The following speculation was written in May 2003, around the time that Epic was announced:
Epic has the potential to have a big impact on the comics-producing industry. What remains to be seen is whether that impact will be positive or negative. Or even measurable. I see four possible outcomes of this experiment:
1) Epic launches with decent (non-returnable) sales - or perhaps without - and quickly sputters to death, like so many new publishing initiatives before it. The 70-year history of comicbook publishing has been an exercise in throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks, and Epic could join the misfires on the floor. If this happens, the main impact will probably lie with the legions of disappointed fanboys seeing their Big Chance at being called up to The Show disintegrate. Hard to say how many of them will quit buying comics (especially Marvel comics) in disgust, much like the fan/speculators who quit buying comics altogether when they finally figured out that their collections weren't actually worth anything and never would be. Impact: Either none, or damage to Marvel's foundation, undermining the direct market, possibly undermining the whole industry. Those of an anarchist/indie bent might see this as the revolution they've been hoping for.
2) Epic gets off to a decent start (or not), but doesn't really catch on as an imprint and the various "Epic" projects still standing when they decide to call it quits get folded into Marvel proper. This is probably the most likely scenario. Impact: The same impact as scenario #1 is possible, but with the benefit to Marvel of some new talent to work with and maybe a couple new ongoing series. Some people suspect that Marvel's doing this as just a big talent search, and this outcome would at least serve that goal.
3) Epic launches with respectable sales, and manages to find its own audience. For this to happen, it'll need to find a public identity, a theme that explains to buyers what it is. Marvel doesn't appear to have one in mind, which means it'll have to evolve, by the "see what sticks" method.
As Marvel execs keep telling us (about creator ownership) readers don't care how the book is produced, only about the book itself, and they're probably right. So Epic's current defining trait (fan-produced) isn't going to provide it with a distinct identity. The original Epic's theme to readers was mostly "non-Marvel-Universe stories", but Marvel clearly doesn't want that for this version. (Personally, I think that shows stuck-in-a-rut timidity on their part. They're the only multi-title comics publisher trapped in their own little universe.) Other imprints' themes (like Vertigo or Max) aren't about setting, but about audience: "mature readers". That's not where Epic is headed either.
One possibility is genre. Although Marvel is clearly asking for stories set in their superhero universe, they seem interested in stories that break from the current superhero standards and those that introduce new (potentially licensable) characters into the Marvel U. If enough proposals of that sort come in, get published, and sell well, Epic could gravitate toward that theme. The Marvel U could expand to include more than just superheroes and a few western characters, and Epic would publish those stories. Impact: Probably good for Marvel and good for the industry, which could take advantage of the broader audience this would foster.
Another less likely possibility is style. The inevitable volume of fanboy fantasy stories, with lots of kewl fights, wacky team-ups, obscure characters, etc. could dominate - and find a market - and Epic would come to be known as the place for stereotypically adolescent superhero fare, leaving Marvel proper for the grown-ups who've been reading X-Men since the Claremont/Byrne or Lee/Kirby days. That doesn't seem to be what Jemas is asking for, but if it works, I doubt he'd mind. Impact: Possibly good for Marvel, little impact on the industry.
4) Epic is a huge success, increasing Marvel's market share (i.e. taking over more shelf space), boosting its profit margins with cheaper-to-produce books, and forcing the rest of the industry to take notice. DC would come under pressure (perhaps even from higher up in the Warner empire) to change its overall submission policies (currently "don't call us, we'll call you") or set up a similar program to compete. (Dark Horse is already experimenting with an open-submissions program.) Impact: Like the first possible outcome I cited, this could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. Either way, it'd be big. It too could instigate the collapse of the comics industry as we know it.
Of course the most likely outcome is the one I haven't foreseen. There are wildcards, like whether a "they stole my idea" lawsuit (the kind that has led other publishers to not accept unsolicited submissions) mires Epic in a no-win controversy, or changes in policy or direction for the imprint. There are no advance solicitations to tell us what's going to happen, so all we can do is guess and speculate like fanboys, and wait and see what happens, month by month as the drama unfolds.
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© copyright 2003, Todd VerBeek
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