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MAKE COMICS: MINX: Comics Keep Spinning

 I am bummed to see how depressed younger female comics creators, some of them good friends, are about the shuttering of the Minx line. For the creators on the line, this just blows. On the other hand, line closing are a fact of publishing life. One of the Minx creators, Brian Wood, and I were publishing through the previous incarnation of Jim Valentino's Image Shadowline when Jim decided to call it quits. Luckily, we and the other creators who wanted to be there, had a place at Image Central.

It was scary though, it felt a little like "maybe this indy graphic novel thing isn't going to work out." But I knew I always had the web to get my work seen. I also had ten years' experience at the time (1998), and saw the market for manga growing, and more girls than ever were reading comics and showing up at conventions.  That ten years of change gave me confidence that girl's comics and graphic novel had momentum that wouldn't be lost with the closing of one comics line, and it wasn't.

The world is stupid that way. It just keeps on spinning. 

When Penthouse Comix failed, I remember Heidi MacDonald worrying about the future of comics if porn by popular comics creators like Adam Hughes couldn't make money. What Heidi didn't know when she said that is that Penthouse had huge overhead (because of legendarily high page rates), and the stories in Penthouse Comix were decidedly unerotic. The point that you buy porn to get porn was completely missed. But not knowing that, yeah, you could worry that comics are screwed (haha) because you can't move even the easiest (haha)-to-sell stuff.

I can see it now: "Lea Hernandez equates Minx with Penthouse" or "Lea Hernandez compares and contrasts porn with girl's comics." Have fun!

Which brings us to Minx. Penthouse proved that you can screw up (haha) a no-brainer. Shelley Bond said she saw girls reading manga in a bookstore and wanted that audience.
That would've been the time to do something like I pitched to Paul Levitz (which piqued his interest enough for him to have me contact Dan DiDio and Shelley Bond at different times): manga-influenced superheroine books. A Batgirl book where she is searching for her long-lost brother Tony. (Yes, Barbara Gordon has a Secret Agent Man brother.) Wonder Woman. Black Canary. Zatanna. Supergirl. Amethyst. Harley and Ivy. Importantly, make these books that didn't just take the names of the characters and run with them, but do books that were grounded in what the existing fans of those books like, with an appeal to draw in new female readers. 
(I worked this idea out after Dan DiDio said he wanted a Batgirl title that led back to the main DC line. With this, the readers that wanted to stay where they started, wherever that was, won.)
Or, if not a reimaging of DC's best superheroines, tap into what was attracting that audience of manga-reading girls: mystery, romance, adventure. Fantastic settings. Give the girls More Like That, right?

Anyway, girls are reading manga, we want a girl audience, so we make manga. No-brainer, right?

Right. And Minx was entirely unlike that. 

Back to the younger creators disheartened by the Minx fail: I understand. The DC girls' comic that came out when I was eighteen was Amethyst. Did I ever love this book, and it wasn't the winged you-knee-korn. It had great art by  Ernie Colon. The setting was expansive and imaginative. The bad guy was really bad. There were genuine stakes, and there was romance. (In fact, the perfect sort of book for a DC girl's line.)
Then Amethyst crossed over with Superman, and within a year of its launch. I was sick. I knew it the odds were aginst Amethyst being or staying the creator's vision since they didn't own it, but I didn't expect the sign that DC had given up on it to come so soon. 

Then there was DC's mid-90's girl's imprint, and I can't even remember the name of that one. When that line was canned, there was no image-friendly internet, and no big-box bookstore market. The difference was that that time, I was mad. DC was pissing in the pool: they put out a girl's line, not a very good one, and tried to sell it in a market where only the most die-hard girl readers would find it. I was sick all over again, but it was because this time, I knew this was going to be seen as "proof" girls didn't read comics, and it was.
Between those 90's girl's line and Minx, DC started and shitcanned another "girl's line" within a year. I can't remember the name of that line, either. (I could look it up, yes, but let's take my inability to remember the name as a demonstration of its memorableness.) Another no-brainer: more girls in comics, in comics stores, and in comics shows than ever, audience right there, and they still blew it. I recall the content of the line well enough to say it was because the line was Default Mode Boy: DC was trying to hedge their bets, and wouldn't go all-out girl. They wanted to make sure they could get guy readers if girls couldn't find the books or rejected them when they did. Functionally, DC tried to launch an all-new capes line. There's a winner's game.

