I am always amazed at the quantity and quality of the junk mail that arrives in the form of catalogs via the United States Postal Service nearly each and every day. Printed in full color on glossy stock, perfectly bound and usually fairly thick containing, sometimes, hundreds of pages of content. I have one that just came from Dover Saddlery (yes, we have horses) that contains 352 pages!
Why couldn’t some of these be comic books or contain comics in them? You can bet that I would spend more time hunting through them if I knew I would find a comic feature that I could grow attached to.
The Superhero Catalogue with SNYDERMAN , art by Joe Kubert
Back in the late seventies there was The Superhero Catalogue published by Superhero Enterprises featuring the character Snyderman drawn by the legendary Joe Kubert. The whole catalog was laid out like a comic book and sold every available superhero merchandise imagineable. I went nuts every time I got one in the mail!
Read the Jordan Marsh catalog by Gerry Giovinco and Mitch O'Connell
Back in the eighties Comico produced a fashion catalog for Jordan Marsh that was packaged in the form of a comic book. The catalog, illustrated by Mitch O’Connell and scripted by me, actually won awards from Advertising Age Magazine as a direct mail promotion.
The Disney Catalog for a brief time inserted previews of the W.I.T.C.H. comic that was packaged similar to popular manga. You know I looked for that when it came for my kids. I always wondered why more catalogs didn’t do the same, especially now with the popularity of comic heroes in all forms of media.
To my surprise a catalog doing its best to mimic the idioms that define comic books recently showed up in my mailbox, sent by the most unlikely source, UMBC, an Honor University in Maryland.
My son, who is a senior in high school with great academic standings has attracted the attention of the admission boards of many colleges who now flood our mailbox daily with richly produced catalogues, most of which feature beautiful pictures of sprawling campuses, active student lifestyles and, of course, esteemed learning environments which is to say that they all look the same.
UMBC, regarded by CBS 60 Minutes as one of the most innovative schools in the country, proved their ability to step outside the box by sending my son an admissions catalog cleverly disguised as a comic book. It was trimmed to comic book size with thirty two pages, chock full of panels and text boxes, and, though there was not a single word bubble with a pointy little tail, a very stylish Anime font was used throughout. The covers featured students striking heroic poses, one even wearing a mask, posturing to the prevalent theme of “Change the World.”
My immediate reaction as a comic art enthusiast was of pure amazement that an institution of higher education would embrace comic books to attract students. I remember a time when even kindergarden teachers scorned comics as fodder for the ignorant and uneducated. Hell, Mitt Romney probably believes that comic books are all that 47% of Americans are capable or willing to read. Why not? Obama reads them!
But times are changing. Comics do get much more respect these days, especially since the advent of the graphic novel. Even University of the Arts, a school that scorned comics when Bill Cucinotta and I attended back when it was the Philadelphia College of Art, has a new attitude towards comics They must! They had Neil Gaimen, celebrated comic author of Sandman and Coraline, deliver the Keynote Address at their 2012 graduation ceremony! He was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts along with another comic creator, Philadelphia Inquirer editorial cartoonist Tony Auth.
UMBC Marketing Director, Erika Ferrin, explained that this edition of the admissions catalog which they refer to as a viewbook, was part of an ongoing Heroescampaign that has been very successful for the university.
Inspired by the popularity of Harry Potter, Twilight and superhero films with the teen market, Ferrin chose to focus on the heroic attributes of those characters when marketing to graduating high school students. She realized that students that came to UMBC had unique intellectual and creative abilities that, when honed at the university, allowed them to realize their potential of heroically impacting the world.
Erica worked with in-house designers Erin Ouslander and Jim Lord to develop the visuals for the campaign of which the viewbook evolved from. The end result is a beautifully packaged presentation printed on very heavy stock, intelligently designed and very respectful of the comics medium which they took great pains to research while developing the graphics which were all rendered from the ground up without using a comic or manga template program. The catalog has enjoyed a distribution of upwards to 50,000 copies most of which were delivered by mail.
This type of innovation is what makes UMBC a leader in education. It’s the type of innovation that the comics industry needs to employ to expand the marketplace. I know I’d like to see more comic books in my mailbox. How about you?