Discussion in 'Transformers News and Rumors' started by AzT, Jul 21, 2020.
the comic industry as a whole at this point.
This is perhaps the first time I\'ve seen a fandom make so many points about their personal grievances in regards to their favourite franchises and yet remain so respectable at the same time. So good going there fellow transformer fans. Frankly I\'m inclined to agree with most of these points being made. I wouldn\'t describe myself as a veteran fan since I only truly became a fan after the first live action movie as most kids did this century. Ever since then I\'ve gone from watching the films, to the cartoons, and eventually the reading the comics. And I must say after reading and watching so many different variations of this franchise for about 14 years now I can\'t help but feel everything is starting to stagnate. At first I thought it was just me but then I actually looked into it and it\'s clear that a lot of us are starting to feel the same way. The IDW comics from 2019 for example they all feel like some sort of variation of things we\'ve already seen before with only minor touches of originality here and there. I really feel that there is a certain creative freedom that just isn\'t being exercised here I tried to enjoy this reboot but I just can\'t bring myself to get that same thrill every time a new solicitation comes along. These newer comics make even the last few stories of IDW\'s 2005 continuity seem interesting (Which weren\'t to bad to be honest just a little to convoluted). Honestly I actually quite enjoyed most of that continuity personally because for better or worse it had some of the most original transformer stories I\'ve seen \"personally\" since Beast Wars. Which is another continuity I\'ve come to appreciate and crave more of over the years due to it\'s originality and admiring how it still remained respectful of what came before and yet was clearly its own thing. Here\'s hoping that this new Uprising (reference intended) of beast wars content within the next few years sparks that originality that transformers brand seriously could use. Oh and I btw I\'ve just got into the 80s comics and I see what everyone\'s on about there pretty good for the most part first one I read was the Target 2006 story. Excuse the long post but haven\'t posted for months anyway so consider this me finally making up for lost time. Wow that was therapeutic to write down.
It's not just money, it's the knowledge and level of effort. Licensing comics is easy: a company pays you for the license and they hire the staff and find the production, you just have a creative consultant work with that team to make sure they're treating the brand how you want. Hasbro has brand managers, but they're not a publishing company.
That said, Hasbro is also an entertainment company. They bought Entertainment One and have moved animated production in-house. If they thought there was value in it, they could absolutely expand by buying up a small publisher and managing digital or even print distribution. But honestly, why bother? Comics as a medium reach a much smaller audience than TV or film. Maybe at some point Hasbro might want to branch out into other media, but for now they're focusing on the core entertainment business.
The crumbling of IDW continues.
Transformers is so going to Marvel as soon as possible.
I had a run in with Chris Ryall a number of years ago when I had asked him to make me mod on the old idw forums.
He did but when people complained that I was getting the role and others had been members longer and had been overlooked he took me of it. Two days. He should never had done that.
Anyway jog on...
This is a terrible take. If you look at Marvel's recent major comics license acquisitions, like Alien and Predator, they align to Fox properties that Marvel's parent Disney already owns. These major media conglomerates--and IDW, for that matter--see comics as IP factories. They produce stories and fan engagement that they can turn into more lucrative products like films.
The problem with Transformers, from a Disney/Marvel perspective, is that Hasbro owns the brand. The movie rights are tied up with Paramount for at least two years. Disney and Marvel aren't in the business of building up other people's property.
As a counter-example, Marvel has recently licensed comics publishing rights without film rights for a high-profile property: Conan the Barbarian. However, there are no active Conan films in development, the rights are (probably) available, and the comics news immediately triggered rumors that Disney was interested in a Conan film franchise. So the underlying point stands: it doesn't make sense for Disney to be interested.
From President, Publisher, and CCO Chris Ryall Departing IDW Publishing
I’m not sure how IDW stays afloat to begin with. All of the licenses can’t be cheap and it’s hard to believe the comic sales pay for it AND make a profit.
It's a not a matter of wish. It's a matter of finances. I've been generally a fan of IDW Transformers. The current series completely sucks, but historically it's been the best, and most consistent Transformers comics we've ever gotten (let's face it: Marvel G1 was scattered brilliance among a lot of trash too).
