Marketing Weirdness and Why a ‘Smallville’ Digital Comic Might Be Really Good

Posted: March 13, 2012 in Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

My recent purchase of a Nook Tablet (and waiting for the xda developer people to hack the stupid thing so ImageI can access the entire Android Market) has gotten me more excited than ever at the prospect of digital comics.

And my enthusiasm got jacked up a little more with the Marvel’s announcement at South By Southwest (oh yeah, apparently Marvel Comics makes announcements at SXSW now) that they were kicking off a new digital comics initiative, starting with a weekly series by TQP favorites Mark Waid and Stuart (Nextwave) Immonen.

Waid’s been particularly vocal about revamping the idea of “webcomics,” in particular breaking away from the rigid page-and-panels format of a print comic that’s ultimately not necessary (and in many cases, detrimental) to reading comics on a tablet.

But if we’re really being honest here, I’m actually a little more excited for another recent announcement: Smallville Season 11.

Yes, you heard me.

Let’s go back for a second and talk about the relative failure of branding that befell John Carter, and look, Imageyou can go into all manner of explanations about marketing and public expectations and all that. But I’m still not convinced that “Girls won’t see a movie with Mars in the title, and boys won’t see a movie with Princess in the title” isn’t really, really small-minded.

Especially when you could solve a lot of problems by just calling it (as someone suggested), “John Carter and The Princess of Mars,” which tells boys “LOOK, It’s about a dude!” and tells girls “AND THERE’S A PRINCESS!” and tells everyone else “It’s like an Indiana Jones movie, but in space!”

But what I’m most stunned at is: a movie could be released and the phrases “from visionary Pixar director Andrew Stanton” and “the creator of Tarzan” never made it onto a single goddamn commercial.

“John Carter” is a name with zero brand recognition on its own. But “Pixar” and “Tarzan” are pretty easy ways to at least perk up a potential customer’s ears.

I’m pretty sure there was absolutely no harm in trying the fairly time-honored practice of, “Sell people something new by telling them it’s like these things they’re already aware of,” and so I’m baffled that I saw that happen exactly never during the entire marketing campaign.

Which brings me back to Smallville.

Wikipedia tells me that Smallville‘s series finale had a viewing audience of 3.3 MILLION. Meanwhile, let’s look at the sales figures on…well, let’s pick the newly restarted DC Comics line’s flagship title, Action Comics #1: Somewhere around 200K (digital sales not factored in).

And Superman #1: About 137K.

So where, exactly, are those 3 million eyeballs who watched Smallville? Why doesn’t it seem like any of them are interested in following Clark Kent’s adventures into his native medium?

The simple answer: A lot of them don’t even realize there are still comic books. There was never any real cross-promotion from the TV show to the comics.

Which is pretty depressing. But! That makes the notion of a weekly, digital Smallville: Season 11 series even more attractive to me. You’re actually more likely to get eyeballs on a Superman comic called Smallville than you are on one called Superman. And hey, whatever works.

ImageBut from the perspective of someone who just wants to read some fricking Superman comics, I’m probably even more excited, because:

Bryan Q. Miller’s writing it – Go track down his run on Batgirl and tell me that dude does not know how to write some fun, exciting superhero comics

Clark Kent’s finally, y’know, Superman – one of the biggest problems with 10 years of Smallville is the pre-determined end of the series was always, “Finally starts flying, finally puts on the costume,” and with every passing year of him having The Adventures Of Superman without actually BEING Superman, the writers had to come up with a reason for that – and what they usually came up with was “Clark’s denying his true destiny!”

Which usually translated as “Clark’s a mopey asshole who only grudgingly helps anyone.”

So it’s nice to see quotes from Miller about Clark actually ENJOYING BEING SUPERMAN, which as I’ve said before is sort of a prerequisite to my enjoying a Superman series.

I enjoy the weird continuity that has resulted from concocting a kinda-sorta DC Universe in one show. Starting with: Superman’s best friend is Green Arrow, who is married to quasi-Oracle. How goofy is that? In Smallville, the Jimmy Olsen role is filled by GREEN ARROW.

All the problems the show had can’t carry over to the comic. Things like Tom Welling’s limited acting chops, a budget that forced all the really cool things to happen off-screen or with shitty CGI, plots changing as a result of actor availability (not that I blame Michael Rosenbaum for wanting to leave, but…Lex Luthor’s KIND of a requirement in a Superman series). Not problems the comic has to worry about. That’s great.

So Smallville: All the good stuff, none of the bad, weekly, digital, cheap.

If you can’t sell that, then…well, then you are probably on the marketing team of John Carter.

BA-DUM-BUM!

