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

December 31, 2004

CBLDF’s Year in Review

imageComic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein has written a year-ending letter about the group's 2004, which has been posted on his site and can be found, probably in its entirety, on any number of comics-related web sites.

Here's what popped out at me on a first read-through.
* The Fund seems to expect the case of US Customs' seizure of "Richie Bush" and "Moj Stub" to resolve itself early next month.

* By location in the letter and by Brownstein's language, the display law cases in Arkansas (beneficial ruling) and Michigan (beneficial interpretation) were perhaps the big wins.

* Brownstein points out another benefit of fighting against certain laws -- they aren't enforced while the fight is going on.

* The Fund is pursuing an aggressive policy of amicus brief filing, which I think might be a change under Brownstein.

* Brownstein notes the personnel changes on the Fund's board of directors.

* Fundraising went pretty well this year, and the "war chest" increased.

At any rate, any close follower of the North American comic book industry should read the letter in full. I hope to follow up in more detail at a later date.
posted 6:48 am PST | Permalink

Futuropolis is Back… I Think

imageI'm always slightly worried about presenting news like this because I lack the context and background to simply nail something big and fishy that might be obvious to those who live with this market every day. Still, I believe this article is announcing the return of at least a Futuropolis imprint in January, if not a new stand-alone publishing effort. Reprints start next month, with new work in the "tradition" of the publisher slated for September.

Futuropolis was an important arts comic-conscious publisher of BD in the 1970s and 1980s; it featured work from cartoonists like Enki Bilal, Edmond Baudoin and Jacques Tardi.
posted 6:38 am PST | Permalink

The Beat’s Weird Year in Review

I don't know if it's the egg nog or what, but for the second time this holiday season, longtime comics personality Heidi MacDonald has offered up really strange comics-related commentary on her popular site.

Last week it was an essay about a general lack of manga coverage in the midst of a blog that seems to cover news of actor Clive Owen and superhero movie posters more frequently than anything other than mainstream comic books.

This week it's a longish piece about 2004 that quotes a Frank Miller admonition against self-loathing but frames nearly every important thing to happen in comics this year -- one or two corners of it, anyway -- in terms of concepts like respectability and mainstream recognition.
posted 6:33 am PST | Permalink

Potential Trends That Only Interest Me


With more and more people choosing high-speed Internet access, I bet we're bound to see more use of graphics-intensive PDF files as supplementary advertisements tied into direct market ordering mechanisms.

Found via Scott McCloud.
posted 6:30 am PST | Permalink

Oliphant to Attend World Conference

Although apparently outnumbered by blacksmiths, editorial cartoonists still have one thing going for them -- enough public respect that the thought of Pat Oliphant attending some sort of world summit talking about real-world issues doesn't seem ridiculous the way it might for other groups of his pen and ink peers.
posted 6:26 am PST | Permalink

Blah, Blah, Blah

"I've seen some comics that people do in one eruption, and they're just not very good." -- Art Spiegelman on process, to Tasha Robinson at The Onion.
posted 6:21 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Tom Hart Releases Collection; Will Tour in March
It's Only a Game Scores Italian Deal
Comics is Superhero Comics (and Zombies)
Yet Another Best of List
Yet Another Best of List
Comics Shoplifter Busted
Sweet Eddy's and the Girls Market
Stories That Won't Die: Lewis/Clark GN
Susan Sontag Helped Us Read Lois Lane
Unsolicited E-Mail Angers Some
Roz Chast Exhibits Cartoons, Eggs

December 30, 2004

Marvel Makes Paniccia Senior Editor

Marvel Comics announced late afternoon yesterday that it has made Mark Paniccia a Senior Editor with the comics line. The hire is noteworthy because Paniccia's last major stop was with Tokyopop, where he worked on new talent development, something Marvel intends to have him do with their company. The press release on the hire also essentially states that Marvel is returning to making work that will be initially published in graphic novel/tradepaperback form.

What impact this all has will have more to do with follow-through than any initial plans, but the potential intentions at work here are very worth pointing out.

Thanks to Matt Brady at Newsarama for correcting my original timeline.
posted 6:29 am PST | Permalink

Last Days of The Norm?

In case you're a fan and hadn't noticed the position of the hands on the clock, Michael and Nicole Jantze head into the final hours of their subscription drive to keep the previously print-syndicated strip alive as a web-only feature. Their goal has been 4000 subscribers by year's end, and if there was a late-Christmas rush this could conceivably be very close.
posted 6:24 am PST | Permalink

Steven Grant on Exclusives

imageWriter Steven Grant talks about mainstream comic book exclusivity deals in his ongoing column at Comic Book Resources. He seems particularly interested that many of these exclusives are going to solid, mid-level talents rather than than proven sales successes.

I am not exactly sure what the long-standing tradition has been with exclusivity deals, but I swear that at least DC has been going after this kind of creator in this fashion for a few years now. I recall this catching my attention when DC had signed up artists like the guy at the time drawing the title Nightwing, which I don't think of as a huge-seller. And if you think about it, exclusivity deals at this level makes a lot of sense: most such deals are tied into productivity, which helps guarantee stability on certain titles that can ill afford creative team shuffling. Also, if you're at the point of becoming a "star" creator, that's a time that it might be more attractive to keep your options open at all the publishers.

Art from Michael Lark, who recently signed an exclusive deal with Marvel Comics.
posted 6:06 am PST | Permalink

Go, Listen


Matt Groening on NPR

The alt-weekly cartoonist with the most lucrative dayjob in history, Groening's usually a pretty good interview.

Scott McCloud and Steve Bissette on Creators' Rights

It's weird listening to interviews on this subject from that era because at the time it felt like the beginning of something rather than what now looks like a culmination of a certain way of thinking about comics and the industry. This has been up for a while, but you can never be sure when TCJ will take something down.
posted 5:55 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
They Still Make Comics Like This?
Mike Diana Inspires TfM?
Slave Labor on Printer's Holiday Until Jan 19
Manley Decides Not to Take on Investor
Jeffrey Brown Talks Wolverine
"Cool Kid" Cartoonist (SR)
Scott Kurtz: Vote for Me
Vegas Store Carrying Odd Comics Troubled
Inspiration for Bianca Castafiore Dies

December 29, 2004

Joann Sfar and JC Menu Called to Task weighs in on Joann Sfar's criticisms of this year's broadly-chosen Angouleme Festival prize nominees with an article that basically upholds the Festival's choices while allowing that Sfar is playing his proper role to the hilt in making his comments. The fact that someone would stop and correct Sfar on a date or two indicates to me there's some real passion behind the conflict, although whether it's the kind that evaporates once the festival hits I'm not informed enough to say. The article links to another piece that I think may have Jean-Christophe Menu calling a comics critic a pig and a BD magazine a rag, but my French is bad enough I'm not exactly sure what the hell that's about or how it relates.

One of the best things about this article is that it points out that Angouleme has published a 31-page downloadable PDF document about their prize nominees. It sure would be great if any of the major American awards were to do something like this. If you can't read French, it's fun to look at for exposure to European tendencies in cover design.

And a happy birthday to Les Humanoides Associes, which turned 30 this month.

That is a cover by Sfar that has nothing to do with this story.
posted 7:54 am PST | Permalink

Feature Articles Feature Little of Worth

imageIt hasn't been the greatest week for feature articles on comics. This Hollywood Reporter piece on the potential financial repurcussions of The Incredibles' success for companies that wish to license their properties for films -- basically suggesting a "Maybe we don't need you" stance -- whips a lot of conjecture around, but fails to make a precise point. The most hilarious part of the article is when the writer intones that no really "iconic" character has been created since Wolverine. How many major filmable characters does a single company need? Isn't the potential $3 billion DC has waiting in big-character film profits enough for now? Does Men In Black and Blade money spend differently than Spider-Man money? I'm sure these companies will be fine, and if the comics to film gravy train ends up wih a few less sleeper cars, boo-fucking-hoo.

imageI still liked the HR piece better than this New York Times article on manga, which somehow manages to give more ink to Marvel Comics reps than Tokyopop's. (No one from Viz is quoted at all.) The article suffers greatly by making several sweeping generalizations -- Trina Robbins is extremely ill-served by the way her quote is used -- and concentrating on the new wave of manga lines in the guise of an article about manga generally. Plus it also tries to be an article about manga's appeal to female readers. In other words, it's an incoherent mess, with misleading emphasis after misleading emphasis, and a total waste of the New York Times' ability to get people to talk on the record.

Finally, four of you pointed out an MSNBC article about Dark Horse I linked to yesterday has them publishing Ghost World.

UPDATE: Mr. Kurt Busiek wrote in a little after noon my time to inform me the MSNBC article also has Dark Horse publishing Road to Perdition!

That's Batman doing the "Nobody Likes Me" walk back to the Batcave in a poster for the forthcoming Batman Begins. The manga art is something related to the DC manga line's Swan.
posted 7:11 am PST | Permalink

Comics in Middletown, USA

It looks like Newsarama may turn their recent talks with new comic shop owners Jason Pierce and Tim Holman into something of an occasional series. That might prove very interesting; I was after the Comics Journal to do something on retail start-up earlier this year, but the editors decided to pass. As retailer Brian Hibbs once reminded me, we know very little about how direct market business mechanisms work, and I'm interested in finding out more. I don't expect Newsarama to ask the same questions I might, but I'm sure there will be a lot to infer.

The weird thing is that this store is in the town I was born and raised: Muncie, Indiana. So I may from time to time have sort of a different view on some of the details.

Take the location selected for the store: it's not really a proper Mall but a small shopping center that most people pass on their way to the popular Muncie Mall. My memory is such that to call it high-traffic, as has been asserted, is to be very generous. When you can see the location it requires a difficult left-hand turn to get in; half the drive-by traffic won't see the location because of the location's structural layout, which effectively cuts off any generous view for westbound traffic until you're just past. The good things about the location are that it's on the prosperous North Side, it has parking, and it's near the town's longest-running sort-of counter-cultural institution, Stonehenge Records, where my friends used to buy bongs.

I'd be interested in knowing if the retailers have stocked any manga (the last time I visited my hometown in 2002, all my friends' kids were crazy about the stuff), and how they plan on competing with Bob's Comic Castle and The Wizard's Keep, which unless they've closed are the two shops in town that work the same hobby areas these guys seem to be shooting for.

One more thing: as students of sociology know, Muncie is the famous "Middletown USA," and has been studied to death as a model of American tastes and views. I don't know if it's by accident, but this makes the store a pretty good choice for a longer, sustained look.
posted 6:45 am PST | Permalink

Remembering Alf Tupper, Johnny Cougar and Other Sports Heroes


As I was thinking about sports-related comics just this past Sunday, I was happier than usual to read this piece on corny, old sports comics of Great Britain's past. It's a straight up nostalgia piece, and they gave a little too much ink to Dez Skinn dreaming up a new publishing project, but I like the art. I nicked the picture above from a Roy of the Rovers web site, and if you go there you can find a picture of the characters playing music with Spandau Ballet.

posted 6:34 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Jhonen Vasquez Announces New SLG Title
Auctions for Tsunami Relief: Clio, Bendis Board
Chinese Cartoonist Sues Nike, Wins
Steve Lafler Launches Self-Employment Blog
Chat Room Talks Make For Four Comics
McKone Signs Two-Year Marvel Exclusive
Bosco's Donates to Library GN Section
Washington Post Comics Page Shake-Up
Quitely DC Exclusive Official's Shortbread Awards


December 28, 2004

Core Issue Watch: The Present Editorial Climate and a Potential Effect on Comics

It's my gut feeling that one of the big, ongoing issues facing comics right now is an increasing scrutiny for strip and editorial cartoons within our culture of complaint. The tone of various complaints and criticisms right now seem slightly different to me, perhaps because comics and talking about them are taken more seriously now than in a time when this could kind of thing could be widely seen as an objection not worth making. More importantly, with the newspaper business being what it is and more and more eyes at all levels of journalism on the bottom line, I don't see where any real resistance is going to come from if a set of complaints against a single work or editorialist were to build critical momentum.
posted 7:14 am PST | Permalink

Late December Means Profiles

You get a lot of company profiles at the end of the year, both for their status as feaures with wide-open window to fill a space need when it comes up, and because the calendar has analysts looking backward and forward.

imageThis profile of the last surviving company of the Independent Comics Era, Dark Horse Comics, becomes more interesting if you look at their manga efforts in the light of forthcoming projects at DC and Marvel. In fact, Dark Horse is so far ahead it can plan one of those semi-popular jumping-on 25-cent efforts around a manga title (pictured). At that point, you're not just throwing stuff against a wall to see what sticks. There are also a few, rare-for-this-kind-of-thing numbers bandied about.

imageMilton Griepp is quoted in the article, and his current endeavor provides a nice, succinct profile of the recent Disney-related comics news that tries to tie everything together for a more concise picture of what Disney is doing right now. I'm not sure what to think of the implications involved. On the one hand, Disney is smart to play it modest. On the other hand, save for work from skilled cartoonists like Don Rosa and Carl Barks (art pictured above), just about my only interest in Disney would be if they were to invest in existing comics infrastructures to make a better pipeline for its product, which would probably need to be preceded by a more dramatic, specific investment.
posted 6:39 am PST | Permalink

Blah Blah Blah

You can make it a Daniel Robert Epstein Tuesday with a trio of his comics related interviews at

"They told me that their print shops are in the south and people would be offended by it. One printer told me that they didn't do these things in the 1930's and they weren't going to do it now. I did have some contact with a mob connected printer but their prices didn't make any sense." -- Photographer Bob Adelman on getting his Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s printed, found via Great Curve.

image"I decided that if I was going to spend all that time doing something it should be something that really matters to me and not just another superhero or science fiction book. So what is something I feel passionate about that would make a good story? I thought that the stuff that happened in my past was something that had a feeling and a mood." -- Dave Gibbons on the genesis of his project The Originals.

"I first decided to do them when I was living in New York City in the mid 70s. I was in a bookstore and I just picked up the Oscar Wilde fairy tales, which I hadn't even heard of. I was familiar with his work of course but I just thought those stories would make excellent comic books. But it still took me 17 years to even begin it." -- P. Craig Russell, on making comics of Oscar Wilde's fairy stories.
posted 6:29 am PST | Permalink

2004, Measured in Mutants

imageHave you ever wondered what a year in comics might look like solely from the vantage point of Marvel's various X-Men comic books? Me, neither. It's sort of compelling to read if you're in the right mood, though.