Now we are to Minx, DC's fourth big push to sell comics to girls, in the best time in modern comics history to do so, and it still didn't work. It didn't work for so many reasons, all of which are well-outlined at tiredfairy 's LJ and Johanna's Comics Worth Reading. I have the benefit of history, but TiredFairy has the benefit of working on the line, so she has the inside goods. Johanna also has insider's insight, as an observer and one-time DC employee.

Here's the point of yet another history lesson from the Diva: the failure of Minx isn't going to kill girl's comics. The biggest dent here is in the pockets and careers of the creators. Some of them invested a great deal of time and didn't get a book at all. At least one was told to stop working on a book in progress. Others will not see their finished work published. (Ritual blah-de-blah here about the vagaries of not owning one's work, and the Minx creators didn't. One hopes the rumored rights reversions actually happen, unlike at TPop.) 
The Minx creators will pick up and go on, or they won't.
With a healthy online women's comic culture and other publishers with graphic novel lines (who seem committed to giving their lines longer than eighteen months to grow), the genie is out of the bottle.
(And peeing in the pool now is like, to borrow a joke, piddling under the cement turtle in the kiddie end.)

DC/Minx is not the beginning and end of hope for girl's comics, my young friends. The people who make comics for girls, the girls who make comics are. As I said to Rachel Dukes at deviantART: 

"...creators like you, who are out there every day with sleeves rolled up, working as entreprenuers, are the real deal. YOU are what inspires the next generation. YOU are fantastic and inspiring. You make ME want to work harder."
Make comics. That's your no-brainer.


( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 26th, 2008 12:41 pm (UTC)
I think they were aiming to capture the spirit of what preteen girls are buying "these days".
If you go to Borders and Barnes and Nobel a lot of Minx content seems to fit on the shelve next to "Mean Girls" "Gossip Girl" etc. But the Minx line seemed to focus on the extrovert/goth/emo girl who might actually be interested in reading a comic as well.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 26th, 2008 01:05 pm (UTC)
Dave will be embarrassed for me to say so, but I'm starstruck by him, too!
Sep. 26th, 2008 01:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, go on! *blushes*

Now if only I could impress my parents...


Sep. 27th, 2008 04:16 pm (UTC)
...Good f***** luck. I've started to earn money off of game design and they still ask me when I'll get a real job. I feel you.
Sep. 26th, 2008 12:38 pm (UTC)
Lots of great points, Lea! Comics will definitely survive even if big companies think there's not enough money in selling/marketing to girls DIRECTLY.

But I have to say that as fun as your line of books would have been (and could still be!) I"m glad that "Minx was entirely unlike that". The goal of trying to cash in on the manga craze was the real problem. But I give then tons of credit that they chose to instead focus on completely new ideas and characters rather than Manga-fying or rework their pre-existing franchises. What they ended up doing felt VERY un-DC (to this former DC intern). Look at their Johnny DC line. Cute and silly versions of their pre-existing characters. So you hook the kids with the candy and try and sell them the hard drugs when their older? I HATE THAT LOGIC!! It's really sleezy. I'd much rather DC publish new ideas! Even if the page rates aren't as high. It moves the creativity of the industry forward! As someone who was paid to reimagine the X-men for a new manga reading market I'd give up the gig to see a healthier market for OEL and graphic novels with new characters and not classics illustrated or manga shakespeare! Sorry, I'm getting off topic ;)

I think the real problem with Minx going after the success of manga wasn't the art style. It's that you have to have at least 3 books of a single series in the can before you can launch a line. It takes a long time to draw original graphic novels and thus even longer to build an audience to support a new comics imprint.
Sep. 26th, 2008 01:02 pm (UTC)
re: Dc Manga: I was speaking to what would've worked within existing DC culture coupled with a goal of reaching female readers.
The Minx concept might've worked very well at a publisher that published Minx-like books.

