So I was just going to leave this post (and my smartypantsiness on the Twitter) to be my comment on the whole “Before Watchmen” prequel thing, since that’s been discussed to death by everyone already. But (and you knew there was a “but” coming), I did have someone come into the shop a couple of days ago to buy a copy of the Watchmen trade paperback, telling me the specific reason he was buying it was because of the prequels announcement. “The prequels look interesting,” he said, “and since I never did read the original, I thought I’d better get it before those prequels started coming out!”
Now, for us, sales peaked on the Watchmen trade just prior to the movie’s release, then dropped to almost nothing as soon as it was out. (You know, as usual with comic book movies.) We used to reorder the book every week prior to the movie ever being a factor, ordered tons of the book when the movie was a Big Deal, and now if I reorder the book more than once every few months, I’m surprised. The local market may just be saturated after the big movie-inspired sales bump, on top of the fact that we’ve been selling the darn thing for twenty five years and most comic fans who had even the vaguest interest in giving Watchmen a go have already went.
On the other hand, we may be experiencing a Howard the Duck event, in which the reputation of a once highly-regarded comic has been supplanted by the reputation of a not-so-regarded film adaptation. Any new customers spotting Watchmen on the shelves will think “oh, yeah, that dumb weirdly-violent movie,” not “hey, isn’t that the ground-breaking deconstructionist comic about the state of the superhero genre as it stood in the mid 1980s?”
I’ve no idea how sales on the Watchmen trades have been overall. I can only go by how things are doing at our shop. Maybe its sales haven’t dropped as drastically everywhere else as they did for us, but this is a quarter-century old comic that’s been consistently available for sale, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it isn’t moving like it used to.
So there you go: the Watchmen prequels could very well get those last few stragglers who haven’t picked up Watchmen to maybe try it out, bumping up interest in an item that may have hit some rough times in its post-film adaptation era. I’m basing this entirely on the single data source of our store, and on one customer transaction, but I’ve written posts for this site on shakier foundations, so why would I stop now.
But of course it’s promotion to help keep one of DC’s most famous evergreen graphic novels alive, but going from one famously self-contained graphic novel to, eventually, a shelf of eight graphic novels could be more of an imposing detriment than a long-term sales boost. I guess we’ll see.
Now speaking of which…I have no idea how to order on these prequel mini-series. I’m hoping DC will make the first issues of all of them returnable, so I can order high in case these really take off, but not get stuck if they receive the “check this out, comics based on that crappy movie” reaction. Yeah, yeah, I know everyone online threw a huge shit-fit when “Before Watchmen” was announced, but if actual sales were tied to online reaction, All Star Batman and Robin wouldn’t have been the best-selling comic on our shelves in any given month it deigned to come out.
I suspect they’ll sell reasonably well, but I don’t expect they’ll have the life expectancy of the original, which probably didn’t need to be said but I said it anyway. At the very least, however, it’ll hopefully get a few new people gaining an appreciation for Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen…even if it’s only by comparison.
I realize none of this gets into the moral or artistic issues of whether or not DC should be doing publishing new Watchmen comics. There are already plenty of other folks arguing about that right now, and maybe I’ll discuss it in a later post, if I feel like getting more grey hair.
For another look at this whole prequel hoohar, here’s the presumably-pseudonymous Sleestak with the article “Controversy as Advertising.”
In other news, I was looking at DC Comics’ site to check some info on the Watchmen stuff, when I saw this headline:
OH GOD NO…oh, wait, it’s just a Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8/9-esque comics-only follow-up. I hope it’s just page after page of never quite showing heavily photo-referenced drawings of Tom Welling in his Superman suit…like, he’s always in shadow or behind potted palm trees or something.