Please Consider Donating To A Fund To Aid Hospitalized Retailer David Pirkola
The comics retailer David Pirkola was shot last week; he has no health insurance. While the industry pulls for Mr. Pirkola's full recovery, it's now possible to aid on what may be the tail end of a very long process -- alleviating some of the pain of the costs incurred. Please consider joining me in donating some money.
My last essay on New York Comic-Con 2008 brought a personal response from Reed Exhibitions official Lance Fensterman, who was nice enough to answer a pair of questions in follow-up that I wondered about while I was posting that original essay. I wanted to get them up as a resource for future articles.
TOM SPURGEON: First, what was the NYCC's position on the charge that people were being exploited for booth costs? Was that really happening? Was there a miscommunication between con and exhibitors on what they needed to bring or buy at the show?
LANCE FENSTERMAN: I am not aware of any specific "charges" to this end, so it's a little tricky to provide any official response. Based on your question it sounds as if you are referring to costs of doing business at the Javits Center for things like labor, electric (if needed), furnishings, etc. Every exhibitor at NYCC had personal and email contact with NYCC staffers before the event in an effort to communicate requirements, procedures, what to expect, etc. It is obviously our desire for all of our exhibitors to have a great event, we do our very best to prepare our customers for the unique experience of doing business at the Javits Center. To that end this year we paid for labor for any exhibitor wishing to carry in items for there booth which meant direct savings for them. Now, having said all of that, NYC is an expensive place to do business, we take no profit in this, it is simply a fact of NYC and it's the price you literally pay for being in NYC. If the show were done in a second or third tier market those costs would be lower, but the magnitude of the show would also be different.
SPURGEON: Second, and this may be a stupid question, but Reed's a big corporation and the NYCC is an increasingly successful trade show. Why haven't you been able to put together a consistent string of dates?
FENSTERMAN The Javits is full, plain and simple, there is more demand for the space than there is space. It's a matter of moving the Auto Show, moving the boat show, moving the Vision conference (each event attracting as many or more customers than NYCC) -- they too are paying customers with large annual events that have had the same dates for many many years and that already have the venue booked through 2020! On a regular basis I sit with Javits officials and we literally go through giant calendars, year by year, looking for more space, looking for consistent dates. Trust me, this is a point of frustration for us as well and in fact I was just at the Javits Center this week going through those calendars again. We are exuding all of the muscle we can to get dates and space, but you can't cancel someone else's show because it is more convenient for us. I'm optimistic that this will improve as the con gets more and more successful we can make a better argument for "stealing" someone else's dates, or using our corporate muscle to move someone, but it is a very tricky proposition but one that I am working on regularly as I hate shifting dates too!
* this site received a smattering of notes objecting to an anonymous professional's take on last weekend's Pittsburgh con. That professional punted on the ExpoMart being closed, and I regret running it without a more exacting double-check. Turns out they are closing part of it: they're closing one end to build a sporting goods store. However, the con is still scheduled to take place in the part it traditionally uses next year. In fact, that they're scheduled to make a go of it next year is news in and of itself. A couple of people closer to the show objected to the "Murder Con" designation -- while it's not something I'd use in casual reference, the fact is that's what some people have been calling the show, and the con's perceived link to Michael George has a significant role in how it's going to be received, so I don't mind its use there.
* I believe if you download the PDF for Arthur, you'll see the new Buenaventura Press-edited comics section.
* the prominent comics blogger and retailer Chris Butcher talks to Marc Weidenbaum about Viz's original graphic novels effort in a fact-stuffed article of the old-fashioned streamline the quotes in variety. It's probably the must-read of the day. Related, sort of: Matt Fraction and Abhay Khosla discuss the creative landscape in terms of independent publishers and whether or not they deserve that appellation if they take the same battery of rights that the bigger companies do.
* random travel note near completion of a trip one: man, Portland has a really nice-looking airport for an airport of that size. The unique group of vendors is what makes it, but it's nice in other ways as well. LaGuardia, however, remains a shithole. Random travel note near completion of a trip two: a guy behind the desk offering to unlock his manager's office to let me fax something isn't a business center.
* the writer Peter Sanderson has for years written crazy-long San Diego reports which were always fun to read because they were drenched in detail about such things as taking a ferry to the show or who Sanderson engaged in conversation. This pathetically-formatted article (even I don't usually forget the simple smart quotes cut and replace) takes the same approach to the recent New York Comic-Con, with I think mixed results. Still, it's worth reading if you're interested in convention culture or reaction to the 2008 New York show specifically. On the one hand, Sanderson really embodies a kind of New York-native enthusiasm for the show that's been awesome to behold; on the other hand, his approach here isn't specific enough to give his arguments as to NYCC's awesomeness a lot of weight, and you sort of have to figure out what standards he's applying in order to figure them out.
CR Newsmaker Interview: Charles Brownstein of the CBLDF
With a big win announced in the long-running Gordon Lee case announced at New York Comic-Con several days ago, and a bonanza of fundraising and publicity opportunities over that same period, I wanted to talk to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein about his group's recent string of successes. I caught him between the end of NYCC and the beginning of Stumptown.
TOM SPURGEON: Tell me how you found out about the Lee win and what you felt as you both heard it and had the opportunity to tell other people. That was probably the biggest win of your tenure.
CHARLES BROWNSTEIN: It felt terrific to know that Gordon's ordeal was over, and that all of the financial, intellectual, and emotional investment that the comics world put into defending him had paid off.
I probably should have known it would happen this way. In the six years I've been at the Fund, major case developments always tend to happen when I'm away at a convention. This was no exception.
I received an email at about 4:00 on Friday afternoon from Cory Begner, one of our lead counsel, telling us that Patterson's office was finally pushing the dismissal through. My initial feeling was, "Great news!" At that moment I was in a green room at the Javits getting the final logistics sorted for our VIP Reception with Neil Gaiman. I interrupted Neil's meeting and said, "Sir, I think you want to read this," and handed him the phone with the message on it. He read it and said, "Great news, can we announce it tonight?" And then it was another piece of logistics.
So while we were sorting the line, getting the VIP gift bags delivered, nailing down the last of the A/V, saying no to various people trying to sneak into Neil's green room, getting badges to approved VIPs, and all the other detail oriented things that happen at a large event, I was also running around calling the lawyers to get verification that Judge Salmon had actually signed the Nolle Prosse (dismissal) documents and we were good to announce. At around 4:50 or so I got the call verifying that we could announce. Then, maybe a minute later, Stan Lee walked into the green room to wait for his panel to start and our photographer, Steve Prue, called me over to shoot a pic with Stan and Neil. The expression on my face in that shot probably best sums up how I felt when I heard the final word and knew we could announce it to the world. That was truly one of the most awesome and surreal moments of my tenure.
SPURGEON: Why did the Lee case resolve when it did? Did you expect it to be over so soon?
BROWNSTEIN: I don't know that "so soon" is the right phrase in the context of the 3 and a half year struggle this case represents. But, as I indicated in the PR we released yesterday, I did know that we were close to the end, I just didn't know when it would actually happen.
The sequence of events that led to this win really began moments after the mistrial. Gordon, his wife & mother, Alan & Cory Begner, Paul Cadle, and I went back to the hotel after court and started dissecting the day's events. After a healthy amount of venting, and much analysis, we decided that a misconduct motion should be brought, and that it should cover everything up to and including the mistrial. Cory went to work on it, and filed in December. And it is a work of savage legal beauty. Cory is one of the best legal writers I've ever known, and she really earned her pay on this one.
The day after the mistrial, Patterson was quoted in the Rome News Tribune, vowing to put this case on the next trial calendar. We knew the next misdemeanor trial calendar was to be in February. So, we submitted the misconduct motion, and in January I started getting our team of experts prepared to mobilize again. As the clock ticked closer, there was no move from the prosecutors to put this case on the docket, so I kept our team on standby. Eventually, the misdemeanor calendar came and went. The DAs offered no response to our motion, and never put us on the docket.
Shortly after the calendar passed they contacted Paul Cadle and said they'd be willing to drop the case if Gordon wrote a letter of apology. Gordon was willing to do that from the start, and frankly, we've been saying all along that this case should have been solved with an apology and not a prosecution, so we didn't object. Gordon submitted his apology letter and we waited for Patterson to drop the case. Weeks went by without response and it was making everyone a bit edgy. So, last week the Begners sent a letter to Patterson requesting that she honor her end of this agreement, and dismiss the case before we had to go to court to seek relief. On Friday she had a conversation with Alan Begner and finally did authorize the charges to be dismissed.
So, it resolved when it did, because we felt that Patterson had waited long enough to honor her end of the agreement. I didn't expect it to be over last Friday, but I did expect that it would be over within this period of time. And, just looking at the topsy-turvy history of this case, I also was prepared for the agreement to fall through, in which case we'd have pushed the misconduct motion into court this summer during the peak of Patterson's re-election campaign.
SPURGEON: Is everything settled now with the Lee case from your end? Are there still administrative tasks to be done?
BROWNSTEIN: There are still a few invoices that need to be paid, but for the most part it's all done.
SPURGEON: Is there a review process by which you find out the total expenditure and/or go through a case to analyze the strategies that worked and the strategies that didn't?
BROWNSTEIN: We keep good records and have the total expenses to date at any given time. Of course, I'm writing you while I'm on an airplane to Portland for the Stumptown Festival, so I can't give you the amount to the penny, but I can tell you it's in excess of $100,000. In terms of strategy, we've been doing post-mortems every step of the way with counsel. I try to be as hands-on as is useful with counsel, so always have a good sense of where we are in the case. I think that what worked can be boiled down to three factors:
1) We hired the best attorneys for the case. I've always seen it as the CBLDF's job to find the best counsel for a case and to go out and find the money that they need to do their jobs. For this case, we literally could have done no better than Alan & Cory Begner and Paul Cadle.
2) Our lawyers had access to terrific experts. Our legal team had access to pioneers including Burt Joseph, our retained counsel, and Mike Bamberger, Media Coalition's counsel, who have waged the cases that set the precedents in harmful to minors law. We also had access to tremendous educators and creators who were willing to testify and provide background. At various points we've had John Lowe, Scott McCloud, James Sturm, Nick Bertozzi, and Chris Staros on point to testify when needed. And throughout the process, I brought the institutional knowledge of this sort of case to the table when working strategy with our team.
3) We had the money to do the work. Though there was always a bit of message board dissent about this case, we were fortunate to have a steady flow of donations to be able to pay the legal bills as they came in. And while I keep a tight watch on how much things cost, there was never a point where counsel wanted to perform work and we were unable to let them do so because the ready cash wasn't there for it. If donations weren't there, that may not have been true, especially when we were forced to go completely back to square one at the midpoint of the case.
SPURGEON: How did Gordon take the news? How did his business do throughout this ordeal? Do you know if he's back up to where he was before all this happened?
BROWNSTEIN: I called Gordon and asked, and here's what he told me:
"When I finally got the phone call from Paul [Cadle] I was stunned. Finally. It didn't sink in until Saturday that it is finally over."
His business did suffer, and there were noticeable dips after articles appeared in the newspaper characterizing the book as pornographic. That happened almost every time this case was reported on over these last three and a half years. He told me that this made it very hard to cultivate new business.
He told me that business is still down,"but we're hoping as the news hits and it sinks in that we were telling people the truth for the last three and a half years that things turn around."
SPURGEON: Do you think there will be a chilling effect on this kind of case because of the dismissal and the way that popular local opinion began to turn against the prosecution, or do you think this might be the case where the harassment of a case being pressed in this matter might be seen as an effective and useful political tool in the future?
BROWNSTEIN: I don't think I can venture an opinion either way. History shows us that sole proprietor comics retailers are easy targets for prosecution, and I think they will always be, because they just don't have the resources to scare away a prosecutor.
That said, I do hope that as news gets out about this case that prosecutors thinking of going after a comic store recognize that while the shopkeeper may not have the resources, his industry has an organization whose job is to protect people in those circumstances. And that this organization gets the best defense team and wages a very aggressive fight.
It looked to a lot of people that Patterson's office was trying to spend us into folding. In the end, we weren't the ones who blinked, and if we went to trial, I'm confident we would have won. I think it's good for comics that the CBLDF is in that position, and I hope that can help discourage future prosecutions of this nature. But I wouldn't hold my breath.
SPURGEON: Otherwise, how was your NYCC?
BROWNSTEIN: It was great. It really was the best of the New York Comic Cons. Reed did a fantastic job organizing the show. They brought the people in, and they wanted to spend money on comics. The crowds really couldn't have been nicer or more engaged. I met a lot of supporters who expressed congratulations on winning Gordon's case, and whose congratulations I passed along to Gordon and our team. My crew did a really terrific job of running our booth and the education table where we co-presented the ADL's exhibit of Will Eisner's The Plot. All of our events came off as planned, and were a lot of fun for the folks attending. We were profiled in the New York Post and New York Times on the opening day of the show. And we won the Georgia case. It really couldn't have been a better convention.
SPURGEON: Can you quantify or perhaps more explicitly qualify what major news organization coverage of a CBLDF really means for the Fund beyond the fact that it's just nice to have that kind of coverage?
BROWNSTEIN: It moves the needle towards greater visibility, which translates to greater mainstream awareness, respectability, and, ultimately, support. The Times & Post articles brought a lot of people by our booths and to our programs to learn more and drop some coins in the jar. I think we saw a similar phenomenon when Y: The Last Party was picked up by all the news outlets that covered that. When people see that there is a professional organization dedicated to defending and advancing the growth of comics, especially when they have a love for free expression or comics, they want to help support it.
SPURGEON: Can you provide some detail beyond a general appraisal that might give us some understanding of how your weekend's fund raising events went?
BROWNSTEIN: I don't have final numbers, but inclusive, our week's events are projected to gross around $40,000. That represents about $17,000 in donations from merchandise premiums & membership, about $19,000 from the Neil Gaiman events, and $4,000 from our pre-convention events. Our expenses are probably going to come in around $10,000, which represents venue rental, catering, guest accommodations, event A/V, load-in and load-out, transportation, drayage, furniture, and some printing costs. That's a good week. It's about half to two-thirds of what we typically gross at San Diego, which says a lot about how quickly New York Con has become a substantial presence. Even removing the Gaiman events and our New York Comics Week run up events, this show beat our performance at all previous New York Comic Cons and is solidly our #2 event of the year..
The other thing that came out of this weekend was an awful lot of new fundraising opportunity. At least one awesome new event for May came out of it. I hope to nail all the details down on that event to announce by the end of next week, but it involves hosting a book premiere for one of the most influential writers of the moment. We also gathered a really cool auction of collaborative original art by Neil Gaiman & about a dozen other artists. There's a Jeffrey Brown/Neil Gaiman jam piece in there that may be the best piece of art I've ever seen Jeff produce. So, a lot of good future business was accomplished, which, now that I have such an incredibly good staff, is where I'm spending a lot of my time when I'm onsite at conventions.
SPURGEON: How's the state of the Fund resources right now, post-Lee? Could you handle another case right now? Could you handle two at a time?
BROWNSTEIN: We have enough money in the reserve fund to wage one straightforward case. Two cases or a complicated PROTECT ACT case could probably clean that out if donations slowed down.
What really makes me lose sleep is the prospect of getting a case under the PROTECT Act's horrifying provisions equating drawings of teen and juvenile sexuality with actual child pornography. I've seen a couple of convictions for anime and manga that was ruled to be child porn. These were dirty people who also had real child porn, and who deserved their convictions for that material, not for repugnant art. There's a difference between photographic evidence of a crime and drawings.
Those are the cases where we really need the community to stay firm in their support of the First Amendment. I think a lot of the content in the sexually oriented manga is pretty repugnant, but it's lines on paper. The thing that raises my ire about PROTECT and the current slate of child pornography laws is that in attempting to create stronger resources against sexual predators, they create categories of thought crime. Child pornography is photographic evidence of a crime. To lower that bar to include dirty drawings and uncomfortable, if not repugnant, ideas muddies the waters in a way that disrespects the severity of the crime, and the victims of it.
Those cases also frighten me, because the very nature of the content is such that the case will be unpopular. And the logistics of child porn laws determine that it is illegal to possess the images in question, so if a yaoi title, for instance, were to be the cause of such a prosecution, the lawyers and our staff would run a risk possessing the title in question as part of our defense evidence. Yet, if it's just lines on paper, no matter how revolting, it needs to be defended.
All of this stuff is complicated by the fact that at least one of the manga ratings systems appears to be inconsistent with several state harmful to minors statutes, and throws out the artistic merit prong of the Miller test with its definition of "fan service." So, those cases will be costly, and unpopular if they happen. But if you turn your back on MPD Psycho or Berzerk then you are more likely to lose the fight when they come for A Child's Life and Awkward.
SPURGEON: You've been there a while now, Charles. How much of our recent strength do you owe to the continuity you've been able to provide the Fund?
BROWNSTEIN: I'm the product of a Jewish and Catholic marriage, so I do poorly when asked to publicly identify my own strengths. But I think it's fair to say that the fact that I have six years of experience at the Fund â€“ the longest tenure of any Executive Director â€“ means that I was able to wage a case from start to finish, and to offer counsel an uninterrupted institutional memory for this sort of work. I also think that the length of my tenure has allowed the Fund to move the needle into new areas of fundraising and education, because we didn't need to go back to start with a new ED. Lord knows, it took me at least a year to figure out how our machine worked, and another two to make it work better. It's really only in the last two years that we've really been able to execute the new areas of fundraising and mission work that we set out to perform when we had our last Board summit in 2004.
I think the biggest reason for that is that I have a great staff. For the first 3 and a half years that I was at the Fund, I was the only full time employee, and I had part time staff for the home office work. Which meant that I spent about 20 weekends a year at conventions bringing in the money we needed to do the work, while the home office staff sorted the money, cut the bills, and kept the mail order going out properly. When I was able to hire Greg Thompson as our Deputy Director in early 2006, and was able to promote Elizabeth Schreck to being our part-time Fundraising Manager last fall, the Fund at last had a staff that could divide up the labor so we could do even more work. Greg & Elizabeth took a lot of the road and merchandising fundraising off of my plate (thank goodness), which frees up my time to do more in the way of event and business development fundraising, and to work seriously on teambuilding for larger education work. Which I am grateful for, because that's the kind of work I prefer doing. The Fund has gone from functionally having an Executive Director who serves as some sort of administrative OMAC, which was true of every ED from Susan Alston up to me, to having a small, but strong team. And we're a better organization for it.
SPURGEON: Is it easier to run Fund activities when participating in them has a perceivable publicity or community benefit to those who choose to do so? Is there anything cynical we can say about the nature of some creators' participation now as opposed to when things were tougher?
BROWNSTEIN: Sure, it's easier to hold successful events when those events have positive momentum. We're fortunate that just about every party or reading or speaking event we've held in the past year (that is, since we really made them a priority) has been met with positive turnout and publicity. But I think those events are successful, because they are undertaken with two sincere agendas: 1) Educate about the power of free expression by celebrating free expression, and 2) Foster community amongst comics professionals, practitioners, and readers. CBLDF events aren't designed to sell a copy of a book, they're designed to gather the community around our shared love of comics and free speech.
I don't have anything cynical to say about the support we get from the author and business communities. The truth is that all of our supporters, and supporting businesses, give to the Fund first and foremost because they believe in the work we do on their behalf.
But I also operate under the understanding that what we do is protect the First Amendment rights that the comics field depends upon to do business. And there's a certain amount of idealism that is entailed in that, but it's coupled with a realism that without the CBLDF, a lot of the work that these entities rely upon to make a living would have a harder time existing.
To me, fundraising is about finding the win/win/win. It needs to be good for the organization supported; good for the company or author leading the community into supporting the cause; and good for the individuals gathering around both. It's great to receive big checks, but it's better when those big checks have a positive net effect for everyone involved.
SPURGEON: What's the status on your various shared brief responsibilities and other Fund involvements on an advocacy, brief-filing basis?
BROWNSTEIN: Utah's Harmful to Minors Internet case hasn't advanced much since the last time we spoke. It is still under preliminary injunction while we await State's response to our most recent motion. On Monday we are announcing our participation in a challenge to a new and unconstitutional harmful to minors law, but I'll need to withhold further details until our partners are ready for us to announce.
And we have urged the Media Coalition to support a challenge to Indiana's new harmful to minors store registration law. The law, H.B. 1042 would require any new retailer or any existing retailer that relocates after June 30 which sells or intends to sell even one item which is harmful to minors to register with the Secretary of State. Notification would include a list detailing the types of material sold or intended to be sold. The Secretary of State would then notify local governing bodies and any appropriate zoning authority of the retailer's registration. There is a $250 fee to register and noncompliance is a class B misdemeanor. The law goes into effect July 1. This law is a clear and present danger to comics retailers throughout the state, and one we intend to fight. We will have news about our involvement in a challenge soon.
SPURGEON: Is there any particular thing you want to see the Fund accomplish by the end of 2008?
BROWNSTEIN: I want us to have a 21st century web presence, and to have made the first strides towards a comprehensive education program for libraries aimed at assisting in graphic novel collection defense and development. We are taking steps towards both, and will hopefully have something to show by mid-summer, especially now that some of our time is freed up by the Lee win, and I can devote more time to these important educational components of our work.
Ben Schwartz Responds To Bart Beaty on David Hajdu’s Ten-Cent Plague
I just read Bart Beaty's April 24th piece on David Hajdu's Ten-Cent Plague. I read the book and interviewed Hajdu at an LA Public Library event and think Beaty is somewhat one-sided in his accounting of Hajdu on a couple of subjects. While I defer 100 percent to Beaty on the history of that period (in which I'm a tourist at best) I can speak to Hajdu's book in specifics.
First, Beaty's feeling that Hajdu smeared Wertham: Hajdu does give Dr. Frederic Wertham credit for a number of good works in his life pre-comics crusade, such as opening his free clinic in Harlem for psychiatric care, Âat the time the first and only such clinic ever devoted to the mental health of African-Americans in the USA. He also credits him as a forward thinker re: jazz (if memory serves). Hajdu creates a much more complex image of Wertham than I have ever read. Perhaps it's not as in-depth as Beaty's own study of Wertham and comics. But it still presents Wertham as a person of substance, to be taken seriously, until he takes on the comics debate in the badly researched way that he did. If Wertham is remembered as as the #1 anti-comics crusader, we have to at least give him his due -- he did volunteer for the job. He wrote the key intellectual tract on the subject and publicly testified to the Senate (on TV? I can't remember). Wertham's research is flawed, and if it overshadows the rest of his reputation today, well, he did blow it in a big way. He never renounced it or corrected it, as far as I know (again, I defer to Beaty on that) but Wertham demolished his own image in comics history, if not his whole career. As to Beaty's feeling that Hajdu presents Wertham as the sole reason the comics business faltered: I disagree. Hajdu details the criticism of comics, massive community bonfires to eradicate them, and growing Church pressure allleading up to Wertham --Â who does become the greatest single figure speaking out against comics. Hajdu makes clear that Wertham personified an already fierce movement. Wertham supporters, like the US Senate and Wolcott Gibbs at The New Yorker, also single him out as the leader in the movement. Hajdu discusses many, many local comics crusaders and politicians --Â even adults who burned comics as kids --Â but Wertham made his name on the issue in a widely reviewed book, in national magazines, and on TV Â-- and disgraced himself in doing so.
Secondly, Beaty faults Hajdu for not writing up the deplorable working conditions in the comics industry of the era. No, he doesn't dwell on it as much we've seen in other places, but a) maybe he felt it had been done,which it has, and b) he specifically set out to tell a story of a culture war, a pre-cursor to the cultural debates that would dominate the post-WW II era and soon move on to rock music, and still felt today. You might as well fault others for not recounting the bonfires, anti-comics laws, and anti-comics letters to the editor disputes in local papers as much as Hajdu does. It's simply not the point of his book. Hajdu does make clear that people like Charles Biro and Victor Fox were awful, and portrays Gaines as a step up, but still a liar. Hajdu shows Gaines making all sorts of promises on creator royalties and other issues in meetings with talent, but when it came down to the paperwork, he went by the same old sweatshop work-for-hire contracts his dad used. It's also pointed out that Sheldon Moldoff came to pitch Gaines comics suspiciously like those Feldstein edited a year later. Gaines even had an unsigned contract in his desk for Moldoff when he went with Feldstein, so, I certainly didn't come away thinking Hajdu's book oblivious to working conditions or making Gaines out a hero (or even reliable narrator).
Third, as to Beaty's claim that Hajdu romanticizes artists taking pride in their comics work: I disagree. Hajdu quotes critic Stanley Kaufmann, a comics writer in the 1940s, who says he did know co-workers who felt this way. Kaufmann then calls them "fools." Will Eisner is not complimentary of the majority of the comics business, mostly to set his own work apart, I imagine --Â but the idea that comics was a stepping stone job is not left out. Hajdu does spend time on those who loved the medium, despite, or because of, its low rent status and relative creative freedom. By the 1950s, the first generation of artists who grew up on comic books, and specifically wanted to work in comic books, came along. They wanted to do good work, pitched all sorts of high minded projects, but were cut short by the anti-comics crusade. Why focus on them? I imagine, to emphasize that we lost a generation of ambitious people, not just a few star talents like Kurtzman and Kriegstein who we know today.
By Tom Spurgeon
There are several types of comics conventions in North America, and many of them bleed into various hybrids of one sort or another. The two show varieties that see the most national press attention are the major industry cons and the regional arts festivals. The major industry cons (Comic-Con International, New York Comic-Con, WizardWorld Chicago) tend to feature the bigger comics businesses and those related hobby companies that wish to reach their shared demographic, interspersed with hobby retailers and several of the smaller companies who can count on enough of a mass audience that their demographic is ably represented, while any cracks get filled in by artists and professionals who work with those companies at all levels. They can be big or simply bloated; suffused with junky energy or stuffed with slough-like junk.
Arts festivals (Stumptown, MoCCA Festival, SPX) tend to be smaller in nature and feature either a limited array of publishers or none at all. The artist and sometimes the artist-serving publisher is the star here, as if the Artist's Alley of the larger comic book conventions leapt up from its backroom ghetto and took the bigger space like so many vampires at a scary, metal mesh-floor blood disco. At its best, a small press show can fire the imagination of the local audience in terms of comics' possibilities and the power of creative expression over corporate positioning. At their worst, it's a way for small-press artists and others ignored at the bigger shows to feast on a Station Casinos-level version of the Wynn-class ego buffet where more popular artists occasionally dine, only in many of these cases the small pressers do so without the a la carte order of craft.
Stumptown is most significantly distinguished by its being in Portland, Oregon. Portland was North America's last great city of the 20th Century and its best, thus far, of the 21st. Unlike many resurgent cities of the modern era, Portland's climb into laid-back livability has been as much about bottom-up and middle-across improvements as it has been top-down floods of corporations making it rain. It's a city of small houses, brightly colored on the inside, owned by hipsters 25-45 and families both large and small, near neighborhoods of rough buildings and slight, pungent urban decay. Young couples hit a foodstand in an empty lot in a mixed-race neighborhood on a Sunday morning. Two older men in tracksuits laugh and one of them points to say hello on a Saturday afternoon walk. I can't imagine getting out of college right now and wanting to go anywhere else. It's kind of the anti-Dubai.
Portland is also the home to dozens of cartoonists, a good sign for a city as comics folk can live practically anywhere and are drawn like flies when a comfortable and cosmopolitan city reaches that tipping point where it's discussed on chatboards and in the blogs of early adopters. What's interesting about Portland's assumption of the Comics Town USA title is that it does so without offering a gigantic number of hometown opportunities the way New York, LA or even Kansas City might. There is a small set of newspaper illustration gigs and a few proud local comic book companies where one might assume proximity could be helpful in gaining their attention, but for the most part the comics outfits here in town think nationally/internationally and just live here like everyone else. Comics thrives in the Rose City because Portland fits comics people, and because the large number of working artists has given them a voice and provided their city with another identity in a time when those kinds of things are still important.
Stumptown took place in a convention room exhibit hall or two connected to the Doubletree at Lloyd Center. The core room was a main hall about six aisles wide with front and back aisles completing a square around the floor. Dark Horse anchored the area along the front wall; Fantagraphics could be found along the back. Scott McCloud and Larry Marder anchored a mini-'80s independent comics portion of the show to the upper right from the door. About seven or eight people down a long row of tables from McCloud, Portland-area local and mainstream comics icon Brian Michael Bendis met fans. Among the more prominent multiple-artist set-ups were Sparkplug and a row of Periscope Studios artists. There were scattered appearances from artists from out of town. Shaenon Garrity and Andrew Farago, planning to attend this year's Reubens in a few weeks, were there from San Francisco, as were a group cajoled into attendance by Matt Silady; Jim Blanchard and a few of his astonishing prints made the trip down from Washington state. Los Angeles provided the show with Josh Simmons and Robert Goodin.
The best features of the show were the incredibly mellow vibe, like a very nice Saturday morning arts bazaar, and the general sound of money exchanging hands at a respectable although not intense rate. The crowds were friendly and on the average a bit more than good-looking (not something I'm ever able to figure out, but people kept mentioning this so I assume it's true) young people in the 20-35 year old age group. The crowds failed to skew towards any one set of tendencies common within the art form as much as they were capricious and even idiosyncratic in a way that you usually don't see at comics show. At approximately 4 PM, a group sitting with their backs against the wall where much of the crowd was visible noted that Brian Bendis was speaking to a group of three men while Scott McCloud held court with a crowd of six. Fresh indy faces like Tim Sievert were shaking hands about 20 feet away from where early '90s alt-comics mainstay JR Williams was selling some of his bright, attractive newer artwork. (Hopefully someone will reprint and collect Crap soon; Williams is a natural, greatly underrated cartoonist.) Fantagraphics fielded maybe the youngest team I've ever seen the publisher send to a show; heck, even their late-Sunday surprise alumni guest visit was from someone who'd been gone from the publisher less than a half-decade and who looked 15: former FBI art director Carrie Whitney, who told me which fellow, one-time employee she'd gladly run over in her car were she old enough to drive.