But the comics industry is up shits creek at the moment. A large part of that is due to the Diamond monopoly and the *pathological* obsession with catering to the Direct Market by companies. Seriously, imagine all these companies doing these initiatives like New 52 or All-New Marvel to bring in new readers, and then requiring those new readers to find a comics store and step in. Imagine them completely failing to exploit the tremendous exposure brought on by comic book movies becoming the big money makers in hollywood, to see at best flat sales, and largely a decline. It's because the comic industry now is a bunch of dudes writing for themselves, marketing for themselves, without a freakin clue about how to market their product. Consequently it only attracts mostly dudes likes them, who go to their local comic shop already.
Marvel and DC can survive this shitshow in perpetuity because of their corporate masters and lucrative merchandising. But anyone aside from them is basically screwed. And even within Marvel and DC we're seeing a rapid roll back to bread and butter. Covid-19 wiped out dozens of releases that would have seen poor to mediocre sales. Some went digital. Some were just canned.
Even in the post-Covid world, this is doomed to continue because comics are dependent on this bizarre retail direct market model for largely romantic, rather than business reasons, and retail is going belly up. It'll turn around when they:
- Focus on digital-first via apps, distribution at supermarkets, book stores and corner stores, and mail order (again). This will screw the Direct Market. That's fine.
- Market to kids (or all-ages) again rather than adults. Really. Read an 80s or 90s X-Men comics versus now. They were sophisticated
- Actually have good art. Comics are a visual medium, and while artistic tastes are subjective, the move towards animation style arts in comics books is a massive mistake and ends up looking cheap / bad on paper or on tablets. The latest Transformers series is a good example of this, but its far from alone. Simplistic, undetailed, "animation-style" cartoony art, coupled with computer coloring (usually with variable quality) looks like a cheap product. Animation and comic books are fundamentally different mediums and have different strengths and weaknesses. Animation's focus on movement and fluidity is often times enhanced by a more "cartoony" art style. But there are fewer and fewer comic books you can just look at the page and say "that's an impressive work of art" or "an impressively composed page", because comic companies hire artists, usually, from the internet and of comparatively limited skills, who can draw simple styles but can't draw complex ones (at least on any time table).
I'll say again to that effect: there is a massive contrast between Kei Zama's work and whatever is going on in Transformers comics now. It's the reason Kei Zama is seeing expanding gigs at Marvel now, post-IDW, and you're likely to not see the current Transformers art team much if ever again.
But that's just that series. Marvel and DC has plenty of comics every bit as awful looking as Transformers. Imagine that: a visual medium that looks bad on page. Like what's the point?
So thats the issue comics have: a fairly poor product, written and marketed to the wrong market segment that does not grow and only shrinks, and sold mostly through an extremely limited retail presence. Again, Marvel and DC can live in that kind of blighted market. But basically no one else can. Which is why IDW, and others, are basically screwed.
I mostly agree with what you're saying, but I'm still wondering whether Transformers even needs or wants that kind of presence currently. The comics industry is going to be dead for a half a decade at least if I were to guess. The retail death was not a random trend. Hell, I used to go buy from my local store a few years back. Once the product became poor and creators became increasingly malignant, I just stopped buying. Coincidentally, the stores stopped ordering copies of IDW Transformers books not long after.
As it sits, I think we are approaching a correction in corproate attitude that was a long time coming. It was galvanized by corona since everything critically failed all at once when stores started shutting down. I feel like comics as a medium has actually become toxic for brands because of the environment found in the industry. If they want to return to former glory, they are going to have to lose the failing mentality and start focussing on pumping out something that can stand on its own merit. As it is now, the industry is playing to an empty auditorium. Any seemingly successful ideas are harvested and put on the IP farm, awaiting their day to maybe get a below-average Netflix show.
