And Now a Little Something for the *Ladies*…
|May 31, 2012||Posted by Jess under Comics|
Okay, so I didn’t exactly plan that month-long hiatus. Whoops! But I’ve been traveling for the past week and a half and before that I was planning for my trip and adjusting to a new job and also I’ve seen The Avengers four times since it came out, so, you know. Busy. But I’m back!
My travel plans took me first to Florida for Little Brother’s high school graduation (and yes, I cried), and then to Wiscon, a feminist sci-fi/fantasy conference held every spring in Madison, WI. I’m still on the fence over whether I’m going to do a full conference report, but the short version is that this was my second Wiscon, I had a great time, I got to see some of my best friends in the world, and I can’t wait to go back.
But for now, what I want to talk about is something very specific: marketing. DC’s and Marvel’s marketing, to be precise. See, Wiscon has a freebie table, where businesses can send all sorts of materials for – you guessed it – free, to be pawed through by attendees at will. I work for a publisher in my day job, and I actually sent down a flyer for some of our sci-fi books. It’s a great deal, as far as publishers are concerned: you can literally put in the bare minimum of effort to put something together – or even grab some leftover promo material that’s already lying around the office – and pay nothing but shipping. In return, Wiscon displays your ad across from registration, next to the conference programs, and between two of the most heavily trafficked rooms in the hotel. Basically, everyone attending Wiscon will walk past that table dozens of times and probably stop and look at it at least once.
Despite that, I was honestly pretty surprised to see material from both DC and Marvel on display, right by my little flyer. After all, Wiscon attendees are not exactly their primary audience. For starters, the con is capped at a thousand, which means it’s a pretty small audience; for another, it’s not a comic book convention by any means, and in fact I was dismissed rather snottily last year for bringing up Wonder Woman and Batman as examples of Mary Sues.1 (The dynamic is shifting a bit to be more inclusive; this year featured panels on Women in Comics, Women in Superhero Films, the new book Chicks Dig Comics, and a panel called “But It’s Not For Girls!” which talked about comics marketing in the description. But it’ll never be a comic book convention, and nor should it be.)
But most importantly, the attendees of Wiscon aren’t DC and Marvel’s primary audience because, well…they’re mostly women and all self-identified feminists. And DC and Marvel – especially DC, lately – haven’t historically been very good about their relationships with those groups.
On the other hand, though, the attendees of Wiscon represent something even more valuable to DC and Marvel than an audience: they are a potential audience. After all, this is a thousand nerdy people, most of whom don’t read comics, but who love science fiction and fantasy and action/adventure and epic stories of heroism (or villainy, pick your poison). They love Wonder Woman, who many of them grew up watching twirl around on television. They’ve probably seen the Christopher Nolan Batman movies and at least some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; they might watch Young Justice on Saturday mornings and they definitely watch Korra. They are primed for comics, if only they can be made aware of them.
So what did the Big Two send?
Marvel’s Having a Big Gay Wedding, and Everyone’s Invited! Marvel sent a glossy postcard advertising their recently-announced event: Northstar’s wedding to his longtime boyfriend Kyle, which will take place next month in Astonishing X-Men #51. It’s a lovely piece of art by Mike Perkins, which has apparently been sent out to various press outlets as well as cons and will also grace the cover of the book.
Verdict: Good call. Wiscon is explicitly GLBT-friendly and has a large queer turnout, as well as lots of programming on diversity in geeky media. Plus, ladies love big gay weddings! Even attendees who don’t know who Northstar is (so…everyone) will want to know more about this.
What More Could They Have Done? Northstar’s marriage to a fellow of color is a twofer for diversity and awesome in its own right, but it’s not actually about ladies, which is kind of Wiscon’s whole thing. However, starting in July Marvel will be publishing a new Captain Marvel series, starring Carol Danvers (formerly Ms. Marvel) and written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, who actually attended Wiscon. This will be Marvel’s only ongoing series starring a female character since they canceled X-23 a little while back. And it’s written by a lady! I realize Captain Marvel is a mid-list title and Marvel doesn’t want to throw the full weight of their PR department behind it, but with DC screwing up so regularly in the female fans department, this is a great chance for Marvel to earn some comparative goodwill. Borrow some money from Big Daddy Disney if you have to, print up a thousand postcards, send a few hundred each to Wiscon and Geek Girl Con, and send the rest to lady-centric press outlets like TheMarySue.com, Jezebel, and Bitch. Why not make the most of the opportunity?
