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Where the Gravestones Never Cease
Excerpt from ¡Journalista! for September 25, 2008
(Note: Red text indicates a dead link.)

 

DC Comics has canceled its Minx line of graphic novels targeted to teenage girls. Andy Khouri has the story:

Developed over several years and backed with the full financial support of DC Comics parent Warner Bros., the MINX line and its many titles are generally well reviewed, and the imprint's ambitious goal was met with optimism and support from direct market retailers. Nevertheless, CBR News was told that Random House, DC's book trade distributor, has not been able to successfully place MINX titles in the coveted young adult sections of bookstores like Barnes & Noble.

Multiple sources close to the situation agree Bond and DC aren't to blame for MINX's cancellation, and that this development should be seen as a depressing indication that a market for alternative young adult comics does not exist in the capacity to support an initiative of this kind, if at all.

Valerie D'Orazio speculates on the reason for the line's failure:

Really — I think some of it is that when DC set out to create "a line for girls" — they looked, despite themselves, despite great rosters of talented people, more towards "Archie" than "Harry Potter" or "Heroes." I think they should have done more sci-fi and adventure books, or at least blend more of those elements in some of the line (Kimmie 66 was one — but you wouldn't know it by the cover). The girls at the conventions that I have talked to for the last two years — most never heard of Minx. When I asked them what they were reading, all the genres they mentioned were sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.

There's certainly wisdom in this analysis — the bookstore success of Stephenie Meyer's young-adult vampire series would seem to bear this out — but I don't think that it tells the whole story. After all, a number of Minx titles fit comfortably within the Gossip Girls model, which has been quite successful. In fact, I'd say there was an admirable breadth of subject matter in the Minx line that suggested an honest attempt to create a well-rounded selection for a wide variety of tastes.

No, I think the bigger problem is that building a line — indeed, an entire category — of books for the bookstore markets requires a great deal of patience and endurance, and there's very little evidence that DC Comics has ever demonstrated these qualities in their publishing efforts. The list of imprints that they formed only to be pulled when short-term success didn't promptly fall into their laps would fill a small cemetary: Milestone, Helix, Paradox Press, Pirahna Press, DC Focus, DC Elseworlds, Tangent Comics, the Humanoids line, the Elfquest deal. Remember when people were expecting more than two titles in the All Star line?

 

Panel from The Plain Janes, one of the many books orphaned by the collapse of the Minx line, ©2007 Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg.

 

A comparison with the literary-comics movement is instructive. Consider this: DC Comics launched its Minx line to great fanfare, handing a quarter of a million dollars to Alloy Media & Marketing in a determined effort to sell under a dozen releases a year. The overhead that all this generated was almost certainly too much, too soon when it came to publishing a category of books — American-made graphic novels for teenage girls — that really didn't exist until the Minx line was created.

By contrast, what unites publishers like Top Shelf, Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly is the enormous amount of effort, time and blood that it took each publishing house to reach their relative level of success. All three companies have been plugging away for over a decade — in the case of Fantagraphics, three decades — to reach the point where they enjoy the occasional Ghost World/Lost Girls victory lap. Even so, most titles released by such publishers feature initial print runs in the 2000-5000 unit range, which is poor by the New York publishing standard but an acceptable amount of bread and butter for smaller, boutique prose publishers working the bookstore trade. Living within your limits, keeping your ambitions within reach and building incrementally for the long haul: These are the qualities required to pioneer a new form of literature in a low-margin world where returnability and limited shelf-space reward long-term thinking and a conservative approach to risk.

DC seems to have gambled everything on the notion that the manga model of bookstore success could be duplicated: That if you threw Stuart Levy levels of money into a new market, you stood a good chance of grabbing Tokyopop's magic. Unfortunately, Tokyopop's "magic" amounted to the possession of the Sailor Moon line of books, which played on a groundswell of young television viewers who remembered the animated series fondly and were hungry for more, backed up by titles like CLAMP's Cardcaptor Sakura to feed the demand for similar works. Minx simply didn't have anything like that initial spark in their inventory, and thus the enormous amount of money thrown at the line became a millstone around its neck. Success needed to come quickly in order to justify the initial cash outlay, and Minx just couldn't meet such ridiculously high expectations. This race required a tortoise, not a hare, but DC Comics foolishly bet everything on the hare. The result is yet another tombstone for the graveyard.

CMX Deathwatch, anyone?

 

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