Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary
















January 8, 2011


CR Holiday Interview #18 -- Brigid Alverson

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If you've ever covered a political campaign or a sports team or a school board, one of those entities that commands the attention of multiple journalistic enterprises, you've likely become familiar with that one writer against whom others check their own thoughts, someone thorough and blessed with day-to-day experience covering the more peculiar corners of a shared enterprise. In comics, that person is Brigid Alverson. Whenever in 2010 I found myself reading a news article or a blog posting and encountered a rigorous A to B to C construction and all bases covered, 85 percent of the time the byline was Alverson's.

I've wanted to talk to Brigid Alverson since meeting her at a New York convention in 2008. Her workload seems as heavy as the other writers interviewed in this series -- like them, Alverson seems to publish all the time -- but her overall profile is split between more sites than I would think possible for anyone to maintain, especially on a part-time basis. That fractured marketplace for writing about comics is its own story, and I'm glad to have this interview represent that recent and ongoing development. I indulged myself in what follows by asking about all sorts of comics stories about which I have yet to form much of an opinion. Hey, you'd do it, too. Alverson's answers are unsurprisingly deliberate and well-considered. I am greatly appreciative she took time away from an awe-inspiring weekly workload to answer all that I lobbed her way. If anyone out there needs a writer to do the job, beginning to end, I recommend you get Brigid Alverson. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: Brigid, I apologize for giving you such a potentially tedious question to start, but I was wondering if you could simply outline your current comics writing -- for whom and for what and on what frequency. I tend to follow you and follow the outlets for whom you work, and I'm not certain that I've ever connected all the dots. It feels like you're doing a lot of writing. Are you doing a lot of writing?

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BRIGID ALVERSON: I am doing a lot of writing. I write MangaBlog every weekday morning, and I'm a daily blogger at Robot 6. I am the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, which is part of the School Library Journal web site -- there are nine writers for this blog, but I sort of organize it and write at least one post a week. I also have two other blogs, Paperless Comics, a webcomics blog that I don't update as much as I should, and Artifacts and Talismans, a non-comics blog in which I write about all the interesting junk I have collected, mainly to answer the question "Why haven't you thrown that away."

I also contribute pretty regularly to Publishers Weekly Comics Week (PWCW). I love working with Calvin Reid and Heidi MacDonald, who are the first editors to ever offer me money to write about comics. I review books and contribute the occasional interview or think piece for Graphic Novel Reporter. I sometimes write news articles and also provide convention coverage for Comic Book Resources, which as the parent site for Robot 6 also picks up some of my blog posts.

Because of my connection with School Library Journal, I occasionally write for their newsletter SLJTeen, and I have pieces in the works for the print magazine and some of their other web spin-offs as well.

SPURGEON: To follow up, and since one of the topics with which I wanted to engage the holiday interview series subjects is jobs, where does your writing about comics fit into your overall vocational landscape? Do you consider it a part of what you do, the main thing you do, a sideline, a diversion, a hobby...? How might your personal orientation towards your work be seen in the writing of yours we get to read?

BRIGID ALVERSON: It's a part of what I do. I have a very demanding day job, and that keeps me busy during the work day from Monday through Thursday. That leaves me Friday through Sunday, plus mornings and evenings, to write. Of course, I do a lot of other things, but I guess I think of writing as a second job. Basically, I live in two universes; there's my day job, family, and friends, and then there's my comics work and comics friends, and the two very seldom overlap. Most people don't even have one life they enjoy this much -- I'm extraordinarily lucky to have two.

In terms of my personal orientation, blogging may have started as a hobby for me, but having been both a book editor and a newspaper journalist before that, my orientation is pretty professional. That means adhering to the traditional journalistic values of fairness and accuracy, as well as not always taking things at face value. If something strikes me as incomplete or inconsistent, I pick up the phone or send an e-mail. I don't have as deep a knowledge of the comics world as many writers, and I don't pretend to be an expert, but I'm curious and a quick study.

imageSPURGEON: How do you define your role at Robot 6? Where do you think you fit in with the general thrust of what it is they do? Do you ever feel the odd man out? Is there another writer with whose work on the site you feel a particular sympathy or sense of partnership?

