DC’s G.O.O.A.T., Brand Synergy, and Crowdfunded Comics: It’s the May 2024 Mailbag Q&A!

I went into this month’s Mailbag Q&A — in which I answer subscriber/patron questions about varying subjects — thinking it would be a light one. Nearly 5,000 words later, that proved to not be true. Sigh…you can’t fight who you are, so let’s get straight to it, shall we?

Welcome back! How are you doing after your month off? – William Eucker

I’m doing great! It was an extremely necessary break because a) I was extremely tired and nearing burn out and b) taking it allowed me to get way ahead on SKTCHD things. So, I am doing much better, and I appreciate everyone being cool about it. The site actually gained subscribers during my break, which was amazing! I’m not going to make this a constant occurrence by any means, but there is a part of me that realizes I need a little bit of a longer break every year to operate at full strength. We’ll see what that ends up meaning going forward, but for now, I am feeling pretty dang recharged! Thanks for asking!

If Daredevil is Marvel’s G.O.O.A.T., what’s the DC equivalent? I think I might lean toward Wonder Woman or Flash myself… – Ross Binder

My take is probably not going to be the immediately obvious one (save for the art above clearly showing my hand), but it’s one I’ve long believed even if Daredevil is clearly a tier or two above it in terms of its mix of quality and quantity. I do want to note: Wonder Woman or The Flash would be understandable picks. I’d probably lean more towards The Flash, if only for that stretch from when Mark Waid was writing to Geoff Johns’ run. But they both have displayed serious quality over the years.

But my pick is Swamp Thing.

Just think about the character’s co-creators in Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. Just think about the writers who have worked on that title over the years, like Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Diggle, Joshua Dysart, Scott Snyder, Charles Soule, Ram V, and more. Just think of the artists who have work on that title over the same period, like Stephen Bissette, Veitch, Richard Corben, Yanick Paquette, Jesus Saiz, Kelley Jones, Mike Perkins, and more. It even has its own version of Born Again, with The Anatomy Lesson taking that spot despite it being a single issue. It’s had a hell of a run, and it sort of feels like the title is the proving ground for possibly great writers that are on their rise at DC. Again, Swamp Thing may not be as elite as Daredevil, but it’s DC’s G.O.O.A.T. in my mind.

My question is to do with X-Men, editorial and the larger Disney machine…whether or not the creators and editors admit it, it seems pretty clear that the From The Ashes stuff coming down the pipeline is an attempt to align the look/feel of the X-Books with what’s happening on screen at the moment (X-Men ’97). We’ve seen this before a few times with the X-Men over the years, probably most notably with the Morrison/Quitely “black leather” redesign around the time the first Fox film dropped.

So… Why do they do this? I get that there is money to be made in “synergy” between the films and the comics, but surely the gains made by comics doing this would be a drop in the ocean compared to what the films bring in? Is it really worth it? I recall last year hearing an interview with Kelly Sue DeConnick (might have been on Off Panel, genuinely can’t recall) where she opined that the comics should be treated as “R&D” for the film studios… Almost as loss leader if need be, as that’s where your stories for the mega-profitable on-screen stuff 10, 20 years down the line will be coming from. And who do you think is driving these decisions – is it editorial, or the suits even higher than them at the corporation? – Ewan Shearer

There’s a lot to this question, so let’s try to break it down in parts.

The first part I want to address is your paraphrasing of DeConnick (which was from our interview) where she noted that comics should be treated as R&D. Here’s a bit of what she said. “Comics are cheap and fast. We have a built in audience. We are the best test kitchen you could possibly have for not just this IP we’ve had for 70 years, but for creating new IP, for creating new ways of telling stories,” which led to her saying, “You could double our pay and it would still be cheap for the R&D that these people are getting.” I want to talk about that in conjunction with the gist of this question — which, if I understand it correctly, is that aligning with what’s on screen is diminishing to the comics themselves — and some of the examples you gave of times this has happened in the past.

That’s a lot of setup for something that’s pretty simple. My take is this: as Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and friends proved with New X-Men, aligning visually with what’s on screen does not preclude the comics themselves from being a) good or b) something that could prove to be immensely influential/adaptable down the line. Something can still align with the look and feel of something else and still be a dynamite story that will pay dividends forever as R&D effectively.

