What Content Marketing Can Learn From Comics

What Content Marketing Can Learn From Comic BooksLooking at the recent “What Content Marketing Can Learn From…” blog posts, I was inspired to write an article based on something I know and love: comics.

With the recent reboot and relaunch from DC and Marvel Comics, respectively, there’s a big push in many other industries to go back to their own, respective number one.

What can people learn from the new number ones from the companies that brought us characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the Avengers?

With Marvel in the midst of their “NOW!” relaunch and DC over a year into their “New 52” reboot, there is plenty of extremely useful information on both, especially in a community that thrives on analysis and critique.

For example, the comics news site Newsarama was quick to post comparisons of the New 52 books from the beginning of the reboot and where it is at present for the first anniversary “Zero Month” of zero-numbered issues. They also posted up-to-date sales numbers on Marvel NOW so far. So what can you learn from the successes and shortcomings of these reboots?

Continuity is Key

A key factor to a successful reboot is understanding of your core audience. A major flaw in many reboot plans is forgetting the audience you already have in the search for new readers. This definitely applies to content marketing and business strategy, too.

Marvel made excellent strides in their NOW reboot, honoring what has come before without changing it. Their reboot was more of a restart from just the number one without starting all the way back at one. Marvel also focused on putting well-managed talent together, though there were still a variety of missteps in that process.

What Marvel really did best was learn from DC. DC tried to have their cake and eat it too, changing continuity where it was unnecessary and maintaining previous continuity for seemingly no reason. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the unchanged old continuity involved old stories with successful sales records.

The real flaw of the DC reboot is the transparent attempt to bring in new readers while sacrificing old ones. Continuity was fluid. In some cases, it was streamlined to entice readers. In others, continuity was maintained when collections of old stories retained value.

When creating a new form or style of content for your readers, it is important to make a definitive choice. Will you go for an all-new audience? Or will you try to create vibrant content for your loyal followers with the aim of letting those followers bring you a new audience?

Know Your Audience

Most strikingly, DC has also made major missteps in terms of its female audience, hiring a lower number of writing women than they had on staff nineteen years ago. While the issue of addressing women in comics is much larger than simply hiring writers, it can be seen as a symptom of a larger problem within the industry, and one that certainly doesn’t sit well with a lot of prospective customers.

It also helps to have a more professional tone in your management and creative personnel than DC showed in their firing-by-email of Batgirl writer Gail Simone.

Are your business practices going to lose you customers or conversions? Are you doing everything you can to create a business that appeals to buyers? The easiest way to avoid a PR problem (like the email firing) is to treat every part of your business as a public discussion – in case it becomes one.

When Simplifying, Try Not to Complicate

A big problem of going back to one is dealing with everything that came before. It’s key to know if and how previous material will fit into the scheme of your revitalization. What do you keep? What do you toss? How are the things in those two categories related?

A prime example of potential continuity confusion came when DC Comics rebooted their Batman line. Strangely enough, the big problem with Batman is Robin.

The original Robin, a character named Dick Grayson, first appeared in a April 1940 issue of Detective Comics.

Since Grayson’s appearance, other characters including Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Damian Wayne have subsequently filled the role of Robin. Each of these characters (save the incumbent, Batman’s 10-year-old son Damian) then “graduated” into a different superhero role of their own.

With the New 52 reboot, only one Robin, Stephanie Brown, was deleted entirely from the new history of Batman. This left all of the other Robins I mentioned still in play.

This problem was then compounded with the idea that Bruce Wayne has only been Batman for five years prior to the new #1 issues in the Batman line of comics.

Worse still, there’s been no explanation as to how the five-years-in Batman managed to have a ten-year-old son with his enemy’s daughter. Much less how that boy appeared in a Batman cowl when he was two years old. Let the math wash over you and then try not to pass out from the dizziness.

Sometimes, you have to get rid of the things people like. If all else fails, you can just reintroduce them later. DC took a risk with these changes, and may not have succeeded in the long run, but rebooting your company’s content and marketing strategy is a risk that can pay off when done right.

Too Much, Too Soon

Another lesson Marvel learned from DC’s reboot was not to rush out their new material. DC launched 52 new titles in one month in September 2011. This hard reset was jarring for many fans and while they did pick up new number one issues in large quantities, very few stayed for issue two.

The New 52 reboot did lead to a revitalization of DC sales numbers, even if it was temporary. Additionally, many readers stayed on with titles they may not have read previously. This sort of change was often more emblematic of the creative team at work on the book and the direction taken with a respective character, than with the supposed effect of a new number one. That’s a lesson content marketing can take to heart.  Rebooting your content shouldn’t be a gimmick or a short-term boost only; it should mean new, even more valuable content that will satisfy your customers and tempt new ones.

Marvel took a much more reasonable time launching new number ones every week over the course of four months while phasing out old titles. Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso specifically referenced DC’s rush to pump out new material when discussing Marvel’s own “NOW!” relaunch.

The real key to a successful content strategy reboot is to have all of the pieces ready and know how they fit into the puzzle of your new model. Any dangling threads can cause a multitude of problems down the line. It seems like a lot of work, and it is, but it can absolutely be worth it in the end.

What success or failure have you had in attempted reboots of content? 

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Michael is a graduate of New York University’s Film and Television program. He specialized in writing, channeling a passion for storytelling, no matter the medium. In addition to his work at CEM, Michael primarily works in web content production, including projects like Geek Crash Course, a geek-educational series, the Ansible, a comics-based interview show, live performance series The Next Lab Sessions, and many more. In addition, he’s written and edited for the digitally distributed Champion! Magazine.

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  1. The consensus among older DC fans seems to be that many of the successes of the DCnU, like the reintegration of Vertigo themes and characters and story themes, could have been done without a big hard reboot. In addition, despite the fact that you highlight revisions to Batman’s continuity, most of his character and supporting characters are intact, albeit the female characters got tough treatment that is ongoing. DC doesn’t hide the fact that it thinks Batman is a moneymaker and it has grossly inflated that franchise at the expense of others, which is shortsighted.
    What really annoyed fans was that the reboot looks like an excuse to serve personal preferences and agendas of the highest ranks of editorials (such as the erasure of the entire Titans’ continuity and promotion of Barry as the Flash). In fact, the appeal is generational – Boomer editors recognize two buyer bases: Boomers who are retiring and have money and nostalgia to burn. DC bargained that Boomer buyers returning to comics would want to open a Justice League comic and recognize the characters of their childhoods and early adolescence, even if those characters were somewhat altered. The other group they focused on was young Millennials and Generation Z. All characters that possessed significant appeal to Generation X have been sidelined, repurposed, or simply erased. This demographic question is highly interesting because for decades DC’s legacy model of characterization appealed to new readers while keeping its eternal characters eternal. In order to serve the Boomer agenda, DC gutted the legacy model (legacy characters (mainly Gen X-aimed superheroes) were growing up too much and bumping up against a glass ceiling of being more adult than DC’s classic A-listers (ie Boomer heroes)) and replaced it with grimdark, gore, sex, violence, to attract its youthful demographic. This explains why they slashed continuity and dumped characterization as story selling points; as a result, DC is left with a soulless, illogical and empty product. This is an example of corporate marketing over-thinking the product and not staying true to its roots of myth-making and story-telling, although TPTB ironically think that is what they are doing, they could not be more wrong. But they are commercial moneymen, not creative people, and this is why they do not understand how to produce a worthwhile product in the comics industry.
    ToB was just talking about…Look Skyward: The QuadrantidsMy Profile

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