Marvel Turns to Soap Opera for Help

BOSTON Marvel Comics, like the stereotypical buyer of its products, is trying to figure out how to meet women.

Tired of waiting for members of the opposite sex to wander into the comic book store, the company is going where the women are by teaming up with CBS’ long-running soap opera Guiding Light.

The comic book publisher this week began placing a special insert into some of its titles that has superhero group the New Avengers visiting Springfield, which is home to the Guiding Light‘s characters. Next Wednesday, the TV soap returns the favor with an episode titled “She’s a Marvel,” in which one of the show’s characters gains superpowers.

“We were really attracted to this as a way to get access to a new audience,” said David Gabriel, Marvel Publishing’s vp, sales and marketing. “The soap’s audience is all women and ours is all men.”

The publisher, which is home to Spider-Man and the X-Men, started this outreach a little more than a year ago by issuing titles specifically aimed to appeal to women, like “Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane” and the critically acclaimed, “The Runaways.” While these titles feature the usual superhero derring-do, they have more focus on romance and relationships, and girls and women who look more like actual girls and women.

But while that seemed like a good idea, it wasn’t really enough. “It’s a hard battle to get girls into comic book stores,” said Gabriel. “We assumed that just because a girl was the main character that it would appeal to them.” Instead, what the company has found is that women are more likely to read a standard comic book title involving writers they already like. So now the company has commissioned work by Joss Wheedon, creator of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Laurell K. Hamilton, author of the Anita Blake series of vampire mysteries.

Both Gabriel and Ellen Wheeler, Guiding Light‘s executive producer, said the success of the effort would be judged less by any increase in sales or viewers and more by how well it works for the stories. The tie-in with the soap opera came about fortuitously after Marvel asked the show’s costume designer, Shawn Dudley, to design a wedding dress to be worn by the character Storm at her nuptials to the Black Panther. “That gave us an opportunity to talk to Marvel,” said Wheeler.

For her part, Wheeler said what appealed to her was less the chance to get men to watch Guiding Light and more that it “seemed like it would be fun.” When the two groups met, she said they quickly realized how much their two media have in common. “We both do serialized stories and work with characters that have a lot of history and are trying to move those characters forward while being true to that history,” she said.