Okay, some might say I was commissioned. Others might say I offered. But here are my thoughts concering what went on at CrossGen and why the company ultimately failed.
Before I begin, however, I’d like to address a couple of preliminary matters. First, it seems like everyone is looking for that one single answer as to why CrossGen failed. The truth is very rarely that simple. The story behind CrossGen’s collapse reveals multiple answers and multiple reasons. I’ve seen dozens of theories forwarded as to why CrossGen failed and although none of those reasons is sufficient on its own, many of those reasons combine to play a part. That doesn’t mean that every theory I’ve read is accurate, but I’ll address those inaccuracies as I go along.
The second preliminary item I’d like to address is who I am, or rather who I’m not. I am no expert. I am no professional. Not in comics. Not in business. I have no inside information. So if you want to dismiss what I write as the ignorant ravings of a madman, I have no objection. What I have tried to do is to be aware of and study the facts as they are available. I have done my best to filter through the words of those who are professionals and who do possess inside information. That means that many of the theories and reasons you read here are not my own. I have been as much a compiler of the thoughts of others as a conjurer of theories of my own. It also means that if I have misreported any facts, I apologize. I have done my best with what was available.
So why did CrossGen fail? This company started with so much promise. In one year, CrossGen became the fifth largest comic book publisher in North America. After three years, it had progressed to fourth. And in the fourth year, the company collapsed. It’s still limping along and may survive a month or two into its fifth year but for all intents and purposes the dream and publishing company that was CrossGen is over.
Now that it’s over, many observers are belittling CrossGen as if it never had any promise. That’s not true. It may be true that the signs of trouble were evident much earlier than we had suspected. And it is definitely true that CrossGen was never as perfect as it claimed to be or as its supporters wanted to believe. But the promise was there. One only has to look at the list of those who chose to associate with it.
Mark Waid left JLA when it was DC’s highest profile book to join the staff at CrossGen. Even at the time, Waid admitted that he was taking a pay cut but he said he did so willingly because he believed in what the company was doing. George Perez followed up his highly successful run on Avengers, a top ten book while he was its penciller, to move to CrossGen. Perez could have had his pick of almost any job in the industry, but he chose CrossGen. Other creators may have joined the company because it was their best or even only opportunity. But some creators, particularly the two I mentioned, didn’t need CrossGen. For a time, they believed in it.
Those aren’t the only examples I can cite. Archangel Studios, the creators of “The Red Star,” joined the CrossGen fold. MV Studios, the license-holders to “Masters of the Universe” jumped off of Image and onto CrossGen. Bob Gale of “Back to the Future” and Chuck Russell of “The Mummy” became associated with CrossGen. They worked on developing CrossGen projects for film and agreed to provide new concepts for the comics themselves (one title was tentatively called “Illustrated Warriors”). WizKids games signed CrossGen as part of their Indy Clix expansion for their HeroClix game. CrossGen was the youngest company included and they represented the newest characters. Fast Forward games worked with CrossGen to create a role-playing game and a collectible card game. Those products haven’t and may never make it to market, but it does show that yet another company wanted to work with CrossGen comics.
None of these associations would have developed if CrossGen hadn’t shown promise. There are those who claim that the company was doomed from the beginning, but all of these associations demonstrate the opposite. People wanted to be a part of CrossGen.
The promise was there.
Today, the very promise that attracted so many to CrossGen in the first place works against the company. The greater the promise, the greater the tragedy. And what happened to this company, and to many of the people who were associated with it, is tragic.
and finally the conclusion: Why did Crossgen Fail?
Thanks to the amazing folks at archive.org for rescuing this post after it went down with the ship that was the old captaincomic.us site!
I think that Mark Alessi underestimated the amount of resistance that a new company would face in the comic book market. It was definitely an uphill climb. One of the factors working against the company was the reluctance of comic book fans to try new products in the current marketplace. That reluctance is not unique to CrossGen. New companies and new lines are not given much of a chance. In the last four years, Image has faced the same difficulty when trying to launch a new superhero line; Dark Horse ran into it when trying to launch the sci-fi line Rocket Comics; not even DC’s Focus line and Marvel’s MAX, Tsunami and Epic imprints have been able to reverse this industry reality. It’s a conservative marketplace. The fans have seen too many titles cancelled, too many companies eliminated, too many stores closed. They aren’t looking to take chances.
CrossGen as a company ran headfirst into this reluctance. Many potential readers refused to even try the products. I recall dozens of fans writing that they’d “already been through that with Valiant” or Milestone or Eclipse. They weren’t willing to give another company a chance. That means that CrossGen, as a new company, had a reduced pool of potential readers. They had to prove themselves before many fans would embrace them.
The resistance to CrossGen however involved more than simple reluctance. From a number of corners, CrossGen faced outright hostility. The issue of reluctance was out of their control, but in many ways the hostility was of their own doing. Just as many fans didn’t want to take a chance, others were put off by what they perceived as Marvel-bashing by publisher Mark Alessi. Indeed, before his company had published a single book, Alessi had insulted Marvel and DC as being old and tired. The statements backfired. Just as Alessi underestimated the resistance, I think he underestimated the brand loyalty that exists in comics.
One of Alessi’s frequent proclamations was that one day CrossGen would be the number one publisher in the US. I found the bravado amusing. To me, it was like Peter Laviolette taking over as coach of the New York Islanders or Dusty Baker taking over as manager of the Chicago Cubs. Of course, they promise that the team isn’t playing “just to make the playoffs” or “just to finish .500.” Of course they promise that their goal is a championship. To me it was therefore natural that Alessi would proclaim that his company was setting out to be number one, and not just number five. But many fans didn’t consider these to be innocuous statements. They took them seriously. And comics fans can be as loyal to their particular company as sports fans to their teams. Because of his declarations, Alessi alienated many Marvel zombies. Again, CrossGen’s pool of potential readers was reduced, but this time in reaction to the publisher’s own comments.
That problem is compounded by the size of the industry. Comics aren’t a very big industry. Therefore, there isn’t a lot of room for professional industry pundits and journalists. The comics press is mostly fan press. And many fans who felt that their favorite companies were threatened used their press positions to actively agitate against the company. Let me be clear about this: I am not including all fan journalists or internet sites. I am also not including rumors columns which specialize in controversy and can’t be expected to leave any particular company alone. But there are clear examples in which internet news sites wrote misleading articles.