Remember Watchmen? You Liked That, Right? Also, Some Other Stuff. DC sent two things. The first was a promotional piece for Before Watchmen, a…series of series? or something? Whatever. A bunch of comics meant to serve as prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal 1986 miniseries. The ad itself is a mockup of a broadsheet newspaper, folded in quarters with fake articles by and about the characters on the outside and a big color ad for the comics on the inside.
They also sent a bookmark promoting the first round of trades for the New 52. It’s got Jim Lee art of the Justice League on one side, with Hal Jordan front and center and Superman, Batman, and Cyborg all desperately mugging for space behind him, and a checklist of all the trades they’re releasing on the other side, grouped by release date.
Verdict: …Actually, pretty good call again. Watchmen is a perennial bestseller for DC, with a relatively recent movie. It’s something lots of geeky people who don’t otherwise read comics have read, and it’s not big on T&A, so it’s something lots of ladies have read.2 Before Watchmen is wildly controversial within the comics community because of the deeply unethical way DC has treated Moore and Gibbons, but the casual comic book reader doesn’t know that. I see no reason a geeky woman wouldn’t pick this up and have her interest piqued by, say, a Silk Spectre comic with gorgeous Amanda Conner art. I don’t particularly like Watchmen in any form and think this prequel nonsense is both sleazy and desperate, but I can’t deny that it was a smart choice to send this ad.
The bookmark, though…you’d think they’d have had the basic common sense to include Wonder Woman. I mean, I realize this bookmark wasn’t created specifically for Wiscon, but sending a piece of promotional art to a lady-centric con that doesn’t even acknowledge her presence seems remarkably dense to me.3 4 I’m pretty sure she has more cache than some jerk whose movie flopped. QUIT TRYING TO MAKE “FETCH” HAPPEN, DC.
What More Could They Have Done? Um, sent Justice League art that included Wonder Woman? Preferably with her boobs inside her shirt? Or, oh, I don’t know, promoted one of their other series starring one or more women? Look back up where I said Marvel only has one female-led series in the works. Why doesn’t DC counter with Batwoman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Birds of Prey, World’s Finest, Catwoman, or Voodoo? That’s a lot of ladies!
I honestly don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer here. Like I said, Wiscon is a small conference and doesn’t have many comic book readers; I’m stunned that DC and Marvel sent anything. And like I also said, it’s a freebie table; I’m sure they grabbed a bunch of postcards and bookmarks and whatever from a box and sent them down without putting a lot of thought into it. I would have been flabbergasted if they’d crafted something especially for Wiscon.
But that’s kind of my point. These companies are desperate for new readers, and they had a thousand of them in one hotel last weekend. A thousand potential readers, at a conference where a panel on Women in Superhero Films opened with “This is going to mostly be a Black Widow love-fest,” in reference to the movie with the highest-grossing opening weekend of all time and an audience that was 40% female. The attendees of Wiscon are primed to read comics as long as they a) actually hear about those comics and b) aren’t insulted by them.
Reaching out to Wiscon is a great first step from the Big Two, and despite all the ragging I generally give them, I’m glad they did it. Reaching out to Wiscon in a targeted way, though? Well, that would be even better. Let’s see you do it in 2013, boys.
- Which they both totally are, but I find Diana to be the delightful kind of Mary Sue and Bruce to be the eyerolly kind. ↩
- I find Moore’s treatment of women so vile I had to stop reading his work, but that doesn’t negate the fact that lots of women have read Watchmen and/or V for Vendetta and/or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. ↩
- Though looking at the full art, I’m kind of glad she was cropped out. BOOBS DON’T WORK THAT WAY. ↩
- Also, I could be totally misunderstanding how people wait for trades, but I don’t think they wait with baited breath for the release date. It seems to me like DC might be making the mistake of treating trade-readers like a slower version of floppy-readers, but again, not my area of expertise. ↩