ALVERSON: I'm the new kid on the block, and I'm still sort of awed that they let me in. One of the great things about Robot 6 is that the writers there have such broad tastes. When I came on board, I warned them that I wasn't going to write much about superheroes, and they were fine with that. I think the others really have that beat covered, and I tag along, learning as I go. But that leaves me a huge swath of comics to write about -- manga, kids' comics, literary stuff, reprints of historical material, newspaper comics. I focus more on those things, but the others write about them too, so I never feel like the odd man out.

I think Chris Mautner comes closest to my sensibilities in some ways, as he is the most enthusiastic about manga. He and Michael May write reviews the way I hope to write reviews someday, in terms of both style and depth. And as someone who does a lot of interviews, I look up to Tim O'Shea, who always seems to know the right questions to ask.

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SPURGEON: Before I ask after a couple of specific stories you covered, let me try this: I think it's been clear that there's been a greater amount than usual of self-reflection from the various press people covering comics this year. Your statements on the matter -- I'm thinking of the comments kicked up by Brian Bendis' critical take on the comics press -- were informed by your outside journalistic pursuits and to my eye a kind of lacerating practicality about how coverage and press and criticism work. Let me ask you this, though. What could the commentary and coverage class do better in comics? Where could we use the most work? And is there something you think media people and organization covering comics already do particularly well?

ALVERSON: I think the low-hanging fruit gets well picked over: We all make sure the press releases get run, we review the week's new comics (especially superheroes, but manga and serious graphic novels get well covered, too), and we do the creator and editor interviews. These are all things that can be done with a minimum of research, which is not the same as a minimum of effort -- writing reviews is hard, and I put a lot of thought into interview questions. But the first step has been taken care of: The materials were provided, the creator was made available. Essentially, we are adjuncts to the corporate PR machine, but we are fortunate to have a lot of writers in the comics blogosphere who can spin those raw materials into excellent writing and criticism.

imageWhen big news breaks, everyone gets the story out there quickly and a couple of us usually get to the people at the heart of it to do some interviews and flesh out the details. What is harder is getting beyond the happyspeak to the nuts and bolts of what this means, who will get hurt, what does the fine print in the contract really say. Comics publishers are private companies and it usually is in their best interests not to talk. They don't ever want to tell you hard numbers, for instance, unless they are bragging about something, and even then, it's not like you can audit them.

I would like to see more enterprise stories, where rather than simply reacting to an event, the writer looks for a pattern, finds the hidden truth behind the numbers, or simply digs deep into a particular topic. Here's a really simple example: Whenever anyone releases some new digital thing, such as an iPhone app, everyone reprints the press release but very few people actually download the app and try it out. I recently got a press release about a comic being offered for free through iTunes, but when I went to download it, the download didn't work. I tried it on several platforms, over a couple of days, and it never worked. I e-mailed the publisher and got no answer. I never ran the press release, but lots of people did. That's the sort of basic research that bloggers need to do more often.

I also wish someone could pierce the veil a bit more often and get us real sales numbers. Several webcomics people have done that with regard to their own work, and it always makes interesting reading.

Finally, I think that the smaller independent publishers get short shrift, especially when it comes to convention coverage. Instead of everyone writing about the same DC and Marvel panels, I'd love to see more coverage of the smaller publishers and the up-and-coming creators. We do better with reviews and creator interviews, but it's still uneven, and we rarely see business stories about small publishers.

imageSPURGEON: As one of the busier writers about comics with I think wide-ranging interests when it comes to the material, how much of your time working with comics is spent reading comics? For that matter, how much of your reading comics is driven by your artistic appetites and how much by practical work considerations? Does your relationship to a work change if you've been assigned to read it?

ALVERSON: I probably spend about equal amounts of time reading comics and writing about them, but it's distributed unevenly. I do most of my writing in the morning, before work, or in the evening, before bed, but I do most of my reading on weekends, when I can find blocks of uninterrupted time. I can't write a review without reading a comic at least twice, sometimes more, so that right there is a lot of reading.

