It's Halloween, which in comics circles is the season of complaining that you don't like the current crop of scary comics, whining that you don't like the older ones, and putting on the kind of costume that seems funny at the time but pictures of which your foes in the industry will be posting on the Internet five years from now.
Recommended comics and comics-related art sites for Sunday, October 31:
The dean of American alternative comics humorists returns after another assignment for Reason into the America That Still Exists. This time Bagge reports from some of the more obscure foxholes of this year's ongoing political struggle. The look of it may surprise long-time fans: Bagge experiments with typesetting even he admits (scroll down) doesn't quite work. Otherwise, this is the usual bounty hunter beanbag fired into the broad gut of our shared culture: broad humor to be had at the expense of general stupidity and more delicate satire to be enjoyed about the limits of journalistic process.
The Chicago-based painter and printmaker isn't a cartoonist, but his themed portraits can be read as comics to great effect. The Haitian-influenced artist and well-regarded poet explores single, broad themes -- the lifeblood of a street, one man's memories of a city, his kids' take on the alphabet -- through a progression of declarative moments so intense they can feel like someone has grabbed the sides of your head before speaking. Fitzpatrick's art is dense enough his work when read as a series feels like chords as compared to a typical cartoonist's run of single notes.
This 2004 series is new enough that much of the work remains available, and looks as lovely as ever.
Jeff Mason and Bill Kartalopoulos team up for another issue of their increasingly ambitious web magazine, with startling results. The comics and related art they include are as distinguished as any you'll find in a print publication this year.
"Op/Ed: The Comics Page" features work by Joe Sacco, Art Spiegelman and Willem. "Gallery: Jerry Moriarty" offers up paintings by the RAW veteran from an exhibit curated by Spiegelman. Most of the articles are lovingly decorated with art as well; definitely look around.
Winners of the Week
Fans of 1970s Horror-in-Superhero-Comics Era Mainstay "Brother Voodoo," for whom a television deal continues to be pursued in Marvel's push to bring even its never-successful characters onto big and small screens.
Loser of the Week
Right now you'd have to say the folks at Gold Circle Films, the other half of the Platinum Studios deal, because the content in question doesn't seem any more unique than the sum of pitches from an equivalent number of starving screenwriters, and none of it reflects long-term, proven success in a previous market.
Although admittedly, all you need is a couple of left-field hits like Men in Black, and the deal could turn out to be the greatest in the history of Hollywood. You never know.
* Comics writers Joe Casey and Matt Fraction do the usual back-and-forth in this week's edition of their Comic Book Resources' column, The Basement Tapes. The adopted, shared voice might be hard to manage at times, but there's usually a digression or two worth rooting out even if you don't follow certain kinds of comics and sometimes the subtext can be fascinating -- what I got out of this one is that the pressure a mainstream comics writer feels right now isn't correction or replacement, but outright cancellation.
* Chris Polkki, who edits the Fantagraphics anthology Blood Orange, jumped on The Comics Journal's Message Board to announce his plans for future issues, which include a number of international talents. The first few issues of Blood Orange read like Polkki hadn't really expected to receive a publishing contract, so a recalibration seems in order.
Like many of you, I spent my early hours sipping coffee rifling through Italian comics sites looking for news about a rumor I'd heard in passing. Since I didn't find it, the title of this entry is false as well as not very funny.
What I did find is journalist Guido Tiberga's weekly column on comics in La Stampa, "Fumetti e Cartoons". As far as I can tell using the magic of the Internet and fixating on names I've heard before, Craig Thompson seems to be spending the weekend at the Lucca Festival in Italy, on a guest list that also includes Claire Wendling. If Craig isn't in Italy, they just really like his book. Also, Rodolfo Torti of "Jan Karta" fame, whose work is pictured here, is currently enjoying or is about to enjoy a sizeable museum exhibit.
International Nerd Dozens: “You’re Like Tintin/In the Congo”
I totally missed this last week: real geo-political concerns find expression in pithy, pop-culture fashion with remarks from Congolese Information Minister Henri Mova Sakanyi about statements made by the Belgian foreign minister Karel de Gucht concerning the inability of the Democratic Republic of Congo to solve its internal political strife in order to play a more significant role in the chaotic African region.
According to the usual concise write-up by the BBC, Sakanyi essentially accused the Belgian minister of nostalgia for colonial rule and a patronizing attitude concerning the people of his nation.
This week's 32.5-minute Talk of the Nation chat with Gerard Jones, author of Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, veers pretty quickly away from the talk of the collision of emergent geek culture and outsider criminal culture and into an overarching talk about comics then and now. That's unfortunate, as Jones seems to have a pretty good grasp on biographical details of early comics pioneers and knows how to use them in service of his thesis. Jones is generally smooth as silk in the piece, striking a nice balance between insider information and broader connections -- I like the one about Superman being a combination of the sci-fi and body cultures of its time.
Jones is on less certain ground with the modern material, which is where the interview maybe inevitably goes when current mainstream writers Devin Grayson and Chris Claremont phone in. Jones nicely finesses the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question posed by a caller, although he does astutely point out Kirby's relatively quiet public persona and compares Lee to Bob Kane, a much better selection than Claremont, who gives us Stan as DW Griffith.
Jones seems to have a pretty cogent grasp of what's important and what's not in comics history -- a smart outsider's view, despite having once been on the inside. The only disappointment in the interview is that he acknowledges the Jewish identity of early comics creators but does not quite answer a question as to how this had an effect on the comics other than that stand-by of "outsider status". Removed several years from his direct involvement in the industry and several decades from his primary subject, the book should play greatly to his strengths as a writer on popular culture, and it's worth hearing him hold forth now.
Prominent comics industry retailer Bill Liebowitz, owner of the two-store Golden Apple chain, died Tuesday evening from complications due to flu. Golden Apple, founded by Liebowitz in 1979, is one of the most important retail establishments in comics' business history for its significant role in maintaining the strong, savvy and diverse Los Angeles area market as well as for its inventory and store event strategies.
