The Vertigo blog recently posted a TV commercial that's been airing on BBC America for the Eisner-winning modern fairy tale graphic novel series "Fables." It's a slick, well-produced affair that comes complete with a movie trailer style voiceover selling that sums up the book's immediately appealing high concept (fairy tale characters in modern-day New York City!), and I've got to say: It's about time.
Check out the commercial itself and extensive commentary after the jump!
This is really me just armchair quarterbacking, but I've often wondered why this hasn't happened before now. It seems like the major hurdle comics companies are facing when they try to attract new readers are reminding outside audiences that yes, comics still exist, and no, Superman didn't stop getting published when he "died" in 1994, and it seems like this is a problem that TV ads could solve pretty easily -- especially when you consider that the two major comic book companies are owned (or soon to be owned) by mass media conglomerates that, all told, own TV channels like ABC, ESPN, Cartoon Network, the CW, and more.
While it might not be cost effective in terms of immediate revenue, the impact of getting people into comic book stores would be huge for sales. Viewership of, say, Adult Swim routinely hits over a million, and a thirty second spot promoting a Vertigo book -- a product published by the same parent company that is also geared towards the same lucrative 18-34 year-old market -- could represent a massive impact on sales. Certainly there's some overlap among Adult Swim viewers and comics readers already, but if even less than 1% of the people who saw a the hypothetical ad went to their local shop to check it out, that have a massive impact on a book like "Hellblazer" or "Unwritten." Especially if it was geared towards the graphic novels.
And if there was an ad for more super-heroic fare that ran during, say, "Batman: The Brave and the Bold," a show with a large audience that's already interested in super-heroes, I can't help but think that the impact would be even bigger. And if Disney advertised a Marvel book during their primetime lineup? It's mind-blowing.
And how much bigger would Free Comic Book Day, a huge event designed specifically to reach out to people who aren't already regular comics readers, be if everyone who watched Cartoon Network knew about it instead of just everyone who caught their retailer doing a four-minute spot on the local news?
There are, of course, other factors to consider (most notably that both the distributor and the local retailer would need to be informed of the possible impact and decide for themselves whether they should take the risk, and the fact that even with the boost in comics sales, it still probably wouldn't make up for what they'd lose by not selling a 30-second spot during "Cougartown" to Toyota or Nike or Old Spice or whatever), but I assume that's what advertising "Fables" -- a book with a high concept that's easily understood, relates well to pop culture and is available in easily digestible graphic novels -- on a smaller cable network like BBC America is meant to be a test run to find out.
Which brings us back to the Fables ad itself, and two really important points:
1. It pushes people towards comic book stores, not just bookstores. "Fables" is available at every Barnes & Noble on the planet, but by telling people that they can head to comic shops, they not only offer a subtle reminder that these things exist, they also show a little faith in the direct market and direct people to where there's a huge potential to end up leaving with other comics. When asked the question "Do you have this book called 'Fables?'" any retailer worth his salt will not only answer that question, but also tell the reader that if they like that, they should try other, similar titles. That's how new regular customers are made.
2. It does a great job of making static art look visually interesting on television. Like I said, this ad is very well-produced, and I'm sure it's a lot easier when you've got great art from a guy like James Jean to work with, but that's an important key for translating media to another format, and why you really don't see a lot of ads for novels.
It's a nifty ad, and I hope it ends up doing really well, if for no other reason than "Fables" is a great book that deserves every reader it gets, but even more, I hope it paves the way for comics to tap into one of the huge upsides of being absorbed into mass media conglomerates that tend to see them as little more than IP farms.
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