Paul O'Brien, whose broader editorial work I've linked to before, furthers his case for being the Lance Armstrong of writers about comics, dominating a specific, curious endeavor for which the rest of us can only manage a kind of abstract appreciation. Most of this is just like eating a big bowlful of depression, but I did get the sense that there may be a news feature to be written about comic book writer Chuck Austen, whose ability to work efficiently with editors and maintain if not exceed sales levels on certain franchise books may have finally been outstripped by fan dissatisfaction wih the creative results. I'm not going to write it or anything, but I'd read one.

I think that John Cassaday image was for a 2004 X-Men comic of some sort.
posted 6:06 am PST | Permalink

Home Decoration Geek-Porn

I've never been able to keep very many comics-related or effectively store the ones I do manage to gather together, probably because my preference would be libraries everywhere having these books so I didn't have to. Still, I find photos like these on Elayne Riggs' blog fascinating; I'd probably buy a whole publication of nothing but photos of people's bookshelves.
posted 6:01 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Man Seeks Home for Comics Research Library
Promising Draftsman Award Nominees Announced
Jae Lee Exclusive to Marvel Three Years
Viz Slowly Expands Ani-Manga Program
Sin City Trades to Precede Film
Universal Press Cartoonists Band Together For Charity

December 27, 2004

Patrick Pinchart to Helm Spirou


The venerable BD magazine institution Spirou has named Patrick Pinchart to its editorship position. The job opened in October when Thierry Tinlot resigned amid rumors he was displeased by some major internal restructuring at the parent company, rumors since denied.

Pinchart helmed the magazine from 1987 to 1993 and has more recently spearheaded the multi-media department at Dargaud. The article linked to above indicates the print and on-line editorial departments will be merged. Olivier Van Vaerenbergh was named as Pinchart's assistant.
posted 7:59 am PST | Permalink

Pittsburgh Comics Scene Profiled

imageI'm fond of journalist Tony Norman's feature articles. Norman wrote for the Comics Journal briefly in the early and mid-1990s and does most of the comics-related articles that appear in Pittsburgh print media. He looks to be the engine behind this snappy portrait of the local Steeltown comics scene, which includes a rundown of the artists who take part with little pictures like the one here of Jim Rugg.

Local scenes like the one described are very often an important part of the art form's development. Many serve as places where cartoonists receive feedback and feel supported. They can also be sources of practical advice about the making of comics, and places where cartoonists may forge professional relationships that later flower in anthologies and even publishing deals.
posted 7:50 am PST | Permalink

2004 In Newspaper Strips

As there are so very few writers covering newspaper comic strips and editorial cartoons, it's nice to see a publishing news wrap-up from Mike Peters at the Dallas Morning News, even if all those plotlines one right after the other makes the whole field sound sort of goofy.

imageMr. Peters' article failed to mention yesterday's conclusion of the long-running Steve Roper and Mike Nomad, which was marked by a number of local articles like this one, many of which were also announcing the replacement feature for that paper.
posted 7:41 am PST | Permalink

Marvel Signs with Tyler Sports

The always sharp, eagle-like eye of Kevin Melrose picked up on additional coverage of another Marvel licensing agreement, this time one I missed, with a company called Tyler Sports.

I want to mention such deals as often as they occur, because in a business sense Marvel's ability to capitalize on its movie success with smart, specific licensing deals is the biggest break with the company's past practices even in flush periods.
posted 7:32 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Great Pekar Headline
Cartoons to Teach Korean Politics
Sac Bee's Rex Babin's Year in Review
SF Chronicle Loves Los Bros
Summit Sites Include Fort Wayne?
Marvel Launches Gathering of Teen Titles
Dargaud Loans Characters for Pro-Animal Campaign
Creepy Cartoon Hitler Banner
Local Cartoonist Profile: Ellie Tomaszewski

December 26, 2004

CR Sunday Magazine

imageIt's the day after Christmas and I've got nothin'.

I hope not to make a habit of this, but a mere three weeks after the previous one it's another edition of False Starts, featuring links and commentary on the incomplete thoughts I had when I was trying to come up with a proper editorial or feature. This one at least throws the spotlight on something potentially useful -- a long list of sports comics, the length of which is mostly due to (no surprise) manga.

I hope everyone continues to have a happy and safe holiday.
posted 10:44 am PST | Permalink

Pulled From The Longbox

Review of Amy Unbounded #7-12 (2001)
William Sandeson 1913-2003 (2004)
Review of Sketchbook 2003 (2003)

posted 10:42 am PST | Permalink

December 25, 2004

CR Week In Review


Top Stories
The week's most important comics-related news stories, December 18 to December 24, 2004:

1. Word hits the comics industry of the December 17 chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Todd McFarlane Productions, the comics publishing arm of cartoonist Todd McFarlane's entertainment conglomerate. Among the creditors listed is former NHL hockey player Tony Twist, for the full amount of a $15 million judgment over the depiction of a mobster character in the company's Spawn title named Antonio Twistelli, which is believed to be the driving force behind the filing. The Arizona based company spends much of the week claiming the filing will not interrupt the publishing of the Spawn comic book, and does not effect the operations of Image Comics or McFarlane's toy and media companies.

2. Denis Kitchen releases word that comics legend Will Eisner is resting comfortably after quadruple bypass heart surgery on the 22nd.

3. Year-end figures for the French-language comics market show a healthy market with a huge upswing in the number of titles, the invasion of manga, and the continuing success in the general bookstore market for top albums, figures that really pop out when compared to past numbers.

Winner of the Week
Andrews and McMeel, who announced a publishing date and specs for a likely book of the year candidate in a $150 1400-plus page complete Calvin and Hobbes collection. Judging from sales of a similarly-conceived Far Side collection, the book is likely to do extremely well in a business sense as well.

Losers of the Week
Fans of the square-formatted comics-stuffed specials from the criticism and trade magazine The Comics Journal, which announced its last issue for early 2005, noteworthy as one of the few publishing announcements of the last few weeks which could perhaps be seen in a negative light (back cover from that last issue by Tony Millionaire pictured above).

Quote of the Week
"One gets DC to the masses by putting these books in manga format and making them available in every cinema, record store and bookshop. That's not my job, however. All I can do is make the stories as good as I can. All Frank can do is draw as well as he can. If we still can't sell well-written, well-drawn books at a time when everybody in the world is watching superhero movies and eating superhero cereals, it's because the pricing, format, promotion and availability of comic books is preventing us from cracking the glass ceiling. Comics used to be available everywhere." -- Depending on how you look at it, writer Grant Morrison either hitting the nail on the head or slightly over-asserting the potential of his own mass-consumer appeal, in a typically-good short interview, this time about a new Superman book, on comic book industry news site Newsarama.
posted 6:07 am PST | Permalink

December 24, 2004

Will Eisner Recovers After Quadruple Bypass Surgery

I was among many who received the following e-mail from Denis Kitchen; I received it several hours ago when I wasn't anywhere near a computer, concerning comic book and comic strip legend Will Eisner.

Will Eisner is in intensive care following open heart surgery on Wednesday afternoon. Quadruple bypass. He didn't want anyone to know until he came through OK, but all signs are that he is recovering terrifically. He's already joking with the nurses and "biting his lip" over delayed deadlines.

I meant to get word out first thing this morning. but I unexpectedly spent most of today in the emergency room myself --- kidney stones!

He's not supposed to return to work for 6-8 weeks (I'm making side bets), so it'd be nice in the interim if the industry deluged him with warm words while he's recuperating.

Please encourage fans and friends to send Get Well cards to:

Will Eisner Studios, Inc.
8333 West McNab Road,
Suite 131
Tamarac FL 33321).

Thanks for your help. Feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

Merry Xmas!


I join everyone else wishing Mr. Eisner a speedy and full recovery. (Denis, too!)

posted 7:07 pm PST | Permalink

CR: Giving the Gift of Incrementally Increased Web Traffic since 2004

Except for a brief period in the middle 1990s when Marvel chose this time of year to fire great masses of employees like an advent calendar behind which every door is a pink slip, December is generally one slow month for comics news.

A big part of my holiday growing up was a whirlwind Christmas Eve trip around town to various homes of family friends. There would always be some sort of Christmas spread, or perhaps even modest gift exchange, and everyone was generally in a good mood. A couple of days ago, I guess in an attempt to replicate such a trip, I asked for any links of any kind that anyone wanted me to post here on Christmas Eve.

Here are the respondents, with a few snuck in at the end of links that I've liked for a while but for which I haven't found a place.

From Uriel A. Duran: His Web Site
From Matt Dursin: A Comic He Co-Created called The Secret Monkey
From Greg Vondruska: New Strips at His Site
From Jamie Cosley: His Latest Project
From Rick Smith: New Shuck Pages
From Bryan Munn, After I Extolled the Virtues of Stupid Comics: Clark Kent's Christmas Party
From Jim Treacher: Some Re-Write Funnies
From Michael Russell: A Nice Edition of CulturePulp
Patricia Storms, the First Person Nice Enough to Respond to this Site: Her Web Site and Comics

I would like to thank all of you for the gift of your time and attention in 2004. Happy Holidays.
posted 9:01 am PST | Permalink

Go, Look: Hembeck’s Santa Gallery

It's really big and well-selected, and since Mark Evanier's linked to it, it might crash any second now. So hurry. The Batman one made me laugh.
posted 8:49 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Imagine My Publishing Software Accepting Russian Characters, and Then Imagine This Being the Phrase 'Comics Aren't for Kids Anymore' in Russian
New Jhonen Vasquez Web Site
Gil Thorp Enters Our Reality; Teaches Life Lesson
Shawn Hoke Picks Through the Small Press
Sierre Will Reconsider; Dozens Other Cities on Tap
Free Comics to Encourage Reading

December 23, 2004

Euro-Comics Sales Then and Now

Bart Beaty's new letter has to be the most informative sent to the site thus far, so I want to draw your attention to it on the front page. It's an analysis of French-language comics album sales over the last several years. Beaty is a well-regarded writer on European comics for American audiences, and I think is due to release a book on the subject sometime in the next few dozen months.
posted 7:39 am PST | Permalink

TCJ Ends “Special” Series?


You generally don't get much in the way of publishing news this close to Christmas, and maybe I'm reading this wrong, in which case I'll just withdraw this entry, but this note from Matt Silvie at Fantagraphics seems to indicate that they're suspending their Comics Journal Specials, a series of desktop yearly (originally to be twice-yearly) articles and interviews with a slightly broader and upscale mandate than the periodical. The library series is still a go, and one would guess the stuff that originally went into the specials might end up in the reformatted periodical.

I tried to find info for the current publication at the Fantagraphics site, but I got frustrated and gave up.
posted 7:31 am PST | Permalink

Inc. Magazine on Todd McFarlane

Now this is the Todd McFarlane of recent vintage we've all been enjoying until the comics publishing business bankruptcy, the straight-talking man of the people profiled in business magazines for the change of pace color of his endeavors. This might be useful for some of you writers out there in terms of updated figures about McFarlane Toys, I'm not sure.

posted 7:28 am PST | Permalink

Bob Levin: Voice of Reason

imageOne of a handful of really good writers that focuses on comics, essayist and lawyer Bob Levin gives Reason Magazine its cover feature from the pages of his book The Pirates and the Mouse. Levin's profiles are usually the best thing in any issue of The Comics Journal in which they appear. I edited the Pirates book and his forthcoming book of essays (mock cover pictured). If you like the essay or find it interesting, you might think about picking the one up now and making room for the other come March.
posted 7:19 am PST | Permalink

Comic Shop Owner, Army Reservist

It's a combination you don't see every day, that's for sure. The editor gets bonus points for that picture caption, which considering where's he headed is what in the old days they would call "cheeky."
posted 7:15 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
No One Returns Martian Manhunter's Calls
Editorial Cartoons Part of Libel Suit
More on Comics as Educational Tools
Another Story on Megumi Kidnapping Manga
Specialty Retailers May Have Slow Holiday
Wizard Fan Awards Launch
Missed It: McSweeney's Show Review via Great Curve
Official Angouleme Poster Litho Announced
Christmas Decorations Feud Draws in Cartoonists
Four-Panel Cartoons Counter Social Ills
Pastor Writes Morals Guide to Superhero Comics
Manga Column Reviews 2004

December 22, 2004

Look Who Has Specs and a Pub Date

imageMuch of this may be old news, but it's on the front page of their site and the art is super pretty, so let's post it here even if it is. The book is going to $25 cheaper than I thought it might be at one point. It should make a fortune.

I had an interesting dicussion with an Andrews McMeel rep about this book, in that despite Watterson's prickly reputation they expected production on this book to go really, really smoothly.

I suspect massive-chunk collections will be the preferred mode for major strip reprints for a while now, as the economics kind of suggest it, and I hope that Fantagraphics' Fall 2004 catalog might have word of their first such project. There was a rumor among comic strip people that it might be Little Orphan Annie or Dennis the Menace.
posted 7:18 am PST | Permalink

Is That a Far-Off Shot I Hear?

Kudos to writer Ian Brill for putting together a couple of links the same way I did yesterday afternoon and writing about it first. Will mainstream comic book companies adopt an aggressive stance about illegal downloads of their content, and if so, will the movie studios do most of the trench warfare on a site to site basis?
posted 7:11 am PST | Permalink

For Sale: Comics Satire History


Big-traffic sites such as Metafilter and Fleshbot have noticed someone is selling some sort of engraving plate for the famous "Disneyland Orgy" spread from the great Wally Wood that ran in a 1967 issue of Paul Krassner's Realist. It's hard to remember in a day where celebrities set up companies to sell their sex videos just how great this cartoon was as an act of cultural provocation. It's still mighty handsome to look at.

Do your research before bidding; incidentally. I seem to recall some past whispers about merchandise related to the Orgy spread in the past, although I can't confirm and certainly have no reason to expect anything here.
posted 6:52 am PST | Permalink

TMP Bankruptcy Update—Official Statement From the McFarlane Camp

Here, as printed a billion other places, is the Todd McFarlane Productions, Inc. press release regarding the recent news the company filed chapter Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Todd McFarlane Productions, Inc. to Operate under Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection; No Impact on Any Other McFarlane Company

Todd McFarlane Productions, Inc., producer of comic books, filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to continue regular operations, because of various situations including the aftermath of a $15 million verdict handed down last July by a St. Louis jury in a lawsuit by retired hockey player Tony Twist over the use of the name of a fictional mobster character.

The filing does not involve and will have no impact on McFarlane Toys, one of the nation's largest toy action figure manufacturers, or any of the other companies in which Todd McFarlane is an officer.

TMP International Inc. (doing business as McFarlane Toys); Todd McFarlane Entertainment, which helps create animated programming, feature films and other products; and Image Comics, publisher of various comic books, were also defendants in the St. Louis case, but the jury found all three innocent of the charges. All companies will continue business as usual.