Golden Apple may be the most prominent example of an unabashedly "pop-culture" comic book store, where comics publications are sold amid other products and media that emphasize many of the featured characters and favored genres. This model may have developed out of the early comic book shops' desire to carry everything that came out in contrast to the limited selections available on newsstands, although building stores across different product lines had a much greater degree of difficulty. Although Golden Apple became known as a store where stars shopped, its greater importance was as a shop for industry professionals, animators and cartoonists who grew up or worked in the Los Angeles area. A friendly, engaging man, Liebowitz' support was crucial to various alternative and arts publishers and their creators -- Golden Apple could host signings by the Hernandez Brothers one month and Stan Lee the next. That Liebowitz thrived when others failed despite a open-arms approach to retailing that left him open to every industry hiccup was testament to the former accountant's skill as a businessman.
Liebowitz deserves credit for popularizing creator tours and store events. This claimed for comics retail some of the insular celebrity fervor that drives comic book conventions. More importantly, once outside of the convention hall events and tours helped comics develop real-world media legitimacy. A range of creators from the Image founders to Neil Gaiman benefited from this kind of focused attention.
Sign and Return: Marvel’s Third Quarter Report Card (Filled Out By Marvel)
Marvel Enterprises' third-quarter report went public this morning, which means an opportunity to pore over the relevant wire release from the company. This can sometimes take a while, but in terms of comics publishing the money shot is right here:
"Marvel's Publishing Segment net sales rose 15% to $22.6 million due to strength in core comic sales, advertising and custom projects. In total, there was an approximate 5% increase in total circulation to 12.4 million units compared to the prior year period, reflecting success in the Company's title management strategy."
There are probably eighteen ways to spin that, including the way Marvel does in the last sentence, but there's little denying that for a company like Marvel moving more units and increasing net sales is pretty much the idea.
Definitely not related to comics publishing is the coming movie attractions portion of Marvel's report -- except that it may give you an idea of how the company will manage characters in super-teams. This time it tells us little of worth except that much lesser-known properties Brother Voodoo, Luke Cage (our friend pictured) and Deathlok are all on the TV or movie schedule. It may be worth noting that some thought the Luke Cage movie might be further up the production schedule, with a star and director attached.
To kick things off on a more-positive-than-usual note, we've been meaning to skip back a few days to when illustrator Zep, the president of this year's Festival International de la Bande Dessinnee, gave a press conference on the events at the 32nd edition, to be held late January in the French town every 17th American comics geek knows by name: Angouleme.
Events look to include a performance piece involving artists like Moebius and Nicholas de Crecy creating to music in homage to Little Nemo, a spotlight on Dave Cooper, professional appearances by luminaries such as Milo Manara, Art Spiegelman and Eddie Campbell, a big ol' nerdy-sounding debate on the graphic novel and events commemorating ten years since the passing of Hugo Pratt and 100 years since the birth of Edgar P. Jacobs.
If you need to write the trip off as business, you might consider swinging by Depuis to drop off a resume for one of their two open editorial positions.
In case you haven't noticed, we are currently on a run of alarming publishing, licensing and movie-making deals involving comics that officially kick the business wires into stare-and-blink territory.
It was strange enough this past summer, when big-time publishers began to extend new imprint deals past huge talents like Jeff Smith into artists some of whom claimed when you met them they had never done comics before.
It became stranger as Marvel began routinely signing the kind of focused licensing deals the inability of which to achieve had practically been stitched on the back of company softball jerseys in the 1990s.
But a $200 million dollar development deal with a big fill-in-the-blank component for a properties-holding company with a... colorful history and a bidding war between two major book publishers over a largely unknown American manga-style artist?
It's not the early 1990s all over again. This is much weirder.
The return of original Green Lantern alter-ego Hal Jordan in a DC Comics mini-series has been announced as sold out in advance of being put on sale.
What this means is that DC has received early re-orders from comic shop retailers who want to fortify their original order on the book. These orders are enough to wipe out the stockpiles of copies in reserve with which DC planned to fill such orders as the title rolled out. On the surface of it, this sounds noteworthy. And might be. On the other hand it's hard to prove how noteworthy because:
1) The system can be easily manipulated for just such a press boost.
2) DC never releases actual figures so there exists nothing to quantify the numbers involved.
3) In the North American comics industry orders are tracked in terms of retailer purchases for stores rather than customer sell-through. So the news indicates high retailer confidence in the title, but whether it really sells out in the way people generally think of something selling out remains to be seen.
4) The Hal Jordan as Green Lantern plot featured in the mini-series has its own fan base, fans who in this day of generally modest comic book sales are capable of distorting the breadth of interest in the mini-series by ordering and buying multiple copies. They might do this to encourage DC to continue their preferred storyline.
It's likely that there will be a bump of interest in the character for the "old-fashioned" reasons of icon manipulation and flat-out nostalgia. For now, it's good to remember some of the peculiarities of the modern comics market when reading the "news."
It's no secret that the Peanuts comics, cartoon and licensing empire headed by the late Charles Schulz was a perennial money maker at an elite status for the last 15 to 20 years of the cartoonist's life.
Forbes confirms that the Schulz estate has been equally well-managed since the creator's passing, putting Schulz at #2 on its top-earning dead celebrities list with $35 million earned. In its stand-alone profile of SchulzForbes gets points for the astute commentary about licensing, and demerits for the extra "t" in the headline.
One-time strip and editorial cartoonist turned enormously successful children's book author and illustrator Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel also made the top ten, with $18 million.
It may be interesting to note from a comic-book industry perspective, where the profits from many late creators may go to corporations and their officers, that the Forbes list signifies continuing media and licensing success and which estates are able to profit.
Illustration is a rough version of the cover of the third volume of Fantagraphics Book Complete Peanuts series due in 2005
Because the syndication date for Bloom County is commonly reported as 1981, the title of the new Berkeley Breathed book Opus: 25 Years of His Sunday Best seems to be jumping the gun a bit. But as it ends up, not by much: publisher Little, Brown says that they're going with a December 1980 date favored by their author.
(1) Breathed's ongoing comeback with the Sunday-only strip Opus currently puts him at 185 clients, a respectable but not breakaway number.
(2) The piece intimates that hit Bloom County, despite its cultural currency and paperback book success in the 1980s, never squeaked past 400.
(3) The Pulitzer Prize winner really does feel it's tougher to do a strip today, and not just because strips are watched more closely. Times have also changed:
"For topical humor in he media, you essentially had Doonesbury, Saturday Night Live, and Johnny Carson's monologue. Today, we are tush-deep in snarky commentary on things that happened not last week but a few minutes ago."