Most of my reading is driven by what interests me. For most of the venues I write for, I can pick and choose what I want to review and who I want to talk to. Of course, if an editor asks me to cover a particular comic or creator, I'm happy to do so -- I seldom turn down paying work, and I often find that assignments like that expose me to something I didn't realize I would like. I also read a lot of books that I will probably never write about, just to have the background and context I need to approach the medium intelligently.

Some people find that a hobby becomes like work, and therefore less fun, once they get paid for it. That has not been the case with me and comics. Reading is how I relax -- I don't have the patience to watch movies or TV -- and I still look forward to the moment in my day when I can set down whatever I was doing and bury my nose in a book.

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SPURGEON: I want to ask you about some of the individual stories you've covered, but given the variety of perspectives you enjoy, I wonder if you could paint a picture of the year just past. What was 2010 like in your estimation, as a year for comics? And to follow up on that, was there anything that came across your path -- a news story, an un- or under-covered development, a creator, an innovation -- that you think will have an impact down the line bigger than its impact this year.

ALVERSON: Wow, not too broad a question, is it? [Spurgeon laughs] I think 2010 was a good year for comics, but as I look back in preparation for my best-of-the-year list, not a great year. For me -- and this refers to my tastes alone -- there were a lot of good comics but only a few great comics.

imageOne area that I thought grew a lot stronger was children's comics. It's a field that is growing fast in both quantity and quality, and a number of the best books of the year are children's books. First Second stands out in this regard, of course, and their books are much loved by adult comics fans -- and some of their titles straddle the youth and adult markets quite effectively. But I'd like to single out Lerner Books, mostly markets to schools and libraries. Until recently, I thought of their line as being fairly stodgy, but in the past two years they have been publishing really original books, both translations of French works (The ElseWhere Chronicles, Nola's Worlds) and new work by English-language creators (the Pet Shop Private Eye series being a stellar example). Kids Can Press has only been publishing graphic novels for two years, but they have made a quantum leap in quality, from simple to quite sophisticated, in that short time.

In terms of webcomics, I think we are seeing a bit of movement from the free-comics-on-the-web model to other media, and I suspect we'll see more of that next year. It's very hard to make a living in webcomics, and it's very hard to make a major commitment of time and energy in something that is bringing in only a trickle of money. So creators are putting their work in the iTunes store and making it available via Kindle, Nook, and other formats. You have the dual advantage of being able to show your work in a storefront that people are going to anyway, and of distributing your work via a medium in which people expect to pay for content (as opposed to the web, where everything must be free). This is a mini-trend so far, but I expect it to accelerate in the coming year.

imageA related trend is the movement of certain creators to publishers who actually edit their work and work with them, as opposed to simply collecting their previously published webcomics. To see what a difference this makes, compare the original webcomic of Barry Deutsch's Hereville> with the finished print volume published by Abrams. The print edition is a much more mature work, due in part to Deutsch's growth as an artist but, I suspect, also thanks to the fact that there was another pair of eyes on the project. As a former editor myself, I know how much a good editor can improve a work, no matter how strong it is when it arrives at the publisher. What this means is that we have a new generation of creators who have proved themselves outside the publishing infrastructure who are now entering that infrastructure and producing much stronger work as a result.

At the beginning of the year, I noted in a column that the manga world seemed to be shaking out into winners and losers, but I'm less convinced of that now than six months ago. We lost two publishers this year, CMX and Go! Comi, whose books were beloved by bloggers and critics but for various reasons weren't selling all that well. However, several smaller publishers (Digital Manga, Vertical) are doing quite well and seem to be stronger than ever. Viz and Tokyopop continue to be the big boys, and Viz has jumped into the digital scene with their own app, but Yen is giving them a run for their money. Del Rey vanished and reappeared as Kodansha Comics; they got off to a rocky start but their starting lineup looks good.

We also saw more manga coming from indie houses, with Fantagraphics launching its classic shoujo manga line and Top Shelf publishing the alt-manga anthology AX. It looks like these alternative genres are another strong trend that will continue into 2011.

