With some of the biggest movies of the next year sitting on the sidelines of San Diego Comic-Con, TV shows are moving in to fill some of the vacumm. Marvel is bringing a number of its shows to the convention, as are FX, AMC and other networks, studios and streamers.
While there are plenty of panels and booth displays that will be available for fans to partake in and view there’s also a single tactic that’s being embraced to promote a number of new and returning shows: Comic books.
In particular, Netflix seems to have found that comics could be a great way to make sure attendees are aware of some of its recent and returning shows and give those fans something to take with them back home and pass around.
The company will be handing out preview issues of comics series for “Lost in Space,” “Stranger Things” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” In each case, the limited series offer some additional story tied to the shows. The first comes from Legendary Comics while the latter two are being published by Dark Horse. There’s also a Black Mask-published series tying in to “Mr. Robot” coming soon, but it’s not clear if that’s an SDCC promotional item.
Such a broad embrace of the format comes at an interesting time for Netflix as well as the comics industry as a whole.
Netflix is under pressure at the moment having just logged a big miss in subscriber acquisition, something that hit its stock price and market cap hard. At the same time it’s spending more on both production and marketing because it knows it has to invest in unique content now as other studios and producers pull their own content in favor of their own streaming subscription services or simply seek higher licensing fees from a competitor.
At the same time, comic sales are dropping year after year even as the movies and TV shows based on those characters are more and more successful.
So it’s worth noting that all those SDCC preview books are for Netflix original series. Even outside of what’s happening at Comic-Con, the company recently revealed the original productions based on comics created by Mark Millar and will be releasing a comic book titled “The Magic Order” from Millar. A show based on “The Umbrella Academy” from Gerard Way is coming soon, with Way recently showing off a first look at the cast, as are projects based on comics creator Rob Liefeld’s “Extreme Universe.”
It’s obvious Netflix feels appealing to comics fans is part of the answer to turning around the brief drop in its new subscriber numbers and is looking to SDCC to help appeal to them. That group has already learned to associate Netflix with comic-based properties thanks to Marvel Studios productions like “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and others, but Marvel is unlikely to deepen that relationship as parent company Disney preps its own streaming service, expected to launch in 2019.
To prepare for an absence of other people’s content, Netflix is producing its own. And in order to make that content as attractive as possible, Netflix is using the old “SDCC-exclusive preview comic” tactic to reach audiences who will hopefully either become new subscribers or renew their current subscription. That’s the only way the company will survive a landscape where exclusive content is the key to people’s hearts, minds and wallets.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.