According to a post by journalist Peter Breedveld's on the message board of comics magazine The Comics Journal, multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards winner Craig Thompson added to his haul by winning a Dutch comics award, "the Stripschappenning for the best foreign literary comicbook" for his book Blankets.
Breedveld was nice enough to unpack the news via an e-mail:
"The award Thompson got is yearly. Every year an organisation called the Stripschap -- until about ten years ago the most important comic strip organisation in Holland -- gives a kind of achievement award to a Dutch comic creator... and several awards to albums in different genres (best children comic, best foreign children's comic, best literary, best foreign literary, best adventure and best foreign adventure). These awards are a kind of medals. They are awarded at the Stripdagen, the 'Comic Strip Days' which are held, since last year, at an archeological themepark in Alphen aan de Rijn called Archeon."
Breedveld also stated the award for Dutch comic this year went to Mark Retera for his daily newspaper srip about "a nerd called Dirk-Jan."
Thompson's lushly illustrated story about adolescent relationships won several awards and sold thousands of copies for publisher Top Shelf, making its author perhaps the first break-out alternative comics star of the under 35 set.
Jeff Smith Speaks Out on Convention Sales and Retailers
The comics news site Newsarama kicks off the week by presenting a really fine, focused interview with cartoonist Jeff Smith on the sales of his one-volume Bone collection at San Diego's Comic-Con International in July. What clearly was one of the buzz books at that vitally important show opened old wounds regarding the loyalty that some retailers believe publishers should show to stores in terms of selling new books at conventions, particularly before they are available in stores. The argument on behalf of retailers is perhaps best and most recently articulated by Brian Hibbs in this article.
The best thing about Jeff Smith's response isn't that he puts forward the publishers' take on the long-running argument clearly -- although he does just that, citing the publicity and underwriting convention cost concerns -- but that the cartoonist pretty much admits that this is one of those problems where each side has a point and no solution will likely please both. Still, as Smith points out, there are some things that can be done, such as making the book available the exact same week as a big show, and there are a few friendly overtures one can keep in mind, such as remembering direct market retailers on your bookstore-focused promotional tours. Even if it's only to make comic shops aware in advance when and where a book will be offered so that orders can be adjusted, it's clear that most publishers could stand to take a few more steps in finessing the convention sales situation.
Hidden in the article is a nice sales update on the book in question. Right next door on the Newsarama site is this informative interview with cartoonist/educator James Sturm on his Center for Cartoon Studies, including what looks to be a picture of the Vermont town in which it will be located.
If you ever want to be reminded of the stakes involved behind the mass-merchandising and cross-media application of successful comic book characters, look no further than Forbes' "Top-Earning Fictional Character" list, a moderately interactive feature you access starting here. Make sure you can count up to the billions. Their top 10:
Winnie the Pooh
Nemo from Finding Nemo
Wolverine and the X-Men
Matt Groening's Homer Simpson and Simpsons cast barely missed the cut.
Another list to peruse is from the recent Publishers Weekly special section on graphic novel publishing, a top 25 of comics trades in bookstores for the year to date, which you can check out on the great comics linkblog Thought Balloons. Some thoughts to take with you:
1. We should all know the names of solid volume-spanning manga hits, Rurouni Kenshin (Viz), Naruto (Viz), Fruits Basket (Tokyopop) and Trigun (Dark Horse). Don't feel bad: I only knew the one pictured here.
2. Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers (#1) is a solid, briskly-moving hit, which due to its unique packaging and content was not a guaranteed thing. Pantheon was also right not to wait on publishing Persepolis 2 (#4).
3. Dark Horse Comics did manage to move at least a pair of Hellboy books in signficant numbers (#8 and #19), despite rumors I swear I remember hearing they did not hit the early summer movie release date as hard as they could have.
4. Never underestimate Neil Gaiman, with 1602 at #25 providing Marvel Comics' only list presence.
The popular author and comics writer often answers letters at his extremely and justifiably popular on-line journal. There are two interesting responses from a comics business standpoint worth scrolling after that together provide a creator's take on certain peculiarities of bookstore shelving: the first one here, and the second one here.
It seems odd that a bookstore might place books from an extremely well-liked author together when the popularity of the author would likely pull customers from section to section. On the other hand, the notion makes a fair amount of sense, too.
The "Oppy" cartoons that went by "The Subway Sun" were one of the more elegant examples of ubiquitous regional comics of a kind you just don't see anymore. They were as responsible for certain accepted truths about the "subway experience" as any movie or TV show. It looks that at least Andrew Garns' new Subway Stories captures some of this work; hopefully more attention is on the way.
Is there ever anything to be gained by thinking about a bunch of comics and then putting some on a "Best of" list? The Amadora Festival in Portugal thinks so, and the release of its "100 Best BD of the XXth Century" in conjunction with this year's gathering should be announced any day now.
Their top ten has been snuck out, however: Tintin, Batman, (Kane and Miller's versions), Corto Maltese, Asterix, Maus, Little Nemo, Blueberry, Spirit, Peanuts and Krazy Kat.
As one of many comics-interested observers from around the world whose opinion was solicited for the project, CR agrees with Amadora that such lists have value -- even when no one can agree on what that value might be.
Winners of the Week
Isaac Perlmutter and the current management at Marvel, who continue to lock things into place just the way they want them.
Losers of the Week
Fans of the Two Fat Slags from the British humor magazine Viz, who not only suffered the recent debut of a lousy movie adaptation, but witnessed the resulting mercy killing of the feature by dismayed editors.
Arkansas State Supreme Court Clarifies Elements of Display Law
In the second display law decision of the last two weeks, the Arkansas State Supreme Court clarified opinion on a display statute and interpretation of same by the state's attorney general. As opposed to a ruling on the constitutionality of the law, this was a step where the Court issues a response to questions by a district judge. One issue of particular interest at this stage was whether the law should apply all minors or distinctions between older and younger ones.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund had earlier joined a coalition against the law. At the time yesterday's news went public, the Fund had yet to issue its interpretation, but when they do that will be linked to directly right here.
This news story explains the decision, the process, and provides a happy quote from the booksellers' attorney.
The comics business analysis site ICV2.com provides their initial interpretation here. I would imagine keys for comics retaliers include the definition of display, the fact a physical barrier must exist between minor and product, and an intepretation of retailer malfeasance that includes not doing anything if a violation is discovered.