There was a smattering of publishing news, but I'm not sure how much of it could be made official. Larry Marder announced at his panel he would be partnering with Dark Horse on the upcoming re-launch of his Beanworld properties. This includes old work and new, merchandising and publications. Speaking of Dark Horse, Mike Richardson walked by and I grabbed him to talk for a bit. He was very gracious about his guest-blogging role here last week, and is currently in the midst of advance PR for the movie Hellboy 2. The aforementioned Robert Goodin is doing a book through Top Shelf. A lot of people caught up with various comics and trades from the Sparkplug group, including new, full-length books like Alixopoulos' The Hot Breath of War. As far as I could tell, Karl Stevens took a six-hour smoke break. Kip Manley was sporting a seersucker suit on Sunday afternoon. Someone needs to hire Jesse Hamm for comics as well as illustration work. Colleen Coover claimed she was mixing it up with Marvel fandom assembled through her latest contribution to X-Men: First Class. T Edward Bak has moved back to Portland after a period of time in Vermont, Jeff Parker baffled the younger generation with airline jokes, and Douglas Wolk spoke in very quiet tones.
I got to meet the talented, far-too-infrequent-writer-about-comics Steve Duin, who just penned this piece about Bob Levin's Most Outrageous and found the book as remarkable as I did. I tried to praise an older work of Duin's by quirkily insulting it first ("a lot of people thought this and avoided that book, but then they discovered this great thing about it"), and pretty much failed with that in spectacular fashion; too much insult, too little quirk and far too little reward. Sorry, Steve! Duin made an interesting point about how many of the good comics he found at the show he simply wasn't seeing before running into them at a show like this one. And he lives and works in the comics store-stuffed Portland area!
Many people I spoke to liked the new, "cute" Comics Journal. I quite liked the Scott Campbell prints on sale, even if they were out of my price range. Vancouver's Jonathon Dalton probably had the closest thing to a buzz book, a full-color work in an accordion-style format that other cartoonists kept promoting. Josh Simmons had buttons featuring personalities in his forthcoming work, including Rosie O'Donnell and Paul Lynde. Shannon Wheeler was sporting a jaunty cap and I encourage everyone out there to hand him a camera and ask him to take their convention photos because watching him do it while muttering under his breath is pretty darn funny. Scott McCloud -- happy about the recently released cover to the forthcoming Zot! collection -- pointed out the difference between panels that are helpful and panels that make people think they're experts and never use an offered service. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein was there without a booth, although his suit generated its own, overpowering New York vibe.
Tom Devlin once made the point that the best thing about shows like Stumptown is the 15-25 year olds considering making comics that have this kind of show as one of their early exposures to the form. This, Devlin suggests, should be a better experience than the Holiday Inn basement StinkCons people of our generation had burned into their eyeballs at a tender age. I think he's right.
In general, Stumptown 2008 was a low-key show with low-key participants and low-key results. I found most people working the con to be attentive and professional. Part of that is an old-fashioned booth strategy that emphasizes face-out contact with people as they arrive at your table, and part of it is likely that folks are simply relaxed and doing their jobs as people come to them instead of making a presentation or wrangling a number of meetings or herding elements on an empty floor space. Stumptown does what it does a lot better than most shows do what they do, and at a manageable cost for most cartoonists. Portland's big independents show provides a modest showcase for a variety of talents and allows those hard-working folks access to a marketplace that serves a surprisingly significant array of needs. It could all go away in a single year, with an unfortunate facilities move or a different mix of creators, but right now it's the kind of show that Scott McCloud pointed out likely generates lifetime memories for many of its participants and I imagine makes for a pleasant Spring afternoon arts experience for much of its audience.
CR Newsmaker Interview: Travis J.I. Corcoran of HeavyInk.com
This interview was pitched to me rather than something I came up with on my own. As I explained briefly last week, I try not to do a lot of CEO/businessman-type interviews. First, I'm more interested in art, and when I apply the questions I find interesting about art to businessmen, they tend to have a lot of very slick-sounding answers. Second, while I like exact figures, and I sometimes think business folk are genetically vague on those kinds of thing, I also understand why some information needs to remain proprietary. Third, I lack the kind of background that allows me to easily check a lot of the claims made or to automatically catch a leap in logic that maybe shouldn't be made.
All that said, I liked talking to Travis Corcoran about his social networking sales site, HeavyInk.com, and I think this interview can at the very least be valuable in establishing a baseline for comparison with what Corcoran might say in future years, and in putting his thoughts out there for others to scrutinize. â€“ Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: First of all, can I get some background on you in terms of your relationship to comics?
TRAVIS CORCORAN: I grew up reading "real" books, and never comic books. If I thought of them at all, I thought of them as sad cousins to "real" reading.
... and then in college (this is around 1992), an apartment-mate loaned me Watchmen, and I realized just how serious, and exciting, and artistic comics could be. Pretty soon I had borrowed Give Me Liberty, and then I moved on to Ronin, Concrete, and before too long I was going to a comic book store to pick up new issues of Concrete, Cheval Noir, whatever I could find by Moebius, etc.
... and, speaking of comic art, probably my favorite possession is a framed signed print by Moebius (so what if I had trouble buying food that month?)
SPURGEON: Of what kind of comics and which cartoonists might you be a particular fan?
CORCORAN: Even after getting involved in comics, I looked down on superhero comics...until I discovered The Authority. Now I'd say that there's no kind of comics that I totally avoid, but my interest is still a bit outside of the spandex-and-superpowers stuff: right now I'm subscribed to two dozen or so comics, including my absolute favorites:
* Ex Machina
* Walking Dead
* Pax Romana
* Atomic Robo
* Mouse Guard
* Nearly Infamous Zango
* The Flight anthologies
* pretty much anything by Warren Ellis
SPURGEON: What was the impetus for starting your original on-line company SmartFlix?
CORCORAN: I've done a bit of woodworking, and was interested in metalworking (lathes, mills, that sort of thing), but didn't have any way to learn those skills. I found out that there were some instructional videos available, but (a) they cost $70 each, and (b) there were no reviews, to tell me if they were even worth it. I decided that there should be some way for folks to rent these videos for a lot less. I started SmartFlix on sort of a whim, with no huge expectations for it. The first month it was up, I rented out one video. A few months later, I was renting perhaps 10 or 15 videos per month...and now, it's an 11 person company, with customer support, a fulfillment team, and a four person engineering team... all of which put me in a perfect position to do something really interesting, like HeavyInk.
SPURGEON: Where in that particular market did you see a need and for an outsider, how would you describe your basic strategy in servicing that market?
CORCORAN: SmartFlix launched a little while after Netflix, and I was inspired by their model, and copied the customer support ethos from acknowledged great companies like LL Bean. From a customer's perspective, our SmartFlix strategy is pretty simple:
* grow the inventory
* provide great service
From our own perspective, though, there are two more bits of strategy:
* continuously do A/B tests of the service and the website
* relentlessly mine our data to figure out how to serve customers better
Let me explain each of these points in turn (these may seem a little boring, but bear with me, because each is highly relevant to the comic book world!)
A/B tests: If you come to the SmartFlix website, you see a certain graphic design, a certain navigation scheme, certain language, etc. ...but another customer coming to the site might see a slightly different version of this: we might have a different navigation scheme, or the pictures of the videos might be smaller, or whatever. We keep track of all of these semi-random changes, and then we see which ones made it easier for customers to find the videos they were interested in. We thus continuously tune the website to make it easier to use.
Datamining: we look for correlations which allow us to make recommendations, or suggest better choices.
You can already see how this applies to HeavyInk: first, we can tune our website over time to make it easier to use, and second, using information about how you rate comics, and authors and artists (yes, you can rate and leave reviews on lots of things besides just comics!), we can start to make predictions about new things that you might like, and recommend them to you.
The recommendations aspect was actually one of the core features that I wanted to deliver in HeavyInk: because I'm a comic book fan with slightly out-of-the-mainstream tastes, I often find it hard to get good recommendations for new things to read (the owner of the local comic book store that I used to go to had "The Fantastic Four" as an
answer to every question)...so I really wanted to deliver this feature.
SPURGEON: What does "inspired by their model" mean? To my uninformed ear, that just sounds like you ripped them off, Travis.
CORCORAN: After Netflix pioneered the model, a lot of folks followed in their footsteps: Blockbuster, GameZnFlix, Redbox, GreenCine, CinFlix, etc., etc., etc., all the way down to a bunch of niche folks renting out, say, just martial arts DVDs. So, we were one of this crowd, but more successful than most, and I think the reasons that we were more successful were:
* excellent customer support
* good bargains for customers -- rent a $90 dvd for $9.99.
* willingness to be bold and really take bets on expanding into the space (mortgaging my house and buying hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory)
* doing something somewhat different (the whole how-to angle -- not just another clone of Netflix offering nothing but mainstream movies)
* good online advertising
* a blog and newsletter with interesting stuff -- customer interviews, vendor interviews, a column by humor writer James Lileks, etc.
* lots of experimenting with the website to see what works best for people
* fiscal discipline in ramping up the company (although this sort of contradicts the "willingness to be bold" up above!)
SPURGEON: Travis, can you provide some actual figures as to what your goals were that you claim to have met?
We wanted to have 100 customers in November, and then get 70 percent growth in December, then 30 percent growth in January, February, March, and April (so that by the end of April we'd have a bit less than 500 customers).
In fact, we've got just short of 2000 customers.
We're exceeding our sales goals as well -- this month's sales annualize to $120k/year -- but by a smaller margin. All in all, this is great news. Those customers who are signed up, but aren't (yet) buying are deep in the sales funnel: we've got their interest, we've got their names, they've opted into our newsletters and our social network, they stop by to read author interviews, etc.
SPURGEON: Are you in the black on the project overall at this point?
CORCORAN: The plan from the get-go was to break even on sales (sale price minus cost of goods, shipping labor, envelopes and postage) for the first two years, and consider requiring minimum shipments size for free shipping in 2010 or so.
In fact, we're slightly exceeding that break-even goal.
Of course, there's a significant engineering effort involved, and 2000 customers don't let us pay the salaries of our engineers ... so we're deep in the red on that score (which was the plan all along). This is a long-term investment, and we'll earn back the cost to build the site after we've grown a fair bit. Two years from today we expect to have 18 times the volume we have right now, and at that volume, if we can tweak shipping expenses or negotiate a slightly better deal on purchasing our inventory, so as to increase our profit from roughly 1 percent to roughly 10 percent, then suddenly we're not just paying our engineers, we're making a profit, and paying back our initial investment.
Of course, that's an audacious goal -- not many comic book stores are doing $2 mil/year in revenues... but given our experience, our customers' enthusiasm, and our growth to date, we're quite confident we'll hit that goal.
SPURGEON: How much volume do you have to do in a sales month to pay overhead and operational expenses while offering 20 percent discounts and free shipping?
CORCORAN: Because of our volume, we're getting a pretty nice discount tier on our inventory and on our shipping supplies (50 percent off of list for boxes, etc.), and because of our experience in shipping and our facility with navigating USPS regulations (having a USPS permit imprint account, a USPS business reply account, knowing about pre-sort discounts, etc.) our postage costs and labor costs are lower than those of most folks in this business.
Because HeavyInk is the second venture of an existing firm, we don't have fixed overhead -- if HI uses 10 percent of the floor space, and uses 10 percent of the labor of our fulfillment staff, we just pay for what we need. This is a nice situation -- if we had to go out and rent space, and/or hire someone for 40 hours/week, then we'd have a fixed overhead that would really suck the money down. Instead, we're in the nice position of being able to ask folks for a few more hours each week, and paying for just what we need.
Anyway, the direct answer to your question is, "As long as we're selling a couple of hundred comic books and graphic novels each month, we can break even -- and we're well beyond that."
SPURGEON: When coming up with your basic set of strategies for HeavyInk, what was valuable about the SmartFlix experience that could be applied and what did you know was very different?
CORCORAN: Great questions.
There are a lot of different things going on in the online comics world, from discussion boards to online sales and subscriptions, and more.
The core idea of HeavyInk is "as you deliver each of these features in turn, the next feature is simultaneously easier to implement than the last one, and delivers more value because it ties into a network of existing features."
If you've already got a comic book store, then you add a social networking feature to that, suddenly I can learn what my friends are subscribed to.
Once you've got a history of my orders and subscriptions all in one place, then with a bit of work, you can help me manage my collection.
Once you've got social networking and collection management, then I can see what graphic novels my friends have that they can loan to me.
Once you've helped me organize my collection, it's easy for me to rate everything I own, which gives my friends information they can use.
And so on and so on.
That's what we intend to deliver -- and we've already rolled half of it out, and we're still ramping up hiring to help us deliver the rest -- but you asked "What's the basic set of strategies?"
What we did at SmartFlix resulted in a very enthusiastic user base, and we want to replicate that.
* Customer support is our first priority. We don't care if we lose money on a given transaction -- our first goal is to make sure that the customer is satisfied with his or her experience. If we deliver a good experience, the customer will be back, and will tell friends.
* Continuously roll out new features, and perfect the old features.
* Listen to what the data tells us. Why send a one-size-fits-all newsletter, if we can tell from your subscriptions, or your ratings, or your circle of friends that you're more interested in this kind of interview or news item than that kind ?
* Work with new artists and authors, small publishers, and independents (including those without Diamond distribution) to get their products out where comics fans can see them ... and can buy them. Diamond often serves as a bottleneck -- at one point, the demand for Red5's Atomic Robo was growing and growing, and most comic book stores were sold out, and Diamond had no inventory, and -- it seems -- no answers. We got on the phone with Red5 and ordered several hundred copies of all the issues. We had them in hand two days later, and they went out to hundreds of Atomic Robo fans later that day. That's the level of service that I, as a comic book reader, want, and it's the level of service that all comic book readers deserve.
SPURGEON: Can you provide information as to which copies of Atomic Robo you ordered and at what time so that I may potentially double-check that it was not available from Diamond at the time you claim? With whom did you work on this matter at Red5? At Diamond?
CORCORAN: We started having problems with Diamond having stock of Atomic Robo around January 3rd. Our software automatically checks the in-stock status of things at Diamond and tries place orders daily. From January 3rd through mid March, Diamond didn't have copies in stock.
Our data on Diamond stock levels came from their retailer website.
Our customer support rep at Diamond is Kathy Flemming, but I don't think we spoke to her on the topic -- at that point we were already fully up to speed on using Diamond's retailer website, which is how we continue to do reorders daily.
SPURGEON: Are you aware of the failure of Next Planet Over, a failed on-line retailer from the previous Internet business age?
CORCORAN: Before I made the decision to launch HeavyInk I did extensive investigation of the marketplace. We did competitive research -- purchasing comic books from the top 10 or so online stores, checking out both the strengths and weaknesses of local comic book shops, talking to comic book creators, doing an online survey of 500 + comic book fans, working up lots of spreadsheets, etc.
I can't speak to the details of Next Planet Over, but I will say that we went into HeavyInk with
* our eyes wide open
* a first class team that can do more with less
* a boatload of experience hard-won from the process of launching SmartFlix and growing it to a very nice size without a single dollar of venture capital
* a good knowledge of what our technical and other strengths are (and what they are not)
* a fiscally prudent attitude that "web 1.0" startups were not exactly known for.
I can say that when I look back at old press releases, I don't quite understand why a webstore selling comic books needed to have a CEO, a vice president of merchandising, a general counsel, a vice president of business development, and a vice president of information systems.
In the Marine Corps, every marine is a rifleman.
At SmartFlix / HeavyInk, every employee is a do-er, not a manager.
SPURGEON: How has it gone so far? Has the bottom line met your expectations for this early date?
CORCORAN: Our plan has always been to discount nicely (20 percent off all orders) and ship for free (yes, even if you order just one comic book)...and use our recommendations engine and social features to show folks some of the great stuff that they really want to be reading, but they don't know about yet. Our online survey of comic book readers showed us that a lot of people are ready, able, and willing to spend more on comics, if only they could find more stuff that they like.
That being said, our plan was aggressive: we had certain targets for the first month, and then 70 percent / month growth for a while, and then 30 percent/month growth for a while after that.
So far, we're six months in, and we've matched or exceeded all of our goals.
...and, frankly, that astounds me. Eisenhower once said "plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." With that in mind, I fully expected the plan to be garbage...but, amazingly enough, it's been a perfect road-map.
SPURGEON: Is there anything that's been particularly surprising about your first few months out of the gate in terms of fan reaction?
CORCORAN: I feel a bit like I'm in a job interview: "What's your biggest weakness?" "Either that I work too hard, or I care too much..."
I really hate answers like that, but -- seriously -- the biggest surprise has been how much our customers are pulling for us. When we roll out a new feature, we get customers stopping by our personal profile pages, or leaving posts in the forum thanking individual
developers by name.
Before SmartFlix and HeavyInk, I was a software engineer writing big server applications, and I never heard of someone sending an email "Hey, guys, the new caching code in the NFS bridge is teh r0x0r!"
So...the great fan reaction was a surprise, but of the very best kind.
SPURGEON: What's the greatest issue facing the site right now? Is it just getting your name out there? Working out the kinks? Improving content? Finding out which features work and what don't?
CORCORAN: One thing I've learned about working at a small, self-funded company -- there are always three dozen greatest issues!
We've got all the usual bug fixes -- we've coded up handling for alternative covers, and incentive covers, but then we find out that there are also rare high-list-price incentive covers, and our code doesn't handle that.
We've got a list of features as long as your arm -- we want to ship worldwide, we want to deploy collection management tools, we want to give authors and artists more tools to manage their talent pages, we want to host previews of issues, etc.
We pride ourselves on doing data-backed decision making, but we haven't (yet) deployed the full set of tools that we developed for SmartFlix -- the corporate dashboard (easy insight to all our data), the A/B testing, the data mining, the statistical significance and correlation tools, etc.
We want to make available related products that customers are asking for: figures, card games, posters, etc.
We've got people begging us to do an affiliate program.
Will we get it all done?
Coolidge once said:
"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan press on has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave."
I hope it doesn't disappoint Coolidge, but we're not setting out to solve "the problems of the human race"...but we are setting out to solve a lot of the problems of the retail comic book world.
We've got years of hard work ahead of us, but we're up for it.
SPURGEON: At what point do you think you'll be settled on a model for the long haul, or are you already there?
CORCORAN: Our front page gives our five word mission statement: "HeavyInk is learning, shopping, sharing." There's a ton of work to be done there, and a ton of value to be delivered to our customers.
That mission statement is our guiding star for the long haul.
SPURGEON: In theory, how does the social networking aspect of the site lead to more sales?
CORCORAN: It's not that we want to just make more sales -- we want to make better sales. If I could either browbeat you into taking on one extra comic book subscription this month, or tempt you into taking on the right comic book subscription one year from now, I'd far prefer the latter. You're going to be enthusiastic about the right comic. You're going to love that comic, and recommend it to your friends, and maybe buy the graphic novel when it comes out.
The social networking, then, isn't about selling you more stuff -- it's about exposing you to the right stuff.
SPURGEON: Let me rephrase the question about social networking and sales, then: if it is not intended to lead to more sales, how does social networking lead = to better recommendations? My friends are aesthetic morons with terrible taste in art.
CORCORAN: Ha! Yeah, I've got a few of those myself.
SPURGEON: More importantly, how is social networking as a vehicle superior to all the other ways of having stuff recommended, or simply looking at stuff either on-line or in a comic book store.
CORCORAN: OK, good questions.
Obviously, if you've got access to a comic book store that stocks absolutely everything that's in print, and you've got the time to flip through everything there, then that's the absolute best way to find out what you like.
Or, falling short of that, if you're into comic books enough to know who your favorite authors and artists are, then you can make pretty good guesses (although, even there, HeavyInk can help you -- we give each community member a personalized RSS feed, and let them add and subtract things from their feed -- for example, you can add Paul Pope alerts to your feed, or Warren Ellis, or Walking Dead, and then get a feed that tells you of new things in each of these areas).
Next, we can do a traditional recommendation engine -- based on how you rate things, we can say "people who liked X and Y also liked Z." And, in fact, we've got such a system in place, and we're updating it with a newer and better version this week or next.
Using social networking data gives a few things above and beyond the traditional reco engine:
* for folks who don't know where to start, getting some information on what their friends are reading at least gives them a pointer, saying "you don't have to buy it, but at the very least, be aware that person X thinks that there's something good about Y." This may not be that interesting for someone like yourself who knows the comic world inside and out, but our surveys show that there are a lot of comic neophytes who are interested in reading more comics but want better ways to learn about titles.
* there are studies showing that adding independent data sources to a recommendations engine can increase the accuracy of the prediction results much better than merely increasing the quantity of the first type of data. Which is to say that we can use the social networking aspect to augment the other data, and do an even better job.
And, of course, your point about "I have friends with terrible taste" is well taken, and at some point, we want to allow you to mark a friend as "a friend, yes, but not someone who I'm interested in hearing the opinions of"...but it may be that we can do this algorithmically (if you have a friend with horrible taste, and we know that you've disagrees about a few things, we can actually use his recommendations in a constructive way).
And, regarding your point about "looking at stuff online or in stores," we have plans to host online previews. We've already locked down permissions from a few publishers, and plan to deploy this later this year.
SPURGEON: Doesn't your model depend on a system over which you have no quality control? Isn't social networking an unwieldy mechanism for a simple transaction?
CORCORAN: If by "unwieldy" you mean "computationally expensive," then yes...but from the user's point of view, how hard we work to dig up recommendations and such isn't really an item of concern -- what the user cares about is the validity of the suggestions. If you look at how Google determines page quality (the page rank algorithm, as modified by 10 years of research, machine learning, etc.) it's also hugely baroque...but it gives excellent results. The fact that Google has to spider the entire web and do an almost incomprehensible amount of work to generate those results isn't relevant.
SPURGEON: Is the editorial content simply there to draw people to the site or is there a PR aspect to it as well?
CORCORAN: It's part of an integrated strategy:
* the interviews make our site more interesting, which results in folks mailing around links to the interviews.
* the interviews make authors and artists more aware of us, and often lead to inquiries as to how we can work together
* and, finally, that's the kind of thing I want at the store where I buy my comic books. It's like those horrible "Hair Club for Men" commercials -- I'm not only a HeavyInk employee -- I'm a HeavyInk customer!
SPURGEON: How are you supplying your comics -- through your own warehouse? Diamond? Amazon?
CORCORAN: As of today, we buy most of our inventory from Diamond.
SPURGEON: What's the most hopeful endgame for you in terms of how your company develops from here on out? What might be the next sign you're on the right track?
CORCORAN: Getting back to the distinction I drew between "web1.0" startups and us: we didn't get into this thinking "we'll acquire two hundred customers, sell $1,000 of comic books, and then IPO for a bazillion dollars." There's one sure-fire way to build a company, and that's to provide real value to your customers, and improve a little bit each day. If Amazon or Barnes and Noble offers us a private island, a pile of gold, and a gift certificate good for being Best Friends Forever with all of our favorite comic book authors, yeah, it's not impossible that we'd sell...but that's not going to happen, and that's not what we're building the company for.
We're in this for the long haul. Ten years from now -- heck, five years from now -- HeavyInk is (still) going to be the best place to buy comics online, or off. We'll have all the features we have now, all the features that are already on the wish-list, and tons of other features that we haven't even thought of yet (but our customers are busy dreaming up).
You asked about the endgame -- there's no fixed place we want to be. Right now, we can see what "learning, shopping, sharing" means a few years out. Five years from now, we'll be able to see what "learning, shopping, sharing" means a bit further out.
Constant improvement, and constantly delivering value to our customers -- that's what we'll be doing.
We'll know we're on the right track next month, and next year, the same way we know it today: people write emails or forum posts saying how much they love us... and then they tell their friends the same thing.
* according to reports in local media, David Pirkola, the co-owner of Apparitions Comics and Games in Kentwood, Michigan, was shot and hospitalized during a robbery attempt at his store on Friday evening. As of this writing on Sunday morning, the 56-year-old was in critical but stable condition. Anyone with information is asked to call the local police. A related thread at the Bendis Board might be a place to go to for more immediate updates.
* the cartoonist Richard Mayer has been elected into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame.
* the musician, one-time cartoonist and media personality Humphrey Lyttleton has died at age 86. I know this is weird, but I thought this happened a year ago, so I wonder if it may be a few anniversary articles or something.
* finally, I heard from a cartoonist who visited the Pittsburgh Con that used to be run by now-convicted murderer and former retailer Michael George. His observations on "Murder Con" (a joke appellation given the con by some fans): empty; a lot of dealers didn't show up; lots of artists in Artists Alley but very few names; really empty, the Expo Mart that has housed the show for a long time will be torn down this year.
Bob Levin was one of the writers with whom I enjoyed working most back when I edited The Comics Journal, and I had the honor of working on his first two books with the publisher: The Pirates and the Mouse and Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & Pirates. He is the best writer about comics working today and it's a shame he's not better known and more widely read. His latest, Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsley and Chester the Molester is an elegant book about the roughest of subjects. In the approximately 200-page volume, to be released this week by Fantagraphics, Levin examines the life and times of the successful Hustler cartoonist, focusing on the legal battle he faced after his daughter accused him of sexual abuse. Applying his astute take on the effects of 1960s culture, his study of mainstream America's reaction to same, an oft-displayed special sympathy for artists working outside of the mainstream of American life and a hard-won perspective on the legal system fostered by years of serving within it as a worker's comp lawyer, Levin has written what may be the first completely unforgettable book about a modern cartoonist. At the very least, I can't get it out of my head. Levin lives in the Bay Area with his wife, Adele. He was nice enough to take my questions.
TOM SPURGEON: Bob, your first major essays about comics touched on your experience as a kid reading EC Comics. How do you think being part of that generation that experienced those comics as they came out has an effect on how you look at comics? Do you think you look at comics differently than readers who grew up in the flush of undergrounds or with the indy comics movements of the 1980s?
BOB LEVIN: Being an EC fan, knowing they were valuable, and seeing them killed by small-minded, evil adults, made me a premature anti-censorshipist. But we kids of the 1950s -- at least the ones I knew -- bought the line that comic books were something you outgrew. By the time I was in high school, I didn't know anyone -- jock to beatnik -- who read comics. When I was in college -- 1960-64 -- I saw a couple Fantastic Fours and thought they weren't bad, but, again, no one I knew dared read one in public. We were into literature, and, with the exception of some American Splendors, I didn't read a comic again for another 20 years. So when I started writing about them in the late '80s, there were some holes in my resume, some of which I've never bothered to fill. But applying this literary-centric, hole-ridden point-of-view has given me an interesting point-of-view.
SPURGEON: Do you have a favorite, perhaps less well-known, essay? I'm a great fan of your piece on Jack Katz, for instance.
LEVIN: I won't be the first writer to say, "That's like being asked to pick a favorite child." I take all my writings seriously, and anything that made it into Outlaws, Rebels... I still like a lot. And the Vaughn Bode piece I did subsequently was gratifying, because I wanted to tell the truth about him, without betraying the trust of people who were close to -- and protective of -- him, and who had confided in me. To have them praise the article was special.
SPURGEON: To open Most Outrageous, you tell the story of how the subject matter was suggested to you by Eric Reynolds and your initial pursuit of the story. At what point did you decide it would become a book, and at what point do you think it became roughly the book you ended up doing?
LEVIN: I probably started thinking of it as a book once I saw the material Dwaine's widow had for me. The narrative line was pretty straightforward -- birth to death -- arrest through trial -- with some organic development en route. Since I like writing more than researching -- and revising more than first drafts -- I start writing as soon as I can. Then -- thank God for word processors -- I layer stuff in as I collect it. And, as the book makes clear, I couldn't've ended the book as I did without my final interview, and it caused me to go back and tweak some of what had gone before.
SPURGEON: Can you give me an idea as to the general parameters of your research? How much first-person testimony did you seek out, and in addition to Tinsley's papers, were there other documents you tracked down?
LEVIN: I think my Acknowledgment thanks everyone I spoke to. I searched microfilm spools of Ventura and L.A. newspapers for coverage of the case. One thing I didn't look at was actual issues of Hustler. LFP ignored my request to see its archives. I couldn't find a library that stocked them, and they were too expensive to buy on-line. Anyway, I take an idiosyncratic, sort-of "ain't-randomness-grand" view of research, and I thought, "This'll be cool. Let's see if I can write this without reading one Hustler and if anyone'll catch me."
SPURGEON: Why Most Outrageous for the title? Are there secondary meanings we can infer, perhaps a snap judgment on the criminal case involved?
LEVIN: Tinsley was billed as Hustler's "most outrageous" cartoonist. The prosecution viewed his conduct in those terms. And the defense regarded the prosecution's treatment of him similarly. So, yeah, there were secondary meanings.
SPURGEON: How familiar were you with the writing on art and the value of satire from which you quote extensively? Things like Tony Hendra's book, for instance -- is that part of your previous reading or was that directed study you did for this book? Other than the work on incest you talk about reading, how much of the book was new territory for you ? Is there any danger, do you think, in pushing a subject like Tinsley towards one's own interests?
LEVIN: I have rarely read the work of cartoonists I write about before I write about them. That was true of Tinsley too. I had read Hendra's book in connection with another piece I had intended to write but hadn't gotten to. I knew the feminist/Moral Majority anti-pornography Axis of Evil from writing "'Yes,Yes,' She Panted" for the Journal's "Sex Issue," but I don't think I had read anything else in my bibliography, except for portions of McCormick on Evidence when I was in law school. Certainly, I came into this with views about artistic worth and appropriate sexual behavior, but so, I imagine, would anyone. I may be more blatantly a partisan writer than others, but I believe every writer, no matter how "objective" he presents, is pushing a program of some sort, and if you've got something to say, why not let it out there.
SPURGEON: "â€¦ welcome as a pack of syphilitic mandrills at the White House Easter Egg Roll" has to be the funniest turn of phrase I've read so far this year. How much tweaking do you do of your prose? Do you do multiple drafts, do you go back over certain sections?
LEVIN: I rewrite obsessively, sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word. As for that phrase... Well, I recall Dave Barry once expounding about the aesthetic difficulty of choosing between "pack of weasels" and "pack of badgers" or something as the operative metaphor in one of his columns, but I settled upon "mandrills" over "baboons" without much difficulty. "Syphilitic" came shortly thereafter and had no serious adjectival challengers. I did, however, fortuitously learn, some months later, that it was "Roll," not "Hunt," which is how I had it originally.
SPURGEON: In your section on the value of Tinsley's cartoons, one area that you don't touch on is whether or not the audience is reading them in the same way they're intended, in this culturally valuable or insightful way. In other words, while you and I might see the value in what Tinsley is doing as social satire, the audience for which they're largely intended enjoy the more direct crudeness and explicit sexual nature, and maybe don't absorb the satire at all. Does art like Tinsley's always deserve that more sympathetic reading?
LEVIN: Why not? Should art be judged by the opinions of the least informed among its audience? Tinsley viewed himself as a serious artist making serious statements. Let's honor that intent.