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Comments
  1. Elle says:

    I agree that the Smallville comic is a good thing but I always feel people don’t give Tom Welling enough credit at all. He played Clark as a real, flawed man with honor for 10 years and got a hell of a lot of people to care about him. He deserves way more credit than he gets.

    Also, I don’t care at all about Green Arrow. I’m reading this book for Lois and Clark. They were the best thing about Smallville and something DC has botched as of late. Lois is why I will buy this book.

    I’m shocked you didn’t mention her. Lois and Clark being together is one of the huge draws of this book.

  2. I agree with you regarding both Smallville and John Carter. I will be honest, I myself had never heard of John Carter before the movie was being made. But just before I went to see the movie, I decided to have a quick read up on the character. To my astonishment, I found that not only did Edgar Rice Burroughs create Tarzan years before, but John Carter is also the reason we have the likes of Superman around. It was then I delved deeper and found more and more connections to many of today’s sci-fi epics. Including Star Wars and Avatar.

    You’re right in saying that the marketing campaign didn’t and still hasn’t done John Carter any justice. One can only hope word of mouth will give it the attention it so deserves. And outside of the US it is doing really well.

    Now, for Smallville, again you nailed it when you said the fans of the show didn’t know there were comic books of Superman already circulating before the show ever took off. I myself have done tons of reviews on YouTube about Smallville from season 8 onwards. But at the same time, I have stressed that I am a Superman fan first and foremost and that is why Smallville appealed to me. Hell, the first graphic novel I read was The Death Of Superman way back in 1993. That’s when I got hooked on comics.

    The first time I heard of Superman was watching Superman II way back in 1988 when it showed on TV in the UK. I even found an old recording of Superman The Movie only to find the rest of it was wiped just after the intro music (which pretty much sold me from the off).

    As I have said, I love Superman more than I do Smallville and will continue to do so. But where there is love for Smallville to be had, I will give it. And nothing pleases me more than to hear that it finally goes to comic book form. Something I hoped would happen but didn’t think it possible. Thanks to Bryan Q. Miller, Cat Staggs, Gary Frank and Pere Peréz, we’re finally getting it. Hopefully this will give Smallville fans reason to delve outside of the Smallville universe and understand the connections between the show and the comics that little bit better 🙂

  3. Simon-El says:

    With expectations that Lana (Kristin Kreuk) shows up as a regular in this series I’ll be faithfully buying every week. I mean she was Clark’s main love interest up until mid season 9 when he takes the picture off his wallet. Smallville is about Clark & Lana and like it or not for the fiercely defenders of the comic continuity Lois was only the shows female star for about two seasons and in season 9 that spot is debatable because of Chloe. My interest really diminished when the female lead exited the TV series.

  4. Elle says:

    @CK, I think you are correct and incorrect.

    I think you are absolutely right that there were many fans that were not comic readers of Superman prior to watching Smallville.

    Unfortunately, the comics buying community is not a large group. Now, I personally have been reading Superman comics since I was a little kid and I knew many people in Smallville fandom who were Superman comics fans. But, realistically speaking….the comics community is small.

    However, the larger question here is….why is that?

    Yes, it IS easier to get people to watch a television show than to buy a comic book series. However, the mass amounts of money that this show made on DVD over the years (making it one of the top sellers for WB each year) shows that the fans weren’t opposed to spending money to visit with these characters.

    The larger issue here (and one that I think the comic has the CHANCE to address) is that Smallville was geared for a wider, larger demographic.

    Smallville was not just written for the very limited demographic of straight men between the ages of 18-34. Unfortunately, that is WHY the comics industry is dying.

    Graphic novels are selling. Manga comics are selling. DC and Marvel are struggling as a brand (and this has not changed post new 52) because their demo is very limited. Marketing experts a lot smarter than me have made this point over and over again.

    Smallville had something for everyone. Clark was the CENTER of the show and he was an amazing character. But the show also treated women like a valued demographic. It didn’t exclude women. It didn’t exclude older people. It didn’t exclude any age demographics. It expected to have a wide audience and it got a wide audience in return.

    If nothing else, this Smallville book should be a wake-up call to DC comics that paying attention to varied demographics in your marketing and PR is a very GOOD thing for the genre. It brought Smallville a lot of success over the years and it was part of the reason why the show maintained an audience for 10 years. It’s a lesson that DC is going to have to learn because the comics industry is dying. It’s just not doing that well even post new 52. The success of the new 52 was a band-aid on a much larger problem. Paying attention to the success Smallville had and figuring out how to widen that demo is a very good thing.

    @Simon-El, I don’t think what you’ve stated is true at all.

