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Judging the Selling Power of Celebrities

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Comics with celebrities names attached are all the rage. But does a famous person have any effect on sales, especially when they have little to do with the book itself?

Celebrites have been used to sell products for as long as there have been celebrities and products to be sold. Having a famous name endorse your product is believed to enhance sales. So what if Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter know nothing about watches or shavers. They have fans who want to emulate them by purchasing products they think they use.

Famous names have also been used to sell comics throughout the years. Through the Golden and early Silver Ages, celebrities such as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis had comics starring them. Each of the titles had long and successful runs.

A more recent trend in the celebrity/comics partnership has been having celebrities be the creators of comic books. This trend began in earnest when Sam Hamm was brought on to write a three-issue arc on Detective Comics. Hamm wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a household name, but he did write 1989’s Batman film, which made him well known in comic book circles.

Since then, the celebrity creator has evolved into two divergent paths. There are the creators like Kevin Smith and Jeph Loeb who take a hands-on approach, meaning they actually write the stories their names are attached to, and what I like to call the “Corporate-Sponsorship” angle, where the celebrity merely provides his name, and maybe the overall story idea, to the project but is essentially hands off for the actual creative process.

Another entry into the latter category arrives, according to Diamond, tomorrow in Tyrese Gibson’s Mayhem (I say according to Diamond because it was listed for tomorrow a week ago in its shipping list, but all other evidence points to it coming out August 5th. If the book is not at stores tomorrow, you can ask your shop to hold it UPDATE: As per the Midtown Comics site, Mayhem will not be coming out tomorrow. Address all letters to Diamond and/or Image.).

Tyrese Gibson is a true Hollywood hyphenate. He has worked as a fashion model, a film actor in films such as Four Brothers and the Transformers franchise, and a musician. You might think that he is about to add comic book writer to that list, but not really.

This is what he said when asked by Sci-Fi Wire how involved he was in the comic:

It's written by Mike Le and Will Wilson, and my man Tone Rodriguez is doing all the art on it. I've got my hands in there. I'm writing. I'm critiquing and picking apart, but I'm a more visual guy. I'm just making sure that, visually, it fits and it goes in a direction that I want it to go in. And I'm the marketing guy. I'm the guy that wants to tell as many as people as possible about this comic book.

At best he’s an editor on the book or, in a term borrowed from Hollywood, a producer on the series. Milo Ventimiglia holds the same title on two comics, Top Cow’s Berzerker and Devil’s Due’s Rest. So, Gibson is not alone in acting as an overseer. But that role typically doesn’t lead to sales success.

We have to look no further than to two defunct comic companies for proof. Tekno Comix was one of the many companies that sprouted up during the 90s comic boom. Their claim to fame was that they published exclusively “Corporate Sponsorship” titles. Celebrities such as Leonard Nimoy, Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov lent their names to the company’s titles, but their influence went no further than coming up with story ideas. The actual titles were written by other creators. The company as a whole only lasted two years before closing up shop.

More recently, Virgin Comics came up with a similar method of operating. A majority of their output was “Corporate Sponsorship” titles. Like Tekno, celebrities such as Nicolas Cage, Jenna Jameson, and Hugh Jackman lent their names to projects, most with little more involvement than creating the overall concept. Virgin’s intention was to use these titles as springboards for feature films. When no films developed from these partnerships, the sales of the comics were not enough to keep the company going. Virgin ceased to exist as a publishing concern in 2008.

While Gibson has been relentless in promoting the title (his Twitter page as been almost exclusively a marketing outlet for the book), he faces an uphill struggle. The failure of Tekno and Virgin show that just having a celebrity’s name above the title and only a laissez faire involvement in the day to day creation of the book is not a recipe for success.

Also out this week:

Fantastic Four #569:
This issue brings the run of Mark Millar on the title to an end. I would say that it was the Millar and Bryan Hitch run but the chronically late artist didn’t make it this far. This issue is drawn by Stuart Immonen.

