Ads in Comics: What DC Comics’ “TwixGate” Means for Consumers
In the advent of DC Comics placing advertisements on the same page as story panels, comic fans and consumers grow increasingly more annoyed with prices, corporate’s lack of artistic integrity, and Dan Didio.
Nobody likes ads. If anyone tells you they like ads, they’re gutless lying automatons with an agenda that care little for their patrons, and don’t like puppies either. In general, the public lives their lives with an unspoken truce with ads — you promote whatever it is you want to try and sell us, and we’ll either ignore or forget about your existence completely. Poster on a bus stop shelter? Who cares, the stop was there anyways. Commercials before a movie starts? I was staring at a blank screen anyways. TV commercials during a break in the narrative? I could use a pee break, I guess. Telling me there are sexy Christian singles beside the web article I’m reading? Fundamentally confusing, but I can ignore it. Ads right on top of the thing I’m already paying for, and distracting me from the content? Now we have a problem.
For the month of June, DC Comics have been publishing comics with ads sharing the same page as story panels, taking up the bottom half of two pages side by side. These half-page ads come in the form of a Twix ad asking the ongoing conundrum, “left Twix, or right Twix?” The ads have infuriated comic fans to the point of almost forgetting to ask why washed-up has-been former-98 Degrees “singer” Nick Lachey is advertising anything in 2015. (Almost.) This little scandal has been dubbed “TwixGate.” (Not my idea, but I’m going with it.)
Why This is Different from Normal Ads
Comics have always had ads — about 10 pages dedicated to ads sporadically placed throughout the comic’s 22 pages of story. Although an inconvenience, as everyone would rather not have ads at all (especially when coming from trade paperback collects, graphic novels, or digital single issues where there are no ads at all), we could live with it, because it was not interrupting the narrative, much in the same way a TV commercial doesn’t interrupt the narrative of the show. What we have now are ads sharing the same page as the story interrupting the narrative, writers and artists having to accommodate for these planned ads, and a co-publisher thinking the audience is stupid enough to believe him when he says that the ads compliment the material.
“I think that what’s exciting for me is the fact that ads have always been a part of everything. Nobody stops reading or visiting a website because of a popup or anything like that. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the story that matters. If somebody’s worried about an ad, then we might not be doing our best stories. We just have to make our stories so compelling that everything’s worth reading, and just quick pages to turn to to get to,”
— Dan Didio, Co-Publisher of DC Comics. From an article by IGN’s Comics Editor, Joshua Yehl at IGN.com.
Ads have been a part of everything, from newspapers, to magazines, TV Shows, and even comics. Of this, DC Comics’ Co-Publisher Dan Didio is not wrong. What he so incredibly fails to realize are two things: a) these ads are of a different nature to the everyday ads found everywhere, and b) the modern consumer is tired of ads, and has moved on to mediums and sources that are ad-free. Ads in comics have always had their own dedicated pages, where they do not disrupt the narrative (again, much like a TV commercial). Granted, there were ads sharing the same page as story panels in the distant past (think 50s and 60s), but I’m sure we can all agree that this is not acceptable in 2015, when comics are at its highest point of respect as a legitimate art form (more on artistic integrity later). So what makes these ads different from those we’re accustomed to over decades? Intrusiveness.
People do not complain about TV commercials and other general ads with the same vehement negativity that TwixGate has received, because they do not interrupt the narrative/content/product. Should TV shows start to have commercial breaks mid dialogue, or half the screen taken up by a candy bar ad during the show, you can bet people would get angry about not getting their money’s worth. The fact is, some of this is already happening on other mediums, and people don’t like it. We currently see car ads right smack in the middle of online articles, noisy web ads playing in hidden places that you can never find to shut off, and large annoying “coming up next” banners at the bottom quarter of TV shows. The general public has been pretty clear that these are annoyances and becoming increasingly more unacceptable as prices for these products continue to rise. They are not just vocal, but they’re also taking action.
How have people responded to the increase of intrusive advertisements? On the web, adblocker extensions to web browsers are very popular, effectively removing ads from sites, including all ads before and during streaming sites like YouTube. More consumers and households are opting out of traditional cable services, and instead opting for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu where there are no ads. In comics, fans are opting out of single issues comics, and instead waiting for the trade paperback collections, or buying digitally, both of which are ad-free. Yes, Dan, advertisements are everywhere, but in no way does that equate to consumers being ok with it (much less with the new intrusive ads), and they’re letting you know with their wallets.
Artistic Integrity, and the Compromise with Ads
The complaints don’t end with the fans. Comic creators, writers and artists alike, are not pleased with DC’s intrusive ads, as isolated an incident it is for now. The most vocal about their displeasure has been Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, who for the past four years have been writer and penciler respectively for DC’s best selling comic Batman. Capullo has been the most public with his disagreement with the half-page ads, taking to Twitter (see below). I have to comment Greg for remaining professional, addressing legitimate concerns, being careful to respect DC Comics, and doing it all with humour.
Further, in his interview with Yehl at IGN, Capullo explains how he and Snyder have to accommodate for the half-page ads.