I’ll share two. The first example is the reporting of sales figures for Solus #1. Solus #1 debuted at 77 on the Diamond top 300, selling an estimated 27,008 copies (these figures are available at icv2.com). The reporting centered on the negative speculation that this may have been the lowest-selling George Perez debut ever. That is possible, but I’d want to know the sales figures on some of Perez’s 1990s independent ventures like “The Dark” before including that in a “news” article. What didn’t go reported was that Solus #1 was CrossGen’s highest selling book ever. Lady Death had the honor of a higher ranking but it did so while selling 3,000 less copies, and even El Cazador fell 1,500 short of Solus’ mark. Solus may not have been a critical or creative success (and I’ll cover that) but it was a commercial success despite reports to the contrary.
The other example is a comprehensive article written by someone at Newsarama. The article was written after CrossGen’s financial failures were made public, and the article appropriately detailed the company’s failures. However, the article went beyond the straightforward reporting of facts. The article made a point of highlighting Mark Alessi’s predictions that CrossGen would be number one in five years. Rather than noting that this prophecy would not come true, the article repeatedly attacked the boast and spent more time illustrating the impossibility of that claim than reporting the more serious issue of non-payment of employees. Apparently, it was more important to establish that Marvel was and would remain number one. To me, it was a clear example that CrossGen’s alienation of fans loyal to other companies had resulted in a similar negative backlash within the fan press.
As if CrossGen wasn’t already facing an uphill battle trying to win over reluctant and sometimes hostile fans, CrossGen also had to deal with serious opposition from other publishers. A couple of side-points need to be established before we proceed. One, we live in a capitalist society so it is not up to either Marvel or DC to insure that CrossGen succeeds. In fact, the opposite is true. Marvel and DC should do what they can to protect and increase their own profits. If it’s fair for CrossGen to hire former DC staffers like Butch Guice, it’s just as fair for Marvel to woo Steve McNiven with “an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Two, the opposition that “The Big Two” brought to bear against CrossGen can be exaggerated. For example, the idea that these two companies vetoed CrossGen’s entry as a premier retailer cannot be confirmed. Again, the opposite seems more likely. Both DC and Diamond flatly deny that such a veto exists. And although Marvel doesn’t deny it, possibly because they enjoy the illusion of power, they also haven’t confirmed it. “The Big Two” may have done everything they could to prevent CrossGen from reaching the 5% goal, but they did so legitimately.
However, I can’t say that DC and Marvel did so indiscriminately. Both companies were quite discriminate in their opposition to CrossGen. If a freelancer left for Image or Dark Horse, it was shrugged off as the way of the industry. If a freelancer left for CrossGen, it was treated as a betrayal. There are unconfirmed stories of DC cutting artists out of a contract after they’d learned that the artist had signed with CrossGen. Reportedy, completed issues were discarded and artists were not paid for the finished work. While the controversy concerning Mark Waid’s non-compete clause was boiling over, Mark Alessi told reporters that he had paid more money to people who were still on staff at DC than the other way around. On that point at least, he wasn’t lying. Marvel was more direct. Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas inflamed the hostility towards CrossGen. They treated the company as an interloper and encouraged their fans to do the same.
Why would other publishers display such hostility towards a new company? How could their 30% market shares be threatened by someone struggling to reach 5? The answer lies in CrossGen’s treatment of their creative staff. If CrossGen succeeded, the other companies faced the possibility of offering similar terms. They may have had to pony up for paid vacations and health care and other benefits. CrossGen may not have been a threat to their sales but CrossGen was definitely a threat to their way of doing business. These companies responded to CrossGen as they would to any threat: by making it harder for them to do business and by actively trying to undermine the company. And it some ways, CrossGen did affect their way of doing business. DC and Marvel are both more likely to offer exclusive contracts which include such benefits as health care. And DC and Marvel have both increased the royalties they pay over the last five years. CrossGen may not be directly responsible, and they certainly aren’t the only factor, but indirectly they cost both DC and Marvel money.
At this point, I know that some readers are wondering if CrossGen did anything wrong at all. I’ve pointed the finger at the fans, the press and the other publishers. Don’t worry; I’ll get around to CrossGen’s failures and they are plenty. I just wanted to establish the odds against them as a new company. Admittedly, some of CrossGen’s actions and Mark Alessi’s statements increased those odds, but it is difficult for any comics company to survive. It is an uphill battle.
There are, of course, some industry realities that CrossGen didn’t reckon with, underestimated or chose to ignore. One of those was the cost of those extras that they used to woo so many creators to their company. Health benefits aren’t cheap. As a result, CrossGen was paying more for their creators than other companies. On top of that, CrossGen’s vacation plan meant that they were paying artists for 10 books instead of 12. This again increased their cost per issue. On top of that, Mark Alessi’s generosity with people who had signed with the company but who hadn’t yet begun working for the company cost money. And on top of that, the thousands of dollars in relocation payments cost money.
Let’s look at some numbers. For the sake of argument, let’s say that CrossGen paid everyone on its creative staff a salary of $50,000 per year (that’s a safe number; pencillers were most likely paid more and colorists less). Since each title requires a penciller, an inker and a colorist, CrossGen had to relocate three people and their families for each title (a writer works on multiple titles so their cost is spread out). CrossGen also had to pay at least three months salary to each person before their first issue was printed. Three months of $50,000 is just over $12,000. Relocation costs are in the 3 to 5 thousand dollar range. Health benefits can be as much as 10,000 per year, or 3,000 for the 3 month period we’re describing. Mark Alessi was paying at least $20,000 for each penciller, inker and colorist before a single book was sold. If you factor in another $7000 for a writer who is working on three titles, CrossGen had spent almost $70,000 per title on creative staff alone. That’s a huge upfront cost and one that was much higher than that of other publishers.
Those salary costs meant that CrossGen’s comics needed to be profitable. And each month was costing each CrossGen title up to $20,000 more in creative staff alone. Even a successful book would take months to recoup that kind of investment with that kind of overhead (and we haven’t even discussed the printing or administrative figures).
Mark Alessi claimed that CrossGen had enough financing to survive five years without making a profit. Considering that the company is almost out of business before its fourth year is finished and that the real financial crunch happened during the third year, I would say that Alessi’s claim was overly optimistic. He either overestimated his potential income, or underestimated his net profits. Most likely, he did both.
There’s one last industry reality that we should look at before we move on to the books themselves. Comic books are a collectible industry. As such, it is always difficult to attract new readers once a book has been launched. Plus, fans drop out as they tire of a particular title or of the hobby itself. Those two factors combine to result in the “slow bleed” that almost every title experiences. Every title loses readers more quickly than it gains them. Successful books only lose readers at a rate of 100 per month. The more poorly received titles can lose readers by the thousands every month. This is true of the entire industry and there are very few ways to reverse that trend.