"Only one company is involved in this action, and it will continue to operate and create comics," said McFarlane, chief executive officer of Todd McFarlane Productions. Filing for protection under Chapter 11 will enable Todd McFarlane Productions to propose a plan of reorganization while its appeal of the judgment to the Missouri Court of Appeals proceeds. The company will continue to produce comic books, without impact on any customers, partners or fans.

Todd McFarlane Productions has defended its use of the name Tony Twist on First Amendment grounds and intends to press that claim on appeal. Todd McFarlane Productions has received extraordinary support for that position from many of the nation's leading authors and entertainment figures, including Harry Shearer from The Simpsons, Michael Crichton, creator of the television series ER, and Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld, all of whom filed a "friend of the court" brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the free speech defense in an earlier proceeding in the case.

Other than various hilarious scenarios involving Larry David trying to impress a judge only to accidentally poison his law clerk as Michael Crichton looks on in horror and disgust, what pops out here is that it seems they claim that the judgment is solely against TMP, which as I pointed out yesterday, would pretty much have to be the case. Also, the umbrella name for the McFarlane empire seems to be TMP International, Inc. -- or at least it is now.
posted 6:39 am PST | Permalink


imageAs expected, word has begun to slip out that DC is launching a new in-line imprint sporting the rather stodgy name of 'DC All-Stars'. Although described in vague terms -- which is smart if you think about it -- it looks to be a blend of competitor Marvel's recent attempts at "outreach": in this case, supposedly newbie-friendly comics where the creative teams and event status of the books are counted on to entice existing readers.

It does offer Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely doing a run of Superman comics, which you can hear Morrison talk about here. The interview's a tad long, but Morrison is always at least clever and his succinct, summary shot at the business/distribution end of comics is pretty funny.

In other mainstream comics news, Mark Verheiden returns to comics via DC, Marvel plans to shuffle its creative teams around again, and Teen Hulk makes me laugh.

My take: DC All-Stars is more market stunt work, but not a surprising one since DC always does what Marvel does. Verheiden will write solidly crafted superhero pulp that no one will read, Marvel's shuffle-arounds will have about as much effect on bottom line as re-arranging the office cubicles, and Teen Hulk will continue to make me laugh.
posted 5:52 am PST | Permalink

Quick Hits

Viz Gives Shonen Jump Advanced Line Official Launch
Two Books on British Viz Out
Second Abduction Manga Series Launches
Brit Paper Checks Out French Comics
Holiday Shopping: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Another AK Comics Profile
The Advocate Boosts Moore, Naifeh
posted 5:16 am PST | Permalink

December 21, 2004

TMP Bankruptcy Update

As far as I can tell, the main update coming yesterday in the slowly developing news story of bankruptcy by Todd McFarlane's comics publishing division Todd McFarlane Productions (TMP) is initial word from author and comics writer Neil Gaiman on his on-line journal that he doesn't think that this is a difficulty for him as the target of the decision in his favor goes beyond the publishing entity, particularly to McFarlane himself.

As I suggested yesterday, this would make complete sense to me, and I'm therefore very curious as to way why Tony Twist's claims would be as narrowly ascribed as asserted by both conventional wisdom that sees the whole bankruptcy is a way to finesse that debt and the filing's reported listing of the entire amount owed Twist as a liability to this single entity.
posted 8:10 am PST | Permalink Analyzes and Dissects: Comic Store Sales Up (Slightly) in November

imageLike a box full of tops just waiting to be spun, the monthly barrage of analysis pieces on the comic book direct market has hit the Web. As usual, they provide a general news story reporting the slight increase, a more specialized news story about a decline in sales for comic books at the top, and lists for graphic novels and comic books with real-number approximations the site derives on its own.

There is also a stand-alone story and interview with Ruwan Jayatilleke about the sales success of one of Marvel's initial prose-line offerings, which unfortunately spins like a carnival ride and only deals in self-serving approximations.

The things that popped out at me from the lists this month: First, I'm always amazed how quickly the number drops for top books, with relatively few titles in the moderate hit department, which says that retailer confidence is really focused on sure-fire best sellers. Second, I always like looking at how comparatively diverse the top 100 trade sellers as opposed to the top 100 comics, which I'm sort of thinking may point out either a racking strategy hangover or simply how different formats appeal to different sets of fans. And third, I'm always interested to note which books from mainstream comics titans Marvel and DC fall under 20,000 in sales. Here's my count this time around, eliminating obvious re-offers and the like (I may have missed a couple).
DC Comics

Marvel Comics

This gives me some idea about what isn't selling, and how many comics each company is willing to carry either in the red or near the red for different reasons. A DC rep once told me that none of their comics ever go in the red, but when asked how that was possible, they alluded to sales statistics from markets to which I was not allowed access. So okay, maybe I'm wrong. On the other hand, it's worth pondering whether the market perhaps be better off if both companies carried about half this load? Would that give the surviving half a better chance to gain momentum or would it just kill a lot of these companies' already arguably weak attempts at diversity?

It's not a comic people tend to talk about, but that's your number one pictured above. All figures and information derived thereof is the property of
posted 7:55 am PST | Permalink

2004 BD Sales Report

The critics association ACBD and their secretary general Gilles Ratier have one-upped their endlessly snarky and bickering-among-themselves American cousins by releasing their fascinating and concise sales report on the state of the French-speaking comics market. You should read as good a summary as you can find, or grab it for translation, but the interesting factoids include:
* 3070 titles published in 2004, an increase of 21.5 percent over the 2526 released in 2003.

* 2120 featured original content, 610 were collections of previously published material, 254 were humor/illustration.

* 754 were manga or manwha

* 207 Publishers

There's a ton more, and I don't want to merely swipe their hard-won info as released to French news sites. You should definitely check the information out.
posted 7:50 am PST | Permalink

Marvel Enjoying Movie Age

This is a pretty ordinary article except for Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley's statements, which highlight one of the great mysteries of the American comic book industry: when the top domestic publisher doubles its sales, shouldn't this have a greater impact on the health of the overall market?
posted 7:48 am PST | Permalink

Comix Documentary Series


Here's a more complete schedule for that Comix series of films featuring various cartoonists mentioned here a while back. This series by Benoit Peeters looks to include Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware, and they will be run in January as the Angouleme Festival approaches.

posted 7:45 am PST | Permalink

Quick Hits

Hot Stuff: Classic Media Makes Deal with ibooks for Harvey Trades
Prism Comics Seeks Debt Relief
New ADV Manga To Include "Cromartie High School"
Confirmed: Deal for Contest Winner Carillo
Happy Birthday From Lat, Including Photos
Con Report: Malaysia
posted 7:42 am PST | Permalink

December 20, 2004

Todd McFarlane’s Publishing Company Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

In case you missed it, Todd McFarlane Productions filed for bankruptcy (the reorganizing kind) in Arizona on Friday, setting off a bevy of wire stories and the usual comics-realm appropriation of same for rehashing, hit-generating discussion, and general tut-tutting. It's actually a fairly simple story right now, and I think the better one will come a bit later. Until then, this only slightly laborious rundown should suffice:

Because the list of creditors includes a $15 million amount owed to former hockey player Tony Twist and another Todd McFarlane company, McFarlane Toys, most believe that this move is intended to manage the Twist liability (and potentially others).

The Twist/McFarlane saga, of which this would then be a significant chapter, is a pretty straightforward legal back and forth. Todd McFarlane introduced a character named "Antonio Twistelli" into his Spawn comic book in 1993. As early as 1994, McFarlane admitted this character was named after NHL tough guy Tony Twist, and repeated this several times over the next several months, including for an article in Wizard in 1996. During this time the character, now sometimes referred to as "Antonio 'Tony Twist' Twistelli," continued to be part of various Spawn promotions and licensing opportunities, a few of which involved hockey, a sport McFarlane enjoys. In 1997 Twist sued, claiming to hear of the character because he had been asked to sign copies of a Spawn comic book featuring Twistelli. Twist won a $24 million decision from a jury in 2000. That decision was overturned on appeal in 2002. A new trial was ordered in 2003. Twist won $15 million from another jury in 2004. And now McFarlane continues to seek an appeal.

The basic issues in Twist/McFarlane seem to be (1) whether McFarlane's intentions are protected by First Amendment rights as they extend to parody or whether this is more of a commercial leveraging of Twist's name and (2) the amount of the damages Twist actually incurred. Number one is more important, as a final Twist victory could lead to a general "chilling effect" on parodies, and leave the matter of whether or not a parody has enough value separate from its commercial potential in the hands of those noted masters of parody, our nation's judges and juries. Number two is what leads us to where we are today.

There is potential for a backlash in a variety of areas.

(1) One might assume a chance McFarlane would now bail from comics publishing, but Image Comics reps claim they will continue to publish Spawn, so it seems there will be no interruption while the publishing company "reorganizes."

(2) Several comic book creators are among those owed money, and it would seem that their place in line indicates they are not likely to see much of it. Lovely news before Christmas, although not at amounts that indicated people have been strung along on promises for a long time beforehand. While one might think this could have an effect on the company's ability to make more comics, it probably won't.

(3) Part of writer Neil Gaiman's still-recent legal win against McFarlane over rights to characters he created during a brief writing stint includes profits to ostensibly derive from the company, potentially making Gaiman another creditor McFarlane is attempting to finesse.

(4) McFarlane may take a general hit as well, across his other companies, in a general bad-publicity way; the perception of a business and its health can be important in securing licensing deals of the kind enjoyed by McFarlane's toy company. McFarlane claims to have been able to spin buying expensive baseball memorabilia into publicity and business deals. It's hard to spin losing a lawsuit.

Two questions I have as the filing itself becomes public and dissected:

(1) At what point did Todd McFarlane Productions start being simply the comics publishing arm? I used to see that as an umbrella term for all the companies, although clearly it's divided the new way on his web site. Is there a different umbrella term now?

(2) Didn't Tony Twist sue all the companies, not just the comics publishing company? The guy practically sued every business involved -- did his legal team finally winnow things down so far as to leave parts of Todd's empire out? One of the widely available court decisions had the people being sued as:
"McFarlane Productions, Inc., TMP International, Inc. (d/b/a/ McFarlane Toys, TMP Apparel, Todd Toys, TMP Entertainment, TMP Cards, TMP Toys, McFarlane Design Group, McFarlane Entertainment, TMP Ventures, and
McFarlane Toys Collector's Club)"

So that's about it on a first look. There's probably something humorous to be said about Todd McFarlane scrambling to deal with the effects of a court case due to a combination of a Wizard article, Spawn fans, his own statements, and someone deciding Spawn is more about commercial positioning then art, but the implications for people who don't have so many companies they can try jettisoning one from the balloon are too terrible to stop and linger on those things for very long.

I should probably run art, but yuck.
posted 8:59 am PST | Permalink

Apparently, 2004 Kind of Sucked

imageI always enjoy reading Paul O'Brien at Ninth Art and his article reviewing the year that was 2004 is no exception. O'Brien puts together a fine litany of horrors, and I think he has the general trend of mainstream comics correct -- for those keeping count at home, he goes with "circle-jerk" over "inbred." I'm still curious that if manga has been the story three years in a row now, why are the particulars of American comics industry maneuvers more worthy of analysis than the specifics of manga company strategies? There was a time in the 1990s when DC was treated less as their own company and more as "Not Marvel"; are we becoming guilty of treating manga more and more as "Not Comics"?
posted 6:41 am PST | Permalink

Christmas Week is Profile Week

As this wonderful time of the year rolls around, with its family demands and office-funded hangovers, short-staffed newspaper and magazine editors turn their eyes to profile after profile in the hopes of filling space until everyone comes back. Sometimes there are positives.


Lynn Johnston Profile in the Tribune
I'm not sure what it is about Lynn Johnston lately -- perhaps it's the much-discussed decision to taper down on her strip and end it sometime soon -- but she seems incapable of providing a bad newspaper feature lately, even when it means overstating the artistic impact of real-world storylines in For Better or For Worse. It's the stories behind the strip that shine through, of course. I don't recall hearing the story of the man who gives $40 to a homeless youth only to have that youth buy a knife with it and return for more, but I'm not exactly her primary audience.

Penny Arcade Empire
The New York Times provides perhaps the highest-profile article to date of the Penny Arcade guys, Michael Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, including their also-supported-by-the-Web-effort-holy-crap business manager. Other than the Comics Journal's Dirk Deppey devoting a recent editorial to the pair's convention effort, or at least his personal impressions upon attending it, I don't remember a lot of coverage from comics on their rise.
posted 6:21 am PST | Permalink

Sierre Update: Headed for Lausanne?

I think I'll stop updating the story on the fate of the recently-suspended BD Festival in Sierre, Switzerland until there's a solid announcement of a new location. I like my comics shows, but I get the sense that some of these smaller stories may be driven in the hopes of sustaining interest rather than any real progress being made. Still, I enjoyed this article that indicates Lausanne is in the running because of the notion inched forward that countries should snap to and realize the good a solid BD Festival can do one's country. I also like that Lausanne is talking up its library, even though I'm not sure if the author believes them -- nerdy municipal dozens.

posted 6:13 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
April Showers: Alias Launches 12
Webcomic Among Alias Group
Shonen Jump Advanced Profile: For Older Teens
Man Sues Telecom Over Use of Character
Comic Strip Grab Software Survey
Matt Pritchett Wins WTPS Award
Wally Fawkes: WTPS Lifetime Achievement
Zograf Among Those in Art Show
Abolfazl Mohtarami Wins at Tabriz
Knitted Costume Guy Has Show
Visiting Cartoonist Profile: Paul Dini
Stray Bullets Re-Publishes for Bookstores
Local Cartoonist Profile: Statistics Crew
Local Cartoonist Profile: Tony Carillo
Cartoonist Entertains White House: By Singing
80-Piece Blutch Show in Paris

December 19, 2004

CR Sunday Magazine

imageIt's hard not to get nostalgic around the end of the calendar year. The stamp of Christmas proves so indelible it allows easier-than-usual comparison across the years: the who you are now to who you were then, the people with whom you're surrounded today to those who may not be here any more, the romantic parties past and the homecomings and occasionally seeing new eyes take it all in.