As in Michigan, the concerns of the CBLDF and other interested parties centers around a potenial overzealous intepretation of vague law, so explicit clarification can be its own positive outcome, no matter if the rule itself is struck down or upheld.
Several short interviews from sources far and wide, three with a Vegas spin:
* The Las Vegas Mercury interviews the musician/cartoonist Keith Knight, and an ex-cartoonist author who still dabbles, Charles Johnson.
* Las Vegas area resident Steven Grant gets the 5Q treatment from Alan David Doane at Newsarama, and tells a string of funny stories about working in mainstream comics.
* Boise's alt-weekly has a nice check-in with writer and editor Denny Eichhorn, whose idiosyncratic autobiographical work has recently been collected in a pair of volumes, Real Stuff and The Legend of Wild Man Fischer.
* In an article with a very funny lead, the editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons prepares for a presentation the old-fashioned way: talking smack.
2004 Version of Web Cartoon Charity to Benefit Five Hospitals
The Child's Play charity sponsored by the Web comic Penny Arcade, its supporting community and Web sitehas returned for 2004 by expanding its efforts to five hospitals. The charitable toy drive, which calls upon gamers to contribute in an effort to work against negative press stereotypes, raised a quarter million dollars in toys for a Northwest hospital in 2003. The resulting press coverage drew attention to the large number of people that accessed the comic and also the nature of the inter-relationships and loyalties that can grow around an on-line effort.
The conservative-leaning comic strip of widely-syndicated editorial cartoonist Scott Stantis, Prickly City appears in either 70 or just over 100 papers according to what reports you read, meaning a strong or a really strong sales opening for a feature just a few months old.
One more sign of the strip's success: someone took the time to prank it.
In a story reported by Editor & Publisher and soon to seep into other newspapers (scroll down a bit), a fake URL used by the cartoonist in the strip was registered and then linked so that anyone curious was re-directed to a porn site. Since it happened after publication, efforts to double-check the URL by editors earlier in production came up blank.
Little is known about the scope of any potential reader complaints, beyond that the syndicate was alerted through their client paper in Buffalo. According to the E&P piece, Stantis framed the prank in terms of coarse dialogue, a dirty trick lofted his way based on political beliefs, while his wife joked that at least it meant people were reading her husband's work.
Build It, and They Still May Climb Over It to Get to the Manga
The best part of this mostly exasperating exchange between Comic Book Resources' Arune Singh and Humanoids Managing Editor Paul Benjamin proves to be Benjamin noting, correctly, how little of American readers both current and potential have yet to experience the bulk of science fiction albums produced by European publishers.
There are a lot of nominees for worst part.
First, Benjamin seems to be asserting that American audiences will begin to find this work as soon as Humanoids product crashes the bookstands in greater waves and lands on more shelves. Does bookstore shelving really work like that? Has DC ever had success essentially launching a line into multiple marketplaces?
Second, the smaller size of the works -- which has distressed some fans who love the larger art particularly in the fantastic works and would seem to represent a reaction that new readers might have as well -- is dismissed by the Metal Hurlant editor as a publishing necessity and a gateway to added value. The first point is unconvincing and the second one kind of insulting.
Third, I have to imagine this provocative opening opening quote, "Humanoids is the first link between the European world of graphic novels and the American world of comic books" might not sit well with Terry Nantier and the album-focused NBM, or Pantheon and its success with Marjane Satrapi and recruitment of David B. and Joann Sfar.
The winner for worst part is the assertion of added shelves, because if it can be done and the books don't exactly set the world on fire -- I don't know that even prose science fiction is a hot category right now -- then it may have an impact on how bookstore buyers approach a range of non-manga material for years to come. Point number three has some bearing here, too. The recent modest success of everything save manga in bookstores seems to be about finding an audience on an almost title-by-title, artist-by-artist basis. Some publishers, like WW Norton with its signings of Eisner and Crumb, seem to be following that model. Others fall in the Humanoids camp. It should be interesting to find out how many soldiers that modest bridge from comics to general readership can bear.
I think it's fair to say that King Features has agonized over its on-line strategy for years. I believe their basic strategy has been to run a selection of slightly out of date strips on-line, through their own site and through clients, and letting some newspaper sites publish strips they purchased explicitly for that purpose in a more updated fashion.
Although ucomics.com has provided a similar service using the United Media properties, this is interesting for several reasons. One, King Features has a staggering catalog of old strips from which they can draw to provide the kind of overwhelming exclusive content that might wear down natural resistance to a pay feature work. Two, a lot of the strengths in any King Features line-up is in those strips performing at the 70- to 100-paper level -- surviving but not thriving. Editor Jay Kennedy, also an expert on underground comix, has a consistently good eye for accomplished art.
With the recent tipping of the balance away from dial-up connections and into DSL and faster ways of access, services like these stand that much more of a chance of being maneuverable and worthwhile. So while performance and follow-up will be crucial, and the way classic content will be provided should prove interesting, King Features finally making a bold move in the on-line arena is very worth noting.
Heidi also provides the most succinct new-hires memo on the movement of two talent recruiters between 360ep, Marvel and Tokyopop. I can't recall anyone significant leaving Tokyopop for New York; Bill Jemas taking on some familiar names is less of a surprise.
Goulart's take on Peanuts proves disappointing not because anyone should avoid crossing the great Charles Schulz but because the perspective is so perfunctory and represents very conventional wisdom -- the "it was great once, but got tired in the last decade" view. It would have been nice to read something more insightful. My own reading of the strip, since reinforced by observations in a great piece by the critic Jesse Fuchs from about two years ago, is that Peanuts may have sagged in the middle but it improved greatly towards the end. In the last 30 months even the much-maligned character of Rerun fell into place as one of Schulz's great strips within his strip, as an observant artist who found the behavior of the older kids in the neighborhood as odd as we sometimes did.
Also, while "underrated" strip Barnaby is a fine choice, and a flat-out great strip, being unknown to the extent most strips are doesn't really make it underrated. There are few as-praised strips during its lifetime or after. Goulart's essay thus fails to provide the real discovery that Art Spiegelman gave AH readers in a previous year making the case for The Bungle Family, a truly forgotten and under-appreciated work, and that's too bad.
