Tuesday, August 26, 2008

RIP Virgin Comics

Journalista reacts to the death of Virgin Comics:

"The Direct Market caters primarily to a closed network of 25-35 year old men who’ve been reading Marvel and DC Comics for over a decade, and have next to no interest in buying anything that doesn’t cater to their narrow set of interests. You can occassionally snag a moderate number of readers by producing work that grabs them by the fanboy short-hairs — vampires, zombies and licensed versions of characters or creative works that they fondly remember from childhood are usually required — but anything else is slow death where money is concerned. Treat the Direct Market as though it were a healthy, diverse and dependable sales environment and you might as well be jumping off a cliff."

In general, Virgin Comics seemed like a high class operation with beautiful art and high-quality production (not to mention: big name celebrities!). But it didn't have men in tights. Ergo: the masses didn't buy them. Ergo: the line failed.

Is this true? If so, whose fault is it? The Big Two? The direct market? Are the fans just too close-minded?

Can there be a big comics publisher on the level of DC or Marvel who puts out non-superhero comics? Isn't Image like this, a little?

Will superheroes and comics be synonymous until the end of time?

Um...wasn't some of those Virgin Comics sorta superheroey anyway? Are the capes a must?

Was counting on the Direct Market audience to know who Deepak Chopra was, and be impressed that he was writing a comic book, too much a gamble?

Now where will Hugh Jackman write comic books?


  1. I think that anybody looking to create a viable property starring a minority or female lead character has to skip the DM and focus on -- or at least, supplement any DM marketing with -- heavy promotion in media catering to their lead character's demographic.

  2. I felt more like the big names HURT their chances. We get enough of movie stars and tv writers doing we really need a book by Deepak Chopra?

    I read many books without men in tights. It's an oversimplification, really. The market is bloated...if a company wants to stay afloat, they need to grab readers' imaginations right away, male or female. I didn't see anything in the Virgin Comics that I couldn't get anywhere else.

  3. I think I own every single Virgin comic book. (There actually aren't that many.) It was every bit as good as anything DC or Marvel was doing.

    "Devi" was a perfect replacement for "Wonder Woman" when WW went to a quarterly schedule. Dan Dare is in my Top 10 mini-series of the year. So was "Tall Tales," which was essentially an Indian "Fables."

    Snakewoman was good. Sadhu got better when I could start imagining Nicholas Cage in the starring role.

    If I had to say, the problem wasn't "Can there be a big comics publisher on the level of DC or Marvel who puts out non-superhero comics?" The problem was that they were essentially putting out Superhero Comics. They just weren't calling them that.

    Just because their were talking about the "real" Indian gods doesn't mean that a reader has to see a difference between "Kali" (the real one!) and the "Kali Yuga" from Checkmate and other DC comics. If I am not a practicing Hindu (and I am not), there's not a whole lot of difference between Marvel's "Thor" mythos and Virgin's "Rama" mythos, in terms of how I would relate to it.

    Devi was an "Indian Wonder Woman." The series on Indian gods could have been a spin-off of a spin-off of Kirby. "New Gds India!" Maybe they could fight Justice League Europe.

    So, I think this isn't a case of "can something different survive." I think it's a case of "can the same thing, repackaged as Indian, survive."

    I like it, but maybe the answer is just "No."

  4. Tough questions. I think some of it is just fan expectation. If a book doesn't feature certain elements, there are many that won't buy it.

    As for me, I read a lot of non-traditional hero stuff(vertigo, conan, etc) but the Virgin stuff was barely on my radar. I had heard about it, but I couldn't name a single title that was being published by them. I don't recall reading reviews of their books, and I don't recall my LCS recommending the book or having any promotional stuff up.

  5. I don't think Dark Horse is going out of business anytime soon.

    Was the direct market their primary distribution method?

    I bought a few Virgin trades, but I haven't gotten to them in my reading piles yet.

  6. I really wanted Virgin comis to be good, but frankly most of them were not. They showcased the difference between being a good artist, and being a good comic artist. (Ability to convey action, pacing, ability to draw the eye to the important elements, and all that goos stuff). Ditto for writing, often.

    A shame. It had great potential.

  7. Um, blaming the customer when your product fails? Classy, really. Yeah! That is right! It is us, the buyer, who failed!

  8. I never tried a Virgin comic. I don't read very many floppies to begin's hard to justify 5 bucks for 10 minutes entertainment. I never heard any buzz about their line that made me want to seek out a TPB which is how I normally consume comics.

    I don't know anything about marketing...but I think to break in you need to have a loss leader of a trade to help set up the universe quickly and inexpensively (for the reader).

    I think a 5 dollar trade makes more sense than a book from a porn star.

  9. I thought some of their books were good -- and the art really excellent.

    Some of the books -- one of the Chopra books, for example -- featured extremely decompressed narratives that practically screamed "go buy this in the trade." Which is fine in a collected trade paperback, bad for a single issue. The single issue must be thought of as a discrete unit as well as part of a larger book.

