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Crossing Boundaries, Part 2

CrossGen Comics inaugurates two new programs aimed at expanding the comic book audience...but will they succeed?

By Arnold T. Blumberg     May 15, 2002


FORGE, one of the first entries in CrossGen's COMPENDIA series
© CrossGen Comics
Last time, CrossGen VP Tony Panaccio explained the strategy behind the new Comics on the Web initiative. Now we move on to examine another CrossGen launch, the compilation titles FORGE and EDGE. Are they the answer to bringing comics to the mainstream consumer?

Panaccio is understandably excited about Comics on the Web, not least because it preserves the integrity of the creators' vision from the print comics.

"The creators lay out that page for a reason - they're telling a story," says Panaccio. "When you take all the panels out into a Java applet [as with the Stan Lee Media 'webisodes'], you're sucking all the creativity out of what the creators were trying to do in the first place. You're no longer reading a comic."

The CrossGen Comics on the Web interface allows readers to 'zoom in' on word balloons and captions while preserving the integrity of the two-page spread. Future iterations will introduce new features, but for now, CrossGen is taking an intriguing first step into that proverbial brave new world. It's a move that's aided by the fact that production can be kept to a minimum.

EDGE, one of the first titles in CrossGen's COMPENDIA series

"That's the whole reason it works," admits Panaccio. "It's easily repeatable, [and] it doesn't take a significant amount of time to take the content we've already produced and repurpose it in a fashion that preserves the creative integrity and exposes it to new readers who have never read a comic in their lives."

For those Luddites who think the web is the spawn of Satan (you know who you are), however, CrossGen has come up with a second strategy for expanding readership via an affordable line of reprint collections aimed at the big name bookstore chains.

The COMPENDIA titles, FORGE and EDGE, will collect individual CrossGen issues and entice readers with a glimpse of the cohesive universe that the publisher has created. Like the web initiative, this will allow CrossGen to save money by 'repurposing' previously produced comics for maximum impact. According to Panaccio, the COMPENDIA books will differ dramatically from traditional trade paperbacks in two key areas - price and regularity. COMPENDIA titles will feature 200 plus pages of story and art comparable to the quality of the individual monthly issues, and all for only $9.95 to $11.95.

"The price point is much more favorable to mainstream consumers who never cracked a comic book before," says Panaccio. "You can't beat that with a stick. No trade paperback matches that with [our] level of production quality. Our ink saturation is such that we can't put this on cheap paper - it becomes mud."

The COMPENDIA books will also be serialized monthly, with advertising announcing the on-sale dates of the next issues.

The Atlanteans face some sobering truths in CRUX #12.

"Trade paperbacks come out whenever they come out, and there's nothing to take a reader and bring them back to the store," says Panaccio. "In the back of all the COMPENDIA as in the back of all the comics, there are on-sale dates for the next issue. We are currently the only publisher with the cojones enough to print their own sale dates."

That bravery stems from one of CrossGen's early claims to fame - the clockwork regularity of their shipping schedule. It was a necessary factor in impressing upon the industry that they were serious about making comics.

"When you're a new company with a product line that is completely unfamiliar to everyone and stuck in the paradigm of paying for the past sins of the Valiants and Teknos and all the small publishers that came before you, you have to latch onto something that stands out," says Panaccio. "Our commitment to on-time delivery was one of the very things that Mark discovered in his market research before launching CrossGen. There's no real excuse for it, and its stuck in the craw of a lot of retailers and fans, so he set out to create a company that could easily stay on schedule. That's why we have the studio. It insures higher quality control and that we make our deadlines."

As for the material, FORGE and EDGE will present a cross-pollinated mix of CrossGen titles, introducing new readers to the vast universe that early CrossGen fans first discovered two years ago. But how to decide which titles would be represented in which collection?

The first CrossGen miniseries, SAURIANS: UNNATURAL SELECTION #1-2.

"There is probably more thought put into that than most treaties signed by the United States," says Panaccio. "Daily, we continue to think about that implementation. The creation of the FORGE and EDGE publishing schedules was something akin to giving birth to a herd of elephants. We had to think three-dimensionally in terms of what titles tend to go best together. Conversely, maybe you don't want to cross-pollinate titles that seem similar, but titles that seem different, in order to draw people from different sectors. Where do you tread the line between marketing to a unique audience vs. marketing to a mass audience?"

Next time, we wrap up our chat with CrossGen VP Tony Panaccio as he explains the principle underlying the COMPENDIA plan and the problems facing the comic book industry as a whole.

TO BE CONTINUED

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