In a move that might give the typical North American comics publisher a heart attack, the British humor magazine Viz has decided to drop its 15-year, popular and arguably signature feature in protest of the treatment it received in the current film version starring Fiona Allen and Sophie Thompson. According to the BBC report which has been widely replicated and bounced around UK media sources, the editor and artist Graham Drury was so dismayed by his characters' treatment on film, and how much of the film's plot works against the core concept, that he has made public his desire to never draw them again. A report in the Guardian says that the characters' final appearance will be in an anniversary issue out next week.
The movie opened on Friday in the United Kingdom without a premiere to blistering reviews, including the suggestion from one critic that scooping one's eyes out would be preferable to seeing it.
Getting What You Asked For? The Problem With Variants
Two smaller American comic book industry stories that popped up yesterday together throw a spotlight on the issue of variants in the Direct Market of comic book shops and related stores. The unexpected second coming of variant covers as a common sales inducement has caused concern for many retailers who see variants as potentially (1) an artificial spark for sales that isn't based on content and (2) an unnecessary reminder of gimmick sales of the early '90s that may inevitably lead to another generation of customers leaving comics entirely once they feel overwhelmed and manipulated.
The potential number (3) highlighted here is that yesterday's stories of a missing variant shipment in Los Angeles and a screwed-up solicitation promising variants where none exist may show that variants put too great a burden on an already delicate system of non-returnable sales. Late-arriving variants, as is the case with the Wolverine comic book whose shipment disappeared from a Diamond distribution warehouse, burden the retailer by giving him product after the surge of interest has subsided. Promised variants that don't show up means the publisher has to fire out an unplanned comic book, or as in this case with Devil's Due, has their orders cut with a phone call from the distributor explaining the situation.
Both cases take money out of the hands of the simple mechanism whereby money simply exchanges hands for items sought and provided and into the shadowy comics side world of auctions, speculation, and artificial collectors' items. In fact, both of these screw-ups may make certain comics of even greater value in that market, which one would think is an indictment of its general industry value. Don't expect any of the companies who benefit in the short-term from the boost in sales on the bottom line or for the publicity of a higher sales number to stop anytime soon.
It’s Love Your Bland and Slightly Amusing Neighbors Day: Hi and Lois Begins Second Fifty Years
No one seems to have noticed -- and honestly, why would they? -- but yesterday marked the 50-year anniversary of the Hi and Lois strip, featuring the wacky hijinks of suburban Flagston family anchored by rumpled patriarch Hi and his surprisingly attractive wife Lois. That's a long time for a marriage or a newspaper comic strip, although as in Lois' brother has gone fifty-plus years in the U.S. Army, this is a clan that knows a thing or two about commitment.
I have no guess why a strip like this one lasts 50 years while so many others don't. It's pretty obvious that the concept of "suburbia" is a sturdy one, and I think the design work is strong. Hi and Lois may be best known for its status as a second generation strip, featuring as creators two Walkers and a Browne.
Image travels to the land of underground and independent comics publishing in a Bay Area move made necessary by a need to be closer to head honcho Erik Larsen.
The southern California location of the Image offices played a symbolic role in the early perception of Image as a fresh and exciting alternative to New York mainstream comic book publishers. The impending re-location also brings into relief continuing efforts to find new ways to keep the company viable in its second decade, changes that made news early in 2004 when Larsen replaced Jim Valentino. The most amusing moment in the article is the notion that Image will benefit from low office space prices following the end of the Internet economy boom period, a cycle very familiar to the comic book publisher.
It was announced Friday that Issac "Ike" Perlmutter will take over the CEO role at Marvel Enterprises, replacing the retiring Allen Lipson. The move makes even more clear the control that Perlmutter and his closest business allies have over the publishing, licensing and entertainment company.
The Perlmutter move could almost be described as lateral. Perlmutter owns slightly over 10 percent of Marvel's outstanding stock, making him the largest shareholder, and has enjoyed a much higher profile than 61-year-old Lipson as a driving force behind the company. The labyrinthine financial arrangements between Perlmutter and Marvel, and their effect on Marvel stock, have long been the focus of financial community speculation.
Although past moves at the top of Marvel have had little immediate effect on day-to-day publishing, fans on the news site Newsarama have mentioned the role they believe the new CEO played in responding to direct market retailer complaints about former Marvel President Bill Jemas.
The change will formally take place on January 1, 2005.
Anime News Network provides a smart Dragnet-style follow-up to last week's suspension of manga serial "Kuni Ga Moeru" from Weekly Young Jump manga for its depiction of events related to the Rape of Nanjing/Nanking. This includes links to the art and the photo from where the art was taken that have been decried as, respectively, a distortion and a fake by right-wing protestors that succeeded in getting the serial suspended and the sequence removed from future publication. ANN also succinctly summarizes the objections of those who objected to those portions of the manga.
Although a great deal of what drives the "Kuni Ga Moeru" controversy may be wrapped up in a very specific cultural orientation towards war, atrocity and national shame, a more familiar-to-western-audiences United States election year buffoonery-style "blame the book" censorship has focused on Phoebe Gloeckner's alarming and often heartbreaking work A Child's Life.
Irv Novick, First-Generation Comic Book Artist and Industry Veteran, Passes Away
According to multiple reports from family and industry professionals, DC Comics art mainstay Irv Novick passed away on Friday morning. Novick's career in comics spanned 50 years, from 1939 to 1989, with some brief periods away from comics spent in advertising and comic strips. Novick was responsible for many of the more fondly remembered images from the early MLJ comics line, the company that eventually became Archie. He is perhaps best remembered as a DC Comics interiors artist on the war titles and on superheroes such as Batman and the Flash, on whose series he enjoyed a long run. He also provided art on a freelance basis for Boys Life. Novick had a strong sense of staging and drew an impressively chiseled heroic figure, and his line work had a lush, moody quality that recalled for many fans the heavily commercial illustration style made popular by Neal Adams.
The most compelling memorial available on-line is from Mark Evanier. According to Evanier, Novick scored a big contract with DC upon returning from the advertising business.
"With [Editor Bob] Kanigher's intervention, Novick landed a then-unprecedented freelance contract with DC. It included many perks not available to other artists and guaranteed him the company's highest rate and steady work. When he finished one job, he had to immediately be given another. Kanigher had no trouble keeping him busy, though other artists complained that assignments promised to them would sometimes be suddenly diverted to Irv."
Such agreements where an artist would be guaranteed a flow of assignments, one following the completion of another, became a popular way for mainstream comic book companies to get the most out of dependable craftsmen as the general talent pool for illustration shrank and became more specialized.