Getting back to what I was originally saying, I don't know if Hasbro would be willing to plop one of their more lucrative properties in Marvel's lap. Marvel and Hasbro's relationship is pretty tilted in favor of Hasbro right now. Hasbro banks mostly on physical merch. It's a smart call. What's selling more, Marvel comics or Marvel Legends figures? I'm not sure Hasbro wants to flip the script and hand the keys to Marvel just yet. I'd be willing to bet that they'd rather have no Transformers comics than Marvel Transformers comics. I might be wrong though. All conjecture.
There are a couple of interesting conversations here. One is the problem with comics as an industry, which is actually several different problems: the possible collapse of the first market, the financial impacts on publishers, and media consolidation. None of those lead to Marvel publishing Transformers and are too complex for me to jump into right now. Even if Marvel and DC are the last two, which I don't think is likely, it's probably more likely that Hasbro takes over production than that they license to either of those. That also ignores book publishers who are using the YA audience to expand how comics are consumed, but again, that's a whole conversation in itself.
Edit: StrifeZ, I think you're basically right on digital distribution as the future of traditional comics versus print via the direct market, but that's already underway and should help at least some publishers manage a potential direct market collapse.
Separately, re: Hasbro and Marvel, Boople, I think you have the relationship completely backwards. It's wrong to compare the toys to the comics; instead, you should compare the toys to every media property with Marvel IP. Disney makes money from films, TV, theme parks, and licensing for everything under the sun. Hasbro *dreams* of having the kind of reach that Disney does. They don't have power over Disney -- imagine if tomorrow Disney decided to pull all of their licenses from Hasbro? Their toy revenue would disappear overnight! (That's not going to happen, the relationship works well for everyone.)
Your underlying point is more sound: just as I posit it's not in Disney's interests to develop and market Hasbro's IP, it's not in Hasbro's interest to give Disney influence over it. Hasbro basically wants to be Disney, but without competing with them directly.
I think I probably muddled what I was trying to say. I agree about where Hasbro is in relation to Disney. Ceding ground to them is the opposite of what they want right now, especially since their current interaction is pretty favorable for Hasbro. If Hasbro can't have Hasbroland, it will at least be the producer of a lot of the stuff sold at Disneyland. Might not be as glamorous, but at least Hasbro isn't in a position to get absolutely run over by their competitors.
Idw essentially became like telltale and screwed itself hard.
So I think that is a larger question you get at here is "must there be Transformers comics" is a perfectly valid one. The answer is "almost certainly not".
Transformers is primarily a toy brand. Hasbro, like other companies can play the whole "we're an IP company" game, but that's really a small side of things. They're a Toy Company with Toy IPs that sometimes liscences or produces other products to sell more Toys. The tale of the lucrative Transformers movies is evidence enough of this for our specific concern. The firs two toylines (2007 and RotF) were vast. Some of the largest simultaneous releases Hasbro has ever done for Transformers. It was Star Wars in scale. They filled half a TRU asile. But Michael Bay negotiated a ridiculous cut of the merchadising profits for his involvement. Something like 20%. Hasbro made it up by selling more. They were content with that for two movies, because they sold huge, and had huge lines. That changed with DoTM, the first line fully developed after the Financial Crisis hit. It was much reduced from RoTF (those still sizable). It sold worse. AoE continue, being smaller than DotM, with the real figures rolled into Generations as part of their then-new unified scheme. It was a much more constrained line merchandise wide. TLK was perhaps the smallest of all movie lines besides Bumblebee. By the time that rolled around, Hasbro clearly saw the movies merchandise as more a commitment rather than a sales opportunity - it's focus was on Generations and it's toy/cartoon centric lines it had control over. Bumblebee, despite being marketed as a kids movie, still had the most constrained toy line.
Hasbro's ability to sell Transformers independent of a merchandising vehicle seems to have certainly increased this decade (and the rate or rapid fire releases from Pulse and exlusives seems to reflect that - they'd only do it if it were profitable). Cyberverse is just 10 minute shows, mostly on Youtube. The Netflix series isn't even out yet. There is no new G1 movie in sight (planning sure). So Transformers is doing well without sometime to say "buy us". And for what its worth, so is Marvel Legends. It's hottest toys arent the MCU toys. It's the 1990s-inspired X-Men heroes and villians, which sell at lightning speed and command huge after market prices. Getting X-Men and X-Villians in their most iconic costumes, evidently, doesn't require a comic a movie or a TV either.