SPURGEON: Bob, maybe I missed this, but: in your section on evidence you talk about the prosecution's claim that Tinsley bombarded his daughter with his cartoons and Veronica's testimony to same. Was there any confirmation from Tinsley's side that she shared in the cartoons or testimony outside of what we read that this was true -- did any of the friends confirm receiving gift collections, for instance? It's hard for me to imagine a child, even an adoring one, being all that interested in her father's work, and it's hard for me to imagine anyone dispensing their dirty cartoon collections to their daughter's friends without getting in trouble.
LEVIN: There was no dispute that Veronica gave copies of her father's collections to her friends. There was no dispute that she had access to his study to see his cartoons whenever she wanted. I don't recall if he denied showing her each month's output, but given the closeness of their relationship when she first came to live with him, I don't find it surprising that he showed his work to her or that she was eager to share it with him.
SPURGEON: You write about a subject on which we've conversed in the past -- that you write about the cartoonists you do in part because you admire the unflinching nature of many artists in stark contrast to what you see as your own very normal, maybe even regulated life. When did you come to that realization, and do you think it has an effect not just on what you choose to write about, but how you choose to write about them? Is there any danger in that outlook?
LEVIN: I think Adele made this point clear to me when I was writing about the Air Pirates. She saw my treatment of them as my way of honoring certain friends of mine, who had been important to me when I was an adolescent and young adult, and who had been more daring or less inhibited or more nuts than me when making their life choices, and who hadn't come out of them so well. So, yeah, I may be more positive about the people about whom I write than others would, but I don't see this as a "danger."
SPURGEON: Is it fair to characterize a similarity of Most Outrageous and the Pirates and the Mouse as legal cases that deal with a public outcome of the 1960s? Do you see similarities between the two cases along those lines? How are they the most different?
LEVIN: Sometimes I tell people who ask what my new book is about, "It's another in my series, 'Cartoonists and the Law.'" The Air Pirates case was directly linked to the '60s. It wouldn't've happened without them. Dan O'Neill even referred to the comics at the center of it as the Pirates' "contribution to the revolution." The furor around Tinsley's cartoons connected to the '60s, in that it was enflamed by the still-continuing cultural war to roll back some of that age's advances; but, hell, on the facts, he would have been prosecuted if Timothy Leary and Abbie Hoffman had never been born.
SPURGEON: I get why the prosecution declined to call her because some of what she would say supported the defense, but why didn't the defense call the younger daughter Lori to the stand?
LEVIN: The defense may have felt she was too young to be an effective witness. It may have felt calling her would have allowed the prosecution to confront her with earlier, damaging contradictory statements it contended she had made. It may have felt the jury wouldn't've like them having put a child through this or that it would have concluded she had been coached by Dwaine and Debbie into saying what she did. It may have just felt it didn't need her. I never asked Eskin, Dwaine's lawyer, that question, so I'm speculating.
SPURGEON: One of the odder pieces of testimony from a comics-centric point of view was Debbie's testimony about the nature of her husband's cartoons, where one might believe she was testifying in part as an editor of cartoons. She kept making a distinction between the cartoons that were funny and those that were satirical in nature or served as commentary. Do you really think she found those comics not funny, or was she just worried about the effect of being seen by the jury as a person who thinks such cartoons are funny?
LEVIN: The latter. I assume Eskin coached her into that position.
SPURGEON: Would it be fair to suggest that the defense's portrayal of Veronica as an out of control teen on drugs plugged into a societal narrative with nearly as much power as the prosecution's portrayal of her as an abused child?
LEVIN: I think the prosecution's portrayal of Veronica was much easier for the jurors to believe. The defense had to overcome the burden of convincing the jury that someone would make such a story up. In "he said/she said" cases, the prosecutrix is usually believed -- and usually that belief is appropriate.
SPURGEON: Speaking of stories, other than the one explicit suggestion near the book's end did you mean to draw a wider parallel between the story by which Dwaine Tinsley fashioned in his life, and the narrative by which it looks like his daughter has fashioned hers? Seeing as one of the characters in a Bob Levin book is Bob Levin, is there anything in this book that causes you to question your own narrative?
LEVIN: That's an interesting question, and I can't say that I had that consciously in mind. But, yeah, I do question my narrative. I said up front what I hoped to conclude and where my sympathies lay; and as I went through the story, I tried to balance each pull in one direction with any push that came in the opposite. I think I know how I would have voted if I had been on the jury, though I can't be sure how I would have behaved if I'd been locked away with 11 other people. I tried not to conceal any significant evidence from my readers; in fact, they have more information than the jury, so everyone can have a vote on Dwaine's guilt, which is as valid as mine.
SPURGEON: There are a lot of interesting choices you make in how you present the work, and I think the most interesting one is that the person with whom you kick off the book with a description of your visit, and the choice you make about the visit that dominates your epilogue. Can you talk a little bit about those choices, particularly the second one, and how you hoped they might shape your book?
LEVIN: I'm fascinated by the process by which books get written. How a thought or fact or phrase grows into 200 pages. So that's definitely at work here. I was the beneficiary of two seminal interviews: one at the beginning of my writing of Outrageous, and one at the end. If I had waited until I had collected all my interviews and finished my research before I sat down to write, I, no doubt, would have organized things differently; but I hadn't, which effected what resulted. As I say in the book, this last interview was one I hadn't expected to occur -- and it was the one I felt the most trepidatious about and stalled the longest over trying to make happen. When it occurred, it's effect on me was so striking, it made for a fine ending. And my readers get to go on this trip with me.
SPURGEON: This is your third book with Fantagraphics. Can you talk a little bit about your experiences with that company, particularly as they've grown more comfortable with prose book publication in the last half-dozen years as their relationship with Norton has deepened? Is there a difference between the way this book is being handled and your first one? Do you feel your audience is growing?
LEVIN: Fantagraphics has been a great publisher! It lets me write what I want, the way I want to write it. And I can't say enough about its courage in allowing me to tackle the subjects I have and in how it has presented them. I don't see any difference yet in how this book's been "handled," but maybe it's too early.
As for my audience, well, as Gary [Groth] put it, "Your first book proved people will buy a book about Disney, and your second one proved they won't buy a book about weird cartoonists no one has ever heard of. Where this one'll fall, we don't know." Besides people interested in underground comics and Disney, Pirates had this unanticipated-by-me draw of folks into intellectual property law; but Outlaws barely got noticed outside of the comic- and hipster-centric press. The mainstream, national media pretty much ignores me. I kinda doubt Outrageous will change that, and, given the nature of its material and the benefits of walking down the street without people tossing stones at you or obtaining warrants to check the images you've been down-loading, maybe that's not a bad thing.
SPURGEON: One thing that's left a bit up in the air in your book, perhaps intentionally, is something that I thought going in would be an item of major concern and definitely slanted towards a specific reading: the way that people, including the jurors, processed Tinsley's cartoons. In comics' free expression circles, there's always the worry that people process cartoons that deal with strong subject matter in a negative way because they're cartoons, which they believe to be better suited to childish or even inconsequential concerns. Yet that line of reasoning wasn't in your book at all. How do you personally think that the way Tinsley's cartoons were processed had an effect on the trial, and is there anything we can draw from that case into how we look at similar cases concerning provocative or controversial cartoons.
LEVIN: That's an interesting idea that hadn't occurred to me either, I'm embarrassed to say. One differentiating wrinkle, though, is that Tinsley's cartoons didn't appear in the context of a corruptive, innocence-betraying, kiddie-friendly comic book, but in a magazine which had ADULTS ONLY clearly stamped all over it. So maybe the issue doesn't apply.
SPURGEON: If as you say in your introduction that a book on Dwaine Tinsley is a step up in degree and outrageousness from past subject profiles, where do you go from here? What's next, Bob?
LEVIN: Good question. I have conducted the "definitive" S. Clay Wilson interview, which the Journal is due to run in the fall, and the article for which I'd originally read Hendra's book is nearly finished; but everything I've written since the Air Pirates has come from someone else's suggestion, so I have no backlog of burning desires waiting to be fulfilled. I'm phasing out my law practice, and I don't play golf or tennis or travel, so I am a bit concerned. I'd even been sticking my toe into the tar pit of writing fiction again, but then I remember all those rejection slips and recoil. Just this week I received a call from the widow of a comic-related personage about whom I'd once thought of writing. She came across some correspondence between us and seemed more open to the idea than he had, so something may come of that. Otherwise, send in your suggestions and nominations, folks; and if anyone wants to buy a much-maligned black comedy about doctors, lawyers, patients and clients -- I've even made one a cartoonist -- let me know.
* photo by Budd Shenkin; provided by Mr. Levin
* one of the photos from Tinsley that appears in Most Outrageous
* one of the Chester cartoons from Tinsley that appears in Most Outrageous
* two cartoons on other subjects by Tinsley
* Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsley and Chester the Molester, Bob Levin, Fantagraphics Books, softcover, 200 pages, 1560979194 (ISBN10), 9781560979197 (ISBN13), May 2008, $19.99
That the college-aged girl at the grocery store thinks it's somehow charming to correct me on my English makes me want to leave the store; that she's wrong makes me want to leave the store by clearing a path for myself through mighty overhand swings of her carcass.
This week marks the last few days of a long run for R. Crumb's Underground at the Frye Museum in Seattle, Washington. The Frye is one of the Emerald City's hidden treasures: an old-fashioned neighborhood museum of national stature just far enough from the city's downtown to draw people into a different part of that great Pacific Northwest metropolis, its town-like neighborhoods on tops of hills and at the center of valleys. The Frye is a comics-friendly place as well, frequently hosting not only visual artists whose series carry within them a narrative component but also serving as the Northwest stop for one of the better exhibits in the comics-are-ignored era from a decade or so back: a fine RC Harvey-coordinated exhibit of strip art that I visited when I lived in Seattle. Recently, the museum has hosted a number of programs related to the Crumb exhibit with local cartoonists like Greg Stump and David Lasky.
I believe this is the second stop for the Todd Hignite-curated exhibit, which looks like it was drawn primarily from two or three major Crumb art collections and supplemented from commercial suppliers and museum holdings when necessary. I haven't heard of a third stop, at least not yet. That's too bad, as it's a fine afternoon at the museum, about as good as it gets in that realm for comics. R Crumb Underground features a well-selected grouping of pages and illustrations that's solicitous towards several phases of Crumb's career, some well-known and some that one day should be. A patron new to Crumb's work will see many of his career highlights and prodigious displays of craft; someone fond of his '60s humor will see a lot of those comics and the more traditionally serious work that came after; Crumb fiends will get a few works that don't get discussed very often and a few obscure sketchbook images. There were pieces from a pen and ink series from the last decade I'd never seen before and one or two underground-era samples of art I'd only ever looked at once or twice.
One of the great things about Crumb's career that's facilitated in this show is how his prolific nature provides what might be a period of one or two works for another artist with the weight of an entire movement within Crumb's greater career arc. In that light, I greatly enjoyed a few illustration-style studies from the early 1970s, when Crumb's work was stripped of some of its more cartoon-like components but hadn't developed into the astonishing '80s style with its thick lines and dramatic shading. I can imagine a future where mini-moments in Crumb's lifetime output fall in and out of favor, at least among the hardcore fans that will still undoubtedly follow his work.
Oddly, one of the great things about most comics art shows, especially those that feature older work, is almost entirely absent from R. Crumb Underground. There was almost no opportunity to note non-reproducible craft elements and changes in the original art. In fact, I was kind of baffled by some of the changes for which it was hard to discern on what basis an alteration was made: a door in the Charley Patton story, for instance, that looks like it was moved within the frame a bit; a tantalizing paste over on some text from one of the '60s back covers. In general, this may be the best comics show I've seen where I can't come close to being able to articulate what was astonishing or enlightening about seeing the originals. It's funny: I read almost all the original art in R. Crumb Underground as comics far before -- or in lieu of -- scanning the pieces as illustration or component art. Usually the opposite is true.
It's almost always great comics and illustration, that's for sure. Comics in general have that rare ability to make you nostalgic for things that don't exist, or to make you pine for things that already do. Crumb is well-reprinted, but the unadorned pages from comics and things like covers for the East Village Other made me desire the originals, the way that Crumb's art would hold the cheap inks and the whole project suggested something seedy and subversive made profound by the cartoonist's craft chops. I never thought I would go to Crumb for confirmation of a pet theory that the comic book format is undervalued, because so much of his life's work stands apart from its original object status. But I defy folks to go to this show and not come out of there just as desirous of a giant box of moldy underground newsprint as they are for a pristine set of Complete Crumb hardcovers. I was also fascinated by a film that was running that since I didn't see it was available until I was heading out the door lack context in explaining to you. It was essentially a home movie of the underground cartoonists interacting with Harvey Kurtzman. It's funny for Kurtzman's shtick in dealing with the excessive material being placed in front of him, and fascinating for the cartoonists' attempts to elaborate on their relationship with the material. Probably everyone knows all about this film but me.
Crumb is I think the world's greatest living cartoonist for the consistency of his career output, his contribution to the comics art form in raising the sketchbook to the heights of any controlled graphic narrative, his historical impact and effect on other cartoonists, and what this exhibit quietly celebrates -- his status as a cartoonist whose individual works are relatively unknown while at the same time his general approach to art has cultural currency to the point that nearly everyone can share in a celebration of his life's work.
CR Review Special: Bart Beaty On David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague, Part Three
By Bart Beaty
Yesterday I suggested that one of the important results of David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague was the resurrection of the industry myth that Fredric Wertham killed, or severely harmed, the comic book industry in the 1950s. What is most disappointing to me is not that Hajdu smears the reputation of a man who did so much good during his lifetime, but that he had so much evidence in front of him and still came to the wrong diagnosis about this industry.
At times in his book it seems that Hajdu is unwilling to acknowledge that the American comic book industry of the 1950s was remarkably flawed. While, to my mind, he doesn't quite bring the early days of the comic book industry to life the way that Gerald Jones or Michael Chabon have done, he does, nonetheless, relate a number of great stories about that period. He seemingly wants to paint a picture that is heroic and noble, but, let's face it, too much of the reality was simply unseemly for that to be the case.
The American comic book was the product of failed aspirations, and artists struggling to get by. While comic strip artists often gained wealth, fame and even renown, many comic book artists and writers resented the work that paid their bills, longing to move on, and up, from the muck and the mire. Hajdu himself has Patricia Highsmith deploring the work that she did in the industry as having nothing to do with the literature that she is best known for, and she would not be alone in her disdain. Yes, there were artists and writers who took great pride in their work in the comic book form, but it would be erroneous to present their stories as the norm.
Hajdu complains that Wertham did not take comic book artists seriously: "By portraying comic-book creators as hapless victims of Dickensian overlords, Wertham hid a refusal to consider their legitimacy as artists behind a defense of their honor as artists." This struck me as odd, since Wertham was one of the few who tried to speak up for the state of comic book artists at the time.
"Hapless victims of Dickensian overlords" has the snappy ring that Hajdu brings to his prose, but is it actually an incorrect characterization? Were the artists hacking out work in the Eisner-Iger shop "legitimate artists," or were they in fact victims of bosses who paid poorly for their ideas, took credit for their work, and could dismiss them on a whim? Surely, any argument that the prevailing working conditions for artists in the early days of the American comic book industry were morally justifiable would be laughable. Hajdu himself paints a picture of Victor Fox requiring artists to literally beg for their promised wages and then bouncing their checks. Dickensian overlord? So, 'victims' and 'Dickensian', at the very least, don't seem too far off to me.
I said yesterday that Wertham's arguments often suffered from the fact that he protected the anonymity of his patients, and the same is true insofar as Holt-Rinehart's lawyers protected the legal rights of Wertham's informants in the industry. Take the case of Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman and a man who was cheated out of perhaps billions of dollars. There has been a great deal of celebrating the recent court decision in his favor so long after his death. During his lifetime Siegel wrote to Wertham to bring attention to the working conditions in the comic book industry, laying out the sad story of his treatment by National, and highlighting the checkered nature of the pasts of some industry leaders. Wertham's earliest drafts of Seduction went into the facts of the Siegel case in detail, quoting from the letters, but because Holt's lawyers could not contact him as the book went to press, his name, his quotations and his story were removed since, as the writer of the letter, he alone controlled the legal rights to disclose the contents. As a result, Wertham's evidence became less powerful and the standard operating procedure of the comic book industry trundled merrily along.
Hajdu surely knows that the ethics of the industry at the time were dubious, but he goes out of his way to suggest that EC was different. Bill Gaines, he points out, bought gifts for artists who met certain performance thresholds, and bonused his crew in the form of trips -- something that Harvey Kurtzman, it seems, resented. Kurtzman is the odd man out in Ten-Cent Plague, and his views are not dealt with substantially, nor is the fact that he attended a Wertham-organized symposium on comic books in 1948 to defend the industry, but, as the transcripts indicate, found a great deal of common ground with the doctor, at least on the subject of the poor quality of the vast production of the day.
Ten-Cent Plague frames the anti-comics crusade largely as an effort to wipe out EC, with Hajdu dedicating a tremendous percentage of his text to that single publisher. The anti-EC crusade was a view long promulgated by Gaines in interviews and in pro-EC fanzines, of which there were many, in the decades that followed the creation of the comics code. It is funny, therefore, not that Kurtzman and Wertham might agree on many points (and by no means all), but that EC was so aggressive in courting Wertham's aid.
In May 1954, after the first two days of Senate hearings, Gaines' croney, Lyle Stuart, viciously smeared Wertham in the pages of Expose, only to recant four "breaches of fact in a single sentence" in the next issue. Surely, Wertham threatened to sue? No, quite the contrary, he didn't even complain, seemingly dismissing Stuart's paper as a scurrilous rag. Indeed, it was Stuart himself who apologized in June, and then, in August, contacted Wertham on behalf of a comic magazine publisher with an offer that would add to his income and prestige -- as head of the Comics Code Authority. Of course, Wertham turned the offer down.
But this was not the end of the EC-Wertham connection. In November 1954, Stuart again contacted Wertham, this time leaking him comic book covers with the new code seal and criticizing Code administrator Charles Murphy. Finally, in January 1955, Al Feldstein spoke with Wertham's wife on the phone and then sent him some comic books. According to Wertham's notes, Feldstein and EC wished for Wertham to use his influence on behalf of the company. To do what is, unfortunately, not recorded for posterity, but the timeline coincides with the period where EC was having trouble with the Code administrators.
The story that Hajdu tells is EC vs. Wertham, but the reality was much murkier. EC saw in Wertham someone from whom they could at least seek aid (although he seemingly wanted nothing to do with them), and they continually sought his assistance. It's hardly the epic battle that latter day fans have made it out to be.
Then why is it presented as such? Well, largely because comics fans have long seen the mid-1950s as a time of a great loss, and great losses require great battles to explain them. While it's true that this period witnessed a tremendous contraction of the field, the cause wasn't exclusively, or even predominantly, the code.
What caused the sales of comics to drop in the mid-1950s was a combination of factors. Hajdu mentions the most important of these, but underplays it: television. The rise of television goes literally hand-in-hand with the declining fortunes of other entertainment media (radio, film, comic books). A second factor, the massive shake-up in the magazine distribution industry, crippled a large number of publishers, including EC. Third, the hearings and the publicity generated by anti-comics movement undoubtedly led some parents to take a closer look at the entertainment enjoyed by their children, and undoubtedly cost some the opportunity to continue as readers. When the industry lost those children it was damaging, because, for the most part, the industry thrived on sales to children and marketed almost exclusively to them.
The very title of Hajdu's book hints at the core of the problem: The Ten-Cent Plague was, indeed, a disaster related to pricing. Comics were inexpensive so that children could buy them. As costs rose, rather than raising the price, publishers cut the package, stripping away pages to continue selling at a dime to children. Dell, never a code member, lost its status as market leader when they finally raised their price, and they never recovered (television undoubtedly hit them hardest of all publishers as well). The comic book industry fell in the 1950s because it myopically chased the dimes of children, and only children, unable to even conceptualize another market. It is not by accident that Michael Chabon made his visionary graphic novel creator something of a madman.
Thierry Groensteen has recently argued that one of the important reasons that comics have struggled to find respect is the "treachery of the publishers," who curtailed the growth of the medium by pursuing the safest and surest audience: children. This seems particularly true when considering the mid-century American comic book industry, which was largely run by con artists and scammers looking for an easy buck. When the heat came, they simply moved on.
How much easier, however, to believe that the industry was knee-capped in its infancy by a crazed psychiatrist than face the reality that many publishers and artists did not share the love of comics that contemporary fans bring to their work? Rather than face the reality of which the Siegel case recently reminded us, it is far simpler to locate the villain outside the industry. Better to present Bill Gaines as a martyr. But Gaines was no saint, and Wertham no devil. In truth, EC sought the aid of their loudest critic, and he, in turn, kept a framed Mad story on the wall of his office.
I enjoyed myself last weekend at the 2008 New York Comic-Con, but in case there was any confusion about my overall opinion regarding the convention itself, let me be blunt: I didn't like the show. Like most such events it had its successes and failures, and I've pointed out examples of each in this post. I'm sure it was a good convention for many people, and a great convention for some.
For me, however, this year's New York Comic-Con felt weakly conceived and poorly run. NYCC has less of a special identity in its third year than any major con has managed to develop in a similar time period. It simply should have more to distinguish it by now. Merely being the New York con isn't enough. Too much of the industry is someplace other than New York and while it's one of two cities in North America where a regional convention automatically has national weight, seizing the brass ring abandoned by Chicago underneath San Diego's crown should bring with it at least a little bit of unique flavor and feel. The most accurate description of New York Comic-Con I heard was an oft-repeated "Wizard World With Book Publishers," which also has the advantage of being funny. But other than perhaps for those blogging about comics and working in the field in the immediate vicinity, the NYCC still feels like a non-essential show. As one busy company executive put it to me this week, "I'm not doing any conventions this year. There's something I'm going to miss about every show except New York, which I'm not going to miss at all. Nothing against New York, but what am I supposed to miss?"
Weak conceptual work can be buoyed by strong execution, but that doesn't look likely to develop here anytime soon, either. NYCC has become quickly and almost relentlessly mainstream American comics-focused at a time when mainstream American comics is only one of comics' many surging camps. Imagine putting together a sports card show and pretending that 90 percent of the guests being hockey players made sense, and you begin to develop an idea of how odd this is. NYCC '08 also seemed haphazardly administered for a show in its third year with the backing of convention giant Reed Exhibitions. Multiple panel mediators expressed their confusion to me over the focus and make-up of their panels (two of the more notable used the word "disaster"), and anecdotes suggest more than a few participants simply chose not to show up at their scheduled panel even on days when it was hardly a crowded madhouse on the floor. The meat of the programming outside of Thursday's graphic novels conference felt perfunctory and scattered. The arts comics presence throughout the show was almost non-existent. A sizeable number of booths were situated without rhyme or reason in a way that needlessly isolated certain vendors.
Further, my strong suspicion is that some exhibitors were treated much better than others, and not in a way that's easily understandable or necessary. A few smaller publishers have told me they practically had to beg for one or two extra passes for specific authors. Larger publishers seemed to even have generic badges on hand, some of which at a certain book giant appeared to be worn by relatives and children. There are now rumors of price gouging in terms of equipment and furniture being made available to exhibitors. Such an accusation at the very least indicates a terrific lack of communication between convention and exhibitor. None of these things helped NYCC feel like a show with the backing of an experienced trade show staff and infrastructure. The limp result certainly had a hard time keeping my interest for more than a few hours at a time, and I'm a big-time comics fan that's easily amused.
Some days I wonder if conventions of any kind are able to offer something of unique value beyond the social opportunities they generate. Are they really vital entities or business propositions with marginal returns for which people feel nostalgia? Nearly every reason I went to conventions as a teenager -- to buy comics I couldn't find locally, to meet other fans, to get back issues at a discounted price from a wide array of dealers, to be able to slip into a casual comics panel or two and see some cartoonists talk -- can be found elsewhere at this point or is slowly slipping away from the fan experience. One piece of pop culture analysis notes that conventions remain viable as social gatherings because the act of meeting other fans has transformed itself into consummating on-line relationships with face-to-face contact. This makes sense. I'd say a similar phenomenon exists for business relationships. But as we get a bit older do we really need more hobby pals? How many times do we need to put faces to names to conduct business as the years go by? Is the most efficient way to do either?
All of that may sound obvious to some of you, but I never thought of it exactly that way before last weekend. Trying to limit my time at the show to better enjoy New York forced me to make a concerted attempt to get what work I can do at a con out of the way rather than have work come to me at its own pace as I might in San Diego or at a Small Press Expo. Working the show rather than hanging out at one, I found a surprising number of booth workers and company employees to be outright unhelpful when it came to doing rudimentary things that is so easy to get people from other industries to do for you at their trade shows. You know, little things like talk to you, recognize you're standing there, solicit a question, perhaps even agree to do something reasonable when you ask for it rather than send you to someone else. I was snubbed for photos by roughly a half-dozen professionals that chose to continue personal conversations (in a public space, badges not flipped) rather than take 10 seconds to help me cover them. I can recall three publisher representatives to whom I spoke that whiffed on basic questions like what might be coming out the next season. One benign request for help with a photo led to shrugged shoulders and a request to ask someone "in charge," but no indication as to who that might be. I visited dozens of booths; I was welcomed and asked if I could be helped at exactly three of them. Two exhibitors picked at the legitimacy of this publication before deciding to answer rudimentary queries about future books, or, really, listen to me at all. It was a long day.
While I bear Mike Richardson no ill will, I can't help but think his complaints the last two days that I'm biased against his company betray an ingrained comics industry outlook that the highest function of the press is to serve as a marketing arm of their companies. Sometimes they have reason to assume this, but it doesn't mean all of us want to be treated as if we agree this is a great idea. Several times I was made to feel as if I somehow wasn't doing my job properly by asking questions and looking for stories rather than anticipating answers, shmoozing and getting right to the promotional groundwork. On the other hand, at least I was press. The fans I saw looked even more invisible to dozens of industry people and creators milling all around them at some booths, save for the opportunity readers have to enjoy a prescribed, structured interaction with a superstar or two. I'm guessing the joys of that experience may be leavened by the creeping knowledge the whole affair is costing them a not insignificant amount of money. It's still better than nothing, I suppose.
I know the above sounds like one long whine about unfair treatment. I swear that's not where I'm going. I hope you'll take me at my word when I say these kinds of encounters aren't personally upsetting to me. I know that some this seeming, growing absence of any kind of professional function to comics shows is simply part of being at a big convention and having different goals than the people with whom you're trying to interact. Dropped conversations and distracted people walking off -- these things happen a lot in your typical con weekend. However, when such instances occur dozens of times in two hours rather than spread out over 96, when they start to happen at the booths rather than in the hallways, when they feed a malaise and general lack of purpose that seeps into functions across the facility, I think it may indicate a bigger picture to be drawn. In this case, it's a picture of an industry where large groups of people seem to have no idea what to do at such a place other than be at such a place, where the only justification for all that time and expense is to write another chapter in the con's ongoing self-history and to draw an x through dates in a few folks' social calendar.
Comics deserves better. Here's another way of putting it: I just went to a publishing industry convention and after asking 100 people questions I was only able to learn about three new books. I heard much more about television stars than I did comic book stars. I was asked not to take photos and to stop asking questions by the very people who would stand to benefit from my doing so. I listened to more personal statements from attendees at panels than I heard challenging questions from journalists. I talked about my personal appearance more than I did any comics issue by a 15 to 1 margin. No one spoke to me about the Siegels, the biggest story in recent comics industry history. One person mentioned the Gordon Lee case resolution, in passing. Many people were happy to share news of their next deal or which party they were going to that night. People socialized at their booths and when they left them it was for more socializing -- for the first time in 14 years of con-going, I didn't receive a single recommendation for another booth's work from a comics industry professional. It's hard to imagine a more dispiriting weekend spent surrounded by art supported by a thriving group of businesses. It felt like the entire field was going through the motions at a moment in time when it should be most alive and engaged.
If you feel comics are the best part of the comics industry, NYCC 2008 may have been for you as it was for me a terrible show, bland and pointless, the kind of event that calls into question the entire enterprise more than it makes a case for the ascendancy of a shining new example. Maybe I was too quick to judge: NYCC is quickly becoming the industry's analyst's couch. The first year of New York Comic-Con put on display the comics insider's disdain for fans that don't maneuver through needlessly challenging barriers to the hobby with a panache and savvy to match their own. The second year saw the con commit to a mainstream comics strategy that may needlessly alienate a staggering group of comics fans within five years at the same time it feels like a big plate of comfort food. The third year was a symphony of missed opportunities and a lack of engagement with the art form that should be at such a show's heart. Everyone celebrated a successful show but no one could say what measure was being used to mark the limits of that success.
There's a sickness at comics' core that many may not recognize because for the first time since 1992 and maybe 1947 it comes from success, not deprivation. A lost sense of opportunity in New York is only the first sign of potential troubles to come. It's like we've been given the keys to a wonderful car and delivered the down payment on a beautiful home and we're still insistent on treating them like the beater and cabin loaned to us for the last two weeks of summer. Would anyone not in NYC miss the show were it gone tomorrow? If they threw the parties and canceled the convention, would they really be significantly less attended? Did any of what just happened matter to comics in the slightest?
* this is a must-read interview with Joey Manley and John Boeck about the ComicSpace/Webcomics Nation merger, although it's not without its frustrations. When an explanation lacks proper nouns and/or numbers, it's usually a sign that the answer lacks specificity and clarity. Admittedly, I have the same problem when I interview businessmen -- unlike really good artists, this kind of rhetoric is almost always right on the tip of their tongues.
CR Review Special: Bart Beaty On David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague, Part Two
By Bart Beaty
In an almost every way, David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague is a simple morality tale. In his story, the hero, William Gaines, acting on behalf of noble comic book artists everywhere, is tragically laid low by a cabal of politicians and blue-nosed book-burners and moral crusaders, embodied by Dr. Fredric Wertham, whom Hajdu terms "the face" of the anti-comics movement. It's a simple legend, with the main players assigned their key roles. But is it true?
One thing that I'm happy to see come out of the discussion of Hajdu's recent book is a fairly wide acknowledgement that Wertham was not the villain that he is so often caricatured as. When I started researching Wertham in 1996 as the subject of my dissertation (published in 2005 as Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture), having not yet read most of his work, my image of him was extremely negative. By the time I'd finished reading his many books, and several hundred articles, I realized that he was a far better human being than I am. Today, that reality is becoming more widely known.