None of that stuff has anything to do with comics, of course, except that sometimes I think in terms of comics I read at different points in my life and what has come from that same cartoonist since. Ten years ago, one of the most important comics I read in my development as a writer was Hutch Owen's Working Hard, by Tom Hart, who kindly accepted my request for a short interview.
posted 12:58 pm PST | Permalink

Go, Read: James Thurber Interviewed


Comics fails to claim the cartoonist, writer and humorist James Thurber as one of their own as often as it should. You can begin to remedy that by going to Paris Review's web site, where they're putting up their interview backlog under the headling "The DNA of Literature". It requires downloading a PDF, but where else has one of the better cartoonists of the 20th Century done an important interview lately? Yeah, I thought so.
posted 12:50 pm PST | Permalink

Pulled From The Longbox

Al Hirschfeld 1903-2003 (2003)
Review of Fireball #5 (1996)
Review of The World According to Sempe (2003)

posted 12:31 pm PST | Permalink

December 18, 2004

CR Week In Review

Top Stories
The week's most important comics-related news stories, December 11 to December 17, 2004:

1. Marvel strikes deal with MFORMA for "mobile entertainment" uses of its characters. Most notable not for the deal itself, because who knows, but for its status as a link in a chain of Marvel licensing deals marking successful leverage of its recent movie success.

2. Comics loses two veterans working unique parts of the field: panel cartoonist Bernie Lansky and cowboy cartoonist Jim Willoughby.

3. Scholastic flexes its potential comics muscle by moving a half-million copies of a cinemanga title through its book club.

Winner of the Week
Jeffrey Brown, for his incredibly high ranking on USA Today's pop-culture list.

Loser of the Week
The town of Sierre, Switzerland, whose leaders pulled financial support from their comics festival, which judging from interest elsewhere looks to be a still-vital concern.

Quote of the Week
"I'm uncomfortable with being fucked over." -- Jaime Hernandez to Scott Thill of on potentially being part of the "undergound comics boom."
posted 8:03 am PST | Permalink

December 17, 2004

Scholastic Moves a Half-Million Copies of a Spongebob Cinemanga Book?

This story fascinates both ways you can choose to look at it -- very few entries in the American comic book conventional wisdom explanation manual for Tokyopop's success really explains how they can do that kind of number with an American tie-in property. But I also find it astonishing that you could sell this kind of thing through a book club in these numbers. This is a book that I think is currently available as part of a collection, so I'm guessing it's definitely something that was out there rather than a one-of-a-kind thing, even.

I think I'm more interested than ever to see to know how Scholastic does with its eventual publication of Bone, a much higher quality but comparable much more obscure work.

I'm also slightly frightened of Tokyopop now. Maybe I should have been all along?
posted 7:41 am PST | Permalink

Go, Read: Jaime Hernandez

imageThis longish piece with Jaime Hernandez on his bicep-building Locas volume -- on a short list for books of any year -- starts to crackle near the end, when the cartoonist starts hitting at the core and limits of his appeal with both fists taped up and ready to go. Suffer through the ad and let Salon pay for more articles like this and regular doses of Heather Havrilesky, who at one point a few years back was one of the most popular comics writers on the Internet.
posted 7:37 am PST | Permalink

Frank Quitely Exclusive to DC for Two Years

imageCelebrated mainstream comic book artist Frank Quitely has signed a two-year exclusive to DC. This gets kicked out of the "quick hits" section because (1) Quitely may be the best going right now, and (2) because this may be interpreted as another sign DC is preparing to recalibrate its line through a event miniseries and a suite of big-title re-launches, like putting Quitely with the even more celebrated mainstream comic book writer Grant Morrison on a Superman book.

That kind of maneuvering becomes publishing news, more because much of the Direct Market will invest its money and time in such works as opposed to fan speculation or approval about the effect this will have on various fantasy worlds. The rumors hold that the impetus of any impending Superman recalibration, or at least its cousin in hype, may be one of those heavily promoted efforts with built-in spin-offs and line alterations like the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths (by which DC eliminated many of the looper sci-fi elements of its 1950s-1970s storylines), this time filtered through the lurid pulp qualities of the recent, icky Identity Crisis series, with its raping, murdering, and forced lobotomy programs.

I know, this stuff makes my head hurt, too. But that's where a good chunk of the comic shop money and leveraged press stories are going in a few months -- this, and the depressing Marvel equivalent. You have been warned.

The variety of art assignments open at DC such as Vertigo characters like those depicted above enticed Frank Quitely, according to his statement in the press release.
posted 7:09 am PST | Permalink

Super Pets are Super Stupid

imageI read this article via Mike Sterling's blog entry a few days back, and it looks like he got it from somewhere else. I think Sterling pretty much sums it up: these are really funny comics, and very enjoyable to read. If these comics and these characters are stupid, then give me more stupid comics and characters, please. And not self-conscious stupid, either. Those are fine, but no substitute for the real thing.
posted 6:38 am PST | Permalink

Update on Sierre Festival’s End is running a report that the comics festival in Sierre, Switzerland that was ended by its promoters due to a withdrawl of community financial support may have a second life. Organizer Pierre-Alain Hug is among those quoted in a story that reports parliamentary support for the festival, and offers from other towns in Europe to move it there.

According to claims made in the reporting of the original story, the two-decades old Sierre may be the second most important comics festival in Europe.
posted 6:32 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Jim Lee's Inkist Challenge
My Hometown Opens a Comic Store
Black Superheroes of Akron
New Yorker Caption Contest Profiled
ASU's Tony Carillo Won That MTV Contest
This Guy Really, Really Dislikes Boondocks
Comics Retailer Loves His Job
Academic Paper on Squadron Supreme
Listen: Charles Solomon on Comics
Profile of Alias Umbrella Publisher
New Series for DC's CMX Line

December 16, 2004

All Quiet on the Legal Front

As legal matters gear up, there's always room for analysis:

imageStripburger "Piracy" Seizure

Here's a sharp local article about U.S. Customs holding strips featuring Richie Rich and Peanuts parodies in Charleston, South Carolina. It's a measured piece, which is ironic because it definitely lacks the alarmism the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund feared in originally giving the U.S. Customs Department time to respond to their letters.

The best thing about the article is the legal analysis that stresses more protection is offered works that use popular motifs and characters to parody the thing itself, rather than using those elements to simply parody something else, which may give us an idea as to how the case might be eventually decided. Having seen Kuper's work, I think it definitely meets that requirement, despite how it may have been perceived -- it's natural that people are going to see Bush first, a dissection of Harvey Comics second.

Marvel Vs. City of Heroes

I was less impressed with another piece of legal analysis, this one regarding the Marvel lawsuit against the makers of the videogame City of Heroes. My objections are along the lines of what I wrote previously. It seems silly to argue Marvel's suit as a full-frontal assault on free expression when it looks like what at issue is how much the game makers have encouraged and enabled their customers to use close approximations, not that such play took place. If this is in effect an attack on free expression, I wish that argument were being made rather than these loaded broadsides.

I don't think the suit has merit; I just don't think the real issues are being argued.
posted 8:54 am PST | Permalink

Bernard Lansky, 1924-2004


The San Diego Union Tribune has a nice, long piece remembering Bernard Lansky, its longtime editorial cartoonist and before that a popular syndicated newspaper cartoonist of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Lansky had an almost prototypical 1950s art style, a much looser variation on the thin think lines and lanky figures of Mort Walker and Hank Ketchum. He did the panel Seventeen for 20 years beginning in 1955. The strip about funny teenagers -- you could kind of see it as a prototype for the current strip Zits -- enjoyed book collections and a client list numbering in the hundreds. He also did two other, less successful panels: Kippy, in collaboration with his brother Jordan (1960), and Lansky's Look (1973). He briefly worked for Al Capp in New York before returning to southern California and striking out on his own professionally. Lansky was a well-known regional cartoonist, and frequent attendee of what is now Comic-Con International in San Diego, where he received an Inkpot in 1978.

You can find out much more about Lansky at this very complete web site, including lots of samples of his work and a notice from the family directing any possible donations in the cartoonist's memory. The one thing you have to check out is a photo gallery of a Lansky cartoon exhibit that I can't link to directly; I've never seen that kind of cartoons-on-the-wall show before 1990 or so.

Art from the web site. The Lansky family seems admirably very protective of Bernard Lansky's work, and I'll be happy to take this down if they suggest it.
posted 8:18 am PST | Permalink

Sierre Festival to End

Word ripping up the European comics news sources yesterday and today is that the Festival interanatonal de la bande dessinee de Sierre, in Switzerland, will end after its 21st edition, which I think was in June. I'm not exactly an expert on European comics festivals, but various articles state that Sierre attracts approximately 40,000 people a year. At least one piece of random commentary I encountered and quickly lost claims that Sierre is the second most important European festival after Angouleme.

What I find compelling about the story is that the main issue seems to be the withdrawl of public support for the festival, as the festival itself was otherwise healthy. I've always heard that a city's financial support for America comic book conventions -- returned to it by the publicity and massive influx of convention-goers -- has always been crucial to the survival of said shows, particularly when it's building in size perhaps past its ability to budget correctly for itself. I would imagine that's even more true in Europe.
posted 8:09 am PST | Permalink

Chris Butcher on Variants

Chris Butcher, one of the better comics pundits and an employee of the excellent The Beguiling bookstore in Toronto, fires up the plain-talk on the issue of variant covers, a mainstream comic book company strategy of goosing sales to collectors by publishing more than one cover on the same comic book.

Let me add my voice to Butcher's that defending such strategies by saying "people want them" is incredibly short-sighted if not willfully ignorant. The comic book direct market has enough history under its belts to judge the costs of giving the people -- a limited subset of the people -- what they want in this way:
(1) readers leaving the market due to lack of solid return on their purchases, a winnowing of their reading material and the vast majority of these perceived collectibles collapsing in real value; customers moving money from other purchases to the variant purchases

(2) massive strain on comic book retailers that are forced to expend extra capital or shift capital around wildly to satisfy customers whipped into a frenzy by company hype

(3) industry focus on short-term gains rather than long-term goals

(4) an insider's club-only perception being front and center on what should be one of the most accessible and new-fan friendly of all entertainment media.

This is a discredited way of selling comics, and companies falling prey to it again shows that the major players in the American comic book market will likely always hamper any overall growth in comics readership with pursuit of short-term goals.
posted 7:56 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
You Should Be Reading Comics: Superhero Comics
Harvey Pekar Remains Harvey Pekar
The Jungle Sells Out, Whatever That Means
Fernando Poe Dies: Iconic Actor Who Admired Comics
E&P: Cornered Trade is Print on Demand
CPW Adds A Few More Manhwa
Infinity Studios Adds Titles, Too

December 15, 2004

Card Joins Marvel Writing Stable; Political Essays Noted by Comic Book Fans

imageThe comic book news site Newsarama picked up on a mention in Andrew Arnold's 2005 comics article at Time.comix that author and essayist Orson Scott Card would be writing a mini-series called Ultimate Iron Man, indicating this hadn't been reported before now.

Card, best known for his award-winning novel Ender's Game, has recently come under scrutiny in some circles for his writing on conservative social issues. The talback section of the Newsarama article focuses on this piece coming out aggressively against gay marriage legislation, although Card is perhaps better known for the essay "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality." A long list of Card's essay writing can be found here, including the standard pieces on election fraud and biased media. The latter is enjoyable as it casts liberal news elites as so many Snidely Whiplashes, fuming over the free market choices of average Americans. Many don't know of Card's essay-writing, and you can read one such dismayed profile from Donna Minkowitz at Salon.

Card's political beliefs gain some traction as a news story because of news leaked by Rich Johnston last month that Marvel was using noted conservative Karl Zinsmeister, an editor at American Enterprise magazine, as the writer on a war comic called Combat Zone; True Tales of GI in Iraq.

What this means is hard to say. Probably nothing. My take is that mainstream writers since 1970s have generally been Amercan liberals and most still are, but that the fan base for superhero comics is kind of wildly divided between the kind of left-leaning reader who prefers the social corrective elements of fantasy literature and right-leaning reader who likes moral parables that end with a sock to the jaw. Unless Marvel continues to recruit writers with these kinds of publishing records, the Card hiring may end up a more interesting story as an outside-writer hire, an extremely contentious issue in some circles that debates the merits of hiring those unfamiliar with the medium, perhaps in a stunt capacity, versus bringing the need to recruit talented fresh blood.
posted 8:44 am PST | Permalink

Miller Takes Shot at Kurtz?


Eric A. Burns at argues that the December 14th Non-Sequitur cartoon from Wiley Miller whereby a "Scotty" tries to enter a nightclub based on his Internet celebrity is definitely a shot at on-line cartoonist Scott Kurtz of PvP, who has been critical of syndicated cartoonists and the way syndication currently works. Kurtz, whose on-line comic affords him a living, has recently begun to self-syndicate his work to print papers in addition to his public advocacy for the value of his on-line platform. He too noted the strip in the December 14 entry of his accompanying blog, quoted a recent criticism from Miller and responded in a few sentences of which this:
"In my opinion, Wiley is a close-minded blowhard who thinks he's the only person on the planet to ever have an original idea."

was merely a part.

Miller is on the record saying his December 13 Non-Sequitur cartoon had a target: the lack of willpower shown by editors and reporters to look into November 5 voting fraud. What's interesting here is that Miller seems surprised that in attacking apathy the response has been, well, apathetic.
posted 8:32 am PST | Permalink

Liam Sharp Hypes Mam Tor

imageThe comic book industry news site Newsarama's massive article on Liam Sharp launching his Mam Tor publishing initiative is worth it you industry close-watchers for the description of Sharp's efforts to start a project like this one and the fine line it seems to dance between wanting to hype the work as well worth seeing, but not placing too many expectations on the line that might 1) make a modest launch look like a defeat and, if I’m reading this correctly, 2) have pontential contributors expecting more support before whatever success the magazine sees might make that more likely.

Although I generally think all comics projects are doomed, I recall being a fan of both Epic Magazine and Heavy Metal as a 13-year-old boy fond of sexy figure drawing and graphic violence, so I think there's an audience beyond super-dedicated fans of the artists involved. The way mainstream comics are headed right this moment -- writer-driven with a back wash of animation and manga styles in art -- an illustration showcase might have a real chance as a niche publication.

That Sharp painting will be a cover, and you can see a bigger one through the Mam Tor link above.
posted 8:17 am PST | Permalink

Trudeau Probably Had a Better Year

imageI'm always amused by the occasional effort to cast comics and cartoonists into hip outsider-culture items and personalities for the simple reason that comics exist so far outside the mainstream they have no choice but to take on that role whenever they receive a little publicity.

What's particularly odd about the inclusion of comics people on this list by Whitney Matheson is that with USA Today you have a media instrument about as outside as a Big Mac box. So this can't help but be mainstreaming-style coverage (Des Moines, Jeffrey Brown; Jeffrey Brown, Des Moines), but one based on those cartoonists being really cool, putting cartoonists in the role of the bohemian invitees at some weird American mass culture cocktail party. It's not a bad thing, but it's kind of a weird one, and the venue may at least it may indicate that comics is past the stage where its followers become giddy about product placement in a movie or TV show. Although I doubt it.