On reflection, I think another problem might have been the sameness of the books, and that I'd lay at Shelley Bond not bringing books into the line, but "developing" them with the creators. (Which brings us even closer to the methods of their marketing partner Alloy, a fine purveyor of McBooks "developed" in a boiler room.)

Sep. 26th, 2008 01:25 pm (UTC)

And I think there's still room for both ideas. DC should reconsider your pitch! But they should do it because it would be a fun idea to see these characters in new interesting ways by distinct artists.

I'm just skeptic about the "we'll get em with one style and then convince them to read the REAL books when they grow up" approach at DC and Marvel. I always go back to the TCJ editorial reflecting on how manga readers "go their own thing" and don't want to be courted by "the big 2"
Sep. 26th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
I'm a skeptic of that method, too. I figured some readers would start at one or the other, never move on, but everyone reading would be happy. (Or unhappy but keep buying! ^_-)
Sep. 27th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
...I tend to say that I hate superheroes, but on reflection this isn't true. I love Watchmen, Invincible, Promethea and Astro City: I loved Mary Jane <3 Spiderman and Runaways, and the early Seigel and Shuster Superman.

And In My Honest Opinion, there's no reason not to count Naruto or Chrno or Alucard, Agent of Hellsing as superheroes... ;)

It's the writing that's the turnoff to me, not the subject matter.

Though I am male, and therefore may be uneligible to comment.
Oct. 1st, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
If you think of series in terms of "characters with powers fighting the good fight"" then you could probably include Avatar in there as a superhero comic as well. But if you think in terms of something that has to use the standard plot elements from comics, then probably not.

Good, writing will out. For what it's worth, my wife loves the new Blue Beatle, and enjoys watching Justice Leauge. That's because of the simple, yet strong characterization and excellent dialogue. And Avatar of course is her favorite, for all those reasons and more.
Oct. 1st, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
Avatar doesn't count because it uses fantasy tropes more often, no. But try to tell me Bleach doesn't use superheroic tropes with a straight face.

I dare ya.
Sep. 26th, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)
I think Penthouse Comics/Comix's problem was less "porn that wasn't porny" and more that they tried to cover way too many bases and therefore didn't have enough content in any given issue to really satisfy anyone. A little bit of noir, a little bit of war comics, a little bit of superhero, a little bit of sci fi, a little bit of clown fetish, etc. Unless you had pretty broad tastes, it'd feel like you just paid five bucks for an 8 page comic. They sort of tried to spread out with Men's Adventure Comics, but that didn't last long enough to really establish a clear market.

Mind you, a focused Feelthy Comics line isn't necessarily going to perform any better. White Lightning Comics, for instance, is pretty reliable in turning out a few specific sorts of story, so if you buy one of their comics you're going to get pretty much what you're looking for. But they run into unpleasant market realities anyway. But I think if Penthouse Comics had tried focusing a little better, they had the resources that they could have made it work. Concept flail did 'em in at the end.
Sep. 26th, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
Excellent assessment, I agree with you completely!

Penthouse Comix were unusual in that many issues had absolutely NO PORN in them. I'm so serious- you'd have gorgeous art with sexy girls, but not even a nipple showing in some stories. People who buy adult material want actual bonin' & moanin' and actual full frontal displays in their porn comics. Otherwise, why bother?

I also thought that a "DC Girls" magazine would have been a great idea- it would basically be like a Shoujo Beat type comic, but with a Supergirl story (where she's not a Paris Hilton party girl clone), a Wonder Woman story, a Batgirl story, a Teen Titans story (as a kid, I loved Teen Titans because the team had so many girls) and yep, an Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld story featured every month in a manga-y style. Add in rotating short stories about other DC heroines (Black Canary, Jade, Huntress), make it about 120-175 pages on newsprint, stick in some articles on "real life girl heroes" and some Betty & Veronica style fashion pages (where readers can send in their own designs), and voila. You've got a book. (As I recall, in all my 1960's-1970's Supergirl and Wonder Woman comics, there are pages of new costume designs by readers in each issue, a la Katy Keene.)

