SNOW: Today I was going to post a review of a new CMX manga series–Diamond Girl, vol. 1. Like many of the CMX titles I have enjoyed–Apothecarius Argentum, King of Cards, Musashi #9, Suihelibe, The Land of the Blindfolded, Stolen Hearts–it features a strong girl whose adventures captured my heart and my mind. Unfortunately it was revealed on Tuesday that DC Comics is shutting down its CMX line for good. Our own Brigid Alverson posted the story at Robot 6.
I am bothered in several ways by this shutdown. First of all, it more than likely didn’t need to happen. Yes, these are hard economic times we are in right now, but CMX’s titles were always of high enough quality that the line should have been able to weather the storm. Unfortunately titles can’t support the line if they can’t be found and CMX titles have been almost absent from bookstores and libraries. As a reviewer, I was rarely sent CMX titles by my editors because they rarely received them. Only recently have I begun getting titles on a regular basis. If reviewers can’t review the titles and consumers can’t find them in stores, then how can they be purchased?
Second, I’m worried that the demise of CMX–which comes a year and a half after the end of DC Comic’s MINX imprint–means that DC is turning its back on girls. Or at least turning its back on girls who don’t read superhero comics. Frankly, even though I started reading comics by reading superhero titles, superhero comics today make me tired. It’s not that they aren’t well-written or nicely illustrated. It’s that I have to dig through too many years of backstory to figure out what’s going on in Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman‘s world. On top of that, I don’t want to pay $3.99 for a single comic issue when I can pay between 10 and 13 dollars for a full manga volume. And speaking as a former librarian, I can say that I never had girls begging me for the latest Batman, but I still remember how excited one middle schooler was when she first checked out Apothecarius Argentum. It’s been said again and again, girls will read comics where they see themselves represented. But shutting down CMX is going to limit that representation. I think DC is making a big mistake.
I knew that my companions here at Good Comics for Kids felt the same way, so instead of posting my usual Wednesday review, I thought I’d open the floor up to discussion about how we feel about the CMX shutdown, what we think of how DC Comics handled the CMX line, and what CMX titles we’re going to miss.
KATE: DC did a flat-out terrible job of promoting CMX. As Brigid observed in her Robot 6 post, CMX was always an afterthought at conventions, with no floor presence. The first time I attended New York Comic-Con, back in 2007, DC didn’t even allow them their own panel — they were lumped in with the Wildstorm presentation, given a mere seven minutes to announce licenses such as Gon and King of Cards while the rest of the discussion focused on Wildstorm’s bread-and-butter properties like Ex-Machina and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You can imagine what it was like to be one of three people in a crowded room who actually cared about the manga announcements.
DC also did a poor job of getting their product into venues where it would find an appreciative audience. Though their catalog ran the gamut from kid-friendly shonen to splatter horror, their best titles, by far, were their titles for tween and teen girls, books like The Lapis Lazuli Crown, The Key to the Kingdom, The Name of the Flower, The Palette of 12 Secret Colors, Stolen Hearts, Two Flowers for the Dragon, and Venus Capriccio. Yet these titles were nigh-impossible to find in chain bookstores, the very place where CMX’s core audience shops. Small wonder that VIZ and Tokyopop were doing a better job of building a female fanbase!
Looking at CMX’s website, I’m reminded of just how many titles I’ll miss, from newer, incomplete series like Fire Investigator Nanase to old-school classics like From Eroica With Love, Gon, Presents, and Swan, to grown-up friendly titles like Astral Project, Emma, and Shirley. My heart aches most for Kiichi and the Magic Books, a lovely, five-volume fantasy-adventure for tweens and teens. It was one of my picks for Best New Manga of 2008, both for its lovely artwork and for its thoughtful, imaginative story. I can’t imagine another publisher taking a risk on a series like Kiichi, as its artwork has a very personal, idiosyncratic feel that’s at odds with the dominant visual style of the shojo and shonen licensed for the American market.
ROBIN: First I just want to say I very much agree with Kate’s points about how poorly DC ever supported CMX, and how sad I am to see the enthusiasm I know was there, from Asako and Jim and the CMX staff, so thoroughly squashed.
