WOQW: On Hype

On Hype

In the hallowed halls of message boards and talk back sections, talking about “hype” has become the “talking about decompressed storytelling” of this summer. More often that not, the people have come down firmly on the anti-hype side of things.

Marvel is often the focus of this anger. That’s not all that surprising I suppose since they have a tendency to say or write things like a book will “crack the internet in half” (from House of M #3) or pepper their solicitation copies with sentences like, “In a world on the brink, humankind’s time is running out, but deep in the jungles of South America a solution is being forged, a solution that will bring about a grand new utopia — and that solution is Adam Warlock.” (from Warlock #1). DC, for its part, has caught some flack as well as off late, particularly in reference to their “tie-in” books, but by in large their hype is much more subtle and understated.

*Writer’s note: for the sake of this article, only the big two are really considered in the matter because, typically, the same goes for most of the hype debate*

Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s just take a second to specify what exactly “hype” is. Hype is, essentially, anything that promotes a particular title, character, or creator. It can be spoken (Dan Didio saying that Nightwing and Blue Beetle will be huge characters in 2005, Joey Quesada talking about Young Avengers months before it came out), it can be written (solicitation materials, sellout press releases, exclusive contract announcements) or it can be tied together in a neat little bow we call “crossovers” (The Countdown minis, House of M).

Looking over that list, I find that most of the anger about hype has me a bit at a loss.

When it comes to spoken or written hype, I admit, I kind of like it. I’m a fan of bombastic language, of ridiculously overblown statements of grandeur, and yes, even occasionally of strutting. Of course I am, I love comics and my first comics were, by in large, Marvel Comics. That means I was raised on this sort of thing. I mean, Stan “The Man” Lee’s whole identity was crafted around the fact that he was a walking hype machine. Still is in a lot of ways (listen to him talk about “Hef’s Superbunnies” if you don’t believe me). The guy put “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” from issue #3 of the Fantastic Four for goodness sake. Might it have been? Sure. Do you doubt Mr. Lee would have put on the cover if it wasn’t though? You shouldn’t. Trust me, somewhere out on the net I am sure you can find him extolling the virtues of Ravage 2099, The Man Without Mercy? Was Stan being evil and cruel? Now, he was proudly embracing the tradition he began and that is talk your book up, with preferably as flowery language as possible, until you are blue in the face.

That sort of thing has never really been DC’s bag. Don’t be silly though and imagine that DC isn’t playing the game in their own way though. Speaking as a man who has to cover them week in and week out, no single company issues more “issue # such-and such sold out at Diamond” or “creator A has gone exclusive” press releases then DC. These days, it seems as automatic as breathing to them. Inevitably, people will get annoyed with it. When they talk sell outs, we say things like, “Yeah, but how many copies that they print?” The fact of the matter is that they sold out this month and they weren’t before. That’s worth noting. If it helps that title sell out at comic shops everywhere as well, all the better. Selling comics, after all, is kind of DC’s point.

Tie-in hype is the one kind of hype that I get being upset about. What this means, of course, is the plugging of a book as tie-in to some major event that the universe is going through, be it a Crisis or a House. DC, at least currently, is the biggest offender in this area, but Marvel is doing its fair share as well. I sympathize with the anger about this. It is persuading people who are completists or just get swept up in a storyline they really enjoy into picking up titles that upon a later reading might turn out to be not so much a tie-in after all. If it is the type of “tie-in” hype that both companies are applying (DC to an admittedly larger degree) than I get that. I do think it’s wrong to claim a book is a Rann House United tie-in just because one of the characters from Rann House United is mentioned in the dialogue or appears in one panel. However, I would also suggest taking some personal responsibility in the matter. Do the flip test, see if the content of the book really warrants that tie-in bug on the cover. If it doesn’t for God’s sake, put it down (unless it looks really cool on its own merits). I know it sounds clichéd, but the surest way to stop a company from doing things you don’t agree with is to vote your wallet. You don’t buy all those tie-ins, they’ll stop claiming every title is one.

What’s weird though is that we get much more upset with words, be they ads, convention speeches, interviews, or solicitations texts. What’s the big deal with people just talking or writing up their product? I don’t know. It cannot be that we are standing up for the casual fans. Casual fans don’t read solicitation text. If they do, they’re what I call serious and/or dedicated fans. Then it must be for ourselves, right? But did any of us really believe that the internet would crack in half when House of M #3 hit stands? Did any of us really believe that Identity Crisis would prove so shocking that we’d never look at the DCU in the same way? Did you actually click the link to this article thinking you were about to read the “column of a lifetime”? Of course not. It was hyperbolic language that we all recognized as hyperbolic, which is why we jumped all over it in the first place. Is it such a crime to make solicitations lively, fun and involving? Where are the rules that claim that all pre-release information on a book should be dry and factual? Personally, if that book exists, it should be hidden somewhere and ignored entirely. I have no desire for a bloodless comic book industry where no one embraces the excess of personality and words that has been inherent in the comic book DNA since Stan started signing “Excelsior” on all his missives.

I am sure some of the anger is because, inspired by the hype, a lot of chatter started on some books. Then people bought them and found out they were lousy. But the first thing you’ve got to remember about hype is that it has an independent relationship with quality. No matter how good or bad a book is, you can still hype it like mad. And if you’re a smart publisher, you will.

This, in the eyes of many, leads to many “good” books being forced off shelves by “bad” but better publicized ones, yet another reason why there is a distaste for hype. Being one of the few comic book fans on earth who has bought less than 15 issues of X-Men or X-Men related books, I can certainly relate. I often got the frustration with seeing what I believed to be quality books fall by the wayside while what I believed to be lousy X books survive and flourish. The thing is, rule #2 with hype is that sales don’t necessarily have anything to do with hype. Find that hard to believe? Re-read that Warlock solicitation or any of the other ones you can find for that book. It has easily the silliest most over the top hype language of any book released in the past two years (and yes, I include the House of M books in that grouping). Joe Quesada took the stage in every convention that year and called its writer, Greg Pak, the best writer that you did not know. The book sold maybe thirty copies, half of which I think Tim Sheridan bought. It might often seem like hype is the reason books sell so well, but it is rarely the only factor. And even if it was, who do you expect would be to blame for that?

That right there is the crux of my problem with people’s problems with hype. Blame. We often rail against it until our voices are raw and the focus of that railing, more often than not, are the comic book companies or their figureheads (Quesada, Bendis, Millar, Johns, DiDio, Winick, etc). But why? It is a company’s job to promote and move product. As I said above, hype is not a surefire way to better sales, but it is worth a shot, no? So why begrudge the company for that?

The excesses we should concern ourselves with are often intertwined with hype, but they are not hype. I can do without yearly company wide crossovers. Variant covers, no matter how much retailers and fans seem to dig them, strike me as unnecessary and cannibalizing. I do think the stories are better now than they were in the 90’s, but that just seems like all the more reason not to use those dumb covers again. Trust the work. Silly childish sniping in press releases and convention halls turns my stomach. I’d rather have a thousand “crack the internet in half” comments than one more speech from Loeb about how The Pulse #1 was some sort of offense to DC’s long and storied history.

There are always trends in comics to be concerned with. How about we cut poor hype a break. After all, next week hype could change the way you feel about all your yesterdays and the way you live all your tomorrows! It could prove to be a nonstop velocity trip that will press you into the back of your seat and leave your knuckles white. Or it might just make you laugh, smile, shake your head, or build an ongoing joke out of. Would any of that be so bad?