  10. Would some here feel that the issue wasn't so much that Virgin Comics didn't have "heroes" -- but that they were trying to repackage Indian heroes for American audiences and it didn't catch on?

  11. Good Questions. Good Comments as well. I agree with most of them. I think the issue is, that there is no "Direct Market" any more. Sure, DC and Marvel (and maybe some of the other publishers as well) can make a successful publishing venture releasing books through comic shops but there are so many other places / ways to get comics now that relying on any one of them is a mistake

  12. This reminds me of a software company that blamed their game's failure on hackers, to which a prominent hacker replied "What the fuck? I wouldn't even play your Diablo clone for free."

    Virgin comics had one thing going for it - its India Authentic line. However, Amra-Chita-Katha (spelling?) is an Indian company that has made (and perhaps is still making?) comics showcasing varied Hindu legends.

    What's funny is that Virgin in fact depended entirely on cliches wrapped in Indian-ness. I tried getting into the comics, but there was nothing very original or fascinating about them. Characterization wasn't good (even bad at times), and art wasn't anything so new or original as to blow the competition away.

    These comics would likely have some traction in India, but even there I personally doubt people would be that interested.

  13. So after recognizing the narrowness of the direct market (which is BS) they decided to fold up shop instead of changing direction? Sounds like they were really committed to success.

    I agree with something Hysan said. As a comic book reader I went out of my way to avoid books associated Deepak Chopra, or John Woo and Hugh Jackman.

  14. "However, Amra-Chita-Katha (spelling?) is an Indian company that has made (and perhaps is still making?) comics showcasing varied Hindu legends."

    I have a bunch of these. The production and art look like regular old-school superhero comics. I like them because they formatted and paced these stories better for the single-issue format.

  15. I can't lay the blame specifically at the feet of the direct market. I think the Virgin books were beautiful, but they seemed to be created outside of thinking about what the comic shop crowd wants to read. Not that we should be slaves to what they want -- but it should be considered when making a full publishing plan.

    Now, if Virgin had not concentrated on the single copies and went straight to trades and OGNs -- I think they'd still be in business today.

  16. Always sad to see a creative company go under, but the writing seemed to be on the wall with those low diamond sales figures. Also, while I loved the India/myth material, expecting that to catch on in the USA was a bit of wishful thinking, no? Although DEVI and RAMAYANA 3000 were more accessible to the US mkt.

  17. I had always assumed that Virgin had a plan to penetrate markets other than the DM: Virgin mega-stores, book chains, etc. Trying out much of this material with the DM as the main potential reader base was risky to say the least.

    Mordecai: the article quotes Journalista RE "laying blame." Virgin is not blaming anybody.

  18. Haven't all of Deepak Chopra's books been comic books? There's certainly next to nothing he says that can be taken seriously...

  19. Shame, but I can't say I read many Virgins. I picked up Voodoo Child when I could, and got the recent Devi/Witchblade X-over, but that was about it. The reason wasn't that they didn't have anything that grabbed me, it's just that my shop didn't bring any in and I don't often frequent different shops. And the times I did all they had were the ones that really didn't appeal to me.

    Ya know, it's good to go against the grain which is what I hope they tried to do. Just a matter of knowing how to target the audience you want.

  20. "Now, if Virgin had not concentrated on the single copies and went straight to trades and OGNs -- I think they'd still be in business today."

    YES, though I'd add they should have marketed and distributed more heavily outside the direct market. I can't remember a single mention/appearance of any of their books outside the Previews catalog and a few press releases.

    The few TPBs I picked up, I did so because they had a reasonable price and looked interesting.


  21. I'm still waiting for someone to catch on to a good way of marketing comics to more people. Just tossing new comics into the existing direct market is pretty tough, I mean most of us are trying to keep our purchases down at least a little, right?

    I still think that companies should make big, cheap anthologies in the model of Shonen Jump, then sell full color collections to people who want to own the series.

    In Japan most people buy and read these big phone book sized manga collections and usually just throw them out afterwords, then maybe collect the series in the manga collections. It would get the material out there, cheaply to a lot of people and then make money from the trades. Might work?

  22. I don't see why we're to blame for Virgin's failure. Maybe nobody bought their comics because while Depak Chopra may have some pull for the Oprah/pseudo-psychology crowd, he hasn't done crap to impress me with his writing. Why should I then spend my hard earned money on his comics writing?

    I like the ludicrous argument from Journalista that anything different from Marvel/DC must be better or should be monetarily supported or that we're just dumb fanboys. I buy Mouse Guard and Love and Rockets. I'll pay good money for non-spandex comics. It just better be very, very compelling and give me a fantastic reading experience. The fact of the matter is that Virgin put way too much product out in a short amount of time with zero leverage in comic buyers minds that their books were worth paying money for. They just naturally assumed that their celebratory writers and production would sell product.