Cover from Jeffrey Brown's Bighead project.
posted 7:17 am PST | Permalink

Not Exactly Comics: Wired Reports on Hollywood Piracy Suits

This article really isn't about comics at all, but my hunch is that this kind of aggressive lawsuit policy is going to be one of the options comic book companies will have if and when they decide to go after similar comics downloads. I'd also be surprised if the recent shift that has mainstream publishers selling books based on revelatory plot points -- who's dead, who killed them, who left the toilet seat up -- as opposed to a reading experience didn't cause an upwards spike in illegal downloads.
posted 7:11 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Steven Grant Links Up Quesada X-Mas Song
Stan Lynde Designs Patch, Looks Cool
Local Cartoonist Profile: Nanda Sooben
Greg Horn Book Sells Out, Whatever That Means
Michael Bair Extends DC Exclusive
Viz Adds Shojo Titles
Dandy & Company Self-Syndicates
Scott Adams at #1, #3 on eBook Sales Chart

December 14, 2004

Official: Le Musee Jije Not Finished

Following up on a story from last week about the selling of the building housing Le Musee Jije, a sale that was tracked down in part by seeing a real estate ad that feature rooms furnished with museum items: museum official Francois Deneyer denied that the museum would necessarily close as a result of the sale. In an interview run on the Actua BD site, Deneyer seemed tot indicate that the museum might still have a window in which to secure long sought-after funding, and if not, may consider moving to another location.

imageWith the Angouleme prize nominations announced and being argued over, European comics press was filled with little, interesting stories the past few days. A series of comics-related television shows to run with Angouleme was announced. Two major French-language comics publishing jobs remain at last notice very open. I also liked this mention of an annual original art auction to benefit a political group (poster for auction at left), as that seems like a really sensible fund-raiser that perhaps could be replicated here.
posted 6:21 am PST | Permalink

Blah Blah Blah

A total wonkfest today, safe only for hardcore industry observers and the family members of those involved:

* The full text of an interview with the cartoonist Ampersand, from which the Washington Post created this article.

* Round and Roundtable #1 -- Web cartoonists talk about a future that may have arrived by the end of the article.

* Round and Roundtable #2 -- Alan David Doane asks the questions; a crack team of like-minded cranks provides variations on the same answers.

posted 6:00 am PST | Permalink

Andrew Arnold Previews Comics in 2005


Andrew Arnold of Time.comix turned last week's pre-big-best-of-2004 column over to various company publicists, allowing them to single-line hype up to five 2005 books. At the very least, it nails down a few release dates for already-announced books and confirms a couple of others.

Initial thoughts:
1. The folks at Fantagraphics Books sure don't seem to mind loading the pressure on their new talent anthology Mome, do they?

2. This may only interest me, but two of Drawn and Quarterly's books use the participation of an established "name" creator as a selling point.

3. Also: nothing on the D&Q list features stalwarts Seth, Chester Brown or Joe Matt.

4. It's hard to believe it's taken this long for Viz to translate Akira Toriyama's Dr. Slump (art from which above).

5. Apparently, if you're writing a brief description of the Black Panther, much is communicated by noting that he's "Wakandan."

6. If you're as successful as Tokyopop, you don't have to follow anyone's one-sentence stricture.

7. Does DC usually wait a full year before offering a hardcover collection of a popular mini-series like Identity Crisis?

I should probably do my own preview at some point, but looking at this list 2005 seems like a potentially odd year, with perhaps the best book, Epileptic, coming in the first month.
posted 5:41 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Mark Evanier Gets Johnny Hart's Mail
Malaysian Cartoonist Profile
Batman: All Het! Comics Industry: All Wet!
Alex Robinson to Appear at Angouleme
That's One Expensive Targeted Specialty Comic Book
Christmas List: Austin Chronicle

December 13, 2004

Make Mine MFORMA


I can't tell if this deal is new or if it's just getting a second run as an effort is rolled out in conjunction with the slightly underperforming Marvel Enterprises movie Blade: Trinity, complete with a formal press release, announcement-driven news stories and top-of-web-site features (graphic pictured above).

I think this is worth noting, even if it's a re-run, as the mobile games world is still a somewhat new arena (my understanding, and please correct me, is that there has been a slower pick-up on this sort of usage from North American customers as opposed to those in other parts of the world, and more to come in terms of what the technology will be able to do -- indicating considerable potential growth). It's also worth pointing this out for Marvel's sake. One of the ongoing stories that Comics Reporter follows is Marvel's ability to use their renewed, movie-fueled public profile to secure a seres of smart, focused licensing and marketing deals. This more than anything else may be the difference between Marvel right now and the company in other periods of good times and general fatted calfness.
posted 6:53 am PST | Permalink

Jim Willoughby, RIP

imageI was sorry to hear of the passing of Jim Willoughby, a longtime southwestern editorial cartoonist and illustrator. Willoughby was perhaps best known as the cowboy cartoonist resposible for the "Willoughby's West" feaure in the magazine Arizona Highways. Cowboy cartoonists are illustrators that deal with humor related to cowboys and other western-typical activities. For those unfamiliar, they are probably best compared to automotive cartoonists like the late Pete Millar (Willoughby worked with Millar as a freelancer very early on in his career) in that they are specifically focused cartoonists that preserve and celebrate a certain passionately-held suite of American myths.

Jim Willoughby was a longtime stoyboard artist and character designer who worked for Walt Disney, Hanna-Barbera and Filmation. His illustrations appeared in a variety of mainstream magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post, Look Magazine, True, Better Homes and Gardens, and Playboy. He was the author or co-author on a total of nine books.

Oddly, Willoughby's obituary has been scrolled off of his hometown newspaper and replaced. A google search that worked at 4 AM leads to another article now. One hopes that means reports of the cartoonist's passing were premature.
posted 6:24 am PST | Permalink

Comixpedia’s List: 25 in Webcomics

imageNothing says year-end fun like a big, long list -- as someone once said, the joy is in the excluding -- and Comixpedia serves up a nice one with its list of important persons in webcomix. Actually, I'm inferring the word "important." Comixpedia doesn't qualify their list at all, and even agonizes over it in an amusing way. If you're a print-focused on-line comics dabbler like I am, this seems a nice way to become introduced to some of the major personalities in that particular expression of the comics medium, seeing as it's filled with some familiar names to help you along, like Drew Weing, Derek Kirk Kim, James Kochalka and Scott McCloud (pictured).

I suppose this is the point where I just reprint their list like it was a press release, but stealing someone else's content sort of defeats the purpose of blogging, doesn't it?

Photo of Mr. McCloud Exuding Power and Influence by Whit Spurgeon
posted 6:11 am PST | Permalink

The Webcomics Examiner: Best Webcomics

Once you're familiar with the personalities on Comixpedia's list, you can dive right into the work itself. Luckily, a just-as-helpful primer comes from the good folks at The Webcomics Examiner, which also has a few familiar names like Roger Langridge to ease the blow for late adopters like myself. I've only even heard of about 15 to 18 cartoonists on this list, and I've been studying.

I can't recommend the list as a statement on the art form until I make my way through the material, but I like the formatting here. That's not disrespect: I think I'd withhold judgment on aesthetic terms even if that meant having to learn to use the rock and crystal technology of the Sleestak first.
posted 6:10 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
SLG Has Cool Christmas Parties
Christo Komarnitski Wins Ranan Lurie Prize
Christmas Lists: Boston Herald, Hijinx Comics, Roger Sabin
David Goyer's Continuing Shout-Out to Shop Owner
Comics: Literary Gateway Drug or Dead End?
Blankets Soundtrack Profile
Dilbert's House as Architectural Rhetoric
Local Cartoonist Profile: Gavin Coates
Mexican Migrant's Guide Comic Distributed
Honolulu Loves Los Bros Hernandez
NEC's George Suarez on Advertising
Gigantic Goes with PGW


December 12, 2004

CR Sunday Magazine


I've been thinking about public art and on-line business models all week. The latter puts me in good company, at least when it comes to comics, because it seems everywhere you go people are talking about the Webcomix versus Newspaper comics feud. Naturally, I'm both ill-informed and suspect that the current arguments have it all wrong.

Here are my initial thoughts.

Above art from Rowland Emett, the cartoonist whose machines I always think of when it comes to pondering comics and business.
posted 6:18 pm PST | Permalink

Go, Look: Comics and Public Art

I'm not sure what got me stuck on these things this week, but I was surprised by how little public comics-related art there is, even if you stretch the parameters of what you'll consider "public art." I expected to find a whole lot of things like random murals of the Piranha Club and statues of The Spectre or whatever. But this is most of what I could find:
Gil Roth's Account and Photos of the Tintin Tunnel Art in Brussels

Cheech Wizard's Enduring Legacy

Another Potential Character Slated for Graffiti Revival a Generation from Now

Photos of Peanuts Statues in Minneapolis/St. Paul

Photos of Dr. Seuss Statues in Springfield

Rowland Emett's Public Cartoon Map and Studies of its Components

Publicity from the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum

Photo of the Superman Statue in Metropolis, Illinois

Photo of the Popeye Statue in Chester, Illinois

The Macy's Spider-Man balloon shows up only once a year, but since John Romita Sr. aided in the original design, I'll put it up here.

Awesome-looking El Santo Statue/Gravestone (he was probably in some comics, right?)

Adventures of Garfield "Don't Lift My Medallion" Statue

And of course, the only thing anyone will remember about comics three hundred years from now...

And while it's certainly none of my business, in a way, I'd love to know about any interesting cartoonist gravestones, if anyone out there has this knowledge and is willing to share it in our letters column or where I could link to it. And does anyone have pictures of the Phantom amusement park near Stockholm, or is that a folk tale?
posted 12:43 pm PST | Permalink

Pulled From The Longbox

Herb Gardner 1934-2003 (2003)
Review of Beg The Question (2003)
Review of Dork #7 (2000)
posted 12:32 pm PST | Permalink

December 11, 2004

CR Week In Review

Top Stories
The week's most important comics-related news stories, December 4 to December 10, 2004:

1. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund announces it's challenging the U.S. Customs Department holding comics from the collective Stripburger based on their being piratical in nature, a charge the Fund, publishers, and at least one of the creators strongly protests, stating these are clear parodies.

image2. News hits the comics industry and comic book fan communities about the passing of writer Bob Haney on Thanksgiving.

3. County commissioners speak out against a political cartoon, another small sign of the increasing public impatience with political expression via the comics medium.

Winner of the Week
Claude Cyr, who gained worldwide feature article saturation by tying his notion that growth-hormone deficiency is linked to hypogonadotropic hypogonadism to the ever-youthful Tintin and his constant head traumas. If medicine doesn't work out, he might try the publicity field.

Losers of the Week
The U.S. Customs department for their shamefully broad and idiotic use of the notion of piratical materials in holding the aforementioned publications.

Quote of the Week
"That's my favorite part of buying comics, the long division." -- Abhay Khosla in the comments section in a Fanboy Rampage post about an article where a writer tries to justify the price of his forthcoming line on a price per page basis.
posted 7:46 am PST | Permalink

December 10, 2004

Building Housing La Musee Jije Sold

This is sad news, and I hope that plans to find another space work out. Still, I had no choice but to be amused about how comics-interested journalists figured out the building had been sold -- when advertising targeting prospective tenants popped up featuring rooms of the museum!
posted 7:50 am PST | Permalink

Marvel Suit Vs. Game Companies On-Line

Someone e-mailed me the link to this PDF file of the suit Marvel's appropriate companies filed against NCSoft Corp. and Cryptic Studios Inc., the companies behind the on-line role-playing game City of Heroes -- a nasty shot in a usually benign Clash of Nerd Cultures, and more proof that Marvel plans to be very aggressive in protecting what it thinks are its interests. Heidi had it, and I assume it's been spread far and wide.

imageThe suit has led to much hatred from gamers and comics fans and outright derision from most professional observers -- Wired ran a story with a lot of quotes from informed spectators. I noted when this suit was first publicized how peculiar it might be if Marvel were to apply this definition of their characters to copying that goes on in other comics and in movies like The Incredibles. It seems to me they've never, ever tried to define their characters as a bundle of attributes.

Still, I don't think the entirety of the suit as baseless as those decrying it seems to be -- maybe it is legally, I wouldn't know that and lots of smart people say it is stupid, but I can sort of see the idea behind it. I kind of get the argument that putting together a bunch of attributes on a TV screen isn't a creative endeavor as much as a rote assembly process. I wouldn't agree with that statement, but I wouldn't laugh it out of the room. It doesn't seem all that different than saying that you're not selling a certain kind of gun when you sell all the parts and the modification kits, just in different piles at your gunshow booth. At any rate it's slightly more complicated than the notion that Marvel might sue pencil-makers for giving people the avenue with which to draw the Human Torch.

Where this all gets sticky, of course, is that Marvel can't own things like "big" and "green," and at some point you can't be responsible for what people assemble out of such broad concepts. But I could certainly seeing Marvel pushing for the companies to mitigate the intensity of suggestions players ape certain characters in support materials, and to maybe forbid the use of certain names unless severely modified. I don't know.

Mostly I'm baffled that they think this is worth the time and the tons of bad publicity.

By the way, one lawyer filing this suit seems very familiar to this corner of the legal world, but the other seems not. Does anyone have information on the second Marvel lawyer? I always like to hear about these lawyers.

Picture from an ad used to publicize the game.
posted 7:18 am PST | Permalink

Blah Blah Blah

image"John Romita made that face look the best, and if you reinterpret it, you're an asshole." -- Alex Ross on working with John Romita Sr. and on the quality of John Romita Sr.'s contributions in general.

"Already I'm making more money from the website than I'm getting in royalties for the print version from Top Shelf." -- James Kochalka to Alan David Doane in a kind of year-ending wrap-up.
posted 7:10 am PST | Permalink

Missed It: Harry Hargreaves, 1922-2004

Somehow in my recent francophile state I missed the very British fact that longtime Punch cartoonist, comic strip author, and children's books illustrator Harry Hargreaves passed away last month until I caught an appreciation by the always valuable Paul Gravett.

imageHargreaves' work was generally very, very handsome-looking, and he was one of those cartoonists whose work seemed to pop up in 18 billion places. If you run down one of the standard obituaries you find Dandy, Beano, the Royal Air Force, the British animation industry, various Dutch newspapers, the Comet, the Sun, the London Evening News, Punch, cereal boxes, and buildings of his home country's Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, where he was an honorary fellow. The best-remembered works may have been cartoons of "The Bird" in Punch, where Hargreaves employed a very striking mix of natural drawing and human-like features, and the Pogo-like Hayseeds strip.

You can find various biographies, obituaries and rememberances floating around.