Sadly, Hajdu's book falls back on all the stereotypes of Wertham as a self-promoting menace. Hajdu even goes so far as to caricature his speaking style (which at least has some novelty).
During the course of his career Wertham established or re-organized three major psychiatric wards. He ran not one but two volunteer clinics in his evening hours. He worked diligently for civil rights, and his testimony was central to the Supreme Court's decision to desegregate American schools. He stood up for important, if unpopular, values -- against racism and violence, against the death penalty, for the Rosenbergs -- at a time when others remained silent. History has vindicated his principles on these, and other, important issues, yet he is still frequently vilified today. "Yes, yes," his critics say, "He was a great liberal and social reformer during a time of conservative values, but he criticized comic books -- and for that we can't stand him".
Fair enough. Those who value comic books more highly than civil rights can persist in their lopsided worldview. Those who see them in their proper relation can admit a more nuanced view, as Hajdu does in the best moments of his book.
But still, the old myths are powerful myths. The image that Hajdu paints in his book is of a hapless little cottage industry beset by outside forces. It would be a lovely notion were it not for the power wielded by comic books and newsstand distributors at that time. Wertham, whose 'powerful friends' were to be found running a free clinic in Harlem, took on an enormously wealthy industry long-rumored to be connected to organized crime. It's not a coincidence that the Senate committee spent the third day of their investigation on issues of distribution and the 'pressures' brought to bear on magazine dealers to stock magazines that they might otherwise opt not to. Sadly, aside from the occasional passing reference to the garment industry, this is not a line that Hajdu chooses to investigate.
Yet the pressure brought on Wertham by the comics industry was immense. Virtually every major player in the industry threatened to sue Holt-Rinehart before Seduction of the Innocent was published. A signed promotion with the Book-of-the-Month Club was mysteriously canceled. No paperback edition, which would have been distributed to newsstands, was ever produced. Wertham and his colleagues repeatedly reported to the police that they were followed from the Lafargue Clinic by mysterious and threatening men. And, in a bizarre reversal worthy of the history of the cigarette industry, it is Wertham that is painted the villain?
Well, sure, I suppose so. After all, one can still find fault with his findings or his methods. Hajdu is extremely critical of Wertham's methods, insinuating at one point that they are confused, and at others that they are not scientific. If one doesn't believe that psychiatry is a valid method and that nothing is to be learned from it, well, I suppose that is a point-of-view. Fortunately, it is one that is not widely shared. Hajdu, and others, suggest that Wertham had no "control group," and that he should have conducted experiments more in keeping with the behavioral science methodologies that came into fashion in the decade after he published Seduction and of which he was highly critical.
The suggestion is that Wertham simply treated delinquent children, and therefore saw all children as delinquent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wertham was, first of all, not a child psychiatrist by specialty, although children were part (and only part) of his volunteer practice. Second, Wertham saw all kinds of children for all sorts of reasons, ranging from chronic school absentees to children who needed a doctor's note to qualify for college scholarships.
The suggestion that Wertham dealt predominantly with delinquents is tied to the bigger lie about his work, one that Hajdu makes on a number of occasions: That Wertham argued comics "caused" delinquency. This is the straw man that critics build in place of actually dealing with what Wertham said. It's an easy argument to refute. Wertham says comics cause children to become delinquent. Not all children are delinquent. Therefore, Wertham is wrong. QED. Hajdu, who puts the word "cause" in Wertham's mouth on pages 6, 98 and elsewhere plays this game himself. Unfortunately, it's a fabrication.
Here's Wertham from three different sources in 1954 alone: "Of course there are other evil influences to which we expose children" (Wilson Library Bulletin); "Crime comics are certainly not the only factor, nor in many cases are they even the most important one, but there can be no doubt that they are the most unnecessary and least excusable one" (Seduction). "Juvenile delinquency has only one cause: adults. We adults sow the seeds of delinquent behavior" (Cincinnati Enquirer).
Wertham is exceptionally clear on this. As early as page 10 of Seduction, he states his belief that comics are but one of a "constellation of many factors" and a "contributing factor" in delinquency. Further, he is clear to point out that, just as not everyone who is exposed to tubercle bacilli will not develop tuberculosis, not everyone who reads comics will become delinquent. But apparently that's not clear enough for Hajdu.
On page 101 of his book, Hajdu deliberately misquotes Wertham to misrepresent his argument. Hajdu has Wertham say: "We found that comic-book reading was a distinct influencing factor in the case of every single delinquent or disturbed child we studied". That sounds pretty damning. But what Wertham actually said, in Judith Crist's article, was presaged by this qualifying sentence: "We do not maintain that comic books automatically cause delinquency in every child reader," Dr Wertham explains, "But we found that..." A world of difference.
It's funny to me that Wertham, who Hajdu finds unscientific, shoddy and biased, is attacked not for what he said, but for what he explicitly did not say. He is held up for ridicule for reporting the obvious -- that, for example, there is a subtext in the relationship between Batman and Robin that can be read as homoerotic. And that is attached to suggestions that his method is questionable and lacking verifiable data.
It is true that Wertham's work often suffered from the fact that he was a psychiatrist and that he respected the confidentiality of his patients. I have read Wertham's notes where his gay teen-aged patients talk about Batman and Robin (and Tarzan), and I even know their names. Ethically, Wertham could not, and did not, reveal the details of their situation and violate the confidentiality of his patients. Sadly, it is precisely that scrupulous attention to ethical behavior that allows him to be castigated by many as a fabricator of ideas, and derided as the boogeyman.
It's an easy argument because, as I will suggest tomorrow, comics need boogeymen since it is always simpler to blame the outsider for one's own failings than face the truth that is right in front of you.
In a wire story circulating widely this morning, it's been reported that Denmark has moved staff from its embassies in Algeria an Afghanistan to secret locations because of a threat. Danish Intelligence indicated a few weeks ago that national interests were threatened in several parts of the world where concern ran high about caricatures of Muhammed that ran in that country's newspapers. It is unknown how long the workers will remain in the safer locations.
Mike Richardson Believes The CR Bias Against Dark Horse Is Now Confirmed
From Mike Richardson:
I saw your reply to my e-mail and thought that while it was articulate and well reasoned, it may have missed my point. I was not expressing an opinion about the importance of Dark Horse as measured against those venerable old giants, Marvel and DC. Rather, I was observing that you mention virtually every comics company of any size with the exception of Dark Horse. The fact that you now admit to visiting us, and yet made no mention of the company, confirms my earlier opinion. My own bias, we all have them, considers us worthy of noting when running down the list of worthwhile publishers.
Love your column and read it regularly.
Tom Spurgeon Replies:
Mike, I really don't know what to say to this. I can't imagine how in applying this standard every single article anyone has ever written about anything isn't biased in one way or the other.
I guess I can only look forward to continuing to cover your company in my biased way according to the standards I've been using since I met you at a late '80s con but wrote my next newspaper article about Cerebus the Aardvark instead of Boris the Bear.
I appreciate your reading the site, and the time you took in expressing your dismay at our coverage.
please note: I don't 100 percent know if this is Mike Richardson, but my query hasn't been denied yet
RISD student Juana Medina has won the inaugural Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship from the National Cartoonists Society Foundation. The $5000 award will be presented to the young cartoonist at this year's Reubens dinner. Kennedy was Editor at King Features Syndicate and a much-admired underground comix scholar who died in 2007 in a tragic swimming accident. Samples of Medina's work can be seen here.
CR Review Special: Bart Beaty On David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague, Part One
By Bart Beaty
David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague is an interesting contribution to the history of comics, and the international attention that it has focused on the debates about comic books in the 1950s has been significant. Hajdu's book joins Martin Barker's A Haunt of Fears, Amy Kiste-Nyberg's Seal of Approval, John Lent's Pulp Demons, and my own Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture in a lengthening list of books addressed to this important moment in comic book history.
I read The Ten-Cent Plague with great avidity. Hajdu is a compelling storyteller, and his interviews with some of the key players at the time add important shadings to our understanding of the period. There are places where the book really excels, not the least of which is in the important research on the comic book burnings that began in the 1940s, an area that is often mentioned but seldom dealt with in the depth that Hajdu brings to the issue.
At the same time, however, the book has certain shortcomings, and I'd like to address these over a few posts. I would characterize the failings of the book in three broad areas: 1) it leaves out some of the really important elements of the story that it is telling; 2) by constructing the book as a morality tale with Bill Gaines as the hero and Fredric Wertham as the villain, too much is simplified; and 3) I think that Hajdu is largely wrong on the subject of why the comics industry "collapsed" in the mid-1950s. I'll be talking about each of these areas over the next three days.
So, to start, what went missing in this book?
For me, the most surprising thing about The Ten-Cent Plague was that it was missing the entire second day of testimony in the April 1954 Senate hearings. Given that the entire book builds to these hearings as the culmination of the drama, this seemed an extremely curious absence. I initially thought, "Well, he wanted to end with Gaines to put all the emphasis on the Gaines/Wertham relationship." If I were guessing as to his motive, that would be my wager. But it makes for a strange reading experience, particularly when he returns to the discussion of the third day of the hearings (which was in June), a day on which very little happened that is relevant to the broader themes of Hajdu's book (they mostly focused on distribution on that day).
In fact, while Hajdu walks through the testimony on Wednesday, April 21 in a great degree of detail (he spends almost a tenth of the book on that day), he skips some of the most interesting parts. Gaines was not the last person to testify on the afternoon of the 21st. He was followed by two of the greatest of all American cartoonists, Walt Kelly and Milton Caniff, appearing on behalf of the National Cartoonists Society. Surprisingly, they came not to praise comic books, but to bury them.
Earlier in his book, Hajdu cited Caniff's eloquent defense of comics in 1950, at which time he compared them to folk tales. Four years later, he told the Senators that the NCS valued Wertham's opinion "very highly" as he sought to distance the noble comic strip -- vetted, of course, by responsible newspaper editors everywhere and suitable for the family home -- with the savage comic book. Caniff refused to make a blanket condemnation of crime comics, it is true, but his testimony did the comic book industry no favors by so clearly drawing a line between what he did and what they do.
Kelly voiced similar sentiments, recognizing the "great danger of the magazines in question." Hajdu points out in Ten-Cent Plague that no comic book artists testified at the hearings, which is not strictly true as Kelly worked in the comic book industry (though not in 1954), but cartoonists did testify and they did not rise to the defense of EC or any other publisher of crime and horror comics. Far from it. In discussing the work of Johnny Craig, and how his work violated the NCS code, Kelly offered to "invite [him] outside" to settle matters.
There were two primary thrusts of the Kelly/Caniff testimony. First, that comic strips are clean even if comic books are dirty. Second, that the good in comics will ultimately prevail over the bad. To back this up, Caniff cited the Disney (Dell) comics, which accounted for up to one-third of the total industry at that time and were, of course, the cleanest of the clean. Dell is probably the most significant absence in Ten-Cent Plague. The industry leader at the time, they are barely mentioned in Hajdu's book, perhaps because the success of the family friendly material that they published does little to support Hajdu's primary thesis.
Indeed, Hajdu marginalizes Dell in the most curious fashion. On page 190, for example, he writes that Stan Lee had "helped make Timely the most successful publisher in comics by 1952, with sales half again as great as that of its closest competitor, Dell, and twice that of National/DC." This is worth unpacking. First, Timely ceased publishing comics in 1951 and was replaced by Atlas (which later became Marvel). Second, while Timely's sales declined after the public lost interest in the initial wave of superhero comics during World War 2 they were by no means in bad shape. Monroe Froehlich told the Senate committee that the 35 titles that they published in 1954 averaged a total cumulative sale of 10 million copies (285,000 copies per title). Helen Meyer of Dell, on the other hand, testified a few hours later that they sold 25 million copies per month, or 32% of the total industry. So it is difficult to know what Hajdu means when he claims that Timely was the most successful publisher in comics at that point in history.
It is also difficult to know why he never really talks about Dell, nor mentions the testimony of Meyer (who was quite critical of Wertham -- the company had repeatedly threatened to sue him if Dell were mentioned in Seduction of the Innocent). Meyer's defense of Dell was extraordinary -- certainly the flipside of Gaines' defense of EC -- but she was also blunt in her feelings about her competitors: "We abhor horror and crime comics. We would like to see them out of the picture because it taints us."
In framing his story around the battle between Gaines and Wertham, Hajdu needlessly covers up important elements of the comic book story. Certainly, the neglect of Dell seems inexcusable, given their overall importance in the field at that time. Further, the choice to neglect anti-crime and anti-horror comic book voices from within the comics field seems particularly egregious. Hajdu paints a picture of an industry beset by prudes and censors and largely united in their self-conception, but that was far from the case. The truth is a lot more complicated.
For those interested, the entire three days of testimony from 1954 can be found on the web here.
The comics business news and analysis site ICv2.com offers their usual array of lists, estimates and analysis regarding the performance of comic books and graphic novels in the Direct Market of comic and hobby shops, this time for March, 2008.
The big news is a first quarter slip for comics, the first since 2004, although things are expected to pick up in serial comics sales as the year progresses and more and more of the bigger, planned titles at the American mainstream companies get into circulation. Part of that slip may have been because last year's figure included the freakishly high-selling "Death of Captain America" issue of that character's title. It may be worth noting that Naruto did very well on the trades side of things, so no Naruto Nation hangover in those stories, either. The Dark Horse Star Wars volume depicted above also did well.
Did I miss something? Dark Horse was in a can't-miss location right in front of you as you walked into the place. Your report mentioned pretty much anyone who walked into the building. Anyone except Dark Horse, that is. DC and Marvel being the most vital? The Hellboy cast signing at the Dark Horse booth drew so many people that the floor and entrance were nearly gridlocked. There were lines around the booth for our creator signings and cameras and interviews going on pretty much non-stop. The entire convention featured fans walking around carrying very large and hard to miss shopping bags saying "DARK HORSE." Evidently you missed all of that and more.
It's one thing to show your bias for against a particular company when you speak as an individual, but quite another thing when you represent yourself as a reporter.
Hi, Mike. I was certainly aware of Dark Horse's booth and visited a few times myself. I have a different opinion than yours as to the relative vitality of your booth in comparison to some of the other booths. I can't really apologize for simply providing that opinion, although of course I honor your right to disagree with me, am pleased that you took the time to write with that point of view, and in the interest of fairness want to make that second opinion as public as possible. In general, I believe one can express an opinion without having a bias, but it's nearly impossible to see one's own biases at work so I can simply do the work and let people come to their own conclusions. I hope to hire an ombudsman by year's end to better process such concerns.
Good luck with your 2008 publishing slate -- much of which I greatly anticipate, including your continued work with webcomics cartoonists -- your movies, and future shows.
* the writer Dirk Deppey suggests that everyone get back to work and stop freaking out about recent news of shelving limits because no category gets 100 percent of their work on shelves. Did anyone out there suggest that entire categories get 100 percent shelving? Was anyone seriously freaking out? Did anyone come close to suggesting a general flailing of the arms over continued hard work as a smart reaction?
I think that topic worth discussing for a few reasons. First, it came up because it was discussed in a place with the weight and public profile that the presentation of Milton Griepp's white paper offers. Second, it recognizes a concrete change in the status quo for certain companies and certain lines. Third, it represents a potential change in how the industry develops in the months and years ahead. I don't know, it seems like news to me, and simply getting back to work without recognizing the implications of major shifts in circumstance seems like a really bad idea for anyone with investment in seeing their own stuff or the work they like distributed in the marketplace to come.
50 Observations And Notes From The Floor Of The New York Comic-Con, 2008
1. Although I'm on the road and could be completely whiffing on a biggie or two, I would say these are the biggest pieces of publishing and related news arising or otherwise first reported from New York Comic-Con: 1) Gordon Lee case dismissed; 2) Viz and Tokyopop each starting major-sounding new lines; 3) Virgin Comics banks on serial superhero universe creator Stan Lee (not for the substance of the result but for what it says about Lee and Virgin and each entity's desire to make such a deal); 4) Analysis at ICv2.com graphic novels conference suggests structural difficulties in the marketplace related to shelving and over-saturation should only get worse in the months ahead; 5) NYCC enjoys a generally successful show marked by slight panel disruptions and some scattered pre-planning. I wasn't quite feeling this number, but I'm sure there were a lot of people there.
2. It was easy to detect a lot of enthusiasm by the hometown creative community and New York publishers for the show; the opposite reaction would be deadly, I think. If I were in charge of NYCC, I would try to harness some of that local spirit through an incentive program or something that targeted regional artists and professionals in some way -- they were the show's best ambassadors, by far.
3. There was also a sense, at least for me, that Marvel and DC quite liked being the largest and most vital participants of a big-time comics convention. It's pretty remarkable considering how they were situated vis-a-vis this summer's popcorn movie slots and how many TV and movie actors/writers/creators in total hit the show how little film and TV-related buzz there was on the show floor compared to some other cons, but I don't think the cartoonists and comics industry folk seemed to mind one bit.
4. People kept telling me not for attribution that the programming had problems in that it was disorganized: people didn't know what panels they were on until late, there seemed to be a bit of overlap, and moderators didn't always know who was to be on their panels. It should be pointed out I heard no complaints about problems executing that schedule, and the people I spoke to seemed to believe most panels well-attended.
5. A lot of the old-time fans seemed to take special pride in this con as a spiritual successor to the old Seuling Cons, once the crown jewels of fan interaction.
6. I have a hunch that Spring dates suit this show a lot better than Winter ones. If the city were difficult to navigate, the stress levels would increase ten-fold, and I'm not certain every professional wants to break out of the winter work season to go run around New York for a few days.
7. I'm certain the project itself has been announced in other places, but I'm not sure I thought about it in the following way: Andrews McMeel seems to feel their forthcoming Dilbert boxed set is of a kind with its Complete Far Side and Complete Calvin and Hobbes efforts, even though the ongoing strip is for obvious reasons by no means complete. One way they're getting that feel to the project is by including a disc that will access a site that will update the strip's complete run as it builds onto the material in the set. There was a point at which I thought we might see five or six of those big $150 efforts from modern strips, but I don't think that's going to be the case. I'd be amazed if there are three more out there to be published.
8. Mark Evanier has a great "it's a small world" story about Mary Skrenes that I hope by now is up on his blog. I saw two or three people with only Evanier's Kirby: King of Comics book as a purchase, even though it's been out for a while.
9. Dash Shaw's The Bottomless Belly Button looks quite gorgeous as both a publishing package and in the way the interiors were realized. I hadn't known that Shaw recently moved from his longtime home of Richmond, Virginia.
11. I kept introducing myself to people that I've met up to a half-dozen times, because apparently I really am as old as Comic Foundry makes me feel. Or New York made me tired and confused. Sorry, Dan. Sorry, Amy. Sorry, other people.
12. NYCC spent three years to develop the Thursday/Friday party imbalance that it took San Diego three decades to achieve. I'm kidding, of course -- it's not a race. I would assume that in both major cities 1) it's easier to get a space for a Thursday night and 2) if you're throwing a smaller bash you sort of naturally avoid the weekend nights thinking that there would be bigger parties those nights.
14. Jog of Jog the Blog is a nice, young man with an odd day job, strange dietary habits and apparently no desire to get any closer to comics than writing well about them and going to the occasional show.
15. The talented cartoonist Jim Campbell has not only a third but a fourth issue of Krachmacher out. I thought that guy had quit.
16. The convention could use better organization within its sections. The general orientation of the show seemed to work, and the big booths were spaced out at great enough distance to reduce traffic jams, but within certain areas there were some odd pairings. For instance, Fantagraphics might have been more naturally placed with other book publishers -- despite their comics roots they publish more in line with those companies than with five or ten-title comics companies -- rather than between Thomas Nelson and one of those con-classic, super-odd self-publishing efforts.
17. I haven't seen this noted anywhere, but DC's been live with Random House under their new distribution deal for several days now. The important thing to remember about a deal like that one is that it not only should have a physical effect on what books are available where, it will likely have long term ramifications in terms of how a publisher like that rolls books out and deals with those elements of its process in-house that have an impact on the final distribution.
18. I'm told that the Metropolitan/Joe Sacco book deal I mentioned Friday is one from a few years back rather than a brand new one, more a diversification of publishing options for the cartoonist that started a while ago than any bold, new direction.
19. Andrews McMeel is also doing a series collecting the newer Prince Valiant work by Mark Schultz and Gary Gianni -- that had also been announced a while ago, but I wasn't aware they were going for more of an accessible trade-type deal rather than a prestige/collector's item option.
20. The vast majority of creators to whom I spoke early on at the show were targeting Grant Morrison's Saturday panel.
21. The first surprise, cropped-up-suddenly line that I had to walk around was for Captain America artist Steve Epting.
22. I still don't get the costumes.
23. In the retail booths I saw a lot of discounted trades and a lot of how-to books, or at least enough more than usual to be noticeable.
25. In addition to syringe giveaway pens for the launch of Black Jack, a welcome old-school promotional tactic (syringe pens are usually the purview of medical supply companies), Vertical had the first issue of its Dororo series on-hand. We live in a rich comics publishing era when Tezuka books can arrive after one totally forgot they were coming. The project they have planned after Black Jack launches is an equally big-name one, although much smaller in page size.
26. Describing some of the costumes in a bar later Friday night, I learned that New Yorkers have names for body parts that people in New Mexico tend to avoid even thinking about.
27. The new Feiffer book The Explainers looks sharp and is hugely thick, like a Maakies volume after several cycles of dianabol.
28. If overlapping remarks are any indication, a lot of publishing people seem as generally encouraged by opportunities to provide comics for kids as they are broadly anxious by what everyone sees as that potentially huge shelving crisis about to hit the big bookstores due to the continued flood of publishing, random elements of still-pernicious comics culture that thwarts the marshaling of specific resources in fruitful directions, and even the peculiar quirks of certain buyers.
29. Generic press passes is either the greatest idea ever or the worst. It's always nice to be reminded the job is more important than the person holding it. On the other hand, because I lisp my own last name, part of me really wanted my name on my badge even though I couldn't bear to write it on there myself. Plus I feel like a knob either way: introducing myself up front or waiting until after we've chatted a bit.
30. My feet greatly appreciated the carpeting, but my knee did not appreciate it when I stepped on some light fixture or plug or something hidden under one of the rugs and twisted it. Ow.
31. You know, we obviously have different news priorities, but considering how they're beginning to smartly press their advantages in terms of size and scope and ability to temporarily tweak their platform, I have to admit that I'm starting to feel the pressure to step up this site's game to match Newsarama's. They had guys covering Legion of Super-Heroes panels that would have doubled my ability to cover the entire show could I have afforded them. One year from now, they'll probably have 50 staffers on every convention floor armed with Flip Video Ultras, and the rest of us will look like 63-year-olds turning out mimeographed newsletters for the local Masonic lodge.
32. It was nice to see you, too.
33. Two advantages cited by many over the San Diego floor were multiple ATMs and a rumored (well, I never saw it), professionals-only lounge area.
34. One group where a couple of players professed an interest in a stronger New York show over continued fealty to San Diego: book publishers, including a significant one not based in New York. It makes me wonder if Comic-Con International might benefit doing more work to make that a stronger, more distinct presence on their floor the way the superhero publishers, Indy Island and the art-comics areas have become dependable, recurring areas of special interest.
36. It's more an official hunch on my part than it is the result of some quantitative measurement, but I felt the mainstream American comic book companies did not fully endorse NYCC in terms of it becoming a place to hear breaking mainstream publishing comics news as much as they might have. At least it didn't seem like a ton of news of that sort was coming out at the show. There was some, just not a ton.
37. A continuing item of discussion among press people had nothing to do with the show but is a significant subject when it comes to comics publishing: a lot of folks seem at least slightly concerned whether or not they'll have a job six months, one year, five years from now. Not just a job covering comics -- a job covering anything.
38. One of the more interesting assertions made during Thursday's ICv2.com Graphic Novels Conference is that manga's ability to drive interest in fan participation has been a boon for publishers across the board in that there are more and more young people developing professional-level craft chops.
39. Best wishes and a speedy recovery from bumps and bruises to one of my three favorite comics/comics-culture bloggers, Kathleen David.
40. You know what was really popular without calling attention to itself? Any kind of statue or model that parents could make their kids stand next to while they took a photograph. You could probably do pretty well devoting your entire area to that kind of thing.
41. Marvel's not exactly all the way back into the conventioneering business, but their sparse booth stood in contrast to DC's now-familiar structure more through the presence of multiple DC staffers at their booth than by design. It's hard to say which strategy makes the most sense -- Marvel's requires almost no attention and investment, and although they miss out on multiple networking and press-shepherding responsibilities, the vast majority of people don't care about those things.
42. First Second will have an eight-book line-up this Fall, and will likely bounce between six and eight books in future seasons.
43. I'm not sure anyone's noticed -- I hadn't -- but the boutique publisher Oni Press has quietly almost tripled their staff the last few years, and is in either their 10th or 11th year of publishing, the latter depending on how you count things.
45. Heidi MacDonald made an interesting point in brief conversation that the comics industry seems to have little or no idea what to do with publishing news, and if I understood her point correctly, she's right. I just scanned a bunch of comics news and I'm not sure any of a number of publishing announcements I talked about on the floor were packaged and presented in a way that made them big news stories, and there's no reason many of them shouldn't be. Lead time issues still tend to punch proper marketing of individual books in the nuts. Serial comics tend to be the home of "what's next?" speculation. The industry doesn't have street dates to speak of. Diamond can't guarantee a date to ship anything even when stuff is listed. As a result of all of these things, material kind of floats to the surface rather than hits with a splash.
47. I'm still a little skeeved out by the easy soft-porn/kids comics mix that you find all over the floor of a convention like this. "Naked Cylon Six" said one table banner over a few Playboys. I saw a few scattered porn magazines out on a table a few booths down from a line of kids waiting to meet Sonic the Hedgehog.
48. A strange, quiet young man walked up to me and asked if I had seen Jason Dohring, seemingly fired up with the certainty I could help him as if the actor and I were publicly-known old chums. Dohring wasn't murdered at the convention after 3:30 yesterday, was he?
49. I went into the press room at 2:30 PM on Sunday and didn't know a damn person in there. But there were like 20 people in there, all writing furiously into their computers.
50. One story that's not fresh enough or substantial enough by itself for me to consider it a top five news story but is worth noting nonetheless is the DC Comics imprint Vertigo making some PR hay about seeking out OGNs. This is important because 1) Vertigo was built upon a serial comics model and collection of same into trades, and 2) most of their big hits have come from writers with established credentials within comics rather than from outside of comics, and a call for agents to pitch OGNs indicates that a lot of outside talent will start to come to the imprint. That being said, it should be noted that three expected announcements all deal with projects from veterans rather than outsiders, including one from the great Peter Bagge.
Your 2008 VPRO Grand Prix Nominees: Dominque Goblet, Naoki Urasawa, Chris Ware
The VPRO Grand Prix 2008 awards program, given out every other year to the "best international comix artist active today," has announced its nominee slate for 2008. They are Dominique Goblet, Naoki Urasawa and Chris Ware. The winner to be named June 6 at Stripdagen Haarlem comix festival receives 1000 euros and one of the better, more ambitious awards-related designations going. Past winners include Lewis Trondheim and Joe Sacco.
* do people who aren't into comics find articles like these convincing because a) they make a good case for the social relevancy of superhero event comics, b) newspaper feature writing is so generally banal that one assertion of how things really are is as good as any other, c) they actually are socially relevant, or d) the premise is flawed?
CR receives two to three comics a day. That adds up. It's more than we can handle in our 200-plus regular reviews a year.
Some comics are reviewed right away. Some comics are never going to be reviewed. The remainder go into a giant basket. When the basket is full and must be emptied, it's time to run whatever commentary we can muster. It may not be a full review -- and even that ain't much -- but least it's something.
We greatly appreciate you sending in your material for review. Thank you. It helps us track what you're doing, and what's going on in the field. All of it gets read. If it doesn't end up reviewed that's my fault for not coming up with a proper idea. I hope you'll forgive me.
Title: After The Cape II #3 Creators: Howard Wong, Jim Valentino, Sergio Carrera, Ed Dukeshire, Kristen Simon Publishing Information: Image Comics, comic book, January 2008, $2.99 Ordering Numbers:
This is one of those comics where the superhero genre is given a "realistic" treatment, only the realism involved is based on the world of really low-budget spy thrillers and adventure movies -- something that might star Steven Seagal or Brian Bosworth or Patrick Swayze's brother. There's something appealing about marching superheroes through a scenario of dire consequences, I think because like it or not that choice ends up acting as a critique for a violent sub-genre that almost never factors in the outcomes of its violence. Giving a kind of pulpy, lurid sheen to those plot developments fairly ruins any beneficial aspect to such choices, and instead tries to provide the story with a heightened "cool" -- genre correction rather than genre criticism. I might have found the whole thing pretty cool when I was immersed in the tropes of mainstream comics at age 11, but even then I probably would have known about much better examples of this kind of outing.
Title: Batman #671 Creators: Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, Jonathan Glapion Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 32 pages, January 2008, $2.99 Ordering Numbers:
This book was so ordinary I actually bought it twice. While I generally like Grant Morrison's superhero work, and I hear good things about his Batman, this just seemed like a mess to me. I still have a hard time remembering it. It's a storyline featuring the world's most overrated, boring A-List bad guy, Ra's al Ghul, kind of a living embodiment of 1970s distrust of/fascination with Middle Eastern culture. This is bad enough, but it also seems to involve a fruit tree's worth of easily pluck-able backstory details from that character. I wanted Batman to be rescued from his predicament just to get him away from the story, if you know what I mean. Maybe the story got better as it went but it seems like Morrison decided that a certain subset of 1970s was awesome and didn't need to be revamped as much as burdened with a lot more in the way of specific plot points.
Title: Bum Town Creators: Tony Fitzpatrick Publishing Information: Tia Chucha Press, softcover, 48 pages, 2001 $16.95 Ordering Numbers: 1882688252 (ISBN)
The book that changed the direction of painter, printer and poet Tony Fitzpatrick's career falls more into a broad and forgiving definition of comics work than any of the other books currently in the basket, but there's plenty of interplay between text and image for those that look. Anyway, who cares about definitions when a work is this enlightening and impressive? Published by (I think) an imprint best known for poetry rather than art books, Bum Town found Fitzpatrick in the late 1990s focusing his one-time scattered impulses and cultural insights (best seen in his Hard Angels) into a more thorough examination of place and past. This leads to several beautiful evocations of his father's view of a world that's since slipped away without Fitzpatrick being able to grasp onto its value, at least not until almost a shadow of it is all that remains. There are also a series of lovely portraits very different from the color paintings the painter does now, blending his powerful collage work with stronger figure and object drawing than I think he's done before or since. If you were ever one of those college kids buying John Fante books or Kerouac's Tristessa on your charge account at the university bookstore and sneaking reads at the back of class, you owe it to yourself to experience what may be Fitzpatrick's best book.
