollars of estimated serialization+collection in order to legitimately be considered a “success”.

    Evidence would seem to suggest that, to date, almost no OGNs hit that mark of success (as a percentage of the total releases, I mean), and those that do usually have some sort of specific external force (eg, the impact of the 2nd Nolan Batman movie on Azzarello’s JOKER HC) or pent-up market demand (eg, Clowes’ WILSON) working upon them.

    A “Ultimate”-style reimagining of Batman and Superman by A-level creatives is really the last project in the world I would have banked on skipping the serialization for, purely on an economic basis — “Ultimate Batman #1 by Geoff Johns” is almost certainly going to break 100k, serialized, with another 25k or so in a collection; I think it will be lucky to cross 80k as an OGN, however.

    -B

  29. Kevin Huxford Says:

    The evidence you cite for OGNs is all based on Diamond order numbers, no? And not designed with the bookstore as its target market.

    When you’re trying something new, I don’t think it sluggish initial orders are a “reasonable reason” for retreating or trying to change things to something that more closely reflects the old ways. They have to make a commitment to the new way long enough to give it a chance. You have to give the market a chance to see how it performs and adjust, not expect them to take a large leap of faith with you.

  30. DC’s OGN Line to Continue With No Changes » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] solved! Writer J. Michael Straczynski appeared in the comments at my original post on DC’s Earth One plans changing to explain what happened: The “news” about DC backing away from original graphic novels [...]

  31. Brian Hibbs Says:

    “The evidence you cite for OGNs is all based on Diamond order numbers, no?”

    The specific same-month comparison with JONAH HEX, etc above is, yes, DCD numbers only — but only because I won’t see this year’s BookScan numbers for 2010 until January (and also because it’s generally rare to have an OGN that tracks at the same time as an “equivalent serialization”)

    Otherwise, no: The rest of my statements on the relative success of OGN vs TP are derived from looking at BookScan numbers, over the last 5 years.

    OGNs are not, even remotely, a “new” idea. CONTRACT WITH GOD was an OGN :)

    Either way, it’s all moot, as DC is *not* changing their plans!

    -B

  32. Johanna Says:

    I should have checked before raising the alarm, but I suspect that people wouldn’t have believed the change so easily if DC didn’t have a track record these days of backing off of their experimental and market-expanding projects. And that comment that someone got from the LCS about DC trying to raise the order numbers, if true, is troubling.

  33. Kevin Huxford Says:

    JMS, that might be what you said on an alternate earth, but the tape doesn’t lie: you made no reference to Brave & The Bold in your answer. You said hardcover, single issues & then more single issues that would be collected. If you misspoke, that’s fine…happens to everybody at one time or another. But to tut-tut folks for getting what you said wrong? Sorry, but you’re wrong in doing that.

    As many have pointed out to me now, the 57:40 mark is where you specifically make the statement that your understanding is that it will go OGN->single issues->more single issues->collection of new single issues: http://www.dccomics.com/media/podcasts/DCComics_2010-07-23_Superman_The_Man_of_Tomorrow_at_SDCC_2010.mp3

  34. John Berguizamo Says:

    I agree DC will not survive even if comics do, nor should they. Grant Morrison, Matt Idelson, Dan Didio, Paul Dini, Will Pfeifer, these men are responsible for the closing of dozens of comic shops nation wide. Batman RIP, that Catwoman pregnant idiocy, Damien Wayne. And over at Marvel, breaking up Peter and MJ. These aren’t just bad comics, they’re forces that pushed away readers as we reached the worst economy since the depression. It wasn’t a day in the park for mom and pops before that.

    Challenge any of these guys they’ll say it doesn’t matter. It’s just comics. They love it when we hate what they do.

    It doesn’t matter to them because it’s attention. Look at all the uproar on the net from the funny fanboys. It isn’t funny when for every flame on a blog 10 people decide to do something else with their money this month. See Inception again or order a pizza. Buy some merit points in a facebook game. It doesn’t matter to Grant, he still gets applause at the cons. It matters to the guys who loved comics so much they tried to make their livelihoods in it. It matters when they can’t get a second mortgage if they were willing to take the risk, and have to choose between letting employees go or closing the doors entirely. It matters when next month is no better and they have to close the doors anyway.

    I hope one day those bastards realize the very real harm they have done to very real people. Then again they’ll probably still think it doesn’t matter.

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