One of the most successful ways of reversing that trend is to cancel a title and relaunch with a new number one. Although this method receives a negative backlash, the results are self-evident: sales go up. One of the ways of avoiding the backlash is by releasing a title as a series of mini-series. Crusade, Event, Image and Dark Horse have all had success with this method. CrossGen originally spurned this method of gaining sales for its core titles although the company would later relaunch second series of Code 6 titles DemonWars and Lady Death.
Another way of increasing sales on an existing title is to change creative teams. A well-publicized transition can increase sales by tens of thousands (recent successes include Birds of Prey, Superman and the X-Men Reload). Although CrossGen didn’t publicly scorn this method as they did the relaunch, they did choose not to rely on it. Although there are a few exceptions, CrossGen generally handed titles over to less-experienced and lesser-known creative teams. Whether it was Fabrizio Fiorentino on Mystic or Scott Beatty on Ruse, CrossGen rarely received a sales boost from new creative teams. Their inability to reverse the slow bleed on their core titles, even with new creators, was one of the biggest factors in CrossGen’s fall, yet it remains one of the least publicized.
The previous two methods are proven to be the most successful in today’s industry, but they’re not the only methods that exist.
When a new creative team isn’t possible, a new story arc can sometimes be advertised as an opportunity for new readers to come aboard. CrossGen was obviously aware of the constant decline in readership and although they shunned other methods, they did try this one. Late in 2002, CrossGen introduced the Key Issue program. Each key issue was designed to be friendly to new readers. The campaign was moderately successful. Although the Key Issues didn’t completely offset the slow bleed, they did delay it. Each title experienced sales increases of 500 to 1,000 for a Key Issue. This extended the profitability/life of each title by 2-3 months. For example, if Title X had a Key Issue in February, its February sales would increase over its January sales. The slow bleed would mean that the March or April sales would be back to January levels. However, the overall result was that Title X retained its numbers over a three month period rather than experience the normal decline.
You can see that the Key Issue program was a success. But it was a bandaid measure not a repair. Eventually, the books were still going to lose money. And eventually the title had to be cancelled rather than drag the company into the red. CrossGen did not deal with this reality. There was no contingency plan in place in case the Key Issue program didn’t work. The first key issue was published in November 2002 for “The First.” Obviously, “The First” was one of the titles most in need of a boost and quickly reaching, if not passing, unprofitability. And yet, despite the fact that the Key Issue should’ve granted “The First” only a two-month reprieve, that particular title wasn’t cancelled for another nine months and was published for twelve more issues. Despite its promises to its fans, CrossGen needed to pull the plug on titles that were losing money.
There is one last way to reverse the trend of the slow bleed: positive word of mouth. There are always a few titles that buck the trend without gimmicks, based solely on the quality of the product and the enthusiasm of fans and journalists. DC has seen word of mouth bring significant boosts to Vertigo titles like Fables and Y: The Last Man. Marvel has experienced recent success with Fantastic Four. So what about CrossGen?
My study of the numbers has shown me that CrossGen experienced the benefit of word-of-mouth increases more than any other company over the past few years. Their fans had spread the word, overcoming the understandable hesitancy of fandom and even, on occasion, the hostility of brand loyalists. Sojourn was one of CrossGen’s greatest successes. In its heyday, Sojourn was selling 2000 copies per month more than its debut issue. Even at its end, Sojourn’s last issue sold only 500 issues less than its first. Sojourn was by no means CrossGen’s only success. Ruse was so successful that its twelfth issue sold within 1000 copies of its debut. The third and fourth issues of The Path outsold the second. The fourth and fifth issues of Way of the Rat could make the same claim. And Scion had perhaps the most impressive growth of all. Scion increased sales in 6 of 12 months from May 2001 (issue 12) to May 2002 (issue 24) with the result that this particular title lost less than 1000 readers in 13 months.
In 2001 and 2002, CrossGen experienced positive word of mouth growth of 5 of its 12 core titles. The four other major publishers would be lucky to claim 5 of 100 during that time span. Yet CrossGen was unable to capitalize on its success. Rather than promote the titles that were being embraced by fans, CrossGen stubbornly remained loyal to all of its titles. That loyalty wasn’t entirely unreasonable as other core titles like Mystic, Sigil and Meridian experienced smaller gains, particularly in November 2001 and March/April 2002. It was reasonable to believe that each title was capable of receiving similar word-of-mouth attention. But it was unreasonable to believe that every title would receive such benefits. The slow bleed would catch the majority of CrossGen titles if not all of them. And CrossGen had no real plan to counteract that industry reality or to cancel unprofitable titles.
At this point, I should address the most common reason given for CrossGen’s failure: too many titles too soon. For months, I admit that I dismissed this claim. Each title represented a different genre and should have appealed to a different set of fans. I thought they weren’t directly competing with each other. In this case, the prevailing wisdom was right and I was wrong. The numbers do not lie. CrossGen launched their eleventh and twelfth titles in May and June of 2002 (Way of the Rat and Route 666). It is significant to note that several word-of-mouth titles stopped making gains at that time (The Path and Scion). It is also significant to note that the monthly bleed increased, doubled and sometimes tripled for the majority of the CrossGen titles in late spring and summer of 2002. Way of the Rat may have been experiencing success but it was coming on the backs of the earlier titles. Only two series continued to make gains at this time- Sojourn and Ruse- and even they began to lose sales during the winter of ‘02/’03 when CrossGen launched seven new titles (the three Code 6 titles, two mini-series, Brath and Solus). Obviously, CrossGen had saturated its market and at that point, it was beginning to cannibalize its own sales.
The smart move would’ve been to cancel the weaker titles during that winter and concentrate on their current and potential future successes.
When trying to place blame, I think nothing is less agreed upon than the books themselves. The books still have their fans. They are still defended as the best-written, best-drawn, best-colored books in the industry. Even bitter former employees wax nostalgic over the production values, and their control over that aspect. And the books are still attacked as boring and exclusive. So where does the truth lie? As always, somewhere in the middle.
At the same time, I think most of the false theories of failure originate in this area. In one respect, that’s understandable. For one thing, no book is able to appeal to every segment of the population. For people in those segments left out, they naturally generalize from their own experiences, not realizing that the very thing that turned them away is the same thing that brought others in.