Title: Daredevil #102 Creators: Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Matt Hollingsworth Publishing Information: Marvel, comic book, 32 pages, 2007, $2.99 Ordering Numbers:
I enjoy reading Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark's run on Daredevil when I catch up to issues, but I can see why some readers who tell me they've dropped the series have done so. The writer Brian Bendis had a couple of advantages in his long and well-received run on the Marvel character that preceded Brubaker's that Brubaker simply doesn't have with his. Bendis may have at that time been slightly more skilled with quirky elements of long-time fan service than Brubaker is, those exaggerated elements of plot and personality that put a smile on a reader's face even when they don't always get the context and delight those that do. (At the very least, he got to apply this to core elements of the franchise rather than outside guest stars, like this story's old Spider-Man baddies The Enforcers.) Much more importantly, Bendis' run followed a lot of bad, overwrought comics and years of inconsequential ones. Like Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men, Bendis' Daredevil opened eyes by repeating the most successful thematic/narrative arc of past Daredevil runs (Daredevil laid low), tweaking it (this time it's his own fault, not simply that of an outside actor) and driving it towards a sensible, non-standard comics resolution (Daredevil goes to jail).
The problem is that Daredevil doesn't seem to have a variety of successful thematic/narrative arcs to choose from, so Brubaker's best avenue for creative viability is to continue on and perhaps deepen the path that Bendis just explored. Had this run come five or ten years from now, after some dingbat had changed the character into an actual demon that fought with the Son of Satan and then made Matt Murdock a lawyer that had wacky courtroom adventures sharing an office with She-Hulk followed by several lighthearted issues set in Asgard followed by a gothic romance with the Scarlet Witch called "Agony in Red," people would be falling all over themselves to praise this return to basics. As it is, the Brubaker/Lark run is bound to be under-appreciated for as solid a piece of superhero entertainment as it offers.
Title: The Incredible Hulk #112 Creators: Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Khoi Pham, Stephane Peru Publishing Information: Marvel Comics, comic book, 32 pages, January 2008, $2.99 Ordering Numbers:
This is the first issue in this title's transformation, asserted as permanent, into a series featuring Marvel's version of the Hercules character, one of Jack Kirby's more underrated designs and the only star of 1980s mainstream comics that I don't think has had an extended chance to helm a modern comic book. I think I would have liked it when I was 12. They team Hercules with a newer, troubled boy super-genius character and give his second-rate status some context by pointing out many of his classic endeavors arose from his screwing up first, or at least being used against his will. Marvel does over-smart geniuses and muscle-heads pretty well, and this seems like the kind of thing that a lot of older fans will enjoy a lot. Too much of it bores me in a way that spoils the investment I'd have to make in the title to share those feelings, but that's pretty much true of every serialized superhero comic. I suspect that this will be talked about by devoted comics readers on-line and casually mentioned as a title to check out by shop owners more than it will enjoy runaway success, but there's a place for those kinds of comics, too.
Title: Locke and Key #1 Creators: Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez Publishing Information: IDW, comic book, 32 pages, $3.99 Ordering Numbers:
You can practically see the movie that Locke and Key stands a great chance of becoming peeking out at your from the pages, and what odd about this project over a dozen similar ones is that its comics elements seem to work at cross-purposes. The oddly stylized art of Gabriel Rodriguez provides a lot of the energy you see here -- his leering characters and oddly-shaped figures give the work a kind of cartoon bounce that's reminiscent of Steve Dillon's work. There's no way that could replicated on film, and without it you're left with a fairly straight-forward story where the supernatural either directly results from or directly comments upon a family tragedy. What's most promising are a few pages where panel transitions underline the thematic concerns in play rather than simply mark narrative progressions -- that's not an easy skill to master for any writer, let alone one with a first gig in comics. Ninety-nine percent of the decision to be made whether or not the comic ends up being worthwhile has yet to be revealed in actual comics pages.
Title: Ma.B Creators: Graeme McDonald, Dave Cunning, Chris Catlin Publishing Information: Local Act Comics, comic book, 2007, no price. Ordering Numbers:
There's probably a germ of a decent story in the concept of a woman on the run who finds refuge in one of those shady cult-communes that periodically appear in the news in an unfortunate way; unfortunately, this is way too crude for me to even be all that sure that's what is going on here, let alone recommend the work. I couldn't tell what was going on half the time: the characters weren't recognizable from panel to panel, the scenes sometimes dropped backgrounds entirely, a lot of the dialog was exposition instead of naturalistic, and the humor -- I think it was humor -- fell flat. This is the kind of work that shouldn't be published but be done and put in a drawer until everyone gets a bit better at making comics.
Title: New Mutants #28 Creators: Chris Claremont, Bill Sienkiewicz Publishing Information: Marvel Comics, comic book, 32 pages, June 1985, $.65 Ordering Numbers:
New Mutants #28 came out during Bill Sienkiewicz's fondly-remembered run on the title, during a period in Marvel's history where Sienkiewicz had assumed from Gene Colan the honor of being the only artist who didn't have to draw in an approximation of mainstream style. The end result is a comic that relies on abstraction a bit too much for my tastes -- there's barely any difference in quality and detail between the real-world scenes and the one that take place in an imaginary mind-created illusion -- but that's much more readable than the pre- and post-Image flood about to hit in a half-decade. The style isn't anachronistic as much as the silly outfits and bizarre haircuts. Magneto in particular looks like an extra from a punk rock scene in a Michael J. Fox movie, or something Yahoo Serious might play, but there are weird cuts galore on both men and women. In terms of story, it's a fairly fascinating from a kind of geek anthropological standpoint: you can see the characters starting to become strained, picking up major plot elements that simply don't stick with the same weight as earlier developments. Not only did I have to go look up Lee Forrester, I had forgotten the fairly intended to be major development that Professor X had a son, let alone one with the Crazy Jane-ish plot construction of a different mutant power for different personalities. It's still a lot fresher than the franchise today, and I don't know that I consider the then forthcoming big guns phase more than an unfortunate side journey, but even at this point you can start to see the flesh take on that icky shine.
Title: Savage Dragon #134 Creators: Erik Larsen, John Workman Publishing Information: Image Comics, comic book, 32 pages, November 2007, $2.99 Ordering Numbers:
The virtues of Savage Dragon are Erik Larsen's loose, casual art; his adherence to 1970s-style accumulative continuity and his relatively lighthearted take on the more serious injury and death elements of the Image correction of Marvel Comics. This issue stars another Image character, Bomb Queen, that I assume has a satirical side to her because otherwise this is the worst character that was ever created. It seems like clumsy satire, anyway, basically the surface elements of Tank Girl transposed into a superhero comic (with corresponding bigger boobs). The problem with this comic is that if you aren't already sold on Larsen's combination of offerings it's not likely any single comic book is going to get you there, and I wandered through most of this with a sense of bemused detachment. One thing about Larsen's adjustment in style that I hadn't noticed before -- it seems to play hell with his figure-drawing perspective.
There's some pretty art in this comic, of the modern superhero-fantasy comic book variety. I'm not familiar with Christina Z, but there's a delicate verve to her over-stylized figures, and her feathery, icky monsters prove more entertaining than not. One of those stories about a put-upon average person who finds out they're an important figure in a fantasy conflict that intrudes upon their life, this comics unfolds as if the demands of modern comics find and punch until its unconscious all the usual requirements of story. There's no depiction of the life our protagonist leaves behind, there's no baseline by which we might come to a decision about the fantastic nature of the protagonist's new world, there's no reason at all to root for the interest other than that she's drawn to be attractive and the story seems to be about here. It's almost lunatic in the way it gives itself over to the punch-pull requirements of modern Image-style fantasy comics. One ends up exhausted both by the relentless, herky-jerky nature of our hero's story but also by the fact that every single thing about it familiar in the way one might see a poker hand picking up a random collection of cards on the floor. Just a mess.
Title: Strange Cases #2 Creators: Steve Niles, Dan Wickline, David Hartman, Jason Hanley Publishing Information: Image Comics, comic book, 32 pages, November 2007, $2.50 Ordering Numbers:
This is such a forgettable comic that I can't even remember why I held onto it in order to review it; the Steve Niles-created, Dan Wickline-written story doesn't really encourage deep analysis. A ridiculously tiny, attractive girl connected in some way to some sort of agency that I suppose handles occult overtone cases beats her way in impossible fashion through a scenario involving werewolves that feed on bums they attract to their lair through the promise of high-paying bum fights. The bum fights thing doesn't make a lot of sense generally -- why would a greater number of people respond to a chance to have their teeth kicked in than to some more pleasurable offer? -- but it does explain why the humans involved are asked to bulk up first and why no one is greatly concerned by the absences, which are important plot points. For the most part, what I got out of this book was a feeling that the story was removed from the oven a half hour before it cooked. We've seen a petite, attractive ass-kicker before, and there's nothing unexpected to or compelling about this one that makes me interested in reading her adventures.
Title: Superman Confidential #5 Creators: Darwyn Cooke, Tim Sale Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 32 pages, June 2007, $2.99 Ordering Numbers:
When buying comics from your video store's poorly assembled spinner rack, it's good to go with the big names. And in terms of this decade, there are probably no more consistently interesting creators working almost solely in superhero comics than Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale. This issue is the five book in what I think ended up being a six-part series where Superman meets an alien that accompanied him to earth. That alien shows him a bit of his heritage and also exposes him to the concept of Kryptonite. Cooke press the importance of that Superman-poisoning material by suggesting it's the only way the big guy has truly known mortality, or at least how he first got to know. Writing for DC's peculiar Byrne-plus-everyone-since-Byrne conception of the superman character can't be easy. All the original detritus of the character's first 45 years are still there, just in less compelling iterations. He finds a nice balance between bringing in classic character elements and DC's modern take, such as it is. Tim Sale draws nice-looking characters, although I always think there are about ten people in the entire world when he does comics.
Title: Tales of Suspense #74 Creators: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby, George Tuska Publishing Information: Marvel, comic book 32 pages, February 1966, $.12 Ordering Numbers:
The best thing in this issue is the conclusion of one of the better little kids' adventure epics from late in Marvel's 1960s glory period, the Lee/Kirby/Tuska Sleeper Saga. In this story, Captain America fights giant robots that the Red Skull and the Nazis hid underground in case they lost the war, at which point they'll spring out and kill the entire world. It doesn't make a lick of sense, but it's fun to watch a completely overmatched Captain America continue to press until he finds a way to overcome the threat. The robot designs are also cool and refreshingly old-fashioned, especially when they combine into one demented-looking juggernaut straight from the cover of a heavy metal album. The Colan story is quite handsome -- he was still Adam Austin at this point -- although it's in that phase where the Iron Man comics were shifting heavily towards soap opera and really, really lengthy snippets of dialog. A whole bunch of great early Marvel sequences are available in their original format for not bad prices, and I totally encourage any and all comics fans to target and buy a few. I love the Essential collections and I admire some of the slick reprinting efforts, but this is one case where the original format really served that material best.
Title: Tales Of The M.I.A.C. Creator: Ed Mulreany Publishing Information: Self-Published, comic book, 20 pages, Ordering Numbers:
Since there's no date, no inside covers, and no price on this simple black and white vanity press project, it's hard to hold it to a high standard. Further, one might want to overpraise it because of the homemade factors, both to say one discovered the talent involved and because to criticize it is like pounding a high school drama club production of Our Town. All that understood, this is not a good comic. It's an anecdote told in comics form, but with the focus on the people telling and hearing the anecdotes, done in a static, no-background style that's really not much better than a low-end greeting card. You'd have to be Harvey Kurtzman or Peter Bagge to make an entertaining comic out of that presentational choice, and this is universes away from a book offering that level of talent. This should have been a mini-comic, and it would have an undistinguished work in that format as well. I know the cartoonist means well, but there is just not enough work put into this book, and it fails on a fundamental level. Maybe if it's a giveaway people might find it appealing enough to read and sample Mulreany's talent, but I can't see this holding up its end in any other kind of exchange.
Title: Vigil #2 Creators: Graeme McDonald, Colin Wells, Dominic Davies Publishing Information: Local Act Comics, comic book, 2007, no price Ordering Numbers:
I mostly just wanted to list this book because I love the tagline "Vengeance is a Savage Messiah," as seen on the cover above. That's not only catchy; like most great action story slogans, it makes absolutely no sense at all. There's nothing as great as that in the comic itself, which is executed in very crude fashion by the writer and artists -- so crude I couldn't immerse myself in it for long enough to figure out what was going on. It seems to be about violence, which is a nice choice but something that probably deserved a greater amount of consideration and care that what's provided here.
Title: The Order #1 Creators: Matt Fraction, Barry Kitson, Mark Morales, Dean White Publishing Information: Marvel, comic book, 32 pages, September 2007, $2.99 Ordering Numbers:
The great thing about discovering an offbeat adventure comic book like this from one of the Big Two is that 98 percent of the time it's not going to last 12 issues, so you know that at some point you'll be able to pick up the whole thing in someone's dollar bin or as a way to get your mail-order up over the free postage threshold. The big companies just aren't set up to support lower-selling work and to routinely generate hits, which is a difficult task anyway because of the overripe quality to those milieus, in the same way that TV shows tend to launch spin-offs in peak seasons and not their final few years.
This was the first issue in writer Matt Fraction's ambitious reworking of the old Strikeforce Morituri formula, where in the post-Civil War Marvel Universe people can become superheroes for one year before the bodies rejects the changes; if you think it's funny that in 2008 you lose your fame and meta-human status in LA rather than your life in a war against alien oppressors, this comic may be for you. I said "ambitious" not because of the thematic range -- it's a pretty typical Marvel comic book in that fashion -- but because of some of the overlapping, executable ideas, and a presentational style that less splash page after splash page than a variation on Howard Chaykin circa 1983. I look forward to having them all.
Title: The Short Term Creators: Nick Jeffrey Publishing Information: Floppy Comix, comic book, 32 pages, 2006, $3.50 Ordering Numbers:
This old-fashioned comic book is the out-of-left-field surprise of the basket: a flawed but mostly solid short story about a life in free fall that by tale's end is either corrected or reinforced into damaging, unhealthy patterns. It's a crude book. The artist doesn't yet have as much control over his art as many cartoonist come to develop, and the resulting variations in the texture of the book can be jarring, like a director having to switch film stocks. Equally disconcerting is a tendency to let some of the more poignant dream-like imagery seep into the real world not in a way that reinforces or establishes tone but more because of what seems like a whim of the artist. Yet there's something here. The ambivalence of the lead is appealing, and the emotional distance he keeps from the minor horrors of his downward cycle seems well-observed, even against an occasionally exaggerated backdrop. I'd read more comics from this cartoonist, although I'd do it with the hope that he had more than this kind of story to tell.
Title: The Megas #1 Creators: Jonathan Mostow, John Harrison, Peter Rubin Publishing Information: Virgin Comics, comic book, 48 pages, $2.99 Ordering Numbers:
In what if this were a good comic would be a completely unnecessary explanation up front, director Jonathan Mostow tells us that this comic book of life in a United States created by monarchists has a satirical aim in showing how our own society functions in terms of stratification of privilege. Fair enough, but what follows is a resoundingly dull first few moments of a rote people-in-power murder mystery interspersed with speculative future panels like showing the "White Palace" on Pennsylvania Avenue. What the creators miss in bringing this movie pitch into comics as opposed to the big screen is that narrative-heavy comics depend a lot of atmosphere and the execution of an immersible world. This is like a movie played in front of a theater curtain by actors that failed to nab a part in this season's WB soap -- there's little that distinguishes the world being depicted; all of the characters seem handsome and bland, nothing about the mystery presented proves intriguing. Throw in what may be the most jarring coloring effect featuring white hair that looks like a little kid went after one's comic with a bottle of whiteout, and what you have is a movie on paper without the ability to change the channel to Sportscenter.
Title: BAM! (Big Ass Mini) Creators: Various Publishing Information: Vanity Press, softcover, 500 pages, $25 Ordering Numbers:
This is a huge softcover collection of a lot of amateurish work presented with a kind of chip on its shoulder, as if the heaving collapse that is a lot of its art and writing is actually such a collection of special voices and visions that any reader who doesn't like it simply can't handle their raw, unique power. That makes it not just a bad collection, but an annoying one, one that reeks of unearned arrogance, and ironically one where a lot of these supposedly distinct voices quickly begin to run together into a rushed, poorly drawn and uninterestingly told stew. The best comics are from people you've heard of: Art Baxter (why is no one publishing Art Baxter?), K. Thor Jensen and Mandy Ord. I really wanted to make a new discovery or two here, because it was a significant investment in time to sit with this giant thing on my lap for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, no such luck. I get books like this for free and I'm still pained by the experience. I have no idea why this work couldn't go into several mini-comics or even on-line.
Title: 100 Days of Monsters Creators: Stefan G. Bucher, Various Publishing Information: How Books, Hardcover, 224 pages, March 2008, $19.99 Ordering Numbers: 1600610919 (ISBN10), 9781600610912 (ISBN13)
Stefan G. Bucher's fun on-line monster-drawing exercise, which blossomed when contributors began to submit stories about individual creatures, makes a less interesting book/DVD set, and I'm not exactly sure why. It may be that the print half of the work doesn't seems as much fun. The ink drawings aren't wildly different in tone and in the artistic flourishes Bucher favors, and the stories are fun and wonky but sometimes not polished -- the end result seems slightly overwhelmed by the hardcover presentation. In other words, it's the exercise and the video part that was notable about the project, not the stunning excellence of the results; it's not something that appeals in distinct fashion away from the enjoyable, creative aspect of the experiment.
Title: Hi-Fi Color For Comics Creators: Brian and Kristy Miller Publishing Information: Impact, softcover, 160 pages, 2008, $24.99 Ordering Numbers: 1581809921 (ISBN10), 9781581809921 (ISBN13)
It's hard for me to judge the quality of a book like this without trying to apply the knowledge contained therein, and I'm not about to digitally color any comic books any time soon. It may help the potential reader to know this includes a CD full of information, and that it contains a few warning signs: I've never heard of the authors, their bios up front stress their enthusiasm and passion for the subject over their qualifications, and Impact books in general tend to be bright and pretty and focused on one or two aesthetic schools without much thought for the full diversity of its chosen subject matter. Samples of Terry Moore's work is included here, so at least it's not as superhero- and adventure-comics focused as some other Impact efforts I've scanned. Moore also endorses Brian Miller professionally. Anyway, this note indicates the book is out there, and I'll trust that any interested buyer with more passion and skill with the subject matter will put their ass in a puffy chair at Borders before deciding whether or not to make a purchase.
Title: A Sinner's Progress... The Beast Years Of My Life Creators: David Sandlin, Gina R. Binkley, Dennis Harper Publishing Information: Georgia Museum of Art, Mini-Comic, 12 pages, 2008 Ordering Numbers:
This is a museum catalog, with a smart essay that's not signed, I'm going to guess by curator Dennis Harper, related to to the David Sandin show at the University of Georgia / Georgia Museum of Art that ran February-March of this year. It's a handsome little thing, reminiscent of a mini-comic in size and heft, and valuable for a couple of reasons. One, I can't recall any essays about the increasingly visible Sandlin before this one, and two, it provides a bibliography for an artist who has worked in a variety of different formats and forms. But even if you obtained it just for the handsome reproductions, that would work, too. I'm extremely grateful for this little book.
Title: The Chronicles of Corum: The Queen of the Swords #5 Creators: Mike Baron, Mike Mignola, Kelley Jones Publishing Information: First Comics, comic book, 32 pages, September 1987, $1.75 Ordering Numbers:
If you can ignore the choking noises from the Direct Market system having to try to process so much work when it's not really built for it, one of the great joys of the massive amounts of comics publishing seen over the last 20 years is that it's kind of made a necessity of dumping into bargain bins to simply move material out of shops. Unless you're a major on-line retailer, you simply don't have to exposure to enough customers to pretend you can get $4.50 for every book that's crossed your sales counter. That's the long way of saying I bought this for a quarter. This is a story featuring one of Michael Moorcock's lesser-known characters, Prince Corum, in a narrative that features a lot of advancing armies and strategy and political maneuvering. Mike Baron's script is extremely strange, and without knowing the source material I'd guess it's diligent but cursory in a way some of the other Elric adaptations aren't. Mike Mignola inked by Kelley Joney is a strange combination, but a fairly effective one in terms of design. The most striking visual element is the weird, 1980s coloring that looks like it only applied colors one might have found on various pairs of aqua socks.
Title: Deth Pledge Creator: Jason T. Miles Publishing Information: Self-Published, mini-comic, 24 pages, 2007, no price Ordering Numbers:
I'm not certain I can provide a review for Jason Miles' book of abstract designs. I believe some are pulled from blown up Xeroxes and some aren't, but that really doesn't matter. I enjoy the texture of the art included, and enjoy looking at the pictures. They look like nightmare images and I couldn't help but feel a bit of panic and a feeling that I wasn't seeing everything that's there. The reason I mention this book on this list is that I hope you'll keep an eye out for Miles' comics at conventions and the occasional store. There's nothing quite like them going right now.
Title: The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall And The Green Mist of Death Creators: Matt Fraction, Nick Dragotta, Mike Allred, Laura Allred, Russ Heath, Lewis LaRosa, Stefano Gaudiano, Matt Hollingsworth, Matt Breitweiser Publishing Information: Marvel Comics, comic book, 48 pages, April 2008, $3.99 Ordering Numbers:
My mother liked this comic. I don't know what that has to do with anything, and she kept calling it "Iron Man," but I thought that worth mentioning. I liked this comic, too, an unabashed wallow in the pulp sensibility that writer Matt Fraction along with Ed Brubaker brought to the series re-launch about a year or so ago. It's a pretty typical comic of its kind: a series of story with a couple of connecting elements, general weirdness, and a variety of guest artists. It stars the previous holder of the Iron Fist mantle, Orson Randall. Matt Fraction does a better job than most in keeping all of this moving rather than having it come across as an exercise in utilizing his editor's artists Rolodex and a writer's late-night story notes. There's a poignant element to the way they've set up Iron Fist that draws on the fact that the character is supposed to be a champion of this Himalayan mystical city yet spend most of its time in the rest of the world, disconnected from their roots -- a feeling of being without roots that anyone who lives far from home can relate to. If you want to check out what's been done with the character in convenient done-in-one form, this is the book to pick up. Plus, you know, Russ Heath!
Title: Nexus #100 Creators: Mike Baron, Steve Rude Publishing Information: Rude Dude Productions, comic book, 56 pages, January 2008, $4.99 Ordering Numbers:
I take a great deal of pleasure out of simply sitting back and enjoy Steve Rude's luxurious art, crowded pages and smooth physical transitions, so it's hard for me to take an individual issue of Nexus and figure out if I'm actually enjoying the book -- I'm not sure I really read these things until the entire mini-series is over, and we're only on issue #2. In this installment, Nexus deals with an increasingly hostile religious movement and the disappointment that his once-promising planetary community has obviously slipped into a state of disarray. I found the main kind of duller than dirt for the space of one issue, to be honest (improvement in that department when seen over a four-issue run is more than likely), and the series' sub-plots lack the potency they used to generate back in the book's monthly serial days. The incidental moments are worth it all by themselves if you're a fan of Baron and Rude, the out-sized character moments and the physical interplay between the Loomis-like Nexus and Sundra Peale. Another thing the books gets right is the way characters float in and out of the story in both a physical and in a willing involvement sense; they're missed but it doesn't feel like they should be there. Life goes on.
Title: The Umbrella Academy #6 Creators: Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba Publishing Information: Dark Horse Comics, comic book, 32 pages, February 2008, $2.99 Ordering Numbers:
I wonder if the pendulum will swing back the other way regarding opinions on Gerard Way's debut big-publisher series: it really was more accomplished and better crafted than anyone could have expected, but it felt kind of like a Wes Anderson movie that didn't quite become its own thing. In this case it's the Glass children stories but Grant Morrison's late '80s/early '90s comic book that are being picked up and covered with kisses. Part of the series appeal, I think, is that there simply weren't enough series like this after Morrison burned through them and moved on, so there's a great deal of pleasure in having those buttons pushed again. Still, by this sixth issue I kind of last track of the emotional through-line and by the book's closed I was glad for what never became more than character roughs to fade from view again. The real strength of the book was Gabriel Ba's lovely art, reminiscent of Morrison collaborator Richard Case in some of its out there, more angular designs but much more fluid and generally dynamic.
3. NYCC launches its third edition, maybe the only Spring one (2009's will be in February) as both local and national comics talent converges on a show highly reminiscent of the San Diego Con in the late '90s, plus a more significant book trade presence.
Initial Commentary On The ICV2 Graphic Novel Conference In NYC 04-17-08
I spent a good chunk of yesterday sitting in the audience of the ICV2.com Graphic Novel Conference, held in conjunction with the New York Comic-Con for the third straight year. This afternoon of programming includes Milton Griepp's presentation of a white paper detailing general trends in the comics market place and then a series of loaded panels on various talking points related to those issues. While I want to fold in some of my reaction to the Conference into a more general piece on NYCC next week, here are some of my initial observations and note-writing asides.
* perhaps the biggest and most important piece of analysis from Griepp was his observation that major buyers are no longer carrying entire manga lines, or entire lines period. I talked to a pair of retailers at the presentation that concurred, and one said that this was a heated item of discussion between himself and some of the publishers his store carries.
The picture painted was brutal in that it was asserted by one of those retailers that when sales got to a certain point not only was that series no longer purchased by that buyer by all reorders on earlier volumes were also discontinued, essentially cutting a series off from the kind of long-time store presence that Griepp indicated was important in giving non top sellers a chance to survive in the market.
In other words, structural issues are going to make it rough for everyone including non-bestselling manga titles, as retailers move to the familiar and titles continue to come out at a frightening pace. This puts into a particular bind those publishers who need to continue publishing in order to keep a license or facilitate cross-promotion on merchandising or potential anime, or, one guesses, to stay afloat.
* I thought Judith Hansen was the belle of the ball of the agents and publishers panel, abandoning theoretical and pseudo-promotional speechifying for things like a list of specific contractual items that she looks for in a comics-related deal.
* I know where they were coming from, but a moment on the agents and publishers panel where the participants rhapsodized about how awesome it was to be a comics talent right now with all of these publishing opportunities seemed way too self-congratulatory when we don't yet know how things will end up or not end up vis-a-vis these contracts and publishing avenues. I'm sure it looked just as awesome for an admittedly briefer time in 1983, 1989 and 1992 for various reasons, too.
* another interesting item discussed on that panel was how savvy people in book publishing are often asked to consult on comics-related issues in general, and how agents often do more work in packaging books because of a lack of know-how in the system on how to put an effective line together.
* there seemed to me to be some unspoken tension between some of the publishers on the 'tweens panel that generally work with individual authors and Jim Salicrup, who spoke in more editorially strategic and packaging terms.
* I also thought Dan Buckley was surprisingly forthright about Marvel's failings on such books while seated at that panel, particularly on the general cultural failure of Marvel's creators and editors to naturally make work that could appeal to kids in the way great all-ages literature does.
* only a modest amount of the semi-nauseating, self-serving kind of non-question speechmaking from the audience typical to such events -- not as bad as an NCS panel by any means, and really fewer than the average BEA panel I've attended.
* the best question from a journalist came from the Wizard representative on hand.
* it seems to me that Griepp didn't have any reason to deny that by moving away from its cheap, junk-culture pricing roots comics is now way more exposed to harm if there's a long recession, but he didn't want to say it out loud, either. In fact, it wasn't in the initial presentation at all.
* Joe Sacco's doing a book with Metropolitan?
* publishing companies are apparently including rights to comic book adaptations in prose writer contracts now.
* I thought one scary line from the publishers panel was when one of the publishing folks (maybe the one from Viz?) spoke in terms of getting back as much of the advance offered any way they could.
* Scholastic has no interest in comics non-fiction. Kids have no interest in Michael Jordan anymore.
* there were approximately 125 people in attendance. They reserved the best seat in the house for Paul Levitz, but the DC executive seemed to prefer waiting for his panel from the back row.
* ICv2.com has re-designed, they're rolling out updates all day as CR noticed a few weeks ago, and they're going to add a preview function.
* Douglas Wolk has much a better answer to what his next project will be than my own, "I guess I'll be working some more on my blog."
There's only one significant development in the years-long Danish Cartoons Controversy, but it's an interesting one. Making good on an earlier promise, the Danish Union of Journalists has announced it is seeking damages from anti-Islam groups that used Kurt Westergaard's bomb-in-turban Muhammed cartoons for their web sites and protest materials. They'll seek approximately $42K in damages. A warning had been issued before their use.
* the editorial cartoonist Eric Devericks at the Seattle Times has kept his job through the latest round of cutbacks and voluntary staff retirements, the Daily Cartoonistsays. Devericks was in danger of being cut by his paper's latest round of staff pruning, a fairly common incident at major newspapers right now that has had a special impact on cartoonists in part because of the way they're regarded in some newsrooms.
* the SF Chronicle has an article up about their attempts to find a strip to run during Doonesbury's latest hiatus. As widely reported, Candorville has been pushed by its syndicate and a lot of papers including the Chronicle have tried that feature out.
* Steven Camley of The Heraldwas named the cartoonist of the year in this year's Scottish Press awards. He beat out a group of nominees that included Brian Adcock, Frank Boyle, Bill McArthur and Nick Newman. Adcock was the award's runner-up.
The New York Comic-Con opens its third show Friday, at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Backed by trade convention powerhouse Reed Exhibitions, set in the traditional heart of the North American comics publishing industry, launched in advance of an expected Wizard Entertainment attempt to establish a show in the New York City area and beginning its run right before that group's shows suffered what is at least a perceived decline across the board, it's easy to argue that NYCC is already the second most important North American convention on the yearly calendar. Here are a few things to watch for at this year's show.
* any lingering administrative problems -- The show's first year was dogged by a massive screw-up in registration that forced even a few people with pre-paid tickets to go home, not to mention some bizarre and ultimately unflattering spin from fans of the show that focused on how awesome it was that so many people wanted to get into the show and reveled in the ability of insiders to gain entry when some people were left on the sidewalk. While last year went smoothly, and the show has grown as much as a New York show can grow given the premium on convention space, the Spring dates will likely bring even more fans out and thus test the improved registration process that much more rigorously. Expect a smooth show and a high probability for sell-outs.