Harry Hargreaves is survived by a wife and their two daughters.
posted 7:02 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Maureen McTigue Leaves Harris
ADV Adds Theatrical Division
Los Bros and Lalo Profiled
Huntsville AL Store Sends Funnybooks to Troops
Chris Lamb's Editorial Cartooning Book Drops Notes Del Rey Info on New Manga
Le Monde on Les Mangas
Rock and Comics Show BD-CIBELS April 8-9, 2005

December 9, 2004

Commissioners Decry Cartoon

This is a very small article by itself, but I want to continue to draw attention to the recent shift in attitudes towards political cartooning, particularly those cartoons which express a strong opinion of any kind, generally strident, left-leaning ones. I don't think that outrage at political cartoons is in any way a new animal, but that there does not exist backbone to push back as there once might have been. It's a trend worth watching.

I apologize for that weird, noisy advertisement.
posted 8:29 am PST | Permalink

Sharp Recent History Raises Questions

imageKudos to Nathan Alderman for a concise, smart article on comics publishing that doesn't spare the reader some of the more fussed over vagaries of definition and origin. Any piece that frames Will Eisner's claim for starting the graphic novel against competing candidates both immediate
Three different works laying claim to that title came out in 1976, including Richard Corben's Bloodstar, adapting a story by Conan creator Robert E. Howard, and Jim Steranko's noir mystery Red Tide. The term "graphic novel" is older still; most researchers believe it originated with writer Richard Kyle in a 1964 newsletter for the Amateur Press Association.

and even further back into history
The idea of a serious, book-length comic goes back even further. Cartoonist Milt Gross described his 1930 book He Done Her Wrong as "The Great American Novel (And Not A Word In It - No Music, Too)" Woodcut artist Lynd Ward published his own picture-novel, God's Man, in 1929.
and so on deserves at least one full read.

The part I don't quite understand is an odd assertion that I think is credited to Calvin Reid at Publisher's Weekly that the 2002 collapse of distributor LPC somehow served as a wake up call for that part of the industry, on both ends.
In 2002, just as comics publishers were beginning to enjoy steadily rising exposure to the bookstore market, the distribution company LPC collapsed. LPC was a gateway to bookstores for many small publishers and a few of the majors, and its bankruptcy showed publishers just how important bookstores were to their bottom line. The new companies who moved in to snag LPC's former customers also saw an opportunity, and began to agressively pursue shelf space in bookstores.

Maybe the distinguished Mr. Reid can unpack this a little better somewhere. I understand the correlative relationship between LPC biting the big one and a swing upwards in bookstore attention to comics, but the causative one seems to be either a reach or rewriting recent history of the kind my Mom's friends used to do on their yearly Christmas cards, where "Lance spent a few weeks re-thinking his life's direction in a positive way" stood in for "Lance went to rehab."

If anything, I hope LPC showed comics publishers the dangers of overextending in any part of your business, or at least the need to be really cognizent of the potential costs of doing so. I think instead of a Great Event hangover, the move into bookstore shelving comes from a publishing industry version of what Scott McCloud describes in this article as a benefit that comes out in press coverage -- moles in publishing, libraries and in publishing who understood the potential of a few great titles, backed by a slow build to a small, sustainable group of interesting works, abetted by a general professional attitude of acceptance or at least a willingness to admit to proven successes. We have yet to see if a non-manga surge really has a great and sustained effect outside of a few select, mostly great or already-popular books -- with so many book publisher efforts planned, the answer should come in the next 24-36 months.

If it's any consolation, I think Reid's dead-on when he notes a key to manga's surge is the decision to no longer westernize it, although I'm always suspicious that publishing analyses of manga generally underplay the role of the anime.

Anyway, please read the full article, and don't accept my quotes here as any sort of substitute. I found it via the great Thought Balloons blog.
posted 7:47 am PST | Permalink

Go, Look: Bios, BDs, Buffoonery

Stuff by which you may waste your employer's investment in you:
New Delcourt Site
Or at least they tell me it's new... even if not, it's spiffy, with a Petit Vampire button right on top that loads really easily, with a nice look at the art.

Atomic Comics Staff Bios
I could read these sort of up closes and slightly personals all day. No other industry does this, do they? That is because they are inferior industries.

Evan Dorkin's URBZ Comix
How often do readers get new comics from Evan Dorkin colored by Sarah Dyer? Not often enough, so enjoy this well-crafted commissioned project that corresponds with a videogame launch (you can also pretty quickly find other artists' submissions, too, once you're done).

posted 7:29 am PST | Permalink

Visit for the Museum; Stay for the Murals

imageI've received a fair amount of grief for the amount of European Comics coverage on this site lately, so I'll keep it brief, but for any of you visiting the Continent in 2005 it might be worth bookmarking this English-language schedule of exhibits at the Centre Belge De La Bande Dessinee in Brussels, a city that seems to love Donjon so much it is having it tattoed on its walls.

posted 7:19 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
With Great Power Comes Strange, Pre-Emptive Copyright Protection and Irritated Fanbase
Via Great Curve: Kurt Busiek's Past, Future
Also Via GC: Jim Lee's Rotisserie Comics Publishing
Restrictive Laws To Prevent Next Persepolis?
Visiting Cartoonist Profile: Bill Amend
Comicbookslut on Japan
Marvel Sell-Out of New Avengers #1
About Comics Cancels Evanier/Spiegle Books
On-Line Comics Fundraising Updates
The New BDM Is Out! The New BDM Is Out!
Anti-Semitic Cartoon Part of Pattern at U of I Paper?
Organizing Your Funnies Is Much Cheaper on Mac
A Goodbye to Tintin


December 8, 2004

The Changing Face of BD


I ran across this French-language comics sales list this morning; it's interesting to note how well the standard seres do, and which manga titles have squeezed their way in. The article accompanying the much more complete actual list notes that the Blake and Mortimer offering at #1 here fell off slightly in the overall book list due to Christmas competition from popular prose books, and that the Naruto volumes generally sell 40,000-60,000 units per issue.

1. Blake et Mortimer Book 17: Les sarcophages du 6e continent
2. Titeuf Book 10 Nadia se marie
3. Naruto Book 14
4. Cedric Book 19 On se calme!
5. Lucky Luke Book 1 La belle province
6. Wayne Shelton Book 4 Le survivant
7. Le scorpion Book 5 La vallee sacree
8. Thorgal Book 28 Kriss de Valnor
9. Camera Cafe Book 3 Ca va dechirer ce soir!
10. Peter Pan Book 6 Destins
11. Lefranc Book 16 L'ultimatum
12. Neon-Genesis Evangelion T.9
13. Alpha Book 8 Jeux de puissants
14. Blake et Mortimer Book 16 Les sarcophages du 6e continent
15. Les annonces en BD Book 1 Si tu es blonde

This isn't exactly stop-the-presses news, but I rarely see this analysis supported by numbers.
posted 8:56 am PST | Permalink

Bob Haney’s Hidden Achievement

imageI was happy in a very selfish way to read Mark Evanier's follow-up thoughts on the late mainstream comics writer Bob Haney, because it supports my notion that Haney should be given credit for being a bit more forward-thinking than many of his same-company peers when it came to understanding the appeal of superhero comic books of the 1960s. It's interesting to note this because Haney was so often categorized as an old-school sort of writer for the way his work read as compared to the first generation of fan writers that emerged in the 1970s and early 1980s. There's an anecdote that Haney used to tell about grabbing the new Marvel comics either right before or right after they hit the stands, and recognizing their pop-cult power, that I always found very charming. I should probably note that Mark's article brings in a few more issues than the one I'm talking about here.
posted 8:50 am PST | Permalink

Sakka Profiled Again; Ponent Mon to Take on Multi-Volume Series

imageThis is a brief, French-language profile of the not-really Sakka line at Casterman , the latest home for a specific type of manga, the kind that does well with European audiences and making some headway with English-language audiences via the Ponent Mon/Fanfare line. We've talked about it recently, although barring some breaking publishing news it never hurts to go through this kind of thing again.

This specific article should be of interest to only the most hardcore comics publishing followers. The best-known artist seen to co-exist with this set of overlapping groups is probably Jiro Taniguchi, but the most important figure might be Frederic Boilet, whose super-cool brief biography (in English) can be seen here.

Here's something new (well, new to me) I just noticed on that Ponent Mon site is that Taniguchi's Bocchan No Jidai is planned.

posted 8:41 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Lynn Johnston Honored by Anishinabek Nation
Comic Book Foils Bank Plot
Local Cartoonist Profile: Justin Lawson
Stories That Won't Die: Moir in India
Dilbert's Weasel Poll Winners
Dark Horse and Otomo, Sitting in a Tree
Manga-fy Me Contest Enters Voting Stage
Profile of ADV's Anime Business
History of On-Line Comics Part Seven
History of On-Line Comics Part Eight
On-Line Comics Commentator Writes for Charity

December 7, 2004

Bob Haney, 1926-2004


Word began to spread Sunday that prolific comic book writer Bob Haney passed away in Southern California on November 25. Haney's death came at the end of a long period of hospitalization made necessary by a stroke earlier this year. Haney had before then been living in somewhat of an isolated state in Mexico, friendly with neighbors and occasionally coming across the border to attend various panels and activities at San Diego's Comic-Con International.

imageHaney was best known as a writer for DC Comics, particularly its fresher, stranger superhero titles of the 1960s like co-creations Metamorpho (with artist Ramona Fradon) and Doom Patrol (with Arnold Drake). He also enjoyed long, noteworthy runs withe DC's Batman character on World's Finest Comics, and on the seminal teen superhero team Teen Titans (a concept co-created by Haney from existing characters). His scripting on Teen Titans, marked by dialogue that grasped for but did not quite achieve typical 1960s teenager-speak, has since become a charming comics culture touchstone, particularly for those who do not take their comics as grim-faced reality. What's lost in some appraisals of Haney's choices as a scripter is how effectively those lighter touches worked in comics, and how those attempts indicated he was one of the rare creative people working at DC during Marvel Comics' ascendency who saw the style used by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as artistically valid rather than the engine of a fluke success.

A resident of upstate New York (the Woodstock area) who performed a long, periodical commute into the DC office where he would pick up work, Haney also wrote fondly remembered stories for DC's war titles like The Unknown Soldier and Sgt. Rock, and professional, well-crafted work for any number of the company's characters. He also worked in animation, and before settling in at DC was one freelancer among many during comics' post-World War II boom and subsequent fade.

As always, you're directed to historian and author Mark Evanier's always-smart, well-researched and to the point obituary for more information. A Newsarama piece on Haney includes some fan reaction. I believe this article about Haney in retirement facilitated much of the comics industry's recent information about the man. Haney did a a Teen Titans story that was canceled close to its 2003 publication and has yet to be released by DC Comics, art (by Jay Stephens) from which is pictured above. One can also find a classic Haney story (art by Dick Dillon) and a more recent offering (art by Kieron Dwyer) -- I believe the latter had been part of a DC decision to have a comic book issue destroyed before wide release. The trade magazine The Comics Journal also has a terrific interview with Haney on file that one hopes can be published at some future date.

Bob Haney was 78 years old.


Then-DC Employee Brian Pearce Elaborates on the second Super-Sons story.
posted 7:19 am PST | Permalink

The Audience In Short Pants

As American comics publishers and those who are toying with lines of comics dance around a re-discovery of the children's market, it may be worth noting something similar has been going on in Europe for a few years now. This compelling article -- worth an on-line translation and scan for those interested in comics publishing -- points out exactly how many comics in Europen pursued an adolescent market over one for kids. One argument made is that a return to doing work for children brings the field back into the watchful sphere of censorious influences.

posted 7:14 am PST | Permalink

Blows to the Head Keep Tintin Young

imageIt's always refreshing to read an article that assumes some level of knowledge or awareness as it relates to a comics character and then leverages that awareness in the most awesomely stupid way possible. And I mean that in the best possible way.

While this may serve as the next explanation of choice why American mainstream comic book companies still have superheroes from World War II running around in their pages, I'm afraid it has horrible implications for the homelife of Little Orphan Annie and the gang from Peanuts.
posted 7:01 am PST | Permalink

What’s Wrong with the Funny Business?

This article succinctly deals with some of the basic content issues facing comics today, including cartoonists' take on one of the more fascinating issues of the ongoing cultural war -- is art and entertainment more outrageous today or less?

Reading between the lines one may note that the actual protests that any of these controversies generates seem to be a modest number at best. This is perhaps a sign of new technology's role in mobilizing and publicizing complaints over relatively tiny incidents in the service of a specific agenda as opposed to a groundswell of public reaction. It may even indicate a widespread disconnect from comics in general.
posted 6:50 am PST | Permalink

Elderberries Makes Debut

imageLaunching Monday, the new Universal comic strip Elderberries is beginning the typical run through its debut cycle's worth of profiles and feature stories.

Coverage in San Francisco is distinguished by the inclusion of a comic strip about the feature's creation, which aptly pins down the obsession of syndicates with a recognizable but universal "hook."
posted 6:37 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Jeff Koons on Incredible Hulk: "I do find him beautiful."
John Sherffius designated cartoonist of the year at National Press Awards
Persepolis 2 Makes Village Voice List
Peppermint Patty and Marcie Loitering in Park?
Local Cartoonist Profile: Jimmy R. Vann
Glossary of Manga
Local Cartoonist Profile: Derrick and Clifford Barrows
Newspaper Adds Comics; Divests Philosophy
Local Company Profile: ADV
Support for Oliphant From Teacher
Disney DVD to Include Feature on Comic Strips
Come See Dave McKean Lecture
Gerard Jones on Secret Identities
Two New Manga Licenses at Top of Del Rey's List
All Grown Up Collaborative Webcomic Ends
Webcomic Leaves Modern Tales to Pursue Syndicate Deal

December 6, 2004

Stripburger Comics Held: Miniburgers Freed, Parodies Not; CBLDF Challenges; Newsarama Holds Story


I can't get the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund web site to load this morning. So please forgive me for the full publication of the following press release following this paragraph. Basically, the U.S. custom department has seized a few publications by the Eastern European publisher Stripburger that contain obvious parodies, and is holding them by saying they are pirating the works they use as the language of their parody. It sounds pretty cut and dry to me -- Board President Chris Staros is right to call it a potentially awful precedent -- and I hope for a speedy, positive outcome.

In the meantime you should visit Stripburger's site, consider buying their comics from Top Shelf (I remember liking Stripburek), and go watch Peter Kuper's animated version of "Richie Bush," one of the works challenged.

I do have some serious questions about the story which follow the press release, so please bear with me.

On October 27, U.S. Customs sent a letter to Top Shelf Productions notifying them that copies of the anthology Stripburger had been seized, charging that the stories "Richie Bush" by Peter Kuper and "Moj Stub" (translated, "My Pole") by Bojan Redzic constituted "clearly piratical copies" of registered and recorded copyrights. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has retained counsel to challenge these seizures.

