Friday, February 1, 2013

DC's "WTF? Month" pretty much sums it up

As if there were any doubt that DC Comics and I may be at an impasse, thanks to the requirements of the hype machine in the Direct Market, we already know that April is going to be "WTF? Month" at DC Comics.

this is, like, 10 layers of sad

Check out The Beat for more on this so-edgy-it-will-cut-you promotion.

Extensive bad language below the break.  Proceed with caution.

That's right, it's "What The Fuck?" month at DC Comics.  Where each and every issue they put on the shelf is intended to illicit the response "What the fuck is happening in this comic?"

Stamping the acronym for "What the fuck (is happening)?" across your books does not mean you are not saying "What the fuck (is happening)?"  Of course you are.  It's not even like you have the option to swap out "Fowled" for "Fucked" in SNAFU*.

Am I offended?  Not personally.  I do think it's an interesting departure from the traditional ideas of what goes into a DC Comic, and pretty telling as to what the leadership thinks is enough of a cultural norm that it'll pass somewhat unnoticed.  I guess I'm a little offended that they'll insist the "F" stands for some made-up stand in for the word "Fuck", but I think we all know what it means, so if I'm offended, it's because they want me to do that work for them instead of owning the letter "F" in a way they never would inside their own books.

Having a cover that was so surprising that you need to buy the comic to find out what's happening inside is...  kind of an obvious idea, and was the MO for DC Comics' covers well, well before a one-month stunt in 2013.

It's a sign of a curiously public admission of failure to understand the point of a cover on a comic that DC thinks they need a special month to make covers on comics relevant or interesting to readers, that maybe this month it won't all be stock heroic or submissive poses for the imagined poster of the characters.

For a long, long time, DC and Marvel's covers were one or two panel works of genius that dared you not to wonder what was happening inside those flimsy pages.  Up until 10 years ago, they didn't need their classy logo.  Back then, we could just count on wondering exactly what emotional issue Mort Weisinger was working through this week.  And this was, sort of, exactly the MO for comics for decades.

Dan Didio couldn't cook this up with 20 planning sessions and a flowchart

"What the fuck?", indeed.

Seriously, I consider the covers of comics to be a lost art.  Short of the gorgeous work of Alex Ross, Adam Hughes and a few others, I sort of think you'd be better off most months with a white cover with the name and issue number of the comic printed in black in Comic Sans than the idea of "iconic posters" of characters all blending into one another into a sea of anonymity on the shelf.

To add to the miscalculation, with "WTF Certified Month!", you're going to be asked to pick up the comic and open a gatefold cover to see the shocking surprise inside (whoo-hoo?).  Which means the draw of the surprise isn't even, technically, on the cover.  Comics fans (who DO care about things like mint condition) have a month to look forward to where all the comics on the shelf will be, potentially, mangled from handling.

The effort manages to put an ugly stamp on the cover of the comic while also obfuscating the actual surprise. It's, really, the worst of both worlds.

Part of why I dug DC Comics was the seeming self-aware squareness over the years.  You weren't going to see Paul Levitz stamp his covers with the acronym for "What the fuck (is happening?)" and play off the text-derived slang of the day.  Some point after Superman's mullet was retired and left to the ages, DC seemed to realize that the way to be cool was to not try to ride the latest marketing trends, that actual cool ideas are just fine on their own.  Until, I guess, about 2007 again or so.

I was accused of being an old man as far back as college for finding pretty much anything slung at me as part of a demographic as an awkward marketing appeal to "my generation" as kind of dopey at best and kind of offensive at worst.**  And so I look at that stamped logo and wonder:  is this as stupid as it looks, or is this actually appealing to today's hip youths?  Or does it feel like your mom, circa 2004, dropping "Fo-shizzle!" in response to your question.  No many how urban, roof-top partying, hip kids were drinking a "Surge", there wasn't anything about the ads that didn't feel condescending and like someone was lying to you, knew you knew they were lying, and didn't care.  It was some serious, sinister, cynical BS.

But that's advertising, I guess.  And maybe DC and Marvel comics.

The New 52 relaunch marked the end of the prior 75 years of DC Comics ostensibly aiming for a broad audience, and editorial wrestling with the past 25 years' march of comics aiming themselves increasingly at an older audience while still making sure if a kid picked up Superman, they wouldn't wind up traumatized for life.  Levitz's exit meant that Didio was now free to do as he pleased, and, in my opinion, that's more or less meant an appeal to a lower common denominator and to try to appeal as hip to 20 - 25 year olds as... I'll be honest, I have no idea what those kids are into.  Carly Rae Jepsen?