In terms of developments that flew under the radar, I think the Japanese company Animate's launch of a line of yaoi manga for the Kindle didn't get as much attention as it deserved. Japanese publishers are planning to enter the English-language e-book market in a big way; Itochu just launched a web app and there are several more in the works. This may become an important channel for non-mainstream manga in the near future.

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SPURGEON: I apologize for the breadth of the question, but I feel like you're one of the few industry news people with overlapping perspectives and I wanted to see that unpacked a bit. Let me throw a few follow-ups your way. First: can you talk for a bit about one or two of the comics you thought were great this year? What makes a comic great as opposed to merely good? Is there something that tends to connect great works in comics in your mind?

ALVERSON: A great comic crosses over a boundary in my brain so that I'm not just reading it, I'm experiencing it on some deeper level. Hereville was the best example of that, and I feel like a broken record because I talk about it a lot, but it really was the standout comic for me. It has to do with the way that the creator, Barry Deutsch, creates a world and very quickly draws you into it, so you are getting inside the characters' heads. There's a scene in there where the main character, who is 11, is solving a math problem, and as I read it, I was solving it in the same way. Many of the sequences were like that. It's as if I hallucinated this book rather than just reading it.

imageYuichi Yokoyama's Travel did the same thing in a different way. Reading it was like engaging in a conversation with the creator, or solving a series of puzzles with him at my elbow, egging me on. I actually didn't like the visual style of that book very much, but it engaged me in a way that few others do.

To me, the hallmark of a great book is that I can find something new or appreciate it at a deeper level every time I reread it.

SPURGEON: I was interested that the top news stories you listed were almost entirely publishing news stories. That's a classic way of looking at the industry. How do you negotiate the difference between publishing news and facilitating someone else's publicity needs?

ALVERSON: I like covering publishing as an industry because I like standing off to the side and observing how things work. I want to see the wires and the levers and the man behind the curtain -- everything that goes into creating the experience.

I view press releases the same way I did when I was writing for the newspaper. They are starting points, not completed stories, and I try to read them critically, looking for what is not said as well as what's there, and staying alert for questions they raise. One of the things I like about CBR and Robot 6 is that they encourage this sort of journalistic thinking.

That said, the publicity cycle is an essential part of any news-gathering organization. That's how you get access -- the marketing people are eager to connect you with creators and send you review copies. And the fact that someone has a new book coming out or has just achieved some sort of a milestone is also a news hook that will get your editor to approve the story and your readers to read it. In that respect, both sides have a sort of symbiotic relationship.

Most of the marketing people I have worked with have been extremely professional. Not only do they respond quickly to my queries and move heaven and earth to get me what I ask for, they also understand that life is a crap shoot, and I may ask embarrassing questions or pan their book. Unlike a lot of people, I have never had a publisher threaten to refuse access because of something I have written. Maybe I'm not pushing hard enough, but I like to think it's because I'm fair to all sides, and because the marketing people are too professional to pull that kind of crap.

SPURGEON: There's a great deal of agreement that digital generally was a big story for 2010, but there's not a lot of certainty as to why. Do you think the important things that happened in that arena in 2010 are more the programs being put into place, like the kindle programs you describe, the technology that's appeared, or this slow waking-up to the idea that digital will be a primary home for comics moving forward? When does this phase of the story end, to your mind -- is it when Marvel and DC are all in, day-and-date? Is it when the smaller publishers catch up; is it a certain dollar amount?

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ALVERSON: Digital is an opportunity for comics to break out of the direct market and reach a wider audience. Until last year, a lot of people didn't even realize comics were still being published, let alone where (and how) to buy them. Now comics apps are one more thing to sample with your new toy, and it's a hopeful sign that three of the top five grossing book apps on the iPad were comics readers, and Pocket God, a children's comic app, was one of the best-selling paid apps.

