Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ads in Comics Make a Difference

After last week’s random post it’s time to get back to the business of comics. This years Christmas present to myself was getting weekly books again. That doesn’t sound like much but in the last few years with the advent of children and far less free time (and money) I started buying more trades and HC’s. AND, I mail ordered because of the better discounts. Basically, I gave up the weekly trek to the store.

Well, that’s all changed, and I have to say it’s good to be back. That’s not true, it’s both good and bad to be back. On one level, I really love the camaraderie of the store on a Wednesday. It’s all about getting together with people who share the same interests and either praising the new or bashing the old.

But, the reading experience wasn't as good as I remembered. In general, the stories in comics are still good (except OMD) and the art is good (for the most part) but something was wrong. Comics reading is an experience based upon not only art and story but silly things like ads and letters pages. It's a package deal. For some reason, the overall reading experience with DC was much better than it was with Marvel.

To prove my point, let's look at two books in particular, Fantastic Four #552 from Marvel and Batlash #1 from DC.

In the Fantastic Four, it broke down as follows:
22 pages of story, the standard
9 pages of ads, the standard but the ads broke down as follows:
TV shows 2 (one was double page spread)
Marvel licensed product, 5
Non Marvel Toy 1
In addition, the first page was a recap of the previous issue/storyline. I must say, I really liked the recap because it was especially helpful for someone like me who doesn’t normally read the monthlies. What I found really interesting was there were no house ads for upcoming stories or other books. In fact, there were barely any ads that didn't have anything to do with Marvel.

Now in comparison Batlash broke down as follows:
22 pages of story, same as Marvel
9 pages of ads, again the same as Marvel but this time the ads broke down as follows:
TV shows 0
DC licensed product, 0
Non DC Toy 0
Self Help (?) – 1 “Above the Influence” ad.
Video Game – 2
Continuing Education – 1.5, Joe Kubert School and half page school Computer Animation
Collecting supplies – 1
House Ads - 2.5 (Teen Titans Yr One, Zuda full page and half)
There wasn’t any kind of recap (to be expected with a first issue) but there was an editorial by Dan Dido.

It's obvious the ads play a big part in the reading experience. Both books had the same amount of ads but DC's had some variety to them. Marvel's were all the same Spiderman blue and red in different layouts. Basically, Spiderman on a bed sheet or Spiderman on a lamp. There was no variety. Now the DC ads were all different. They all looked different. They had different colors. They had different layouts. Even though the ad still broke up the story at least it was interesting to look at. To further this point, comic books are a visual medium. It's all about eye appeal. The ads in Marvel were dull and repetitive. If I was advertising with Marvel, I'd be pissed. Unless I was the Army who seems to get product placement in the middle of the splash page!

The other big problem was the placement of the ads.
(1) DC had 4 pages of story before the first ad. Marvel had 3.
(2) Just by flipping through Batlash, the most consecutive ad pages on the right hand page were two. So, if I read page 4, page 5 was an ad, then 6 was story, and 7 was ad, then 8-9 were story again. Whereas the Fantastic Four had FIVE consecutive pages of right hand ads. So page 17, 19, 21, 23, and 25 were ads. Three pages of story and 29 was another ad. Fantastic Four was like reading half a book it was terrible.
(3) Marvel had no ads on the odd numbered pages (left hand side of the book). NONE. DC put all ads past the center spread on the left hand page. Visually this made a big difference because everytime I turned the page I saw story and not another ad. It kept me in the story instead of continually pulling me out.
(4) DC seems to more middle load the ads while Marvel back end loaded all the ads. It really hurt the read because I saw more ads the closer I got to the end of the book instead of seeing more story.

I was surprised to find the the ads were making a huge difference in how much I enjoyed the overall experience but they really did. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the FF, because I did, but I liked Batlash, which was a weaker story, just as much because it was a smoother flow and read.

Oh well, next time you read your comic take a look at the ads and see if they make a difference to you too.


  1. ex-lax: it helps you poop.

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  2. Leave it to Todd F- to talk about poop.

    It makes a person want to runs away screaming.

  3. I'm accustomed to reading trades, graphic novels and such, so I pretty much groan the second I see an ad anywhere between the pages. I'm fine if all the ads were at the back.

  4. As an engineer, I really like your detailed research!

    I'm thinking of doing less monthlies this year and more waiting for the trades. That is after I buy my Omnibuses and Super Hero Squad figures of course. Wait until you see the Fin Fang Foom versus Iron Man set.

  5. I've had similar experiences, espeically with the Marvel ads. I quit the "Captain America: Truth" book after issue 1 because the ads were so poorly laid out that it made me like the book less. From what I remember from an interview Joe Q gave at the time, he recognized the problem but said as a businessman he wouldn't turn down ads if they wanted to give him money, and the problem would always be worse around Xmas time.

    Bah. I say it's a graphic design problem that interferes with the products primary purpose -- telling a story. If you're going to hire artists like Kyle Baker to draw something beautiful, don't screw it up with too many, poorly placed ads.

  6. Bjooks-

    Welcome back! I see you've been posting all over and with insightful comments as always.

    As for the ads, the most disappointing part is the fact that Joe Q used to be an artist. He understands the "graphic" part of the art so how can he let this stuff go. Seriously, comics are very visual and it looks bad.

    Even DC back in the day did half page ads to get around this.