Quote Of The Week
"'Moral rights' is a fancy term (the French thought it up) that basically has to do with having your name attached to your creation (your credit!) and the right to approve or disapprove certain changes to your creation." -- the Tokyopop contract in question
this week's imagery comes from pioneering comic book house Hillman Publications
I Asked, You Answered: Some Folks Have Changed Their Con Plans Following Recent Economic Slowdown
In a note that was up briefly yesterday, I asked to hear from anyone that has changed their convention plans due to recent increases in the price of fuel, worries about same in the future, increased travel costs as a result, or the general economic slowdown expected to accompany higher oil prices. The post wasn't up long enough to be a responsible survey, but I did hear back from a smattering of regular readers.
Sean T. Collins has canceled plans to attend Heroes Con and Comic-Con International, and may end up skipping SPX if gas prices are where they might be this Fall. Lea Hernandez couldn't make a shorter trip cost effective so canceled her CCI plans and sold her hotel reservation. Greg McElhatton will vacation somewhere other than San Diego in order to maximize his leisure dollar. Eric Knisley has already paid for everything this year, but sees next year as a huge question mark due to economic conditions and the increasing unpleasantness of air travel. Russell Lissau has canceled his planned CCI trip and has bailed out on an appearance or two because of gas prices. Jill Friedman is going to skip a planned trip to CCI and isn't happy about travel costs to Atlanta and Dragon*Con. Scott Dunbier reports that Enrico from Red Sector Art in Italy won't be going to CCI because of the weak dollar and flight costs. He handles several artists' work.
It should be interesting to see how this plays out, both the level of pressure provided by the economy and the reaction of those in comics. I doubt that it will hit any of the summer shows as hard as it might the Fall shows and potentially into 2009 because a lot of the money that one must spend to go to San Diego has a good chance of already being spent -- most people don't wait until 55 days before a show to buy airplane tickets. If things continue to get more expensive or if the general economic outlook weakens, I think you could see one or two years of mostly regional con attendance. A lot of companies depend on having a chance to at least break even at comics show, so expenses are a big issue. Comics also has a lot of marginally employed people that simply may be priced out, which is actually the continuation of a general trend.
* I would have to imagine for many shops, particularly those in smaller cities where the gaming/comics hybrid is much more likely to still be found, that a successful launch of a new iteration of Dungeons & Dragons will make this a slightly easier summer. My memory is that despite its high price, because the D&D stuff results in countless hours of gameplay it has a reputation of being a sound investment, which means it may negotiate any forthcoming economic turmoil with aplomb. Now if they can only print to keep up with demand. If they don't, people may go on-line. The interesting thing about the pre-release piracy of that game is that the nature of the files used suggest it may have been an inside job. I doubt that the new edition contains any bitchin' Erol Otus art.
* longtime comics reader and prominent columnist Augie De Blieck, Jr. muses on the cost of comics, bringing up a variety of factors that I didn't think of -- for instance, will buying new comics become less appealing for older readers simply due to the staggering number of comics they likely already own?
UK Targets Paedophilic Drawings With The Potential Of Three-Year Sentences
United Kingdom Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice Maria Eagle is apparently backing a plan that will criminalize the possession of drawings that depict sex with underage participants. It's couched in terms of closing a loophole that allows pedophiles to get their rocks off, I guess, veering away from the exploitation of actual minors standard that drives photography laws and the leads-to-same argument that usually drives such legislation. The statement from the politician contains the usual "we don't intend this to be an attack on art" caveats, although how this actually gets applied seems to me won't be bound by such declarations at all. I have no idea what could happen, but the first thing most of you are thinking is probably what I'm thinking: wouldn't any owner of Lost Girls be subject to prosecution under such laws?
Are Joe Samachson and Joe Certa As Nearly Well Known As They Should Be?
I'll be perfectly honest: I wouldn't have recognized those names if they were mentioned to me this morning. Anyway, they created the Manhunter from Mars, later known as the Martian Manhunter, captain of the DC Universe character second team for almost 50 years. It's a big day for our favorite invisible, telepathic, Superman-power having, fire-sissy Mr. Jones, and it made me wonder who the hell was responsible for him and why I didn't know that already.
From what I gathered through the links, chances are the above isn't Samachson, who apparently left pretty early on in the character's long run in Detective Comics. I don't really know that, but Manhunter from Mars vs. Manhunter from Mars doesn't sound like something you do in the first few issues. Certa stayed with the character for a decade or more. Samachson also gets credit for creating Tomahawk. Anyway: a couple of joes, and if you're a superhero fan, you should probably know their names. I know I should have.
* Tokyopop responds to recent criticism of the contracts offered creators in their new Pilot Program. Um... yeah. I think their weakest claim is that their program is progressive in returning rights for unsuccessful pilots to its creators, unless I'm missing some sort of language that sets standards for what constitutes an unsuccessful pilot, standards that actually deserve the progressive claim.
* in the comments section on a link round-up at The Beat, Kiel Phegley suggests that the coverage of the contracts on mainstream US comics sites may fall on deaf ears because the people targeted aren't listening to mainstream US comics sites.
* Brigid Alverson writes about the contract. I think she's right in suggesting that people may still want to do this, and should always go into contracts with eyes wide open. I think she's wrong in two areas. For one, I don't see the shock that she asserts is out there: I see some anger about the seedy targeting of young kids with "hey, dude" language, but I don't see anyone particularly surprised that Tokyopop would do this. Honestly, I haven't seen a single commentator shocked. In fact, I think the opposite is true: Tokyopop has a history of being criticized for offering dubious contracts. This isn't shocking at all.
What's stranger to me is Alverson's assertion that Tokyopop's for-profit nature somehow absolves potentially exploitative behavior, in a kind of "that's just the way they are" construction.
"They're a for-profit corporation, not a charity, and it's not in their job description to look out for the little guy. That's why, when it's time to sign a book deal, you hire an agent, who is paid to stand up for your interests."
I don't really get this at all. Leaving aside the moral implications of such a statement, plenty of successful companies manage to offer contracts that aren't like this one; and certainly working in more supportive partnerships with creators via contractual arrangements of the kind that are easier to sustain long-term is an equally legitimate way to find plenty of profit. In fact, one can argue that offering creators bad contracts works against long-term profits in that it encourages creative talent to take future projects elsewhere. Second, these contracts don't seem to be, as Alverson seems to assert, first salvos in a long negotiation between the publisher and established creators with agents. They seem to be "take it or leave it" contracts targeted almost exclusively at new, uninformed talent. If someone out there manages to significantly renegotiate one of these contracts, I'll take that specific argument back, but I don't see that happening.
* I'm also not certain what the hell Zuda's apparently shitty contracts or the relative shittiness of deals at other comics publishers vis-a-vis these new contracts has to do with anything except to bizarrely recast what should be focused criticism into some kind of Internet argumentation construction that favors a kind of clammy even-handedness that avoids the 14-year-old's biggest concern: hypocrisy. I'm happy to take a tire iron to those contracts, too; if anyone wants to forward me one or direct me to one's promotion on-line, I'll do it today. Nor should it matter when criticizing one set of contracts if the same company also offers other contracts that are better. No one suggests that there aren't good contracts out there, and in fact, the existence of more equitable contracts brings up the question of why aren't the better contracts utilized uniformly?
Jamie Coville On A Potential Error In The Ten-Cent Plague, As Requested
Don't have David [Hajdu]'s e-mail address but he did ask for other errors from his book. So I'm sending this your way.
The only other factual error I noticed was on page 31. He says:
"Action was selling some 500,000 copies per month, more than four times as much as any other comics. In 1939, National started publishing a comic book named Superman, and the company spun off a syndicated Superman strip. By 1940, Superman comics were selling 1,250,000 copies per month, and the daily strip was appearing in three hundred cities."
Superman (the solo title) was still a quarterly title in 1939 and 1940. It went bi-monthly in 1942, then very gradually to a 12 months a year in 1972.
* I'm sure the principals are nice people, and that they're savvy folks that know their comics, but the announcement that Disney is going to mine its back catalog for comics titles seems to me almost completely divorced from one important factor: any chance of making the publishing line a success in terms of providing some audience such comics. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like they could meet all of their stated goals while storing all of their books in some empty warehouse somewhere or tossing them all into a bonfire.
* in an equally weird story, a retailer suggests stores stop buying low-selling American mainstream titles in order to better serve their customers during difficult economic times. I'm not even sure what to make about some of the implications of this advice. I don't really understand why a retailer can't do well in their store with a title that "only" sells 15,000 nationwide. There are successful stores that do well with single titles that sell much more poorly, and I would have to imagine that local sales results have to be more important than national sales results. At the same time, the general doomed, dopey fecklessness of new title creation at the American mainstream publishers seems to me accurately described. It's a rigid, ossified market and there's really no such thing as a surprise hit unless expectations are scaled way back, and maybe not even then.
Let me put it to you another way: I strongly suspect that this market would not allow for a Hate, would not allow for a Love and Rockets Vol. 1, would not allow for a Bone, would not allow for a Sandman, would not allow for a Preacher and would not even allow for an Uncanny X-Men to move from back-bench to company-defining franchise but would keep it a Runaways-level hit. This can't be good.
* the writer Sean Kleefeld has love for the transformation of Image Comics under Erik Larsen. I think he's right in that they have a greater percentage of quality books, but they still publish so much stuff that I find cynical and depressing that I wonder after their overall impact as a market force.
1. Little Nothings, Lewis Trondheim
2. Paul Goes Fishing, Michael Rabagliati
3. Criminal, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
4. Jessica Farm Vol. 1, Josh Simmons
5. Ganges #2, Kevin Huizenga
6. Three Shadows, Cyril Pedrosa
7. Never Been, Stuart Kolakovic
8. Aqua Leung, Mark Andrew Smith and Paul Maybury
9. Haunted, Philippe Dupuy
10. Achewood, Chris Onstad
That's a good list. Off the top of my head, I think Cul De Sac is still really good, and he hasn't read it yet but Bottomless Belly Button is as good as advertised. What It Is is a formidable book.
* Bully reminds us that that second, traditional suitcase solely devoted to free books picked up at BEA is no longer free.
* Dirk Deppey punks a Marvel claim that Iron Man books are selling out so I don't have to: basically, if you don't significantly overprint and you sell non-returnable to stores based on pre-orders, just about everything you do is a sell-out. While there are probably slight margins that allow Marvel to make such a claim -- there's likely some measurable they can point to that makes the Iron Man books different than the latest minor X-Men book or whatever -- it's not a claim worth making in a dedicated press release.
* finally, the writer Valerie D'Orazio spotlights another writer's analysis of the American mainstream comics industry. I would say that there are structural problems with American comics that kind of trump these issues in terms of the way progress is frequently impeded -- they sort of result in these issues, actually. The main problem can be described as a general unwillingness to engage fundamental problems of fairness and access to the marketplace and ethical business conduct that might foster slow, sustainable growth, buoyed by a culture that resists rewarding that kind of investment, in favor of competitive advantages and hot-shotting. Hey, I didn't say it could be effectively described. Basically, I always felt that comics suffered more from the equivalent of diabetes and less from the equivalent of broken limbs, and the industry tends to think in terms of soft casts vs. hard casts when it might benefit from a focus on lifestyle change.
I think D'Orazio is right to point out that companies aren't being progressive in terms of providing on-line content despite significant indications that this is the future. Still, I'm always a little bit unconvinced that this has anything to do with whether or not the existing market can be made to work more fairly and effectively. Part of me thinks that because I am way too broke-ass to be backseat driving for people that make millions of dollars doing what they do, and part of me simply feels that the logic is faulty -- that if comics pundits ran all media, there would be no radio or theater now.
TOM SPURGEON: How did you hear about Fantagraphics going exclusive with Diamond? What was your initial reaction?
TONY SHENTON: Tom, I was called by Jason Miles on May 9th. While I was shocked and saddened, I also felt that it was a logical decision considering the frustrations of most publishers. If you do business with shops directly, the picking, packing, invoicing, accounting, and collections process can wear you down eventually. Whether the decision will have the intended results... selling more books with fewer problems doing it... is the gamble.
SPURGEON: Can you give me an idea of how wide-ranging your representation was? For instance, how many stores were there to whom you repped Fantagraphics?
SHENTON: I'm unsure of the actual number of shops that placed orders for Fantagraphics. Between the comics trade and the adult trade, I think around 130 shops are on my email list for small presses. The greater part of that number placed at least one order. Some were regular customers.
SPURGEON: Is it possible for you to continue doing what you're doing without Fantagraphics as a prestige client?
SHENTON: This is going to be a very rough stretch. If I just sat still, I would say that I should just pack it in, but I am presently pursuing other potential clients, and I am actively inviting and approaching others. It's too early to tell if I'll have to start eating cat food.
SPURGEON: Do you think the historical moment may have passed for independent sales reps? Is there a sales level where what you do actually sustains itself effectively in the long-term, or is the math loaded against you?
SHENTON: Well, as I think I am the only indy sales rep in the comics industry, I would be hard pressed to say that a historical moment has passed. Then again, those involved in making history are often blind to that fact. In the book industry, the trend is for indy reps to band together to retain clients and increase their publisher lists. I don't really have that option in the comics industry, but there are still options available.
As far as the math goes, it's always been stacked against me, I think. Not all retailers or small presses like the idea of a sales rep. There are a limited number of publishers I can actively and effectively represent, and a limited number of shops with whom I can have a personal relationship. I've found that to be successful, one has to have that personal touch.
I've often called Diamond the shotgun, while I'm the rifle. Some publishers are satisfied with the shotgun. Others need the rifle because they know there are shops that choose to do as little business with Diamond as possible, for any number of reasons, or they recognize that there are many quality comics in the market that Diamond doesn't sell for logistic and financial reasons. Retailers recognize the limitations of Diamond as well; some want another alternative and are willing to deal with the increased accounting and correspondence in order to have better access to products they know they can sell, or to have access to items that are in limited release, like mini-comics, to diversify their shops.
SPURGEON: Have you paid any attention to the way the story has broke, and how people have reacted to what happens to you under this deal? What have you been hearing from your clients?
SHENTON: I think it's impossible for one person whose job isn't to follow the news to see the track of news items today, but I was not unaware of what was going on. I'm not comfortable with reading about myself much, but most of what I've seen posted and the correspondence I have received shows concern for my business and my personal welfare, which is humbling.
SPURGEON: What's next for you, Tony? Will you continue this aspect of your business?
SHENTON: For the foreseeable future: I will attempt to alter and add to my product line to find items that will appeal to a broader retailer base, and try to weather the storm. This isn't just something that can be dropped overnight for a new career.
This isn't the worst possible disaster. After the 9/11 attacks, customers stayed out of comic shops in droves, which was what led me to approach Fantagraphics in the first place, and there have been other more personal tragedies that have affected work. I'm still repping the excellent graphic novels and comics from NBM/Papercutz and Drawn & Quarterly, and about 100 other small presses. I'll just have to try a bit harder to sell what I do have, and find those retailers who care enough to keep a good stock of indy titles in their stores.
If I'm reading this article correctly, and there's really no guarantee that's the case although I'm pretty confident I'm in the ballpark, it looks like the comics group created within Bonnier to house the comics arm of the Egmont-Bonnier merger in a way that assuaged Denmark legal worries regarding market dominance was acquired by a new company, Cobolt, in April. That company is owned by Kurt Dahlgaard, and the new line will be entrusted to Bonnier/Carlsen veteran Carsten Sondergaard.
If you haven't yet, I'd encourage you to read Bryan Lee O'Malley's pulping of a new Tokyopop publishing initiative contract. Unlike other awful contracts that exist in comics, including some from Tokyopop, this one manages to combine the worst aspects of all those contracts with a rhetorical style that sounds like a guy in a van trying to talk some poor soul into taking nudie pictures. Among other folks pointing out the awfulness of this contract are Chris Butcher and Lea Hernandez, who has been criticizing Tokyopop contractual malfeasance for a few years now.