To answer your second point, Snow, I fear that all this just confirms what I have known but hoped I was wrong about: girls never have been an audience that DC courted or considered seriously, and they aren’t going to be any time in the near future. I don’t care what Karen Berger said at the beginning of Minx: teenage girls are a tiny blip in what DC looks at when creating or promoting comics. I still enjoy what they do well for what they are: slick and occasionally compelling superhero tales. I’m just sad to have to accept that they are not, and never will be, aimed at me or the girls who enjoy superhero comics. We exist, and it feels terrible to be ignored or, as is often the case when I try to bring this problem up, tossed the Gail Simone bone and told that should be enough for me. (I have no quarrel with Gail Simone herself, just the fact that she’s considered enough representation for half the population. No one woman should shoulder that responsibility!)
I will sorely miss the excellent tween and teen titles, like Two Flowers for the Dragon and The Name of the Flower, especially in a world where a lot of shojo manga is distinctly older teen or josei disguised as shojo (Nana, I’m looking at you, however much I love you.) My twelve and thirteen year old girls just aren’t quite ready for Nana, but they embraced my CMX selections. Emma is the series I’ll miss the most, as many of us will, and I’m going to run out now to make sure that my library still has all the volumes (and buy a few extras against the coming disappearance.)
BRIGID: To give DC their due, they did give CMX a panel at the last NYCC, and they assigned a new PR person to them who seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic. After that I started getting review copies more regularly as well. I really thought things were looking up for them.
I think the problem was bookstore distribution. You can’t read a book if you can’t find it, and CMX’s target audience doesn’t go to comics shops. I never saw their books in bookstores, and according to Brian Hibbs, Bookscan’s top 750 selling graphic novels did not include a single CMX title. I place the blame for this squarely on DC, although I have no idea why they would shoot themselves in the foot by doing such a bad job of it. There are plenty of superhero trades in my local Barnes & Noble, so why wasn’t the manga there too?
When they first started out, CMX published some classic manga titles like Swan and From Eroica with Love that had pretty narrow appeal. I don’t think those early series sold very well, but to give them their due, CMX kept them going and didn’t drop them in the middle. When Asako and Jim came along, in 2006, the direction changed, and they started licensing interesting and unusual manga: Oyayubihime Infinity (possibly my favorite shoujo title of all time), Apothecarius Argentum, Presents, Emma, Astral Project… I really felt like Asako had a knack for picking good manga, but the books felt thin, and except for Emma, they never had the sort of extras fans appreciate, like an extra-nice cover or color pages. I wonder if the lack of anime associated with their manga hurt them as well.
With the marketing muscle of DC and the talents of Asako and Jim, CMX should have been a success, and shame on DC for not doing better. I agree that they are abandoning girls, except the handful who like to read superhero comics. My fear is that they will conclude from this and from the Minx experience that "girls don’t read comics" and just give up on an entire gender, rather than trying to learn from their mistakes and serve an audience that does, after all, account for half the population.
KATE: What really steams my buns is that DC made such a fuss over the launch of their Minx imprint, giving the impression that they were doing something new and daring by creating graphic novels for girls that would be available in bookstores. Karen Berger gave several high-profile interviews about the project; the New York Times did a write-up on the line when it was announced in November 2006; and DC publicized ambitious plans for selling the books through non-traditional outlets like Hot Topic. Imagine if they’d given similar support to CMX! It might not have saved CMX from extinction, but it would have demonstrated a willingness on DC’s part to support good comics for girls.
LORI: Quite frankly, I was shocked when I came home from work and read the news on Twitter. After a bumpy start, CMX became a publisher whose titles I really looked forward to reading. King of Cards was the one that pulled me in, with its different take on gaming manga. I thought CMX was really starting to build up a catalog of great titles that really distinguished them from the other publishers. Jim and Asako did a great job of picking and editing some really appealing titles. Of their recent titles, I’ll miss Stolen Hearts and My Darling! Miss Bancho (both reviewed here at GCFK), and the titles we’ll never see Nyankoi, Phantom Guesthouse and 51 Ways to Save Her.
I’m going to miss CMX dearly. Their titles weren’t always snazzy or filled with extras, but they had the things I consider most important in a book; great characters and fun stories. DC has made a huge mistake in killing the line completely. It’s a shame they will never realize it in order to correct it.