One of the theories often forwarded is that the books weren’t edgy enough. Not true. Or at least, that wasn’t a problem. First of all, not everyone is looking for edgy. The company’s name proclaimed that they weren’t edgy. They were the company for all generations. And in some ways, they were successful. CrossGen could never have sold their Bridges program to schools and PTAs if they were edgy. By all accounts, their Bridges program is the most successful branch of the company. Furthermore, edgy isn’t in itself a guarantee of success. Marvel’s edgy MAX line brought about very few successes. DC’s edgier fare like Wildstorm and Vertigo sold roughly the same numbers as CrossGen. Looking at the numbers from July 2003 (the month before CrossGen’s big financial setback), we see that Solus outsold WildCats, Way of the Rat outsold the vampire tale Blood and Water, The First outsold Sleeper and even DemonWars outsold 21 Down. I share these examples not to show disdain for either Vertigo or Wildstorm, but simply to prove that edgy and sales do not go hand in hand.
Another theory is that the books were too slow. This is a theory I tried to contradict every chance I got, but the theory is so widely cited that I’m left to wonder if there isn’t some truth to it. In one way, CrossGen books weren’t slow. More real change happened in one year at CrossGen than in most other titles. But CrossGen also disdained the “fight of the month.” While most titles were showcasing a fight in every issue, CrossGen was building up to one every 6-7 months. For some of us, this was a plus. But that wasn’t true for enough of us. CrossGen’s slowness was such a factor that some readers believed CrossGen used less pages than other publishers. That wasn’t true: CrossGen used the same 22 as Dark Horse, DC, Image and Marvel. But we believe what we perceive and one of the reasons why CrossGen lost so many readers was that many of its titles moved at a glacial pace.
This accusation is one that is also forwarded by some of the writers. Ron Marz has been vocal in this complaint. He occasionally felt held back. He has said that he wasn’t allowed to move a particular title forward because other titles weren’t ready. Mark Waid has been less obvious but his remarks lead one to believe that he felt the same constraints. When two of your writers are among those who complain that the books are too slow, the accusation obviously has some merit.
And yet, I think that the accusation of slowness pales in comparison to two other problems with the books themselves. The first could be considered as much an industry problem as a book problem and indeed, I debated the proper placement. But whatever the cause, CrossGen was a company caught in the middle.
In one of his excellent industry books (I think it’s Reinventing Comics, but it could be Understanding Comics), Scott McCloud describes the current superhero-dominated comics industry. At one point, the industry offered every genre imaginable from A to Z. But A sold better. The publishers realized this and started producing more of A. The retailers realized this and started promoting more of A. The result was that other genres were discarded and ignored. As these other genres disappeared, the industry focused more and more on genre A. Now the industry is wedded to one genre. McCloud wondered about the future of other genres. It seems impossible to introduce genre B into a marketplace that serves only A. Those who would be interested in B wouldn’t know to find it and those who would know to find it are only interested in A. McCloud theorized that in order to introduce other genres like B, one would first have to try an AB hybrid. The hybrid would appeal to existing customers while potentially drawing in new customers who would be interested in B. The theory has some merit. The most successful crime book in comics is Powers, a superhero crime book. I don’t remember if McCloud dealt with this or not but despite the occasional success, it’s also possible that neither those who like A or B would care for AB.
That was one of CrossGen’s major problems. They tried to introduce multiple genres into a one-genre industry. In order to succeed, they borrowed many of the standards of the superhero genre like interlocking continuity and godlike powers. Yet those standards designed to appeal to existing readers alienated other readers they were trying to court.
Sometimes, CrossGen was very successful. There are hundreds of people who claim that CrossGen either introduced them to comics or brought them back. But CrossGen couldn’t fully free itself from this dilemma of being caught in the middle. There are also dozens of fantasy fans who complain that CrossGen’s comics were derivative and unworthy. And there are thousands of superhero fans who found nothing of interest in the new company.
And just as CrossGen compounded some of its fan-related problems, CG expanded this problem as well. Instead of trying to specialize in one genre, CrossGen tried to enter all of them. Newer companies are now trying a safer route. IDW is specializing in crime and horror books. Devil’s Due/Dabel Brothers is concentrating on fantasy. In one regard, CrossGen had to build its audience from scratch for each new title. Considering the uphill climb they faced as a company, it was almost foolhardy to recreate that climb for each new title.
The way that CrossGen tried to avoid reestablishing themselves with each new title was by having an interlocking continuity. Each title, whether it was fantasy, mystery or martial arts was part of one universe and one overall picture. This set-up did much to create a hard-core fan-base of approximately 10,000 people (you can count me among that number). But that same set-up proved to be an obstacle to everyone else in the comics hobby and many of the millions outside of it.
The four launch titles had remarkably similar situations. This wasn’t a deterrent to me, but that was partly because of the way in which I experienced the books. I was in the process of a cross-country move during the summer of 2000 when CrossGen launched their first titles. Due to those circumstances, I was buying few titles and certainly no new ones. When I was finally settled in my new home, I became aware of the positive reviews surrounding this new company. I also became aware of the three-issue money-back guarantee. I bought the first three issues of each of the first four titles. That means I was able to read all three issues at once. The similarities among the books which were pronounced in the first issue had become minimal by the third. Although I didn’t agree, I could understand the complaints of those who thought all of the books were the same.
The launch books led many readers to believe that if you’d tried one CrossGen book, you’d tried them all. Those who had disliked any one title were therefore hesitant to try another. CrossGen did a good job of varying up its formula in its later titles but it took awhile for those titles to overcome the earlier stigma. Instead, CrossGen was forced to rely more on more on its set of hardcore fans. Indeed, their expanding line debuted with almost identical numbers (Crux, Sojourn, Ruse, The Path and Way of the Rat all had debuts within a thousand units of each other). That means that each new title spread thin their fanbase rather than reaching out to new readers. The fanbase eventually felt squeezed for more money, and as was noted earlier, new titles cannibalized the old ones.
At the same time, the word was getting out that CrossGen was more than a one formula establishment. In 2001 and 2002, CrossGen was slowly building its fanbase and diversifying its readership. But in early 2003, CrossGen confirmed the old beliefs. They spun a barbarian title Brath out of their sci-fi title Sigil. Unfortunately for CrossGen, their thirteenth ongoing title featured many of the same details as the first four. Brath was the lowest selling debut for an ongoing core CrossGen title (by 1000 issues!) and it should’ve been a sign that the company had maxed out.
