When was the last time you were excited about the launch of a new comic?
I mean really excited. Like if you didn’t put it on your reserve list, you’d miss out on something very special indeed. Something that could possibly make comics history.
Was it when DC announced their ‘New 52’? When the Ultimate Peter Parker died and was replaced?
Or was it a lot longer ago than that?
For me, the last time I felt this way was back in April 1993, when I was 20 (unfortunately, with great age comes great cynicism!).
Previews magazine advertised two new comic universes launching that Summer. One was the short-lived Defiant Comics, set up by former Valiant Comics editor Jim Shooter, and victim of legal action by Marvel over the name of its first comic ‘Plasm’ (Defiant won the ruling but the legal costs ate up its available funds and the company ceased trading a couple of years later).
But it was the second universe, a comics imprint by Malibu Publishing, which really caught my eye. It was called…
The premise was simple – a group of well-known writers and artists (including Steve Englehart, Norman Breyfogle, Mike W. Barr, James Robinson, Steve Gerber, Gerard Jones, and later George Perez and Barry Windsor-Smith) basically tried to recapture the magic of the birth of Marvel Comics, and almost succeeded.
Over two years, they release a string of quality titles, including Prime (a young boy who can generate a plasma coating giving him super strength and flight, and making him look like a pumped up adult), Mantra (an ancient male wizard trapped in the body of a young single mother), The Strangers (a group of tram passengers who acquire powers after getting hit by a mysterious lightning bolt), and Firearm (a detective with spot-on shooting abilities).
There were some strong similarities to titles from other companies. For example, Hardcase was an actor with powers, like Marvel’s Wonder Man. Sludge was similar to Swamp Thing and Man-Thing. Prime was a clever riff on DC’s Captain Marvel. Freex were the Ultraverse’s version of the X-Men. And Prototype was basically a redesigned Iron Man.
But, because of the strength of the writing, none of that mattered. It was such a great feeling to be part of a strong, self-contained universe from day one. And to have trust in the creators that the quality would remain strong.
But then, the unthinkable happened. Marvel bought Malibu (some say for its colouring artists), held a couple of crossovers between Marvel and Ultraverse characters, relaunched a handful of Ultraverse titles with all-black covers, then killed it stone dead a few months later. The backlash was huge.
Joe Quesada said, in an interview with Newsarama in 2005: “Let’s just say that I wanted to bring these characters back in a very big way, but the way that the deal was initially structured, it’s next to impossible to go back and publish these books. There are rumors out there that it has to do with a certain percentage of sales that has to be doled out to the creative teams. While this is a logistical nightmare because of the way the initial deal was structured, it’s not the reason why we have chosen not to go near these characters, there is a bigger one, but I really don’t feel like it’s my place to make that dirty laundry public.”
Though this Bleeding Cool article reveals that the Ultraverse creators don’t know what he’s talking about, and that relaunching the universe again should be fairly simple.
The good news is at least the back issues are cheap to find, and there are plenty of fan sites out there keeping the memories alive, the most popular being Ultraverse Flashback.
Now, 19 years after the launch of the Ultraverse, the promise of another successful self-contained universe is upon us –
The Valiant Comics universe was originally launched in 1992, and, by carving a niche for itself based on its sci-fi/mystery/pulp action titles, rather than spandexed superheroes, it shortly became a major rival to both Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. There were many inter-universe crossovers, and the glue that held the titles together was the theory that all of its super-powered beings harnessed the power of the mind, rather than magically being affected through radioactivity or the gods.
Acclaim Entertainment bought Valiant Comics and restarted the universe from scratch in 1996. Unfortunately the reboot was seen as unnecessary by many readers, and resulted in a less cohesive universe. Sales dropped and all of the titles were cancelled after a few years. Still – 80 million sales total sales isn’t bad!
But now, the universe is being relaunched. With the rights to the titles being bought from Acclaim in 2007, the company was renamed Valiant Entertainment. Former Marvel CEO, Peter Cuneo, who oversaw the sale of Marvel to Disney, has joined the board of directors, and they’ve hired some top-class creators to head up the relaunch.
Interestingly, the relaunch wasn’t mentioned on the cover of Previews Magazine or in the ‘Gems of the Month’ (proving that Diamond don’t choose these for your benefit – they sell the slots to the highest bidders). It got a 3-inch square mention in their splash pages though.
There’s also more information at their website http://www.valiantentertainment.com
I must admit that I never got into the Valiant universe back in the 90s, mainly because I was spending all my money on tons of Marvel comics, the death and rebirth of Superman, and later the Ultraverse. I also suppose that I was always a traditional superhero fan at heart, so I wasn’t Valiant’s core reader.
But now I’ve asked my local comic store to reserve all current and future Valiant titles for me.
So what’s different now?
Firstly, rather than littering the shelves with new titles, the company will release 4 titles over the next four months, then add another two over the next year. This makes it much easier for readers to get hooked into the universe, rather than risk getting them confused and having to remortgage the house. This was part of the problem of the Ultraverse, which would have a challenge being able to follow the same release model today with a $3.99 cover price, rather than $1.95.
