Humanoids, Nous Vous Avons à Peine Connu

A few years ago, DC did a very brave thing. Figuring that there was a market in North America for comics from abroad, they partnered up with both the UK’s 2000 AD/Rebellion and the French publisher Les Humanoïdes Associés, or Humanoids Publishing. It was a decision, I imagine, that was based partly on the massive flood of manga titles that was coming from Japan, and selling like hotcakes. So, seeing dollar signs (translated from pounds and euros), they began publishing some of the best comics Europe has to offer.

I, for one, loved it. I had always heard whispers about these comics. They were fabled, forbidden literature, spoken of wistfully in the darkest corners of the comic shop. While living in Montreal I managed to find English copies of Bilal and Christin’s The Hunting Party and The Black Order Brigade. These were great comics, wonderfully illustrated, and while the translated dialogue sometimes sounded a bit awkward, it never hurt the story. Now I had the whole Bilal Library to look forward to, along with the Metabarons, the Incal epic, Garth Ennis’ Judge Dredd books, and that was just the stuff I had heard of.

Time plodded on, and I merrily bought and enjoyed the aforementioned titles. The Bilal stories did not disappoint. The Incal was insane but oddly fascinating, with wonderful comic (ie., humourous) touches. The first Ennis Dredd book was an enjoyable, if unevenly illustrated, zombie-killing bloodfest. I picked up Sanctum, which was an interesting idea marred by a large and mostly indistinguishable cast (note to artist: do not give so many of your main characters identical facial hair next time). Son of the Gun was a grotesque, violent, dirty little tale of sin and redemption. And then came Deicide.

I loved Deicide. By Carlos Portela and Das Pastoras, was a sort of heroic fantasy, a sword-and-sorcery epic that felt like a synthesis of myths from every corner of the world. The story was compelling and the characters well-realized, and the art was beautiful. Oh, how I long for an original-sized volume of this, even in French (Humanoids publishes their comics at 24 x 32 cm, but DC published them at a more bookshelf-friendly 19 cm x 26 cm). The first volume drew me in and had me waiting anxiously for future volumes, ending as it did on a tense cliff-hanger.
And then, suddenly, it all came crashing down. DC announced the end of the partnership. There would be no second volume of Deicide, nor any future volumes of any of the series. I was crushed, and shocked. I had done my part, buying plenty of the European volumes! Why were they being cancelled, now, just when I was really looking forward to the future releases.

Perhaps if I had paid more attention to sales figures it wouldn’t have come as such a surprise. DC, it seems, had intended these books to sell well in the big bookstores. Instead, they put up dismal numbers. Their best selling bookstore volumes sold meagre numbers, and were outsold in the direct market (but not by any staggering amount, sadly). The Eurocomics simply were not selling.

Why did they fail? Well, that’s up for debate. I’ve heard some people say that North America wasn’t ready for these types of comics. I don’t buy that argument, myself. I’ll grant that ours is a market dominated by a single genre, and virtually everything put out under the 2000 AD & Humanoids partnerships fell outside of that genre, but I think there is still a strong demand for non-superhero titles in North America. The success of the Vertigo line is a testament to that. I believe that, by and large, the quality of these imprints was more than enough to justify higher sales, so that wasn’t a problem. So if there was a market for these goods, and the goods were of high quality, why didn’t the goods sell?

One problem, I suppose, could have been the marketing. If the people who buy these sorts of sci-fi/fantasy comics didn’t know they were coming out, DC was more or less screwed. What follows is almost entirely speculation, since we’re over three years removed from the events, but I don’t remember any sort of big marketing push on behalf of DC. I was reading DC and Vertigo titles at the time, and don’t remember seeing any house ads touting a partnership between the biggest publishers of North America and Europe, which, you would think, would be a big deal. There were no posters in my local shop, but that could be a function of the manager’s choice rather than availability. As I say, this is all speculation.

In the end, the comics didn’t sell, the partnerships ended, and North American readers lost their best chance to be reading some of the best comics created in the last few decades. Hopefully, as manga continues to sell well, another publisher will grow the balls to team up with their European counterparts, and maybe, maybe, I’ll get a chance to read the next volume of Deicide.

One can dream.

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Filed under at the racks, DC, soap box

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