The next title had an even more negative effect on the company. In March of 2003, CrossGen debuted a new George Perez monthly called Solus. Earlier, I described Solus #1 as a commercial success. That’s true of the first issue. Not the series. Solus was neither a critical nor creative success. The book was supposed to be a gift to the hardcore fanbase. It specialized in the Big Picture that tied the various titles together. And as it was more about continuity than either plot or character, it was widely panned. Solus was a flop. It lost 7000 readers between its first and second issues. By the sixth issue, it was selling half of its debut. If it hadn’t been cancelled, Solus would’ve been reduced to that core base of 10,000 in only one year.
Ron Marz has remarked that George Perez “was the biggest bullet in the CrossGen gun and we shot ourselves in the foot with it.” Both Marz and Bedard have said that they argued against putting Perez on Solus. Their cries apparently fell on deaf ears. Perez’ first issue should have been the boost the company needed. After nearly a year of declining sales on individual titles, Perez’ involvement could have guaranteed a second major hit. Indeed, the debut sales show that a Perez title could’ve exceeded Sojourn, Ruse and Lady Death as CrossGen’s best seller. The profits could’ve offset losses in other books and other areas. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Solus confirmed many of the accusations directed at CrossGen. Their books were insular. You had to read every title to make sense of any of them. Solus could have buoyed the company. Instead it damaged it. Solus actually hurt the sales on other titles. As the belief that you had to buy every title was confirmed, readers began to drop not just Solus but other CrossGen books as well. Way of the Rat, The Path, Ruse, The First: all of these titles either began slipping or lost readers at a more rapid rate shortly after Solus’ debut.
The catastrophe that was Solus leads us directly into the biggest problem that faced the books themselves: “The Big Picture.” As noted earlier, all of the CrossGen titles were part of an interlocking continuity. They were all part of the same story that was commonly referred to as “The Big Picture.” This interlocking continuity receives the most blame for CrossGen’s failure, second only to “too many books too fast.” There’s some truth to that, but there are some nuances that also need to be addressed.
First of all, there is a big difference between saying “The Big Picture was the problem” and “The execution of The Big Picture was the problem.” For some, simply having a big picture was indeed a problem. But this gets us back to some of the stylistic complaints discussed earlier. The very thing that detracted for some, attracted others. It is obvious that the comic book industry of 2004 is no longer appreciative of an interlocking continuity. That worked against Image’s superhero line in 2003. But it is not as obvious that an interlocking continuity worked against CrossGen when it first launched in 2000. The similarity of the launch books, yes. The overarching story, no.
Initially, CrossGen was helped by the big picture. It helped develop the hardcore fan base. That fan base supported every title and guaranteed that books would launch in Diamond’s top 100 with at least 20,000 in sales (only Route 666, written by then-unknown Tony Bedard failed to reach these markers). And that fan base was responsible for the positive word of mouth that helped up to half of CrossGen’s titles make sales gains. On the other hand, that hard core fan base was also one of the causes behind the insults that CrossGen was a koolaid-drinking cult. Those accusations are representative of the hostility discussed earlier. The big picture helped create both a minimum threshold and a maximum ceiling for CrossGen titles.
I would like to theorize that CrossGen was not hurt by the big picture itself as much as the execution of the big picture. That isn’t to say that CrossGen should have made every book a part of the big picture. Two of their most successful launches, Lady Death and El Cazador, stood apart from the big picture. And their most successful books were only loosely tied to the interlocking continuity. Obviously, their titles didn’t need the overarching story to find its audience. But that claim isn’t necessarily the same as saying the overarching story lost its audience. Yet that is just what happened.
So what were the problems with the execution of the big picture? The reasons are many, but I’ll quickly describe five.
One, the crossovers were poorly executed. CrossGen claimed that it was doing away with many of the industry crutches like relaunches and company-wide crossovers, but that didn’t prevent them from using guest appearances. At the same time, CrossGen was trying to keep a promise that you wouldn’t need to buy every book to enjoy any one of them. The guest appearances put a lie to that statement. Instead of being forced to buy two titles, fans were treated to the same scene twice. For example, Sam from Sigil visited Sephie from Meridian. The same scene was shown in both titles from the perspective of the different characters. It may have been an interesting exercise, but it left many readers feeling as if they’d paid twice for the same story.
Two, the crossovers didn’t always make sense. It is possible that CrossGen listened to complaints about the earlier guest appearances. The later ones certainly felt different. Unfortunately, they didn’t feel better. Characters would again make guest appearances, but rather than reading the same scene twice, the guest wouldn’t make sense within the context of the title. This was particularly true of Solusandra. Her appearance in Mystic had little to do with what had come before or after (the same can be said of Ingra’s earlier appearance). If somebody was reading Mystic but not Solus, the issue just wouldn’t make sense.
These failed crossovers and guest appearances meant that the big picture began to feel like the big intrusion. Fans of a particular series were put off by appearances of The First or other characters from outside of their specific title. And even fans who bought everything (like me) occasionally resented the impact that the big picture had on an individual title. One example is the removal of Capricia from the cast of Crux in order to export her to Sigil. This lessened Crux as that particular title lost one of its more popular characters. This lessened Sigil as it intruded on the popular romantic liaisons between Sam and Zanni and took scenes away from the main plot of that title. And it disappointed fans of the big picture because we felt Capricia was wasted as she barely appeared in Sigil. Even worse, Capricia’s Crux farewell happened to be the key issue that was supposed to bring new readers aboard.
Four, the big picture was not as interesting as the little pictures. Okay, I admit it. It turned out to be boring. The titles most closely connected to the big picture were always the least interesting. I know that The First has its fans, but The First experienced the sharpest decline of the core CrossGen titles and quickly passed the other books to become the company’s worst seller. The only title to beat The First’s rate of decline was Solus, a big picture title whose faults have already been discussed. As Crux become more associated with the big picture, its sales also experienced a sharp decline. So sharp that Crux became CrossGen’s second worst seller next to The First. Inker Drew Geraci is particularly critical of Crux. As the title that featured Mark Waid, Steve Epting and Chuck Dixon Crux should have experienced the same word-of-mouth gains as other books. But it didn’t, and its close association to the big picture seems to be the likely culprit.
Fifth, and finally for our purposes, the key characters in the big picture were unlikable. How many readers liked Danik in Crux? Yet he turned out to be one of the key players. How many readers like Solusandra of Solus? Yet she turned out to be the other key player. It was hard to want to follow the big picture when we as readers had so little reason to like, sympathize or cheer for the main characters. I have to confess that when Negation War: Part Two teased that the villainous Lawbringers were about to attack The First, I was cheering for the villains to win
One of the reasons that so many in the industry embraced CrossGen was its innovations. CrossGen tried new things. Industry pundits had been prophesying the need for experimentation and CrossGen fit the bill. Unfortunately, almost all of those innovations backfired.