Contracts like this one that secure all rights to a property* in exchange for some modest amount of cash do so by pushing two lines of argumentation that should be dragged behind a truck and then set on fire at every opportunity.
The first argument that such publishers make or that is made on their behalf is that this is a standard deal for first-time authors. This is almost always a huge lie. While the argument against it need go no further than that, it's worth pointing out that "it happens all the time" doesn't really speak to the fairness of the contract. Further, this argument is finessed by various corporate rip-off artists in that many contracts with some language advantageous to the publisher -- although never this bad that I've seen -- tend to be the first step in a back and forth negotiation, not a take-it-or-leave-it option dangled in front of first-time authors.
The second argument that such publishers make or that is made on their behalf is that you should sign a shitty contract in order to get your foot in the door. Again, this doesn't speak to the issue of whether or not the contract is fair, and is sort of an admission that it's not. But mostly there's no evidence of which I'm aware to show that signing a terrible contract gives anyone a leg up when it comes to their publishing career. Let's be honest, because otherwise this gets used as an argument with a "let's be real" appeal: there certainly is evidence to show that signing contracts that aren't 100 percent optimal in terms of creators rights has been advantageous for some creators. This is true in comics and outside of comics. The key thing to remember is that such agreements tend to involve two things: 1) the company bringing something of value to the table, like access to a valuable property such as James Bond or Spider-Man, or a team of sales agents that are experienced in the newspaper strip market, and 2) non-shitty financial compensation. This contract has neither. Tokyopop brings nothing but a brand that has dubious merit, especially on books like these. They're poor stewards of content. And they're not paying well: about $20 a page.
All contracts bring with them a warning; bad contracts like this one brings you being warned away.
Additionally, the notion that you can give a company a sub-standard creation and save your real stuff for when you're in a better position to protect it is exactly what a company that offers such contracts hopes you'll believe. To repeat the caveat a third time: an end-around strategy doesn't justify an unfair circumstance, either. More importantly, and much more to the point, the truth is no one controls what creation will hit with audiences or even work best to facilitate a creator's career. No one does. The late Steve Gerber created a number of characters in his long career, many of which were owned by him. I think we all know that the one that worked best as a voice for his particular talents, the one that hit with the most people, he didn't own. Besides, the difference between creating a walk-on character in an issue of New Mutants and doing a full graphic novel with a bunch of characters seems enormous to me. Even if you were to decide to support an awful system by faking it, thinking you could take advantage, it seems to me there's an important difference between taking someone out to dinner versus marrying them for two years.
Just because creators occasionally sign contracts with which they're not 100 percent happy doesn't mean that the worst contract out there, and this sounds like just about the worst contract out there, is justified in any way, shape or form. Always remember that the most successful and admirable creators have become so almost uniformly by not signing contracts like this one. There are so many options today for a lot of what they're promising you, there are a ton of great publishers and many viable self-publishing options. If your work doesn't click so that it can find purchase with a company that's not ripping you off, or it fails to make a name for itself on its own, that's a strong sign that the company's interest in you is dependent not on the awesomeness of your talent and ideas but on their ability to screw you over. Please, don't let them do it.
Update: John Jakala believes that "all rights" as used here is a misstatement because future projects involving that property will be subject to separate negotiations. Leaving aside the issue of what I'm actually talking about there, I disagree; I think that acknowledging you won't retain rights to certain supplementary projects (well, in certain ways, after a certain point) isn't really the same as as affording them to people on the original one. I also think there are plenty of complications to a truly unfettered walking-away, both short and long-term, and there are all sorts of reason I'm not willing to afford the publisher the benefit of the doubt given how easily that could have been made explicit in a contract they're presenting as a major initiative.
I've heard from two sources that Todd Ciolek, last known to be an associate editor at Wizard's Anime Insider, is the latest employee on the creative staff to be let go. He was informed yesterday. The reason given by those sources is that it was related to the magazine's ongoing attempt at downsizing those departments. Another source asserts that Wizard has enjoyed turnover or staff cuts in almost 50 percent of its staffing levels in the creative departments since it started making such moves.
* here's an interesting article about the relationship between Ramsey Clark and Iranian cartoonist Ardeshir Mohasses. The piece describes Mohasses as an Iranian Saul Steinberg. I have to admit this looks pretty cool.
* I like that you can sum up Richard Nixon by saying that Herblock drew him crawling out of a sewer. I'm guessing that's a reference to this 1958 Herblock cartoon. I would buy a book that contained nothing but Herblock beating on Nixon.
* I'm trying to figure how you might steal this many comics during a convention. I'm guessing there's something unique about the way the retailer believes they were robbed because there are no details shared. I'm also trying to figure out how you would move this kind of merchandise.
* when I was a sportswriter, every single weekend we received a press release or a phone call giving us the results of the state karate championships; either karate people had a state championship every week or there were a lot of people having state championships. I swear international cartooning competitions are the comics equivalent.
* two publishers will co-sponsor an appearance by Hiro Mashima at Comic-Con International.
* Paul Gravett presents Chinese cartoonist Coco Wang's on that country's recent earthquakes.
* I totally missed that Borders launched its on-line sales initiative yesterday. The front page looks manga-dominant. Don't read a value judgment into that.
* this may be the kind of thing that only interests me, but news stories on Google News about the passing of Thelma Keane outnumber news stories on Google News about the passing of Will Elder, 343 to 38.
David Hajdu on Bart Beaty’s Response To His Book, The Ten-Cent Plague
I'd like to thank Bart Beaty for giving my book, The Ten-Cent Plague, hisseriousattention. I respect Dr. Beaty as a colleague in scholarship and education, despite the considerable differences in our views on some matters.
In his review of my book, he asked about a statistic I cite regarding Timely/Atlas/Marvel. It comes from The Encylopedia of American Comics, by Ron Goulart, p. 227:
"By 1952, [Stan] Lee was running the largest comic book company in terms of sales, in the world; it was 50% larger than second-place Dell and twice as big ast third-place DC."
I'm going to request that my publisher add a footnote for that data in the paperback edition of the book. If any readers of The Comics Report[er] have hard information to the contrary, I would be grateful if they'd let me know.
On Fredric Wertham... well... I have had my say, and Dr. Beaty has had his. I am proud of my work on the subject, just as Dr. Beaty is proud of his.
The National Cartoonist Society (NCS) gave out its yearly awards during its annual meeting, this year in New Orleans, Louisiana. Longtime MAD artist was considered by most observers to be an obvious and runaway winner of "Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year," otherwise known as "the Reuben." I'm not cognizant enough of how the divisional votes tend to turn out for me to comment on any surprises in those categories. Divisions of interest to comics readers might include Shaun Tan's win in the "Comic Book" category for The Arrival and Jim (Monty) Meddick's win in "Newspaper Strips."
I do know that the Reuben and the NCS division awards have a reputation for 1) rewarding creators that have been around a while or that are seen as having properly paid their dues maybe more than first-time nominees or those early in their careers, and 2) rewarding creators in non-popular categories according to their better-known work. To be honest, I couldn't tell you if those two characterizations are deserved or not.
The women in comics/women reading comics advocacy group Friends of Lulu has announced its nominees for the forthcoming Friends of Lulu Awards, to be awarded June 7 in a ceremony held during the weekend of the MoCCA Art Festival. A donation is suggested for attendance.
I don't remember any past winners, although I do recall that this is the first year the show has moved to New York from its previous Thursday night during Comic-Con International slot. I'm always a little bit weirded out that Francoise Mouly can't get a nomination in the non-creator category, and it strikes me that Louise Simonson is probably more influential as a non-creator at Warren and Marvel than she is as a writer, but I honestly don't know the awards well enough to know if those are fair criticisms or not.
* the Wizard site has a feature up on on the best creative collaborations during the publication's history, which of course means that it's the best superhero-related creative collaborations during the publication's history (don't even start -- Karasik/Mazzucchelli; I win) with a couple of high-end genre pieces thrown in for variety. Still, most of those comics are solid, and it could be handy if you're not well-read on that side of the comics store.
* here's a succinct update on the sales situation facing the troubled book retailer Borders. Basically, there's nothing of substance on Borders' end, and exploratory-only on suspected-to-be-of-interest B&N's end.
* the writer Paul Di Filippo forwarded this snippet of a posting to me from a list to which he belongs.
At 7:53 p.m. Sunday, the Phoenix landed on Mars on a plateau called Vasitas Borealis, a few miles from the Martian polar ice cap.
On board is a disc containing my name [and that of about 299,999 others], but more importantly, also on the disc are a series of Mars images from US comic strips, pulps, animation, and fiction; the work of many talented earth-bound writers and artists.
Included is a Winsor McCay 1910 Little Nemo featuring an airship powered by a giant bird ferrying Nemo and friends to Mars, and a poster from the 1936 Flash Gordon serial.
Comic books are represented by the Wally Wood cover to Weird Science #17 [01-02/1953] and an Adam Hughes Martian Manhunter...
That's right: comics on Mars.
* there's a huge thread at the Daily Cartoonist where webcomics cartoonists and newspaper cartoonists gripe at each other that's fairly entertaining if you like that kind of thing.
* how on God's green earth did this tiny incident merit a lengthy wire story? For all I know, the cartoonist being accused is the biggest idea thief in the world, but I'm not convinced from the evidence presented that this is stealing, let alone the kind of stealing about which you write articles. People come up with the same, broad jokes all the time. Kevin Nealon did a TV special once where he told the exact same joke I'd been telling for about six years. It's like when someone makes a vampire mobster movie and there are people disappointed because that was totally their idea and it must have been stolen. At least they cleared up in the headline it was a man making the accusation as opposed to a cartoon-making robot.
* finally, Thelma Keane passed away. She was the wife of cartoonist Bil Keane, mother of cartoonist Jeff Keane, and the inspiration for that strip's Mommy character. One weird thing is that many of the pieces I've seen refer to Jeff Keane as helping Bil Keane on the strip; I wasn't aware anyone was pretending that Jeff Keane wasn't the primary forced behind that strip now. At least that's what I've been led to believe.
5. Network (1976) Network seems to me slightly out of favor, but I'm not sure there's been a better satirical comedy in the last 40 years (tied for a distant second are two hospital movies, The Hospital and The Kingdom). The Paddy Chayefsky-written, Sidney Lumet-directed film mines its humor from a variety of places: the pitch-perfect and sweetly endearing crazy-man performance by Peter Finch, the right-on depiction of network television maneuvers as overt psychological and cultural warfare waged by the rich on the poor, even the bittersweet romance suffered by the still-potent Faye Dunaway and a never-better William Holden. The fact that the movie accurately predicts the rise of cable television programming makes it that much more amusing, but what sticks with me when I see it now is the acidic worldview and the way it shows how relentless pressure wears down everybody -- and what it doesn't wear down, it eliminates outright. Never have so many characters' crippling emotional peccadilloes been presented as saving graces. Now that's comedy.
4. The Singing Detective (1986)
One of the great performances ever captured on film and a movie so stuffed to the core with sadness and regret even at six and a half hours long that it's almost unbearable to watch unless you spends days in preparation steeling yourself. Michael Gambon gives the best performance of the three great actors to work in a Dennis Potter series (Bob Hoskins and Albert Finney were the other two). Gambon plays a man scrambling for some vestige of meaning and dignity under circumstances that deny him, well, everything, but especially what he's looking for. Like many great works, the mission of the artist making the art and the lead character within the art is one and the same: self-mythology. For maybe the only time in Potter's relatively short but fascinating career as auteur, every choice the writer makes in presenting his patented combination of fantasy and haunting emotional realism feels appropriate and thematically insightful rather than forced and diversionary. The Singing Detective should be watched once a year -- but only if you can stand it.
3. High and Low (1963)
An immensely pleasurable film to watch, Akira Kurosawa's take on the Ed McBain crime story "King's Ransom" offers up an irresistible plot hook and gently escalating expectations that rise from each previous plot point until they crumble and break apart in a final few, remarkable scenes. A businessman's son is playing with the chauffeur's same-age child. When they switch costumes, the chauffeur's kid is kidnapped and used instead of the son to blackmail the businessman father at a point when paying could cost him everything he's worked for. The father comes through, anyway, prompting the cops into an almost fanatical pursuit of the perpetrators in order that they may honor this selfless act. The reason for the kidnapping proves to be almost touching in its arbitrariness and for the dismal picture it paints of its criminal element and the pressures of caste-conscious Japan. I love the visual assuredness of this film, the restraint of its performances -- Toshiro Mifune has a scene in this film that's ten times as awesome as anything he ever did with a sword -- and the relatively complex meditation it provides on post-War communities.
2. Duck Soup (1933)
My favorite thing in a Marx Brothers movie is when Groucho comes out right at the start of a picture and proceeds to just kill everybody dead, like some great god of unstoppable comedy. It's downright heroic, and there are few comedians in film history that by simply showing up could suggest a positive turn on crappy circumstances (the last for sure was John Belushi; Sacha Baron Cohen may or may not have this quality, I can't tell yet). When Groucho comes out and seizes the stage and shakes the audience in his teeth, it's like he's proclaiming, "I'm the funniest motherfucker in the world!" He practically dares anybody to stop him, to prove him wrong, to take him out. It's like watching Jimi Hendrix play his guitar blindfolded or hearing about how Dizzy Dean would yell at the batters what his next pitch would be.
Duck Soup has the most funny bits of any of the Marx Brothers movies, even if you don't care for the over-long mirror sequence, and that musical number near the end is one of the few things in life that scores as advertised. It's still astonishing the greatness that scene achieves every single time you watch it, some 75 years after it was filmed. It provides the same thrill you get during great, isolated moments in comedy, like Charlie Chaplin shooting through the gears in Modern Times, or Richard Pryor bursting into tears in Some Kind of Hero or that magnificent turn of phrase from Life of Brian, "Life's a piece of shit/when you look at it," except that in Duck Soup the scene lasts for several minutes and its giddy build adds to the anti-war message just as much as each moment does so on its own. (The only thing since that may come close is the initial Hanson Brothers mentally-limited violence eruption in Slap Shot.) Woody Allen once made the argument that Duck Soup was a symbol of all things of value in life. I think he may have understated his case. I'm not sure what heaven's all about, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a place where you look over your shoulder and see the Marx Brothers playing a xylophone tune on top of a bunch of helmets.
1. Local Hero (1983)
I'm not sure how Local Hero became my favorite film, but it has been for a long while now. It may have something to do with the fact that Bill Forsyth's best work combines two of the things I find most richly satisfying while watching movies: 1) a beautiful place and 2) a fine-tuned comedy performance. I love the look and feel of the sleepy village in which most of the (subdued) action takes place, and I'm in awe of Peter Riegert's take on a man slowly waking to the stale horrors of the life he's made for himself. Riegert has three or four scenes in Local Hero that are worth other actors' entire careers, perhaps most memorably his drunken declarations about the wonders of a night sky to a star-gazing boss half-way around the world. Riegert's Mac is excited, and watching himself be excited, and not exactly sure how to be excited, all at the same pathetic time. The best shot in the entire picture and maybe the greatest single moment in film during the 1980s is a few seconds worth of movie showing Mac's sterile, lifeless apartment back in Houston. Like any of the most memorable scenes in the finest films ever made, it'll crack you up and break your heart.
CR Sunday Preview: Jules Feiffer’s The Explainers, Fantagraphics Books
Jules Feiffer is the great American cartoonist that for some reason, in a way that kind of breaks my heart, gets pushed to the margins whenever discussions of great American cartoonists take place. I think people may forget Feiffer because his work was published and thrived outside of those places that would become the preferred avenues of exploration for that great 1970s generation of cartooning boosters and enthusiasts. Most hardcore comics fans of that period collected comic books and were at least aware of the newspaper strips, if only their former greatness. Only a select few of that number bought Feiffer's books or regularly read the Village Voice. It's been our loss.
