Here's a question that I'm frequently asked by some of you members of our reading public: What's the best way to submit designs for new characters to Marvel? The answer: Probably you shouldn't.
Marvel does not usually buy character designs, names, or concepts. What we do buy are scripts and artwork from writers and artists. Our writers will often create new characters in the course of writing a story, and our artists will then design the look of said character. These writers and artists generally don't get paid extra for this-- it's all part of telling the story which they do get paid for. (Merchandising is another matter entirely.)
So what if you don't want to be paid for your creation...you just want Marvel to have your character for free in exchange for a mere credit line somewhere. Well, that's entirely up to you. I don't know too many Marvel writers who've ever used unsolicited characters contributed by readers, but I can think of one writer in one instance. Personally, I encourage my writers and artists to create their own new characters-- I find it is a great way to keep the creative juices flowing. Why I would not encourage readers to submit characters free of charge is because after the character becomes "ours", you no longer have any say in the character's life-- how often s/he appears, how s/he behaves, or whether s/he is a hero or a villain. Seems to me it would be like putting a baby you love for adoption by someone who may not love him/her the same as you. Don't know about you, but I could't bear to do that. At least if a writer or artist creates a character, s/he can have some say in how his/her creation is handled.
My advice for all budding character-creators out there is to save them until such time as you become a writer or artist (or at lesat know one personally). Then you'll be able to ensure your "baby" has the home you want it to have.
Here's a question for you: Why are certain comic books more popular than others? The measure of a book's popularity is sales, of course, and if you look at the publisher's statements that we print on our letters pages once a year, you have a fair idea of what most books sell in comparison to one anohter. Let me list some of the factors that I can determine affect popularity, and let's see where that gets us.
1. Recognition factor. If a character has name recognition value to the general public, say, from being on television like Spider-Man and the Hulk, you'd think those characters would sell better. For the most part, that's true. But I can think of a character published by one of our competitors who has had several movies and a TV show about him, and that still doesn't help sales. Recognition value can't account for everything.
2. Popular creative teams. This would only be a boon in the fan market, though-- in the general public-- I doubt there's any name recognition of most comics creators (except maybe for Stan Lee).
3. Good, clear stories about well-defined characters. I sure hope this is a factor, because it's the editor's main job to get the creative teams to do just that. If you can put any old thing between two covers and it sells the same as anything else, we editors are all out of jobs! On the other hand, I know of a few very well-written, well-plotted, well-drawn series that didn't sell, and a few badly-written, badly-plotted, badly-drawn series that did! I guess there'll always be flukes.
4. Good covers. I'm certain that a real grabber of a cover will compel an occasional buyer to plunk down his quarters just to see what the story's all about. But there have been great covers on certain low-sellers, so this isn't a sure-fire rule.
5. High concepts. Certain Big Ideas tend to generate extra sales, namely, Death, Marriage, and Costume Changes. Crossovers are also popular concepts. (Is it any wonder that a book like SECRET WARS, featuring the biggest cross-over of all time, should sell four or five times better than the average Marvel book?)
That's all the ones that occur to me off the top of my head. It still doesn't explain a few things to me, such as the huge popularity of the mutant books. I mean, how much difference is there between a super hero is born with his/her powers and one who acquires them later in life, hmm? Sure, all of the mutant books are well-written, but then again, so are lots of other books that don't sell nearly as well. So how about it, readers? How about you cluing in this greying editor on what factors you think make a comic book better-selling than another. I'll print your best guesses in this space.
Before I became a comics editor, I was a comics collector. And before I was a comics collector, I was a comics reader. One thing I never was was a comics investor-- someone who purchases comics with the sole intent of reselling them at a later date for a profit. However, I do have some practical advice for those of you who have your eyes on eventually making money from your hobby.
1) Keep your comics in as good a condition as possible. You'd be surprised how much difference it makes in their resale value. You might even store them in plastic bags.
2) If you're buying multiple copies of a title, invest in a comic that will someday be in demand, not something that is hot now. For instance, SECRET WARS was the best-selling comics series from any comic company in the last decade. It sold about four times as well as the average Marvel Comics. I can only assume part of its phenomenal sales was due to collectors buying multiple copies. I hope those collectors don't expect comics in that series to drastically go up on resale value-- there are so many copies available thanks to its huge print run that the supply will probably match future demand. Rather than buying multiples of a comic everyone has, you should find one that most people don't have but will someday want. X-MEN is another case in point. Early issues fetch high resale prices because at the time no one knew how popular it would become. Now that everyone knows and makes sure to stock up on current issues, the current issues aren't half as in demand as the earlier ones. But how do you predict what books that aren't popular now will be in the future? You got me. Try to find books by artists who look like they're going to be fan faves. Other than that?
3) Be patient. When you have a hot item for sale, you have to find someone willing to meet your price. If you become too anxious to make the sale, you may have to settle for less than you'd like. Comics dealers' back issue profits are generally based on buying low, selling high. They buy from persons anxious to make a sale and wait till they have a customer willing to meet their price. Don't expect to beat dealers at their own game by getting them to buy items at "market value"-- how they stay in business is to buy as cheaply as possible. Better that you find a fellow collector who wants to buy from you. That means, in essence, becoming a dealer (of sorts) yourself. You don't need your own store to be a dealer, of course. You could sell your wares totally through the mail (placing ads in comics fanzines) or at comic book conventions.
Well, that's my advice for what it's worth. Me, I collect comics 'cause I like to read 'em. I don't ever intend to sell mine.