The biggest disaster can be attributed directly to CrossGen’s vision. Early on, Mark Alessi said that CrossGen was going to make their books available in a wide variety of formats. He compared comics to Coca-Cola. Coke is available in bottles, cans, two-liters and fountain dispensers. If you want your Coke a certain way, they’ll sell it to you that way. CrossGen was going to do for comics what Coke had done for soft drinks.
http://www.captaincomics.us/readingroom/cganalysis/images/negationdvd.jpg" width="200" />CrossGen published monthly comics. They were the first to introduce a total trade-paperback program, collecting every issue of every series. They re-introduced the anthology to the North American market. It was a widely successful format in Japan and many were clamoring for its inclusion over here. CrossGen also introduced Comics on the Web. Up to that point, there were print publishers and web publishers, but the two were never the same. And before too long, CrossGen began working on the technology needed to create comics on DVD or CD-Rom.
The plan sounded beautiful. It is certainly one of the reasons that so many others attached themselves to the company. But the plan was missing one key component. Coke didn’t start by selling their product in a dozen different manners. They started selling it one way. When that way proved to be successful (by which I mean profitable), Coke expanded to another method. CrossGen didn’t wait for its profits to catch up to its plans. Instead, each new initiative was launched before the results of the previous could be determined. The result is that CrossGen always had a lot of money tied up in their next scheme. If any scheme didn’t pan out, the company would suffer. If none of the schemes panned out, well, you know what happened.
The monthly comics were profitable. Not hugely profitable, and maybe not enough to offset the huge salary expenditures but they all started by making money. The same can not be said for CrossGen’s other ventures.
We’ll start with the trade paperback program. The trade program was a great way to augment the sales of the monthly titles and defray the creative costs. There is a reason why more and more titles are being collected as trade paperbacks. But CrossGen looked at its trade program as more than a secondary source of income. For several years, industry observers had been pointing to the bookstore market as the new place to sell comics. The comics specialty store was a dying breed (which was true, the number of comics stores halved between 1995 and 2000). For the industry to survive, it would have to reach a new audience and that new audience could be found in bookstores. Mark Alessi made CrossGen the first company to pursue that bookstore market. What the industry observers hadn’t said was that the bookstore market of the 2000s carried the same risks as the newsstand market of the 1970s.
Comics specialty stores had been appealing to comics publishers because it was a direct market. The stores bought the comics directly from the publisher and then tried to sell them to the customer. Whether the books were sold or not, the publisher got the money. That wasn’t true of the newsstand. Those outlets had returnable arrangements with comics publishers. If a newsstand couldn’t sell a comic, it could return it and get back its money. Since comics had a small profit margin for newsstands compared to magazines like Time, newsstands paid little attention to comic books. People who were in the industry in the ‘70s can tell of horror stories of unsold boxes being returned to publishers and crates of unopened comics sitting on loading docks. The direct market was a safe harbor in a harsh world.
The bookstore, like the newsstand, was a returnable market. If the store didn’t sell the material, it could send it back. Furthermore, the bookstore had no vested interest in the survival of the comics industry. The stores were naturally concerned only with their own profits. CrossGen printed thousands of trade paperbacks for bookstores. They tried to partner with major chains like Barnes and Noble. They created “cascades” in order to better display their product. But it didn’t work. The sad truth about the bookstore market is that it is not receptive to comic books. Only six properties sell in bookstores: Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Star Wars and manga. CrossGen didn’t fit any of those categories. There are horror stories of entire shipments being returned. There are much documented examples of bookstores offering the trades at 2 for 1 or worse. CrossGen took a bath in the bookstores. They tied up thousands of dollars of capital in something they couldn’t sell.
To be fair, CrossGen was not the only victim of the bookstore enthusiasm. Marvel had also turned to bookstores as the way of the future. Marvel did happen to have two of the sellable properties so they weren’t hit as hard, and as a major corporation, Marvel was in a better position to absorb the losses, but make no mistake about it, Marvel’s bookstore failure was one the chief reasons Bill Jemas lost his job. Oh, and also to be fair, many within the industry are ignoring the tremendous setbacks for both CrossGen and Marvel and still proclaim the bookstore as the future of comics.
The other format innovations make for less spectacular stories but were equally unprofitable. CrossGen tried to make a go of their two anthologies, and at one point they announced a third, but the sales were so low that CG was losing $40,000 per issue. Comics on the Web was probably too ambitious. The monthly titles needed all of the sales help they could get. If only a couple thousand people chose to spend $1 to read the comics on the internet instead of from a hard copy, the monthly titles would drop into unprofitabitilty. The low profit margin of Comics on the Web couldn’t offset those other gains. This is one venture that other publishers have learned from. There’s no good reason to offer all of your comics online. Instead it’s wiser to offer some of the comics online for free in order to entice people to buy the product. Marvel now does this with 8-page previews. Image offers the entire first issue of most series. CrossGen would have been better served by offering only the first issues of series or story arcs and not the entire library.
And finally, there just wasn’t the market for comics on DVD. Again, Marvel tried to follow CrossGen into these uncharted waters (as a sidenote, I find it amusing that the company that was so publicly hostile to CrossGen was the one that also imitated many of their innovations) but again the sales weren’t there. As had happened with their trade paperbacks, stores were eventually offering the DVDs at half price.
The dream sounded good, but rather than expanding their market and increasing their profits, almost every venture ended up costing CrossGen money. Even if the monthly titles were profitable (which has been debated), it would be next to impossible for them to offset losses in so many categories. And just as the phrase “too much too fast” has been used to describe the number of CrossGen titles, the same phrase could apply equally to the number of CrossGen formats. That latter reason for CrossGen’s failure is rarely forwarded. Too many people liked the idea of the anthology and the DVD even if they didn’t buy them. And many still refuse to admit that these innovations contributed to CrossGen’s demise when they were predicted to save the industry.
http://www.captaincomics.us/readingroom/cganalysis/images/mertrav.jpg" width="216" />That’s the big innovation, but it’s not the only one. And many of the others didn’t backfire. CrossGen astutely copied their Italian license-holder by introducing a smaller trade paperback. CrossGen called them travelers. The smaller edition meant that CrossGen laid out less money upfront. It also meant they cost less in the stores which enticed more readers to buy them. The travelers were a profitable idea. And the idea was again copied. Marvel used a traveler-sized trade for their Tsunami titles. Dark Horse has now used it for SpyBoy and other independents like About Comics have used it to resurrect older titles like The Liberty Project. Unfortunately for CrossGen, the profitable travelers couldn’t offset so many other losses.