Transformers have also been in a creative hole for some time now across all mediums. Even the Netflix series is going back to the goddamn Allspark for some reason. But it's always Allspark stories, Matrix stories, Unicron stories, 13 Primes stories.
I think there is a place for Transformers comics if it acts as a generator for new big ideas that other sides of the franchise can lift from (and no, gay-robots isn't it, but the functionalism stuff certainly is). But if it doesn't do that, then there is really no point of them, and no point for Hasbro to do them any longer.
Transformers may be primarily a toy brand, and Hasbro may be primarily a toy company, but neither of them are just that anymore. Hasbro didn't buy Entertainment One just to sell more toys, but to build itself out into a media company. Though I'm not sure how TF fits into their media portfolio, it's one of their most recognized brands, so I imagine it'll remain front and center.
So many of these threads turn into "this company's business sucks because their ideas are bad," which is really just "I hope they fail because I disagree." Which, okay, fine. But I don't think there's any evidence at all that ... what was it, over-reliance on the allspark? gay robots? ... have anything to do with IDW and the comic industry's challenges or Hasbro's market position or anything at all.
Practically speaking, Hasbro is going to keep looking for new fans and new ways to engage existing fans. Maybe it'll be comics, maybe more films, and maybe it'll be an animated sitcom starring gay robots. And I don't know when it will happen, or if it's already here, but at some point those things will be successful for Hasbro even if they don't sell toys.
A core problem is that the Direct Market (i.e. Comic Book shop owners) see themselves as entitled to be the central, perhaps deciding axis, around which the entire comics book industry functions. They don't see themselves as villains, inhibiting other avenues of growth, which is exactly what they are. It's very much a "I'm happy to be king of the junkyard" mentality.
I'm not sure if you've ever been to BleedingCool, but it writes a lot of its content towards Comic Shop owners and its commentators often run Comic Shops. And the consensus is fairly clear (if obvious): there is an orthodoxy that the Direct Market must be protected at all costs, and anything that undermines the direct market must be destroyed. This is of course logically self serving in the short term - they have a business to run. But they put almost no new though to attracting new readers except in the most incremental of ways (new readers, on their terms, in their stores).
In the last couple of months DC parted ways with Diamond Distributors to set up with another two distributors. This is huge. In many ways, DC made Diamond the monopoly it is today (Marvel joined in later). But the pandemic shut down Diamond, and without Diamond distributing, Marvel and DC couldn't sell comics. DC went with that for about 6 weeks, then realized they needed to not put their entire business in the hands of one distributor in this market. And Direct Market store owners basically rioted. On the face of it, Diamond is extremely store owner friendly. They'll offer huge lines of credit to stores that pay can't pay their bills for some reasons. All comics going through them means simple logistics and low cost of shipping and returns for the store (one shipment, in bulk, to one address). Diamond makes a lot of sense for a store point of view. But Diamond also is fairly consumer unfriendly. Damaged books are common. It's driven up prices and basically eliminated the non-Direct market. And again, if they can't guarantee distribution there are no sales.
So DC and Diamond Parted, and the Direct Market went nuts because they figured it would mean an economic and logistical nightmare for them. Except that hasn't happened. Books have been arriving undamaged. DC has been shipping books for a while. Marvel basically is still frozen. Diamond is largely still frozen. DC's new distributor turns out easy to be work with.
Of course the very act of doing this opens the door to DC partnering with other distributors and putting comics where comics don't normally go. This is the great nightmare of the direct market - selling comics outside of comics stores. But it's always struck me as insane. Selling comics outside of comics stores should stead be a gateway drug into getting people into comics stores for the more limited distribution, more exclusive affairs.