Secondly, the quality of the art and premise of the universe has got me hooked. I admit that I had a passing interest in X-O Manowar and Harbinger, but it was the promotional piece on third title Bloodshot (see pic) that really got me.
Here’s the setup:
“Your name is Angelo Mortalli. Your brother is trapped behind enemy lines and on the verge of — no. That’s not right. Your name is Raymond Garrison. You’ve retired from the dangers of the field, but a desperate plea from your oldest friend plunges you into a vicious firefight that — no. That’s not right, either. You are Bloodshot. You are the shade of gray that freedom requires. The perfect confluence of military necessity and cutting-edge technology. A walking WikiLeaks that is a reservoir of dirty secrets that could set the world on fire. And you’ve just been captured.”
After reading this passage and seeing the amazing cover to Issue #1 (see pic), I decided at that point to buy into Valiant, hopefully for the long haul.
So what was so compelling about this press release?
- It’s written in the second person, putting you in the centre of the action, which makes the reader more involved than if it was written in the third person.
- In a rarely used, but powerful, narrative trick, the narrator’s memory seems unreliable, contradicting what they’ve just said. It reads like a ‘Choose your own adventure’ book with some of the pages ripped out, generating intrigue. Is the narrator the person who gives orders to Bloodshot, or is it the voice in his own head? In any case, we are led to believe that one of the key elements of the story will be for the hero to find his own identity, which Marvel used to great effect with Wolverine.
- The mention of ‘Wikileaks’ anchors the story to the real world, which sets it apart from its more popular rivals.
- Overall, it sounds like Robocop mixed with Rambo – I’m in!
Those factors, mixed with the awesome cover art and preview pages by Manuel Garcia and Arturo Lozzi made for an extremely compelling argument to buy. If you want to do the same, you may have to acquire X-O Manowar #1 from eBay, but that is the only comic they’ve released to date. You can check out their new website at http://www.valiantuniverse.com/.
If you’d like to enquire about working for Valiant, email your portfolio and/or previously published work to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Hook Regular Comic Readers
Even if you don’t have a marketing budget like Valiant’s, or top-notch skills like their creators, you can still create promotional pieces just as powerful.
If you simplify the whole sales process, i.e. the ability to get someone hooked on your comic or comics, it boils down to generating strong enough positive emotions in your readers that they will be prepared to join you for the long haul, even if the odd instalment stinks.
Here are some of the emotions that the Ultraverse and Valiant instigated in me and many others:
- Trust – Most of the creators involved in both universes had past successes. Most notably (for me at least), The Strangers writer, Steve Engelhart, had written Silver Surfer Vol.3 which was an amazing read. Valiant have hired creators who aren’t yet household names, but whose skills put them in the top league. For example, amazing Conan artist Cary Nord, Immortal Iron Fist writer Duane Swierczynski and Unknown Soldier/BPRD writer Joshua Dysart. These creators can be trusted to output great work on a consistent basis. And Valiant are also referring to their past successes in their press releases as a form of ‘Social proof’. Can you use testimonials from people who love your stuff to build trust in new readers?
- Commitment / Belonging – Since every title is based in the same universe, there is plenty of crossover appeal. Any character could pop up in someone else’s book. It’s true that some people are tired of crossovers, especially when used to simply increase the sales on a flagging title. But when implemented to help glue together a newly formed universe, it makes a compelling reason to collect all titles in that universe. The Ultraverse creators also used the mystery of how some of their characters gained their powers (later resolved in the ‘Break-Thru’ two-parter) as a reason to read on an ongoing basis. What sub-plots could you use to encourage readers to come back regularly, and feel that they are part of something special?
- Excitement/Anticipation – These emotions are often generated through the setting of powerful goals i.e. what is your comic series going to achieve, in a big way? In the age of Image Comics, the Ultraverse creators had a mission to prove that traditional superhero comics with quality writing was superior to those with quality art but low-standard writing. They soon proved their point, and it didn’t take long for their competitors, including Image, to follow. For the Valiant relaunch, Valiant Publisher Fred Pierce has said “My goal is that Valiant once again becomes the number three company in the industry”. Lofty and interesting goals give the audience a good reason to hang on for the ride. Valiant are also releasing preview pages of all of its titles, and released a Preview comic for Free Comic Book Day to help stoke the fire.
- Escapism – We are constantly being reminded by the media that the world around us sucks. Both the Ultraverse and Valiant offer a way to escape from the drudgery of real life by jumping into a separate universe built mainly for our enjoyment. What does your comic offer in the way of escapism? Even if it portrays the real world in a humorous, slanted or dramatic way, that’s still a form of light relief.
Well, I hope that’s given you some insight into how to effectively generate new readers for your comic.
If you liked the article, or would love to spread the word on the Ultraverse, or the new Valiant relaunch, please share this article by using the ‘Tweet’ ‘Like’ ‘+1’ or other buttons below, or post a comment.
All the best,
The Comic Academy
Phil Hampton founded The Comic Academy to help and inpire comic creators and publishers to market their work effectively. Download your FREE exclusive report ‘The 7 Steps to Comic Creator Success’ at http://www.TheComicAcademy.com