Novick had been increasingly sick in recent years, and as recently as a month before his passing the artist's relatives solicited letters from comics fans and well-wishers.
The story on Novick's passing at Newsarma indicates that any donations in his name should to to Alzheimer's Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1700, Chicago, IL 60601.
The business analysis site ICV2.com provides their usual smorgasbord of direct market and related numbers, this time for the month of September 2004. They do comic books here, manga here and graphic novels here.
Also provided are two pieces of analysis. The first compares 2004 favorably to 2003, pointing out that numbers may have been distorted last year due to the arrival of a now nearly forgotten "event" comic, the cross-company team-up JLA/Avengers. The other notes that the strength in sales comes from below the very top-tier books. This is important because the nature of the comic book market with its non-returnable sales means that numbers on top-selling books can often indicate money simply being moved from less popular titles to event or gimmick or even more of a sure-thing comic books.
Other items of potential interest:
* Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men still falls somewhat short of the rather odd #1 comic book of the moment, the solid-but-no-one's-gushing Superman/Batman, a situation sort of like one of the Law and Order spin-offs heading up the television ratings.
* Jeff Smith's $40 one-volume edition of Bone has sold well enough to give Cartoon Books a chart-topper on its last Bone publication, a nice capper to a great publishing relationship.
* The superhero mystery mini-series Identity Crisis continues to do well, both in initial orders and in re-orders via DC Comics' aggressive policy to keep serial works available.
* The site explains how ICV2.com works out sales figures, first by determining Batman sales and then running them against the abstract comparisons released by Diamond Comics. Although few have ever disputed ICV2.com's figure as significant distortions, and they themselves lay claim rigorous statistical accuracy, the two-step process is probably worth noting.
* Anime just may lack that next breakout hit, which could have an impact down the line on manga sales figures.
Ninth Art's Alex de Campi makes an interesting point in the midst of a lot of semi-strained commentary about mainstream comic books. With low sales, little buzz and what de Campi asserts is the growing specter of creator flight, has the Jim Lee-created, DC-owned, high-end superheroes imprint Wildstorm ever looked less vital?
NuMarvel, Old Marvel... we've heard the distinctions that fans and critics make about editorial eras at the big superhero comic book publishers, but do they really matter as much as some would like to think?
The usual slow news Friday tends to send comics-interested readers scrambling for interviews and other related soft-news material. The morning yields up three pretty diverting offerings in the small press, mainstream and peripheral categories.
* "We come in, we get hot and we're snuffed out to be replaced by the next bright, shiny thing." Yesterday's Mark Millar piece may not be as interesting for its perfunctory and hype-driven look at superhero title Ultimates Volume 2 as for the writer's matter-of-fact, mercenary, and slightly melancholy snapshot of his own career and those of his peers.
* There's barely a mention of comic books in this profile of writer Jonathan Lethem, but he fires off a pretty good one about changing attitudes among the literary establishment towards what was once considered pure junk culture like comics. "Now I think we take it for granted that literature is open to these notions."
More on “Kuni ga Moeru” Suspension Over Nanjing Plotline
Yesterday's story about manga publishing giant Shueisha Inc suspending the serial "Kuni ga Moeru" gets a little more presswire action in places like here and here.
Scanning these stories yields a slightly fuller picture of the protests received by the publisher, and the additionally dismaying word that the collection of the story into book form will also be clipped.
In one of many discussions of the issue throughout various American comics industry chat locations, cartoonist David Lasky says that the incident probably best known to Western historians as the "Rape of Nanking" was almost fodder for a comic book story by the Seattle-based artist, writer and designer: "... my God what a horror comic that would be."
This distressing story from Japan's manga industry broke over several days time, starting with reports of complaints last week and finally culminating in news yesterday that publisher Shueisha has apparently bowed to the pressure of a group of right-wing Japanese assemblymen and other various complaints, including a couple of hundred phone calls, and pulled the story "Kuni ga Moeru" (The Country is Burning) from the pages of its Weekly Young Jump magazine. The serial is by veteran cartoonist Hiroshi Motomiya, the popular artist who created the "Salaryman" manga and mentored, among others, Sho Fumimura.
Here is the story's description from the publication's web site (a page that was not surprisingly off-line early this morning).
"Can the flow that has been erred by humans be corrected by humans?" The story begins with this question raised by the main character, a young commercial bureaucrat Yusuke Honda. The story is set in Japan in the early Showa Era (late 30's), beginning with the unprecedented financial crisis to the rise in military power without a full recovery from the recession. Depicted in the story is the life of Yusuke Honda, who tries to maintain his integrity as a human in this tumultuous era.
Hiroshi Motomiya presents this historical spectacle to every Japanese of the 21st century.
At the heart of the controversy is the story's treatment of killings at Nanjing in 1937, logical subject matter for a strip dealing with the life of a bureaucrat during that tumultuous period. As reported in English-language Asian news sources, the actual objection raised in this case was that the Massacre was depicted as if it had actually happened. While most of the ongoing controversy between Japanese and Chinese center around how many people were killed during that time, some cling to the belief the incident failed to happen at all and that evidence to the contrary may have been doctored -- a construction of "logic" familiar to western audiences, albeit concerning a different set of historical events. A further claim made was that visual reference used by the artist was faked, or at least could not be confirmed not to be a fake.
"Kuni ga Moeru" had been running since 2002, failing to disturb any member of the magazine's low seven-figure weekly circulation until last month.
From an artistic standpoint, whatever legitimate historical controversy might exist provides fuel to but does not mitigate the issue of whether a respected, established artist should be able to deal with the subject through his art in the manner he deems appropriate. However my lack of immersion in Japanese politics, culture and art might lead me to judgment that lacks perspective and nuance.
The good folks at Motley Fool seem to write about Marvel Enterprises kind of a lot, although I'm not complaining. This latest article provides a really good overview of concerns regarding the corporate rewards system the current owners have locked into place. Those of you with slightly longer memories might recall is how much the late '90s bankruptcy ownership battle centered around which competing group could do right by stockholders, something these sorts of arrangement call into question.
From a personal standpoint, I always thought it was interesting in a kind of slit-the-wrists way how extravagantly some people can be rewarded as toy design "creators" given how poorly the actual comic book character creators have been rewarded and treated over the years. But since no one really talks about that, maybe it's just me.