Feiffer's measured, unrelenting, satiric take on the growing fissures in American society post-Freud, post-Beats, post-everything that called into question the country's cultural stability, would become such an ingrained part of the country's outlook that the cartoonist with every year began to stand out less remarkably than he did at first when the initial Sick, Sick, Sick cartoons ripped into the exposed flesh of America's intellectual underbelly. At the same time, the way Feiffer presented his work -- his loose, essay-like passages; his confessional soliloquies, his word-soaked stagings more like a play than anything comics had seen since the vaudeville-influenced newspaper strips -- became more and more of a road not taken by the bulk of his fellow cartoonists and the generation of creators that came immediately after. That last part makes a certain amount of sense; God knows that Feiffer may have found in the Voice the only venue in the world comics marketplace where such an approach could find profit and purchase. Even those with a spiritual debt to Feiffer, like Garry Trudeau, broke cleanly with enough aspects of the Voice cartoons that it became the differences and not the similarities that stood out. To know Feiffer and to love Feiffer, one had to go directly to Feiffer.
And now we can.
I don't know the last time this much great work from a single cartoonist has been circulated back into the public consciousness as suddenly as is the case with The Explainers. The first volume of four planned, it's ten full years of Feiffer's Voice cartoons from the Sick, Sick, Sick work all the way into the little-seen but just as rich material of the mid-'60s. Unlike prose writers and playwrights that explored the same unraveling of American self-identity, Feiffer's work is almost always funny and frantic and a little bit messy. There's no romance to his doomed figures, just an appealing fragility, right down to the lines that define their existence. Sometimes in the best pieces a sense of frayed exhaustion shines through. It may be Feiffer's unique contribution to the way cartoons feel. His work of this period is human in an unblinking sense, in that it makes you grapple with weakness and foolhardy macho and shallow befuddlement and never dares nod or wink at the audience in service of some sort of face-saving heroism, some nobility of bearing. Scarily, Feiffer also reminds us that many of these same crippling states of mind were those running the country. It's great to finally read these strips, as uncomfortable as we may be with the reality it defines: the post-War hangover and Cold War flu from which we still have the sniffles today. -- Tom Spurgeon
On Friday afternoon, participating CR readers were asked to "Name Five of Your Favorite Comics Families." Here are the results.
1. The Van Pelts
2. The Storms
3. George, Peggy and Josephine Bungle
4. The Riches
5. The Bradleys
1) The Lockhorns
2) The Capps
3) The Strongs
4) The Lodges
5) The pre-Quesada fuck up Parkers
Mark D. Ashworth
1. The Sienna-Fontaines (married just last week!)
2. The Dewclaws
3. The Breedens
4. The Browns
5. The Ducks/McDucks
1. Maybonne, Marlys and Freddy Mullens
2. The Freak Brothers
3. James, Amy, Eli and Oliver Kochalka
4. The Wertzes (fart humour runs in the family, according to Julia's latest)
5. Marjane Satrapi's parents and grandmother
1. Luba's clan (who can keep up with it?)
2. Mickey Mouse's family (who are his brothers?)
3. Bruce, Dick and Alfred
4. The New Gods (they must all be related, right?)
5. Walt Wallet's family from "Gasoline Alley"
1. the Van Pelts (Linus and Lucy)
2. the Inhuman Royal Family
3. the Knights (Starman)
4. the Bumsteads
5. the Bakers (Animal Man)
1. Calvin and his parents (Calvin and Hobbes)
2. The Knights (Starman)
3. The Endless
4. The extended Allen family (Barry, Iris, Iris' nephew Wally West, et al.)
5. The Doonesburys
The Van Pelts
Goom and Googam
The Inhuman Royals
1. The Berrys (from their comic strip)
2. The Weavers (from Zot!)
3. The Freaks (Fabulous, Furry)
4. The Poirier-Brownes (Lawrence and Nicholas from FBOFW)
5. The Fixxes (from 'Mazing Man)
1. The MacGarry/Campbells
2. Luba's family--including mom, first husband, half-sisters, cousin, all her kids and all their dads
3. The McDuck/Ducks--Scrooge, Donald & the boys
4. The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
5. The McGrews (Dirty Fleagle and Dirty Drew)
Quote Of The Week
"As of today, Kiel Phegley is no longer with the company. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask Executive Editor Brian Cunningham or myself." -- Wizard Entertainment company e-mail
this week's imagery comes from pioneering comic book house Hillman Publications
Macomb County Circuit Judge James Biernat has decided not to overturn the jury's March 17 decision convicting former retailer and convention organizer Michael George of the 1990 murder of his wife in the Michigan comic book store the couple owned. George faces life in prison without parole. Defense attorney claimed that the jury's decision was made solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
The Montreal-based Cumulus Press is closing its doors, according to an announcement on the front page of its web site. The publisher made the announcement during their 10th anniversary celebration. Cumulus recently published the comics journalism anthology Extraction!, featuring words-and-picture reportage on four different extracted materials, spotlighting the industry and resultant abuses. Cumulus is also a founding partner in the small press, 'zine and comics show Expozine. Some of the company's books will move to Conundrum Press.
* the Japanese manga publisher Shueisha and the anime company APPP are poring over their respective iterations of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure after halting shipments of the anime following complaints that one of the villains in the cartoon version was reading from the Koran while ordering the death of the protagonist. According to this report, the specific, objectionable content on the pages was added by the anime company, without the knowledge of the manga publisher or the original cartoonist, Hirohiko Araki. The cartoon will be changed before re-release. It sounds like what's being looked at now are some scenes with architecture that may be taken as mosques.
* a coalition of political parties and other groups in Jordan will renew their devotion to a boycott of Dutch and Danish products for various offenses including the original Jyllands-Posten Muhammed caricatures. The campaign will launch June 10.
* FrontPagehas more on the problems facing the Dutch cartoonist known as Gregorius Nekschot.
Missed It: Archaia Studios Goes On Publishing Hiatus While Re-Organizing
Archaia Studios Press will go on a brief publishing hiatus while reorganizing the company following the departure of co-publisher Aki Liao for what's been reported as personal reasons. The company will use Ken Light of the DAK Group to help them find an outside investor for Liao's stake in the publisher. Another major goal during the hiatus is for the company to find a way end a series of publishing delays on its various projects. ASP is an interesting company in that it's managed a number of titles with above the fold interest in a market that's not exactly kind to fantasy genre releases: the long running Artesia series, the successful Mouse Guard, and the anticipated forthcoming print edition of the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court. They're also more significantly partnered with the role-playing game end of the hobby market, with game versions of at least a couple of its series and electronically distributing its work through avenues better known for downloading games.
You can find the press release here. A group of their creators expressed support for the company in a press release available here. David Petersen of Mouse Guard expressed his support here.
Turkish Cartoonist Indicted For Portrayal Of Chief Prosecutor As Hooting Owl
Another incident of legal harassment against a cartoonist in Turkey recently hit the wire services, although this time the threat is criminal prosecution rather than a lawsuit. Ibrahim Ozdabak of Yeni Asya was indicted for a cartoon published March 19 that the prosecutor involved says was clearly meant to indicate Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, described as the chief prosecutor of the supreme court of appeals. The cartoon showed an owl in a judge's robe making a call that was a play on the word "law."
Turkey had been severely criticized in the past for punitive lawsuits filed against cartoonists, to the point where many questioned the political commitment Western countries should make to the nation. I can't imagine this helps that a whole lot.
The UK-based manga publisher Fanfare has signed a deal for US book distribution with AtlasBooks Distribution, ending a previous arrangement for the same market with Biblio. Fanfare is the publisher of a number of highly acclaimed manga volumes, including the works of Jiro Taniguchi. They have also always seemed brutally underrepresented in the US market, so maybe this new arrangement will improve things. The deal includes the Spanish-language editions published by their partner Ponent Mon.
Recent movement on efforts to help the artist Gene Colan and his family, facing high medication costs due to Colan's recent illness. An auction with several items donated by comics luminaries has started its first round of offerings. That link will take you to an eBay link or enable you to bid directly. Meanwhile, Marvel and the Hero Initiative have announced a special edition print whose net proceeds will go to the Colans. As always, a reminder you can use Paypal for direct donations to email@example.com.
Another Way I Depress Myself Into Staying Up Even Though It’s 2:00 AM
It occurs to me that another place where a rise in gas prices might have a deleterious impact on the comics industry is in purchases at the store. Not just in that people will buy gas before comics, which is certainly true, but in the cost of getting to the comics shop. One of the outcomes of the Marvel-led pooping on the Direct Market in the 1990s was reduced shop coverage in a lot of regions. I know that around here, where they were once served by a local comics shop and one down the road a bit, some fans now drive one or two hours to use a shop in Las Cruces. I can't imagine that drive is as much fun when it costs three times as much as it did five years ago. If I were one of those people and gas increases to $7 or $8 per gallon, I would certainly be making fewer trips.
Bill Kartalopoulos asked me to post notice of this event taking place a day in advance of the MoCCA Festival so that anyone out there that wanted to attend it could adjust their travel plans into New York City accordingly. Here's the PR, in Word:
* afNews says there will be a Little Prince comic by Joann Sfar, but the item to which they're linking make it looks like Sfar is simply penning an introduction to another re-release of the children's book classic.
* finally, the writer Sean Collins e-mailed with this observation about Marvel's comics sales:
"Looking at Marvel's top sellers, I see they're spread across virtually every corner of the line: a tie-in, X-Men, Avengers, solo heroes that until recently couldn't get arrested like Thor and Hulk and Captain America, an event comic, Spider-Man. The only weak spot is the Ultimate line and they're gearing up to a big event crossover there. So my theory in that year-end interview we did pans out. It's pretty impressive."
That actually is kind of impressive they're getting sales across the breadth of their line, and I wish I'd noticed it first.
I read, with great sadness, of the passing of Rory Root on The Comics Reporter yesterday.
I've known Rory since he worked at Best of Two Worlds up on Telegraph Avenue when my family first moved to Berkeley in 1983 and I was still in high school. There were two stores up there at the time, but from the beginning I was more drawn to Rory's style of running a comics shop. It was all over the place. Books to the ceiling, in every conceivable space -- not a mess, just fairly bursting with comics: that is, very Rory. His competitors a few doors down were always what you think of when you hear the word "retailer" -- neat, clean, professional. It's a business-y sounding word, and I don't think of business when I think of Rory. As has been stated in many eulogies for him, Rory was more an enthusiast of comics themselves. I always got the feeling he got into selling comics just to be around comics. Selling them paid the bills so he could read them.
I started out buying superhero comics from him in 1983, and most recently bought Little Lulus. In recent years it was mostly indie stuff and strip reprints -- along with not a little chiding from Rory for being something of "snob" when I blew off an Alex Ross book he liked. I'm still not backing down on it, but that's what was fun about him, he had that big vision of the medium, like when a Martin Scorsese surprises you by loving a John Agar movie or Bob Dylan writes about catching a Frank Sinatra, Jr. show at the Rainbow Room and loving it. You think, "whaaaaaaaaat?" and then realize they mean it. It's fun to see people with that much passion for a medium.
Rory just liked the whole idea of comics. What is so great about his life's work, Comic Relief, is that no matter what I was into, I could always find it there, with no better advisor/historian on where to start than R. Root himself (I owe him on Schulz, Barks, McManus, Crane, and many others). From superhero to duck comics to 'zines to indies to Eightball #1 and Optic Nerve mini-comics and that ultra-secret Schulz blasphemy You're Short, Bald, and Ugly Charlie Brown!) and HAW! and my Richard Sala-designed Comic Relief store t-shirt to a thousand other in-store fan's Must Have moments -- Comic Relief is that place for me. Even his name, Rory Root, sounds like something out of a Crumb comic, like the guy Flakey Foont bought his comics from.
Rory worked lots with the Berkeley public libraries to integrate comics into their definition of what a book is. He was also an expert to the experts. I remember the time I picked up an Overstreet Guide, only to find a picture of Rory in it wearing a suit as a member of an advisory committee. I called a friend. "Have you seen this?" "I know," said my friend, "I did a double-take, too." We had never seen Rory in a suit. T-shirt, suspenders, his trademark hat, the giant coffee mug -- yes, a thousand times. A suit? I guess you get dressed up for the Overstreet Guide.
I used to own about ten long boxes of comics. When I decided to sell off most of the books I collected from grade school through high school, I brought them to Rory. Comics and record collectors will understand this, but sometimes when you part with stuff you had a passion for, you want to sell it to someone who feels the same way. I sold lots of it to Rory, knowing he'd find a fan for it. What he and former Comic Relief staffer Carson Hall didn't buy, I knew I didn't want to take over to their competitors. Rory suggested I take the comics over to Oakland Children's Hospital, which is where they went. Over the years, I sometimes come across one of those old comics in the bins at Comic Relief. That was another thing I like about CR, it always felt like a book never went out of print there. You can still walk into the store and find 1980s Eclipse books on the racks (will Rory ever sell out of the Eclipse Krazy & Ignatz reprints?) or that one-off Jiggs is Back color reprint collection? When Celtic Press, or whatever they were called, went under -- Rory jumped to buy up the stock on that one. I upgraded mine immediately, from one stained with sticker-glue to a perfect copy, a good decade after it came out. What other store owner thought like that?
I can say, from experience, that despite the love, Rory was indeed a businessman. I had, or should say still have, ten Marvel flicker gumball machine rings from the 1960s. The reason I still have them is that when I brought them into Rory for trade, he went over them with such a fine eye, picking out every minute deficiency, you'd have thought I accidentally stumbled into the diamond district of Manhattan in Marathon Man. The offer came in so low I passed and took them home. Anyway, whenever I see those rings I think of Rory peering over them like he was buying Iron Man merch for the Queen of England and how embarrassed he'd be to show her mine. Yeah, I'm still a little huffy about that one. They're great rings. He wasn't always right, that's all I'll say.
I can fairly trace all my changing interests in comics through his store. I don't think it's any coincidence that when I got down here to LA, I immediately drifted toward Meltdown -- a store that carries on the Comic Relief spirit nicely (visit Meltblog and its tribute to Rory, and you'll see why).
At some point, after I published an essay in the Carl Barks Library I think, Rory deemed me a VIP and gave me a VIP discount card. Even though I live in LA, it's still in my wallet every day. I don't know why, it just is, and it's not going anywhere. Maybe it's because Comic Relief remains the one place on Earth I was ever thought a VIP, and only because I love comics.
Will Rising Gas Costs Have A Dramatic Effect On The 2009 Convention Season?
Both Lea Hernandez and Mark Evanier have noted new policies by American and Delta to charge for checked baggage. As I recall, American augmenting its current fee for a second bag by charging a fee for any bag linked to an economy ticket (the tickets most of us use); Delta right now is on board with American when it comes to charging for a second bag and may soon charge for a first. Other airlines are expected to follow their example. Hernandez makes the point that this could have an impact on the way professionals fly to this summer's convention seasons. Not only do many cartoonists pack enough for a week or more in a remote location, but some take a second piece of luggage along that's devoted to art and supplies and books and other work material.
As traveling to conventions becomes more nettlesome as 2008 passes, it might be time to begin speculation on what a sustained period of high gasoline prices might mean to the next two or three years of comics convention attendance. A general economic downturn marked by higher gas prices and a resulting, significant strain on the personal finances of people in general could certainly find expression in fewer people making a major effort to get to a show, as visiting a comics convention would in that context be seen by most as an easily eliminated extravagance. The always-present notion that gas prices might return to a lower level at some point might cause some people to more easily skip a convention season or two in hope that prices return to saner levels. Those conventions that depend on heavy professional and even fan attendance from places outside the region could feel the impact of increased travel prices as airlines take steps to recoup some lost monies and cut flights, putting a higher premium on the value of remaining routes. I know that from my own experience the biggest difference in post-9/11 travel seems to be a stupendous reduction in number of flights available, particularly from non-top 20 airports. The days of flying to SPX from Seattle for $143 RT by way of Long Island are long gone. Many conventions also fly in guests, so they could feel monetary pressure directly there. Airlines in trouble make it difficult to plan ahead for travel to shows. One of the airlines that went under this year, ATA, reliably served Charlotte (Heroes Con) from Chicago and Indianapolis, and it took hundreds of dollars of at least my own ticket money with it. A weak US dollar may combine with fuel price concerns to take some of the great European shows (Angouleme, Luzern) off the table in a way they weren't just five years ago.
