Earlier today, a video went up on the website Bleeding Cool, and in this video, you see me burning copies of my new comic series Valen the Outcast. If you haven’t seen it, take a look.
The video then made the rounds on various social media sites and I’ve since had numerous people asking me, “Why? Why would you do such a thing?” It’s a very good question and I want to take this opportunity to try and answer it as best I can.
First, let’s take a step back for a minute and look at the macro of the situation. Right now, the comics industry, along with the rest of the planet, is struggling. It used to be said that comics were recession-proof. Well, turns out they’re really more recession-resistant. The current global crisis is an equal opportunity money thresher and no industry is immune. Brian Wood had a great post the other day addressing this issue (re: day and date digital release). If a creator as talented and prolific as Brain Wood is struggling, what does that mean for guy like me?
Now, BOOM! and I are launching a brand new, original, ongoing comic book series titled Valen the Outcast. Pretty straightforward, right? That’s what comic book publishers do. But there are a couple of hurdles that we’re facing right off the bat. It’s new. It’s original. And I’m writing it.
On the best of days, a new series from an independent publisher is competing with hundreds of other weekly titles for readers’ attentions, the vast majority of that competition coming from DC and Marvel. And with massive storylines/reboots/relaunches like the New 52 and Fear Itself, you begin to feel like a juggling mouse vying for the audience’s attention while stuck at the bottom of a bear pit during the prize match between a mecha-riding Kodiak and a diamond-skinned rhino. It’s pretty easy to get stepped on.
And being that the Valen the Outcast is new and original, there isn’t an established audience or any character loyalty to rely on like you could with a licensed property or a new series for an established character.
Finally, I’m writing it. Why is that a hurdle? Even though I’ve been writing comics for seven years and have written over 120 single issues for dozens of series, most comics readers have never heard of me. Now, that’s not a woe-is-me-nobody-reads-me-wah-feel-sorry-for-me statement. Not at all. Let’s be honest. If you’re a customer and can only afford one comic, are you going with the book about a character you’ve been reading since childhood or a book by some guy who includes his middle name in his credit like some self-important twit? The math is simple. Childhood Hero > Self-Important Twit.
That said, I’ve been fortunate enough to have people take a chance on me and many of them can now be called my fans, for which I am incredibly grateful. I believe, as does BOOM!, that if you read one of my books, chances are you’re going to enjoy it and want to read more. The problem is getting enough people to pick up that first issue.
Which brings us to the situation at hand.
As I said before, I’m in competition for your reading dollars. And I’m up against names like Moore, Bendis, Morrison, Waid, Aaron, and Ellis. Mouse in a bear pit indeed. And since retailers have limited shelf space, they’re going to want to fill that space with books that have a greater chance of selling. So how do we convince a retailer to take a chance on a new, original, ongoing series written by someone like me? Well, one way is variant covers.
I know that a lot of readers have a visceral dislike for variants. I’m not sure exactly why that it, but I assume it’s because it feels as if a publisher is trying to get extra money out of you by selling you the same thing twice (or more). I disagree with that sentiment, because no one is forcing you to buy more than one copy. But I understand it. It can feel like a gimmick and that someone is trying to take advantage of you (BTW, we’re not). The thing is, variant covers sell more comics. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t do it. And selling more books is good for us, good for retailers, and I’d like to think good for readers because if enough buy a series, the longer that series gets to stick around for the readers to enjoy.
Yet, sometimes just printing variant covers isn’t enough. That’s where the Joe Jusko cover comes in. We needed an incentive for retailers to take a chance on our new series, and we wanted that incentive to be something special to reward them for taking that chance. So, if a retailer bought 200 copies of Valen the Outcast #1, they would get a 9.8 CGC rated and slabbed copy of Valen the Outcast #1 with the naked Joe Jusko cover.
That, in and of itself, isn’t terribly special since any book can be slabbed. And since most printers have a minimum print run, there were hundreds of extras beyond the slabbed copies that went to retailers. So, in order to make that incentive special and rare, we decided to destroy the remaining copies, making the Joe Jusko variant a very limited issue.
That’s why we burned them.
We burned them and recorded it to prove that the Jusko cover really is as rare and collectible as we said it would be. From my understanding, there are only 25. That’s it. So, if a retailer purchased 200 copies, they get one of those 25 slabbed variants. Because there are only 25, it is drastically more collectible and, in theory, more valuable and will net the retailer a greater profit. Good for them. And now they have 200 copies of the other variants they need to sell and will want to put in readers’ hands. Good for us. And it’s only $1.00 and a great frikkin’ read. Good for you. All the while garnering more readers and, hopefully more fans, more customers, and more enjoyment for everyone.
We’ve worked hard to make Valen the Outcast the best it can be. We believe in this series and are extremely confident that if you get a copy, you’ll enjoy it and want to make it a regular part of your monthly reading. We’re not trying to dupe anyone, swindle them, or live out some morbid fantasy of getting our hate on.* We’re simply trying to market this book as best as we can.
Even if that means setting the bear pit on fire.
*Just to be clear, I’m fully aware of the optics of burning books, but I hope that everyone can see the clear difference between what we’ve done here and the appalling actions of zealots and extremists. If you can’t see the difference, go fuck yourself in the neck.