ESPN: The Magazine Gives Basketball the Comic Treatment
Heading into the 2010-11 season, ESPN: The Magazine decided the story lines behind each NBA team were too compelling to limit to dry prose. Working with comic creator Marvel, a series of mock comic book covers were created to illustrate the outlook for each of the 30 teams, currently appearing in the magazine's NBA preview issue.
ESPN parent company Disney's recent purchase of Marvel made the partnership easy to arrange, but there were still planning and logistics hurdles to overcome. The initiative also opened up promotional avenues for what is already the number one men's magazine in the 18-34 age category (with a circulation of 2.2 million and readership topping 15 million). Publishing Executive Inbox asked Editor-in-Chief Gary Belsky to explain.
INBOX: How did the partnership with Marvel come about?
GARY BELSKY: When Disney and Marvel joined forces the idea came to me, mostly because we were looking for ways to leverage the luxurious nature of big magazine pages and team-by-team comic previews seemed a good way to go.
INBOX: This seems like a very print-oriented (i.e. physically collectible) promotion. Do you think these packaged concept issues can now be a big draw in the digital sphere as well?
BELSKY: Obviously, as I was saying, we started from a print orientation, but as with many of our executions (the body issue for example) big, powerful photos and illustrations work very well online and, even more so, on the iPad.
INBOX: What were the production challenges? Did you give the project a lot of lead time or does Marvel keep its artists on a pretty tight schedule?
BELSKY: There weren't that many production challenges, per se, in that we have big pages and we gave ourselves plenty of time. The key was the marriage between our story lines for each team and Marvel's characters, which we left to them, for the most part. And they nailed it. Turns out they know their hoops.
INBOX: Did you give them a fair degree of guidance as far as type of art/concepts utilized or let them have free reign?
BELSKY: We gave them detailed story lines for each team from a basketball, season-preview perspective, then left it to them to align these plot points to their characters and worlds.
INBOX: Is Marvel promoting it as well?
BELSKY: Yes, on their site and via Twitter.
INBOX: Will anything further be done with these "covers" (e.g., sold at team's stadiums)?
BELSKY: No, we have no plans to use the "covers" beyond their editorial context in the NBA season preview.
INBOX: What's the response been from readers? The teams? The players?