Every year for the past ten or so years, representatives of the Marvel Comics Group have been attending the Frankfurt Book Fair (or Buchmesse, as it's called there in West Germany), a gathering of book publishers from across the globe, who get together to show their wares, negotiate the rights for foreign language editions to their publications, and to have a good time. This year, when Tom DeFalco had to beg off making the trip due to being drafted for jury duty, he sent me, his right-hand man, to serve as the token editorial presence among our crack foreign licensing team. I must admit the prospect of going didn't thrill me at first. I prefer muddling about the house to world travelling-- discipline and routine to novelty and adventure. (How's a guy supposed to write two monthly books gallivanting the globe, huh?) But despite my reservations, once I got there, I had an incredible time, learned a whole lot about Marvel's overseas market, met some really enjoyable comics, people from other countries, and got a ton of ideas for new projects we should be doing here in the states.
As a handy public service this time around, I'm going to provide all of you avid Americans with a little background on Marvel's international publishing division. The department began in earnest in 1971 with a handful of foreign publishers. Now, 18 years later, Marvel has 40 different publishers in 26 countries and 16 different languages.
Here's how Marvel's foreign publishing program works. Foreign publishers negotiate for and secure the rights to a given series and decide with what issue they wish to begin publishing. We then provide them with copies of the "film" (transparencies of the color separations), or veloxes (color prints) of the issues in question, with them footing the bill for duplicating the film. The foreign publisher then takes the film, translates the captions and balloons into their native language, masks out of the English words on the black plate and neatly strips in their own words in the balloons. The film with its altered black plate is then sent to the printers and voila, the result is a printed comic in another language.
That's almost all there's to it. But most foreign publishers package our American material differently than we do. In general, the foreign market expects comic books to be thicker, so it generally takes several American comic book stories to make up one foreign comic book volume. Consequently, foreign publishers gobble up our material at a rapid rate, and if care isn't taken in setting up the program, they could catch up to us in no time. Why doesn't a new foreign publisher just start with issue #1 of whatever they're repackaging and proceed from there? Well, even as American fans now look at artwork from 20 years ago and pronounce it as looking "dated" or "old-fashioned", so too does the international market. Their tastes demand modern, current-looking material, so the trick often becomes finding exactly where to begin their publishing, say, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. You want to go back far enough so you have a comfortable backlog of material, yet you don't want to go back so far that the material looks dated. Furthermore, you need to start at the beginning of a storyline, so new readers have a good jumping-on point. Where would you begin publishing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN?
So, you may ask, what are the big trends in our foreign markets? What's our most popular character overseas? What countries have the biggest assortment of Marvel comics? What's the longest running Marvel comic in another country? Slow down, and I'll try to answer all these questions. Let me do so by providing you for the first time anywhere with a country by country survey of Marvel's international publishers' publishing program across the entire globe (in alphabetical order yet!)! Ready?
In Argentina, ALF is the only title currently being published.
In the Benelux countries, G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, ALF, and CONAN are being published, along with a smattering of Marvel super heroes.
In Brazil, one of our top five markets, a broad range of Marvel, Epic, and Star material is available on the newsstands-- X-MEN, CONAN, DREADSTAR, VIDEO JACK, FANTASTIC FOUR, even VOID INDIGO, to name just a few.
Denmark publishes HEATHCLIFF, ALF, and G.I. JOE.
Finland produces TRANSFORMERS, INDIANA JONES, and CARE BEARS.
In France, another of our top five markets, a wide variety of material is available, such as DINO-RIDERS, GROO, COUNT DUCKULA, SPIDER-MAN and INDIANA JONES, as well as MARSHAL LAW, ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN, BLACK PANTHER, and other limited series and graphic novels. (Hey, they even collected my HAWKEYE limited series into a single album a few years before we in the U.S. did!)
In Germany, third of our big five markets, a host of material also appears in regular anthologies or in collected albums. Among them ALF, THOR, the Lee/Moebius SILVER SURFER, CONAN, HULK, and NICK FURY VS. SHIELD, to name but a few. They're also one of the few foreign publishers of CAPTAIN AMERICA, a title dear to my heart. Anyone hazard a guess why Cap isn't as well-received as Spider-Man in most overseas markets?
In Greece, G.I. JOE, CONAN, GROO, various Star properties as well as DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU and TEAM AMERICA appear in some incarnation.
In Hungary, CARE BEARS, ALF, and SPIDER-MAN can be found on the newsstands.
India licenses G.I. JOE and SPIDER-MAN, as does Indonesia.
Israel publishes THOR, IRON MAN, and X-MEN.
Italy has a big publishing program which includes SPIDER-MAN, FANTASTIC FOUR, PUNISHER, ALF, AVENGERS and a slew of graphic novels.
Korea has G.I. JOE on the stands.
Mexico, a fairly big market, provides its reading public CONAN, ALF, G.I. JOE, SPIDER-MAN, SECRET WARS and AVENGERS, among others.
In the Philippines G.I. JOE is the only Marvel to be had.
Portugal's roster includes HULK, CONAN, TRANSFORMERS, and THUNDERCATS.
Spain is definitely another of our top five markets, publishing a vast spectrum of material-- INDIANA JONES, CONAN, HEATHCLIFF, PUNISHER, X-MEN, TRANSFORMERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THOR, ALF, THE 'NAM, ALPHA FLIGHT, FANTASTIC FOUR, ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN, you name it.
Sweden provides ALF, G.I. JODE, HEATHCLIFF, HULK, SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, NEW MUTANTS, and even CRAZY MAGAZINE.
Taiwan only publishes SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN.
In Turkey, SPIDER-MAN, CONAN, and SILVER SURFER are among its licensed properties.
Yugoslavia features CONAN, SPIDER-MAN, GROO and THE AVENGERS, for the most part.
And that in a nutshell is our foreign market. Some countries have more than one publisher of our material, other countries have just one big publisher. Our five biggest international publishers are Planeta de Agostina in Spain, Editora Abril in Brazil, Condor Verlag and Bastei Verlag in Germany, and Semic Press AB which has publishing divisions in Benelux, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.
From a casual glance at the titles listed in captial letters above, I'll be you can spot the same trend I did, that Marvel U.S.'s licensed material such as G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS and HEATHCLIFF seems to be almost as prevalent as the Marvel super heroes which constitute the bulk of sales in the U.S. market. Of all our super heroes, Spider-Man is definitely number one in worldwide popularity. The longest running overseas title is probably Spain's SPIDERMAN (no hyphen), which is currently on issue #183 (though it may also be Germany's DIE SPINNE which is on issue #173). And want to know something really interesting? In some countries (such as Sweden) DC and Marvel material are licensed by the same publisher.
My thanks go to our wonderful international licensing division on the floor above my office for all this nifty information. The department in its entirety consists of Michele Gagnon, vice president of international licensing, Pam Dersovits, marketing manager for international licensing, Francine Burke, reproduction department coordinator, Mindy Fisch, contracts coordinator, Dorrell Henry, secretary, and the guys in the Repro Department-- Al Smith, supervisor, John Lewandowski, warehouse manager, and their fellow inmates, Don Alcindor, Carey Brown, Kevin McCarthy, Charles O'Bryant, Alfred Jetter, Parris Jackson, and the ever-popular Stu Schwartzberg. Pam deserves a No-Prize for her patience in helping me understand all this well enough to explain it to all of you.
Now that everyone (including me) is up to speed on all this background next month I will actually discuss the Frankfurt Book Fair!