* Marvel and DC's announcements -- Look to see if the big North American comic book companies make significant publishing announcements at the show, particularly on any of their panels. For one, DC could really use a big year and Marvel could use any opportunity to put more pressure on DC. More to the point of this piece, the degree to which new projects and new plotlines are announced can be seen as a measure of the degree of those companies' support for any given show.
* programming glitches -- Will Reed-style show programming appeal to the North American comics crowd? Some people weren't too happy about the way crossover star power was added to one panel. Will more traditional comics convention programming work at such a show?
* bigger art comics presence -- smaller publishers can't afford to be early adopters on comics conventions, but if the show is successful they tend to come around eventually. Fantagraphics will exhibit this year, which is a good sign that the show may have a greater presence from that area of comics in coming years. They have to do pretty well, of course.
* advanced movie word -- Expect to see and hear a lot about Iron Man, and perhaps the new Batman movie as well, but it may be worth noting that if the show goes back to earlier in the calendar, as expected, a lot of future studio involvement may depend on how well the convention provides an opportunity for choice publicity at this more amenable summer movie publicity platform date.
* comparison for comparison's sake -- It may be worth noting that while people in costumes cavort in downtown New York, the show's almost spiritual opposite is taking place in Luzern. I love me a big American comics convention, although I'm still a bit baffled at the costumes, but it would be nice if there was a show like Fumetto on the North American calendar, too.
* Pakistani officials are still talking about action regarding the re-publication earlier this year of one of the Muhammed caricatures.
* it looks like Danish food giant Arla Food did get hit in the political turmoil surrounding the more recent re-publication.
* Armenia is apparently anti-blasphemy. I found it a little bit interesting that Fitna was summarized in terms of potential offense as a film with one of the cartoons in it, which a) is no longer true, and b) doesn't describe what most people are reported to have found offensive about the film.
* an interview with Tapedeck's Alax on his obsession with comics and some of his favorites. I'm not even young enough to fake that I know who this is or how to refer to him without sounding like my Dad used to sound referencing my stuff in 1985, but I found it to be an amusing short interview.
* if you haven't been paying attention, and there's no reason you should have been, the Comic-Con International Hotel registration page through Travel Planners has been putting more and more single-day reservations back on the site (or on the site for the first time). What happens I think is that a lot of people are dumping their double rooms at the same time some hotels are giving extra rooms to the show. There are sometimes unfortunate reasons for people having rooms to dump, such as people wanting to snatch up as many rooms as possible just because they're a scarce commodity, but there are also good reasons for this, like an artist finding out their book won't be out, or a wedding popping up on the schedule. It's a tough system all around. Anyway, if you're going to that show and you don't have a room that you like, check out that site every morning. Even though I got in on the first day, my final hotel itinerary was strung together from two reservations I made recently at two different hotels right across the street from one another. Also, if I remember how the airlines work, we're right in the middle of a sweet spot for air travel reservations.
Arabic-Language Graphic Novel At Heart Of Cairo Publishing House Raid
The journalist Hossam el Hamalawy reports that unidentified Egyptian officials have raided the publishing house of Mohamed al Sharqawi and confiscated all copies of the comic book Metro, by the cartoonist Magdy el Shafee. According to the report, which seems to draw on an interview with the publisher's fiancee, the officers conducting the raid forced the publishing house's accountant to sign a pledge to notify authorities about any returned copies and hand them over to the police. The book was termed as running contrary to public morals.
According to this post at another blog, the publisher, his fiancee, the cartoonist and the accountant are all to appear in front a government official about the affair. Sharqawi was already in custody after an arrest April 6 related to his backing a strike.
President of Argentina Slams Editorial Cartoon For “Quasi-Mafioso Message”
The International Freedom of Expression Exchange has issued an alert regarding a speech made by Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The speech decried a cartoon of the president published in the newspaper Clarin that same day as a "quasi-mafioso message." The cartoonist was Hermenegildo Sabat. IFEX had her remarks as:
"In a newspaper, they published a cartoon with a gag across the face, with a quasi-mafioso message," said the president, who then asked herself, "What do they want to tell me, what is it that I can't tell the people?"
One reason that IFEX notes the criticism is that the country has re-launched its "Observatory on Discrimination in the Media a goverment/academia group that a journalist group believes will have a watchdog capacity over that country's press, if not outright subjecting the press to pressure to change elements of coverage. The cartoonist is a member of that group, FOPEA, and made a statement criticizing the president ascribing motivations to his cartoon.
* the New Yorker cartoons blog is still trying to find its feet a bit creative direction-wise, at least in my summary-style judgment, but you have to like a cartoonist of the month feature that gives you this kind of posting frequency featuring the work of a fun artist like Charles Barsotti.
* I did something Monday I hadn't done since 1984 -- went to the comic book shop with my mother. From the JLA mural painted on the side of the building she was able to identify Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Superman and Batman. She thought Red Tornado might be Daredevil, she made fun of Black Canary's fishnet stockings ("that's practical") but didn't know who she was even when provided the name and her only comment on Hawkgirl was "Who on God's green earth is that above Superman?" Mom's favorite superhero as a kid was Plastic Man, although she admits to buying most comics that featured some sort of Lois Lane/Superman domestic situation or fake wedding on the cover.
* the newspaper strip-focused blogger Alan Gardner has a rundown of various papers' changes to deal with the current, brief hiatus of Doonesbury (it'll be back before the political conventions). A lot of papers are running strips in the slot to try them out. There had been some thought as to how many papers might do this. On the one hand, no one expects Doonesbury itself to shed a lot of clients, so what you'd have to do is run a strip as a tryout knowing that it wouldn't run when Doonesbury came back or that it would be taking the place of another strip. On the other hand, newspapers strips are exponentially more fluid in terms of running and dropping strips than they were 25 years ago, so it makes sense that many would take this opportunity to do something with the space. Doonesbury invented the creator hiatus; its first and much longer absence in the early '80s helped the rise of some of that decade's bigger hits, like Bloom County.
* the writer Will Pfeifer confirms that Catwoman will end with issue #82. This iteration of DC's popular but not really super-popular character was the vehicle for solid, career-boosting runs from creators like Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke and Cameron Stewart. It was also occasionally a battleground between certain factions in comics where one side preferred the title revolve around the strength of the lead's personality and the other preferred a title that could revolve around whatever the hell it wanted as long as it provided a steady diet of cartoon T&A. At one point it was even heavily rumored that different creators working on the book at the same time disagreed over the title's basic purpose. As I recall it was Pfeifer's only book as recently as a few months ago, so I hope he finds purchase elsewhere.
As was widely reported yesterday, the great cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner was among the 190 people receiving Guggenheim Fellowships to support them in the continuation of specific work. Over 3000 people in the arts and sciences applied for one of the awards. Gloeckner will use hers to continue work on her narrative about a girl murdered in Juarez, Mexico several years ago, a project for which one of comics best draftspeople has developed a completely different form of digital art. Gloeckner's one of comics' best artists: her work is awesomely executed and revelatory nearly every time out of the gate. I have a personal reason to be relieved that this worked out in Gloeckner's favor, and I couldn't be happier for her or more anxious to see the final work.
You can see glimpses of what I believe is that artistic approach on this video.
I have no idea what the art included here is; I think it may be from a more traditionally drawn, earlier version of the same project or a similar one
Man Found In Comics Store Destroyed In Flames Remains A Mystery To Police
The Toronto Starfollows up on the fire that destroyed Hamlet Books in Etobicoke, Ontario over the weekend. It looks like the store had once been a comics shop but had more recently become a kind of makeshift home and repository of junk for its older owner, a man known simply as Abu. In fact, it looks like they're not even sure if he was the proper owner.
Michael Ramirez Wins 2008 Sigma Delta Chi Award For Editorial Cartooning
Recent Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Ramirez of Investor's Business Dailyhas picked up this year's editorial cartooning honor from the Sigma Delta Chi Awards. The awards are a professional society honor that are juried and like many such awards require the entrant to submit their work and provide a processing fee. They've been around for 75 years.
This wire story follows up on another retailer-in-legal-trouble incident that came up several months ago. This one kind of faded from sight placed squarely between the two horrific murder trials of former retailer Ronald Castree and the (expected to be appealed) conviction of prominent retailer and convention organizer Michael George. In this case, the devil is in the details, as George Newton Hampton Jr. was convicted on one of the charges facing him: taking a $17 check and manipulating it in some way so as to buy a great number of comics, purchasing some other material, and even paying some rent. It's tempting to want to make this a retailer in trouble/sign of the times story, but since Hampton had only been in operation for about a year, it's not likely to be that.
Another Reason Why Comic Book Shops Must Never Ever Go All The Way Away
Yesterday in a random comic shop's back issues bins I found the above, very readable and in-decent-condition issues of the World's Greatest Comic Magazine, each one for less than an issue of Marvel's newest crossover.
Not Comics: Ollie Johnston, Last of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” Passes Away
Mark Evanier and Jim Hill note the passing of the esteemed Disney character animator Ollie Johnston. Johnston was the last of the living "Nine Old Men" named by Walt Disney and then more widely recognized as a foundational aspect of the Disney company's rise to entertainment and cultural dominance in the 20th Century.
One of the things that will likely be lost as we climb further into the 21st Century is how much Disney's success story had an impact on all entertainment media in the previous 100-year set, and its particular influence over comics. Not only did Disney drive trends and sell comics of their own, the company and its founder and it prime movers were collectively the city on the hill for anyone with ambition of even minor mogul-hood or a successful career in the popular arts. Certainly the group of men that included Johnston were a contributing myth to the idea of men-behind-the-works and the notion of esteemed craftsmen working behind a velvet curtain, which at one time was a notion to which very few paid attention.
* Prix Bedelys Quebec: Danger public, Leif Tande and PhlppGrrd (La Pasteque)
* Prix Bedelys d'Or: Ryad-sur-Seine, Frederik Peeters and Pierre Dragon (Gallimard)
* Prix Bedelys Jeunesse -- Ville de Montreal: Les P'tits diables, Vol. 6, Olivier Dutto (Soleil)
More information and even photos for these festival awards can be found here. My memory of the French-language, Canadian wards is that Michel Rabagliati's win some four or five years ago really put him the consciousness of a lot of comics fans for the first time. Granted, my memory is really, really poor.
2008 Bedeis Causa Awards Nominees
* Pishier, Le marcheur anonyme (Mecanique generale)
* Pierre Bouchard, L'Ile-aux-Ours (Mecanique generale)
* Sampar, Capitaine Static (Quebec Amerique)
The vague parts of this article may raise an eyebrow with some; it certainly did with me. Although I'm sure the outline of the story is true -- about a 25-year-old comic book artist is being held on charges of what I infer without any endorsement of a legal interpretation one way or the other is having a physical relationship with a teenaged girl -- and that's awful, the fact that no pedigree is provided for the career or the types of comics made makes me wonder how many comics this person has drawn, or how prominently, and if the news story is being driven by wider cultural concerns more than for the incident itself.
* I hadn't seen this image from the new, annual version of the great Love and Rockets series, which has been put up to help solicit ads in the new publication. Speaking of that book's publisher, it's amazing how well the Fantagraphics bookstore has seemingly worked out for the company, and it's equally fascinating to note the general popularity of storefronts for alt-comics makers -- hey, three is a trend -- although for all I really know they'll all go away tomorrow. Right now, though, it seems to be working out. For one thing, it gives them a better platform from which to have sales.
* very, very quietly, the cartoonist Dan Piraro joins the ranks of those cartoonists running their own syndicated cartoons on their web sites. I'm not really sure how that works, but I imagine it's hoped the exposure and publicity gains offset anyone upset about the cartoon appearing in another venue. For most of us, though this is less of a wonky new media story and more of a "Hey, Free Bizarro!" story.
* Vampire Knight Vol. 4 joins the latest Naruto and Fruits Basket volumes on the USA Today best-sellers list. That Naruto volume continues an impressively slow week-to-week decline. The Naruto was a watched book because people wondered after the effect of last year's Naruto Nation promotion, where a bunch of Naruto volumes were moved through the marketplace in a short time in a way that some believed might risk fan burnout.
* whatever the Internet point and click version of "walk, don't run" might be, do that to download and listen to a three-hour interview with Gary Panter on the Inkstuds program -- or at least make arrangements to do so at some future date. There are few artists who combine that level of skill, that record of achievement and a generally excellent ability to talk about all things under the sun.
I just did a long interview with the great Lynda Barry for CR -- to be posted later this Spring -- and our back and forth was so freewheeling (and fun) and spiraled off into such personally satisfying areas that I thought it might be good to ground the end of it with some questions from some of you folks that might have one. Plus, I've never done that before, and it's one of the ten classic pop culture interview techniques. Lucky for me, Lynda agreed.
The nomination list for the 2008 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards represents the most diverse slate of titles and creators in the 20-year history of the awards (considered the "Oscars" of the comic book industry). The nominees range from literary Japanese graphic novels to comics based on popular TV series, from massive hardcover collections of classic comic strips and comic books to cutting-edge anthologies, from goofy humor titles to works about the Soviet space program, a Chinese vaudeville magician, and the Negro Leagues. In fact, the nominations are so varied that it is difficult to summarize any trends.
No one publisher or creator dominates this year's nominations, which were chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of judges. DC Comics, which has traditionally been at the top of the list, has 11 nods (+ 6 shared) for such titles as Brian K. Vaughan's Y the Last Man (Continuing Series, Penciller/Inker, Writer) and Darwyn Cooke's The Spirit (Continuing Series, Coloring, Lettering). Dark Horse has 12 nominations (+ 4), spearheaded by Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 (Continuing Series, New Series, Writer, Coloring) and Umbrella Academy (Limited Series, Cover Artist, Coloring). Also right up there is Marvel Comics, with 11 nominations (+ 2), with Stephen King's Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born garnering 4 of those (Limited Series, Penciller/Inker, Cover Artist, Coloring). Close behind is alt-comics publisher Fantagraphics, with 11 nominations, including 4 for the quarterly anthology Mome (two in Short Story, Anthology, Lettering) and 2 for the retro Fletcher Hanks collection I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!
Image Comics has 8 nominations (+ 1) for a wide variety of titles, while AdHouse Books has 6 (+ 1), including 4 for newcomer Fred Chao's Johnny Hiro (Single Issue, New Series, Humor Publication, Writer/Artist-Humor). Oni Press clocks in with 5 (+ 1) nominations, while Drawn & Quarterly has 5 (including 2 for Rutu Modan's critically acclaimed Exit Wounds). Companies with 4 nominations each are Renaissance Press (all for Jimmy Gownley's Amelia Rules!) , Sunday Press, Viz, and Scholastic (3 for Shaun Tan's wordless graphic novel The Arrival). Companies with 3 nominations each are Archaia, First Second, Hyperion, and Top Shelf.
Five creators have 4 nominations each: writer/artists Fred Chao and Jimmy Gownley, and writers James Sturm (3 of them for Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow), Brian K. Vaughan (for both Buffy and Y the Last Man), and Joss Whedon (for Buffy, Astonishing X-Men, and the online Sugarshock!). Only three other creators have more than 2 nominations: artist Jae Lee (Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born), writer/artist Shaun Tan (The Arrival), and writer/artist/editor Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library #18; Best American Comics 2007).
The judges added one new category this year, splitting the previous Best Title for a Younger Audience category into two: Best Publication for Kids and Best Publication for Teens, to reflect all the great material that is being produced for these audiences. All in all, this year's nominations are the most ever: 148 nominations in 29 categories (not including Hall of Fame).
Japanese comics and creators are particularly well represented on the ballot. In addition to 6 titles (instead of 5) being nominated in the Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material-Japan category, they can be found in the Short Story (2 nominees), Continuing Series (Naoki Urasawa's Monster), Publication for Kids, Archival Collection-Comic Books, Writer/Artist, and Penciller/Inker categories.
The 2008 Eisner Awards judging panel consists of John Davis (director of pop culture markets, Bookazine), Paul DiFilippo (SF and comics author), Atom! Freeman (owner of Brave New World Comics in Santa Clarita, CA), Jeff Jensen (senior writer, Entertainment Weekly), and Eva Volin (supervising children's librarian for the Alameda Free Library in Alameda, CA).
Ballots will be going out in late April to comics creators, editors, publishers, and retailers. A downloadable pdf of the ballot will also be available online, and a special website has been set up for online voting. Voting is already under way at www.eisnervote.com for one category, Hall of Fame, for which the judges chose the nominees in March. The deadline for voting in this category is April 18. The results in all categories will be announced in a gala awards ceremony on the evening of Friday, July 25 at Comic-Con International.
* go, bookmark: the Minneapolis Lutefisk Sushi show will have a third iteration, it's been announced on their site. Multiple contributors and a lot of Kevin Cannon this time around.
* the New York Magazine Book Reviewlooks at two immensely successful children's books that work in a hybrid comics form: The Invention of Hugo Cabret and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid volumes.
* Cyril Pedrosa muses on the graphic novel, providing a French industry perspective seldom heard in North American discussions of same.
* the comics business news and analysis site ICv2.com interviews the owners of Haven Distribution, formerly Cold Cut, about their ramp-up plans.
* Steve Saffel looks at plans for a major book publisher to do a non-returnable imprint, and what that may mean. I'm kind of confused by the marketing point. If as reported this imprint will be aimed at the Stephen Kings and Mitch Alboms of the prose worlds, I can't see it having an added benefit of marketing for those title -- that level of author is already heavily promoted and marketed because they're that level of author.
* not comics: Andy Heidel notes that the Harry Potter trial against a work that serves as commentary on Rowling's work is happening. The parallels to similar comics-related projects should be obvious, although I can't vouch for the legal connection.
Inside Outside Overlap is Billy Mavreas' forthcoming work from Timeless Books, and his first graphic novel. The collection of work from ascent magazine is told in a two picture next to two picture format I really can't duplicate here, but I think you'll get a sense of the story and the strength of the art in this five-visual preview.
Inside Outside Overlap, Billy Mavreas, Timeless Books, softcover, 88 pages, 9781932018202, May 2008, $13.95
Leah Hayes is one of about a dozen young cartoonists the alt-comics institution Fantagraphics has been nurturing over the past few decade. Her debut book Holy Moly was half-sketchbook, half-extended meditation on the act of drawing in class. The follow-up, Funeral of the Heart in one sense marks Hayes' graphic novel debut and in another stakes out prose/illustration territory some might not even consider to be comics. Done in entirely in scratchboard, Hayes' latest features spooky hand-lettered text and any number of evocative, compelling images. Not too shabby for the first major Fantagraphics artist to debut from the slush pile since (I think) Graham Chaffee. Hayes is also a talented musician, and I enjoyed asking her a few questions.
TOM SPURGEON: Was this kind of book what you had in mind when you attended art school, or has this style, this approach, developed in recent years?
LEAH HAYES: Neither books were something that were planned. But I was influenced by classmates of mine in college when I wrote Holy Moly, so a style did begin to form then.
SPURGEON: Your style on both Holy Moly and Funeral of the Heart kind of lies outside that of traditional comic books. Beyond your classmates, are comics a general influence on your work or do you come at comics from a different direction?
HAYES: Comics are a huge part of my life, and were when I was growing up as well. But I was always drawn to illustration, as opposed to sequential, paneled comics. I still have a hard time expressing stories in panels... I feel much freer when I can take up the whole page, and get across many ideas with one image.
SPURGEON: When you went to France after school, were you exposed to any of that country's art or rich comics scene that you specifically recall?
HAYES: Well, I went to France during school -- and then after -- so it was the time during school that I felt the presence of French comics. I speak French, but I couldn't understand everything about the storytelling... so it was actually an amazing experience reading "silent" comics like that. The art became very important to me.
SPURGEON: Am I right in remembering that you were a cold submission? What was the experience like of having that first book come out?
HAYES: Yes, it was a cold submission. I even read the Submission Guidelines and ignored them, because I thought that it was never going to be seen. I just sent a crappy-looking bunch of pages in an envelope. But it did get seen -- and I still can't believe it. I have no idea how it got from the mail pile to Gary Groth. Some super nice intern, maybe? I have to find that person and give them a medal. They really changed my life.
SPURGEON: How much are your comics and your music compartmentalized in terms of process and the daily working on it? Is there any way that you can describe how working on one element of your art might inform the other? Are there elements you think cross over between those two forms of expression?
HAYES: I'm still trying to figure out a way to answer this question for myself. I'm not sure there is an answer: at the time that I'm creating music or art, they don't connect very much. But in retrospect I see connections. And other people see connections. I write songs about what I'm sad about, and I draw comics about the same thing. But I can produce music faster, make more of it. It takes me years to draw a whole comic. I write songs every day, almost. I feel more at ease with music.
SPURGEON: When did you start to work in scratchboard? Did the project arise from the desire to work a certain way, or is working this way a decision you made based on the material?
HAYES: Scratchboard was accidental. I didn't know i would write a whole book with it. I had never used it before Funeral Of The Heart. It was just around in my house at the time, and I thought it would be a cool medium. I had no idea how intense working with it would be, though... I got a lot of clay and dust in my nose for two years.
SPURGEON: I'd love to know how you write. One can sometimes get a clue from someone's work what the process must have looked like, but with your work I have no idea. In "The Change," for instance, there's both a provocative central image -- the killing of geese -- and a compelling narrative ploy, the twist that makes tragic the protagonist's decision to switch careers. How much do you refine a story before it's fully executed?
HAYES: I'm as far from a writer as possible. I had barely ever written a story before Funeral. I'm not sure how to describe the process; they are all exact truths about how I feel about the subject at hand. The ducks aren't even metaphors, really. It's all true.
SPURGEON: How do you decide what to pull out and illustrate, and how to arrange to the text vis-a-vis those pictures? I just made the assumption that these are illustrated stories, but do the illustrations follow after text? How much refinement is there when it comes to the selection and placement of imagery?
HAYES: Well.. there were images that I created with scratchboard and then changed the story around the drawings, and then there were plot lines that I illustrated to fit the story. The craziest thing I did was draw a whole title page without any idea about what the story was going to be -- and then I wrote a story around that. That was probably a stupid idea, but the story turned out to be one of my favorites.
SPURGEON: Is that your natural handwriting in Funeral or is that a considered effect?
HAYES: That is how I write in real life.
SPURGEON: A recurring theme in your work is that people sometimes mishandle their gifts to tragic effect. Is that a concern of yours? For that matter, is your interest in these stories and others like them in the exploration of ideas, or being able to execute those ideas on a certain level or the process or another way of approach the work. Are there specific satisfactions to making comics or illustrations that is absent from making music?
HAYES: I'm not sure how to express my feelings of sadness and fear without doing it musically. But with comics, I often assume I don't have as much to say, and then when I start it all comes out. I am attracted to sadness and darkness in storytelling... and you can do that to some extent in songs, but there is a lingering sadness that you can create in drawing... In other words -- a song goes into the air and is gone, but a drawing sits there on the page and can haunt you until you have to look away. I like that.
SPURGEON: What's next for you, particularly comics- or illustration-wise?
HAYES: I am working on new things. Lots of songs, and different band side-projects.
* all images from Funeral of the Heart
Funeral of the Heart, Leah Hayes, Fantagraphics, 120 pages, 9781560978886 (ISBN13), March 2008, $14.95
On Friday afternoon, participating CR readers were asked to "Name Five Characters From Comics That Should Have a Mixed Drink Named After Them; Provide A Recipe For One Of The Drinks." Here are the results.
topic suggested by Jacob Covey
1. Happy Hogan
3. Crackerjack Jackson: 1 part homemade grain alcohol; 2 parts leftover liquid from cooking beans
4. Speedy Ortiz
5. Electric Blue Superman
1. Paranex The Fighting Fetus
2. Bizarro Lois Lane
3. Ice Cream Soldier
4. Dr. Manhattan
5. Captain Cold: Vodka, crushed ice, Blue Curacao. Serve extra cold, of course.
1. Pig Pen
2. Black Racer
3. Luther Ironheart
4. Princess Projectra
5. Clayface: bourbon and unheated hot fudge sauce
1. Red Tornado
2. Hate Monger
3. Cherry Poptart
5. Flaming Carrot: Pour a shotglass of Sambuca, a bit less than full. Add a touch of Orange Curacao for color. Light on fire. Down quickly while still lit to prevent alcohol from burning off. Do not use a plastic shotglass.
Zuvembie (a nonalcoholic zombie)
Grackleflint (there should always be drinks named things impossible to say when drunk)
The Mad Thinker: one shot Absinthe, one shot Pure Kentucky, mix with Red Bull
Harvey Pekar: wine, wine and more whine
1. Captain Boomerang
2. Uncle Creepy
3. Powerhouse Pepper
4. Fat Freddie's Cat
5. The Human Torch: In a shot glass, layer Wild Turkey bourbon on top of Bailey's Irish Cream. Top it with Bacardi 151 overproof rum. Ignite the rum. Let cook for a few minutes and then extinguish before drinking. Be careful. Really.
1. The Rhino
2. Buzz Sawyer
3. Pig Pen
4. The Ancient One
5. The Crimson Dynamo: Fill pint glass with ice, vodka. Add 3 drops red food coloring.
(it's okay this time; we'll split your second one between Elijah Brubaker and Don MacPherson)
Gentleman Ghost: 1 oz. Gentleman Jack, 1 oz. milk)
The Foolkiller: 1 oz. everclear, 1 oz. JÃ¤germeister, 1 oz. any gin that comes in a plastic gallon container) -- Best if drank while wearing hat with ridiculously long scarf tied to it.
1. The Crow
2. Swamp Thing
3. Silver Surfer
4. Human Torch
5. Hellblazer: 3 oz. single-malt whiskey, served neat.
Jamie S. Rich
1. Rheumy Peepers
2. Bleu Finnegan
3. Doop: something with cucumber infused vodka
4. Smoke Navigator: should be bourbon based
5. Knives Chau: 2 ounces sake, 1 ounce raspberry vodka, garnish with orange
1. Black Lightning
2. Harvey Pekar
3. Savage Dragon
4. Rose Tattoo
5. Dan Pussey: Raspberry Chambourd, Godiva, Coca Cola (all in equal measures), 3 tablespoons of sugar
1. Weather Wizard
2. Copper Calhoon
4. Snappy Sammy Smoot
5. Rorschach: Fill glass with 4oz highly chilled water (remove ice). Slowly pour 1oz Pernod into center of glass until the water turns cloudy and yellow. Add several eyedroppers of Blackberry Brandy at various points near the sides of the glass. Serve very cold.
1) Thirsty Thurston
2) Woozy Winks
3) Hairbreadth Harry
4) Gil Thorp
5) Farley Patterson: One part Canadian Club with one part the hair of the dog
Hon. Mention: Grog (from B.C.)
1. Snapper Carr
2. The Blue Diamond
3. Powerhouse Pepper
4. Captain Haddock
5. Cheryl Blossom: 1/2 oz. Cointreau, 1/4 oz. Baileys, 1/4 oz. Kahlua, 1/4 oz. Amaretto. Shake With Ice And Decorate With Strawberry.
1) The Mysterio - anything involving tequila
2) The Red Ghost - anything involving sweet vermouth or grenadine
3) The Black Bolt - dude, I don't even know
4) The Wrecker - um...
5) The Hammer & Anvil - 1 shot of sambuca, a dash of tabasco, and 1 shot of tequila.
Here's something I never understood. Why isn't having friends in a group you just slurred preferable to not having any friends in that group at all? I'm more likely to believe an alternate explanation for a slur from someone with close ties to the community than I would from someone who didn't.
ComicMix reports through the artist Bo Hampton that the writer Rob Maisch passed away in the small town of Copley, Ohio earlier this week. Copley is a small satellite town for Akron. The cited cause was cardiac problems.
Maisch was a writer in the Harvey Pekar tradition of doing short stories drawn from various periods in his life and then illustrated by a variety of artists. The first volume of Confessions of a Cereal Eater! included stories illustrated by both artist Hamptons, Bo and Scott. A subsequent volume published in 2003 found Maisch in partnership with the artists in a "Getting Published" class in the Sequential Art Department at Savannah College of Art & Design. The first volume was one of the better received volumes of the mid-1990s, garnering both Eisner and Harvey nominations. The series was published by NBM.
Jason Michelitch remembers the writer's work here.
Full list of nominees for the 2008 Shuster Awards, winners to be announced during a ceremony on June 14 in Toronto. The Shusters are named after artist Joe Shuster, the original artist for and co-creator of Superman. Their concentration should be fairly apparent from the awards category listings, although at this point early in the awards history the focus and flavor of the awards seems kind of all over the place, at least to me.
Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Writer
* Ian Boothby for Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror #13, Futurama #29, 31-33, Simpsons Comics #126, 128, 130, 134, 136 (Bongo)
* Cecil Castellucci for The P.L.A.I.N. Janes (DC/Minx)
* Maryse Dubuc for Les Nombrils 2: Sale Temps pour les Moches (Editions Dupuis)
* Jim Munroe for Therefore Repent (No Media Kings) Comics Festival! 2007 (Legion of Evil Press)
* phlppgrrd aka Philippe Girard for Danger public (La pasteque)
* Ty Templeton for Howard the Duck #1-3, Marvel Adventures The Avengers #17-19, She-Hulk #20-21 (Marvel Comics)
* J. Torres for The Black Canary Wedding Planner #1, Blue Beetle #15, Wonder Girl #1-4, Wonder Woman #11-13 (DC Comics), Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #1,2,5,6, Teen Titans GO! #39-50, The Batman Strikes #29, 34 (DC/Johnny DC), Ninja Scroll 5-7, 10, 12 (DC/Wildstorm), Degrassi TNG: Extra Credit Vols. 3-4 (H.P, Fenn Publishing Co.)
