Independent Publishers Aim to Serve as More Movie-Mining Material

The Hollywood Reporter has an article written by propagandist Graeme McMillan (who may have been said to be dismissed from their official employ, but still appears to be writing for them on some kind of basis), babbling all about how indie comics look like ‘the next goldmine’ for adapting to screens. But look who comes up as an interviewee for this piece – a certain former Marvel EIC who’s now working with a certain former publisher from the same company, Bill Jemas, who’re now heading their own new publisher:


To Axel Alonso, there’s something that comic books are capable of that no other media can match. “Comics are the ideal medium for producing truly ground-breaking work that creates IP that can come alive for generations,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Comic fans are in the vanguard of pop culture — they are incredibly discerning, so when a character, story or series resonates with them, you know you have a hit on your hands.”

Alonso knows what he’s talking about. As editor, and later editor-in-chief, of Marvel Comics from 2000 through 2017, he was a key figure in guiding the company from bankruptcy to the cultural behemoth it became, returning key franchises such as Spider-Man and the X-Men to fan-favorite status. Since 2018, he’s been chief creative officer and editor-in-chief of start-up publisher Artists, Writers & Artisans, one of a new generation of comic publishers positioning themselves as the next Marvel to not only fans, but potential investors and business partners.


This is almost enough to laugh. When Alonso first came aboard Marvel in the past 20 years, it was at a point when their comic sales were gradually plummeting, and Spider-Man’s One More Day, the tale that saw Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson’s marriage obliterated for the sake of Joe Quesada’s illogical biases, only precipitated audience alienation from the publisher. And after Alonso succeeded Quesada as EIC, he not only oversaw continuation of keeping Mary Jane away from Spidey until C.B. Cebulski at least brought her back into a relationship with Peter 3 years ago, he also oversaw a ton of political correctness and far-left politics into the storytelling. You could also say they became alarmingly rife with sexism in the guise of body-shaming and sex-negativity. I guess McMillan really is that disrespectful of Stan Lee’s hard work. No wonder he sugarcoats the maltreatment of X-Men to boot. Beginning the article quoting such a joke of an editor is pretty stupid.


Now, let’s turn to the main focus of the piece:


Those would-be competitors, including AfterShock Comics and Valiant Entertainment, are cultivating a financial model that focuses on a leaner publishing output. In comparison with indies like Image, Boom! Studios and Dark Horse Comics, the new guard is smaller in size but arguably more centered on potential film and TV adaptations.

That has attracted the attention of business partners: Valiant — a 2012 relaunch of a publisher founded in 1989 — was bought by DMG Entertainment in 2018; mogul James Murdoch invested $5 million in AWA in 2019; and AfterShock merged with distributor Rive Gauche last year. (They’ve also hired away from Marvel. AWA’s founders include not only Alonso but also former Marvel publisher Bill Jemas, while Valiant Entertainment’s reboot added former Marvel CEO Peter Cuneo as chairman.)

Valiant publishes a Marvelesque shared universe of superhero properties, while AfterShock focuses on unrelated sci-fi and fantasy series envisioned as mini-franchises. (Two such successes: Animosity, optioned for a movie at Legendary, and Undone by Blood, being developed for TV via Norman Reedus’ Bigbaldhead productions.) AWA features a shared universe guided by Sense8 writer J. Michael Straczynski that’s published alongside properties created by the likes The Boys co-creator Garth Ennis.

As a famously fast and cheap medium — at least in comparison to television and especially movies — the appeal of using comics as proof of concept is hard to ignore, but simply printing a comic doesn’t lead to getting optioned.

Publishers are developing franchises with Hollywood talent — think Boom’s successful BRZRKR series, co-created by Keanu Reeves — in order to produce intellectual property for film and TV development. That has led to publishers setting up production deals without having even released a comic, as was the case in 2019 with Paramount and Atlas Comics, a new company using IP from a defunct 1970s publisher of the same name (that agreement has yet to produce any tangible results).


And this just proves it’s not direct entertainment value that’s the name of the game, but a wellspring to make movies mania. Reeves’ BRZRKR is just the most recent example. If that’s how they’re going to operate, how can we ascertain their products are worth reading? I’m not encouraged to know Straczynski’s part of this project, nor Ennis. The former was part of the effort to degrade Spider-Man, and JMS compounded it with Sins Past. Such atrocities are exactly what brought down Spidey in the past 20 years. Above all, the problem with JMS is that, while he may have written a few comics early in his career, and worked in animation, he was still hired based on his showbiz background in Hollywood, running TV shows like Babylon 5, and also due to how he had a certain audience that followed him to whatever he wrote, such as his Rising Stars comic. That’s hardly ensuring merit-based writing is the emphasis.


All this does is discourage me from buying anything from such publishers, if all they care about is producing material with the intention of getting it optioned for movies by extension. Besides, if the trade journal is going to sugarcoat somebody as disgraceful as Alonso and Jemas, something is terribly wrong. Not to mention it’s laughable to call comics “cheap” at a time when prices have risen to 5-6 dollars, certainly from the mainstream publishers.


Originally published here.


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Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1