ROBIN: Word, Kate! I can only speculate on how CMX might have fared with the backing that Minx initially got — here were the books that teenage girls were actually reading and asking for more of, while much of the Minx line was nowhere near what my teen girls requested.
I do think you’re right, Brigid, in that what killed them was their lack of presence in bookstores. That’s where they were going to find their audience, and it reinforces how much the comics publishers fail to understand the book market in a way that would build success. Bookstores are still a secondary option to the direct market, and all of that is secondary to licensing series for other media, especially films and television. Now, I went to go see Iron Man 2 like the good fangirl I am this past weekend (and yes, before anyone comments, I know Iron Man is Marvel), but must that mean that I don’t get to have quality manga too? I don’t understand why it always seems to come down to an either/or decision. It underscores how much comics publishers are resting on the audience they already have and aren’t interested in diversifying. This begs the question, for me and many others — if the big boys at DC and Marvel aren’t going to support these kinds of ventures, who will? Will book publishers save us? Or do we have to go out and start our own publishing empire from scratch? That’s perhaps a discussion for another roundtable.
SNOW: And the question I always want to ask is "Who is going to be reading your books in the future?" If DC and Marvel aren’t capturing new readers now, then they aren’t going to have a solid fanbase in 10, 20 years. It wasn’t just my girls who weren’t that interested in superhero titles. The young men at my library weren’t big superhero readers, either. (Always with the exception of Spider-man, who is, and stands to always be, a favorite.) My boys read manga–both shonen and shojo in many cases–and many of my teens, both male and female, told me that they wanted to work as manga and/or anime creators. I never heard any of them talk about creating superheroes and when they shared their drawings, they were always in a manga style of art. It’s not that young fans aren’t out there; it’s whether or not there are enough of them to make superheroes a viable publishing venture in the future.
EVA: You know what really chaps my hide? That just about the time Jim, Asako, and CMX began publishing really solid titles for tweens, DC got rid of their library marketing folks. DC used to have a booth at every American Library Association (ALA) convention, well stocked with sample titles and giveaways, and staffed by people who were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and ready to recommend books for any age group and interest. And their booth was always, always busy.
Those of us who regularly go to ALA conventions looking for new graphic novels to bring into our libraries know that books from DC have all but disappeared since Random House began representing them at trade shows. A handful of graphic novels from the main DC line (never, to my recollection have CMX titles been on display) are hidden in a corner alongside a smattering of other publishers’ underrepresented books. The reps, if they see someone lurking in that corner, try to avoid eye contact, and if they are caught by librarians wanting to ask questions, they are redirected to a staff person who has, "just stepped away, but should be back in a while, if you’d like to come back later."
(To give Random House its due, they publish and distribute a LOT of books, so knowing something about every title is tough. But graphic novels are hot, customers are curious, and their representation of this format has been sub par for much too long now.)
There are certain advantages to selling books to libraries:
1) There are a lot of libraries.
2) We buy a lot of books.
3) We rarely return the books we buy.
4) If the book we buy turns regularly (circulates a lot), we buy extra and/or replacement copies.
5) If a category turns regularly we increase the amount of books we buy in that category.
6) By doing all this we create loyal readers who will often go in search of books at bookstores to buy and keep for themselves.
There have been librarians crying out for good manga for tweens for years now and those librarians have not just been me. CMX has been providing fantastic books for tweens, and they’ve been doing it for years now. And for years now, Random House and DC have been missing the boat. And now the boat has sailed.
SNOW: Excellent point, Eva, and one that I’m worried is going over the heads of some publishers. Random House also distributes for Del Rey Manga and for Vertical. Del Rey is usually only represented by a few token volumes (usually from the middle of a series), displayed spine up, and on a back table. Vertical titles are never on display, despite the fact that Vertical publishes exactly the type of classic manga that fans are eager to buy and that librarians like to stock in their adult collections and teen collections. I’ve also noticed that Yen Press didn’t have a booth at the last ALA conference. Instead a smattering of Yen titles was buried in the Hachette booth behind the adult books and the staff seemed shocked that I was interested in looking at them.
Publishers need to understand that if librarians can’t see the books, then we can’t buy the books and we WANT to buy the books! Our kids are asking for them, our teens are asking for them, and, increasingly, our adult patrons are asking for them. But don’t complain that your books didn’t sell if you never gave them the chance to.