Friday, January 16, 2004

Creative Briefing by Bill Jemas 4/7/03

In this story, Thor's missions are a thinly veiled metaphor for American Diplomacy outside of the easy reach of the Authority of the United States of America.

Thor has it all - a living god, handsome, wealthy powerful.

And get this; he's a great guy too. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and James T. Kirk all rolled up into one.

And everywhere he goes, every challenge he faces, no matter how great or small, he LOSES. All that talent and power and MORAL righteousness and this guy is rejected by the locals and drummed out of town, everywhere he goes.

And, he goes like the Eveready bunny; he keeps moving from wild fantasyland to incredible dreamlike realm. He travels the world, hunting bad guys, putting down rebellions, rescuing other diplomats, etc. (he's American Foreign Policy on a road trip).

But he never goes to places that are close to his homeland. So he has to accomplish what he needs to do by winning over the local community. In the places Thor goes, he will be like an American official in a third-world wilderness or underworld, or like an ambassador to Russia or China during the Cold war.

Not that he isn't a god or nothing: this boy is armed to the teeth. That hammer of his wields the kind of power that a modern American Army could reign down on a third-world nation. But that's not the way to win the hearts and minds of the people. He'd rather throw around some money, or capture the local banditos, or beat down the local strongman - all for the good of the people.

Who, by the way, can't freaking stand him.

Wait till you see our golden boy fighting for women's rights in this kingdom where women wear veils and are married to men who are chosen by their parents.

He gets in there, rallies the right-thinking men around the plight of this beautiful, intelligent, wonderful shopkeeper who wants to run for mayor.

And damned if Thor doesnít get the men to agree that this babe can run for mayor . . . and they are even going to let the wives vote.

But now it's Election Day. And some dragon or something (representing old fashioned thinking) attacks the voting place and Thor kicks his dragon ass.

So the election goes ahead, BUT THE BABE LOSES. Turns out she's a real bitch and the women hate her.

And the local women gang up on Thor with like brooms and mops, and smack the $#!# out of him. They want to wear veils and the want arranged marriages. They don't want to live in a world ruled by pretty girls.

"When you know who you want to marry, you just tell your mom and she tells his mom,"
says a young, veiled maiden as she hits him right up side his head with a rolling pin.

Lights out.

In terms of setting, we want to take Thor full-force into the Fantasy/Conan the Barbarian world. The world in which Thor travels is not Earth, or if it is, not like any time on Earth we are familiar with. Thor's adventures should involve dragons, witches, spirits, and other Fantasy world creatures and characters. The places and people should be strange, but the stories should be familiar and resonate with a contemporary audience.

OK, but please don't worry about why he's on the move. Don't make up any rings or gems to collect. Seen grail, searched it. This series not about that.

This Thor is about a god going around to do good stuff. You don't need to explain anything. Readers donít question that gods want to do good stuff. People donít question the presence and roll of American diplomats any where in the world. Think about it, we don't even question why we sent an American diplomat to the freaking MOON.

Honestly, I'm afraid if you start thinking about gathering gemstones, you are going to lose focus on what the book is about. THIS BOOK IS ABOUT FAILURE. The failure of Power and Reason and Morality, when the Strong, Intelligent, Moral Hero does not embrace the loves, hates and fears of the people he wants to Rule or Govern or Help.

And we need some sex-appeal: on this journey, a young woman accompanies Thor. They are just partners, nothing romantic, but everything romantic (sarcastic, antagonistic, with an attraction simmering underneath, which is not acted on for a long, long time -- if ever).

Please think about this: Thor is a god. From a human point of view, the godlike qualities of reason and righteousness really do lose to basest human traits of pecking order and politics.

Please think about this: Thor is a god. From a religious point of view, Thor is a missionary, an exported god. From a foreign policy point of view, this book is about the failure of exporting American society.

And, while we're at it think about this: Thor will be an intensely patriotic book, because Thor truly believes that Truth and Justice is the American Way. His mission is not about rings or gemstones. Thor seeks to carry Truth and Justice as far and wide as he can, and suffer whatever slings and arrows he must along the way.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The Remedy

Pop culture is ailing on multiple fronts. Movies are grossing more money, but actual tickets sold continue to decline. Network television has bled viewers through a sliced jugular in the past few years. The RIAA wants to sue anyone with a computer because they believe that illegal downloads are the reason record sales have slumped severely over the last few years. And no matter how much money or how many people go to a theatre to see SPIDER-MAN, it doesn’t translate into new comic book readers and higher sales. Comics continue to flounder along with the same aging and graying fanbase, steadfastly refusing to change they way they do business…much like the music business actually. But what comics and music don’t see is that a form of salvation lies before them in the guise of a very simple trade: a trade of business models.

Music has its foundation as album sales. Album sales are generally driven by radio airplay of singles, television and other media appearances, music videos, and touring. But at the heart of it, an album is generally ten to twelve songs of varying quality, and there’s an enormous risk in purchasing it; prices for a CD are artificially high in many cases, and without knowing if the rest of the album has any music worth a damn (because you’ve only heard that one single) you’re rolling the dice and taking a big risk in laying out that cash. That, to my mind, is the single greatest reason that Napster became such a phenomenon. It took the risk out of buying music.

Let’s take Britney Spears for example. This past Fall, she released a new album. She led off with a single and a video, and sales started high and tapered off quickly to a much lower level. Why? One, her audience has decreased over time. Two, her album sucked, and the word got out that it sucked, making it much easier for people to avoid spending that money on an unknown quality.