"Richie Bush," appearing in Stripburger (Vol. 12) #37, is a four-page parody of Richie Rich that also satirizes the Bush Administration by superimposing the personalities of the President's cabinet on the characters from the comic. "My Pole," appearing in Stripburger (Vol. 3) # 4-5, which was published in 1994, is an eight-page ecology parable in Slovenian that makes visual homage to Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and Woodstock in three panels. Customs seized five copies of the issue with the Peanuts reference and fourteen copies of the issue containing "Richie Bush." The stories were both published in the middle of their respective issues and no graphics from either story appeared on the covers.

Top Shelf is the American agent for Stripburger, an Eastern European comics publisher that releases anthologies of comics from cartoonists around the globe. The comics that were seized were sent along as an extra in a shipment of The Miniburger Dirty Dozen, a boxed set of mini comics that Top Shelf imported to offer in the Direct Market and at conventions. Top Shelf did not order the seized issues of the anthology.

Upon investigating the shipment, Customs released the copies of Miniburger, but held the issues of Stripburger, giving Top Shelf thirty days to either forfeit the shipment, request administrative relief, or initiate court action.

At the urging of Stripburger, Top Shelf and CBLDF President Chris Staros brought the case to the attention of the Fund as a potential news story. CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein felt the matter warranted serious legal attention, so it was sent to Burton Joseph, the Fund's legal counsel, whose opinion was that Customs was unlawfully holding First Amendment protected speech. The option of pursuing court action on First Amendment grounds was then taken to the CBLDF Board of Directors, which unanimously voted 8-0 to take up the case; Chris Staros recused himself from the vote.

On November 24, the Fund retained counsel in Charleston, SC who hand-delivered a letter to Customs stating that the comics are protected under existing First Amendment case law and should be either immediately released or that court action should be initiated.

"In this case, it looks like Customs is overreaching its authority," Staros says. "The comics in question are clearly within the acceptable bounds of parody, and there is absolutely no likelihood that consumers would confuse these works with the subjects that they are parodying."

Brownstein stated, "The stories that were seized are short segments within larger anthologies that in no way represented the content as anything other than what it is. The charge that these are piratical copies of existing copyrights is not only wrong-headed, but the seizure amounts to an unlawful prior restraint of protected speech. It is our hope that Customs will recognize that they have acted in error in seizing these stories and release them immediately. If not, we are prepared to go to court to protect the First Amendment rights that are endangered by this misguided action."


Questions Regarding Story

I am constrained from writing news -- as opposed to blogging it, and there really is a difference -- by prior professional commitments, so I can't flesh this story out further by making a few needed phone calls.

But I can make commentary, and some things in the story struck me as worth commenting upon. Perhaps someone else can answer a few questions I have in writing their articles, or one of the principals can write me directly. I will happily plug such an article; any answers I will insert below and give them their own space.
1. Why did it take so long to get this matter released to the press? Did it really take five weeks or more to get this voted on?

2. Why would the head of the CBLDF not immediately see this as a First Amendment issue the way it seems the Executive Director and legal counsel did?

3. Since Chris Staros in Newsarama said he recused himself from the vote since he brought it to the board's attention, does that mean he would not recuse himself from a vote for being in a publishing relationship with someone?

4. Speaking of that Newsarama article, it's dated 11:30 AM but it showed up on my screen at approximately 5 AM Mountain time, and might have been there earlier. I didn't get the press release until late Sunday night. Newsarama's article includes copious quotes from Chris Staros. So tell me:
a. Did Staros happen to stay up really late to work with Newsarama? If so, will he extend late Sunday night access to all reporters?

b. Did Newsarama receive preferential treatment by having the story released to them earlier?

c. If Newsarama got the story themselves a bit earlier, then did they hold it for some reason at someone's request, or did they just happen to get it early enough and process it at a time so theirs came out a few hours earlier?


The following is also published as a stand-alone document in the letters section, as promised.

Charles Brownstein
Executive Director
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Hi Tom,

Here are our answers to the questions you blogged this morning. Feel free to e-mail me directly if you have anything else.

1. Why did it take so long to get this matter released to the press? Did it really take five weeks or more to get this voted on?

On the advice of counsel we held the story until it was clear that the request had enough time to start moving through the system. We had to submit our challenge on November 24, which is right before the government shut down for Thanksgiving. We wanted to ensure that Customs had enough time to start processing our
request before making an announcement. It would have been counter-productive to the goal of getting the books released to blindside Customs with a news article before they had the chance to properly receive our letter requesting legal action.

2. Why would the head of the CBLDF not immediately see this as a First Amendment issue the way it seems the Executive Director and legal counsel did?

No one saw the actual materials until late November because after the notice of seizure was received by Top Shelf in early November we had to get copies of the actual books sent over to form a legal opinion. Functionally, Chris and I first saw the material at the same time, he on November 19, me and Burt on November 22. It was only upon seeing the material in question that a First Amendment legal opinion could be formed.

3. Since Chris Staros in Newsarama said he recused himself from the vote since he brought it to the board's attention, does that mean he would not recuse himself from a vote for being in a publishing relationship with someone?

Chris obviously supported the issue, but felt that it wouldn't be prudent to vote on the matter since he brought the case to the attention of the board. This is standard procedure in organizations where a "conflict of interest" presents itself. As for future voting scenarios, each one would have to be handled on its own merits.

4. Speaking of that Newsarama article, it's dated 11:30 AM but it showed up on my screen at approximately 5 AM Mountain time, and might have been there earlier. I didn't get the press release until late Sunday night. Newsarama's article includes copious quotes from Chris Staros. So tell me:

Newsarama called me about a week ago and had somehow gotten wind of the story. I confirmed that it was true, but that we weren't ready to release it because we wanted Customs to have a full working week to deal with our letter. So in exchange for access to exclusive quotes from me and Chris would they hold the story until we were ready to release it on Monday? They agreed.

But for the record, both Chris and I work long hours and have frequently made ourselves available to reporters at odd hours and on weekends.


Tom Spurgeon Breaks In: Although I had multiple follow-up questions, to stick with my mandate I kept my follow-up questions to clarifications. That exchange went as follows.


Spurgeon: Wasn't the content of Richie Bush already widely known and available?

Brownstein: Yes. The story had appeared in other places, including World War 3 Illustrated and a mini-comic Peter had produced. But we didn't know what specific presentation of Richie Bush was used and we didn't know what the other story was at all. We're not in the business of jumping to conclusions before we have all the facts in, and it
wasn't prudent to speak publicly about the matter until we had all the facts.

Spurgeon: Isn't controlling access to board members based on how it fits in with your administrative needs kind of anti-First Amendment?

Brownstein: I take issue with the word control. Anyone is welcome to call any board member at any time and question them on any CBLDF issue. When Newsarama asked me to confirm what they had heard, I asked them to hold the story because we didn't want to jeopardize the case. Because they agreed, we offered them added depth because they honored our request. This happens all the time in journalism.


Tom Spurgeon One Last Time: Although I suspect there may still be news to report on here, this concludes my commentary until such reporting is done elsewhere that brings it back into my purview.
posted 7:11 am PST | Permalink

Angouleme Nominations Reactions

If I'm reading this article correctly, this is a round-up of negative reaction to this year's award nominations for the Angouleme Festival.

imageIt seems like the general suite of objections talked about here takes the relative heavy impression made by American books as additional evidence that the awards -- and by extension the Festival itself -- are increasingly a fan's view of the comics medium rather than any sort of method for recognizing artistic achievement. This is particularly true for worthy work little-known to the general reading public. It's sort of like the debate that surrounds American awards, except it reads as much less strident and slightly less idiotic. It may for some also call into question the value of nominations if they're offered in the midst of of some odd affirmative action program for populist works.

Artwork from one of the 2004 books released by an artist mentioned in that article. I have no idea if this is award-caliber work -- it doesn't necessarily look like it -- or if it's simply a string of jokes about having sex with rabbits or fire hydrants or something. I like the cover, though.
posted 6:54 am PST | Permalink

John Parr Miller, 1913-2004

imageI totally missed this until a cartoonist fond of his work dropped me a note, but the October 29 passing of influential children's book illustrator J.P. Miller was announced approximately a week ago, marked by postings to artists' message boards and a much-quoted obituary in the New York Times.

In addition to his long career in illustration, Miller was also a character designer at the Disney studios when that meant working on a small team rather than in a small army. His work can be seen in Dumbo, Pinocchio and Fantasia. The best-known children's work to which Miller contributed is probably a popular version of Little Red Hen, which remains in print along with approximately 35 other works with a wide variety of collaborators.
posted 6:49 am PST | Permalink

Ninth Art’s O’Brien on “Real Writers”

If Paul O'Brien at Ninth Art isn't the most consistently worth-reading pundit writing about mainstream comics, he's in the top three. This article about the publicity uses of the "real writer" designation and what it reveals about comics culture starts out a tad slow, teasing out an old issue as if it were brand new -- but pointing out the book behind a certain Marvel writer being promoted in this fashion makes the whole piece.
posted 6:47 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Dave Brown: UK's Political Cartoonist of the Year
IDW Extends Advertising Strategy to Gamers
Gary Markstein Wins 10 Grand From UN
Fort Thunder as Genesis of Noise Scene
Manga Series Sponsors Discussion of Abductions
Man Reads Comic Strips to Hearing Impaired
Yet Another Marvel Licensing Deal
Profile of Ricky Nobile
King Features Grabs Deal with Window Company
Miyazaki/Moebius Exhibit Generates More Press

December 5, 2004

CR Sunday Magazine


Sometimes, when you have comics on the mind, as you move through your work week you fill your notebook with ideas worth talking about, notions worth examining in full, quandaries worth wrestling to the ground.

And then there are weeks like this one.
posted 6:21 pm PST | Permalink

Go, Look: Black Aquaman

imageCartoonist Brian Sendelbach, better known by his "Smell of Steve" nickname and best known for his cartoons featuring strange, smiling creatures with humongous cigars, recently re-worked his web site to include a lot of his color work, including breathtaking adventures of his underwater hero.

There's a lot of work on the site worth checking out if you want to work back and look around -- Sendelbach's paintings are really interesting, and I'm also fond of President Carter and Kenny.

Somehow this listing for Black Aquaman is just as funny to me as his actual adventures.
posted 6:00 pm PST | Permalink

Pulled From The Longbox

Review of Palomar (2004)
Review of Orchid (2003)
Reviews of Folio Society Books (2000)
posted 5:35 pm PST | Permalink

December 4, 2004

CR Week In Review

Top Stories
The week's most important comics-related news stories, November 27 to December 3, 2004:

1. European Comics Award Season Marked by Influx of American Nominees and Winners.

2. Former DC Comics Executive Vice President and Editorial Director Irwin Donenfeld Dies at 78.

image3. Herb Block Foundation Gives $150,000 to Editorial Cartoonists Group; Rare Positive Recent Story for That Profession.

Winner of the Week
Cartoonist Craig Thompson, who followed his extremely strong showing at 2004's American industry awards by winning the critics' grand prize from the ACBD, being a finalist for the media award Le grand Prix RTL de la BD, and receiving a nomination for a prize at the Angouleme Festival.

Losers of the Week
Newspaper strip cartoonists, who now more than ever must balance potential objections to content with criticism their work is generally too safe and boring.

Quote of the Week
"I am a valuable commodity and I feel like I am being wasted." -- veteran comics writer Len Wein.

Art from the great Herblock
posted 5:41 am PST | Permalink

December 3, 2004

Lee, Bendis, Brown, Deitch, Guerra, Kalesniko… the Prix D’Angouleme Awards Announce Nominees

This year's nominees for the awards at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinee in Angouleme were released yesterday to the appropriate fanfare and huzzahs.

imageUnless I'm completely wrong, this year's list marks an overwhelmingly strong showing by North American-originated books at what were once the Alph-Art Awards, with nominations going to the teams of Stan Lee/John Romita, Brian Vaughn/Pia Guerra and Brian Bendis/Alex Maleev in addition to alt-comics luminaries like Chester Brown, Kim Deitch, Debbie Drechsler, the under-appreciated Mark Kalesniko and this year's American awards juggernaut Craig Thompson. Joining Thompson in the best first album category are Derek Kirk Kim and Alex Robinson. That just seems way out there to me, although it's all at least really solid work. I'm also not remembering this full of a nomination list in the first place.

The nominee roll also features a solid list of internationally renowned cartoonists like Marjane Satrapi, Ralf Konig, Frederik Peeters, Baru and Lewis Trondheim. The fact that Hideshi Hino, Yoshiharu Tsuge, and Jiro Taniguchi can be nominated indicates the breadth of this year's nominees.

I wonder how this set of nominees will play among hardcore artcomics fans in and of Europe -- I imagine not too well, but I can't be sure. I hear enough about Angouleme to hear about big underlying stories, and the same way that for years it was new guard vs. old guard, not it seems to be an ongoing struggle for finding ways to broaden interest in elements of the festival from a wider audience, and what that might cost the festival in terms of prestige. Somebody please write me a letter if you have your finger on the pulse of conversation or an opinion of your own.

The Festival takes place January 27-30, during which the winners and a Grand Prix winner will be announced. The schedule highlights can be found in a nice list here.