So are there tough times ahead? Perhaps, although it's probably wise not to overstate the case or to dwell on one set of consequences. For one thing, there isn't really a huge network of national comics shows. If you eliminate the wounded beasts that are many of the Wizard World conventions, the majority of which have become local cons in nearly every way whether Wizard likes it or not, what's left on the schedule is maybe two or three shows that depend on a lot of air travel and a half-dozen or so growing, modestly successful regional cons. Most shows attract a vast majority of their attendees from local and regional fans, and could adjust to serving them with a greater percentage of local and regional guests, especially for a season or two. Going overseas to places like Lucca was never cheap, and most people weren't doing that, anyway. A national economic downturn could also have a greater impact on comics beyond conventions, to the point that a downturn in convention attendance may be the least of the industry's worries several months from now. Graphic novels may not be as recession-proof as comics pamphlets traditionally have been, comics pamphlets are priced in a way they might not be as recession-proof either, a lot of publishing fortunes are now tied into a book publishing industry that might see its own problems exacerbated in a tight-fisted economy, and if gas prices continue to rise one would guess there would eventually be some sort of effect on shipping prices for the Direct Market's unique system of widespread last-second distribution to stores.
Still, it's worth tracking just how fragile the outer edge of con attendance might be, and how soaring plane ticket prices and fees driven by fuel costs may bury the notion that one can easily have a convention "season" if only one wishes to take part. I've already canceled plans to attend a show this Fall, and I can't be the only one.
Editor & Publishernotes a report in the Boston Herald that indicates Dave Granlund was let go from his longtime position at the MetroWest Daily News. He has been at the paper for 31 years. General financial concerns were cited as the reason. As the E&P article notes, staffed cartoonist position have been reduced by more than half their number from the 1980s, although more recent firings seem to be more in line with general cost-cutting at newspapers than in some sort of change in attitude towards having a full-time cartoonist.
The writer Kiel Phegley confirmed with CR last night that he was let go by Wizard on Wednesday, although he declined to comment further on any matter related to his dismissal. Phegley had done a number of high-profile features for the publication and its attendant mini-empire. He covered the New York Comic-Con and was spearheading their Indie Jones on-line effort. Wizard has dismissed significant number of staff members over the last several months. The company has also placed its office/warehouse on the real estate market for what they claimed was exploratory, informational purposes.
* you know, I don't miss there being 20 write-up mining the same territory like we had for a while, but if someone's going to be out there doing dyspeptic convention reports, I'm glad it's Matt Maxwell.
* the New Yorker apparently changed the credit on its recent Jack Kirby-related caption contest after some readers felt that without such credit it was more a rip-off of the great comic book artist rather than an homage.
* I forgot to note that Ed Stein's local daily Denver Squareended yesterday. I love final episodes.
* Mike Lynch is off to the NCS national meeting and the Reubens.
* here's a cartoonist claiming sales over $5 million annually, and you've probably never heard of him. While we're talking "successful businessman profiles," here's one about a retailer that got behind the graphic novel as a primary sales force.
* an interview with Eric Reynolds has a bit more on Fantagraphics signing an exclusive with Diamond for comics market distribution. I was talking on the phone to someone about this the other day. They asked me what Fantagraphics would have thought at the height of the distribution wars if they learned that they'd be signing their own exclusive deal in 2008, and my first response was "relieved to hear they're still around."
* for what it's worth, there are a couple of pieces out there that either dispute or attempt to logic away claims made in my original article. I don't want to get into a pissing contest with anyone, but of course I stand behind any and all claims made in my piece.
Some are already calling for folks to patronize the store in order to give it a boost during difficult times. If you're in the area, I'd suggest this for sure, and if you have a huge order you want to make, I can't imagine it would hurt. I might wait before doing phone orders just to do a phone order until things settle down at the retailer. We'll hopefully talk to Martinez at the end of this week or the beginning of next week to get a sharper picture as to the shop's overall health and status after losing its longtime owner.
According to Steve Holland, the British comics artist Mike Western passed away on May 13. He was 83 years old. Western began working on the seminal magazine Knockout while employed in the animation field. He soon became a well-respected adventure comics artist, working on features like Lucky Logan and the popular Johnnie Winco. In the 1960s he moved into television adaptation, changing styles for a run on The Wild Wonders. He moved back to adventure comics in the mid-1970s, creating lauded work in Battle Picture Weekly. In the 1980s he worked on Topps on Two Wheels, The Computer Warrior and Billy Boot's before moving to the Roy of the Rovers daily strip in the early 1990s. He painted in retirement.
Holland notes that Western suffered a heart attack and stroke in 2007 that left him bedridden. A full list of his career accomplishments, including a few 2000 AD covers and information on a biography, can be found here.
This time it's Jake Fuller of the Gainesville Sun, who's been with the paper as a full-time staffer since 1997. It may or may not be worth pointing out that it seems like there's been a shift to where these positions are being eliminated as part of a general trend towards trimming newspaper staffs in a lot of departments, as opposed to initiatives that reflect a changing attitude towards the value of a staff cartoonist. I don't know if that applies here or not, but that's been my general impression.
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 April 2008.
The big news is probably split between a continued drop in new comics sales from a year earlier -- which should be fairly obvious if you check out the number of comics selling over 100K this year and last -- and a successful launch for Marvel's Secret Invasion crossover, including a trade of stories that inform the "event" book that Marvel put out this month. The drop continues an overall first quarter decline in sales. I'm not sure that anything else really jumps out at me except that a lot of the top-sellers up top seem like more tired or not as widely-appealing versions of the same books that were on the charts last year.
* the latest in the case of the detention of cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot and the search of his home finds a Dutch newspaper reprinting some of the cartoons, and, unlike the case of North American newspaper and the Danish Cartoons Controversy, educating its readers as to what's at stake in a way that changes the meaningful commentary. The analysis in that article is interesting as well, as it basically suggests that what we're seeing is a test case.
* it looks like Nekschot's normal employer will reprint all the cartoons. That same article describes a public, political inquiry into the arrest and promised charges, as well as giving some background on the matter.
* you know, I appreciate that these are big publishing names and all being bandied about, but does this group of planned comics publishing projects sound all that promising based on their own merits? Would they call for a soft, top-of-an-issue profile if there weren't a few big publishing house names to toss around? Also, if you're going to do an interview and you're asked about an aborted project that everyone remembers being aborted, shouldn't you really muster a better answer to the question than roughly "I still think the author is awesome"? Also, if I were a traditional comics publisher, I might start getting sick of the patronizing tone that a lot of book publishing people take towards their efforts. That last response reads to me like "Thanks for letting people like me come in and give these authors the success they deserve but you were unable to give them." Sheesh.
* this post from Jason Lutes wishing the CCS Class of 2008 the best of luck in future endeavors is about as clever as they come when it comes to putting together a way to send these new graduates some attention. I know I clicked through on more than a few.
* you may not appreciate the goofy headline, but this article provides an interesting look at a recent Vancouver art gallery through one of its co-curators, Seth.
* a few more fun to read pieces generated by the Bone exhibit in Columbus: an interview with Jeff Smith, a talk with Terry Moore, and a photo array from the Jeff Smith/Scott McCloud chat and the Terry Moore appearance, and a report on Moore's presentation.
* finally, the critic Jeet Heer celebrates the new John Stanley resurgence, and I bet his statement that Stanley is a better writer than Carl Barks got him a lot of traction in the various commentary blogs out there.
Store Manager Todd Martinez Wants You To Know: Comic Relief Will Not Close
I just got off the phone with store manager Todd Martinez and one other still slightly stunned-seeming but very helpful Comic Relief staffer. Martinez helped fill in the bare skeleton of Rory's personal life, which has been streamlined into the obituary below, and will be able to speak on various issues surrounding the passing of retailing icon Rory Root by the end of this week at the earliest.
However, he wants everyone to know that despite any rumors that there may be out there to the contrary, "Comic Relief will continue on."
Root told Sequential Tart in 2007 that he first sold comics at flea markets and in his mother's antique store. That interview and other written commentary suggests that Rory Root came into comics retail proper through the gaming industry, another loose confederation of businesses from the 1970s consisting of converted stores and start-ups run to great extent by fans of the field. He was a player in the Bay Area role-playing gaming group run by Arduin Grimoire creator Dave Hargrave. Attending the University of California at Berkeley, Root dropped out of school just before graduating with a degree in computer science in order to pursue a future in the retail end of the gaming industry.
Root managed The Gambit, a gaming store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. It closed in the early '80s, perhaps as soon as 1980. From there he moved into a staff position at Robert Beerbohm's comic book store, also on Telegraph, The Best of Two Worlds. (Sources dispute on whether there was an interim stop at Games of Berkeley, on Shattuck Avenue, and if Beerbohm's store was actually called "The Best of Both Worlds.") By the time he worked at TBOTW, Root had rediscovered comics as an adult, later citing Will Eisner's work as a spur to doing so. He was also a great lover of prose, which likely had some effect on his hope -- if not expectation -- that comics would become a vital participant in American book publishing. It was while at The Best of Two Worlds that Root began making some of the social, professional contacts by which he would eventually become known.
Root and then-partner Michael Patchen opened Comic Relief on April 15, 1987. "We were shooting for April 1st, All Fools Day, but like so many good things in the DM, shipped late," Root told Sequential Tart. (Patchen would leave the store in the mid-1990s.)
Root would put into a practice a philosophy of comics retailing that helped make Comic Relief one of the world's best comic shops, and perhaps this country's outright best. Root placed an early emphasis on trade paperbacks and collections as renewable stock and perennial sellers, a great number of which he kept, by necessity, in a space off the retail floor. He combined this stocking strategy with an enthusiasm for comics' wide range of reading options, a third position he staked that was neither the embrace of American superhero comic books as the one true use of the medium that many shops and major industry players advocated nor the rejection or pushing away of those comics that some of the leading art comics supporters believed in. He worked on his store's physical plant and lighting. He made Free Comic Book Day every day when it came to giving a kid his or her first comic. He made a point of hiring knowledgeable staff and emphasized their hand-selling to customers, something he was delighted to do himself given the opportunity.
"One time I saw him talking to a mother and young girl in the shop recommending comics, and he was pretty damn good at his job," Eric Reynolds told CR. "No hard sell, just supremely helpful."
Root's philosophy extended to all aspects of retail operation. He kept diverse the sources from where Comic Relief ordered books, and castigated shops that fell into a trap of servicing customers on specific pre-orders as opposed to having a wide-ranging stock and matching customers to books on the shelf. He eschewed maximizing profit on certain out-of-print or rare books in favor of getting them on the floor and into readers' hands. He supported joining booksellers associations, attending those trade shows and using those resources as well as any more specifically focused on comics. He embraced local creators and treated visiting comics professionals like guests in his home.
"Comic Relief was one of the first stores to carry my mini-comics when I was a teenager, and it was the first place that made me feel like I might have a future in this business," Adrian Tomine wrote in a note to CR when informed of Root's passing. "At the time, there were a few stores that were politely selling my comics on consignment, but CR was the one place that called me in Sacramento asking if they could get more copies because they'd sold out."
Root specifically encouraged young cartoonists of all stripes. He purchased loads of mini-comics and small press items to present them for sale, held a staggering number of signings and events, and became a fixture at and sometimes co-organizer of west coast conventions. This included the Bay Area shows but also San Diego's Comic-Con International, where his store's booth would by the early 2000s became one of the anchor locations on the floor for comics purchases and where Rory himself, perched on a stool, became one of the show's iconic figures.
"The news of Rory's passing really is devastating," Comic-Con International's David Glanzer said to CR. "He was such a good and long time friend of Comic-Con that it's difficult to believe he is no longer with us. When I first came on board at Comic-Con, Rory was one of the first to offer his help and opinion on anything having to do with the comics industry."
The end result of Root's hard work and that of several devoted staffers was one of the industry's first destination stores and a model for comics retail that made those who shopped there feel better about the possibilities of the medium. Comic Relief was in 1993 along with Moondog's and The Beguiling one of the first recipients of the Will Eisner Spirit of Retailing Award, a lifetime honor that had gone to Root's store after a little more than a half-decade of operation.
One of Root's most important endeavors was to cultivate relationships with and facilitate sales to libraries and other, similar, secondary markets for comics, doing so as soon as the early 1990s. When by the late 1990s and early into the 2000s this started to became a major market for comics sellers, Root dispensed informal advice and made appearances at professional gatherings to speak on these sorts of possibilities for the comics market. He exhibited at some of these shows in partnership with Diamond and then later on his own. Root's advice wasn't just a boon to comics shops that might forge such relationships but also provided librarians and other groups with a valuable service by letting them know what was out there for purchase so that they might enhance their offerings and attract readers. He was a featured speaker at the 2003 Book Expo America's comics programming track.
One of the moderators at that show, Calvin Reid, spoke of Root's importance within the idea of book format comics. "His prophetic sense that it was inevitable and necessary for comics to be part of book culture -- both literary and retail book culture -- was clearly way ahead of its time. His work with libraries was just the same: prescient and practical. He not only saw how important libraries and librarians would be to book format comics, but he took the steps and did the hard organizing work to make it happen." He added, "I'd have to say from my view, he was an absolute retailing visionary and someone who managed to make their vision into a reality."
Because of his enthusiastic support for creators, his general raconteur-type air and gentlemanly manner, his ability to informally network and his displayed enthusiasm for socializing during conventions (anyone who ever smoked in comics seems to have a Rory Root story), in addition to the status and effectiveness of his store, Root had an enormous number of fans in comics retail and throughout the industry. He served as a mentor and resource for a number of western US stores that opened 1987-on, and it wasn't unheard-of to see a retailer or two from a different store working at Comic Relief at one of the big, west coast conventions.
"When people see the glory that is Comic Relief what they're really seeing is the passion of Rory manifest as a the greatest comic bookstore I've ever had the privilege of seeing," Dan Shahin of Hijinx Comics told CR. "His mind was as sharp as any I've encountered and he had a wealth of experience he was always willing to share with just about anyone. Rory knew from the beginning that there was so much more to comics than just superhero monthlies. He was the first to truly embrace the bookstore model for comic shops as opposed to the collectibles model that is still predominate in the industry. Rory knew that there was an adult, literate market for comics that was not being addressed and set out to make Comic Relief address that market." Dan Clowes called Comic Relief "a national treasure" in a statement to Comics Reporter; publisher Alvin Buenaventura likened his occasional trips to the store as a youth to going to heaven.
In late 2004 into early 2005, when landlord difficulties and some physical plant concerns caused Comic Relief to seek out a new location on Shattuck Avenue, Root's many fans rallied behind the move. Fans bought old stock at a number of sales and through mail order, the writer Warren Ellis scheduled a late 2004 signing in direct support of the move, and patrons even went so far as to help move some product to the new location by hand. The new store with its copious floor space became a signature retail stop for the usual Comic Relief virtues and the staggering amount of material now on display, far more than was available within reach at the University Avenue location.
By the time of the move, Root had begun to experience a number of health problems, which in some cases had led to him working from home on certain days rather than in the store itself. While he remained relatively youthful-seeming to many of his peers, signs of some physical deterioration became more and more obvious. The cartoonist Jeff Smith told Comics Reporter that time spent recently with Root found the retailer in better health and spirits than he had been in quite some time; Root had even quit smoking.
Store manager Todd Martinez has the immediate responsibility for the location upon Root's passing. Although details of its ultimate dispensation are as yet unknown, it is widely believe the store has been left to Martinez.
