Let’s provisionally accept the notion,
plausible enough on its face, that Marvel’s engorged advertising scheme
is done with, at least until next year, as of this week’s end-of-year comic releases. If next week does indeed see a return, across the board, to page count normalcy, I will breathe a sigh of relief not unlike the one I would exhale after a particularly portly airplane passenger vacated the seat next to me on a layover. I still got to my destination and received the product I paid for … it just wasn’t very comfortable.
There are many negative consequences to me the reader when I’m trying to wade through a comic book whose advertising pages outnumber story pages, as did most of Marvel’s magazines over much of the past two months. But this week, at least regarding the purchases of this weekly comic addict, one of the negative consequences visited Marvel. Specifically, I dropped Onslaught Reborn.
The Loeb/Liefeld revival of the “Volume 2” universe, as I prefer to think of it, was always an unstable proposition for me. The lightest whiff of wind could topple this title off my buy pile, and with this week’s issue #2 release, that tiny puff of air was the ad count. The series already faced a series of high hurdles with me in attempting to earn my continued purchase beyond my usual polite first-issue tryout. I have never read any of the original “Heroes Reborn” stories, so unfamiliarity was its first hurdle. I tend to avoid miniseries that don’t explicitly promise any real impact on the rest of the in-continuity universe, so that was the second. And my current artistic tastes have moved away from Rob Liefeld’s style, making for a third, nearly insurmountable hurdle right from the start.
So when I flipped through my pull stack Thursday, hefted the deceptively thick Onslaught Reborn #2 in my hands and noted that it was a regular priced issue, I envisioned the frustration I would feel reading a book I just barely cared about while plowing through just as many pages of worthless advertising dreck. Then I decided I’d spend my three dollars on something else. That impulse of advertising disgust was just enough to cost the miniseries, already under probationary review by my wallet, any further patience.
With that, here are a few final statistics based on Marvel’s output over the last two weeks. In all, I brought home 29 Marvel comics this week and last, as well as two comics published by Marvel under imprint labels.
29: Total comics
13: Regular 32-page comics
11: Ad-stuffed 48-page comics (of which at least two had above-average story page counts)
4: Extra-sized 48-page comics ($3.99 each)
1: Slightly-ad-stuffed 40-page comic
As revealed by these representative numbers (with the caveat that I did not buy every title Marvel published in these two weeks, nor did I count pages in the few I left on the shelf), the ad glut definitely tapered off at the end of this Christmas shopping season – a good thing, certainly.
In fact, I was just about ready to declare the ad-fest over last week, when just two titles showed up buried under piles of advertising. But this week swung right back into negative territory with just 3 of 11 regular-priced comics coming in at the standard 32-page format. Not a very encouraging final week trend, if “final” it truly be.
It’s worth making note of the two imprint titles I brought home from Marvel’s publishing output during this timeframe. Criminal #3, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ creator-owned title under the ICON banner, contained fully 25 pages of story, several pages of unique essay-formatted bonus content, and exactly one page of advertising – which was really closer to a sort of public service announcement on behalf of indy publishing. All for the standard price of $2.99.
Similarly, Red Prophet, my first foray into the Dabel Brothers imprint, contained 22 pages of uninterrupted storytelling, an extra-heavy paper stock and a swath of in-house promotional ads placed after the story, all for just $2.95.
Being a self-confessed ignoramus regarding the economics of profit-earning periodicals, I can only be confused that advertising-free titles such as these find their way into the marketplace at exactly the same price as their ad-bearing cousins, and still survive to publish further issues while selling the merest fraction of what sponsored books sell each month.
I can only surmise that Marvel, as publisher, shifts an enormous portion of the financial risks to the creators under the creator-owned ICON line, and thus has a greater profit margin with which to absorb the loss of revenue seen in printing Criminal without advertising. And I surmise further that the Dabel Brothers operation, as a more or less independent imprint, supplies publishing capital from other sources not tied to Marvel’s sales-plus-advertising revenue stream, thus allowing Marvel to forgo the securing of further commercial sponsors.
However it works, the production quality of these ad-free titles, which seem to be at least profitable enough to earn a green light from the publisher, suggest it’s possible to run a comic company successfully under a minimal advertising model. These examples, if nothing else, most certainly argue that a publishing scheme featuring literally more pages of advertising than actual editorial content is fiscally unnecessary.
And this week, at least for this buyer, Marvel's choice to increase that superfluous ad revenue literally cost them the revenue of a potential sale.