CBR's Guide to Free Comic Book Day 2016
I wrote a post back in March of 2010 opining that neither DC nor Marvel managed to pick up the rights to adapt Twilight into a graphic novel.
My point back then was simply that Marvel or DC should have moved heaven and earth to get the rights to adapt Twilight and when successful, made a simultaneous effort to place advertisements for female friendly comics and graphic novels in the edition, as well as shelve some of those same titles right next to it. The Twilight Graphic Novel went on to smash sales records, selling an approximated 66,000 copies in the first week. And in June of 2010 Twilight The Graphic Novel had been #1 on the New York Times best-seller list (for hardcover graphic books) for 12 weeks.
Well, this time around, DC has managed it, as they’re scheduled to publish the graphic novel adaptation of the hugely popular The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo novels via their Vertigo imprint.* With stats that 80% of fiction readers (in the US, Canada, and Britain) are women, and the “unofficial stats” that the readers for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are perhaps as much as 71% female it’s worth considering what the audience for this graphic novel might look like.
If the graphic novel is going to sell, it seems like a good bet that it will have a large audience of women, and if it goes on to smash sales records the way that Twilight did, then it will be a very large audience of women. Which makes this a perfect opportunity to reach out to female readers that might discover a love of comics. So, what are the existing books that DC can and should advertise in their graphic novel and shelve next to it whenever possible?
For starter’s I’d say trades of the new Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, and Batwoman, trades will be out by then and hopefully those series will still be running strong. Also collected trades of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s Demo (volumes 1 and 2), and Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s recent The New York Five. Absolutely Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs’ DV8: Gods & Monsters would be an excellent choice, though I’d highly recommend repackaging the existing trade with one of the original Fiona Staples covers (my pick would be issue #2 – see below – it’s awesome) as opposed to the less accurate current trade cover. I’d shelve Joshua Dysart and Cliff Chiang’s Greendale as well as an early Fables trade. Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra Y: The Last Man Vol. 1: Unmanned and probably Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman Vol. 1., perhaps Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score. Matt Kindt’s Revolver, and some American Vampire, American Vampire: Survival Of The Fittest, DMZ and Northlanders trades wouldn’t be a bad idea, and I’m sure several others that I’ve neglected to mention.
And that’s a hell of a start. But say you actually manage to hook a new reader with any of these books. Wouldn’t it be great if there were even more books for them once they got through those? If The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo does remotely the sales that Twilight has, there will be two more books to follow closely on its heels. So why not put into motion, in anticipation of that, a handful of great female friendly books to fill some shelves and possibly capitalize on that interest? Is it a risk? Absolutely. Might it not pay off? Absolutely. Few business ventures worth the effort have no risk, and most take a long time to pay off in any concrete way, but as I’ve opined frequently here, trying nothing gets you exactly nothing.
I’ve love to see DC be truly bold here and make a push for some new and interesting female friendly content. The goods news is that they have at least three really wonderful ongoing series right now that could easily appeal to most women (I refer of course to Wonder Woman, Batwoman, and Birds of Prey), but more couldn’t hurt. And just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that we coat everything in pink and unicorns so that “the wimmins will like it”, I’m suggesting, as I have ad nauseam, that it takes very little effort to create books that don’t actively turn women away. Choosing smart A-list creative teams, including artists that can draw beautifully without collapsing constantly into male gaze, and writers that are experienced with creating complicated and layered female characters. The books I suggest would in no way be a turn off to the vast majority of men, they’d just be damn good comic books without the “no girls allowed” sign smacked across the front.
It also wouldn’t hurt to have some YA or teen friendly titles being produced to be shelved next to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (you know I’m going to recommend someone FINALLY letting Ben Caldwell do his brilliant Wonder Woman Digest pitch) because you know what a lot of women reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo have? Children. Yup, women have children, and if not, they frequently have nieces and nephews, or just friends with children. You know how many Wonder Woman things I’ve bought for my boss’ young daughter? I see something awesome with Wonder Woman slapped on it and I’m quick to snap it up. This has resulted in books and dolls for her, coloring books and toys. And as soon as she’s old enough to read comics I’d love it if there was something wonderful I could offer her. Alas, for now, there’s not much.
Of course the logistics of how to make sure that additional product that might interest readers of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and how female readers not familiar with or interested in going to comic book stores, are complicated and will affect how well any of this could work. Certainly many women will order online, or pick the book up at local bookstores, where it is more difficult to have a special shelving situation, which is why the ads are important. As is a solid well-considered plan for a PR & Marketing push as well. My fellow 3 Chicks podcaster, Sue of DC Women Kicking Ass, has talked about the strangeness of DC’s marketing presence, where and why they decide to give out exclusive previews of new material, how and why they opt not to reach out to major female focused media outlets like Jezebel and The Mary Sue. After Ellen is a site that has responded very positively to Batwoman, yet they are never gifted any exclusive previews, instead the most recent exclusive preview for Batwoman simply went up on DC’s own site, The Source, which is a complete waste for everyone. The Birds of Prey #4 preview, a female positive book if ever I’ve seen one, went to Maxim…where roughly zero female readers will ever find it.
There needs to be some serious reverse engineering here if there is any hope of reaching out to female readers. Given DC’s own statements in recent years, and most notably their comments regarding the DCnU this past fall, they’ve made it clear that they don’t see women as a demographic they’re going after. So not talking to After Ellen, Jezebel, The Mary Sue, and other similar sites or sharing material with them makes a certain amount of sense. But I fundamentally disagree with that strategy. They should not be ignoring everyone outside of their males 18 – 34 demographic. It’s quite honestly insanity to do so. Focusing on that demographic has brought them nothing but dwindling sales over the last ten years, even while movies, games, and various other IP explode and SHOULD have been able to help grow the industry. As Einstein famously said (so famously it has now become a cliché): Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Let’s not be insane. Let’s try something that totally might not work, but also isn’t the same thing we’ve already exhausted our efforts trying. Let’s try something new. Let’s try this.
*Though I don’t want to dwell on it as it’s not the point of this piece, I do think this first image from ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ is a misfire for the graphic novel. It’s far too sexualized for the Lisbeth Salander of the novel and strikes the wrong tone right out of the gate. Though Salander is a sexual (and sexy) character, this image does not synch up with the character well at all, and I suspect runs a high risk of turning off fans of the book, much like the Fincher movie supposedly has. Though I think the Fincher movie is excellent, I agree that the super sexual and aggressive Craig/Mara teaser image released for the movie was a similar mistake that may have turned off many female fans looking for a more nuanced look at this controversially feminist work.
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