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Devourer of Words 023: Brand Exercise

Marc Bernardin

You would think that the key to being a successful comic book writer was being a good comic book writer. I mean, it certainly doesn’t hurt: Talent will always come to your aid when you need it to, but there are incredibly talented people who make just one good comic—if that—and are never heard from again. Just as there are execrable writers who’ve been working for decades and will continue to do so.

Reliability comes in handy as well. Nothing makes an editor happier than a person who will never disappear on them and will always deliver what’s expected. Speed, similarly, is an important arrow in the quiver. There is that old maxim: You can be fast, you can be good, you can be likeable or you can be cheap. Any two will get you work. Three will make you a favorite. All four will make you a legend.

But there is something else you need, especially today, to take it to that next level. You need a brand.

Now, I’m not saying you need to create some artificial persona and then be that thing whenever you’re in public or on the Internet. I’m saying that you need a thing that people will think of whenever they hear your name that will conjure a positive association. (Hopefully positive, anyway.)

Sometimes that brand can simply be “quality.” Cullen Bunn makes good comics. So does Josh Fialkov, B. Clay Moore, Fred Van Lente, and Tom Taylor. You can be that Old Bastard on the Hill with a Big Brain, like Warren Ellis. Or the Young Turk at Sea Level with a Big Brain, like Jonathan Hickman. You can be The Guy Who Saved Batman, like Scott Snyder, or the King of Finding Heart in the Research, like Greg Rucka. Or you can poke at the establishment while blazing your own trail like Kelly Sue DeConnick.

It helps that those people are also fantastic at their jobs, but they found a niche, steered into it, and exploited it—either on purpose or by accident. The writers who make it work for them find a way to build their brand by making the books they want to make, by showing the marketplace the best version of themselves.

And if you find the right brand, the worst that can happen is that you’re pigeonholed as someone who does you really well.

Today, more then ever, sales are everything. Gone are the days where even the worst selling comic on the stands was moving high five figures. And anything you as a writer can do to help move that needle is in your benefit. Some companies have a knack for getting good press; others don’t at all. But if you yourself can build an audience—if the buying public associates you with good comics—then that does nothing but help.

There is a reason why Marvel movies are among the most successful Hollywood has ever seen, and it has nothing to do with their relative quality. It’s that Marvel, as a brand, has the public’s trust. No other studio could’ve launched Guardians of the Galaxy—a property no one had heard of, with characters whose names were on the tips of no one’s lips—except Marvel. The brand got butts in seats. (It helped, of course, that the movie was good.)

Same goes with Pixar. Their brand is “the best animated movies in the world (that aren’t made by Hayao Miyazaki).” And for a good long while—at least until they started making sequels—they delivered.

If being a brand will bring more eyes to your books—and just witness what Robert Kirkman has done—then get to work building one.

Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of every month here on Toucan!