The young girls that come into the comic store I work at make a beeline to the manga, and they don't care whether it's shoujo or shounen. They like Naruto and Bleach (shounen) just as much as they like Fruits Basket and Boys Over Flowers (shoujo). Some of them, usually the ones with dads who collect comics, also go for Sonic the Hedgehog, Tiny Titans, and the old stand-by, Betty & Veronica.

Every person in our store who I have witnessed buying a Minx book has been a guy, with the exception of me. Not one of our teen to young adult girl customers has bought one, but they have bought Nightmares & Fairy Tales, Blue Monday, ElfQuest (yes, still!), Emily the Strange, JTHM, Fables and the Grimm Fairy Tales series, which is the Lady Death of this generation.

Girls like adventure and fantasy just as much as guys do. Sometimes, a little more, I think. I mean, 98% of all Harry Potter or Twilight fan fiction seems to be written by girls/women!

Gah, long comment is loooooong!
Sep. 26th, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC)
Not at ALL boring. Thanks for posting!
Sep. 27th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
(perks up at mention of Sonic The Hedgehog comics)

It's a crying shame that Princess Sally, Rabbot, Antoine and the others are an artifact of the American localization.

I'd have much prefered a next-gen game starring them as opposed to say Amy Rose and Shadow.
Sep. 26th, 2008 02:02 pm (UTC)
The 80/20 rule
I think the real problem is you are confusing having an audience with actually having a market. I had just finished reading The Economics Of Web Comics, 2nd Edition by Todd Allen last month. He goes over the current economic state of the comic market in general and the picture is pretty grim.

You have one major distributor and they just cater to four or so premiere partners and let the rest hang. As Todd points out, Diamond's job is to take "large boxes" and make "little boxes". So the fewer books and the fewer shops there are actually works well with Diamond. These major publishers on the other hand, are really making their major profit on maybe 20% of the titles out there. The other 80% is basically wasted money. That is why when you walk into a shop you see tons of X-men and Superman and Batman titles and little of anything else.

In business you have what is called the 80/20 rule. You will make 80% of your profits from only 20% of your customers. Female comic book readers are not in that 20%. So it is hard for publishers to really work on that market no matter what audience is there. More so since the overall comic book market is imploding.

So it is not the type of problems that the "creators" of comics can solve. Unless they can come up with a new market system to reach their audience. As long as your stuff must be sold in a comic book store, no matter how good it is, from a market and economic stand point, you're fucked! You need to think outside the comic book box.
Sep. 26th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
Re: The 80/20 rule
"Female comic book readers are not in that 20%."

Buh? Source? Citation?

"So it is not the type of problems that the "creators" of comics can solve."

But they have: self publishing on the internet.

"Unless they can come up with a new market system to reach their audience."

But they already have. The internet. How are you missing this?

Regarding selling to the DM: there's a reason why I don't court the DM. My publishers can, but I don't. I don't have the wherewithal. My time and energy is best spent elsewhere.

Sep. 26th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
Re: The 80/20 rule
"Female comic book readers are not in that 20%."
? Source? Citation?

First hand experience, I went into my local shop and ask how many female readers are one their pull list. out of nearly a hundred names he said they had only 4 to 5 women. Of the women overall that come in, he said the most popular sellers were Stephen King, Anita Blake and graphic novels like Sandman. When I asked if any comics made for the female market sold in numbers similar to X-men or Superman, he just looked at me funny.

"So it is not the type of problems that the "creators" of comics can solve."
But they have: self publishing on the internet.

But Minx wasn't a line of web comics? The web may be the only place that independent comics or comics outside the typical fan base (meaning something other than super-heroes) have a chance at survival. In the real world though, the picture still looks grim. Todd Allen's book on the Economics Of Web Comics, offers these numbers on traditional print comics.

" The first independent comic not strongly associated with Image by both creative team and characters or a possible ownership arrangement with Diamond is Dark Days #6 from IDW at 116 and with an estimated 18,536 copies ordered. So a truly independent book does not rank within the top 100 comic books ordered. El Cazador, the popular title from Crossgen, is estimated at just under 18,000 copies, and more independent books start to show up after this."
"...It is not a business", is how Jemas phrases the proposition, citing the history of failed companies and poor margins on a print run of 10,000, the most he could imagine a newcomer to be able to sell. Jemas feels that while you might not necessarily lose money, not enough profit margin is available to consider it more than hobby, if implemented on a small scale."