I have to say, his run didn’t really meet up with my expectations. I expected the FF to be a Top 10 book. The first issue of his run clocked in at #8, but the rest of the run was mostly Top 30. Millar promised the entire run would be on time. Instead, we got a Christmas issue in February. I expected bombastic storylines akin to the team’s work on The Ultimates. We got hit or miss examples of conventional superhero fare.

Next issue begins Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham’s run on the title. It will be interesting to see what they bring to the title.

Mark Millar & Joe Ahearne (W), Stuart Immonen (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Barack Obama #2: The First 100 Days:
For the life of me, I cannot understand this Barack Obama trend in comics. Yes, I know that comic companies have “Obama” variants and have made him a Barbarian hero because he sells comics. I just don’t understand why having Obama on the cover sells issues. Nothing against the man, I just don’t get it.

Now, IDW is putting out a special issue in honor of his first 100 days in office which, and this is not a shot against Mr. Obama, were fairly non eventful as Presidential terms go. But this issue will probably sell like gangbusters.

When will this trend go too far? Probably when we see our first “Zombie Obama” variant cover. Just so you publishers know, I claim the trademark on “Zombama” now. 

Jeff Mariotte (W), Tom Morgan (A), IDW Publishing, $3.99. Ongoing Series (???).

The Stuff of Legend #1:
A child’s toys coming to life is nothing new. After all, that is the entire basis for Winnie the Pooh. But the concept is so good that creative minds have come back to it again and again in comedies like Toy Story to horror flicks like Child’s Play. It is all in the unique spin you put on the concept.

This series takes the concept in a new direction. This time, toys come to life to take on another element of childhood—the Boogeyman. The two sides are combating an unseen war in a Brooklyn apartment while World War II is being fought overseas. This series proves that everything old can be new again when looked at through a different perspective.
 
Mike Raicht & Brian Smith (W), Charles Paul Wilson III (A), Th3rd World Studios, $4.99. Two-Issue Miniseries.

Justice Society of America #29:
Changing creators on a comic is a fact of life. No creator stays on a book forever unless he owns the book himself. Even then, their staying on for the full run is not for certain. And whenever creators shift, there is a hesitance amongst fans to see whether there will be a drop in quality as the creators change.

There is even more uncertainty when the outgoing creator is one of the best writers in comics and the title he is leaving is the one that made him famous. That is what is happening this week as Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges are taking over this title from the departing Geoff Johns. But, as any readers of Fables and Jack of Fables can attest, they are great writers in their own right. That should aid the transition just a bit.

Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges (W), Jesus Merino (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

The Mice Templar: Destiny #1:
The Mice Templar suffered from unfair but understandable comparisons to Mouse Guard. After all, both featured sword-wielding mice in a fantasy setting. They’d have to be the same, right? Wrong. While there were similarities, this franchise was different in tone and story content. It wasn’t a copy, yet an original idea set in a similar genre.

Now, The Mice Templar is back and beginning their second chapter. If you didn’t pick up the first series because you thought it was a rip-off of Mouse Guard, you really missed out. Lucky for you, you now have a second chance to jump on board. Give this series a chance if you like anthropomorphic sword and sorcery tales.

Michael Avon Oeming & Bryan JL Glass (W), Victor Santos & Michael Avon Oeming (A), Image Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Kid Colt #1:
While they might have gotten at least a ten year jump on them, Marvel’s Western characters always seemed second rate to DC’s. Jonah Hex, Bat Lash, and Scalphunter appeared more colorful and interesting than Marvel’s staid and archetypical cowboys.

But that’s not to say that Marvel’s characters didn’t have a lot to offer. They were just reflections of their times. This week, Kid Colt returns in one of your typical Western plots. He’s on the run for a crime he didn’t commit, being chased by people who want him dead, and fighting against all odds to clear his name. It is a story we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be good.

Tom DeFalco (W), Rick Burchett (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. One-Shot.


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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com

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  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Jul 28, 2009 at 4:40pm

    There's an Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama comic coming in August. Not quite a Zombama but close. The trend is indeed getting ridiculous (and that's from someone who voted for the guy!). As for Willingham taking over JSA, he is indeed a good writer but I've found his DCU stuff very lackluster. On Fables he's brilliant but I'm nervous about whether his style will translate to JSA.

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