Comics: Fix Your Solicitations!

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Solicitations come out from most comic publishers now, with companies from Marvel and DC through to First Second and Archie all giving an advance preview of what’s coming up three months into the future. A product of the peculiar retailing process almost unique to the comics industry, the use of solicitations was originally designed to help retailers know which comics they should pre-order, because their readers would flock to them. If you have a shop in England, for example, you’ll want to pre-order more copies of a book which Alan Moore is involved with. If you’re based in Ireland, a Declan Shalvey cover will add several extra copies to your pre-order form. And so on.

Each solicitation explains the issues published by a company in any given month. It shows the issue number, the cover, a synopsis of the issue (usually written by the person who writes the comic, it seems) and all the pre-order details. It’s a guide to which books tie in where, why a retailer should especially pre-order certain stories or concepts, and… well, fans immediately seized upon them.

Because they hint at future plot points, it quickly became clear that solicitations were something fans might latch onto as well as retailers – making them a valuable point of interest in the marketing process. It’s one thing if a solicitation encourages a retailer to pre-order an extra copy, but it’s another if the readers are actively encouraged to walk into the shop and pre-order comics themselves. “Everything changes!” became the norm for even the most unimportant of comics titles, and the whole actual argument of Importance sadly entered the industry.

For this reason, solicitations are an important point of entry for fans. Old and new readers follow them, to find out what books are out each month, and which ones might appeal especially to them. For a book like Bitch Planet, which specifically calls itself out as a book female fans will like, solicitations are a way to catch the eye of those fans in particular in the quest for non-compliance.

And, for this reason, it’s important that solicitations be improved. Each publisher has a set standard for how they lay out their solicitations, but some are far more preferable to others. Not in terms of the content – but in terms of the format. When you’re introducing people to news comics, publishers should be making the most of their creators, above almost everything else, and that means one thing: crediting people properly.

What I want to ask is that publishers follow a simple standard for crediting the creative teams on their comics, because at the moment some formats are far more preferable than others. Archie, right now, are the company who do this best, actually. They credit books as “script” and “art”, with the latter accounting for penciller, inker, colourist and letterer all-inclusive. Because of this, they offer credit to the majority of the team who worked on a comic – a tactic which can only help sell extra comics.

The letterer on their Dark Circle line, right now, is Rachel Deering. As letterer, she wouldn’t be credited at all by other publishers on their comics, but Archie list her right up there with the other artists. And I, as a comics fan, have actually already heard her name – because she crowdfunding a hugely successful and Eisner-nominated anthology comic, In The Dark. She’s a name, in other words, and her involvement in the comics makes me more interested in reading Archie’s comics.

Artists outside of pencillers are rising up in comics right now, led by colourists. People like Jordie Bellaire, Dave Stewart and Matt Wilson are all well-known names for fans now, and they evoke particular interest for particular fanbases. If I see Bellaire listed in solicitation copy, the comic automatically becomes more interesting to me, and I’m more likely to read the solicitation properly, see if I want to pre-order. The more that the comics industry does to make new Jordie Bellaires, the more people will be attracted to books they otherwise might have glossed over. If your solicitation doesn’t even mention her, though? Then I’ll never know there’s a Jordie Bellaire comic I’m missing out on.

And that’s a specific issue raised when you look at Image’s solicitations. I’ve been told that Image let their writers handle the solicitations, which is why they are so chaotic to read – and so poorly formatted. This May, Bellaire is solicited as part of the art team for Injection – but not for The Manhattan Projects, which she also works on. As a creator, surely writer Jonathan Hickman is selling himself short by not telling fans that a popular colourist is working on his comic. Bellaire has a fanbase, and the solicitation here doesn’t even let them know they’re missing out if they don’t pick up the book.

If you look through Image, you’ll see this recurs – some teams credit colourists, some do not.

Other companies, however, handle things even more poorly. BOOM! Studios have perhaps the most regressive solicitation of any publisher right now, as they list comics as being by an “author” and an “artist”. This establishes ownership for the writer each time, and reduces the importance of the artist, who is meant to be a collaborator on each issue. Also, no mention at all for colourists, inkers, or anyone else involved in the process – all you see is the owner of the comic, and the penciller who happens to be working there.

Not only does this diminish the role of the other artists involved, but it also reduces opportunities to catch the attention of readers. Who knows if Jordie Bellaire is colouring any of these books, or if Rachel Deering is lettering? As a consumer I am given two introduction points to a book: the author, and the artist. If I don’t know either name, I move on, and the book loses a potential pre-order. If, however, the solicitation offered more members of the creative team in the solicitation, I could have four or five points of introduction instead, any of which might make me head to the LCS.

It might seem strange that this is something I’m so invested in, but it speaks to two important parts of the industry, and two critical failings in how it currently operates. For one, the way we sell comics to new readers is complex, unwieldy, and at times amateurish. Solicitations are one of the first things picked up on by those who’re interested in comics, or trying something new. If I’m not being sold new comics in as many ways as possible, then publishers need to rethink what they’re doing before they put these things online. Get your full creative teams on there.

Secondly: credit and respect for artists. Pencillers, letterers, editors, inkers, colourists, writers, everybody who works on a comic – these are people who have fans, who have worked hard, and who deserve to be recognised for that. It’s not hard to add the full creative team into solicitation copy, but it helps spread the fact that, actually, this is a collaborative medium and comics don’t appear fully-formed out of the heads of the writer. Drop this “author” nonsense and get to describing comics honestly – as a work where a creative team are working together, bouncing off each other’s energy, and making new and involving stories.

Solicitations lets readers see the future of comics – let’s show them a future where everybody gets their credit.

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