* Howard Wong for After the Cape #1-3, After the Cape II #1-2 (Image Comics)
Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Artist
* Dale Eaglesham for Justice Society of America #2-4, 6-7, 9-11 (DC Comics)
* David Finch for Moon Knight #7-8, Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #4: Spider-Man, Legion of Monsters: Morbius #1 (Marvel Comics)
* Tom Grummett for Exiles #100, Thunderbolts Presents Zemo: Born Better #1-4, Mystic Arcana: Black Knight #1 (Marvel Comics)
* Pia Guerra for Y the Last Man #55-59 (DC/Vertigo), Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror #13 (Bongo)
* Stuart Immonen for Ultimate Spider-Man #111-117, Marvel Comics Presents #1-4, Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #12 (Marvel Comics)
* Karl Kerschl for All-Flash #1, 52 #47 (DC Comics)
* Thierry Labrosse for Morea 5: La Brulure des Tenebres (Soleil Production)
* Jacques Lamontagne for Les Druides 3: La Lance de Lug, Les Contes de l'Ankou 3: Au Royaume des Morts (Soleil Production)
Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist
* Kaare Andrews for Spider-Man: Reign 2-4 (Marvel Comics)
* Pascal Blanchet for Bologne: Contes en 3 Actes Symphoniques (La Pasteque)
* Darwyn Cooke for The Spirit 2-6, 8-11 (DC Comics), Comics Festival! 2007 (Legion of Evil Press)
* Julie Doucet for 365 Days: A Diary (Drawn + Quarterly)
* Faith Erin Hicks for Zombies Calling (Slave Labor Graphics)
* Jeff Lemire for Essex County Vol. 1: Tales From The Farm, Essex County Vol. 2: Ghost Stories (Top Shelf)
* Bryan Lee O'Malley for Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Oni Press) Comics Festival! 2007 (Legion of Evil Press)
* Jean-Louis Tripp & Regis Loisel for Magasin Generale 3: Les Hommes (Casterman)
Outstanding Cover By A Canadian Comic Book Artist
* Scott Chantler for The Annotated Northwest Passage (ONI Press)
* Darwyn Cooke for The Spirit #2 (DC Comics)
* Dale Eaglesham for Justice Society of America #10 Variant (DC Comics)
* David Finch for X-Men #200 (Marvel Comics)
* Stuart Immonen for Ultimate Spider-Man #112 (Marvel Comics)
* Jacques Lamontagne for Les Contes de l'Ankou 3: Au Royaume des Morts (Soleil Production)
* Yanick Paquette for Ultimate X-Men #85 (Marvel Comics)
* Steve Skroce for Doc Frankenstein #6 (Burleyman)
* Cameron Stewart for The Other Side #5 (DC/Vertigo)
* Jean-Louis Tripp for Magasin Generale 3: Les Hommes (Casterman)
Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Colourist
* Blond for Avengers vs. Transformers #3 (Marvel Comics), Velocity: Pilot Season, Witchblade Manga Vols. 1-10, City of Heroes #18-30, Hunter Killer #11-12, Freshman II: Fundamentals of Fear #2-6, Madame Mirage #1 (Top Cow)
* Chris Chuckry for The Creeper #4-6, The Helmet of Fate -- Ibis the Invincible #1, The Helmet of Fate -- Sargon the Sorcerer #1, Countdown to Mystery #1-2, Simon Dark #1 (DC Comics), Red Sonja: Vacant Shell #1 (Dynamite), Code #2 (The Guardian Line), Legion of Monsters -- Man-Thing #1 (Marvel Comics), The Nightmare Factory OGN (Fox Atomic Comics), L'Histoire Secrete Vols. 8-9 (Delcourt), Empire Vols. 2-3 (Delcourt)
* Maryse Dubuc for Les Nombrils 2: Sale Temps pour les Moches (Editions Dupuis)
* Nathan Fairbairn for Annihilation Conquest - Star-lord #1-4, Marvel Illustrated: The Illiad #1 (Marvel Comics), Witchblade 110-111 (Top Cow Comics)
* Lovern Kindzierski for Hellboy Vol. 7: The Troll Witch and Others (Dark Horse) Joe & Max #4-5, The Seekers #1 (The Guardian Line)
* Francois Lapierre for Magasin Generale 3: Les Hommes (Casterman)
* Dave McCaig for Nextwave, Agents of H.A.T.E. #12, New Avengers #27-35, Fallen Son -- The Death of Captain America #1: Wolverine, Marvel Comics Presents #1-4, Wolverine #50, Avengers Classic #7 (Marvel Comics) DC Infinite Halloween Special #1 (DC Comics), The Other Side #4-5 (DC/Vertigo) Stephen Colbert's Tek Jensen #1 (ONI Press)
* Ronda Pattison for Fallen Angel 15-16 (IDW), Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures #7-10, Star Wars: Legacy #8, Star Wars Dark Times #2-5 (Dark Horse Comics), Atomic Robo #1-3, (Red 5 Comics)
Outstanding Canadian Publisher
* Arcana Studio
* Conundrum Press
* Drawn & Quarterly
* Mecanique Generale
* La Pasteque
* Red 5 Comics
Three "favourites" categories can be voted on by fans at the awards program web site. The category of "Outstanding Achievement By A Canadian Related To Comic Books" and four inductees into the "Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame" have yet to be announced.
Garry Trudeau doesn't do a whole lot of interviews; in fact, I don't think I recall him ever doing a really, really long one, and I know that he politely declined to interview with The Comics Journal on more than one occasion. This profile in Trudeau launching platform Yale Daily News that seems to be driven by a rare multi-topic interview ends up being a bit more noteworthy for the rarity of such material. Again, the most fascinating stuff is about the Iraq war strips, with Trudeau himself making the point about how much his perspective has changed from the BD and Nguyen Van Phred's "commonality of enemies" storyline to the more recent involved thread with BD being injured and Iraq and his long road to recovery.
* the Fantagraphics site has a sneak preview of its Amors Y Cohetes release, the last of seven volumes in the shockingly awesome paperback, reduced-sized reprinting of the entirety of Love and Rockets Volume One. If you had asked me ten years ago if I would have preferred giant hardcovers or another complete series reprint I would have gone with the former 100 times out of 100 and I would have been wrong that many times. A great series, and you should own them all.
* not comics: the comics editor Jason Rodriguez is among those who feels an affinity for those sharing his name. I sometimes wonder if other Tom Spurgeons google their names and get mad at me because they feel my tendency to write about comics reflects poorly on them.
Mike Luckovich has won his second consecutive editorial cartooning award from The Week magazine, as part of their Opinion Awards program. He is the only repeat winner from 2007. The winners were honored at a dinner on April 8, and were selected by a panel of 25 from a nominee list compiled by the publication's senior editors.
The Lulu Awards, a program devoted to the contribution of women in comics organized by the advocacy group Friends of Lulu, will move from its traditional Comic-Con International weekend gathering to New York and the MoCCA Festival in 2008. It does so with the help of new, major sponsors. That makes this year's ceremony the evening of June 7. The sponsors are IDW, DC Comics and Archie Comics. I hope this means they'll finally give one of those career contribution awards to Francoise Mouly.
The comics business news and analysis site ICv2.com has a short piece up on DC's plans to release a new Watchmen hardcover that looks to be priced somewhere between the deluxe Absolute edition and the super-popular editions that have sold for years and years off of DC's backlist. This would be in part to catch the run-up to the 2009 film, one would have to guess. One thing a lot of folks I've talked to are interested in seeing is if Watchmen, a publishing phenomenon for two decades now for its consistent high sales year to year, will see any effect from the usual reduction in book sales that comes after a movie version is released.
That's work from a book by "Roy" from the original Mickey Mouse Club, a large, friendly older man whose jarring appearance in the squeaky clean and mostly pre-teen line-up was many a person of my generation's first attempt to articulate our reaction, Jerry Seinfeld-style, to a pop culture absurdity.
* Marc Sobel continues his march through the greatest comic book series of all-time, Love and Rockets Vol. 1, with a look at issue #31. If I remember my L&R correctly, this is either the end or near the end of a very specific period in that title's publication history, where Los Bros were really mixing effective and ambitious long-form series with a slew of killer short stories, like "Tear It Up, Terry Downe," "Frida Kahlo" the transcendent "Flies On The Ceiling" and this issue's "Spring 1982." Man, what a comic book.
* the cartoonist and magazine editor Mike Manley sums up the last couple of days of his Babymen Essays. The money quote: "If you are 30 years old and angry that some cartoon on TV isn't getting the character right because it's aimed at kids, designed for kids -- then you have a serious fucking problem, and the cartoon is the least of it!"
* people are still talking about The Brave and the Bold, using as a springboard an out-loud comment by a prominent blogger as to the series' sales decline and the release of the new trade. Don MacPherson provides an overview. John Jakala suggests that maybe people aren't buying it because it has a lot of problems. I still think the more interesting question may be why anyone is asking the question in the first place.
* because of my misspent youth, I probably carry a superior rating in "Marvel superhero comics released between 1974 and 1980 including all appearances of The Shroud" but would rate only an adequate at best in "duck comics from mid-20th Century." Therefore, I found this interview with Jack Hannah about Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold to be well worth a read.
* the author and early 20th Century print champion Nicholson Baker writes about Wikipedia and seems to argue that the webcomics purge from a couple of years back was a sign of a cultural shift within the community that keeps and supports that site.
* finally, here's something not comics: a writer recants his own blurb writing on behalf of a book he later read and didn't like. Once upon a time, recommendations within comics and endorsements on covers used to be the only way outside of The Comics Journal that alt-comix fans found out about other great comics to read, a practice that devolved in the 1990s to a more crass, glad-handing exchange of PR benefits.
Seattle Times Parting Ways With Editorial Cartoonist Eric Devericks?
As much as Michael Ramirez's win in the Pulitzer Prize balloting and his subsequent call for a greater value to be placed on more substantive cartooning were bracing news with which to start the week, this hump-day item may be almost as deflating. Alan Gardner reports that Eric Devericks may be out at the Seattle Times unless enough staffers voluntarily leave their jobs and, one assumes, accepts whatever severance package that's being offered to them. The Times is a huge, market-leading newspaper, so for them to be seeking such severe cuts and for one of those cuts to be their cartoonist can be seen as a sign that almost no one in a staffed cartooning position is particularly safe, not anymore.
Brian Hibbs kicks a Wizard anniversary article on the biggest news stories since 1991 in the nads not once but twice -- once for writing about the speculator boom and bust while ignoring their own direct role in that extended fiasco, another time for writing without irony about the creation of Image Comics and the Death of Superman in the same way that earlier press coverage of same also contributed to the speculation boom and bust. This is just as darkly hilarious and also as frustrating as Hibbs indicates. As much as people like to crack on The Comics Journal, they'd likely never publish an article about, say, the coarsening of comics dialog on message boards and completely ignore their own potential culpability in that enterprise. Also, Hibbs reminds us that the magazine likely used inside information to profit on sales of Captain America #25.
Christian Maiwald from Reprodukt writes in to note his new comics blog, notably one that's not centered in the thriving French-language market but on the unique and under-explored German one.
"Along with fellow small press publishers Edition Moderne, Edition 52 and avant-verlag we have started a German language news-blog about graphic novels to meet the growing interest in this kind of comics that we see in Germany[...] Big publishers try how well GNs work and have published The Complete Maus and Fun Home here and the press is continuously very interested in all things GN. So things are in motion and we try to follow what's going on there."
One to bookmark for sure -- link through the image.
* go, bookmark: Smith MagazinelaunchesNext-Door Neighbor Webcomix, curated by Dean Haspiel.
* yet another discussion on how to fix the comic book Direct Market of comic book and hobby shops. Most of these discussions tend to be vague and unrealistic, full of "they need to do this" solutions which could only happen with the application of resources far beyond such shops, individually and collectively. One reason for the disconnect between reality and potential reality, I think, is that in metaphorical terms the DM isn't broken and in need of fixing as much it is unhealthy and in need of healing. Even then, there are some entities for whom the current DM set-up works very, very well.
Improving the Direct Market becomes problematic in that there's likely no immediate, perceivable gain in correcting a lot of the harmful behavior. To look at one potential strategy of many, I'm of the mind that in the long run the DM would be healthier if the big publishers didn't flood and then starve the market from week to week by piling on certain releases in certain weeks and then not having any of that kind of release in other weeks. What I mean is that if there are 14 X-Men titles, there are weeks when 11 of those books come out and then weeks when one comes out. This has happened for years and years. While it's hard to prove this has an impact on sales, or to quantify said impact, it's inconceivable that a smarter, more balanced release schedule wouldn't allow retailers the chance to better sell those titles to their respective fans at the moment of initial publication. At the same time, some of the worst categories in terms of this abuse sell very well, and a loose publishing schedule allows all sorts of breathing room in the process at both the publishing and distribution levels that's probably a lot easier for industry folks to qualify, at least on an anecdotal basis. It's a tough situation.
* this has to be most dreary way to always look at the world. I hadn't once thought of Ramirez' political affiliation when reading about his Pulitzer win; he just seems to me a fine, effective cartoonist.
* the writer Ian Brill has the same question about Marvel's viral marketing efforts that I do: how should the fact that they're using these to push an almost guaranteed publishing hit change our perception of the strategy's effectiveness. I think this kind of question is important in that a lot of the coverage of marketing efforts that's out there seems to think that recognizing some instance of innovation or celebrating a certain kind of placement is news in and of itself.
Michael Ramirez Hopes His Pulitzer Win Is A Boon For Substantive Cartooning
The Michael Ramirez Pulitzer Prize win announced yesterday is a great story in a lot of ways. For one, Ramirez is one of the prominent staffers that was forced from the Los Angeles Times a couple of years ago during that paper's mid-decade heaves and shifts; his second prize is thus linked to his current gig at Investor's Business Daily. The most encouraging might have been this interview and profile and Editor & Publisher where Ramirez -- who has been killing in the awards this year -- makes a call for more substantive editorial cartooning. This stands in contrast to last year's much more wonky and frankly depressing talk that everyone needed to do successful animations in order to be seriously considered for the Prize.
Alan Gardner jumped from the gate like a classic speed horse with a bunch of posts yesterday, pointing out some of the other memorable element of this year's awards, namely Tom Batiuk's finalist status -- a rarity for a strip cartoonist and coming off his impressive year with a well-received cancer-driven storyline -- and Clay Bennett's remarkable consistency.
Diamond has announced a list of winners for its 2007 Diamond Gem Awards, an award designed to honor success in the Direct Market of comic book and hobby sales and voted on by Diamond's retail accounts. Such notable sales successes as Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight #1, Captain America #25, Naruto Vol. 14 and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier were awards winners. One of the more interesting categories in past Gem Awards announcement has been the best new publisher category, because it indicates someone that's having some success or at least seems headed in that direction. This year it went to Red 5 Comics. DC Comics and IDW won the other major publisher categories. The DC might strike some as odd given some of their sales struggle in recent months.
The Argyle Sweater Launches Into National Syndication With 130 Clients
New panel The Argyle Sweaterdebuts with an extremely impressive launch number -- not record-threatening, but certainly more than enough to indicate a potential hit and to be as crass about it as possible I would guess almost certainly at a sales level to bring its cartoonist a comfortable middle class living right off the bat (barring something strange about the pricing). A couple of things leap out at me. First, I don't remember a panel launching this well in a long while. Second, Scott Hilburn's feature was one of those developed through Comics Sherpa and then on through to the GoComics site before reaching the formal, print launch point.
The comics business news and analysis site provides the best summary on the terms of Borders' financing deal with investor Pershing Square Capital Management, which I suppose may provide hope of an eventual positive outcome for the troubled big-box bookstore giant and major manga and comics buyer. One thing they point out that I hadn't realized is that PSCM has a significant stake in Barnes and Noble and that this could lead them to encourage a merger.
I don't cover a lot of mainstream comics publishing news through this site, but I wanted to draw attention to this story about the writers Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker and the artist David Aja ending their run on Marvel's Immortal Iron Fist with issue #16 for a couple of reasons. One is that it was a solid superhero book that I sense a lot of older and longtime readers enjoyed. Fraction and Brubaker took the exploitation-era character and basically plopped him into an eternal warrior context, a fantasy trope that I for one couldn't recall anyone having done in significantly affecting fashion with a well-known character before. The result was an adventure comic that wore its influences on its sleeve, and a diverting pulp read, the kind of self-contained comic book with only a wave and kiss for the turgid past through which Marvel kick-started its early-'80s sales renaissance.
The other reason this story kind of popped for me is this: vocational issues. I kind of expected Aja to leave, because in these strongly sales-stratified time he had the skills of an artist who could be holding down a much more lucrative assignment. Fraction and Brubaker leaving surprised me save for the fact that both of them have more work on their plates than they can probably comfortably handle, too. What I find additionally compelling about such issues coming to bear is is that it changes the way I look at the book overall. While the groundwork was there for one of those pretty good, satisfying superhero runs of the kind I would have adored as a late pre-teen, as the current creative team leaves the book remains kind of half-baked, primarily in that it doesn't have the grounding in character that most of Marvel's post-Kirby effective runs use to find a place in that company's post-1980 pantheon. For instance, when in a recent issue a joke was made about the lead having a plan and this fact making everyone around him nervous, we don't really know enough about the character for this to make us laugh as well except that we're obviously supposed to because of the way that information is presented.
Well, it's compelling to me, anyway.
To be honest with you, I like short runs on mainstream titles. I don't buy or keep a lot of mainstream American comic books, and having them over with quickly allows for me to pick up the whole group at a later date, usually for less than $1 a book. The book's new creative team is profiled here.
* the artist and magazine editor Mike Manley writes a blistering essay on how the people complaining about a new cartoon for kids are "bitter bee babymen" who can't let go of these characters even in a situation that's not aimed at their proclivities. Instead of backing off, he re-emphasizes this point in broader and stronger strokes with a mini-essay dedicated to the subject, complete with this piece of brutal, funny art.
* the writer J. Caleb Mozzocco notices how despite all their editorial summits and editor-driven crossovers, there are still inexplicable goofs in the wider stories that Marvel sometimes chooses to tell. Although I doubt anyone cares much these days, this kind of thing would have driven me insane at 10 years old.
* the writer Douglas Wolk vs. the writer David Hajdu at The New Republic on issues swirling around Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague.
With the New York Comic-Con scheduled for roughly the same weekend (I think) as last year's judge get-together, I'd be surprised if the Eisner nominations round wasn't the weekend just past or the weekend forthcoming.
New Order Filed Last Monday In Siegels Vs. DC Superboy/Superman Cases
Late last week the ever-vigilant Jeff Trexler caught this March 31 order (PDF). It basically orders, in the light of the recent awarding of partial copyright to the heirs of Jerry Siegel, that the two sides spend 60 days trying to settle and then report to the court on those negotiations. If that fails, a trial has been set starting November 4. Because the Superboy case will feel a significant impact from whatever happens in the Superman case, that issue has been set aside until the trial is concluded (or an arrangement that avoids trial is met). As you may recall, the family of the late writer and co-creator of Superman, Jerry Siegel, has also pursued a case against the comics giant and its media conglomerate owner over the Superboy character. In fact, a win during the course of that equally long, drawn-out legal proceeding had a likely impact on the way the company has recently used the Superboy character in the comics and on at least one of the spin-off cartoon shows.
Police in London took down an anti-gambling poster that made use of a Pat Oliphant cartoon featuring former President Bill Clinton. The shape of the apology makes me think that in addition to it being a really bad idea to inject that kind of political commentary into a civic campaign, even by accident, when the world is watching the US presidential primaries, it doesn't look like they had permission to use the image that way.
My prose book reading and industry following pals can't stop talking about this story, where Hyperion Books President Robert Miller is going to set up at HarperCollins with a new imprint that will go against standard book publishing practices in a variety of ways. One assumes that this has a chance at some point to include comics, as it's a successful category right now -- although this imprint is expected to go after Mitch Albom/Stephen King-level sales dynamos, and I'm not sure any cartoonist quite fit that profile yet. If the imprint works, it will certainly lead to a ripple effect that will at some point encompass some comics publishing. It's also reminiscent of some ways the comics industry works right now. Among the elements of the new imprint that have tongues wagging are that it will feature non-returnable books, marketing will focus on the Internet rather than buying book space, and there will be profit sharing rather than big advances.
* BDZoomprovides a deadline for the Prix Raymond Leblanc, 2007-2008. It offers an over $15,000 cash prize and provides for re-publication of the winning work. I think more American awards should give away cash. Right now there's only one that I can think of, and it's a mini-comics prize. If they paid in cash and only to the winner, attendance at comics awards would probably go up.
* the New York Comic-Con panel schedule is up now in PDF form. On first glance, that looks like a pretty interesting suite of presentations, with a great deal of wonky subject matter, how-to talk and industry nattering thrown in among the more obviously promotional programming. NYCC gears up not this Friday but the Friday afterwards.
* I have to admit, I'm greatly confused by the amount of energy expended on trying to figure out why The Brave and the Bold hasn't been a bigger hit with readers. Frankly, I'd be baffled if it were a hit -- and that's an opinion that has nothing to do with the comic's merits.
* the French-language comics industry site ActuaBD.com has a bit more on Enki Bilal's efforts on behalf of the nation of Tibet.
* expect a lot more about Free Comic Book Day as it approaches May 3. It's a fun thing to talk about because of the promotion's uneven endorsement by various stores (some are enthusiastic, some are grudging, some don't participate) and what you can read into each publisher's choice of what to showcase. At left is the cover to D&Q's offering.
* I don't ever recall seeing an interview with the Flex Mentallo and All-Star Superman artist Frank Quitely, which I'm guessing means this is a rare thing and I don't read enough interviews.
* exclusivity contracts -- contracts that guarantee that a certain portion if not all of a creator's works come from one company, in exchange for a guaranteed rate/amount of work and perhaps health insurance and other incentives -- are pretty common in mainstream comics, but they're usually seen with Marvel and DC, not with a publisher like IDW. I would assume like many of the Big Two contracts of the same sort that this contract with artist Ben Templesmith doesn't extend to work like his Image book with Warren Ellis, Fell, and he'll be allowed to continue it. And I see a couple of hours later that this is so.
* there are bound to be a few articles out there that compare Marvel's latest crossover Secret Invasion with the older DC crossover with similar themes, Millennium, but I doubt many will be this thorough.
Tim Leong, Laura Hudson and their army of contributors just released the second issue of the magazine Comic Foundry, a publication that stands out among recent attempts at comics magazine launches for its combination of DIY roots and relatively sophisticated look, including color. Tim and I spoke last year when his first attempt to distribute through Diamond Comic Distributors was rebuffed, and since he's still standing, or at least still putting issues out, I thought it worth a second conversation. I liked the second issue of Comics Foundry just fine, although other than the Matt Fraction cover interview, I'm not sure there was enough there that I would seek it out if I weren't a comics obsessive and writing about them every day. On the other hand, maybe I'd be more of the magazine's target audience if I weren't reading about comics all the time anyway. I appreciate Tim taking time to answer my questions.
TOM SPURGEON: Where the hell did you come from, anyway? I can't even remember when you showed up on the comics scene, let alone what you did before. I get the sense that you had a New York magazine publishing job, but other than that, nothing. Were you a comics reader growing up?
TIM LEONG: Ha. I was a big comics reader as a kid, back in the '90s boom of X-Men #1, X-Force and foil covers. Jim Lee was totally my hero. I was big into the comic cards. Marvel Universe Series 1 anyone? But like a lot of people I eventually moved on to other things.
SPURGEON: Did you go to school for design?
LEONG: I actually went to the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. I started out as a reporter and I soon realized it was not what got my toes a tappin'. I was working at a student paper at the time and switched over and started doing newspaper layout instead. I worked at a few different papers in college and at an alternative weekly magazine. I was primarily doing layout work but I had to work as a reporter at the same time -- it was right when we invaded Iraq and I was primarily doing sidebar content for war stories. So even though I was toiling in editorial a bit my passion was always in design and it's where I was much more successful. I won a bunch of awards including "College Designer of the Year," which helped get me to New York and doing page design and art direction at Men's Health magazine. I'm full-time as the deputy art director at Complex Magazine now, but both places taught me so much about the relation between art and edit and how to communicate concepts clearly. The experience is invaluable and the print version of Comic Foundry would not exist without it.
SPURGEON: What got you to the point where you first showed up on-line?
LEONG: I had a cousin who went to the Kubert school and in 2003 we were talking comics and I decided to check out Midtown Comics since it was right across the street from my office. I remember it perfectly -- The Strokes were playing in the background, I went up to new issue shelf and saw this crazy Tony Harris cover to Ex Machina #2 with this skeleton Abe Lincoln. It was so graphical I bought it without even flipping through and I was just hooked after that. I was so inspired I bought the original cover art to have as a reminder. After that I was back in and trying to catch up on the 10 years I missed. Soon after I had the idea for a Web site with a friend that was an educational and community site for aspiring comic artists and writers. This was back in the Friendster boom and it made sense to me back them. Eeesh. So we had the site but to help draw people in we did 3-5 articles and interviews a week. It turned out that the interviews were what people were more interested in -- me included -- and that's the part that really took off. I had the idea for turning it into a magazine the whole time, we just weren't ready for it yet.
And this is actually the third version of Comic Foundry Magazine. We had the online version, but I also created a mock-up version that I tried pitching to Top Shelf a few years back. They passed and rightly so. I wasn't close to being ready to run it properly, nor did I have the right concept in mind. So I think failing at that definitely helped prepare me for succeeding with the current version.
SPURGEON: Remind us what the final outcome was on getting your first issue out and distributed. How did it do?
LEONG: Yeah, we were initially rejected from Previews from Diamond last year, but after a huge outcry of support from readers and the industry we struck a compromise and lowered our price and Diamond relented. And honestly they've been great. We got a bunch of reorders on the first issue. I have nothing to really compare them to since it's our first issue, but I see it as a good thing. We made our money back on issue #1 which I think is an accomplishment on its own. We were also in a tricky spot with issue 1 because we wanted to debut at the San Diego Comic Con as an exclusive, and then go in stores in September. So, we had to do a print order before we actually had numbers from Diamond. It was a pretty terrible business decision because we were printing blind but it all worked out in the end. So far at least.
SPURGEON: Looking back now, how do you look upon the problems you had with getting the first issue out and getting it carried by Diamond? Do you see it as a still screwed-up thing, or a learning experience, or something that was unavoidable or what?
LEONG: You have to look at it as a learning experience. Absolutely. You can't hold a grudge or anything like that -- it's just business. Diamond has to protect their interests and I have to protect mine. But honestly? That whole fiasco did more good than harm. We got a ton of coverage out of it and it made more people aware of our book than if I'd orchestrated some big PR scheme. Nothing gets people more motivated than a perceived wrong-doing. So while I was pretty upset about it at the time, I can certainly appreciate the outcome now.
SPURGEON: How do you see the first issue in terms of its content and aesthetic achievements? What didn't work that you won't do again?
LEONG: I'm tremendously proud of the first issue. I think we did a lot with the black and white aesthetic and got some really interesting stories that were never going to appear in other publications. Visually, issue 1 was an interesting challenge. Black and white can be very limiting but I tried to play it to our advantage as much as possible by trying to design with shape and negative space. But, there are also some stories you can't run in black and white. The prime example is actually from our first issue where we did a spotlight on these cool Voltron-inspired sneakers from Reebok. They had one shoe for each color lion, but it's pretty much pointless to run a photo of them when you can't tell the blue shoe from the red shoe when it's all grayscale.
Looking back, one thing that didn't quite jive with me was that we defaulted to an interview style in too many stories. I think it's very typical in today's blogging world and that's where we culled a lot of our writers from. That and hell, it's just easier to type up a Q and A than it is to have a written-through story. So, I want to make sure we're pushing ourselves with our content -- me included. There's certainly less this issue and I'd expect less in future issues. Things like tone and story diversity takes time to settle into. I think with each issue we're closer to the vision. Issue #2 certainly isn't perfect but we're well on our way.
SPURGEON: So color is probably the most important step from #1 to #2.
LEONG: Color has always been the plan. To be ridiculously cliche, black and white was part of the journey, never the destination. I think the color will do three main things for us going forward. One, we'll be more attractive to advertisers and two, we'll sell better. I've seen signs of both already, so I think the wheels are in motion. The third is acquiring newsstand distribution outside of comic stores. This magazine is perfect for new readers of comics, and we're not really capitalizing on the content if we're only reaching people already inside comic stores. That, and it'd make it really hard for us to feature colorists if we only ran black and white.
SPURGEON: How much did the change to color alter your work making the magazine? What possibilities did it open up for you? What production steps are different in doing a color magazine?
LEONG: The big thing was that I had to completely redesign the book. The heart of the design is there, but with a lot of tweaks. The issue 1 design was created specifically for black and white and the styles we had in place simply did not work in color. So when I redesigned the inside I figured it was an appropriate time to tweak the logo as well. I wasn't happy with the logo on issue 1 and had more cons than pros, and now was pretty much the only appropriate time to redesign it. If I'd waited there'd be all this weird brand confusion to the readers.
The major difference production-wise was adjusting the color palette on the interior pages. I wasn't sure how a lot of the colors would look in print, so I had to play with the CMYK breakdowns for the safest printing outcomes. Now that we've got the issue back I can see how different colors print and I can adjust the percentages so the colors are more representative to what's in my head. The other big time suck was manually converting all the images to the right format and then also color-correcting each one as well.
Color also helped organize the editorial in a much clearer way. Each section is now color-coded so it helps provide a solid way to help separate the sections. It's an old trick that a ton of publications use -- the classic example is USA Today. Overall, the color is such a great storytelling device that it makes the content much more approachable and understandable. It lets you add different levels of emphasis to text and allows you to create a more interactive page design with the readers. And anything that helps get the reader into the content is OK in my book. Literally.
SPURGEON: What's been the reaction to the color so far?
LEONG: The one thing I keep hearing is, "It looks like a real magazine!" Which is just hilarious to me. What does that say about our market when people are so shocked that it looks professional? A real magazine? Were they expecting it to look like a fake magazine? I don't know, but yeah, the response has been great. We've already had interest from possible advertisers based purely on the buzz, which is a fantastic sign.
SPURGEON: What's been the reaction from advertisers? Is the magazine self-supporting right now? How many does it have to sell to break even?
LEONG: Oh, it's already broken even on issue #2. Well, the print-run is paid for at least. We had a bigger initial purchase order and better ad sales so it's Thundercats Go so far. Selling ads for this issue was a bit difficult, mostly because I really only had the black and white copies of issue 1 to show advertisers. I made the initial financial investment on issue 1 but yes, we're completely self-supported. Financially, the one down-side to going color is that it's more costly. We had to go down a teensy bit in page count to help offset the cost and we're technically making less per issue, but I think in the long run it'll pay off many times over.
SPURGEON: Tell me about your editorial process in terms of collecting articles. Do you assign piece, seek to marry pieces to writers, or solicit ideas from writers? None of those? All three?
LEONG: All the above, but with much more prominence on assigning pieces. I probably come up with about 75 percent of the story ideas in the issue. Laura Hudson, my right hand man and senior editor, comes up with the majority of the rest, with a smaller percentage of pitches from writers. It's hectic but it'll probably stay like that for the next few issues until people can really understand the vision and tone of the mag.
