Friday, September 08, 2006

Free Spidey!

Free Spidey graphicNo, that's not "free Spidey" as in Free Willy or "liberate the working-class spiders from beneath the heels of the bourgeois pigs," but rather, "Hey! I got a free Spidey and it didn't cost me one thin dime!"

Oh, okay. It cost me a quarter. But I got a nifty swell tabloid newspaper with it!

Starting a few weeks ago and running for the next six months, newspapers across the country are giving away free classic Amazing Spider-Man comic book serializations in their papers. I got mine in the tabloidy folds of Thursday New York Post ("Still only 25¢!"), a newspaper that makes The Daily Bugle look like The New York Times and that has featured such fine journalistic headlines like HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR. (And no, I'm not jealous just because I have never been pictured on "Page Six.")

Even if you don't subscribe to the sensationtastic Post, you can be on the lookout for Spidey comics in papers around the country: here's a full list of where the promotion is running. Boo, hiss: the Post is only running the inserts through October! I'm getting on the phone right now to Rupert Murdoch and giving him what for! (Also, for canceling Arrested Development and Firefly. Bad Rupert! Bad! Bad!)

This week's free Spidey is the first half of Amazing Spider-Man #2 and for a free giveaway it's a pretty cool item. It's comic book-sized and completely printed on newsprint (no glossy cover), but the reproduction of Ditko's linework is crisp and clean and the coloring is bright and vibrant. (I don't own the first Spidey Marvel Masterworks, but I'd would not be surprised if the reprints come straight from that book project.) It reprints the first twelve pages of Spider-Man #2 plus a gorgeous Ditko Peter Parker/Spidey pin-up ('member those?). There are only two ads: a "try to win a car by spending money texting a message on your cell phone" ad on the back and, on the inside front cover, an ad for, an online supermarket coupon service that appears to be sponsoring the reprint project, but which could take some lessons in proper usage of apostrophes:
Super Mom's

Spidey #2 coverThis is the fourth in the series (I'm very disappointed that I was aware of but completely missed #1-3). Since this reprinted the front half of Amazing Spider-Man #2, I'm guessing the first one reprinted Amazing Fantasy #15 and issues one and two split the first Amazing issue. Spider-Man #2 features two stories blurbed on the cover, the first appearances of the Vulture and the Tinkerer, and this week's free Spidey leaves off on a cliffhanger towards the end of the Vulture story. Well, less a cliffhanger than that they simply stopped after page twelve and statted "To be continued next week!" below the panel. That begs the question: since the cover of this free Spidey was a mildly reformatted reprint of the cover of ASM #2, what will be on the cover of next week's freebie which reprints the back half of #2? (For that matter, what was on last week's?) I'm wondering if they will be using "created for this reprint" covers like the fill-in covers (like this one by John Byrne) when they split early issues of X-Men across two reprint issues in Amazing Adventures in the early eighties.

Incidentally, despite the cover's black border, "collectible series" heading, and "not for resale" indicia, how long do you think it will take until people are walking into comic book stores, slapping this down on the counter and declaring "How much will you pay me for Spider-Man number 2 from 1963?" and then getting all moody and stompy when they're told to take a hike. Let us know when, not if, that happens, Mike Sterling!

In many ways, this whole project is what I like to call A Very Good Thing: it presents early, primal, back-to-the-basics stories for the general non-comic book reading public that mirror the Spidey seen in the movies and that folks will remember from the cartoon series: bold, action-filled, but uncomplicated by iron armor, Civil Wars and divulged secret IDs. In other words, this is the perfect introduction to comic books for kids and adults who have never touched them before, and I surely don't have to tell you that Lee and Ditko's early Spider-Man comics are pretty solid work in and of themselves: fairly straightforward in plot but dynamic, vibrant art and a story that's absolutely stuffed chock-full of the standard, primal Spidey elements everyone knows, loves, recognizes and absolutely associates with Spider-Man:

ASM #2 panel
Peter Parker: Science Nerd!

ASM #2 panel
Peter Parker: Science Genius!

ASM #2 panel
J. Jonah Jameson! Not as editor-in-chief of the Bugle, but as multimedia conglomerate chief and publisher of Now magazine. Ya gotta admire his sticking with the "all villains, all the time" press coverage. Years before the media coverage of O.J., the man knows that crime sell papers.

ASM #2 panel
Triple-J's appearance in this issue might surprise modern or movie-era Spidey readers, though: by later standards, the man's practically a pussycat! An immediate check, Jonah? Adjust his medications, nurse, he's not quite right!

ASM #2 panel
The first appearance of the Spider-Cam!

ASM #2 panel
There're a few things not quite in place yet.
Hey, where's your spider-sense, Petey?

ASM #2 panel
Oh, there it is! (Isn't this a gorgeous panel? Check out that pose and the shaded buildings behind Spidey...Ditko is a freakin' genius!)

