As a news reporter and former public-relations professional, I have a special interest in the craft (or lack thereof) of marketing efforts in the comics industry. And as the producer/writer of a comics-related website, plenty of publishers’ news releases make their way into my e-mail inbox. An unusual but clever one found its way to me this afternoon, and I was impressed with the initiative demonstrated with this piece of comics marketing.
Earlier today, news broke of the scientific discovery in Serbia of a mineral that just happens to share the same chemical composition as Kryptonite (as suggested in the recent, Bryan-Singer directed film, Superman Returns). A mineral expert’s research uncovered the coincidental synchronicity between science and science-fiction. The Associated Press reported that the material — which will be named Jadarite — is white, powdery and definitely not radioactive. The AP story made the rounds throughout the day Tuesday and will no doubt grace the pages of many a newspaper around the world Wednesday.
While the story is certainly a pop-culture curiosity and a cute anecdote for comics fans, it also served as a catalyst for some inventive marketing on the part of DC Comics.
Just hours after news of the Kryptonite/Jadarite discovery broke online, DC publicity manager Alex Segura issued the following news release:
The line between comic book fiction and reality blurred together today in the form of a white, brittle rock. Kryptonite, the sometimes green, glowing mineral that has plagued Superman for decades was discovered somewhere outside the confines of a paneled page – specifically, Serbia.
A new mineral, matching the chemical composition for kryptonite suggested in Superman Returns, was discovered by a team of geologists in a Serbian mine, according to London’s Natural History Museum. Unable to find a suitable match to a known mineral, the geologists turned to the Internet, which revealed the rock’s relation to the most famous element in comic books.
“The universe is full of mysteries, and some have been foreshadowed by comics,” said Paul Levitz, DC Comics President and Publisher. “We look forward to scientists figuring this one out.”
The real world version of “kryptonite” – which according to media reports will be officially named “jadarite,” after the place where it was discovered and because it does not contain the element krypton – is white, does not glow and is reportedly harmless to humans and/or natives of the planet Krypton.
Despite the harmless nature of this world’s kryptonite, Superman is far from off the hook. The first storyline in the newly-launched ongoing Superman Confidential series, from writer Darwyn Cooke (New Frontier) and artist Tim Sale (whose work has been featured on NBC’s Heroes), revealed a new take on Superman’s first encounter with the malicious mineral, and how it affected a young Superman’s early career as a hero.
The mineral, which is a potential source of lithium and boron, will be put on display tomorrow at the West London museum. Reports that the mineral will be encased in lead are unconfirmed.
The release was issued quickly enough that these details could be included as an addendum to the wire story (as long as the message was spread out widely enough).
By piggy-backing on this oddball news story, DC plants seeds of nostalgia in the general public’s head, reminding them of the Superman comics of one’s youth and pointing them towards the Superman comics of today. Is it going to drive non-comics readers in droves to direct-market comics shops or the spinner racks at convenience or department stores? Lord, no, of course not. But maybe, just maybe, a scant few might get the idea, or potential readers might not pass by those comic displays quite so quickly. Maybe someone’s curiosity has been piqued, or a parent out there remembers the wonder of super-heroes, deciding to share it with his or her child.
The playful tone of the news release reinforces the entertaining nature of the original news story and makes for a pleasant invitation back into the world of caped crusaders and colorful criminals.
I also have to give DC credit for pointing potential readers not only to a current Superman story arc featuring Kryptonite prominently, but to the work of the best-known comic-book artist today. The general public may not know the name of Tim Sale, but many are now aware of his art thanks to its incorporation in the storyline of Heroes. I took DC to task a while back for failing to capitalize on Sale’s pumped-up pop-culture profile, so I’m pleased to see the publisher doing so now.
This news release is a small effort on DC’s part. It costs it nothing (or at least next to nothing) while offering the potential for an easy payoff.