And the other problem is the entire idea of a comics store is probably obsolete. Profit margins are so narrow on books now, and price points so improper for the product that plenty of books see cut page counts, and are printed on much poorer materials than 20 years ago. All to save money. Especially now days with almost all comics colored and inked in Photoshop rather than by hand. The work often times just doesn't translate well from screen to paper and so many comics look vastly superior on tablets and monitors than paper. If we go get X-Men #1 from 1992 from a store, that is very much an "as intended" finished product. But for a contemporary product, the "as intended" product is pretty much on an iPad. Paper not having the backlight of a monitor means you pay $2.99 or $3.99 for an inferior version.
And that's the last part. The questionable value of the dead tree industry. I used to buy paper comics. Now I have a closet full of short boxes I don't know what the hell to do with. They certainly aren't worth anything. I can't bring myself to throw them away. Like what the hell am I supposed to do with all 52 issues of the DC series 52. And Countdown to Infinite Crisis.
I'm not sure if there is a viable retail model based around digital that isn't a merchandise-first store (so more Newbury Comics, less Comic Book Store). But this entire idea that the industry must serve the Direct Market is only serving to emaciate the industry.The problem is, the Direct Market doesn't see themselves as the problem, when they very much are the problem. Comic book companies won't take them on either.
It's a comic book company guy, calm down.
Also, what a lovely thing to say, imagine if you left your job and someone said this about you, no manners, kids these days....
Nope. Crap company making bad decisions deserved it’s fate and to be shitted on. The only sympathy I have is to the people who didn’t have a hand in idw making things no one wants.
Yeah, you're hitting the nail on the head here. Transformers media has been pretty lukewarm in its reception for a while now. Regardless of that, the toys are selling much better than a lot of brands right now. When it comes down to it, the toys are the root of the franchise. Comics and movies can make a lot of cash, but the money really pours in when merch sells. Transformers moves a lot of it, and it's not stopping any time soon.
A good place for the comics, as I see them, would be to offer interesting and imaginative scenarios for the characters. Action. Intrigue. All of this stuff is good because the comics should be there to supplement the toys for us, and move the toys for Hasbro. Why would I read a comic that drones on for 10 issues about relationship drama? Am I going to be reenacting that with my toys? On the other side of it, despite Hasbro's public facing statements, I feel like they have to be asking similar questions internally. Yeah, it's great and all, love the messages and whatever, but where's the money? How are our fans supposed to interact with the brand if we confuse them about the core energy of the brand?
Kids aren't getting into any of the IDW stuff, and I'd wager they aren't getting into comics at large either. As a promotional medium, the well is dry right now. The talent in the industry is either laying low or is actively contributing to the trainwreck. There's a big effort to make this a political issue, and for a while I thought it was as well, but this is a competence and honesty issue. People inside the industry know it's going down in flames, and they're grabbing what they can and bailing. They have been for probably ~5 years.
This is what this executive turnover is about. It's musical chairs until you end up in a different medium, at which point I assume the same will ensue there. We all know how musical chairs ends, though. Eventually there are no chairs left.
All this being said though, I'm hopeful that things will improve. This industry is burning down pretty fast, but to be honest, not a lot of value is going with it. It can be so much more than it is now, and I feel that if the industry is allowed to hit rock bottom, we can finally see some quality rise from the ashes. It's painful to see the crash right now, but it's been on the horizon for a long time. The comic store owners didn't deserve it, but this is just how this situation is going. There's hope down the line after all this.
In the meantime, Hasbro looks to be making the right choice. Let these mediums sit on the backburner. Children's TV is seeing the same kind of implosion right now, and Hasbro is navigating all of this better than most. Just let them sit in obscurity for a bit. You don't need your brand getting caught up in this. Keep pumping out the toys, Hasbro. That is your lifeline.
Honestly, I think the BIG thing that's screwed IDW over is less the licenses, more them taking risks to do TV/movie adaptations of their own in-house content via in-house production.
It's worth noting, mind, that Marvel more or less made the same gamble, and arguably put even MORE at stake than IDW did, and that gamble paid off. But people forget it WAS a gamble for Marvel at the time.
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