As far as where our ideas come from? I've got a pretty big RSS list and we go through all the monthly solicitations and talk with a lot of publicists to see what's coming out in our time frame. The one thing that hurts us is that we're a quarterly magazine, so it's hard to stay timely when you're working so far in advance. A lot of publishers don't have materials ready for some of the books in the later end of time frame, so sometimes it's difficult properly covering some of those books. I also go through anywhere between 30 and 50 magazines a month, just to see what's out there and see how they deal with different types of content. A lot of ideas come from there -- just looking at a magazine that has nothing to do with comics and reading a story that has even less to do with comics and just looking at it and asking yourself, "How can I make this relate?" I'll tear out stories I think are cool and page designs that are inspiring and tape them to my walls. When people come over they think I'm a crazy person because I have all these random magazine pages and newspaper scraps covering my walls.
I really value Laura's input and I like to bounce ideas off her before we start assigning stuff out. It's great to have smart people around you with different tastes and who don't always agree with you. Sometimes my ideas are too crazy and she helps reign me back in. Anyway, once an idea is floating around we'll decide if either one of us wants to write it and if not we'll go over who is best-suited and available. Then we'll get a draft back from the writer, do an edit, have them revise, do another edit and then we'll send it to our copy editor and then it goes on page.
LEONG: In the magazine we cover the actual comics and we also cover how comics affect your lives -- the culture side of things. It's only in today's day and age that comics are so "mainstream accepted" -- at least more so than before -- that there's enough content around for us to cover it. And LARPing is part of that. No, it's not a direct tie to comics. But it's a shared interest in a lot of readers. Our magazine covers a very diverse content base. We're not just a superhero book. We're not just an indie book. We're not just a manga book. Not everything is 100 percent applicable to everyone, but part of the point of the magazine is to show we have more alike than we have different. Granted, LARPing is a bit outside the core demographic, but I think it's nice to occasionally color outside the lines as long as you can still tell what the picture is.
SPURGEON: But isn't doing articles on LARPs and Battlestar Galactica exactly the same kind of pandering that Wizard does, just with fewer boobies and less smirking? Isn't this just padding your magazine with related fantasy material in order to try and sell more copies? If it is, as you say, part of the wider culture that comics touches, why are you defining that culture in such narrow, 1970s terms as "related heroic fantasy"?
LEONG: Trust me, if I was really trying to sell more copies, I'd do a feature on something much more sexy than guys who dress up as lions, tigers and bears, oh my. I don't think LARPing is a coverline people are really aching for -- and wasn't even a coverline for us. We covered it not because we needed to pad an issue -- if anything we had to cut content -- it's because LARPing is a subculture within our comics subculture. And yes, I guess you could call it, as you say, "related heroic fantasy," but it's just one issue. I can guarantee you won't find a LARP feature in the next mag. It certainly doesn't define our content. There are a lot of subcultures within comics and I look forward to exploring all of them.
SPURGEON: Let me ask you something that's been bothering me since I read your second issue. What is the value to comics in trafficking in cool? I like Matt Fraction's work -- should I really give a shit if he's a cool, young guy in addition to just enjoying his talent? What is the value to comics to looking cool?
LEONG: I mean, is it better if we try to convey the idea that comics are uncool? Where does that get us? The comics medium is on a pretty good roll with the mainstream media right now -- we've all read the same lame stories that comic books are en vogue right now. Listen, I've always thought comics were cool and that's how I'm choosing to represent the medium. I'm sure the guys at Wizard thinks comics are cool but they're certainly not selling that concept to readers. All we're doing is trying to treat comics like any other contemporary magazine would treat the niche they cover. The next issue of Wired isn't going to say, "Technology. Eh, it's just OK." Treating comics as cool is our manifestation of our love for comics. It's less about us trying to sell the idea that comics are cool and more that Comics are cool and we're just covering them.
The other thing is, one of the core philosophies of the mag is to draw in new readers. For us to truly be successful in the medium, we're going to have to do more than just poach readers from Wizard and TCJ. We need to draw in new people and "Comics are Uncool" is a pretty poor pitch, I think.
SPURGEON:Tim, I know you to be a bright guy, but are you really suggesting that your only two options for general sales strategies are "comics are cool" or "comics are uncool"? Seriously? And if you're using cool to sell your magazine, how is that any different from any other cynical ploy, say one from the past like "comics are really valuable."
LEONG: Well obviously these really aren't are sales strategies, Tom. Comics are cool really isn't a main selling point â€” it's our approach to content. We approach comics with the mindset that they do kick ass and then write stories with that attitude. It's all about tone. Wizard has its lowest common denominator tone, and we have ours. We want to speak to our readers like they're normal people, not perpetual 13-year-olds. We think our readers are cool and that's how we choose to speak to them. It's not that we're trying to find the most salable approach, it's that we're trying to find the tone we think comics readers deserve -- and it just happens to be marketable.
SPURGEON:Are there dangers along the lines that if you emphasize cool, you end up with art form that favors young, personable, photogenic people instead of a meritocracy based on talent? Every time I read about book coverage, I see photos from a party with a whole bunch of idiotic twenty-somethings at a launch party, and it just beats any interest in buying new work right out of me.
LEONG: Ha. I can certainly understand what you mean about the parties. I'm sure creators are automatically behind anytime they go to a party. Myself included -- it took me days to dig myself out of a work hole after our launch party. But the big reason for us to have them and attend them, besides the obvious networking and publicizing, is that there's a very strong comics community here. And in this digital age where people shut themselves in and work at home, it's nice for people to come out with their creative peers. I'm a big fan of the community aspect and the connectivity of comics. Hell, being part of the online community is what helped save Comic Foundry when we needed a rally cry to get into Previews.
But I think there's a big emphasis on name recognition in the buyer's market right now. "Oh, Brian K. Vaughan? I liked that one book he did, maybe I'll try this other thing he wrote too." And if you look on the covers, creators names have been getting bigger and bigger in size during the past five years or so. And so it really is a name-game, I think, and to me, selling a creator to the readers is as important to selling a certain issue. That said, we don't just feature the pretty boys and girls of the industry. That would be the nail in the coffin for us. To answer your question, yes it's a danger. Absolutely. But it's certainly not what we're doing. I know a lot of, ahem, homely creators who are geniuses and I know a lot of sexpots who are about as smart as my left shoe. I can certainly think of uncool people we've featured whose books are cool. And that's the core thing -- like you said, it should be a meritocracy and that's the way we try to approach things. I would never feature a book that I thought was bad or that doesn't speak to our readers, no matter how gorgeous they are.
SPURGEON: Related question: does your magazine have any interest in cartoonists over 40? Why not?
LEONG: Nope. It's actually written in the bylaws that we legally can't feature anyone over the age of 39. I kid, of course. Sure. I don't think I've ever had a conversation where someone pitched a cartoonist and I said, "No way! He's too old!" We have some guys over 40 in the current issue and you can expect to see more in future issues. But yeah, I definitely recognize that there are talented people over 40 who do kick-ass work. Though, I will say that I think the core people buying our magazine are younger than 40. Maybe it's because I'm 26 my perspective naturally skews "younger."
SPURGEON: How do you avoid overemphasizing cartoonists and comics folk in New York over those who live outside of the city? I always hear grumbling that New York cartoonists receive more coverage than their non-NYC brethren because of their access to media people.
LEONG: That is a fantastic question. New York cartoonists absolutely get a better shake, no doubt. Not only with us but like you say -- in the mainstream media as well. The obvious reason is access. If you're doing an interview you're going to get better material if you do it face-to-face instead of email, and being in the same city allows that. The big thing for us, and not so much with the other mags, is that we run a lot of photos of creators. It's obviously much easier for me to send a photographer to Brooklyn than it is for me to find a quality photographer to shoot a cool creator in Boise. It is something I've thought about, but right now it's just one of the unfortunate realities of the situation. That obviously doesn't mean we just feature New York people though. The flip side is that we're not sitting at home thinking, "OK, who lives in New York that I can go interview..." Most of the time it's just us thinking about who we like and who we think our readers would like -- if they happen to live in New York that's great. If not, we're more than happy to still run them -- their photo just might not be as great.
But what's funny is Laura and I really like Johnny Hiro and we've been wanting to do something with Fred Chao in the book. So we finally got something set up with him last week and I offered to send him the latest issue and he sent his address and I had no idea he lived in New York. Sometimes it just works out that way.
SPURGEON: Are there benchmarks this time concerning what you need the issue to sell, or how you need it to do? Is another issue inevitable or conditional?
LEONG: There's no issue-to-issue benchmark -- each one is dependent on how many ads we sell for that particular issue. (Essentially the basic formula is printing cost - ad sales = x / amount we get from Diamond per issue). We already have some multi-issue ad contracts in place, so there will definitely be an issue 3. It'll be out in June and we had the cover shoot this past weekend, actually. This year the grand experiment continues. We've proven we can put out an issue -- the real test is if we can continue to do it on a quarterly schedule. I'm pretty sure we can, but I'm also sure it's going to give me a few more gray hairs than I should have at my age.
SPURGEON: What's the dream scenario concerning your magazine five years from now?
LEONG: It's actually really weird. I'm at a bit of a career crossroads. A year ago I would've said I'd be art directing a magazine but now that CF is doing well, who knows? I'd like to continue producing the magazine as long as I possibly can. It would take a lot for it to translate into sustainable income. I see CF just getting bigger and better and being the comics magazine of choice.
SPURGEON: Do you have more video escapades planned?
LEONG: Hopefully! They're such a time-suck though. I'd rather produce zero videos than do a bunch of mediocre ones. I'd like to do something at NYCC or MoCCA or SDCC. We have tables at all of them but it's hard to get away. I can maybe see another Eisner red carpet video on the horizon. It's funny -- comic-related video isn't too hard to find nowadays, but the one thing I've yet to see is a comic creator sex tape. Maybe it's not even something you'd want to see, and I'm not saying that's where I'm headed, but that's my prediction for 2008: The comic creator sex tape. Jumping bones and the shark all in one.
On Friday afternoon, participating CR readers were asked to "Name Five Character Progressions That Didn't Really Last That You Liked Anyway" Here are the results.
Tom Spurgeon/Tom Bondurant
1. Anchorman Clark Kent (Tom Bondurant)
2. Smart Hulk (Tom Bondurant)
3. Robin in College (Tom Bondurant)
4. Buddy Bradley Manages a Band (Tom Spurgeon)
5. Charlie Brown Becomes Popular at Summer Camp (Tom Spurgeon)
This subject was adapted slightly from a suggestion by Tom Bondurant
Man, you guys really liked Barbara Gordon as a congresswoman.
Uriel A. Duran
1) Electric Superman
2) UDON's Taskmaster
3) Legionnaires Legion Of Super-Heroes
4) Oreo-lovin' Martian Manhunter
5) Wolverine without adamantium
1. Dr. Strange practices Chaos Magic, gets a new uniform, actually acts relevant for a while (under Warren Ellis- lasted only a few issues)
2. Spider-Man gets a bulletproof suit. I even have the silly action figure of that costume. It's not Ditko, but it was still neat.
3. Smart, split-personality Hulk, as written by Peter David.
4. Smart, split-personality Hulk, as written by Bill Mantlo. (I'm not accusing PAD of stealing Bill's stories, by the way. Both stories were very different, and yet still a lot of fun while twisting the character's central premise.)
5. Cerebus as Pope.
* Iron Man as a mean-ass unrepentant drunk.
* Silver age Peter Parker dating Betty Brant.
* Zonker Harris as perpetual college student.
* Sacco & company partying in Safe Area Gorazde.
* Howard the Duck for President.
Strictly John Byrne list:
* Ben Grimm getting spikey rocky skin instead of having flat stoney skin
* Reed and Sue moving to Connecticut and wearing disguises to fool the neighbors
* Johnny Storm going out with Alicia Masters
* Starbrand destroying Pittsburgh
* Northstar going gay
1. Thor's construction worker secret identity, Sigurd Jarlson
2. Cap as Nomad
3. Tony Stark's alcoholic relapse where he became homeless (if done today, I envision a YouTube marketing bit of panels interspersed with the word REHAB while Amy Winehouse's refrain of "No, No, No" plays in the background...)
4. Hulk as CEO/Turnaround Specialist (when he was with the Pantheon)
5. James Robinson's Cable (too unique to sum up here)
1. Bruce and Selina honestly exploring how their relationship could develop (mid-1980s)
2. Congresswoman Barbara Gordon
3. Hal Jordan, toy salesman
4. Metropolis without any Superman at all (the few issues after Superman #75 showed how interesting the supporting cast of the time could be on its own)
5. Food-powered Wally West
1. Pope Cerebus
2. Snapper Carr mentoring the android Hourman
3. Reed and Sue Richards' suburban sojurns, complete with secret identities
4. Jack Knight in the Justice Society
5. The evil, manipulative Niles Caulder of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol
1. Senator Barbara Gordon
2. Black Canary raising a kid
3. Sasquatch trapped in a woman's body
4. Heather Hudson leading Alpha Flight without being a superhero
5. Sub-Mariner married to Marina
1. Good guy Solomon Grundy
2. Fourth-wall breaking Animal Man
3. Always Eating Wally West
4. Feminist-Friendly Steve Dallas
5. Congresswoman Barbara Gordon
Five For Friday #116 -- Name Five Character Progressions That Didn't Really Last That You Liked Anyway
1. Anchorman Clark Kent (Tom Bondurant)
2. Smart Hulk (Tom Bondurant)
3. Robin in College (Tom Bondurant)
4. Buddy Bradley Manages a Band (Tom Spurgeon)
5. Charlie Brown Becomes Popular at Summer Camp (Tom Spurgeon)
adapted slightly from a suggestion by Tom Bondurant
This Subject Is Now Closed. Thanks To All That Participated.
Five For Friday is a reader response feature. To play, send a response while it's still Friday. Play fair. Responses up Sunday morning.
Roger Blachon, an educator, cartoon illustrator and prolific, well-regarded cartoonist, died on April 1. He was born in Romans, France. Blachon took up cartooning as a sideline to his illustration teaching job in Chartres, and became known for his humor work in L'Equipe and his sports cartoons. He also did children's books for Glenat. His magazine clients included Le Journal du Dimanche, Lui, Okapi, Penthouse, and Planete. Among his albums were the Dessins Sportifs series, Le velo (with Rene Fallet), and The Cat and The Devil. He was 66 years old.
Lawyers For Convicted Retailer Michael George File For A Directed Verdict
The lawyers for convicted con organizer and comics retailer Michael George have filed a request for the judge to consider a directed verdict based on what they feel is the flimsiness of the evidence used to convict George of murder and other charges, the Detroit Free Press reports. The request was expected. The defense team asked for a similar verdict in the course of the trial but were denied. Lawyers' briefs on a potential reconsideration verdict are due April 20. Sentencing is May 27.
There's not a whole lot that can be said about it that hasn't been said a thousand times before, but the latest USA Today sales chart is up and like the last few it further solidifies Jeff Kinney's status and confirms that publishing a bunch of Naruto books the last quarter of 2007 has had no discernible hangover effect on new ones in 2008.
I guess it's easy to punch a story like this one in the kidneys for its semi-hysterical tone that uses the unfamiliar nature of manga to put a more sinister sheen onto the kind of anti-social wishing and minor acting out that took place in every single study hall in which I sat 1980-1987. Then again, if this were my spouse or my kids being listed, I'd want the authorities to step in, too.
"I just discovered that my biography of Kubert showed up in the April, rather than the May, Diamond Previews. Any chance you can put a blurb of some kind on your web site, so any interested parties can pre-order?
If you do, could you mention that there's a mistake in the solicitation, and it's 320 pages, not 220 pages. There would be no way I could tell the story of Joe's 70 years in the comics business in 220 pages of a 6" x 9" book, allowing for a generous amount of illustrations and photographs!"
Collective Memory: Siegel Family Wins A Claim To Superman Copyrights Based On Action Comics #1
Links to accounts, news stories and analysis regarding the court decision March 26, 2008 awarding the family of writer Jerry Siegel a part of the Superman copyright based on the work that appeared in Action Comics #1
I post links to a lot of comics on here -- a lot more comics are being scanned and posted now -- but this is one of the more important one. Berni Wrightson's "The Black Cat" was a very important comic to a a lot of the artists of the post-underground generation, and was one the biggest sources of complaint in terms of comics not being included on the Comics Journal Top 100 list.
* Johanna Draper Carlson asks if Marvel producing a Free Comic Book Day-type comic but not adhering to the Free Comic Book Day release for its debut may indicate some sort of plan by Marvel vis-a-vis the promotional event. I think I'm just pleased to see a company like Marvel do an appropriate-sounding FCBD offering no matter how much extra use they want to get out of it.
* the writer David P. Welsh has unearthed a story about the precarious state of credit-strapped Borders and also points to one of those stories about a book publisher not exactly living the high life right now.
* John Jakala talks about that strange complaint when people feel they have no comics to read. It's weird on a lot of levels but perhaps primarily that it presents a point of view where there's supposed to be enough comics to suit people.
Another Day, Another Cartoon Related Controversary On A High School Campus
Honestly, comics controversies on high school campuses are a lot rarer, but they share with their college brethren attention from local media. I think what's scary about this one is that it doesn't seem to me the least bit controversial unless you take the dimmest reading possible, and that the offended faculty members seem to be willfully making their decisions based on that level of reading instead of an even more slightly enlightened one. A lot of students with whom I went to high school -- including two of our newspaper's stick-figure cartoonists -- would still be in detention if this kind of thinking were being used back then and back there, and I grew up in the heart of the heartland.
The Atlantic Journalism Awards, an awards program in Canada that covers a variety of news media, has announced its 2008 nominees. This includes an editorial cartooning category.
* Michael de Adder, The Daily News, Halifax, NS (work pictured; likely not a representative from the work that got him the nomination)
* Bruce MacKinnon, The Chronicle Herald, Halifax, NS
* Greg Perry, Telegraph-Journal, Saint John, NB
Steve Outing writes in crystal-clear fashion about dropping the print edition of his newspaper and moving to an on-line iteration. This is important for a lot of reasons. One is that Outing is a newspaper guy, so his dropping his local paper really underlines how many even devoted newspaper readers are doing this. Another is that comics played an important part in this decision. A third is that this move has enormous implications for maybe the greatest delivery system for comics in the 20th Century: revenue models are still unsettled for on-line iterations of newspapers, comics may have a different relationship with on-line newspapers than they do with the safe harbor of print newspapers that made millionaires of several cartoonists, and if newspapers ever build the kind of comfortable monopoly they enjoyed in the second half of the 20th Century it's still a long way away from happening.
For a different view on recent advertising revenue figures regarding print newspaper publications, go here.
* I always enjoy hearing from Frank Santoro on 1980s independent comics, this time out Mage. Speaking of 1980s independent comics, the long-delayed American Flagg! hardcover will finally be published in July. That's a weird project in that I like it, and I wouldn't mind having a fancy edition, but I also like the comic book-ness of it and was able to buy the entire run from a dealer for less than $1 an issue about three years ago.
* it's kind of weird to see people reviewing Secret Invasion #1, the kick-off issue to Marvel's latest company-wide crossover, and I'm not certain why. It may be that one forgets there's an actual comic book there.
* several pros answer the marketing to new readers question, and fans respond. There is a smattering of the usual, completely untenable make-a-wish type solutions, but a few of the answers are worth noting. I'm of the opinion that comics has structural problems that thwart a lot of the benefits that even excellent marketing and PR could bring to certain titles. You could have Marjane Satrapi's press, and if the bookstore ability to handle comics were what it was in 1992, sales on Persepolis' various editions wouldn't have been half as much as they were, Maus or no Maus.
* if you're not a full-time mainstream comics reader, this letters/response conversation on Tom Brevoort's blog about the photo referencing used by artist Greg Land is going to be a way wonky, but there are a lot of interesting ideas floating around in there. One I find particularly compelling is the notion that on-line complaints don't really translate into real-world sales. I'm sympathetic to that notion, and you can point at several times in comics history where the conventional wisdom of what's good and what works and what's bad and what doesn't simply fails to match up to actual sales figures. At the same time, I know from being a fan years before the age of the Internet that there is such a thing as dissatisfaction with kinds of art or art practices that may have an impact at the retail level in a way I suspect would be extremely difficult to track. What I mean by that is that I'd suggest consumers of comic books don't suddenly buy or decide not to buy based on single elements. Both comic book buying generally and series comic book buying specifically are habitual practices that tend to stop when enough dissatisfying elements accrue that it no longer seems worth the investment of time and money. We always talk about the straw that broke the camel's back, but that doesn't mean how all the rest of that straw got on that back isn't just as important.
* finally, the writer Ian Brill writes about sex and superheroes. I guess it makes total sense that superheroes have a huge, obvious sexual component, but I think there's a distinction to be made between the kind of sublimation of sex that you also see in some classic children's books or even the extension of Marvel-formula romance into intimations of sex and the act of writing fan-fiction type plot-lines that cater to an older fan's more overt imagining of specific scenarios. This includes the "logical" assumption that people who are in life-threatening situations would want to have sex once that situation went away. I put quotes around logical not because that doesn't make sense, but because I'm not certain that applying such logic to such stories makes sense, the same way it's sort of silly to look at some Disney animal film and feel it's a logical, natural step for them to all be eating one another. I mean, I suppose when I was 11 years old I was attracted on some level to the beautiful people being drawn in my X-Men comic books, but I certainly didn't sit around wanting to see Wolverine have sex with Storm, and would have been fairly freaked out by anything much stronger than what Whedon did with the Kitty Pryde and Colossus characters in a recent issue of Astonishing X-Men. To be fair, Brill seems to realize a lot of that, too.
Another Day, Another Cartoon Related Controversy on a College Campus
It's my understanding that some people believe that campus cartoon controversies like this new one at Lehigh University take place far too frequently and to far too little of a real-world effect to be considered much of a story, but I find them fascinating. The way that so many of these young cartoonists approach controversial subjects seems to indicate that they find value in controversy in an almost cultural currency type of way rather than as a tool to facilitate saying something important or meaningful -- even to themselves. I also think there's a real change in how these stories become local and regional news instead of staying on the campus proper.
TOON Books sent out a press release this morning announcing they were going back to press on its line launch books -- Benny and Penny (above), Silly Lilly and Otto's Orange Day -- before their formal release date of April 7.
This, of course, is a good sign for the well-vetted line of educational hardcover children's comics. With an ordinary small publisher there might be some worry about being able to handle an additional printing this early in the sale cycle, but one has to assume Francoise Mouly has plenty of experience with this kind of thing.
* this editorial argues that the only way to enter into serious debate is to stop adding fuel to the fire. Since I didn't really see any serious, sober or profound debate on these issues in the long period between cartoon publication incidents, I'm not certain I believe the argument.
* this article is a reminder of the ugliness of the context in which the cartoons are merely one episode of disputed speech.
* this article asserts that there will be political consequences for those that support free-speech issues like the one in Canada surrounding the re-publication of the Danish cartoons.
* IFEX criticizes a UN resolution that came up partly in response to an urge for the protection of religion from defamation that became a bigger issue with the publication of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons.
* the cartoonist Matt Madden takes a photograph of his work area in anticipation of a similar feature in the forthcoming Best American Comics series volume that will debut his and Jessica Abel's editorial stewardship. I missed this, but Lynda Barry is their first guest editor.
* David P. Welsh goes to Columbus and makes a comparison between the Borders and Barnes & Noble he finds there in terms of their manga offerings -- a commenter notes that Borders has a lax order to stock policy that may allow Borders employees to bolster such sections.
Jim Mooney, one of the most versatile creators in mainstream comic book history whose prolific output graced nearly every year of the North American comic book industry's existence, and an artist that enjoyed memorable runs at both Marvel and DC Comics, died in Florida on March 30. He was 88 years old.
Mooney was born in Los Angeles and went to New York in 1940 in search of artistic work, eyeballing the comics industry for the relatively crude nature of a lot of its output. His first jobs came from Ace; he then moved to Timely Comics (later Marvel) where he met editor and lifelong close friend Stan Lee. Lee didn't have a lot of work for the young artist, so he worked at a variety of houses: Fox, Quality, Fiction House among them. He worked on staff at Quality and Fiction House. Mooney also spent a short amount of time working for the Eisner-Iger studio/shop. During this time he worked in the superhero genre but also in funny animal comics, which were particularly popular near the end of World War II.
I was exposed occasionally to people's feelings, that if you were doing comics you might do better if you went out on the street and pimped. [laughter] And you'd make money instead of having a bad reputation and making very little. I was somewhat sensitive to it, but not too much. A little later Stan came up to visit me when I was living up in Woodstock, New York. One of the guys I knew was a gun dealer and later was doing some pretty unsavory things, selling guns to different countries that might be getting ready for revolution [laughter] but he felt that comics were utterly reprehensible and he came over to talk to us and he asked Stan what he was doing and Stan said, "Well, I'm into publishing." He said, "Oh, what are you publishing?" and Stan very reluctantly said "Comics." The guy said, "Comics!! You're doing that terrible stuff?" [laughter] Stan handled it very nicely but it was a rather sticky, embarrassing situation.
After World War II, Mooney settled into a long run at top publishing house DC Comics, where he drew the bulk of his comics work for the next two decades. (One memorable side trip was a brief run for 1950s Marvel iteration Atlas on its Loma, The Jungle Queen title.) This made him one of those rare artists that moves from a variety of knock-offs of a character (in this case DC's popular Batman) to drawing the adventures of the character itself. In addition to his run on Batman features, Mooney drew issues of the influential team book World's Finest, and a number of features starring characters and concepts Superboy, Supergirl, Dial H For Hero, and Tommy Tomorrow. The Supergirl run may be his most fondly remembered. He drew that character from her second adventure well into the 1960s.
Changing styles eventually drove him from DC, at a time they were looking to modernize and better compete in a more wide-open, competitive and devotee-centric comics market. What may be a surprise to some who follow the career arcs of cartoonists, Mooney found work not at a smaller publishing house but the industry ascendant Marvel, still helmed by his old friend Stan Lee. At that company he would enjoyed a long run on several titles. One of his early assignments was working on Martin Goodman's The Adventures of Pussycat feature, which capitalized on his talent drawing attractive women characters. Mooney told the Adelaide Comics interviewer that he hadn't moved to Marvel earlier because of the disparity in page rates. Mooney informed Comic Book Artist that one of the advantages when he finally began working for Marvel is that it was a generally more pleasant place for him to work than DC.
I used to dread going into the offices at DC, but I looked forward to going into Marvel, and I think one of the real nice pleasant things, and a lot of the guys who have great memories say the same thing. You'd come in, and Flo Steinberg would be there, and she would say (in her marvelous enthusiastic voice), "Stan, Jim Mooney's here," and that would just make me feel great, as if I were very important. Then I realized everybody else got that same treatment, which was darn nice. I'd occasionally hang out in the bullpen and shoot the breeze, but I don't have too many bullpen anecdotes, because I really wasn't there all that much. The one thing I really liked, and I haven't had that experience before with Stan when we collaborated on the funny animal stuff, we'd get together for a story conference in the early '70s, and Stan would act these things out, and I'd think, "This is amazing, I've known this guy for years, I've never seen anything like this!" He'd jump up on the desk, and go through the motions, the actions that he expected either from the Green Goblin or whatever the heck it was we were doing, and he was having such a great time with it, it was contagious. I'd begin to think, "Hey, this is kind of fun, I'm enjoying this."
Not only was Mooney working for the hot publisher of the moment, he would draw a number of pages of its most popular character: Spider-Man. Mooney inked John Romita Sr., worked on a number of issues of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, drew Spider-Man in his Marvel Team-Up title and also contributed to Marvel's important 1970s educational crossover Spidey Super-Stories. In the 1970s the veteran Mooney entered into an unlikely partnership with the writer Steve Gerber, who passed earlier this year. Mooney's rock-solid mainstream American comics artwork with Gerber and his co-writer Mary Skrenes on all ten issues of Omega the Unknown lent that title much of its odd and unforgettable air. In his personal reminiscence and obituary, the writer and comics historian Mark Evanier notes that in the mid-1970s Mooney arranged for steady work if he moved from Florida, making him an unlikely early member of the fraternity of comics moving from the New York metropolitan area in the industry's later decades.
In recent years Mooney performed work for the smaller publisher Claypool, began to attend comics convention where he met a number of fans, participated on panels and sold original art, and did a variety of commissions.
He was preceded in death by his beloved wife Anne.
dial h image nicked from Don Markstein's Toonopedia site
afNews.info reports that the Argentinean creator Daniel Diaz, who worked as Dani the O. Widely published in a variety of Spanish-language comics magazine, Diaz was also actively involved in theater and television in a variety of positions. A one-time participant in fanzine and self-publishing culture, Diaz was a co-founder and active participant in the magazine Suelteme. He was 41 years old.
The National Cartoonists Society has released most of the divisional award nominees for its yearly awards and has officially confirmed the leaked and all-but-confirmed Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year award nominees Dave Coverly, Al Jaffee and Dan Piraro, vying for the award known more generally as "The Reuben." The comic book nominees are Nick Abadzis (Laika), Bryan Lee O'Malley (Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together) and Shaun Tan (The Arrival) -- all strong nominees for a category that sometimes favors a candidate or two well-liked in the world of strips that may not have a high profile in comic books. The other things that pop out at me are a Drew Friedman nomination in newspaper illustration, Cul De Sac suggesting Richard Thompson may win the Reuben in the next five years by its appearance in the strips division category its first year, a book illustration category nomination for Jay Stephens, and a couple of nominations for Glenn McCoy. Also, who doesn't like Purple and Brown?
Reuben (Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year)
* Dave Coverly
* Al Jaffee
* Dan Piraro
* Brad Bird, Ratatouille
* Sylvain Deboissy, Surf's up
* David Silverman, The Simpsons Movie
* Sandra Equihua; Jorge Gutierrez, El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera
* Stephen Silver, Kim Possible
* Richard Webber, Purple and Brown
* Nancy Beiman, Prepare to Board
* Sandra Boynton, Blue Moo
* Jay Stephens, Robots!
* Nick Abadzis, Laika
* Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together
* Shaun Tan, The Arrival
* Gary Brookins
* Michael Ramirez
* Bill Schorr
* that notice yesterday that Warren Ellis is ending his run on Marvel's Thunderbolts series reveals that the announcement has turned into a short series of posts on the writer's general attitude towards work for hire in the year 2008.