“”[Batman writer Scott Snyder] wrote [Batman #41] in such a way that when you go and truncate my work, we can assemble it, and it won’t look off when we reassemble it for the trades,” he said before cutting himself off. “I really shouldn’t talk about this thing… because, yeah, it’s not something that sits very well with me at all.””
— from Joshua Yehl’s interview with Capullo for IGN.
As previously stated, trade paperback collections do not have ads. So how are the issues with half-page ads assembled into an adless collection? As Capullo explained, the writer and artist have to arrange their creation in such a way to make it all work. So not only is their art compromised because they have to work within even more constraints than usual, but the entire onus of making the trades work is on them. The result, in Batman #41, is a piece that takes a clever jab at DC on their advertisement (see left).
“”We are in the business to have ads in our books,” he said. “We’ve always been the best with ads in our books, and now we have companies interested in buying ads in books. So I think that’s a good thing.””
— Dan Didio on the Twix ads, from Joshua Yehl’s interview for IGN.
This is very concerning for a Co-Publisher to be saying. You’ve been at your best with ads in your books? What does that actually mean? No, you are not in the business of creating a platform for advertisements. You are in the business of making books. If Didio thinks this is too literal of an interpretation of his words, then he needs better PR to make himself clearer, because right now it seems that he is more concerned with selling ad space to advertisers than keeping creators happy, and maintaining the artistic integrity of the medium.
The Money Issue
This is not the first time Snyder and Capullo have disagreed with DC Comics. In October 2014, when Batman #35–37 had a sudden price hike from $3.99 to $4.99, the creative team were on the side of fans and retailers, and got DC to bring the price back to #3.99 for issues #36 and #37. DC’s actions were as much a slight to retailers as it was to fans; can you imagine, as a retailer, having your best selling product jump ~20% in price with hardly any notice?
Back to Didio’s quote, if having more ads in your books is a sign that the company is doing well, more ads are counter intuitive. If your product is selling well, you reduce the number of ads to further entice readers to buy more product, because you are no longer in need of ads as a primary means of profit. This is to say nothing of the ridiculous price of a single comic today.
Batman Vol 1 #321 from March 1980 cost $0.40 US at the time. With inflation, the cost is the equivalent of $1.15 US in 2015 (according to InflationData.com). Why is it that the average DC book today costs $3.99, and we are seeing the $4.99 price point slowly creep up? Sure, the quality of paper is better, but is it actually 3x-the-money’s-worth better? The real kicker is that on the same month that DC puts in the intrusive half-page ads is the same month that they use a noticeably lower quality of paper for covers on their best selling books. Their best selling books! How is any of this not damning?
Side Note: My Beef With the Price of Digital Comics
According to IGN.com, Didio was mum on whether or not the half-page ads were actually just appearing on June 2015 comics (the month of the DCYou campaign), or will be making regular appearances from here on out. Even more worrying was the feeling that DC will start to put ads on their increasingly successful digital comics (the same comics, only digital for reading on computers and tablets). If digitals comics are becoming a real source of revenue and growing every month, why would DC put ads in them? Clearly because they are more concerned with letting greed take advantage of a new opportunity than keeping a happy, loyal, and growing fan base of customers.
That is to say nothing of everything that is wrong with digital comics sold by DC and Marvel through Comixology. The average person would be fair in assuming that digital comics cost less than physical comics, seeing as how there is nothing to print, ship, and distribute. They’d be wrong, as it turns out. Digital comics sell for the same price as their physical counterparts. The worst part, however, is that you don’t even own a digital copy of the comic. Instead, you are buying a license to view that comic online through the Comixology app (or the publisher’s app, depending where you make your purchase).
To lay it out for you, digital comics:
- do not have to be printed
- do not have to be shipped and distributed anywhere
- do not have to be sold for the cover price since there is no retailer who needs to make a profit (if you buy directly from the publisher and not through Comixology)
- you do not own an actual digital copy of the comic
Yet you still pay the same price as a physical copy. The publishers will tell you that the prices are the same because servers have to be maintained. They are, however, yet to explain how the price of maintaining servers equals to that of printing and shipping physical comics.
Image Comics, third best selling publisher only to Marvel and DC, has joined the fray of smaller publishers who allow customers to download a copy of their digital purchases as .pdf, .cbr, or .cbz files. Marvel and DC are yet to do this, so what’s to happen if Comixology were to ever go out of business, or their servers crash? Or something else disastrous that would render all the money you spent to waste? Well, at least Image has you covered — the same publisher that has no ads in any of their comics, and still sell a majority of their comics at $2.99.
What Should We Take Away from This?
There is nothing much else to take away from this whole situation other than businesses are in business to make money, and customers are being charged more for less content. All the while the heads of companies try to pull a fast one on us with ludicrous statements like advertisements compliment the material.
There are a lot of questions still to be asked on this topic, and the future of comic ads and sales. Will the half-page ads become a norm? If so, will fans finally speak out with their wallets? Will the ads ever come to digital comics? Will we ever get to download actual files of our digital “purchases”? Will comics perhaps turn to a subscription based point of sale? And most importantly, why doesn’t Dan Didio like puppies?