Defective Comics

While I have long considered Marvel and DC Comics to be one beast with two heads [Technically, Bi-Beast is strictly a Marvel thing. — Parish], DC manages to stand a little taller in my eyes. They treat their creators better with both credit and royalties, and perhaps because of that they are occasionally able to publish some truly stellar work. While Marvel doesn’t have a Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns it’s easy to imagine they could — while a more mature book like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman seems completely out of their grasp.

So I was sad to read from Comic Book Resources that DC Comics is cancelling its Minx line, a series of original trade paperback sized comics intended to attract a younger female audience. I had a chance to read some of these books earlier this year when I found some preview copies at a convention. It’s common in book publishing to send preliminary copies, called galley proofs, to retail stores as a means to promote a book. And I was stunned when I saw these galley proofs of the Minx line because I had never seen or heard of a comic company with this mission before. DC had a line of books that were actually appealing to girls — although still mostly produced by men — within a very earnest attempt to play by the book world’s rules. What happened?

[[image:mn_080926_defective_comics.jpg:cover detail from The New York Four and Janes in Love:center:0]]
Sadly, Minx is just the latest in a long tradition of DC imprints that have died before their time. Helix was styled after Vertigo with a sci-fi bent and became home to Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan. Milestone Media was founded by a group of African-American creators and is best known for the superhero book Static. Paradox Press published Road to Perdition which was adapted to a feature film and Pirahnna Press published Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn and the excellent Big Book of… anthologies. All of these lines produced good work and all were cancelled before their time. The shame is that many of these books will never be reprinted, or at least no time soon — just another drop in an overflowing bucket of disposable media.

It seems spiteful. The cynic in me thinks that all these imprints are just lip service, DC’s way of throwing a bone to the poor misanthropes who think comics are more than just a delivery vehicle for male power fantasies. And it seems disingenuous to reach all the way back to the early 1970’s when they cancelled Jack Kirby’s line of Fourth World books because while they were outselling most of DC’s other books they weren’t bringing in Fantastic Four numbers. But I think the truth lies somewhere in between — a genuine disdain for change coupled with astoundingly bad business decisions. How else could you explain why DC is too shortsighted to see the long tail?

11 thoughts on “Defective Comics

  1. My understanding of the situation is that, after a couple of years of trying, it became obvious that retailers like Barnes & Noble were never going to stock the line, or at least stock it in sufficient quantities to make it financially viable. I expect that the better books will, much like Transmetropolitan did, find a home and audience under the Vertigo banner, but a lot of this decision can be laid at the feet of Random House and retailers, not necessarily DC. DC did everything right; it’s just that they were the only ones who thought there was a market for the stuff.

    Same was true for most of the other failures, although I’d argue that Helix’s failure was only because they thought they needed a “sci-fi” imprint separate from Vertigo at the time. As it turns out, anything that could have come out as part of Helix was probably released either as a Wildstorm or Vertigo title, so that one was just killing off a redundant label rather than any sort of grand tragedy. I think they’ve finally come around on how dumb it was to kill off Milestone, though, what with McDuffie being one of their highest-profile writers and the characters being given a renewed push.

  2. I’m a big fan of Brian Wood, but even I didn’t like New York Four (though Ryan Kelly’s art is always a joy).

    Maybe they should have gotten, you know, actual females to write the books that were aimed at a young female audience.

  3. i imagine that it basically boils down to the fact that as much as certain people at DC are good folks with their heads in the right place, they’re still a tiny branch on the tree of a giant corporate megalith and as such subject to capricious bottom-line oriented whims of some guy higher on the org chart somewhere.

  4. Thing is, some females do like these so-called “male power fantasies.”

    I wound up accidentally sitting in on a panel of female Marvel employees talking about women and comics while in San Diego the other month, and there was a lot more talk about whether a female superhero should have big boobs or not (with one creator even saying not to put down well-endowed heroines since ‘bigger’ girls can identify with cleavage if it’s not ridiculous). On the other hand, I can’t remember much if any talk about Runaways, which is basically Marvel’s “girls can like it too” book.

  5. Nevermind that nearly 100% of women worldwide have breasts at least half the size of most comic and manga heroines, if not smaller! People identify with character traits and personality, not so much how big a rack the leading lady has. Even Japan does this right more often than the U.S., and they’re far more…chauvinistic, shall we say?

    I’m just incredibly frustrated with American comics on a deep level, and I never really got into it at all as a kid, and only a little bit after I was introduced to manga.

  6. My understanding is they thought it’d do well in bookstores ala shoujo manga and poorly in comic shops, and it ended up doing better in the latter. And not well enough overall.

    At some point or other I picked up most of the Minx comics off the shelves and took a look at them… but ended up putting them back down. They didn’t quite managed to grab me, even though I wanted them too. I’m not sure if it was the art or the writing but they failed to hook me past the ‘look at it with interest’ phase.

  7. Well, Mightyblue, how many guys do you know that have the physique of, say, Batman or Captain America? The men are overly sexualized too, and I don’t really think that’s the problem. Comics have a bad image from relying on superheroes too much, and I’m afraid they’ll never really live it down.

  8. I’m pretty sure it just stemmed from not selling anywhere near enough, and they were forced to stop because of major lack of sales. I keep my eye on several comics and comics-related blogs and various aspects of the industry, and as far as I can tell DC really does want to increase young girl readership, and girl readership in general. This is probably why Gail Simone is so busy over there.

    Hopefully they’ll go about it in a better way in the future.

  9. Are you sure they were canceled and not chopped up and stuck in a refrigerator?

    I wish someone would get the rights to and republished Akiko and Strangers in Paradise. Those stories were, by and large, fabulous and would do well with teen to young adult female readers.

  10. DC spent a fortune advertising the line and expected it to be a huge success in the first year. They got the bookstores to take these titles out of the graphic novel ghetto aisles and into the young adult section. Then after 18 months they yanked the football away. Their intentions are awesome, but their expectations were unreasonable.

  11. @M. Nicholai: You said as much in your post, the chopped up thing was in reference to this site:

    You do make it seem like it was just another boneheaded move by DC instead of an active push away from a potential female fanbase though. It’s good to know that they are equal opportunity decommissioners, I guess.

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