With all of the recent “earth shattering” news coming out of the comicbook industry in recent days — from gender and race-altering heroes, to the tragic and politicized deaths of iconic characters, a relative newcomer to the field, Red Giant Entertainment (REDG), is very quietly not only Swatting out home runs, but effectively fundamentally altering the way that comicbooks are being produced and distributed throughout the U.S. To understand this, you have to understand that prior to 1973, comicbooks could be found in newsstands, grocery stores, gas stations, and other locations. In ’73 a direct market system of distribution began to take hold. Under the old system, unsold comics could be returned to publishers for a refund. Under the Direct Market System, comic shops (which were popping up all over the country) couldn’t return comics, and thus the back market was essentially created.
What Red Giant is doing that is innovative is — beginning in November — not only will the company be offering a free-with-purchase a double-size comicbook coming out every single week all over the U.S., but will be offering four to five different titles each month, each comic with contain two new all-ages genre features created by top writers and artists in the field. Still, the really innovative part of this deal is that these comics will be showing up in Toys ‘R’ Us as well as comics shops and libraries. Yep, you read that right, a million new comics each and every week, all across the country.
To be sure, free comics are really nothing new, of course. There is a long history of free comics being given away as value-added bonuses to attract customers; from the March of Comics and Big Boy monthly freebies to occasional giveaways through Radio Shack other chains as well as with the annual celebration of Free Comic Book Day, comics have often been given away free to attract kids and their parents into stores. However, these comics are big, double-sized comics, in a variety of genres that are supported with a boat-load of ads that allow Red Giant to afford “A”-list-quality creative talent to produce them.
In an age where huge numbers of kids happily read 600-page books — witness the phenomenon that made Harry Potter, Twilight and other young adult novels that have become household names — but have never held a comic book in their hands, something is truly wrong, especially when you consider that comics are an American invention. That comics can (mostly) only be found in comic book shops is nothing short of criminal. Injecting a million comics into kids’ hands via the Toys ‘R’ Us chain, every week fundamentally alters that paradigm in a very powerful and significant fashion. That’s four to five million comicbooks every month now in the hands of children and their parents — most of which getting read multiple times by multiple people in each household. In a single move, Red Giant may have just restored the readership in comics to what it was 40 years ago when comics written by Stan Lee reigned supreme.
“I guess I never grew up,” stated David Campiti COO of Red Giant “I’m a Toys R Us kid.” Campiti went on to say that “Toys ‘R’ Us is the go-to place for practically every parent and nearly every child, in the entire country. Need the newest video game, the newest toy, the baby stroller or crib or bicycle or DVD? There’s a very good chance you’re gonna go to Toys R Us to buy it from one of their 800+ stores. That’s the store that’s on pretty much every kid’s mind. And what is Red Giant doing? Making sure a million kids and parents, every single week of the year, are getting free comic books to read.” In terms of reading and imagination this move opens up Red Giant’s comicbook properties to millions of eyeballs every week.
In financial terms, that’s astounding. The direct sales comics market, to which Red Giant is also supplying free comics to is shrinking and graying because its’ become a niche market. “We’re reversing those effects. A million books a week, several million potential readers every week, is far more than Marvel or DC offers their advertisers even with big conglomerates behind them.” According to Campiti, these books should average 30 to 34 pages of paid advertising in them, to the exact audience that buys those video games and toys and action figures and bicycles and so on, creating a perfect pitch for a perfect audience, with perfect ad delivery system.
In addition to being given away free, those free comics will also be available as online 99¢ downloadable comics, as well as print graphic novels, trades, even hardcovers in comics shops and book markets. While this may sound like a “The sky’s the limit” kind of scenario, Red Giant’s CEO Benny Powell says, “The sky isn’t the limit, it’s the starting point.” Beyond all the revenue-generating ads and the direct money from ancillary publishing, the Toys R Us deal open the doors to other opportunities, including DVDs, videogames, plush characters, board games, action figures, and so many other toys. “Connect [those] dots of opportunity,” says Powell, “and I think you’ll be happy with the creative and financial patterns that emerge for Red Giant Entertainment.”
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing comicbooks for some 30 years. During that time, his reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular comicbook articles and reviews.