It seems to me, that print comics outside the typical market base have a slim chance for survival. As the overall market continues to shrink, of course the smaller niche markets are going to go bye-bye. Which is what I believe happen to Minx. Yes comic creators can do well on the internet. In fact, tailoring your work to a specific niche market can allow for a tighter and more effective marketing and business model on the internet. But even there, once you get a book in printed format, the challenge is to move enough copies to make it at least past the break even point. In How To Make Web-comics, the best guess number was at 5 to 10% of your readers would actually buy something you offered.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 28th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
Re: The 80/20 rule
"I think it's true that most comic stores don't have a large female customer base. But that doesn't mean girls don't buy comics, it just means that they don't tend to buy comics at comic stores. Roughly 50% of the manga sold is purchased by females. I think that's enough to prove that girls do buy comics."

That can very much be the truth. I don't read much manga, but for the sake of argument, I'll concede that you are correct in this. It wasn't my point to question whether women buy comics but whether women buy women's comics in numbers great enough to make a difference. As the markets continues to shrink (which it seems to be doing in print publishing in general) then smaller niche markets become less and less viable to support. You have a natural shakedown of products. While women may buy half the manga sold, the market may only support those titles that BOTH men and women buy, rather than titles that women buy alone. So if women buy 50% of ALL manga produced and men only certain genres. Then those certain genres will get the most support because they reach both sides of the market.

It is all about economics and market share. If you have a product line that will only reach 50% of the market at best, then you already are operating at a disadvantage. You may have to secure 100% of the female manga readers in order to still be viable. Less than that may not give you the margin you need to succeed. That could have been the problem with Minx. It could have secured a much larger share of the female readership for manga but still not make the numbers it needed to work.
Sep. 26th, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC)
I remember the frustration as a kid of all the cool comics being very boy-ish and anything girl-y just seemed like it tried too hard. Guess nothing changes! You'd think it wouldn't be that hard, as you've pointed out.

Nice insight!

Sep. 27th, 2008 04:07 pm (UTC)
On a related note...


Speaking as someone who likes girls at my table on the grounds that they keep my species on thier best behavior, that kind of dumpth is hurting roleplaying. Not the RPG industry. The actual play experience.
Sep. 26th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
..the failure of Minx isn't going to kill girl's comics.
Word McWordyword.

I started self-publishing comics in '99 because what I wanted to read wasn't out there. I'd really like to encourage teen girls to create the comics THEY want to read about and we'll see if the bigger companies get the hint.

Sep. 26th, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I said this on Hope Larson's LJ, but I firmly believe that the future of "girls' comics" will be with mainstream prose publishers. Scholastic and HarperCollins have been having some success with their comics publishing ventures, most of which have universal-to-female appeal, and I'm optimistic that they'll get more successful as time goes on.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 27th, 2008 06:04 am (UTC)
I've been saying that they should relaunch Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld as a magical girl series* with no DCU ties for a while now. Glad to see I'm not the only one!

*Gemworld Princess Amethyst?
Sep. 27th, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
...Amethyst is truly outrageous?

No. No. Bad fanboy, no cookie.
Sep. 28th, 2008 08:04 pm (UTC)
No, that would be Jemworld. And would be either the worst or the greatest thing in existence.
Sep. 27th, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC)
...somehow I get the feeling that where DC is DOIN IT WRONG, Marvel is doing it pretty well. I mean, between Arana, Mary Jane, Runaways and some of the Ultimate reboots? This seems close to what you were hoping for Minx.

And of course, for female-oriented superhero stories with a touch of shoujo, can't go wrong with Rumble Girls. ^_^ Just sayin'.

I'm not sure if you've heard of it, but there's a flash cartoon called Gotham Girls that seems eerily congruent with what you wanted. Based on the noirish animated series.

Oh god, oh, god, the Harley x Ivy quips. Oh god, the ass that Batgirl kicks.
Oct. 10th, 2008 08:08 am (UTC)
Minx will be missed badly!
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )


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