"There's no one else like Rory Root," wrote Charles Brownstein, the current executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund who was encouraged by Root as a teenager when working on his magazine Feature. "He was a member of the founding generation of comics retail, and may one day be credited as the founder, or, at minimum, foundational influence, of graphic novel retail. He was a tireless champion and advocate for new talent. And he was always trying to build a better future for our field -- with his support of young artists, his mentorship of new retailers, and his robust participation at industry functions that ranged from the industry's summit and down into its foothills. Even if you didn't know Rory, if you love comics, you owe him a debt of respect."
Scott McCloud summed up the feelings of many professionals and comics fans huddled in various comics chat rooms and message boards this week. "Rory was great friend to our community, and a great friend of comics. He'll be terribly missed." A memorial service for Rory Root is in the planning stages, and the Comic Relief site will be temporarily converted into a memorial page for the late retailer. Root is survived by a mother, Nancy Root; two brothers, Roger and Reynolds; and a sister, Karen. He is preceded in death by two brothers, Ivan and Randy, and his father.
Below please find full testimonies to Root solicited for this article. I thought they were too lovely and heartfelt to only be presented in truncated form. A Collective Memory on Root's passing can be found here.
Marc Arsenault, Wow Cool:
When I first walked into Comic Relief at it's old University Avenue location in Berkeley in 1992 I wasn't quite sure what to make of the place, but I knew it was something special. I hoped that it would last (being obviously too good to), and that it was a sign of things to come. To me it was extra special. Here was a comic shop that not just sold, but prominently displayed and promoted minicomics and zines and devoted serious shelf space to small press comics. And Rory employed a dedicated buyer to find the best of this stuff. And the books sold. They sold well. He didn't seem to mind much that I stole away that buyer to set up Wow Cool as a small press distributor. In fact, he became our first, and best customer, and later our landlord.
Rory Root did things as a comic book shop owner that most other DM Retailers (then and even now) would probably consider quite mad... Like selling off his back issue stock (a 1,500 square foot warehouse lined with floor to ceiling shelves) in one lot. He then rented the space to us. Wow Cool spent four long years there. It had a great loft that had been built by the late Bob Callahan (he moved across the hall years back).
Rory Root was the best friend that small press comics ever had. Of course he was also the most enthusiastic supporter of good work in any medium. His passion for quality entertainment was so great it was hard to believe. I wonder how many people first got turned on to Miyazaki's films or Optic Nerve or Cometbus by Rory?
The 'Zine Explosion' of the 90s would have still happened without Rory Root, but the numbers would have been alot smaller.
Here's a tip of the mug to Rory Root, a pioneer in rejecting the back issue/non-returnable business model and creating an example for the future.
Charles Brownstein, CBLDF
Rory was one of the most generous people I've met -- in this business, and, most especially, in life. As the hundreds of comments and blog posts accumulating in his memory attest, he had a passion for comics, but that passion was second, I believe, to his passion for people. His true contribution was believing in and championing the people who believed in comics.
Rory took a sincere interest in people -- whether you were a business professional, a name creator, a young cartoonist with a mini-comic, or a walk-in from the street. Rory's empathy is what made him shine in the province of the retailing business. He took care to understand who you were and what you liked, and he remembered. If you were a creator or a professional, he took an interest in what you did, and invested himself in your work. As recently as WonderCon, I recall Rory proudly telling the story of how, the first time he met Eddie Campbell, it was a shock not only that Eddie knew who Rory was, but he was coming by to thank him for pushing his work over here. Eddie isn't the only cartoonist in that boat. In the short time that I lived in the Bay Area, I saw Rory take an inventory position on dozens and dozens of small press creators. Some of those early mini-comics sold to Comic Relief set a few of their creators off on trajectories that have made them award winning graphic novelists today.
I met Rory sometime in the mid-90s when I was publishing Feature, a small interview magazine. I met him early on -- I must have been 15 or 16. He didn't dismiss me because of my age, he engaged me with the respect of a peer, and shared his knowledge of this business (which he'd been a part of for longer than I was alive) freely. Rory was supportive of Feature, because he was supportive of me and my goals for comics. Once I paid Diamond to deliver a report of Feature's retail penetration, and was not surprised to find that Rory bought more copies than any other store in the country. I know I'm not the only one. Rory believed in people, and I was lucky that he believed in me.
That belief, and that friendship, didn't change as my circumstances and occupations within comics did. I have spent literally hundreds of hours talking to Rory these last several years, and it was my privilege. He had an unwavering curiosity for and interest in people and their creative expressions. It made him a great mentor, a great ally in our common cause, and a great ambassador for our common field.
There's no one else like Rory Root. He was a member of the founding generation of comics retail, and may one day be credited as the founder, or, at minimum, foundational influence, of graphic novel retail. He was a tireless champion and advocate for new talent. And he was always trying to build a better future for our field -- with his support of young artists, his mentorship of new retailers, and his robust participation at industry functions that ranged from the industry's summit and down into its foothills. Even if you didn't know Rory, if you love comics, you owe him a debt of respect.
All night my phone has been going off with text messages and phone calls. All night the email and IM has been buzzing as we share our feelings about Rory's passing. He was as beloved as anyone our business has ever produced, and is already deeply, deeply missed.
Ed Brubaker, Writer:
I came to CR as an employee in 1990, if I recall correctly. Back then the store was next to the Wasteland (jesus, I can still hear the Pixies playing constantly through the wall) a block from the Berkeley campus, and only a few years old, it was still clearly the best comic store you'd ever seen. Rory, Mike, and Christine were running the place, and while I was probably one of the worst employees in history, it was a great place to be. Half the staff seemed to also work at the University theater (or were part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturdays), so we got free movies all the time as a perk.
There were a few days I'll always remember, spent in the CR warehouse with Rory, digging through overstock and constantly finding things I'd never heard of that Rory would drop everything to tell me about, and show me other obscure Euro or underground books he thought I'd like. Like Jack Dickens in San Diego, Rory was one of the few people to really help me find a path in comics. I was already starting to get published back then, and didn't work at the store that long, but I never stopped shopping there until I left town. I would often just hang out as if I still worked there, anyway, and it was the CR employees and Rory who turned me onto the mini-comix of Jason Lutes and Dame Darcy and Adrian Tomine, and many others. And through those comics, I ended up contacting Jason Lutes about his work and ways to get it published on a wider level, and nearly twenty years later, Jason is still one of my best friends in the world.
Over the last two decades, Rory became one of my biggest supporters. I apologized repeatedly for being a shitty employee, but he would always shrug it off and then get me to sign a bunch of books, instead. And as I worked in the industry more and more, Rory was often that guy that I ran into at conventions who would tell me how I was doing. When I was down in the dumps about sales on Sleeper, I remember Rory pulling me aside at a Wondercon and reminding me that good work was its own reward, and that I was doing fine. Little moments like that always helped.
Like a lot of people who knew Rory, when ex-CR employees would run into each other, we'd always comment on Rory's health and worry about him a bit, but I can't believe he went so quickly. When I look back at my life so far, some of my fondest memories are from those Berkeley days, hanging at the shop and talking comics with Rory and the rest of the staff back then, all the cool locals who would come in -- Jonathan Segal from Camper Van Beethoven (who I turned onto Eightball), Aaron Cometbus, all the underground cartoonist signings and the parties afterward. It was a great place to be young and wide-eyed, and that's what Rory wanted it to be. A cool comics shop that paved the way for the future of comics shops. I always told him if he'd franchise CR all of comics would benefit from it.
In my wallet, I still have the now partially-disintegrated Comic Relief VIP card that Rory gave me when Lowlife first got published. It's #132, and I'd always drag it out at the register every time, even when I didn't have to, somehow proud I'd hung onto it so long. Rory always laughed at me for that.
A few years back, when CR was going through their move and some financial trouble, I called down to order some books (an out of print EC box set) by way of helping out a bit, and I'd like to encourage people to do that now, to help Todd (who is inheriting the shop from what I understand) get through this awful time, and to ensure that this shop that is a beacon for what good shops can be stays around for a good long time. Go into CR and spend some money, or call them and order that GN you've been thinking about, and do it in honor of Rory, who saw what comics retailing could be and made it that way in his part of the world.
Alvin Buenaventura, Buenaventura Press:
As a kid I would look forward to coming to the Bay Area to visit relatives knowing that I'd have the chance go to Berkeley and visit Comic Relief -- it was heaven, easily one of the best in the world one of those few that offers everything in the comics spectrum. As an adult, I've since moved to Oakland I'm realizing that I've grown to take for granted what Comic Relief has to offer since it's just around the corner.
Having recently gotten in to the comics business I'd fortunately gotten to know the man behind this exceptional store. I'm now realizing just how lucky and helpful it was to be able to call or visit him any time I had a question regarding just about anything that would come up as a young publisher. Not only did he always have the time to talk and an incredible vast wealth of knowledge of all aspects of the comics biz, he also had a invaluable enthusiasm for it all. I'll always appreciate his very kind, generous support and friendship and will miss him dearly.
Dan Clowes, Cartoonist:
I just heard the news and even though I've known of Rory's health problems for several years now (though I was never sure what they were exactly), I'm still in shock over this news. I can't believe I'll never see him again. He was such a singular character and he knew more than anybody about "the business." It kills me to think that all that knowledge is gone, inaccessible. I hope he kept a journal or something... He really loved the world of comics and his place in that world, and he always made you feel appreciated for producing the work that filled his bookshelves. He was a good man and his store is a national treasure...
Andrew Farago, Cartoon Art Museum:
The last time I saw Rory Root (and I'm tearing up over the fact that I'm starting a sentence with those words) was two weeks ago, on Free Comic Book Day. It's very appropriate that's my final memory of him, since that's what Rory was all about -- not just getting people to read comic books, but making sure that they were going to read comic books that they'd love to read. A steady stream of customers passed through Comic Relief all day, and Rory effortlessly shifted gears from one visitor to the next, chatting up thirty-somethings who'd just seen the Iron Man movie, mothers with eight year olds, manga-reading high schoolers, librarians, 'zine creators and all of the other curiosity seekers who came through his shop that day.
The reason that Rory's the gold standard for comic shop owners, though, is that's how he ran Comic Relief every day. Whether you'd never set food in a comic shop in your entire life or you observed Wednesday afternoon as your Sabbath, Rory was able to recommend the perfect book for anyone. I think the only thing Rory loved more than reading was getting other people as excited about reading as he was.
I think that my favorite thing about Rory is that he wanted everyone in the entire comics business (creators, editors, publishers, reviewers, retailers, readers... everyone) to know everyone else, probably in the hopes that we'd achieve some sort of comics Utopia if we all came together as a big, happy comics family. Rory corralled me after the Eisner Awards one year to make sure that I got to introduce myself to Neil Gaiman, and Rory was just as enthusiastic when it came to introducing me to some high schoolers who'd just printed up their first mini-comics. As long as you'd made some attempt to be part of Team Comics, Rory welcomed you with open arms.
I could go on and on about what Rory's done for the Bay Area comics community, and for the global comics community, and as I type this, my inbox is filling up with messages from dozens of people who could also go on at length about what Rory's done for each of them. I'll miss him as one of the most valuable resources of comic knowledge in the world, but I'll miss him even more as a friend.
Shaenon Garrity, Cartoonist:
Of the many things I admired about Rory, one of the most wonderful was his generosity toward cartoonists and his efforts to give a boost to struggling new creators. He stocked mini-comics in Comic Relief when most retailers wouldn't touch them. Every year at APE, he made a point of buying up new books by unheard-of artists. He even sold my books, and there aren't many retailers who can say that. He loved hosting book signings and release parties, especially for locals. He did all this with such contented good humor it made you wonder why this behavior is so rare in the comics industry. He was just so interested in everyone and their work.
I really love him. I don't know what else to say right now.
David Glanzer, Comic-Con International:
The news of Rory's passing really is devastating. He was such a good and long time friend of Comic-Con that it's difficult to believe he is no longer with us.
When I first came on board at Comic-Con, Rory was one of the first to offer his help and opinion on anything having to do with the comics industry. And as cool and diverse as his store is, so was his knowledge about so many things. Rory was a great supporter of our shows, which meant he often offered praise and criticism, but always with a genuine effort to help us make things better.
He will be terribly missed. It really is a very sad day. Our thoughts and prayers are with Rory's family and friends
Brian Hibbs, Comix Experience:
Rory was a pioneer, way ahead of anybody on the importance and value of the Book to comics, and he changed more minds of more publishers, creators, distributors and retailers than any ten other men, always for the wiser and the better.
Comic Relief after the move was the best comic book store I'd ever been in in my life -- if they asked me to face Mecca, I'd turn east and pray to CR across the bay.
I'm still kind of not processing this....
Larry Marder, Cartoonist:
I met Rory Root in 1984 at the ill-fated Petuniacon in Oakland. I think Rory was still working for someone else at the time. I was still in my free fanzine days and I'm pretty sure Rory had never heard of Beanworld before. But he was enthusiastic that Beanworld might find its way to the racks someday.
Rory was always a vigorous Beanworld booster and after the titles went out of print, he was very good at tracking down odd lots of Beanworld comics and trades that he'd secure at amazingly reasonable prices.
That was the great thing about Rory, he had that unique "Dealer" characteristic of not being to speak about any given back issue or obscure comic book in his store without going into a fascinating and detailed explanation of how it had come to arrive in his possession. His stories were always amazing in that way.
I really got to know the business side of Rory during the hey-day of the Direct Line Group (DLG). His firm belief that his destiny in comic book retailing would be driven by a store centered around a focus of graphic novels and trade paperbacks was something that he pursued through many up and downs over the next decade and a half.
Rory was right. Comic Relief was the proof.
Matt Maxwell, Writer:
I'm sure that I can not remember the first time that I met Rory, as Comic Relief booths had been fixtures at SDCC before I set foot in his store in the early nineties. This is an odd thing to say, as he cut quite the figure, even if you never had a moment to speak with him. Big as life was he, or even bigger than that.
We'd spoken many (but still too few) times over the last several years, when I was just toying with self-publishing, but was still trying to fill holes in my comic collection (that Sandman: World's End volume will now be a thornier rose, should I find myself reading it again.) And always, Rory was filled with good humor, but that was tempered by his many years in the business as well as practical experience that some zealous types may find themselves lacking. And when I would speak up with naive sureness, he was there with a firm "but on the other hand...", in particular regarding the comic to book-store transformation that is still ongoing in the industry.
When I finally announced my book after interminable delays (some of my own creation, mind you), his reply was along the lines of "When can I order it, and what can I help with?" There was no eye-rolling at another anemic indie publisher or impatience when I revealed that I was skipping serialization altogether. Instead, he replied with kindness, suggestions and ultimately happiness that another book would be out there to connect with readers.
That love of readership informed everything that Rory did. When you step in his store (I know that Todd runs the day-to-day, and has for some time, but it will always be Rory's store to me), you would see books. Books upon books. Towers of books spined-out on countless shelves, rife with characters both diluted by overexposure and muted with dusty obscurity. It did not matter. Batman: Digital Justice could be bought right alongside A Jew In Communist Prague. It didn't matter that one of those might sell in a year. Or ten. Or that a copy of Alien: The Illustrated Story (oh wondrous Simonson treasure) could rest on a shelf, just long enough to be spirited away, much to Ian's chagrin (he was just inches behind).
Though I'm only recently arrived to the chorus, as it were, I'll miss our conversations at every APE and Wonder-Con. He leaves behind some very large boots (no, really, his feet were huge). I don't expect that they'll be filled, but with some luck, others will continue to walk a path not far from the one that Rory set himself upon. Even so, we won't see his like anytime soon. Perhaps his infectious love of books (illustrated and otherwise) will continue to inspire. We should be so fortunate.
Scott McCloud, Cartoonist:
For many, many years, Rory owned the very best comics store in America. Rory was great friend to our community, and a great friend of comics. He'll be terribly missed.