The most valuable part of this equation isn’t “What do the characters look like?” but “How good is the story?” So, even if the From the Ashes era does prove to align with the look/feel of X-Men ’97 — and everyone involved has categorically denied that that was their intent — that doesn’t mean it will not prove to be useful, story wise. It just means that maybe it’ll look a little more similar to what potential readers are used to.

That’s where we get into the “Why do they do this?” part of the question. The reason they do this is because it makes it easier for fans who know the characters from a much, much more popular iteration of these stories — say, X-Men ’97 — to read the comics and know who the people are. It’s making the world and its denizens more recognizable to a much larger audience, at which point they can tell whatever story they want and hopefully create something amazing. And that may not sound like a big deal to the average person, but consider what artist Russell Dauterman told me in a recent interview we did about his transition to comics from Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men: The Animated Series, and how one was easy and the other was not.

“I think I became a Marvel kid partly because when I went to DC comics to get more Catwoman, she was very different. You had the Jim Balent design with the purple costume and the giant breasts and the big black hair, and the overall vibe of the comics was different. And I’m like, ‘That’s not the Batman Returns Catwoman I liked. And it’s not the Catwoman I liked from Batman: The Animated Series.’ I’ve read that Balent series in recent years and liked it, and I like that costume now and think the black hair is great, but back then as a child it was a barrier.

But with the X-Men, when I went over to the main comics, not even the tie-ins, they looked like (X-Men: The Animated Series). That was pretty much the same team. The stories felt the same, the vibe was the same, the colors were the same. And that’s how I became a Marvel kid. And that’s how the X-Men took over for me. And they really did remain my number one.”

Needless to say, that proved to be a big deal for Dauterman as a fan and as an artist, as his career has been defined by his love of and work for Marvel. So, why do they do it? They do it so they can hook you with something you recognize and then hopefully wow you with a story that will make you love the comics in the process. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. There are good and bad examples of this, of course, but that’s because there are good and bad books. Whether the From the Ashes succeeds will have less to do with what the characters look like and more to do with how effective they are, and whether they prove to be valuable R&D will likely connect to that as well.

As for who I think is driving these decisions…I honestly do not know enough to guess. I imagine throughout the years it’s been a bit of column A and a bit of column B. It could be editors. It could be big ups. But the only people who know for sure are those involved. That part isn’t a satisfying answer, I am sure. But it’s the truth!

Reading today’s story about crowdfunded art books, I had to wonder what crowdfunded comics and art books you had in your collection. Any that standout as being particularly great? – Mark Tweedale

Oh god, too many to count off the top of my head. I have backed many, many, many campaigns, to the point it’d actually be easier to look at my Kickstarter account to help me remember. Give me a second to do that…

The official count is 54, and that’s just Kickstarter. As for the ones that stand out as particularly great, the first answer is “anything ShortBox.” Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s Don’t Go Without Me was incredible, but so were Joe Sparrow’s Cuckoo and Winchestermegg’s Out of Style. I was also quite fond of Kyle Starks’ Old Head, Andrew MacLean’s Snarlagon was a lot of fun, and Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and David Rubin’s Cosmic Detective was a gorgeous book.

But if I had to pick a top three, they’d be one you mentioned which is Alex Alice’s Castle in the Stars: The Universe in 1875 art book type thing, Karl Kerschl’s third volume of The Abominable Charles Christopher, and then my easy pick for the top spot: the Kuroda Edition of Ronald Wimberly’s GratNin (Gratuitous Ninja), which Wimberly and Beehive Books deservedly earned an Eisner Award nomination for this year. That is the coolest comic production I have ever seen. All three of those showcase what I really want from Kickstarters, which is something I’m not likely to find at comic shops either because how it’s published or the level of production value. That’s the kind of Kickstarter project that draws me in.

The rest of this article is for
subscribers only.
Want to read it? A monthly SKTCHD subscription is just $4.99, or the price of one Marvel #1.
Or for the lower rate, you can sign up on our quarterly plan for just $3.99 a month, or the price of one regularly priced comic.
Want the lowest price? Sign up for the Annual Plan, which is just $2.99 a month.

Already a member? Sign in to your account.