MTV gives us this story, also picked up by wire services and comics news sites galore, about how writer Judd Winnick plans bringing to mainstream comic books the second HIV-positive superhero after the early 1990s Image character Shadowhawk, this time a kid partner to the character Green Arrow to go by the codename "Speedy".
Beyond another in a series of social issues that comics publications have explored since at least the last time Green Arrow received press attention for a sidekick, the move reflects a general area of personal concern to the writer (he created a non-fiction work about close friend Pedro Zamora and examined issues of sexual orientation-related bigotry through a supporting character in a previous assignment) and provides Winnick a chance to work with an issue that holds different implications since similar stories were told in comics and TV a decade and more ago.
Although comics readers, critics and cultural historians have long debated the utility of working real-world social concerns through superhero stories, the "Speedy" news kicked off a greater than expected wave of bizarre rhetoric in fan circles, culminating in some questioning the writer's motives in taking the character in this direction. If you're really, really interested -- and shame on you -- you can probably find some of this material rooting around here and here.
Judge Dismisses CBLDF-backed Complaint But Eases Concerns
That Judge Anna Diggs Taylor dismissed the complaint by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, six prominent state booksellers, and the Great Lakes Booksellers Association over a Michigan "harmful to minors" display law was enough for State Attorney General Mike Cox to issue a press release in celebration.
In slightly more convincing language including positive testimony from a fellow plaintiff, the CBLDF argues via their release that the judge's decision includes satisfactory answers to almost every serious question raised that led to suit's filing in January. This includes more exact language on the types of covers affected, protection for sellers who take steps to correct a situation whereby a minor is reading such a work, and some exclusion for works of literary value.
If anyone out there ends up doing a closer reading of Taylor's ruling, it might be interesting to explore how what was written ameliorates concerns booksellers expressed over the potential cost of meeting the law's requirements. If the bookseller groups are happy those worries must be diminished, but right this moment I'm not exactly sure how.
In a big day for those of us who sit at our computers with the CBLDF press release page on our browsers, hitting the "refresh" button, the Fund did extremely well at this year's Small Press Expo and announced the winner of a Queen and Country contest. For some reason that contest reminds me of something a manga publisher would do.
For the trend-watchers among you, it's definitely worth checking out this pretty standard piece on efforts by Dynamic Forces to market and support an early 2005 Top Cow comic book. Not only should there be a lot of focused interest next year in projects from "mid-major" mainstream comic book companies like Top Cow, the increased role of support companies like Dynamic Forces may prove to be the more interesting development. The New Jersey-based company seems to have taken a much more direct interest in supporting and even publishing works that fit their high-end collectibles profile, and it's an interesting proposition how useful such product lines might be in driving interest to a book rather than the other way around.
Every so often, there appears a news feature that gets out on a national newswire and pops up for days or even weeks in various locations big and small throughout North America. Such is the case with this recent Andrea Almond profile of cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz that highlights the strip's aggressive take on the 2004 presidential election. Worth noting, or at least I missed it when it happened, is Almond's mention that the Fresno Bee newspaper dropped the strip earlier this year for what seems to be little more than the direction the political commentary had taken.
A great example of how articles like this can get around is Searcy Arkansas' own Anita Hamilton providing her take on the piece's appearance in Stars and Stripes.
A quick stop by Alcaraz's own web site indicates he's in the midst of a book tour. Scroll down about a screen's worth of space for remaining dates and locations.
Didio is being interviewed upon the occasion of his slightly curious promotion in title at DC Comics (maybe he gets an extra plant in his office, or people have to stoop when they see him in the hallway, who knows?), which he at once says was about finding focus for his position at DC and hints it may have been about locking him into the job for a few more years. Didio's most interesting point is that his moves thus far, basically a concentration on the major DC superhero characters and locking in talent for those characters, are part of a more general publishing plan that may have line-wide ramifications when it comes into fuller focus. Beware the line-wide ramification. Also, he provides an unintentionally funny image of a pre-DC Didio having to sort his comics to meet a budget. The interview also proves worth reading for the executive's ability to mention Julie Schwartz, Jim Lee (twice), Frank Miller and Paul Levitz in respectful, awed fashion. Didio should be around for as long as he wishes to be.
The interview with the Marvel Head Editorial Honcho is vintage Quesada, charming yet defensive about recent Marvel moves in the manner of a guy at the end of a bar defending a much-maligned buddy. His insight into a recent comic book plotline where Spider-Man finds out Norman "Green Goblin" Osborn boinked Spidey's long-ago girlfriend Gwen Stacy and made magic fighter babies that now attack Spider-Man comes across pretty compelling for long-time observers in terms of how the iconic Stacy character is viewed in the post-movie Marvel scheme of things.
Changing some of the Gwen backstory does little to affect the Peter/Spider-Man world outside of watching Peter grow as a character and the cast grow as people.
Also interesting, and funny, is how Quesada promises more "You can't do that!" moments to come:
What's funny is that I've seen that look within the office at least three other times when discussing our plans for 2005 and 2006, man it's going to be a great couple of years for all our True Believers!
Take that, fanboys!
The Avi Arad interview comes to us thanks to promotion to help the less-than-blockbusterThe Punisher with one of its overseas markets. What proves interesting here is the extent to which the Marvel movie pointman is aware of various publishing strategies. "Confusing" may be a better word to describe Arad's back-handed admission that kids seems to discover the characters in other media first, which makes perfect sense, followed up by an assertion that the average age of a Marvel Comics reader is 16, much younger than conventional wisdom and various leaked surveys would indicate.
Christian Science Monitor Stirs Up Comics in Classroom Issues
A lot of comics readers will doubtless find something to be offended by in this Christian Science Monitor article on comics in the classroom. It's difficult for many critics to press for educators to expose children to a wide variety of challenging prose material without casting comics into the role of dumbed-down option material. Complicating matters, some critics might genuinely feel that comics as a visual medium aren't as important to the development of young minds as the more abstract way of learning they believe is offered by prose. And in some cases, comic book Hamlet versus actual Hamlet, say, the comics stand a good chance of really being the lesser option.