Calvin Reid, Publishers Weekly:
I heard late yesterday that he was in a coma and obviously I was terribly worried. But your email is the first I've hard of his death. The comics community has truly lost one of its best friends and advocates. And yes, we were both on a bunch of panels on comics in bookstores and libraries and I believe he was quoted in more than a few PW articles on comics retailing. I'm going to did into the PW database and see what I have. I think Jessica Abel wrote a piece about comics retailing for me once that included a few quotes by Rory, but I better check first.
I'd have to say from my view, he was an absolute retailing visionary and someone who managed to make their vision into a reality. I've never actually been to his store Comic Relief but what I hear and from what he told me, it was a bigger and better Rocketship (the wonderful comics bookstore here in Brooklyn) before there was a Rocketship. In fact, Comic Relief existed before anyone thought a comics store should be run like a general bookstore.
His prophetic sense that it was inevitable and necessary for comics to be part of book culture--both literary and retail book culture--was clearly way ahead of its time. His work with libraries was just the same: prescient and practical. He not only saw how important libraries and librarians would be to book format comics, but he took the steps and did the hard organizing work to make it happen.
I believe he was one of the first comics retailers to work closely with public library systems to put together reading lists, to consult about collection building and make sure that libraries were an integral part of the new comics eco-system. And we've seen just how important librarians have been to this category over the last 10 years or so, establishing it as both significant category for both recreational and educational reading.
I always tried to chat with him at San Diego and of course his store at SDCC was the bomb -- every comic you could possibly want, right at your finger prints. Its just very sad to hear that he has passed but boy or boy did he make a mark on the comics landscape. He really got a chance to see the category stake its claims as serious and important platform for American literature and business.
Eric Reynolds, Fantagraphics Books:
I'm stunned. Rory Root was more than a business colleague, he was a good pal and we had the opportunity to "break bread" -- as he always put it -- many times over the last 15 years, and logged many more hours on the phone in between. I've gone to literally hundreds of comic conventions in my lifetime, and I bet I'm not the only one who can say I've spent more time outside on convention center benches with Rory than I have anyone else on the planet (gossiping away over coffee and cigarettes, usually). I could always talk to him about even the most contentious business matters -- our mutual respect always trumped the petty details. And he was a great talker and storyteller. He was a friend, he was one of the genuine good guys in this business, and he was a true giant in his field. What can I say about what he built? Comic Relief is just about the perfect comic book store. The thought of a Comic Relief without Rory is just much to even think about right now.
Dan Shahin, Hijinx Comics:
Rory was more than just a colleague, he was a dear friend and a mentor to me and I'll miss him more than I can adequately express. When people see the glory that is Comic Relief what they're really seeing is the passion of Rory manifest as a the greatest comic bookstore I've ever had the privilege of seeing. His mind was as sharp as any I've encountered and he had a wealth of experience he was always willing to share with just about anyone.
Rory knew from the beginning that there was so much more to comics than just superhero monthlies. He was the first to truly embrace the bookstore model for comic shops as opposed to the collectibles model that is still predominate in the industry. Rory knew that there was an adult, literate market for comics that was not being addressed and set out to make Comic Relief address that market.
Of course he was right, and this was decades before the fairly recent industry move towards more trade paperbacks. He was a true visionary who knew more about every aspect of the book trade, not just the comic book direct market, than anyone I've ever met. His knowledge ranged from obscure comics trivia to the intricacies of bookbinding and I learned something from him every single time we talked, and we talked many hundreds of hours on the phone and in person.
There will never be another man like Rory Root, and the world is poorer for that. He spent his life proving the legitimacy, both artistic and financial, of the comics industry. He was proud of his store, but was also always striving to improve it. I'm proud to say I knew him and called him my good friend.
Jeff Smith, Cartoonist:
Vijaya and I just saw Rory in Vegas during the ComicsPro meeting there and he was looking healthier than he had in while. He'd quit smoking and seemed in good spirits.
Rory was one of the comics retailers who really cared about comics, especially indie comics, at a time when very few others even carried them. His store Comic Relief in Berkley was one of the first that I know of that regularly carried and restocked a full range of graphic novels - - a move that looks prescient today.
Rory, along with Jim Hanley, Joe Field, and a few other big players in retailing were the first people I met in comics, even before I met Neil Gaiman or Dave Sim. Probably at a retailing conference put on by Diamond or Capital distributors.
Rory was encouraging, and welcoming to Vijaya and me when we moved to the San Fransisco Bay area in the early 90s, often inviting us to the store and taking us out to dinner back when we were just starting out, and constantly introducing us to other cartoonists and important players in the retailing field.
We would see Rory every year in San Diego at the Con and he always greeting every member of my Cartoon Books staff with hugs and good humor the moment we stepped on the convention floor. Every single year he wanted to be the first person to see what little goodie we were going to unpack from our crates. And every year he put his money where his mouth was, supporting me and many other smaller publishers at the end of the Comicon by taking any unsold books off our hands (at a pretty hefty discount, of course, but that was Rory!). I will miss him.
An era has ended. Goodbye, Rory.
Adrian Tomine, Cartoonist:
Comic Relief was one of the first stores to carry my mini-comics when I was a teenager, and it was the first place that made me feel like I might have a future in this business. At the time, there were a few stores that were politely selling my comics on consignment, but CR was the one place that called me in Sacramento asking if they could get more copies because they'd sold out. I think that's indicative of Rory's overall approach, and it's what made the store so great: a consistent interest and respect for all types of comics.
In terms of marketablity, the chasm between "mainstream" and "alternative" has lessened considerably over the years, but I think Rory was way ahead of the curve in terms of promoting things other than the latest superhero junk. He created a store that I think has been (and should continue to be) a model for future retailers. On a personal level, he was unfailingly friendly, polite, chatty, and supportive. I'm kind of in shock as I write this, because even though I don't live in Berkeley anymore, Rory has been a presence in my life for so long, and I always assumed I'd see him every time I went back to visit.
Dan Vado, SLG:
I have known Rory for quite some time, first meeting him as one of maybe three people who attended a convention called Petunia-Con (a tribute to Cerebus and probably the first ever small press convention) which had the dubious distinction of taking place on Mother's Day. I could tell that Rory's love and support for alternative and small press comics was a genuine and that he truly believed that the people who worked on comics which appealed to a non-superhero crowd were the future of the industry. In the years that I would work with him first as a retailer and convention promoter and later as a publisher he never wavered from the thought that comics in America, both as a medium and a business, could be so much more than they were.
Lots of people believe that, Rory was one of the few retailers who put his money where his mouth was buying and supporting many small creators work sometimes at a detriment to himself. My own personal recollection of Rory would be of him coming to me at the end of a convention and seeing just how cheap I might be willing to sell him some of our key trade paperbacks. I have to admit, it used to annoy me, but then Rory was one of the few people out there who would go out on a limb and really push the books on the lower end of our sales chart and actually succeed with them.
In my last conversation with Rory during the ComicsPro meetings in Las Vegas I asked him, somewhat metaphorically, what the hell happened to our industry. "The Weasels got us" he replied, "We can't let them win."
Rory was a good guy, and I guess I'll miss him most come Sunday at Comic-Con when he doesn't come ambling by my booth with his signature coffee mug and his hat asking me what he can get at 80 percent off. I know, that sounds kind of rude, but that was Rory. The industry lost a great friend.
Gene Colan, Bills That Need Paying and the Potential Forthcoming Crisis
The writer Clifford Meth reports that Marvel Comics has announced its intentions to provide both immediate and long-term assistance to the family of artist Gene Colan in their struggle to pay for much-needed medication. This is good news in a lot of ways, none more important that it's the right thing for Marvel to do. Colan was one of the artists present when the company was at the height of its comic book powers, and established much of what would become the narrative and visual backbones of five of Marvel's mega-successful movies: Daredevil, the Blade trilogy and the recent Iron Man. Marvel's decision to pitch in is laudatory, and should be treated as such by all interested observers.
The Colans' polite plea for assistance and the ones made on their behalf, encouragingly answered by a number of agents both big and small including Marvel, throws a spotlight on what seems to me like an increasing number of creators and comics industry folk in financial trouble. This post at Blog@Newsarama has updates focused solely on the most current efforts being made on behalf of various members of the comics community. That post is disheartening, and it doesn't even begin to cover the efforts just past, the campaigns that are not public knowledge, the routine work done by the Hero Initiative to step in on behalf of creators and their families upon their passing or at times of great need, those instances where a creator in trouble manages to avoid the kind of half-life or prolonged illness that leads to a plea in favor of something more sudden and with more severe and conclusive impact, and the thousands of comics creators at risk.
I'm slightly terrified that this is only going to get worse in the years ahead. I'd say about half of the creators that have been hit right now tend to be those who worked when there was more of a functioning industry than I think there's been over the last 25 years. If a creator getting a steady page rate for years from a top company has these problems, there will likely be more folks in the next three decades experiencing severe problems that worked within the context of an industry that barely supported their efforts. Comics people don't give up even when it's good for them to do so. Many don't take care of themselves. A few don't take care of themselves at the expense of pursuing their love of the medium or the goals they have for their art.
This is a hugely unpleasant topic. It's hard to figure out a way to approach the problem that doesn't soon devolve into a blame game, and it's frankly hard to argue that maybe there isn't some blame to go around. Comics operates under the shadow of an original sin of exploitation where caretakers and money men cash in from obliquely "managing" a property during a single quarter for greater reward than the original creator and their family might see in a lifetime. It's an industry where elements of this kind of practice continue in the present day through, say, brutally unfair secondary rights clauses in standard contracts and no one want to talk about it because it's unpleasant and violates some seemingly agreed-upon right that every creator must be allowed to sign a bad contract if they want or don't know better or can talk themselves into it being for the greater good. It's a business where some of its most devout patrons can recast what should be simple matters of creators rights and economic justice into issues of dishonor and greed based on the concern of whether or not their corporate branded fantasy fix will continue without interruption. All of this is supported by a culture of indulgence, and denial, and status based on establishing a life for oneself behind the "staff only" door without ever asking the question of whether or not that's a life worth leading.
I don't want to get into most of that right now, although I will when it's more appropriate. For today, what I propose is that all of us with some sort of professional stake in the comics industry -- and/or the sort of love for a medium that wishes for ethical and humanitarian treatment of its artists -- take a hard look at how quickly any of us could be put in the circumstance that has hit many of these creators and industry folk. I know for me it wouldn't take much. My life could become a catastrophe overnight very easily, and I suspect that's true for a lot of us. What I hope is that no matter where our first sense of things tells us the greatest blame might ultimately fall, or where the ultimate responsibility lies, for now we can simply agree that this is an important set of issues to confront -- not just at the point of crisis, but at all levels. Further, I hope we can agree that we need to start thinking about this now: for the sake of the upcoming flood and for our own risk of being drowned. Once enough people decide that an issue is important, there can be energy and attention spent on confronting its unpleasant, hard-to-deal-with aspects. Without that resolve, it's $10 here, $10 there, and soon $10 every day until it's your and my turn.
Please give now. Clifford Meth is still organizing an auction on behalf of the Colans and still has available for purchase a limited edition of a book (seen above) that will benefit the artist. Consider giving to the Hero Initiative, or to one of the other efforts on behalf of comics industry people in need. And as you do so, please think about paying the issue itself the gift of your devotion to seeing that it ends, or that it's diminished or that it's the very least understood. That's a first step, and we've been too long substituting the last step of generous gift-giving for what should be a series of actions on the matter entire.
* crackling all over wires over the weekend were stories that Dutch cartoonist known as Gregorius Nekschotwas arrested last Tuesday in his home in Amsterdam, and his house was searched. He was released Friday. At the heart of the detention (30 hours) and search were cartoons Nekschot posted to the Internet that criticized elements of Islam as well as Dutch politics. One report has 10 different policemen showing up to make the arrest, which I guess makes Nekschot the biggest bad-ass in cartooning history. All kidding aside, this seems at first glance intolerably awful, and no second glance has showed up over the weekend with a dissenting viewpoint that convinces me the first glance isn't totally accurate.
Story of the Year Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm; Percy Carey, writer, Ronald Wimberly, artist Best Writer
James Sturm, Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow Best Artist
Kyle Baker, Nat Turner: Revolution Best Male Character
Emmet Wilson, Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow; co-created by James Sturm, writer, and Rich Tommaso, artist Best Female Character
Amanda Waller, Checkmate; Greg Rucka, writer, Joe Bennett & Jack Jadson, artists Rising Star Award
Marguerite Abouet, Aya Best Reprint Publication Aya, Drawn & Quarterly; Chris Oliveros, publisher, Helge Dascher, translator Best Cover Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm; Ronald Wimberly, illustrator Best Comic Strip The K Chronicles; Keith Knight, story and art Fan Award for Best Comic Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four; Dwayne McDuffie, writer, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar, artists
The Glyph Comics Awards "recognize the best in comics made by, for, and about people of color from the preceding calendar year."
* wait-a-minute dept.: if the addition of Mort Walker's IMCA holdings to the OSU Research Library doubles the holdings of the latter, can the IMCA claim to be the biggest repository of original art in North America?
* here's a really interesting blog post/article by Steve Duin about the number of comics and comics-related tomes that are part of freshman reading programs. Comics or no comics, I'm really glad they didn't have reading programs like this when I was in school.
* finally, more on what the Fantagraphics/Diamond deal means for small press sales representative Tony Shenton, by Von Allan. I hope to follow up with Shenton if my schedule allows it and he's amenable, but while it's unfortunate that anyone who's someone's friend or who's a good guy or who has fought the fight for a long time loses his job or a significant part of it, it seems to me that Shenton had that gig long enough for Fantagraphics to make a fair judgment over what direction they want to go in the future. The effectiveness of sales reps in comics is historically difficult to gauge because there's not enough stability in sales to figure out exactly what it is a sales rep adds to the bottom line, particularly when you get to the issue of how many of those sales would have been made anyway. I guess we'll see.
CR Sunday Interview: Paul Maybury, Mark Andrew Smith
Aqua Leung is the latest in a thing but vital line of sprawling comics fantasies to struggle into publication the last decade or so, comics that draw on a multitude of well-established genre roots while also managing to stand out against a backdrop of more mannered, in-continuity heroic tales. It's the story of a little boy that finds out he's a lost underwater prince, which is a familiar story in a familiar setting against which the writer Mark Andrew Smith and the artist Paul Maybury can riff like a pair of comfortable, local neighborhood, late-night jazz musicians, piling on weirder visuals, stronger figure contrasts and more haphazard rhythms even while playing things fairly close to standard expectations in terms of the narrative outcomes. These guys were weird for me to interview because I have a limited number of questions about such material and they were interviewed to death by the various on-line comics publications. My computer also decided that this would be the time to show up for work covered in vomit and singing the banana boat song while sitting off in the corner punching itself in the face, so a lot of questions had to be sent back and forth more than once before everything was answered. I enjoyed the book, though, and I'm grateful for the patience the creators displayed in finishing up with the following.
TOM SPURGEON:Aqua Leung contains a kind of classic heroic fantasy story arc, which in comics is still a reasonably rare thing. Can you track for me some of the direct -- and indirect -- inspirations and precursors to the project? Are there are any stories for which your aspirations concerning Aqua Leung include similar success or comparable excellence in its execution? Are there any comics published in the last decade you'd consider fellow travelers?
PAUL MAYBURY: When I was little, in the '80s, my parents would rent me animated movies from the local video store. I guess in that store's opinion anything animated obviously belonged in the kids section. So I ended up watching movies like Heavy Metal, Wizards, Grendel Grendel Grendel, Fantastic Planet, Light Years, etc. Just a lot of movies with adult themes and pretty scary characters. I ate this up as a kid, and I wanted to do a book that had inviting cartoonish-looking characters with a much heavier setting and tone. Kind of a kids book with teeth.
I try not to look to comic books for my inspiration too much, but I will say that Bone is something that kept popping up in my mind while working on Aqua, as a quality level to aspire to. I also think I started working on Aqua around the same time Mike Oeming got to work on Mice Templar and I think the two series share this same kind of enthusiasm for modern comics fantasy.
