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The State of Comic Book Solicitations by Former Marvel Editor Nate Cosby

Every month, comic book publishers release their solicitations, a list of the titles they plan to release two months hence, usually accompanied by bombastic descriptions designed to spark interest and orders from retailers and fans. The result, particularly in superhero comics, is the normalization of extremes: every fight is the ultimate confrontation; every dramatic twist is the ultimate revelation, and every new development is going to change everything (forever).

There’s a certain truth to that, I suppose, since every small, incremental change in the world alters its history permanently, although when I tell people I am going to mail a package or retrieve takeout from a local Pan-Asian restaurant, I rarely preface it with “AND NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN.” I don’t know; maybe life would be more exciting that way. But people would stop listening and start rolling their eyes pretty fast.

The effect becomes particularly pronounced when it comes to event comics, which are theoretically meant to punctuate normal runs on superhero books with storylines of heightened drama and significance. Except that event comics have become the new norm, so rather than signifying unusual extremes, solicits create the rhetorical equivalent of a Shepard tone, and start to lose all meaning in a haze of Superlative Fatigue.

We single out no one with this discussion, as solicitation overhype is an equal opportunity problem across superhero publishers, but we spoke with one man who has some first-hand experience in the matter: Nate Cosby (a.k.a. @NateCosboom), a former Marvel editor who until very recently worked on books like Agents of Atlas, Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers and Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Cosby had a lot to say on the subject as someone who personally helped craft some of those very solicits, and was kind enough to share his thoughts with ComicsAlliance below, complete with an original comic book solicit Mad Lib of his own devising. -LHCOMIC BOOK EVENT SOLICITATION MAD LIB:

______________ #1

WRITTEN BY __________

PENCILED BY __________

COVER BY __________

19 VARIANT COVERS BY _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____

NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME! Don’t miss this ALL-NEW DIRECTION, a BOLD, NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN EVENT that will CHANGE EVERYTHING YOU KNOW about __________!!!! THIS is the one that defines the ________ universe FOREVER! Join the INCREDIBLE SUPERSTAR team of __________ and __________ as they SHATTER your senses and AMAZE your eyeballs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rated _____

____ pages $_.___

A solicit is supposed to sell you something you’re not allowed to see yet. If the comics don’t sell, the comics company doesn’t make money. The company doesn’t make money, they don’t get to make comics to sell. It am super simple.

This is the way it’s been; this is why the mainstream has been flooded by “important events” and why the events have become less memorable. Cuz when EVERYTHING’s important, nothing is (to crib from The Incredibles).

There’s enormous pressure on the creative teams, editors, and marketing departments to make every new story seem like a reinvention of the wheel. This can become… silly. It’s perfectly normal to have no fewer than 5 or 6 “events” launching the same month, all promising NEW DIRECTIONS, BOLD STORYTELLING, taking you PLACES YOU’D NEVER BEEN, showing THINGS YOU’VE NEVER SEEN!!!!

That is, of course, not really possible. Unless the comics are going to be printed on bread instead of paper, you’ll see what you’ve seen before: Superheroes will fight a thing, then someone probably dies for a while. Then you set up the new status quo, which plants the seeds for the next giant thing you’ve “never seen before.” These events may be great reads; they may be terrible reads… but it’s highly unlikely that they’re fundamentally unique reads. And as the list of characters that haven’t “died” shrinks, the long-term reader becomes weary of the event pattern, and the never-ending bombardment of vociferous solicitation.

Was this always the way it was done? Kind of. Superhero comics have been an event culture for a long time. The big difference now, in my opinion, is that the companies lost patience with waiting for infrequent events to pad the bottom line, and decided to program them non-stop (the equivalent of putting nothing but Bruckheimer movies out every week of the year, instead of holding them for the summer and holidays). When the returns started diminishing, the companies tried going back to focusing on individual ongoing titles, but marketed each book as if they were all huge events (again, to pad the bottom line). This creates confusion in the marketplace. It’s easy math:

Huge Event x Huge Marketing Push = Huge Sales

Huge Marketing Push / 30 Mini-Events = So-So Sales & Lack Of Event Individuality

I’m well-versed in the practice of preaching that every new comic is this generation’s Dark Knight Returns. I personally wrote thousands of solicits that did just that, and collaborated in the design of distracting banners that indicated a book’s “importance.” It’s an effective way to get fans buzzing, to create mystery about what the creative team’s cooked up THIS time, to garner TONS of excitement… until the book comes out, revealing its similarities to plots that’ve been done for decades. But by the time the readers realize this, the hype cycle’s already moved on to the next thing. You’ve got to get a huge base of fans pumped several months in advance for books that might not even be PLOTTED yet, or your sales numbers are gonna be flat.

I’m not suggesting that this kind of marketing should be eradicated; it should selectively continue as long as it translates into sales. But the strategy of carpet-bombing the comic landscape with nothing but promises of changes every week of the year is a short-term strategy that’s showing signs of age. Until new strategies, formats, and technologies are finally accepted en masse, the diminished returns of these tactics are going to continue.

The future of the way we read comics, the way they’re sold to us, and the content within is going to be seriously dependent, as always, upon supply and demand. It’s up to you, the comic book reader, to try and see past the BIG words, past the GAME-CHANGING diatribes, and wait for a book to come out before determining if it’s something you’d actually like to read. How do you get a company to put out books you want? Try not buying the ones you don’t like. Numbers talk.

The great thing about a comic book store is that you can go inside and flip through the first few pages of this month’s “revolutionary” book, determine if it reads noticeably similar to last month’s “revolutionary” book, then decide if you’d like to purchase it. You’re not required to be a completist. Nothing wrong with being a connoisseur.

A solicit is supposed to sell you something you’re not allowed to see yet. What I’m saying is… figure out for yourself if you like a comic. Don’t just take a company’s word for it.

-Nate Cosby

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