Despite its many failings, CrossGen does deserve credit for its innovations. One of the most-widely discussed innovation was the reintroduction of the studio system.
Earlier, in the section on Industry Realities, we looked at many of the benefits that CrossGen offered to their employees. We didn’t however look at the requirements. Some of those requirements have been ridiculed, like the personal hygiene clause, and some have been scorned, like the non-compete and non-disclosure clauses. But one requirement would generate more discussion, both pro and con, than any other.
CrossGen required all of its employees to move to the Tampa Bay area and work in one big studio (sometimes called the compound). Critics derided the requirement. They claimed that CrossGen was unnecessarily restricting its talent pool. One of the most vocal critics was Mark Millar, who was then writing comics for Marvel as well as an online column. Millar interviewed Mark Alessi and attacked him for not providing a forum for freelancers like himself. Alessi defended CrossGen by describing their creator-owned imprint Code 6 but Millar didn’t let up.
But despite the criticisms, CrossGen’s studio system was remarkably successful. The artists who worked at CrossGen made tremendous improvements in their art. That last statement deserves some explanation because it is a bone of contention. There are a few who preferred a given artists’ work prior to his participation at CrossGen. And so there are a few who would argue that point. However, the evidence and the majority opinion would support it. Yet some of those who debate this point deserve to be heard: the artists themselves. Some of the artists felt that the studio was getting the credit for their work. The studio didn’t draw those pages. The building didn’t put ink to paper. Scot Eaton, an artist who left CrossGen before the company’s financial collapse, is one to argue this point. According to Eaton, the credit to the company overwhelmed the credit to the artists, the ones who earned it.
The artists do deserve the credit. They do deserve the fan following they now have. And the effect of the studio may have been overstated. But it did exist. The artists did improve, and again there are multiple reasons. One reason that many of the artists cite is that they worked hard at improving. Along with the self-motivation, another reason may have been the company-provided motivation of profit sharing. The artists had a reason to work harder. They had a reason to want to see the company succeed. Another reason may have been the stability that the company provided. Quite a few of the artists hadn’t been able to find consistent work. CrossGen gave some of those artists the opportunity to work regularly, and their work improved as a natural result.
And one reason was indeed the studio system. Eaton has complained that neither Andrew Hennessy nor Andrew Crossley, his inker and colorist on Sigil, needed him looking over their shoulder. And there were some definite drawbacks. But others who worked at CrossGen said that the feedback from the different members of the art team had a tremendous effect on their art. And many of the artists claim that they were helped by the presence of others in their field. During CrossGen’s heyday, the artists would hang their finished work on the outside of their cubicles for others to admire. It wasn’t long before the artists were competing with one another: no one wanted to hang up substandard art. I’ve heard this process described as insidious and if it was a company mandate I may have agreed. But it was initiated by the artists themselves and a little bit of healthy competition isn’t a bad thing. It most likely helped Bernie Wrightson and Mike Kaluta to be a part of “The Studio” in the 1970s. And it’s beneficial to artists like Adam Hughes and Drew Johnson to work in studios now (or so they claim).
I think that’s enough on the studio. This is after all, an article on what went wrong not on what went right. However, this discussion of the studio system and particularly the antipathy that some artists now show towards it leads us right into our final category
I’ve raised up some reasons as underreported and dismissed others as false. But I think that the single biggest reason CrossGen failed is its broken promises. The company could have struggled through the industry realities. The fans would have forgiven some of the failed business innovations. But nothing soured working professionals, aspiring professionals or fans more than Mark Alessi’s lies.
Before I go any further, I want clarify what I’m talking about. Just as you can’t publish a book that will please everyone (even the number one seller has its detractors), you can’t run a company and please everyone. Every company has a few artists mad at its editors and threatening never to work there again. And every company will have aspiring professionals resent them for not giving them the break they feel they deserve. Not everyone who has become angry with CrossGen does so with the same righteous indignation.
But even as I give myself that out, CrossGen broke promises that it made to its employees and to its fans. And those broken promises doomed that company.
CrossGen had promised to respect its creators and it failed. CrossGen offered many lures to entice artists to move to Tampa. Some of those lures turned out to be illusions. Because CrossGen never officially turned a profit, the employees never received the promised benefit of profit sharing. Drew Geraci has reported that he still receives royalties from DC for his work on JLA and Nightwing, but nothing from CrossGen despite working on Sojourn, their best-selling book. Whatever profits the comics may have created were immediately redirected into the other risky business ventures. Another lure that turned out to be false was the promise of a retirement plan. The plan was never created and the employees feel rightly cheated out of another one of their benefits.
Even outside of these financial concerns, creators felt they weren’t receiving the respect they were promised. Mark Waid had been promised flexible hours and the privilege of working at home where there would be fewer distractions. Those perks were reneged shortly after Waid joined the company. As the result of those and other instances, Mark Waid described his tenure at CrossGen as “like being punched in the gut everyday.” Other creators describe favoritism and browbeating that made them feel less important than the furniture instead of the cream of the business as Mark Alessi would brag to outsiders.
It’s not easy to document or prove favoritism, but it is clear that CrossGen had a double standard when it came to paid staff and freelancers. It’s hard to fault a company for siding with their own, but this double standard would come back to haunt them. The two most documented cases involve Mark Waid and Robin Riggs. Although Mark Waid had left the company’s staff, he stayed on as a freelance writer for the mystery title Ruse. After several months, Waid abruptly quit that title as well. There was much speculation about a falling-out between the two Marks and little information because of the non-compete clause. But months later, the truth leaked out. Mark Waid was upset because penciller Butch Guice was changing his plots, including those that were supposed to be forwarded to guest penciller Paul Ryan. Waid wouldn’t stand for the interference. Alessi chose to stand with his own. Fans chose to stand with Mark Waid. Even though it was a creator-vs.-creator issue and not a creator-vs.-publisher issue, CrossGen’s reputation as the creator friendly company was damaged.
The next major incident involved freelance inker Robin Riggs. Andy Smith, who had previously been the inker on The First had been promoted to that series penciller. CrossGen didn’t have a staff inker ready to replace Smith so they contracted Riggs to ink that particular title. After inking only a couple of pages, Riggs was abruptly fired. He was given no reason. Apparently, Andy Smith didn’t like Riggs’ inks. Again, CrossGen understandably sided with their own, but this time the fallout was much worse.