This was the year everything changed because this was the year we got the killer app for digital comics, the iPad. The Kindle is black and white (and the resolution, at least of the early versions, was too poor to render comics legible), and the iPhone/iPod Touch is too small. I do think the Kindle and the color Nook have a lot of potential going forward, but the iPad was what got us thinking in terms of reading comics on a personal screen. I think we will reach the end of the first phase later this month, when Dark Horse becomes the last major publisher to establish a digital presence.

SPURGEON: You've done a lot of incremental coverage of digital moves, company by company, announcement by announcement. What segments of the market, or even individual actors, do you think are setting the pace for digital distribution of comics work? What concrete thing would you most like to see happen in the next six months in terms of the overall development of that market?

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ALVERSON: Right now, all the action is in the iTunes segment, and ComiXology and iVerse have consistently led the pack. I think iVerse was the first publisher to put comics out as individual iPhone apps, and comiXology was the first multi-comics reader. They saw what was coming and were ready to jump onto the iPad on launch day. ComiXology has been particularly aggressive, not only in making new moves in the market but also in promoting themselves behind the scenes to writers like me.

As I said above, the iPad is the killer app, but that doesn't mean that iTunes is the best marketplace, at least not in its current form. What we need now is a fully developed infrastructure for buying and selling -- and finding -- digital comics. Right now, there is no way to index comics across different apps, so you don't know what's coming out this week or whether a particular comic is available on comiXology's app or just the Marvel app. There is no way for casual consumers who aren't tied in to the comics world to find a comic that they aren't already looking for -- I'm a big believer in serendipity as a marketing tool. There are other tweaks and adjustments that will happen -- we are just starting to see graphic novels marketed digitally, and I think prices are still too high -- but the one piece that is still missing is some sort of universal index or search machine that makes comics visible across all platforms and apps. Without that, comics shopping is going to be a hit-or-miss affair.

SPURGEON: Do you agree with those that think the Japanese publishers have been somewhat effective in going after scanlators? Can you point to a company or even individual creators whose policies line up with what you think is an ideal approach in terms of that specific outcome?

ALVERSON: The campaign against scanlators has not worked. Onemanga.com and MangaFox are back to posting new chapters of licensed series every week. In a way, that's not a terrible thing. Yes, it is copyright infringement, but the publishers may have concluded, privately, that a lot of the people reading those sites wouldn't be buying their manga anyway; from reading the comments, it looks to me like the biggest users are young teens, who don't have much money, and readers who are outside the U.S. and can't get manga in their country. In a tough economy, you have to choose your battles.

If I were a manga publisher, I'd be more worried about the manga apps for iPhone and iPad that scoop manga from those sites. People pay for those, so they are more likely to be revenue that the publishers could be capturing. Viz has a very nice iPad app, but I think their books are overpriced. Yen is working on one but it isn't out yet. So right now the scanners are eating their lunch. That's where the money is, and I don't understand why they aren't demanding that the bootleg apps be removed from the iTunes store.

imageThe most promising sign I see on the Japanese side is a move toward making older manga available at a very low cost. At the ICv2 Digital Conference at NYCC, Masaki Shimizu from Bitway said that they are pricing their mobile comics at 25 cents for 20 pages. Ken Akamatsu just put all of Love Hina online -- in Japanese -- for free, and Kodansha and Shueisha, two of the biggest publishers in Japan, are working with him. I think that could be a model that could work well over here, too.

SPURGEON: With a rise in the publishing of comics for children, and that a lot of this is taking place within mainstream prose publishing halls, do you worry about censorship issues rearing their heads at all? Because when comics are being sold to kids, not everyone agrees on what that should mean.

ALVERSON: So far, everyone has been pretty sensible about this. Publishers who produce comics for children pretty much know what the boundaries are. The problems have mostly come up with Japanese manga, which weren't written for American kids and sometimes mix in content that is less accepted here -- or are really adult comics but look like kid stuff.

Every now and then, someone finds something objectionable in a comic in a library or school and demands that it be removed. Public libraries usually have collection policies and are able to defend their books. And these are all isolated incidents -- I think overall, enough librarians, educators, and parents realize the value of comics and graphic novels, and publishers are responsible enough about what they produce, that we aren't going to see any mass movements pushing self-censorship like we did in the 1950s.