    I glanced the comics when they came out. The art was fantastic but there needs to be something more compelling than just fantastic art. There's only so much money a guy can spend while taking care of their family. If they had just published 1-3 titles and marketed the heck out of them showing why we need to read the titles, they might still be around. As it was, all the Virgin titles kinda looked the generic with the same Hindu retelling hook.

  23. Anonymous6:54 PM

    I'm a casual reader who picks maybe 10-12 TPB's a year. I never even once thought about reading anything from Virgin for a few reasons.

    One, I never heard any great reviews about anything. Sure, solid enough things but never anything out of this world.

    Second, the celebrity involvement was weak. It's been 16 years since there's been a John Woo film I really enjoyed, so I doubt I'll like a "John Woo Presents..." comic. Aside from the Dark Tower stuff I can't think of any "presents..." book I've enjoyed.

    Third, I enjoy Garth Ennis when he's on, but he tends to phone it in on lesser books. These seemed to be exactly the type that he'd half ass.

  24. Ehh, Virgin published comics?!?

    I think my local store carried em way back when but I never gave em a try...

    None of the guys recommending books at this shop mentioned them at all...

    So sorry Virgin I think "it's your fault!"


  25. Anonymous8:38 PM

    but did any of your readers have a favorite comic in that line, that they had to buy each month, which will be sorely missed

  26. were Virgin comics sold in Virgin record stores? I just realized that I had no idea, and that if they weren't they missed an obvious opportunity.

  27. Y'know, I'm surprised it hasn't come up yet, at least not directly. Comics are expensive! And regardless of the available talent, you typically know what quality to expect from DC or Marvel or Dark Horse. Image can be a bit more of a crap-shoot, but editorial seems to weed out 99% of the crap. You can't jump into an already saturated market charging the same thing or more than the competition unless you know how to sell the product, and it's not that Marvel or DC are so great at that. They're just blessed with decades of history and loyal readers. I think you can break in, but you have to start small and work your way up.

  28. I never heard anything good (or bad) about them.

    I had no interest in fanboying after their celebrity writers.

    The art snippets I saw didn't interest me. Maybe I didn't see enough.

    And then they put out those monthly TPB's that collected a couple issues of each series across their line, giving me the chance to taste everything they do at a decent price point, and what do you know, I liked a lot of it and ended up buying the full run of about 75% of their series.

    Oh, wait. That last one was CrossGen. But hey, it worked on me. For Virgin, there was never any incentive to cross the hump.

  29. I bought a couple issues of 'Dan Dare' and the initial oversized hardcover, but nothing in the other titles looked tempting. I'm with the other commenters who avoid titles marketed on the strength of a celebrity name. I just assume they'll be lousy vanity projects. It's appear Virgin expected otherwise.

  30. but did any of your readers have a favorite comic in that line, that they had to buy each month, which will be sorely missed

    Aw heck yes!

    Devi is (was) my favorite monthly title, followed closely by Ramayan 3392. I mean, Devi displaced the X-books on my personal Ranking of Awesomeness.

    However, I'm probably not a typical case because I already collected Indian comics and thus was more inclined to check out Virgin's "Shakti" line than not.

    On the other hand, though, Virgin didn't really have that many ongoing monthly series. Most of their output was basically short miniseries. So the question "Is there something you'll miss every month?" may not be the most accurate gauge of Virgin's quality or appeal. The Tall Tales of Vishnu Sharma is ranking up there as one of my favorite comics, but it was a five-issue mini that concluded several months ago, so no, technically I won't be "missing" it anymore.

    -Nenena, coming out of lurkerdom to gush

  31. The only Virgin book I ever read was the first trade of Devi, and for pretty much the same reasons everybody's been listing here, I didn't continue with it: it was decompressed to the extreme (an origin story should not take 6 issues, yo), it was good but not fantastic, and no one else seemed to be reading it.

    That last part might seem a little shallow, but I definitely think that Virgin underestimated the influence of fandom. I know the only reason I still read monthlies instead of waiting for the trade is so that I can go online or to the shop and discuss the latest issue. Virgin's ignorance of the fandom, though, is really just an extension of their main problem: They were in the market to sell their product, but had no real devotion do their product.

    I mean, every business is in the market to make money, but amongst the successful small press companies, there is always great love for the medium and the fandom from top to bottom. This wasn't Mike Richardson starting a publishing arm of his own store, this wasn't Todd McFarlane wanting to give creators like himself the respect they deserve, this was people from other fields asking some billionaire if they could slap his company's name on their IP farm. While I'm sure that the creators were dedicated to their projects, the higher-ups certainly weren't.

    Honestly, it seems to me that they just vastly overestimated the buying power of the customer base. Yeah, comics are really high-profile right now, but that doesn't mean they're actually selling.