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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Virgin Comics -- I've never seen one, and couldn't tell you what their titles are or who creates them. And I spend more time in comic book stores than almost anybody I know who isn't a retailer. Sorry people are apparently losing jobs, but this company never even really existed within the comics industry as I know it, so it's hardly a surprise.



Blogger Roger Green said...

It's a Richard Branson production, and it's largely an (eastern) Indian-centered series.

26 August, 2008 15:50  
Blogger Jason Marcy said...

Huh. Well, I never saw very much of their books anyway. Just the odd one that my retailer would order, and then only the cover.

27 August, 2008 08:11  
Blogger Rob said...

On the heels of the surprising announcement this week from Virgin Comics that they would be shuttering their New York offices in favor of a more streamlined outfit operating out of LA, speculation has abounded about the future of the company or if, indeed, it even has a future. Though commentary has sprung up all over the blogosphere about why their well-capitalized business has not succeeded in the way that it might/should have, I think much of this misses the point. Whether or not it was ever able to find a niche in the modern Direct Market landscape, Virgin put out some pretty damn good comics and, if they ultimately do go under, comics, not Sir Richard Branson, will be the poorer.

Iím not asserting that every comic book they published was gold or that their business model may not have exhibited more optimism than pragmatism. We can all argue until weíre blue in the face about how things might have been done differently but history has shown that launching a mainstream comics company in the current market is just hard work that is rarely rewarded by success. My dad once told me that, as a businessman, you can do everything right; have the right product, the right market, the right economy, the right staff and still fail. Systematic competency does not guarantee success. So I reject the idea that Virginís failure to catch on in the Direct Market is somehow a repudiation of the quality of the content that they generated.

Taken individually, some books were written better than they were drawn. Others illustrated better than they were written. In yet others, the two elements came together and produced works of above-average quality that, for my reading dollar, as compelling and entertaining as the monthly superhero books I enjoy that have been running for decades. The difference? Virgin was creating new content, or, perhaps more uncharitably, recycling content that was new to the medium in which it was being told.

Virgin also introduced a number of exceptional comicsí artists to American readers for the first time. While names like Jeevan Kang and Abhishek Singh may still be unknown to many readers, the strength of their contributions on titles like Ramayan Reborn and the Sadhu nearly guarantees that we will be seeing them again, no doubt rendering icons more familiar to direct market readers.

A tribute should be also be paid to one writer who emerged with a strong voice in his first published work with Virgin but who became the backbone of their more cohesive and, thus successful titles; namely, Saurav Mohapatra. While industry veterans like Ron Marz, Zeb Wells, Garth Ennis, and Mike Carey turned in consistently professional calibre work for the Virgin assignments, only Mohapatra emerged as a creative force because of the Virgin experiment. For those skeptics out there, I hold up Mohapatraís virtuoso writing in the first issue of India Authentic, a story of the birth of Ganesha, as one of those rare moments in comics where the artifice falls away and genuine human emotion comes pouring off the page. Whatever happens with Virgin, I hope some company recognizes this writerís potential and gives him an outlet for his craft.

In closing, Iíd like to invoke the second rule: Love the Player, Hate the Game. Itís tempting to sit back and play armchair EIC in situations like this one but, for my $2.95 in increments over the last few years, Iím grateful that Branson, the Chopras, and everyone involved thought enough of comics potential to invest their reputation and lots of money into the Virgin Comics experience. And, make no mistake, every time a mid-level comics company like Virgin goes down, the direct market suffers yet another cut on its way to big number one thousand. We need strong mid-list and I donít believe that it is just corporate spin that the downturn in the economy had an effect on this decision. Rising shipping and product costs have forced the store I manage to make tough decision about how to allocate resources to stock the store. For every Archaia Studios Press or Virgin Comics that goes down, our eco-system becomes just a little less stable.

And, in the little pond we live in, that is not good news at all.

28 August, 2008 01:04  
Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

Rob, I find myself in the awkward position of criticizing your dad, but that sounds like an excuse. If you open up a great restaurant in a great location and it fails, you've failed. You didn't figure out a way to get people in and coming back. And no offense, but I don't remember anyone extolling the virtues of these books while they were coming out, because almost no one was reading them. Hey, I'm all for another comics company trying something different, but these guys didn't grab me. They did what most failed publishers do: throw a bunch of books out at once, hope for the best, and watch orders go down, down, down. Frankly, I thought the "superstar" names attached to a lot of the properties probably did as much harm as good, in that it may have seemed cynical to others as it did to me. I never thought John Woo or Jenna Jamison were at home working on scripts, you know?

But what kind of irks me is that people are sad about a company that obviously didn't have a good business plan. Did they expect to be a big success right away in the comics market, with unknown talent, ubiquitous talent (You can read Garth Ennis lots of other places), or known-but-not-highly-regarded talent (Ron Marz)? Most of their books have only recently even had their first book collections, which is how more and more people are reading comics now. At the end of the day this is just another CrossGen, an uneasy mix of sincerity and cynicism wrapped in a bunch of unattractive genre books. Is it really bad news it's gone? Are we worried there's a shortage of fools and charlatans willing to replace them?

28 August, 2008 11:05  
Blogger Rob said...


It's the opposite of an excuse. It's a fact. Most businesses fail.

I think the one factor in the failure of this particular business is the effect that downsizing the Virgin megastores had on the Virgin comics line. I have no doubt that when they were calculating the strategy for Virgin, they were looking at the hundreds of point of purchase opportunities they had there and thought the DM might come around in time. It didn't and here we are.

I agree with most of what you say up above but the "bunch of unattractive genre book" tag may describe 95% of the comic books being published today depending on who is looking at them so I can't see that (a subjective distinction) as being a meaningful real-time factor in this collapse.

And, for the record, many of Virgin's launch titles are up to as high as volume 4, not volume 1 as you suggest.


28 August, 2008 14:56  
Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

Hey Rob--

That's a good point about the Megastores closing. That probably had quite a negative impact. Still, putting aside my subjective comments about attractive or unattractive art or the talent behind the books, I do think Virgin did a poor job of reaching out and marketing their books in creative ways, especially given that they seemed to be well-funded at the start. Just putting out a bunch of books and hoping for the best isn't enough.

29 August, 2008 02:48  
Blogger Rob said...


I'm probably reacting to the fact that I read and sell a lot of these books. I'm going to miss them in the New Comics stack and I'm going to miss their revenue at the register.


29 August, 2008 14:34  

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