ASM #2 panel
Speaking of genius, here's a beautiful sequence that's almost an early trial run for the amazing "lifting up the machinery" sequence in Spider-Man #33. Ditko=genius.

So, enough gushing, Bully. Do I have any complaints about this nifty freebie comic? Sure do, but they're sort of meta-complaints: where's the follow-up? This is a golden opportunity to get brand-new, never-before-seen customers into comic book stores and hooked on comics. But aside from a token line on the last page reading "To find Marvel Comics at a local comic book shop call 1-888-COMICBOOK," there's no merchandising follow-up. Don't make new comic fans dial a phone number, tell them 'xactly where to go! I don't know how the comic supplements are printed, but if they're printed separately for each newspaper (like Parade magazine with its local paper branding on the cover, for example), isn't there a way to offer a local comic book shop a page or half-page advertisement in each booklet? Failing that, if the comic supplements are printed exactly the same for all local markets, why isn't the Post's advertising manager on the phone to Forbidden Planet, Midtown Comics, and/or Jim Hanley's, telling them: "We've giving away free Spider-Man comics in Thursday papers through October...that would be an ideal day to advertise in our newspaper that if you liked the free comic, you can find more comics and graphic novels starring Spider-Man and other heroes, plus toys, cards, tee-shirts, videos and the whole kitten kaboodle, in your store!" Why not capitalize on one of the largest distributions of a comic book in recent history by advertising in sync with it?

I also wonder if it would have made sense for the Post to beef up its anemic comic strip section ( of the smallest strip selections I've ever seen in a paper that has one) by adding the Spider-Man comic strip and running a line above it each day: "Pick up Thursday's Post for your free Spider-Man color comic!" Now, I'm sad to say the Spidey strip these days is no great shakes (witness some recent examples at the always hilarious comic strip criticism blog The Comics Curmudgeon), but when have newspaperfolk been so blind of the concept of synergy? (Note: I'm not certain whether the Spidey strip runs in the competing Daily News or now; if it does, this renders my point moot.

Who's dropping the ball in this series of missed opportunities? Marvel, for not developing and requiring a specific growth of the industry plan to go along with licensing these freebie comics? The Post, for failure to capitalize on potential and growth and buzz on a running promotion? Is J. Jonah Jameson to blame? Whatever. Free comics are a good, good thing and I heartily recommend these fun and nicely produced Spidey reprints. But I'm a long-time comics-reading fan, so they are preaching to the converted with me. As I often ask: where is our next generation of comic readers going to come from? There were chances to bring some on board with this project, but while the ball isn't completely dropped, the inability to connect all these potential new comics fans with a specific comic book store is a juggling fumble for our team.


Kevin Church said...

There were chances to bring some on board with this project, but while the ball isn't completely dropped, the inability to connect all these potential new comics fans with a specific comic book store is a juggling fumble for our team.

I think the money just wouldn't work: Marvel would have to print customized comics for each store that wanted to be involved in the promotion and I can just see their accountants wanting to monetize that within an inch of its life. Heck, my shop isn't part of the 1-800-COMIC-BOOK service because they figured it out actually got them no additional business and costs money that could be better spent doing local promotion and hosting parties where I get sloppy drunk and fight people.


Bully said...

Good point; thanks Mister C. I was thinking specific local ad sales in the comics and branding or printing that onto the comics at at the local venue level--similar to how Parade magazine comes with the name of the local paper on the front page--but since everything I know about the newspaper industry comes from Lou Grant and the feel-good musical of 1983 Windy City, it is prob'bly not feasible at any point along the way.

Additionally, I didn't come out and say it, but it's no surprise Marvel doesn't bother with promoting traffic into a comic book store: they have over the past several years been traditionally more oriented towards licensing and movies as far as business investing, and while this may be just the hard sharp rusty cynical spot in this little stuffed bull talkin', I don't b'lieve Marvel gives a flying fig for driving new customers into stores.

There's still lost opportunity at the local levels if LCBSs are not advertising when the comics are being given away with the paper, but I'm also aware LCBSs in other cities might be participating this way: it just doesn't seem to be being done in Manhattan.

I had much the same complaint last year when the first issue of the Hush storyline was given away free in a New York paper, but no advertising or pick-up to drive people into the stores. Sigh. Paging Don Quixote.

Kevin Church said...

The paper itself should think of that as a way to do another insert - a coupon or something, and solicit those from the store owners and management. The problem is, outside of Manhattan and maybe the Bay Area, I can't imagine there being a store with enough revenue that advertising in a special insert (even a single-sheeted one) in a daily wouldn't deprive them of, say, Pizza Rolls.

Like you, though, I know less than I should about the newspaper game. Maybe advertising in the Poughkeepsie Oracle is filthy cheap.