It might have been different, sales-wise, if Britney and her record company would have tried something a bit different. Let’s say that “Me Against The Music” was the pinnacle of pop perfection. Maybe Britney and her handlers realize that the rest of the songs she has laying around to record are pretty half-ass and not worth the time. Instead of recording them and ripping off the kids for their hard earned drug money, instead she films a video, maybe adds one other song for a “B” side, and that’s it. It gets released into the wild.

Britney hits the talk show circuit, sings the song on Letterman, chats up Carson Daly, whatever. So far, outside of the number of songs recorded, there’s absolutely no difference in what she, the artist, would normally do. That single is out there, in a nice package, selling in good numbers at a low price in the $3-$5 range, and everyone is happy. The kids get the song they want, a nice extra, and they have plenty of money left over to buy the CD single that Outkast is putting out next week, and maybe another one depending on price. Everyone is happy.

CD singles can sell; point people towards Elton John and Whitney Houston if they’ve forgotten that. But the buyer just needs a reason to buy. Then , and only then, does the music industry finish off their adaptation of the comic book business model.

Say in two years, Britney has released nine singles. Now is the time for the musical “trade paperback.”

Collect those songs, add a new song, some new video or DVD-ROM material, and voila! You have a full-length album that isn’t a crap shoot. The greatest hits album has long been a strong selling staple of the industry, and that’s because the buyers know they’re getting an album of quality material, no duds. So when “Britney Spears V.4: The Midriff Years” hits the shelves, it’s a huge seller, easy as that. And there will be some people who buy all those singles, then turn around and buy the album just to get the bonus material, just like in comics. (They’ll also bitch that they have to wait another two years for “Vol. 5: My Tits Keep Getting Bigger And My Shirts Smaller”, but there’s nothing you can do about that.) It’s the closest thing to legal stealing a record company could do.

Sure, there are some artists who actually do know how to put together a full record’s worth of material and not rip off the consumer, but they aren’t exactly productive ones. Trent Reznor took five years between Nine Inch Nails albums. Peter Gabriel seems to put out a record once a decade. So the musical mavericks can go ahead and continue to do business the old way because their independence isn’t what I’m really talking about here anyway. My proposition applies mainly to pop and its more disposable music and aspects. Music would be just as welcome to their Craig Thompsons, Chris Wares, and Kyle Bakers as comics are.

On the flip side, it’s time for comics to focus deeper and deeper on music’s business model. Albums are where it’s at for comics. The continual release of light and fluffy singles (pamphlets) has gotten nearly pointless at this juncture.

Instead, comics need to really begin to look at getting more material in one spot in larger formats. Look, in a music store, you can hit a listening station and catch snippets of the latest Coldplay album, but you can’t stand there for an hour and listen to every song. The graphic novel and trade paperback aren’t so hampered; you may not be able to read the entire thing while you’re at Borders, but you can flip through it with some delicate grace, read a few pages, and get an excellent idea about whether or not it would be something you’d enjoy. In that respect, BLANKETS has it all over Nelly.

But BLANKETS or THREE FINGERS, or something else like it would never have worked as singles. Hell, even the brilliant FROM HELL did appear as singles, but it was confounding and confusing without the whole work to focus on. Books like these were made to avoid the dreaded pamphlet disease.

100 BULLETS is a perfect example of what I mean. I really enjoy this book. I started with issue one with a good gut feeling that it was something that would pay off for me in the long run, and I was right. But the longer the series went on, the more I realized that I couldn’t keep buying those individual issues. The stories were getting more complex, the character base had grown so very huge, and I was getting lost every month. But when I sat down and read the trade paperback? It was all perfectly clear. Even the most nonsensical arc of the book, “The Counterfifth Detective” made good sense in the trade.

I stopped buying the monthly immediately after that.

That book, like so many others, made me realize that I wasn’t getting anything extra (except some bewilderment) for buying the monthly singles. So I’ve stopped buying almost every one of them I used to get. I get some stuff that I am not sure will make it into album format, and I try and support some indy books that just need the help staying afloat, but I want the albums. A good album isn’t just music, or a long story; it’s an experience that takes you someplace else. It’s a universal thing. A single doesn’t do that.

So that’s my theory. Comics should concentrate more and more on making albums. Oni Press has almost completely abandoned singles. AiT/PlanetLar had done so until deciding recently to put out a couple of singles. TokyoPop gave singles the bird a while ago and increased their market share all the more for it. All it takes is for the publishers to keep pushing and realize that they were crowded off the newsstands because comics were too inexpensive; however, if they put out a collection of Superman or Spider-Man every two months that cost $5, they’d be back on those newsstands regaining that market share that was once theirs, and getting more readers to boot. See SHONEN JUMP if you don’t believe me.

Neither of these would be an easy or obvious transition, but they could be done. And if comics publishers don’t start thinking harder about their product and album creation, fans will. All it’s going to take is the creation of a Napster-style file sharing network for comics, and sales are gonna die. Or for a small bindery out there to start running ads for comics readers who want to have their own collections turned into trades or hardcovers at a reasonable price, and then the whole thing will completely collapse. That’s a lot of disposable income that’s being gambled by the publishers. I wonder if they realize just how good a poker face that the readers have?

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Series I Want To One Day See DC Publish, number one:

Lex Luthor, evil genius, having to work in a call center to make a living between criminal schemes to take over the world. He wastes the day calling superheroes in their secret identities at inconvenient times, just to piss them off.