SPURGEON: Two works it reminds me of far more than Oeming's are Frank Espinosa's Rocketo and even the first few volumes of Dragon Ball, given the young protagonist and the wildly stylized design. Did either of those books inform what you guys were doing? Where in general did you find inspiration for the designs?
MARK ANDREW SMITH: I was a bit freaked out by Rocketo as well hearing that it was an underwater book. But I think overall just the first book of Rocketo took place underwater for the setting. Meeting Frank at cons he's very nice and supportive and always really warm. But I was a bit worried while we were working on Aqua and then seeing Rocketo and it was stressful for me a bit, but they turned out to both be unique and completely different. As a kid I always liked the concepts of Dragon Ball but I was unable to get into it as a show and actually watch it because there were so many characters, so I liked the concepts, but I was always like "what the hell is going on?" and I could never get into watching the show.
MAYBURY: That's funny, because I remember picking up Frank's Rocketo #0 from Speakeasy in San Diego in 2005 right when I was starting Aqua Leung. I was excited by it but at the same time freaked out and thinking that I at least needed to live up to a comic like this visually. So it probably pushed me artistically for sure. I'm originally from Boston, and Frank ended up teaching at MIT for a bit, so I remember going to Mr. Bartley's hamburgers with him and having a good discussion about comics and Aqua. I even did a pinup for the second trade a while back. He's totally Spiro by the way.
I've always been a big fan of Akira Toriyama's art and design. I think I got into Manga and Anime fairly early in the 90's, so I remember having the Japanese versions of the first few volumes of Dragonball.
TOM SPURGEON: Can you talk a bit, in as explicit terms as possible, about your character designs for the book? What kind of process was involved -- was it done separately or in the process of making the comic? How much collaboration was there on the look of individual characters? Where did you go for inspiration on individual designs? Was there any trial and error involved? Is there one character that specifically pleases either of you?
MAYBURY: Mark had drawn up a bunch of sketches of stuff he might want to see in the book and mailed them to me. I admit to losing them right after I got them and didn't find them for almost a year tucked away in a box or something as if to say, "Paul, move your stuff." Looking back at them now, Mark and I had a pretty similar vision for Aqua and his father.
With Aqua Leung I wanted to capture the Saturday morning cartoon action fun that Mark was all about, so I think I originally pulled from Astro Boy in look, but I wanted to bring in a darker heavier tone and give it sort of a different aesthetic. I almost wanted it to have a Heavy Metal magazine type of vibe, which I tried to get across in the logo. When I drew up my ideas for the logo I told Steven it should be a combination of Star Wars, Slayer and Spartacus, which actually kept running through my head for the entire book. I think Mark really trusted me to come up with whatever for the book while throwing me some ideas here and there. So, I had complete creative control right down to colors.
There were even a couple ideas which Mark was not too fond of but I kind of stuck to my guns and just asked him to trust me. For instance, Nero the crab king having smaller arms in the front. I remember drawing those in, then writing in a couple ideas for scenes to set up his reveal shot coming out of his tent, and then later on the punching sequence when Aqua confronts him. In fact that whole confrontation scene was written, drawn and colored independently for an early previews submission way before we even got to talking about that last part of the book. I think I had one night to do it all since it was a last second thing, so I got to really take the design out for a test drive and come up with some pretty cool (at the time undecided) color schemes and flesh it all out. Mark got to see this fully realized version of it early and I think he ended up really liking that extra character design element and how it really added to the story rather than just looking cool. Out of all the characters in the book I think Ragged Tooth and the Ice Archer are my favorite designs from costume to color.
SPURGEON: Comics and cartoons set underwater used to be a real staple of those forms of entertainment, and I'd say they're much less so today. Do you have any suggestions as to why?
MAYBURY: I think the genre was just done to death, and never had anything really flip it upside down. I think it was like eating vanilla ice cream for years, and we came and brought Oreos to the mix. Now the genre is tasty again, but it's still got the vanilla we all love and we remember why we love it. Volume 2 is going to bring the fudge.
ANDREW SMITH: Underwater books are not a genre yet I'd argue. They're a setting and a background for a style of genre story to take place. I think for most people it just never crosses their minds to do an underwater book or no one is brave enough to actually go through with it and figure it out. Their attention usually turns to a hundred other types of genres first and underwater isn't so much a genre with conventions as much as it is a setting.
It's very easy to get lot in the trappings and figuring out how it all works instead of telling the story. With Aqua Leung, it's really about the character first and foremost and his journey before it's an underwater book. It's a huge and epic fantasy story as well and huge action book before it's an underwater book and a bit of a genre blender with very classic storytelling roots
SPURGEON: Was drawing on that general tradition, say, a help for you? Was it appealing for you to work in an area of fantasy that's under-utilized right now?
ANDREW SMITH: We didn't really draw on the tradition too much of the underwater world but we did draw quite a bit from the well of fantasy. Aqua's a very classic book if you read it with classic themes. It's not done that much these days, so it's really reaching back into the past and drawing upon the well of things that we grew up with and enjoyed greatly.
MAYBURY: I think it helps establish something without us spending too much time to paint a background. I mean, we still felt obligated to give you the traditional hero background to make it a classic character, and use the underwater vibe the way it's been done in the past to a point. But, now, in the next volumes it's going to be a swift departure story wise. We have that hero that you all know, and we can do all the stuff we wanted to see previous characters of the genre go and do.
SPURGEON: Can you talk a bit about the decision to do an OGN, and to do it through Image? For instance, can you give an example or two of how you work with that company -- are you able to get feedback, or you able to get advice on marketing, or even support? How do you not get lost in the wave of work that's coming from that publisher right now?
ANDREW SMITH: When we began Aqua Leung we stared off doing single issues but as a habit I always pack single issues to 32 pages of full story just because that's something I really like and I feel guilty if even a single page in a comic is left unfilled with story. Paul showed some of the pages early on to Image and they saw that we were doing a bit of a Geof Darrow with many of the splash pages in the book and said it would work better as an OGN. That's the best thing that ever happened to us. We didn't have to worry about fitting everything in and we could really stretch and pull the story in the parts where we wanted to. The OGN is a beautiful, beautiful, format to work in.
MAYBURY: Self marketing is key with Image. Joe [Keatinge] is great, he does what he can but he's just one guy doing marketing for Image. Mark and I are in different time zones. So I'm up promoting the book while he sleeps, then when I'm sleeping Mark is up doing the same. We have Joe to help fill in the gaps, and he has a lot of connections that we just don't have. I think a lot of Image creators make the mistake of thinking their job is done once the hand in the book.
ANDREW SMITH: We can get feedback at Image but usually I'm a big chicken and sort of hide out from the bigger guys like [Erik] Larsen and [Eric] Stephenson. So I usually keep out of sight and just work and then let them see the finished product. I grew up when I was a kid reading Erik Larsen's book so it freaked me out a bit every time I would talk to him because when I was young I'd walk a few miles to the comic shop with whatever money I had to go and buy his book when Image was starting out.
So in a way I'm one of those Children of Image characters like [Robert] Kirkman that grew up and started creating comics. These days I'm much better about talking to Erik Larsen and less of a chicken. But at first it was surreal and strange for me.
With Aqua Leung they trusted us completely and that was a great feeling. So we didn't get feedback too much and when we were finished we were like "Okay, here's the book we've been working on for two years," and we dropped it in their laps.
A few years ago when I started with Amazing Joy Buzzards it was hard to get help and support on marketing but now with Joe Keatinge at Image he's really trying very hard to market and they get that we work so hard on these books and that they need to be promoted. These days were having good attention paid to us and the improvement has been tremendous in marketing from where it was a few years ago.
There are a lot of books that come out from Image every month and you get help with promotion from the publisher but it's really up to the creators to promote and sell their books to the public at Image. I think in comics there's a real defeated attitude in Indy books but Paul and I will tell you that hard work and picking your right targets for press pays off. I think many creators get an interview on a site and then they think that their work is done. Promotion is just exhausting and it feels like banging your head up against a wall. It's more exhausting than the creation of a work of art. But it's necessary. I know there's the whole introverted and tortured artist stereotype for folks in comics but Paul and I for comic book people are really extroverts and promoters as well as creators.
So Paul and I would have none of it and our feeling was that we had done too much work on Aqua Leung not to promote it in every way we knew how to do. We gave promotion and interview our all and it paid off.
SPURGEON: What do you have to sell to break even? Do you anticipate on making money with this work? Are there ancillary benefits outside of profiting with a single work, such as film rights and laying a foundation for future gigs, that are part of your motivation in doing a project like this one? How important is it to you that your comics are successful in that way?
MAYBURY: Well, we're doing a lot better than we thought we would. So we're in a good place at the moment. For Mark I'm sure it's different, but for me it's a door opener. So I can't really lose off this project because I got to do what I wanted to do, and I got my name out there and there's a second book on the way to correct any mistakes as a story teller and artist I made on volume 1.
ANDREW SMITH: We're past our break-even mark now so now if we're selling copies of the book it's money that we get to keep. There's not that much of a reward though for just how time consuming comics are. It's a unique industry because everyone is creating comics out of the side because of their love of the medium and not money. So when we sell through our print run the amount of cash that Paul and I get to keep between ourselves is really laughable. That's not really our motivation or our goal setting out.
A future gig isn't my motivation for doing Aqua Leung. I like creating my own work I'd like to do a few new books every year and be sort of like an Independent Stan Lee outside of that company system. If they called and offered me a job I'd probably do it just to try it on for size and to see if my audience would follow me onto my own work that I own.
Film rights are probably the only place for Aqua Leung right now where there would be a reward and that would be really nice if it happened and we're taking a ton of calls right now and working hard on getting it setup. If it went through I could quit my job and go to Costa Rica for a year or two and work on comics full time. That's the reward, it's not money, it's to facilitate doing comics full time. So money is just the avenue and a means to doing comics all the time.
I think for us it's important that we have a readership that knows who we are and that follows us from project to project as we build more and more of an audience that follows our work. It's extremely important. Paul and I both came into Aqua Leung with a bit of a built in audience, for Paul it was from Act-I-Vate and Zuda, and for myself I have an audience with Amazing Joy Buzzards. So it's really about building and building more and more on foundations that are already there.
SPURGEON: You've done a ton of promotion for this material. Is there any danger to doing a lot of interviews, a lot of articles about a work? Do you think interviews and the like result directly sales or is there a more general effect of exposure and kind of raising your creative profiles? Where do each of you stand on the utility of convention appearances?
ANDREW SMITH: I think that all press is positive and good press. I can't feel guilty about doing press and I don't feel that doing a ton of press makes us any less independent as a book. Aqua Leung is a weird hybrid of a book where folks aren't sure what to make of it or where it fits in as a color OGN.
MAYBURY: Well, there's only about a couple months of solid promotion, and it's mostly for retailers or anyone with a genuine interest in the project or us. I think since we were kicking off such an ambitious project it was important to get enough of a bang behind it, just to lift it off the ground, then the word of mouth can carry it the rest of the way while we create the next volume. I'm on a solo mission to promote the book convention wise, as Mark is in Korea.
ANDREW SMITH: We're a bit of the ugly duckling. Are we a duck or a swan? I'm not sure. I think in the next few years the lines will become more and more blurred and many more walls will break down with the perception of what's Indy and in between.
Exposure is wonderful and people reading your work and picking it up is wonderful and well deserved. It absolutely raises our creative profiles and that's very nice.
I've been living in South Korea for the past two years so I haven't done any conventions in a while, but Paul does quite a bit. I think those are good and I loved being at San Diego for Comic-Con because it's such a whirlwind experience for five days when all of your favorite people are in one area. I think heaven must be a bit like that where all your favorite folks are around and you get to hang out with them all the time.
SPURGEON: Paul, what is it that appeals to you about some of the newer European cartoonists like Blutch and [Christophe] Blain? For both of you, does the rigidity of American comics when it comes to styles and genre and format ever bother you? Could the industry be changed in a way that would better suit what you want to do with your work overall?
MAYBURY: I think for me, I had a really hard time figuring out who I was as a comic book artist. I'm a painter, and I have a sort of strange street level art education that just didn't involve a lot of mainstream comics. I'm a younger guy, so I always loved the "alternative" stuff like Milk & Cheese, etc. I was also a huge fan of The Maxx by Sam Kieth, and it really just shaped my idea of what a comic was. I spent a bit of time trying to draw like Jim Lee and his peers and I just never really enjoyed the process. I don't want to be a penciller, I don't want to just do inks over someone else. I want it all, and I want to feel like I'm still making a work of art on each page that appeals to me in the same sense of what I feel about looking at [Jean-Michel] Basquiat (Not comparing my art to his). I want to feel like I can frame each page, sign it and hang it in my living room and truly value it as a stand alone piece. I get that excitement and appreciation from a lot of the newer European artists. When I look at their work, I see beautiful compositions, lush inks and often brilliant simple color schemes. Following their foot steps makes this fun and rewarding for me. So maybe this isn't how everyone feels, but for me and I know a lot of other people, the popular American mold just wasn't for me.
SPURGEON: One more for Paul: did you really do the last 60 pages in about a month? What is it that changed that allowed you to work at that rate of speed, and is there a quality to the resulting work that you think comes out of working that quickly that you like or dislike?
MAYBURY: Yeah, everyone makes fun of me for talking about it, but it is true. I was just pulling so many hours at work, dealing with a hellish land lord situation and generally miserable for a long time. My girlfriend and I packed it up, moved to Austin and I left my job. It was that endless free time to work that just kind of set me off creatively. I was also wanting to release the book about a month earlier to help promote it for some of the bigger cons and have time to still sit and email and promote from home. I also had to keep in mind that I'm involved with making sure the colors are right, and that the editing for the scripts was tight before they went to letters. So I just sat down every day seven days a week and just finished this book that had been laying around for almost three years. I wanted it done, I wanted to move on, so I was very motivated.
SPURGEON: For the both of you: do you find that heroic adventure stories of the kind you're doing have value as moral instruction, or a way to get at themes on how to conduct oneself successfully in the world? What might a kid in particular take away from the way this story has unfolded so far? Are you concerned with theme and message; is that something you craft as judiciously as the other elements of a work?
ANDREW SMITH: I think they do have value as moral instruction, but we didn't start of with the moral, and the morals in many ways reveal themselves to us as the story unfolds. I don't think anyone should mirror Aqua Leung as a mentor because he's going to grow up into an evil bastard of a man but readers will identify with him a lot. But there is still something to be said that people can learn from watching him as in a Shakespearian play. Themes are very important but in creating they're something that we discover as we craft and form the story. So kids shouldn't try to be Aqua but they should learn from him as a character and from his faults.
MAYBURY: I know this is a bad answer, but I'm not worried about it. I feel like a kid should be able to read something that might be a negative message, or the wrong thing to do. I think a good parent will let their child understand a work of fiction. Not everything you see is what you should be doing, and TV and literature isn't always a learning tool and isn't some sort of indisputable "truth"/Fox News. If there's any message in Aqua, I think it will simply be that a child is a product of their environment, and even a sweet kid growing up surrounded by glorified war can grow into something terrible without proper guidance. So maybe this is more of a book for parents, I don't know. But again, I don't want the book to preach, I just want it to be entertainment.
SPURGEON: Is is possible to write a story like this without it being critical of the genre or type of story that you're writing? For instance, there's a lot of foreboding about becoming too locked into one's ways in Aqua Leung; at the same time you have this classic heroic quest taking place. Do either of you think in terms of tweaking classic story structure via deconstruction, or do you consider yourself more straight-ahead storytellers?
ANDREW SMITH: It's very possible. I had dinner with another comic artist a few years ago and he gave me the best piece of advice I'd ever gotten. He said, "Don't worry about something being similar to another thing or that there is already something out that's like it or stepping on any toes. If everyone went "That's been done, I can't do it, there would be no new works of art." Embrace it and pull the best things forward and out of those and shoot past them and make them better than what came before. It's easy to get caught up in the done that before thing as a creator."