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SPURGEON: How deep is the commitment to children's comics that you describe, do you think? More than just the gains, do you think these programs are entrenched now, or is there still an element of novelty and fashion, a kind of "trying out" of comics for that market? Are those programs going to be the same size or bigger five years from now, in your opinion?

ALVERSON: Publishing is a business, and one with pretty thin margins. Publishers will stay committed to children's comics for as long as they feel they can sell them at a profit, and their graphic novel programs will expand or contract accordingly.

That said, I think children's graphic novels are pretty well established as a medium. Scholastic knows how to make money selling graphic novels, and Raina Telgemeier's Smile seemed to catch on beyond the boundaries of traditional graphic novel readers this year. Abrams hit the jackpot with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and I'm sure Hereville is selling briskly; they and First Second are doing well in the high end of the market, the stuff adults love because it's well done and beautifully produced. And of course Françoise Mouly has done incredible work getting educators and librarians excited about graphic novels for early readers.

The puzzle remains how to get the books to the kids. The chain bookstores don't seem to be promoting graphic novels as a medium in their children's departments, and the direct market doesn't cater to kids at all, for the most part. The kids are willing to buy -- I have heard that graphic novels sell like hotcakes at Scholastic's book fairs -- but you have to put the comics in front of them.

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SPURGEON: One of my favorite pieces of yours this year is you took the time to write down some stories from Stu Hample upon his passing. I think a hugely underrated thing about the comics scene is how nice and interesting a lot of people that work in and around comics can be. Do you enjoy the people you've met in comics generally? Do you have other favorite people in comics?

ALVERSON: I don't think I would still be doing this if it weren't for the people. They are amazing, and I really feel fortunate to have fallen in with such a great bunch of folks. I think the fact that we all have this love of comics in common makes it easy to connect with people, plus people who are secure enough to admit to a slightly embarrassing enthusiasm like comics are probably pretty well adjusted. I know there is this terrible stereotype of the obsessive fanboy, but that has not been my experience at all. I find comics folks to be friendly, accepting, and wicked funny.

I couldn't begin to pick favorites, but I will say that there is a group of us here in the Boston area who get together from time to time for lunch or dinner and some serious comics talk, and it's always a good time: Robin Brenner, Kate Dacey, Melinda Beasi, and J. Dee Dupuy (until she up and moved to Singapore -- come back, Dee!). We often travel and room with our other Good Comics for Kids colleagues, Eva Volin and Snow Wildsmith, for conventions, and that exponentially increases the amount of fun I have on those trips.

SPURGEON: You had a great line about the Molly Norris "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" fiasco. You said, "The Internet has a short memory -- I had already forgotten about 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day' -- but murderous psychopaths generally don't." How difficult a story was that for you in which to sort out where you stood and how you felt? It seemed like you were cognizant of this swirl of arguments and opinions on all sides. Do you think people were too easy on Norris' initial choice?

ALVERSON: It was a very difficult story, because I could see both sides so clearly. My first instinct is to come down on the side of free speech, but I couldn't get away from the fact that what she was doing was profoundly offensive to many people, and that speech has consequences.

I myself had a brief experience with someone I found threatening when I was I college -- a violent cokehead who started hanging around me. For a couple of days, until the authorities hauled him away, I knew what it was like not to feel safe no matter where I went. For that reason, Molly's story really struck a chord with me. Yes, she was impulsive and thoughtless, but now she is going to have this threat hanging over her head for at least a good long while, and that's too bad.

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SPURGEON: I take it from your convention writing that your attitudes towards these shows has changed over your time attending them. Why are conventions so popular now? As a dedicated newsperson, are they really effective ways to communicate publishing news and other information? How would you see them change?

ALVERSON: Conventions are popular because it's a rare opportunity to get together with people who share your interests and maybe meet some of your heroes. I don't get to talk much about comics in my everyday life, so it's great to go to cons and see people that I already know from the internet, and geek out about comics all day with them.

