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Cheap thrills in the comics … and how Sheena sparked it all

Sheena  No.1
To make a splash in the comic book industry, it takes a little something special — such as a 99-cent cover price — or just something that’s plain little — such as a jaguar-print bikini. Back in 2007,
Devil’s Due Publishing offered both in “Sheena: Queen of the Jungle” by bringing the heroine best described as “Tarzan with boobs” back to the industry that birthed her in an inexpensive promotional comic from about five years ago. 

The pricing scheme of the Sheena comic wasn’t actually anything all that special — before or since then. For about a decade now, comic publishers have been offering these try-out comics at rock-bottom prices. In the industry today, theses books have been priced anywhere from 10-cents to a dollar. 
With most comics are now priced between $3 and $5, readers are often reluctant to try anything new, and comics with a sampler price are increasingly popular to allow those price-weary customers a chance to explore. Just a year back or so, Image Comics (or was it Dark Horse?) offered a bunch of No. 1 reprints for $1. It was a great deal that was tough to pass up if you were curious about a series.

The sampler pricing started almost a decade ago with “Batman: The 10-Cent Adventure” and has continued with dozens of others over the years. It’s now common enough that some comic-book stores have shelves dedicated to the sampler comics from various publishers. 

Most of these low-priced comics are about half the page-count as a regular comic, but they still serve their purpose — teasing readers just enough to buy the full-fledged version when it debuts. As for “Sheena: Queen of the Jungle,” consider CotB properly teased even if we’re enjoying it 6 years too late.

What CotB has to wonder is this: What would happen if a comic publisher decided to offer a dirt-cheap series like this on a regular basis? We think a very dedicated campaign could make it work. It wouldn’t necessarily be a book for people to try-out, but it would be something to help the publisher connect to the readers. More importantly it could be something to entice the readers to try out other full-blown comics in the publisher’s line.


Here’s CotB’s plan:
First off, don’t think that I’m saying a company should give away any copies for free. Even with the massive tax write-off for a promotional comic, you still need to charge them something. If anything the Internet has shown us that once you give something away for free, no one will want to pay for it. This needs to be a revenue generator, not a net loss.
Secondly, CotB admits we don’t know the economics of the comic industry at all. Paper costs are an even bigger mystery. So the final price of this dirt-cheap series is still up in the air. But still, we want you to focus on the idea of it all: A big-time production at a low-low price. Something that is absolutely irresistible because its such a good deal.
Now that we have those basics on the table, let’s explore this. How can you make a regular series at promotional comic prices?

