Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
12 March 2007
300 Breaks Boxoffice for March ... I still barely care.
300 is the inverse of Cap #25 — everyone knew it was coming for a year, and things still didn’t go according to plan. Maybe we’re wrong in our speculation, and there are thousands of copies available everywhere. Maybe everything has gone much smoother than the ICv2 story indicates. 300 will surely be one of the best selling graphic novels of the year when all is said and done, but 15,000 copies for the next two months just doesn’t sounds like great planning.
This weekend my girlfriend went on a seemingly romantic date - movie dinner. The only two problems?

  1. The giant lunch we ate right before the movie ensured that we would not be eating any more food for quite some time
  2. My girlfriend's idea of a "romantic" movie turned out to be 300
Now in all fairness, I was just as curious as my girlfriend was to see what a CGI-heavy adaptation of naked muscle dudes with spears would look like, but I was kind of surprised that she had even show any interest in going in the first place (she's usually pretty immune to the hype machine). Plus, it was the first screening available when we showed up to the theater.

What followed was an over crowded theater full of loud boys in baseball caps and gold chains all cheering and clapping to the 21st Century equivalent of a Russ Meyers' movie. The fact that everyone and their mother seems to be talking about how "amazing" this film is, was almost as baffling to me at the time as Zack Snyder's depiction of homosexuals and Asians.

You can't really tell, from watching the film, whether Synder's intention was to lampoon the Persian empire itself, by depicting it as a decadent culture full of deformed homosexuals and demons, or if he was instead lampooning the Spartans' xenophobic perspective on the Persian empire. The weightiness of Miller's figures, was sabotaged by the acting, making even the most dramatic seems appear trite. And where Miller's stylized characters give the book a bit more "oomph" in the already rich visuals department, Snyder's portrayals of the same characters just came of as...well, offensive.

Now, to be clear, I was already not that big a fan of the original book. I find myself to be of mixed emotions regarding a lot of Miller's work. Still, I concede the importance of a book like 300 existing, and would implore everyone who had seen the movie, or who was planning on seeing the movie, to read the actual book at some point. Simply because it's a solid piece of comic story, and there are much worse movies being made from weaker examples of what the medium has to offer.

Even before I turned on my computer this morning to read the various headlines about how the movie had been a box office smash, I could tell from the growing enthusiasm passion of the crowd (NYC movie goers are some of the most infectiously enthusiastic, I've found), that this movie was a resounding success. Regardless of how I felt about the movie personally, it could only mean good things for Frank Miller and Dark Horse.

Imagine my surprise when I saw Heidi McDonald reporting on the shortage of copies of the book available to retailers following the film's premiere weekend. Perhaps part of the reason I'm shocked is because I tend to frequent some pretty competent comic shops, who tend to handle big opportunities like this fairly well. At my current favorite shop, recent printings of the 300 book have been on display for months now. When Hellboy came out, I remember my old comic shop in NJ did fairly well with it, moving so many copies of the various trade paperbacks that it made your head spin. Even my local library at the time got in on the action, seeing an expansion of their Hellboy collection in the Graphic Novels section just to meet the demand from young teenage readers looking to borrow it.

Heidi points out that there had been no marketing plan on the part of either Dark Horse or Warner Brothers to connect the 300 film and the 300 comic book, other than sticking Frank Miller's name above the title. But even that, in my opinion, is expecting a bit too much of the uninformed/uninitiated movie going crowd who probably don't really care about Miller's comic work outside of the context of the movie they enjoyed.

For the few percentage of people who do care to check out the source material (and considering the numbers that the film pulled in this weekend, is till a lot of people) there is unfortunately nothing, save for the measly 15,000 copies Diamond has just received and will ship to retailers accordingly. This obviously hurts retailers the most, since in the aftermath of the movie's premiere, people will undoubtedly go to their local comic shop to find a comic book, only to find that it is no longer in stock. I have a feeling the book store market will benefit most from this, when the flashy cover art of the book has the ability to catch a casual shopper's eye. But for those who could benefit the most from people actually seeking out the book? Well, you're apparently shit out of luck.

My only point of contention with Ms. McDonald's post is that I don't think that Dark Horse needed to print an explicit movie tie-in for this particular story. 300 works extremely well as a self-contained story (thus works well as a movie adaptation), and seeing as to how Snyder worked so hard to capture so much of the books original flare, isn't that hard to understand or jump on to for uninitiated readers. There's no ongoing continuity issues or need to recap like in the Spiderman or Batman movie franchises. And unlike Heidi's excellent example, V for Vendetta, the 300 movie actually resembles the source material.

While a smaller amount of product to push or tie-in with the movies success may not appeal in business terms to retailers or publishers, I would argue that it is better for the casual reader in the long run. And what's good for the reader, can only serve to be good for the Graphic Novel industry. It's a chance to get non-readers to read. What could be better than that? All it would take is for Diamond and Dark Horse to supply the demand, and a bit more effort on the part of the retailer to push other related projects.

"Oh, you like 300? You should check out Ronin. I hear they're working on a movie adaptation." Or even, "Yeah, 300 is really good, but personally, I prefer his work on Daredevil. It's got some amazing actions scenes and it's way better than that Ben Affleck movie they made."

These are the kinds of conversations I used to hear the stock boys at my old local comic shop in NJ giving to young kids whose interest in comics was peaked by movies and television. This store in particular was an amazing example of the direct market. A literal mom pop business, that had lasted three generations and as many locations, in a topsy turvey niche market. They were quick to let you know that this store was a manifestation of their family, but were just as quick to go out of their way to make you feel like you were family too.

Not content to simply rely solely on Diamond (I was under the impression that the store made most of its money from loyal customers and collectors who pillaged the store's networking resources to attain more rare material that was not on display), this store went and got a large Hellboy movie poster from a friend who worked at a movie theater to display prominently in their window, before the movie even came out in theaters. When the movie came out, they moved tons of Hellboy material, from books to statues to clothing. It was pretty impressive.

They remembered your face, and addressed many of their customers on a first name basis. Aside from asking what comics you needed, and suggesting what comics you might like, they also talked to people about sports statistics, what was going on with Jersey's Union laws (a lot of the customers were either Union Men themselves, or had family who were), and Thanksgiving plans. Like I said. If you went into that store with any regularity, you were treated as part of the family. When I was working at Sam Goody during the holiday season, I even recommended that a young father take his son there to get his Yu-Gi-Oh! card fix instead of in our store.

And this is what I have to say to retailers: I sympathize with your plight. I really do. The direct market has served me well over the years, but recognize that you're business model is becoming quickly obsolete, and it's up to you, as individuals to go that extra mile and provide a service that customers can't get elsewhere. It's not enough to stock the books that they can't get elsewhere, because that's no longer true. Make your customers, and especially your potential customers, feel that if they want to buy comics, there is no place they'd rather be to do that than in your store.

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