Marketing comics isn’t easy. If you’re an indie producer, you’re going up against some tough competition, and you need every advantage you can get. A good hook can save your book.
There’s a difference between a hook, which is a sustainable incentive to make and keep readers interested, and a gimmick, which is a trick employed to garner attention and sales that has no real relevance to a character’s mythos or canon.
One is truly interesting, while the other is nothing more than sleight of hand. One will help you generate buzz and sell comic books over the long term, while the other might get you a short-term spike in sales, but not much more.
Here are some examples of gimmicks:
- A popular actor/entertainer/politician appearance in a comic book on a few pages
- Foil and hologram covers
- Polybagged comics
- 1 in 200 variants
- Single Issue guest writers
- Trading cards inside the comic
- An individual issue released with 6 variant covers by six superstar artists
These are tricks produced primarily for speculators and collectors, not readers and true fans. I hate them. Here are some of the worst examples from the nineties from comicbook.com.
Examples of Published Books That Used Gimmicks
X-Force #1 used two gimmicks.
- It was polybagged, which meant if you wanted to keep the book in mint condition, you couldn’t open it to read it. If you wanted to read it you had to buy a second copy!
- To make things worse, the comic was packaged with 5 different collector cards. To collect all five cards and have a copy to read required that you buy six copies of the issue!!
Build long-term assets, not flash-and-it’s-gone one-offs
If you want to build a valuable, long-lasting comic book series, you do it with interesting characters and quality writing and art. Through hard work and honest efforts, classic characters evolve. Long-term, that’s what makes a great title.
Gimmicks give you a quick spike but don’t do much to pull in permanent readers
Gimmicks provide a spike in sales that are not permanent and make regular readers cynical about the industry. They remind me of large corporations that eliminate large blocks of their staff to show an annual saving to shareholders, but then are faced with the impossible task of continuing daily business after the staff is no longer there to produce. It’s smoke and mirrors. It only has value in the short term.
‘Trick Marketed’ comics are so prevalent they have lost the value of even being gimmicky!
The hope, of course, is that a percentage of those who purchase your ‘gimmick’ book will become interested in the comic and continue buying future issues. It seems to make logical sense. Most stats, however, show that the month after a hologram or foil or negative image cover, sales return to previous month’s sales numbers.
Most independent publishers don’t have pockets deep enough to continue to publish issue after issue until the public demand slowly grows. That’s a lot of pressure, and that’s probably a big reason small publishers use gimmicks to market their books.
With hundreds of comic book options available to the public, how else can you generate immediate interest and a quick sales bump?
There is a better option: a good hook.
When Gerard Way, from the band My Chemical Romance, wrote several mini-series of The Umbrella Academy, it provided the book with a hook. Many non-comic book readers were brought to the medium as a result.
The key difference between a gimmick and a hook is that a hook provides a long-term incentive for the reader to buy a series each month.
The focus is still on great characters, stories and artwork, but the hook draws in readers and keeps them coming back.
When a company hires John Cassaday or Alex Ross to provide regular covers for a comic book series, that’s a hook. Contrast that with “killing” a major character with huge hype only to have them return a couple of issues later. That’s a gimmick, and it turns readers off.
Ideas for Hooks
Here are a few ideas for hooks that can attract interest to your book while adding to the quality.
1. Work with a popular artist or writer. It goes without saying that if you can combine your talents with a well-regarded artist or writer it will generate an advance buzz for your product. Also, most well-known creatives in the medium are popular for a reason. They will likely add to the quality level of your comic.
2. Work with a celebrity. It’s not surprising with the extended reach of comic books into mainstream culture that creative people from all forms of entertainment have taken an interest in the medium.
Currently, I’m working with a number of actors whose interest in communicating their stories reaches beyond the movie and television screen. For example, Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice from Kenny vs Spenny have both written comic book properties that I’ll be illustrating. Their viewers are excited to follow any product they are involved with, be it South Park, Kenny vs Spenny or their new comic book projects.
I’ve found that touring the convention circuit with Kenny and Spenny has also broadened interest in my other comic book work since I am now linked to their fan-base through association!
3. Produce a single story or character-altering event that affects a series in the long term. The Death of Captain America is an example. It provided the opportunity for the creative team to explore supporting characters in the book and add to the mythos of Captain America.
This issue could have become a gimmick issue had the hero been found to be alive the very next magazine. In fact, it became a “hook” because the character stayed “dead” for several years before returning to the marvel universe.
The series actually continued for several years with Bucky Barnes in the role of Captain America.
4. Connect your characters within their universe. From the earliest days of the super-hero genre, comic book publishers discovered that if a book that had one popular character sold well, a book that had two, three or more super-heroes in it could sell even better! Books like The Justice Society of America and The Marvel Family teamed up heroes and sold wildly.
Marvel and DC Comics still use this principle to drive sales through what are now called “cross-over events” that utilize their entire line of heroes engaging in an epic adventure. While some consider these cross-over series to be gimmicky, they often shape storylines for the long-term so I think of them as ‘hook-books’.
Although it’s never too early to think about how you’re going to sell your comic books, you need finished products before any of it can happen. Sign up for a free Comic Book Creative Hub membership and get access to a growing collection of resources that will help you finish and sell your comic books.