  • Keep the Page Count Low (Part 1) — Fifteen pages of story (including the cover).
  • Keep the Page Count Low (Part 2) — Five pages of advertisements. No in-house ads. They must be paid by someone else.
  • Pick a Star — Pick a character, preferably one the of the biggies — Batman, Superman, Spider-Man or the Hulk — and make him the star of the book.
  • Welcome Guest Stars –– Pile on the guest stars. Show people that you’ve got a lot more to offer if they’ll pick up your more expensive books.
  • Don’t Get Fancy (Part 1) — No long, navel-gazing stories. These need to be action-packed. They need to have a clear villain. They need to appeal to kids more than adults.
  • Don’t Get Fancy (Part 2) — Don’t print it on super fancy, super slick paper. If it can save you some production costs, print it on newsprint. (You can tell them they can see better stuff — more expensive stuff — online or in a regular comic!)
  • Commission Stories — Don’t stick with a single creator or group of creators. Open up the book to all your freelancers. Send out a mass email to a group of 50 or so and say “We’ll pay $X for a 14-page story.” Make one and we’ll put it on the schedule. After that, we’ll contact you for more.” You’ll want a lot of stories piled up. And don’t let anyone settle into their comfort zone by being the only creator on the book.
  • Don’t Let it Be an Ad —  While the comic should be used to promote your higher-priced comics, don’t let this be a direct advertisement for them. None of this “Continued in Hybrid Man No. 1!” No, the stories in this book should begin and end in this book.
  • Status Quo — While it makes some people cringe, return the character to the status quo at the end of the story. You’re not making these to advance the character’s development. You’re making these to enhance the brand.
  • Make it a Print Run that Counts — Don’t hedge your bets on the print run. If you make it family-friendly, use a name-brand hero and make it positively action-packed, you can find places to sell a super cheap comic. With that in mind, do a print run in the hundreds of thousands to help push the price down.
  • Don’t Just Sell it to Your Consumers — You may not be willing to give this comic away, but maybe the people you sell it to will. Sell your comic to businesses, schools and offices and then suggest they give it away as a courtesy to their customers. Please note: You’ll need some real salespeople to convince all these companies to buy your book in bulk. Yes, that means actual manpower — people on the street.
  • Make at Least 50 Issues –– If you print 10 issues, it will just be an interesting test. If you print 50 issues, you’ll make an institution out of the effort. Just do this on principle. Do it to change the industry. Further, by having so many, you set people out on a quest to find them all. You make collectors out of them. Just put a checklist in the back of the comic, tell them what they’re missing and they’ll hunt them down.
  • Don’t Worry About a Monthly — The point here is to NOT make a monthly comic. You are not on a monthly schedule. You are only on a schedule of getting as many comics created in as quick of a time as possible and as cheaply as possible. Just look at how the action figure industry does things — they produce a whole line of toys, stuff a selection in a box and then ship them off to a store. You want to have an instant variety available on the shelf. You want them to buy a bunch now and hope they come back to your company to make bigger and better purchases.
Now obviously there’s some problems here. Where will you warehouse all these comics? How will you maintain cash-flow? And a billion other things I’m not thinking of, but the two biggest comic companies are backed by some huge corporations. They may not have money to burn, but they have money.
There are three goals to this crazy, dirt-cheap series, both of which can build sales to your other publications:
  1. Entice Regulars: You want your company’s regular readers to feel this is a must-buy book. This is the comic where you keep them informed about the key players in your universe. You want them to feel these are necessary purchases. (Even though these stories are “Done in One” books, you can certainly say “Baron Helmet returns in Hybrid Man No. 12! On sale in April!)
  2. Put Your Stories in the Hands of Non-Regulars: This is where this book can really explode. You can push this comic into every corner of the retail world, and that helps it get them back to you and spending real money.
  3. Enhance Your Brand: Mentioned above, but certainly worth noting again: This is to build loyalty to your company’s biggest trademarks. You want your character to be talked about and noticed. You want people interested in it! 
Will something like this work? Who knows. It certainly would take a lot of faith — and a lot of number crunching — but anything we can do to expand the readership of comics, the better.
SHEENA QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE

Sheena  No.1

Since I started this all off after reading the “Sheena” discount comic, let’s take a look at Sheena and what Devil’s Due offered to the readers back in 2007.
Debuting in 1938’s Jumbo Comics No. 1 (issue No. 80 shown below), it wasn’t long before she went from comics, to pulp magazines to television. Back then, Sheena was played by the buxom Irish McCalla. Later she was played by the likes of “Charlie’s Angels” star Tanya Roberts and “Baywatch” babe Gena Lee Nolin.

The 2007 Devil’s Due series sent Sheena she’s back to her roots, as drawn by Steven Cummings.
If you know anything about Tarzan, you know the Sheena story: An orphan grows up in the jungle, learns the ways of the beasts and battles for their cause whenever the modern world gives ’em trouble.

This version of Sheena seems to have the same story, except it moves her out of Africa and places her in South America.
Along the way, as is obligatory in any jungle woman story, the reader is treated to heaving bosoms, a shapely behind, long legs and beautiful hair.

But beyond those testosterone-boiling images, Devil’s Due Publishing’s “Sheena Queen of the Jungle” provided another great hook for trying out the comic — that oh-so alluring 99-cent cover price.

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