The niche ditch

April 13, 2005

So DC is dropping its Humanoids and 2000 AD lines of graphic novels. Those of you who respond to that announcement with “Huma-who?” and “2000 A-What?” can be excused, because DC hasn’t exactly piled on the hype for these books. Like Tom Spurgeon, I can’t actually recall seeing a copy a book from either line anywhere, ever.

But, sorry… moving back to “Huma-who” and “2000 A-What.” I would link to their sections on DC’s web site, but they’ve already been removed from the banner. I guess that can be considered “confirmation,” following up on the complete absence of solicitations for July. The housecleaning isn’t exactly complete, so here’s the old page on 2000 AD, and here’s the Humanoids entry.

Retailer and Savage Critic Brian Hibbs has weighed in on the lines’ failure, citing a deluge of perennial product sluiced onto shop owners who have to be very selective about how they’ll assign their shelf space.

As far as the marketing of these lines goes, it’s kind of hard to scrutinize something that existed in such small quantities, really. I find it difficult to believe that DC’s publicity machine, which is fully capable of convincing legitimate media outlets that their big event comics are actually anything out of the ordinary and are indicative of a new maturity and depth on comics storytelling, couldn’t get any traction. Half the newspapers in the world were talking about the surge of comics from Japan; couldn’t anyone convince one or two of them to do a sidebar on comics from Europe? I’ll even give you a hook, ripe for overuse: “Not just Tintin!”

I find myself very interested in Johanna Draper Carlson’s question, “what does this mean, if anything, for the CMX manga line?”

My initial response is that it’s an apples and oranges kind of situation. The two dropped lines focused on product that would probably be very rewarding for a niche audience and might have made a bit of a dent in the bookstore market with more of a concentrated effort in that area. CMX has set out after the manga audience, which is much larger than the comics audience, gets its fix in a much wider range of venues, and seems more inclined to try titles on a whim (perhaps partly because of the lower price point).

But it does lead one to wonder what exactly DC is doing to put CMX on the map. In the ongoing slurry of manga coverage in mainstream media outlets, DC’s efforts rarely if ever make even a blip on the radar. The only attention the titles have received at all certainly wasn’t because of any promotional efforts on DC’s part. In fact, I have yet to see any response from the publisher on the Tenjho Tenge situation.

That’s probably smart on DC’s part, because outrage over those publishing choices was niche outrage. That isn’t a comment on the legitimacy of anyone’s objections; it’s just an observation that internet fandom is only a very small piece of the pie. A dedicated, extremely well-informed piece of the pie, but small all the same. If that segment was indicative of the whole picture, Countdown would be screaming towards the quarter bins instead of going for a marked-up second printing.

The question remains, though, as to what exactly DC is doing to distinguish CMX as a brand? Because it seems like they’re basically throwing the titles out there with the presumption that they’re manga, so they’ll sell, because manga sells. While manga is a lucrative market, it’s obviously still a competitive one, and publishers like Viz, Tokyopop, Del Rey, and others all market themselves fairly rigorously. They aren’t acting like publishing manga is like printing money.

So it’s good to wonder if DC’s half-hearted efforts with Humanoids and 2000 AD are reflected in their approach to CMX. I would theorize, but the CMX line has never really clicked for me. While I think they’ve assembled a reasonable enough cross-section of genres and styles, the quality of the individual titles hasn’t exactly grabbed me to the degree that I care one way or another if they sink or swim. And that’s a problem in and of itself.