In terms of communication, they have evolved a bit. Nowadays, it seems like a lot of the big news is broken just before the cons -- there is always a flood of press releases the week before. And yes, they are valuable to me as a newsperson, but mainly because it's an opportunity to connect in person with editors, marketing people, and creators.

Of course, there is news that breaks in panels, and I love sitting in the front row with all the other bloggers and Tweeting new title announcements as they come out. But the panels I really enjoy, although they are harder to write up, are the creator spotlights where the creator just sits and answers questions from their fans for an hour. That's the sort of experience that you really can't duplicate any other way.

SPURGEON: You've also done some sales analysis, or at least blogged about sales analysis, in the direct market. How invested are you personally in the survival of the Direct Market? Do you think we're in for a rough winter for the hobby and comics shops, as some analysts have suggested?

ALVERSON: I am not heavily invested in the Direct Market in the sense of having a comic store that I visit regularly -- I'm not one of the Wednesday crowd. We do have a lot of good comics stores here in the Boston area, and I always enjoy visiting them, but it's an effort -- I have to go out of my way. I do have to mention that I am friendly with Matt Lehman, the owner of Comicopia, and knowing him has opened my eyes to the sort of deep knowledge and good service that lure people to stores like his -- and Matt is always a step or two ahead of the game.

It's hard to say what is going to happen to the direct market. It has been a tough couple of years for comics stores, due in part to the economy, but the potential is also there for the audience to grow, and if you have a bigger audience, you increase the demand for the sort of products one can only find in a specialty store. So while retailers are certainly justified in feeling threatened by digital comics, it could be their salvation as well.

For that to work, comics stores have to be a compelling destination for someone. I think the social aspect is huge for a lot of superhero readers -- it's like going to a convention every Wednesday -- but there's also plenty of money to be made in being the kind of store that kids drag their parents to.

imageSPURGEON: Earlier in this series, Kiel Phegley noted that he had your e-mail for when he had questions about the manga industry. He also threw out there that he didn't quite understand the change in Kodansha/Del Rey's relationship from licensing partner to outsource production house. I blame Kiel, but now I'm not sure I understand it. Can you help me out with that one?

ALVERSON: Yes, it's actually pretty simple. Kodansha used to license their manga to Del Rey, which would pay a fee up front for the licenses and then pay translators, editors, and production people to produce the books. They paid out a lot up front and hopefully made it back, plus a profit, when the books sold.

Now it works the other way around. Kodansha keeps the licenses and publishes the books under their own name, but they are hiring a Random House subsidiary to do the editorial work. (Random House is Del Rey's parent company.) So instead of Random House paying Kodansha, Kodansha is paying Random House -- and taking on the risks and rewards themselves -- while Random House gets a guaranteed but limited payment. It's a lot like the difference between royalties and work for hire.

imageSPURGEON: Right. Hey, before we go, I was wondering: what comic that you own or maybe just enjoy would we be most surprised to see sitting our shelf -- or stored away inside your reader?

ALVERSON: I'd love to trot out my collection of interesting and obscure comics -- my British annuals from the 1960s, the underground comics I had to hide away when my kids were born, my copy of The Crab with the Golden Claws in Esperanto -- but I think people would be most surprised to know I own a copy of How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which I picked up while I was editing art instruction books for Watson-Guptill in the 1980s. I quit reading superheroes in about 1987, so this is one of the few remnants I have of that bygone era.

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* MangaBlog
* Alverson at Robot 6
* Good Comics for Kids
* Paperless Comics
* Artifacts and Talismans
* Publishers Weekly Comics Week (PWCW).
* Graphic Novel Reporter

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* photo of Alverson supplied by the writer
* part of the logo for MangaBlog
* Robot 6 logo
* comic book journalism, not comics industry journalism
* reading comics
* thinking about Father Time
* a Nola's Worlds cover
* Hereville
* from Hereville
* from Travel
* art used in support of the Pocket God app
* a comiXology logo
* from Love Hina
* from the hit book Smile
* Stu Hample's work
* cons are crazy now
* Kodansha logo
* the surprising thing lurking in Alverson's bookshelf
* icon of Alverson used at Good Comics For Kids (below)

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posted 9:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
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