Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Virgin Comics: The Warning Signs

Everyone's armchair quarterbacking the reasons for the demise of Virgin Comics. It's still unclear how much of a demise it really is, with the company closing up shop in New York and regrouping in L.A., probably trying to figure out what to do with all the intellectual properties they still control.

On the Standard Attrition board, I posted some thoughts about why Virgin Comics might have failed:
I was talking to Ron Marz earlier in the summer, and he's been doing some writing and editing for Virgin. He was really enthusiastic about the company, but when I said, "I don't know if the comics are any good, because I never see them in shops, or read many reviews of them anywhere," he said that the distribution was one of the biggest problems. He also hooked me up with review copies to help promote the line, and I really liked the revamped Ramayan book.

But he also said that they were targeting the vast market in India, but they needed to find some way to deliver the comics more cheaply. A three or four dollar comic wasn't going to reach the masses.

So I guess they never did figure out how to deliver their content.

It didn't help that the line was weakened by a weirdly mixed message--e.g. "Our books are cool sci-fi retellings of ancient myths, plus random Hollywood concepts with actor's names plastered on the front, and, oh yeah, Dan Dare!" Not really a strong identity for a publisher trying to get attention.
I do think distribution problems (or market penetration problems) and lack of a clearly defined identity really hurt Virgin's chances. Because, from what I saw, their content was mostly very good. I'm sure they had some weaker titles, but they were professionally produced and slick-looking, and some of the stuff, like Ramayan 3392 (which I reviewed) and Dan Dare (which I reviewed) was excellent work.

But although I wasn't paying close attention this summer, there were a few warning signs that Virgin Comics was soon headed for trouble:

1. In late Spring/Early summer, Virgin Comics was aggressively trying to get review copies and pdfs out to reviewers. By early July, those e-mails stopped, and the review copies stopped appearing. (At least, I stopped getting them.)

2. Although they had a booth at San Diego a month ago, the booth had very, very little in the way of comic book presence. I'm not sure a random visitor would have known that they publish an extensive line of comics. It looked like a video game company set-up, with no gaming console on display.

3. Grant Morrison and Stan Lee kicked off Comic-Con with a panel I covered for CBR. Neither of them spoke about ANY specifics regarding their upcoming Virgin work, even though that was the supposed purpose of the panel. (Yes, I know Morrison's work is for online videos, but neither he nor Stan Lee seemed particularly eager to talk about Virgin Comics.)

Those warning signs, coupled with the general fan ignorance of Virgin Products (how many Virgin Comics did you local comic shop carry? How often did you see a review of anything other than Dan Dare?) probably could have been used to predict the death of Virgin Comics.

But who wanted to predict that? I don't think anyone was rooting against the company, were they?

1 comment:

Danny Dare said...

If it's true that Virgin Comics has gone, I'm really very upset about it. I loved their Dan Dare and Devi stuff, it was all excellent. I hope they do manage to carry on.
Danny Dare.