What follows is a list of nominees. I really liked looking at the covers and the way the lists are set up on the BD Angouleme site, so I'll link to that on every heading. That way you also get to see all the covers, rather than just for those selections with a "*" at the end of the line.

imagePrix du Meilleur Album [Best Album]
L'homme sans talent, Yoshiharu Tsuge*
Louis Riel, Chester Brown
Lupus Volume 2, Frederik Peeters
Mariee par correspondance, Mark Kalesniko
Panorama de l'Enfer, Hideshi Hino
Poulet aux prunes, Marjane Satrapi
Une tragedie americaine, Kim Deitch

imagePrix du Dessin [Best Artwork]
D Day, le jour du desastre Volume 1, David Brin, Scott Hampton
Donjon Monster Volume 9, Lewis Trondheim, Joann Sfar, Killofer*
La malle Sanderson, Jean Claude Gotting
L'enrage Volume 1, Baru
Le sommet des dieux, Baku Yumemakura, Jiro Taniguchi
Smart Monkey, Winschluss
Wolverine Snikt!, Tsutomu Nihei

imagePrix du Scenario [Best Script]
Cliches Beyrouth 1990, Bruno, Sylvain Ricard, Christophe Gaultier*
Comme des lapins, Ralf Konig
Le Marquis d'Anaon Volume 3, Fabien Vehlmann, Matthieu Bonhomme
Le sang des Valentines, Catel, Christian De Metter
Le tour de valse, Denis Lapière, Ruben Pellejero
Summer of Love, Debbie Drechsler
Y le dernier homme, Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra

imagePrix du Premier Album [Best First Album]
Blankets, Craig Thompson
De mal en pis, Alex Robinson
Extreme Orient Volume 1, Frank Bourgeron
L'immeuble d'en face, Vanyda*
Love my life, Yamaji
Same Difference, Derek Kirk Kim
Trois eclats blancs, Bruno LeFloc'h

imagePrix de la Serie [Best Series]Buddy Longway, Derib
Coq de combat, Izo Hashimoto, Akio Tanaka
Daredevil, Brian Michael Bendis, Alexander Maleev
Hubert, un prive a la cambrousse, Bruno Heitz
Le cri du peuple, Jean Vautrin, Jacques Tardi*
Les formidables aventures de Lapinot, Lewis Trondheim
Universal War One, Denis Bajram

imagePrix du Patrimoine [Best Historical Reprint]
Felix, l'integrale, Maurice Tilieux
Gen d'Hiroshima, Keiji Nakazawa
Le Concombre masque, Mandryka
Les mythes de Cthulhu, Lovecraft, Breccia*
Mysterieuse matin, midi et soir, Jean Claude Forest
Ragnar, Jean Ollivier, Eduardo Coelho
Spiderman, l'integrale 1969, Stan Lee, John Romita, John Buscema
posted 10:35 am PST | Permalink

Sticks and Stones Gets the Gold reminds us that Peter Kuper and his new book Sticks and Stones received the gold medal in the sequential arts category from the Society of Illustrators; it's nice to be reminded of this book in general. The article further states that the allegorical fantasy will be part of an exhibit by winners in February.

There's a cool animation featuring the project on Random House's site. My recent interview with Mr. Kuper for Graphic Novel Review may also be of interest.
posted 9:36 am PST | Permalink

It’s Garfield’s World; You And I Are Lymon

imageSo many people have either e-mailed me or blogged about this list of library holdings across a larger membership of libraries and Garfield at Large's place in it, I'm not sure who gets credit for bringing the list to my attention.

It is pretty funny, though. It also reminds me of a conversation I once had with a industry person about this book, the first from Jim Davis and his creation. Basically, for those of you who don't remember, it was a total sales sensation. That book was everywhere. Not only did it further catapault Davis and his strip to the stratosphere in terms of syndicate sales (at least that's what I've been told), it created untold fans among publishers for its format, one of the de facto formats for strip collections now. It also started a myth that hangs around in comic strip circles today -- that once you get a book from your feature, you're totally raking it in.
posted 9:22 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
What a Nice Photo of Moebius
Lalo Alcaraz Profile on NPR
Enki Bilal Profile from Toronto
More Marvel Exclusives
IDW Announces Illustration Magazine
Lark Exclusive Official
Gewd Guys Collective Wants You
So Does Comixpedia
The Beat: Mocca Updates Galore

December 2, 2004

Condom Joke in Zits Leads to 1-Day Drop By Omaha Newspaper

imageI think it's safe to assume that the potentially offensive portion of the December 1 Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman cartoon in question that led to its being dropped for the day in Omaha is the use of a condom for a visual gag rather than, you know, the idea of sharing.

Although it's become easy to joke about these dropped strips and angry letters about editorial cartoonists on a case-by-case basis, I get the feeling we're heading into some weird days regarding complaints about content, and that comic strips are just unimportant enough in the wider schemes of most publishing them that they will continune to suffer from anything that approaches risque humor or ideological commentary. This story bears watching.

You can read the entire strip in question without my idiotic Photoshop conversion at sites that carry it new; I always liked the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for that purpose. Remember to scroll back to the appropriate day.
posted 7:22 am PST | Permalink

Euro-Awards Everywhere You Look!

In a busy season for comics awards in Europe, Craig Thompson's taking of a top critic's prize for his Blankets graphic novel was not the only recent news.

image* Le grand Prix RTL de la BD, a media-generated award culled from various monthly award winners with a prize in the form of much free advertising, was given to Ou le regard ne porte pas by Georges Abolin and Olivier Pont (Dargaud). If nothing else, you have to go to the RTL BD site and look at the classy restaurant and generally handsome people at this award ceremony -- Monde Bizarro!

image* Le Prix International de la Ville de Geneve 2004 went to La Malle Sanderson, by Jean-Claude Gotting (Delcourt). I'm not all that familiar with this award -- I know, I probably should be -- but I notice that its line-up of past winners includes heavy hitters such as David B., Joann Sfar and Blutch, all three of whom are familiar to segments of the American market. They are also all really good, so that's a fine recommendation as far as I'm concerned.

image* Le Prix Rene Goscinny, which seems to be a juried prize intended for a younger writer (in terms of albums completed rather than age), went to Bruno Le Floc'h for the story in Trois eclats blancs (three white glares), published in the Mirages line from Delcourt. This is the writer's second comics album; the 47-year-old previously worked in animation.


The Comics Journal's contributing writer on modern European comics, Bart Beaty, has sent this site a fine letter that's worth a read to supplement the above.
posted 6:59 am PST | Permalink

John Byrne Speaks From The Heart

imageA very even-handed and slightly fascinating report from John Byrne's panel at the Mid-Ohio Con, called the comic book artist and writer's final convention, full of speak-freely gems, including this on a recent team-up with an old Uncanny X-Men partner :
"The whole thing was virtually done when Mike Carlin said 'Let's get Claremont to script it' and I went 'Oh god no!'"

Mr. Byrne currently works for DC Comics on titles like Doom Patrol (pictured). His take on his relationship to Marvel is also reported in the piece.
posted 6:40 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
Non-Vacuum Filled Anyway: Kandora Targets CGE Niche
Pope Comic Debuts; No Variant Covers Planned
Ben Katchor in "Drawings As Reportage" Show
Bazooka Joe 50; Just Gives Money Away Now
Update: AL Convention Finds Space
Update: "Tongdaeng" Book Has 200,000 First-Day Sales
James Gillray Exhibit Previewed
Romare Bearden Exhibit Previewed

December 1, 2004

Blankets Wins ACBD Award


In news announced early today by sites such as Univers BD, Craig Thompson's Blankets won the critics' grand prize given out by the L'association des journalistes et critiques de la bande dessinee (ACBD) in France.

Thompson's book, distributed to English-language markets by original publisher Top Shelf and published for the French-language markets by Casterman as Blankets Manteau et Neige, had its place on the short list of finalists announced Tuesday. According to reports, Blankets was singled out from over 2000+ total albums eligible.

The second graphic novel from the Portland, Oregon resident Thompson, Blankets sold extremely well for publisher Top Shelf as a stand-along graphic novel. Thompson's latest is Carnet de Voyage.
posted 1:09 pm PST | Permalink

2005 Eisner Awards Judges Selected

The Eisner Awards are a major comic book industry awards voted upon by working professionals and support industry personnel. I'm working on a big piece about comic book awards programs -- I think all the comics awards programs are largely pathetic, and to a certain extent they are pathetic in avoidable ways -- so I figured I would just put up this list and the little bios as supplied by the Eisners and talk about them later. Although I do wonder just putting in the italics if other juried awards ever mention things like "She's been reading/watching movies since childhood."


The judges for the 2005 Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards have been announced by Awards administrator Jackie Estrada. These five individuals come from a wide range of backgrounds and include a librarian, a well-known comics retailer, a cartoonist, and two writers for mainstream entertainment publications. The judges will be meeting in early April to determine the nominations for what are considered the "Oscars" of the comics industry. Ballots will then go out to the entire comics industry in May, and the recipients will be announced in a gala ceremony at Comic-Con International: San Diego in July.

The judges are:

Gib Bickel, co-owner of the The Laughing Ogre in Columbus, Ohio. Gib started reading comics with Amazing Spider-Man #148 and enjoys the comics medium more every year. He's a regular participant in The CBIA (Comic Book Industry Association) website and is on the Free Comic Book Day committee. He and his partners opened The Laughing Ogre in 1994; the store has won Best Comic Store in Columbus more than once in its ten years of operation.

Steve Conley, cartoonist, self-publisher, and online pioneer. He has written and illustrated his online and printed comics series Astounding Space Thrills since 1998 and has run the award-winning design studio Conley Interactive since 1996. In addition to his co-creation, Conley owns and manages such comics-related websites as iCOMICS,, and The Pulse, a popular daily comics news site. He also serves as executive director of SPX, the Small Press Expo.

Katharine Kan, librarian/consultant. Kat has been a comics reader all her life. As a librarian working with teens, she saw the new graphic novels being published in the mid-1980s as perfect for them. She started writing the first column devoted to graphic novels in library literature, "Graphically Speaking," in 1994 (published in Voice of Youth Advocates). She has also been writing graphic novel reviews for Diamond Previews (posted at their Bookshelf website). Kat was a librarian in public libraries in Hawaii and Indiana from 1984 through 2002 and is now working as a freelance consultant, doing book selection for Brodart's book distribution division, specializing in graphic novels and young adult literature. She is also chair of the Graphic Novel Task Force for Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association.

Tom McLean, associate editor in special reports at Variety. He oversees his share of the more than 180 specials published each year on topics as diverse as the Oscars, videogames, and film festivals. Tom has edited both of Variety's Comic-Con specials. Since joining Variety in 1999 he has written dozens of articles and also writes "Bags and Boards," Variety's daily weblog on the business of comics. A comics and sci-fi fan since his childhood in Edmonton, Canada, Tom has followed the comics industry since the mid-1980s. After earning a degree in journalism from the University of Arizona, he wrote his first professional article about comics -- on the death of Superman in 1992 -- while on staff at a small Arizona newspaper.

Tom Russo, freelance writer/reviewer. He regularly covers comic book movies and related genres as a contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly and Premiere magazine. In recent years, he's written production features on both Spider-Man movies and on Van Helsing; upcoming projects he's covering include Sin City and Batman Begins. Tom reviews comics for EW and has also written for Wizard and, back in the day, Marvel Age.

"The judges are chosen for their knowledge about comics, their wide-ranging tastes, and their impartiality," says Estrada. Because publishers and creators have the opportunity to submit their work for consideration, the judges are able to look at the full spectrum of material published in the previous year. The 2005 Call for Entries will be sent out to publishers in early January and will be posted on the Comic-Con International website (


I am grateful to the Eisners for putting me on the press release list despite my being an obvious ingrate.
posted 11:17 am PST | Permalink

Irwin Donenfeld, 1926-2004

Former DC Comics editorial director, publisher and all-around influential executive Irwin Donenfeld passed away Monday evening in Norwalk, Connecticut, according to a glowing, respectful notice in his local newspaper of record, which remembers him as much as a community leader as a comics industry veteran of the first order. Heidi MacDonald synthesizes from a few early sources here, including this short graph by comics historian Mark Evanier.

The son of a company co-founder, Donenfeld is credited with helping to negotiate DC through one of the American comic book industry's most tumultuous eras in a fashion that made the company the envy of many of its close competitors. He is specifically credited with such forward-thinking moves as astutely following cover sales trends in terms of their content, bring in a qualified editor for the company romance line who happened to be female at a time when very few female hires were made, and tapping artist Carmine Infantino as art director.

Mr. Donenfeld is survived by a wife and five children.
posted 7:05 am PST | Permalink Marvel Exclusives Round-Up


Thanks goodness for comics business and commentary site for its handy round-up of the recent mini-avalanche of exclusivity deals between various creators and Marvel Comics. Although I'm less familiar with Marvel's version than some of the DC Comics versions -- and then only in an anecdotal fashion -- exclusivity deals lock talent into work for a specific company, sometimes with exceptions for particular outside work, in exchange for things like a cash bonus (on signing and/or on completion of a certain amount of work) and access to a healthcare plan. Again, I don't know what's at work here or on anyone's specific contract.

Anyhow, these are worth noting for what it says about publishing strategies, particularly on mid-level books where there is not likely to be a strategy of short runs by today's hot freelancers. A few exclusivity deals help ensure a pool of talent with which to work that is not going to jump when a position opens up elsewhere on perhaps a more attractive project in the short-term, or even may guarantee a phantom reserve unit when those kinds of slots open up at your own company.

Some "meet the new kids" Marvel art by exclusive contract signee Michael Ryan
posted 6:47 am PST | Permalink

Sebastian Bach’s Comic Book Sex Party: Gwen Stacy, Mr. Fantastic, Cherry Poptart, and… Valkyrie?

imageI know this is squarely in "The Beat" territory and has nothing to do with comics, but I'd like to point out that the membership of a comic book sex party (scroll way down) thrown for conjecture's sake by rock throwback Sebastian Bach and noted by Mercury Studios is distinguished by its inclusion of Valkyrie as opposed to, say, something with 18-foot legs drawn by one of the Image fellas.

Also, one hopes this doesn't end up suggesting a new chapter in classic Spider-Man good-girl icon Gwen Stacy's slightly creepy, very odd, recent revelations of a hidden past.
posted 6:33 am PST | Permalink

Syndicates Frightened of Web Models?

Eric Burns at continues to hit the issue of web-fostered strip syndication models, and in this essay he gives a pretty long airing out to his view of the reaction of established print syndicates to such competing efforts.
posted 6:28 am PST | Permalink

Go, Look: Rustle the Leaf

imageRustle the Leaf, an educational environmental comic strip that seems to be using a web-based free syndication model as part of its overall business plan, started its press rollout this week. I'm having a hard time accessing those articles, so if you want to see more, why not go straight to the site itself?

The artist involved with Rustle is the cartoonist Dan Wright, an enormously talented friend of mine since childhood and someone with whom I was lucky to work on a syndicated strip project a few years back. He was also once a Comics Journal cover artist when I was there in the late 1990s. I really, really miss the way Dan draws trees, and the way Dan draws generally, and it's a pleasure to see him involved with some publicly accessible art.
posted 6:18 am PST | Permalink

Tokyopop Rising Stars Round Five

In terms of substance, this is really more of a quick hit, but I wanted to emphasize the news that the LA-based manga giant Tokyopop launches its fifth "Rising Stars" contest, because I think that effort has been an underexamined key to their wide-ranging success as a publishing company. Plus, these kinds of things have never worked all that well in American comic books, which says something, too.
posted 6:14 am PST | Permalink

Quick hits
SLG Celebrates Christmas With Strange Tree
Missed This: Jake Morrisey Settles In at Riverhead
Memory Lane: Fans Waiting for Roy Crane
Touring Cartoonist Profile: Jeffrey Brown
Cathy and Irving's Wedding Registry Benefits Animals
Quay Collection Acquires Cartoons: Historical Signifiers

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