    First of all, let me be clear…I like Kristin Kreuk a lot. I have nothing but respect for her as a woman and an actress. I did not care for the character she played on Smallville and I didn’t miss her after she left. Actually, to be more clear, I liked Lana fine was a character. But Clark/Lana was insufferable for me as a viewer.

    The bottom line is that Smallville was about CLARK KENT. Period. It was HIS story.

    The beauty of Smallville was that different people came in and out over the years and rose and declined in importance to serve that story.

    In the early years, Clark’s closest relationships were with his mother and father, Lex and Lana.

    In the middle seasons, Clark’s closest relationship was with Chloe as his dear friend.

    In the later seasons, Lois moved into a closer role as the person closest to Clark.

    Every one on the show moved into their roles as the show went on. Personally, I wouldn’t give two craps about this book if Lois wasn’t in it. And I’m not just a Smallville fan. I’ve been a Superman comics fan since age 10.

    I think you are incorrect to assume that Lana will be a part of this book in anything other than the occasional guest role. This is a Superman story now and her role in the story is long done. And frankly, if that wasn’t the case, I would have stopped watching Smallville several years ago. Because I was done with her by the time she left the show.

  5. Simon-El says:

    @ Elle the fact that you come with a strong background of being a fan of the Superman comic makes me understand that you would not care about the character of Lana Lang. You see I’ve always regarded Superman as the most boring of Superheroes, and after early childhood and reading some dozens of his adventures never touched a Superman comic book again so I was not a fan at all of the character or the comic book. Smallville and its particular story with the strong characters of Clark Kent and Lana Lang, the excellently fleshed out characters of Johnathan, Martha , Lionel and Lex are another story. For 8 seasons Clark & Lana’s love was at the epicenter of the series until KK left the series. In every single mention of the show online you can find a conflict of fans about this, why because Lana IS and always will be the queen of Smallville. Of all the young actors of that show Kristin is the one who has done the most since she left. She has done several movies and been approached to star in several tv pilots, hopefully the latest Beauty & the Beast will be a big success as she deserves. Who else from the cast has been invited to star in another series by the same network? Search youtube for Clana and you will see hundreds of fans making videos of Clark & Lana together and hoping that the couple they saw for years and they hoped would finally find their happiness together still lives in their heart. Smallville tried to survive without its main lady and it died a slow and painful death. Smallville was never an action series, I bet the female demographic is a really strong one and possibly not a very vocal one in the internet. I grew up in a house full of women and I know they like their romance and dislike very much when the male protagonist ends up with another woman, specially when they have been pinning for that couple for 8 years. So yes, the very vocal comic fan majority will say that Lana was the reason they stopped watching the show since they only cared about seeing finally their comic book version realized on the screen.

  6. Simon-El says:

    Ugh, meant to say “Smallville was never ONLY an action series” above. No edit button. 😦

  7. @ Simon-El

    I wanted to offer my own perspective to underscore the points Elle made. As someone who has read or skimmed nearly every Superman-related comic ever printed, I can assure you I do care about the character of Lana Lang. Superman/Clark and Lois Lane will always be my favorites, but Lana Lang in the comics is a pretty cool character. The fact that Superman was boring to you until Lana Lang was front and center tells me you don’t care about Clark Kent or Superman. Superman isn’t boring. In fact, he’s one of the most compelling characters in comics and pop culture. Why? He represents the ideal application of power and his motivations are pure. Rather than pursuing truth and justice for something petty like revenge, Superman is a hero simply because he can and because it is the right thing to do. Moreover, Superman’s humanity, which is embodied in his very real identity as Clark Kent, makes him a complex and layered character. He’s a demigod who chooses to live a human life. He loves having a part of his life that is as close to normal as he could get whilst being an alien superhero.

    You’re right, though. For eight seasons, Clark and Lana’s love story was a core component of the show; but being important and being good are two very different things. Those eight seasons provided heaps of evidence for why Clark and Lana are ill-suited for each other. Producers and even the actors themselves described the relationship as dysfunctional and said Clark and Lana are perhaps better off separated from each other. Clark and Lana’s romance had all the hallmarks of a relationship based on infatuation instead of true and authentic love.