The incident with Robin Riggs occurred in the spring of 2003. That was the same time that CrossGen first failed to pay some of its contributors- including Riggs. Since Riggs already felt mistreated, he began to contact other inkers to warn them of CrossGen’s non-payment. Riggs has said that he was only trying to protect others but whatever his intentions the warnings became public. Riggs found himself at the center of a firestorm.
Despite the horrible things that have been said and written about Riggs, it turns out that he was right. CrossGen had expanded too rapidly and among other things, had tied up too much money in their failed trade paperback venture. They were woefully short on cash. Their non-payment of Robin Riggs was only the tip of the iceberg. By the end of the summer, CrossGen admitted that they owed money to more than 60 different creators. And some of those creators were freelancers who had signed contracts months after CrossGen had failed to pay Riggs.
At this point, it’s appropriate to look back at CrossGen’s financial situation. It has now been established that CrossGen missed payments as early as March of 2003. In order for them to have sunk to that point, they had to have been losing money for several months before that. Since CrossGen had debuted its key issue program only five months earlier, it is reasonable to speculate that the key issues were begun in response to either actual losses or foreseen losses. In other words, CrossGen had known for months that they were running out of money. And rather than cut titles and stem those losses, CrossGen tried to bolster their lowest selling titles with key issues. Instead, CrossGen carried on with business as usual until they finally missed a payment to someone with more clout than an inker: the company that printed their comics, Quebecor.
I didn’t mean to digress into such a history lesson. But I think that the series of events most clearly establishes that CrossGen broke its promise of respecting creators. Since fans tend to side with the creators in any creator-company controversy that broken promise led directly to a loss in sales and yes, profits.
CrossGen had also promised that it would respect its fans. And indeed, the company delivered on that promise in some very visible ways. CrossGen sent sizable delegations to all of the major conventions. And CrossGen prided itself on its accessibility at those conventions. Indeed, fans used to compare stories about meeting CrossGen staff. CrossGen also maintained a company message board in which fans and creators alike could converse.
But the promise to respect the fans was broken just as irreparably as the promise to respect creators. When CrossGen experienced its financial crisis, fans were not only left out of the loop, they were outright lied to. When Quebecor stopped printing CrossGen comics because of money owed, CrossGen told fans that the delay was due to a computer glitch. Some fans felt jilted by a company that was open and honest only when things were going well.
The lies however didn’t stop even after the immediate crisis was averted. Sojourn wasn’t cancelled because of low sales; it was still CrossGen’s highest selling title. Sojourn was cancelled because the title didn’t have a writer after both Ian Edginton and Bill Rosemann left the company. Fans quickly recognized that “on hiatus” meant “cancelled.” And fans quickly grew tired of the lies.
Even at the end of last summer, this tragedy could have been averted with fan support. The fans have shown that, despite their brand loyalty, they do want every company to succeed. In the last couple of years, fans have helped Fantagraphics and other companies stay in business. Fantagraphics for example had told fans that it needed $10,000 to meet bills that had come due. Their online store did over $20,000 in sales within two weeks.
Fans were ready to lend similar support to CrossGen but CrossGen never asked. Some of those who had previously been hostile to the company had softened now that the company was humbled. And even if CrossGen wouldn’t ask for help, their fans would again lead the charge. Many fans encouraged others to buy CrossGen products. I know of several stores that restocked CrossGen trades and travelers at that time. And the numbers show that CrossGen’s prospects increased despite missing an entire month.
After missing a month, sales went up on Meridian, Negation, Sojourn and Lady Death. Sojourn increased its sales for three consecutive months, gaining 900 issues over its earlier numbers. Other titles, like Mystic and The First experienced their smallest decreases since their key issues. The rate of decline for most issues was halved. And the month after their financial setbacks were made public, CrossGen experienced their greatest success. Reorders pushed the sales on El Cazador #1 past 25,000 making it CrossGen’s second highest debut. And unlike their previous record-maker, El Cazador was well-received and lost only 5% of its sales by the third issue.
All of these numbers show that the fans weren’t ready to abandon CrossGen in September and October of 2003. But all of this good will evaporated. When CrossGen finally admitted that they were experiencing a financial bind, Mark Alessi promised that all creators would receive full payment by an October 1st deadline. Although the promise was met with some skepticism, most fans were willing to believe and to do their part to make sure these creators got their due.
CrossGen missed the deadline. A deadline they had created. And it’s my opinion that once they missed that deadline, CrossGen was no longer viable as an entertainment company. We didn’t necessarily know it at the time, but it is now obvious that the missed deadline was their last mistake. They could make no more reassurances that would be believed. And when the missed deadline became public, fans withdrew their support. El Cazador experienced a sharp decline beginning in November. Over the next four months, Sojourn lost all of its gains and more. CrossGen’s new titles received critical success but that was about it. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Abadazad were CrossGen’s third and fourth lowest selling debuts (beating out only DemonWars and CrossOvers). A new number one for Lady Death gained only 1500 readers which left it well shy of its October numbers. Negation may have brought good news when its restart as Negation War gave it a 5000 reader boost, but that still left the total below both Lady Death and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
It should now be obvious that CrossGen just doesn’t have the fan support to be a profitable publishing company. If they were fighting an uphill battle when they first set out, they are now trying to climb a mountain. And they have disillusioned and disappointed too many to rebuild their company with the same word-of-mouth support that had them nipping at the heels of Dark Horse and Image. CrossGen lost money when they over-committed to new publishing models, but they lost their fan base when they repeatedly broke their promises to creators and to the fans.
I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as I can, but I still feel like there are things I barely touched upon or only alluded to. Some of those things have been described by others-like the role chasing after Premier Retailer status played in CrossGen’s over-expansion, or moving two of their most-established artists into predominantly administrative roles- but the rest will have to go unsaid for now. I’ve said my piece.
WHY DID CROSSGEN FAIL?
They failed to reckon with industry realities like:
- the uphill climb against fan indifference, reluctance and hostility
- opposition from major publishers which were threatened by a new way of doing business
- the extra financial pressures created by generous salaries and benefits
- “the slow bleed” in which titles lose readership more easily than they gain it
The books themselves weren’t accepted widely enough in part because:
- they weren’t enough like superheroes to appeal to comics core audience, but too much like superheroes to appeal to outside audiences; they were caught in the middle
- they moved too slowly for many readers
- the interlocking continuity was at first a barrier and later a deterrent
They invested heavily in industry innovations, many of which did not prove to be profitable
They broke promises of respect to both creators and fans thereby alienating their work force and their audience
Originally Published back in 2004, rescued thanks to archive.org and reposted at Cap's request.