More than anything, it feels like the stunt of the month from a company that's begun to feel like the world's worst prop comic, desperately pulling gag after gag from their steamer trunk to increasingly forced laughter from the audience.  Branding something as "What the Fuck Certified!" feels more than a bit like someone aiming at a very, very low bar.  After all, this is the same industry that had to rethink the idea of "this issue, someone dies", when that same line appeared in multiple comics from the same publisher on a monthly basis, and especially the promise that "this is the issue where everything changes!".

For over a decade, the Big 2 have relied on their Carrot-Top routine in the vast majority of their line rather than simply working through editorial to make the biggest surprise of all be a satisfying read that can be enjoyed even after the hype machine has slowed down.

Yes, you have to keep your audience guessing.  But the reason it's illegal to pull the fire alarm in buildings is that people quit paying attention, to the point where people who work in that building will get angry at the visitor for asking if we shouldn't all be worried about that fire alarm.

*SNAFU = Situation Normal: All Fucked Up
**I will confess to, in 1993, however, drinking a can of OK Cola, and in 1994 seeing Reality Bites on opening weekend.


Simon MacDonald said...

Fo-shizzle Dawg! Why ya gotta be drinking the hateraid?

Did that last sentence seem authentic? No, I didn't think so either and neither does this WTF month from DC. It seems like they are grasping at straws to stay relevant here. What id10t's. The worst thing you can do is to inauthentic. People see that and are turned off.

If only I could sarcastic golf clap for Dan Didio.

The League said...

that's part of what I'm trying to figure out - does the current audience know how awful this is? Do they not perceive this as awful? Do they care? Do they actually really find this terrific?

I have no idea. I find The Gen Y kids surprisingly open to advertising messaging and take it at face value in a way that never quite worked for Gen X.

Simon MacDonald said...

I certainly hope this doesn't work. It should be interesting to look at the sales numbers that month. I think there will be a small uptick but not the huge increase compared to when the new 52 was launched. Then the following month everything will return to the normal decline.

The League said...

It's the last stunt before the next stunt. If I had the energy, I'd find my posts about my assumptions about what a Didio-led DC would look like, and this is sort of the petering end of what I thought it might be. His biggest stunt, of course, the New 52. Then "Before Watchmen", then Zero Month. And now "WTF? Month".

Each one has a bump to sales of some sort. I have a feeling this is the Q2 stunt to fill in for where they may have thought they'd be hitting with Trinity War.

Simon MacDonald said...

I can't wait to see the sales figures for the zero month. I would like to think that it was a failure. Hey everyone pay no attention to a month of fill in issues.

Mikester said...

Simon - Just from my experience at our shop, DC's Zero Month issues actually showed an increase in rack sales on those titles. That increase didn't carry over to the next issue for every series, but there was at least a slight sales bump for some.

Simon MacDonald said...

@Mikester yeah, that's pretty much what I expected. Sales bump then back into slow steady decline. I looked at the number for a few titles and that seems to be pretty consistent across DC's line. Except for the Bat titles who are having a cross over and their numbers are up across the board.

Looks like they will be using the WTF month to provide the same sort of boost. I guess we can look forward to one of these stunts per quarter.

The League said...

Hey! Progressive Ruin comes to The Signal Watch!

As I've complained about here before, I don't want to notice (and recall) the inner workings of DC's editorial team more than the comics, and inserting a WTF month when we all know - even people like me who've kind of quit on DC - that Trinity War is really behind just feels clumsy and desperate. And, when this stuff actually works, it maybe makes me a little sad.

And when the stunts are as empty as this? All I can think of are the editorially mandated stuff that broke up the stories I was enjoying so editorial could point at the "event" they'd created (see: Joker's Last Laugh).

Shawn James said...

Another lame gimmick that feels like something out of the 1990's. The problem at DC Comics is that they're focused on short-term sales gimmicks and marketing stunts instead of the quality storytelling that brought a generation of readers back to comics in the late 70's and 80's and made many stand up and take the comic art medium seriously.

The League said...

Shawn, I couldn't agree more. It all feels like a retrograde motion to focus on putting merchandise on a shelf with no attention to craft. Sooner or later, that plan always collapses in on itself.