    SMALLVILLE fandom is notorious for its shipping wars and conflicts. Following your logic, the mere existence of a debate about the legacy and role of Lana Lang in the series suggests her position as the undisputed “queen” of SMALLVILLE is not entirely accurate. Kristin seems like an amazing and talented young woman. She has had a relatively successful career post-SMALLVILLE. Then again, she’s had more time to do more things. Actors like Durance and Hartley, for example, have only had a year to accomplish what Kreuk accomplished in three. For Durance’s part, she’s been in three films, guest starred on two big three network dramas, and she’s currently working on an NBC/CTV show called SAVING HOPE in which she is the lead actress and a producer. You asked who else from the cast has been asked to star in a show for the network? The answer: Justin Hartley. He’s currently filming a pilot for the CW (just like Kreuk) called FIRST CUT. I’m sure you’re also aware of the fact that there are many fans on YouTube making Clois and Chlollie videos. There are fans of all persuasions out there. Clana fans are not unique in their desire to support, defend, and celebrate their favorites in social media.

    SMALLVILLE didn’t just survive without Lana. It lasted two more seasons after she left in mid-season 8. In its final season, the show was pulling in ratings on Friday nights that frequently matched the ratings of network darling, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. The Season 9 DVD set outsold all of the CW’s shows and several high profile shows like FRINGE, HOUSE, GREY’S ANATOMY, THE BIG BANG THEORY, and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. Losing Lana Lang did not doom the show or lead to any sort of creative decline. If anything, Lana’s return to the show in Season 8 was destructive. Prior to Lana’s final arc, the show was garnering higher ratings than it received during Season 7 (a season that featured Lana as the lead female). After Lana’s appearance in universally panned episodes like “Power” and “Requiem,” however, the show took a while to recover. Fortunately it did recover in Season 9 by proving to be viable in the CW’s first real attempt at Friday night programming. It seems Lana Lang was not the key to the show’s continued success, after all.

  8. Simon-El says:

    Your opening sentence “As someone who has read or skimmed nearly every Superman-related comic ever printed,” and the size of your post already made me knew what you were going to say. Basicly in your view the series started turning up as soon as Lana left but by bringing her back in season 8 they started a spiral down they could never recover from. Oookay.

  9. Simon-El says:

    One more thing and I will probably not return here because I don’t have the time to keep arguing with rabid Superman traditionalists:
    This is what I really can’t understand. The character of Lois Lane as portrayed by Margot Kidder & Erica Durance is an insufferable bitch, a bully of a woman that really can’t stand Clark Kent and doesn’t looses a chance to mock him and humiliate him. Of course she becomes in love with the guy when she discovers that he has super powers. The character of Lana as portrayed by Kristin Kreuk is the popular beautiful girl who sees all the things others can’t in the nerdy guy and has enough vision to trade the football hero for the underdog. Really the Superman fanbase has to be the only one who pins for the first kind of woman just for the sake of tradition.

  10. @Simon-El

    Did I say anything close to what you suggested I said? No. I didn’t say I only started becoming interested in the show or liking the show once Lana Lang left. Far from it. I started watching the show the day it premiered back in October 2001. Because I am a fan of Superman and have been my whole life. After 9/11, I was looking for a show about a young man who grow up one day to fight evil and who would give people hope. I stuck with the show for 10 years without abandoning it once. I genuinely liked Clark/Lana in Season 1 and was fascinated by Lex and Clark’s friendship. I was in no way just a fan because Lana left and Lois became a more prominent character.

    I did, however, make an argument using FACTS not OPINIONS about how the show fared in the ratings once Lana left. You assumed I was making an argument fueled by bias, which I did not. I cited FACTS: ratings stats and DVD sales figures. It’s not my OPINION that the show did just fine after Lana left, it’s a claim that I backed up with evidence.

    To address your final post, I see you have zero knowledge of how Lois Lane was characterized on SMALLVILLE, since you suggested she fell in love with Superman instead of normal Clark Kent. That’s VERY far from the truth. Lois admitted she loved Clark while taking a polygraph test in “Committed,” which was before The Red-Blue Blur existed and way before Lois knew Clark was The Blur. It’s also critical for Lois to love the Superman side of Clark, since it is a big part of who he is. He needs to be loved for being special. Other than his own parents, Lois Lane was the only person to love the special side of Clark without getting to know his normal side first. Finally, Lois and Clark BOTH teased each other and that aspect of their relationship was highly reminiscent of classic love stories like Lizzie and Darcy in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as well as Beatrice and Benedict in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.

  11. braak says:

    Man, I’ve got to say, you guys are being surprisingly civil about this whole thing.

    I’ve also got to admit that I thought that show was completely terrible.

  12. Sam says:

    Always funny to read a smallville fandom debate. This gig will never die 🙂 I’m just glad I’m getting superman in smallville S11 which is a welcome distraction from DC’s nu52 debacle.

  13. […] of Superman, Clark, Lois and Lex – not to even mention the fact that, in this TV-universe, Superman’s best friend is GREEN ARROW – that everything he writes feels utterly natural for a Superman-just-starting-out story, and […]

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