Truth be told, the whole darn issue of comics in the classroom yields some pretty complex arguments, something that comes out of this brief, but well-reasoned and measured piece. A use of comics profiled here in laudatory fashion, the graphic novel Maus utilized in one troubled classroom in a way that sparks interest and future scholarship, places the comics medium into a "bridge" role from non-reading to reading, you know, real books -- comics as a slightly disreputable rebound date. The article also floats the notion that a passion for comics can keep someone functionally illiterate, and then turns right around and suggests this might not be a bad thing. Worth reading.
Something worth paying attention to, I think: the various projects translated manga giant Tokyopop will take on in the next 24-36 months, still coming to terms with the full flush of its publishing juggernaut status.
For some reason I don't think this is the first such project I've heard about there, as claimed in the text, but a bunch of articles claiming "this is the first one of these" wouldn't surprise me, either. At any rate, I think it's worth noting that in years past this project would have probably ended up buried in a monthly release list at Dark Horse or a DC/Vertigo mini-line or, perhaps, nowhere at all.
Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman in a series of movies from Warner Brothers in the 1970s and 1980s, died Sunday in New York after spending a day in a coma. Reeve had been paralyzed by a horse riding accident in 1995, and had been best known in recent years for his almost excruciatingly public struggle to walk again. Reeve's ubiquity on talk shows, awards show, and television news magazines derived from the poignant irony of his physical situation: Superman in a wheelchair. He seemed to bear the indignities of both that circumstance and the hungry spotlight it threw on his personal life with a significant amount of aplomb, continuing to work when and where he could and fighting in recent months for research that could one day improve his condition and the condition of those similarly afflicted. He was even name-dropped for those efforts in a presidential debate two days before his passing.
Reeve's portrayal of Superman in the 1978 Richard Donner-directed film, and to a lesser extent in its sequels, had a definite if hard to measure effect on American comics. Reeve was almost miraculously good in the thankless role, something that becomes more apparent as the then-lauded special effects fade against a background of subsequent decades' worth of more sophisticated digital effects work. Reeve moved really well. He looked tall and confident in the Superman outfit instead of ludicrous, no small feat. He seemed appropriately doughy and ignorable as Clark Kent. Reeve nailed the physicality of the Superman/Clark Kent secret identity dichotomy so well it somehow didn't seem totally ridiculous that no one at the Daily Planet newsroom figured out the truth -- something that never should have worked better on film than in a comic book. In a curious inversion of a typical guy/girl movie relationship, Reeve's underplayed attentiveness propped up Margot Kidder's slightly frightening Lois Lane. Reeve leavened his performance with as much old-fashioned movie star charm as anyone could muster by the late 1970s, letting the audience in on the bouncy comedy that makes up a large part of the concept's core appeal. Somehow the role transformed a blandly handsome, solid yet somewhat boring actor into someone you'd think had years ahead of him playing top-notch romantic comedy and character dramas. It's impossible to imagine anyone else in those particular movies at those particular times.
Reeve's acting success and the undeniable hit status of the first film breathed new life into the Superman license, perhaps giving comics creators false hope that there was more than a few hours worth of story playing the Last Son of Krypton concept as a straight adventure over the fantastic and still fun-to-read oddness of the 1950s and 1960s. The success of the films also made a place for future superheroes movies that exude naive reverence as opposed to the knowing self-mockery of the Batman TV show. As the most important of the post-Star Wars film vehicles, it gave the superheroes a seat at the potential blockbuster table long after they stopped deserving one. The release of Superman, and the desire of its makers to have a smooth publicity season preceding its debut, also played a crucial role in helping Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson secure certain rights for Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
As usual, a decent obituary can be found at the New York Times (registration required). Of the early major media pieces, I like the one at ABC News. Mark Evanier gives his succinct impression of Reeve as a show business figure here. For a fan's reaction followed by the certain horrors of a large message-board style geek community sound-off, your go-to guy as usual is good ol' Harry Knowles.
The writer Warren Ellis steps in for not-a-journalist Rich Johnston on today's "Lying in the Gutters" at Comic Book Resources. One result is that the column is actually up and running much earlier in the morning than usual. Another is that you get a bunch of quick-hits from Ellis contacts more like publishing news than proper gossip. Ellis proves to be a gracious guest. In his introduction, he notes correctly that despite claims for choosing entertainment over sourced-out newswriting, or perhaps because of those claims, Rich Johnston may be the only person on the Internet who writes comics-related news divorced from the major company hype cycles.
Then Ellis ruins my day by running news of writer Paul De Filippo's new project for DC, something I thought no one knew about and which was going to potentially be a rare "new story" in my six-to-ten-weeks-of-lead-time Comics Journal newsbrief writing gig.
Coincidences in comics: some while back, Harlan Ellison and I contacted Wildstorm independently and unaware of each other in the same 24-hour period about Paul Di Filippo. Paul Di Filippo is an awesomely gifted writer of science fiction. The weird post-cyberpunk, biotech, retrotech Nineties sf form was basically led out of its stable by Di Filippo's STEAMPUNK TRILOGY and RIBOFUNK stories. Incredibly inventive and quite blisteringly mad, Paul marked out the perimeters of excellence a long time ago, and I thought comics needed him working in the form.
All lines to Paul's Lovecraftian Rhode Island residence have been cut, but today I've been made aware that Wildstorm have indeed commissioned the proposal he sent them. It's called BEYOND THE FARTHEST PRECINCT.
It's the sequel to Alan Moore, Gene Ha and Zander Cannon's TOP 1O.
Thanks for nothing, Ellis. Di Filippo is comics mad, and can be found here. Get a feel for Top Ten if you lack one through this review.
Manga Takes Bookscan Chart Top Back From Spiegelman, Towers
The impressive multi-week run of Art Spiegelman's In the Shadows of No Towersends with manga taking over its natural (?) place at the top of the Bookscan charts, says ICV2.com.
The longstanding conventional wisdom against Bookscan is that it only covers 70 percent of the bookstore market with a tendency towards big stores, leaving out independent booksellers of the kind that might do better with Spiegelman's work than a popular manga volume, so perhaps In the Shadow of No Towers would win out at a more representative count at all stores, perhaps not. And really, why even ask the question?
Marjane Satrapi's second Persepolis volume continues to sell well, placing solidly in the top five. No word yet on whether the plural in chart-topper Fruits Basket is there simply to drive old-time comics reporters and their copy editors insane. While you chew on that, here is comics author Matt Fraction's recent review of Spiegelman's latest work, which is still at #2 with over 20,000 total copies sold to date.