I'm not critical of the genre too much, I think the goal is to set out to do a book that's entertaining for us to work on and a bit experimental as well for us so it's a journey of discovery as we're creating the work. We don't think in terms of deconstructing or tweaking classic story structure. I don't think we're straight ahead storytellers at all either. So I think it's more of something that we're in the middle of it but we haven't thought about how it works or why it works or picked it apart too much yet. We just charge in and create and don't give much thought as to the classifications or implications of what we're doing. In a way it's pure selfishness and we're making something that we're just having fun on. So the rule is fun and to do a lot of cool stuff in a book. I think we work and we're blissfully unaware of the names for what we're doing, we just do it because it feels natural.
MAYBURY: I think the point of Aqua is really just two nerds sitting around saying, "Hey, didn't you always want (insert underwater dude) to really just punch a dolphin in the face and blow something up with a laser?" I think people tend to get too realistic and cookie cutter when it comes to fantasy, and they're forgetting to, well... fantasize. So for me the mold that we used to make Aqua was necessary for us to kind of redo it in the enthusiasm we would have done it when we were kids, but with the talent and and real world skills to put it out and make it happen as adults. So if you can understand that we love the genre, and we want to use it to just take it a few steps to the left, and actually see what would have happened if the story just got a little more out there to see if people were thinking or wanting the same thing we were.
* Fantastic Planet poster
* various panels and pages from Aqua Leung
* Aqua Leung Vol. 1, Mark Smith, Paul Maybury, Image, softcover, 160 pages, 9781582408637 (ISBN13), April 2008, $19.99.
1) Complete Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt -- I'd love to see a complete, coherent program with good translations. Hell, get Pratt fans like Paul Pope or Frank Miller to script a volume from a raw translation to help sell the series into the market. It's a crime this doesn't exist.
2) American Visuals: The Commercial Comics of Will Eisner -- There really should be a profusely illustrated 300 page history of Eisner's commercial work. 1/2 comics, 1/2 history, explaining the business, functional, and creative dynamics of this under-explored, but most prolific portion of Eisner's career.
3) Peplum by Blutch, English translation -- Hopefully a jumping off point for a series of Blutch translations, with Mitchum as the follow-up. Plus, my copy was stolen years ago and I haven't been able to replace it so I need a copy.
4) The History of Mini Comics, edited by David Lasky, Tom Devlin & Tom Spurgeon -- 1/2 history book, 1/2 anthology of the best minis from the earliest examples to the present. Someone needs to do this, and soon. I mean, do the kids at Stumptown have any idea how fucking cool Rick Geary's micro comics were?
5) (Barely Comics) Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children collected -- I haven't read them since I was a kid, but I loved this series of quirky illustrated stories. They were like Joe Frank radio shows illustrated by Ralph Steadman on anti-depressants. I think two 500 page collections would work in the current publishing atmosphere.
1. The Complete Barnaby by Crockett Johnson.
2. The Complete Hakaba Kitaro/GeGeGe No Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki
3. The Complete Mister Oswald by Russell Johnson
4. The Complete Works of Yves Chaland
5. The Complete Little King by Otto Soglow
Complete, complete, complete. Everyone go broke for my sake, please.
1. The Complete King Aroo
2. The Complete Dirty Duck
3. The Complete Nervous Rex
4. The Complete Roger Brand
5. The Complete George Pichard
1) Complete Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
2) Complete Trots and Bonnie (National Lampoon)
3) DC Showcase -- PLOP
4) Complete Mad Sergio Aragones (like the Don Martin slipcase)
5) CarTOONS collections
1. Complete V.T. Hamlin Alley Oop
2. Complete Ernie Bushmiller Nancy
3. Complete Dick Moore Gasoline Alley
4. Complete Steve Gerber/Gene Colan Howard The Duck newspaper strip collection
5. A Shary Flenniken retrospective including the Trots and Bonnie comic strips
1. Mike Kaluta's DC covers
2. Complete Ditko Marvel mystery/ monster stories
3. Single volume complete Tales of Asgard
4. Complete Whiteboy
5. Artist-centric EC collections
1. Complete Dennis The Menace comics written by Fred Toole and drawn by Al Wiseman, with special emphasis on the travel and holiday specials
2. Complete Little Archie stories written and drawn by Bob Bolling
3. Complete Nancy and Sluggo stories written by John Stanley, with special emphasis on the summer camp specials and the Oona Goosepimple stories
4. Complete Ghost Stories written by John Stanley (and bless D&Q for scooping me and scheduling virtually all the other great, non-Little Lulu John Stanley material still out there--best news I've heard in a LOOONG time!...)
5. DC Simon and Kirby Archives: all the forties era Manhunter, Newsboy Legion, Sandman, and Boy Commandos stories done by the team
* Complete Dan de Carlo's Josie (especially pre-Pussycats)
* C Comics (Joe Brainard et al.)
* the comics of bp nichol
* Complete comics (so far) of Martin Vaughn-James (including printing in English for the first time the ones that only came out in French)
* Complete (or at least a selection) of Epinal comic broadsheets, ca. 1840-1900
1. The Complete Barnaby
2. The Complete B. Kliban
3. The Complete Barney Google
4. The Complete Ambush Bug
5. The Complete Replacement God (A '90s comic series that as far as I know was never finished. I was really curious to see where it was going.)
1. The Complete Ub Iwerks Mickey Mouse
2. The Complete Al Taliafero Donald Duck
3. The Complete Jack Kirby mid-70s Captain America
4. A nice hardcover book of Mario Hernandez's work
5. The Amazing Spider-man newspaper strip (Essentials style)
1) The complete comic strip work of Al Williamson
2) Jim Starlin's Adam Warlock
3) Eclipse comics The Prowler by Tim Truman and J.K. Snyder
4) Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby
5) Alex Toth's Hot Wheels
1. No. 5 by Taiyo Matsumoto (the first quarter of it that Viz did publish set their sales record...the negative one)
2. Kami no Shizuki ("The Drops of God") by Tadashi Agi
3. Some kind of comprehensive Brendan McCarthy collection
4. Boy's Ranch by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
5. The Complete Ogden Whitney
* The Complete Venus
* The Jerry Grandenetti Career Omnibus
* The Complete Bill Everett in the 40's-50's (Yeah, I know it would make #1 unnecessary)
* The Complete Mighty Atom and the Pixies
* The Bob Hope Collection
1. The Complete SKIPPY by Percy Crosby
2. The Complete Virgil "VIP" Partch
3. The New Yorker Cartoonists Do Newspaper Strips (WHITE BOY by Price, THE SMYTHES by Irvin)
4. WHERE'S NEMO? The "Other" Dream Strips (NIBSY THE NEWS BOY by McManus, MR. TWEE-DEEDLE by Gruelle, THE NAPS OF POLLY SLEEPYHEAD by Newell, etc.)
5. The Complete J.W. Taylor (a great unsung British gag cartoonist for PUNCH)
I heard rumblings of a collection of THE SMYTHES a while ago. And I have heard the same of Skippy. I save my $$$ and wait!
1. Journals I - IV - Fabrice Neaud
2. The Complete Ralf Konig (or ANYTHING Ralf Konig besides the 3 slim volumes which have made it to English)
3. The Complete Alec Sinner - Munoz/Sampayo
4. The Complete Corto Maltese
5. The Complete (non-Maus) RAW - Spiegelman/Mouly
1. The Complete Doonesbury, preferably with annotations
2. Jack Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey (Omnibus Edition)
3. The Complete Miracleman
4. 'Mazing Man (Omnibus Edition)
5. Flex Mentallo
1. Complete King Aroo
2. Complete Gordo
3. Complete VIP (including Big George)
4. Jack Cole Playboy work
5. Continue Prince Valiant past Vol 50
1 - Complete Vaughn Bode in nice deluxe hardcovers.
2 - Complete Torpedo 1936, in English.
3 - Complete Alack Sinner, in English.
4 - A collection of the Johnny Craig's Warren magazine stories in their own volume.
5 - A collection of Toth's Warren stories in their own volume.
1. Jungle Emperor
2. The Complete Avengers from TV Comic
3. The Complete Daily Star Judge Dredd
4. The World's Greatest Superheroes
5. Urusei Yatsura
1- "EC Artists"- reprints broken out by artist. (I want the Kurtzman and Davis volumes.)
2- "The ROMnibus"
3- "Mort Cinder"- Breccia and Osterheld
4- "The Complete Yoshiharu Tsuge"
5- "Johnny Hazard"- Frank Robbins
1. Kirby and Simon's Sandman
2. The Mystery In Space Archives
3. The Complete Smilin' Jack
4. Barney Google, with Billy De Beck's "Bunky" topper on the Sunday pages
5. Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician
1. Complete Wash Tubbs
2. Complete King Aroo
3. Complete Barney Google
4. Complete Scribbly by S. Mayer
5. Complete Sugar and Spike by S. Mayer
The top comics-related news stories from May 10 to May 16, 2008:
1. Will Elder, one of the best comics illustrators of the 20th Century, passes away.
2. Fantagraphics signs an exclusive DM distribution deal and a Canadian book distribution deal with Diamond
3. Judge James Biernat announces a ruling will be made next week on the motion to set aside the Michael George verdict; judge's statements and the fact that decision will come before sentencing indicates the motion has a good chance.
Loser Of The Week
Anyone that was waiting for those Eagle Awards results to finally come out.
Quote Of The Week
"Further stipulated: there are a lot of goofy, awkward, or perhaps even borderline evil things that have accreted or evolved over the last few decades in the Direct Market. Just because I love the DM, doesn't mean I love these things." -- Brian Hibbs
this week's imagery comes from pioneering comic book house Hillman Publications
Will Elder, one of the great comics illustrators of the 20th Century, passed away early yesterday morning after an extended period of general ill health. He was 86 years old.
Elder was born Wolf William Eisenberg in New York City in 1921. Like many comic book artists of his generation, he attended the New York High School of Music and Art. He went on to study at the Academy of Design. He joined the US Army in 1942 and as a topographical engineer (map maker) participated in the D-Day invasion of June 1944. Upon returning from service, he founded a studio with one-time Music and Art classmate Harvey Kurtzman and Charles Stern. His first comics publishing credit dates to 1947. Among the comics talents that worked at or through the Charles William Harvey Studio were Jules Feiffer, Rene Goscinny, Russ Heath and Dave Berg. The studio would move at least once and close its doors in 1948.
The first half-decade of Elder's long career in comics was distinguished in by a fruitful partnership with John Severin. Elder inking Severin, the pair worked for Crestwood, National and Nedor before joining EC Comics in 1950. Their lush, muscular comics for Two-Fisted Tales and Weird Fantasy are some of the more fondly-remembered comics from that company's prodigious, well-crafted output. Elder also worked with Jack Kamen and illustrated scripts in solo fashion for Weird Science.
Elder was a founding artist on MAD, the seminal satirical comics magazine that began in 1952. In a series of parodies, Elder began to make fans take stock of the full measure of his talent: his skill at mimicking fellow artists, his ability to reference fine art in a comics context, the furtive and manic quality of many of his panel compositions including hidden jokes and background humor, and most of all the growing potency of his design skills and illustration chops. The background jokes and gags were likely an influence on a similar approach in a lot of modern film comedies, a mix of visual sophistication and rampant stupidity perfectly suited to the post-television generation. They have been cited as an influence on work from directors as different as Louis Malle and David Zucker. While Elder's "Starchie" may be the most brutal take on a kids-oriented comics to ever appear from a major comics publisher and Elder would experience difficulties later on with work informed by that company's output, it was a parody of The Night Before Christmas in MAD companion magazine Panic that gave Elder his first taste of comics controversy. Objections to that comic resulted in the publication being banned in Massachusetts, one of the more absurd, severe and reactionary examples of 1950s objections to comics content.
"I worked like a b-a-s-t-a-r-d," Elder told Gary Groth in 2003 about this period. "I worked very hard, because not only was I challenged to do something interesting, very interesting, but also to show Harvey that he's got a guy who's doing hard work for him and myself. I was really out to please him, because he never knew I could do that many characters, and accurately." Elder emphasized that each parody brought with it a tremendous amount of effort in terms of nailing down the style. "You know, many people comment on my ability to imitate the style without realizing what I really put into it. I wouldn't expect them to know, but I always had the impression that the fans thought I was up in my studio with a rubber stamp or something, and I was just able to punch this stuff out, but I put in a tremendous amount of time, research and effort in every story I did."
The artist left EC with Harvey Kurtzman in 1956. He worked for the subsequent Kurtzman titles Trump, Humbug and Help!, for which he did a number of significant parodies. He would later say that Humbug was an effort close to his heart for its policy of returning rights to the authors after first publication. The quality of his work remained quite high, and here he experienced a second career touchstone. Elder was Kurtzman's partner on the Goodman Beaver series, in which a wide-eyed but infinitely malleable everyman wandered deep into potent, satirical takes on broad cultural subjects. Not only could these be brutally funny attacks on the source material with which they worked, the power of Elder's art guaranteed that they would work as vibrant comics as well. Their Superman parody, "Goodman Meets S*perm*n" remains one of the funniest takes on comics culture but also, especially in a scene where the super-powered character moves a massive rock with alarming precision, one of the more effective evocations of that kind of otherworldly power. A take on the Archie characters in Goodman Goes Playboy got the creators and their publisher in trouble with the longtime kids' comics publisher both in its original incarnation and one altered for reprint publication. That story became one of the legendary, largely-unseen comics of the 20th Century.
In 1962, Elder again worked with Kurtzman on the launch of Little Annie Fanny, a long-running and successful feature in Playboy that continued the Goodman Beaver formula of satire, only this time with a feeling to the general stories more in line with its glossy, successful home as opposed to the broader, failed satirical magazine start-ups in which Goodman had appeared. This meant more sexual situations, gender politics, exuberant nudity and commentary on issues of importance to the magazine such as free speech and the role of the media in setting public policy. Annie Fanny is likely the most successful painted comics effort of all time, and the time-consuming nature of it meant that Elder often drafted artists friends like Russ Heath and Arnold Roth into helping with its completion.
"We had a studio up in Hefner's loft," Elder told Groth in their 2003 interview. "It was a gigantic place. This was in the mansion in Chicago. We'd sit there and we'd goof off occasionally." Elder would work on 107 Annie Fanny features over the next two and a half decades.
Elder would later join Kurtzman for a brief run in the 1980s MAD, all the while supplementing the comics with an increasingly successful commercial illustration career. He formally retired in 1988. Elder's reputation in recent years was buoyed by the testimony of several underground cartoonists that cited his work with Kurtzman on the satirical magazines as a great influence on their own work. He was also a favorite of post-underground comics humorists such as Evan Dorkin and Dan Clowes. Fantagraphics, planning a Humbug reprint for later in 2008, published two recent books featuring Elder's work, Will Elder: The MAD Playboy of Art (2003) and the smaller art book of rarities and doodles Chicken Fat (2006).
Elder had in recent years suffered from occasional bouts of poor health. He moved into a nursing home in 2005 after the passing of his wife, Jean. Those that enjoyed a personal relationship to Elder were upon his passing as effusive in their praise of his legendary nice-guy status and sweet nature as they were of his prodigious talent. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2003.
A decision from Judge James Biernat as to whether or not he'll overturn the conviction of former retailer and prominent con organzier Michael George on charges stemming from the 1990 murder of his wife Barbara will come on May 23. At issue is a notion that the jury convicted George based on circumstantial evidence. George has yet to be sentenced.
* if you have a chance to do so, please attend Bob Levin's book signing tonight and support his great new book Most Outrageous.
* here's probably the most interesting piece I've read today: Chris Staros talks about his recent experience at a Swedish version of SPX, and announces his company will work in partnership with a Swedish alt-publisher and publish both an anthology of that work (From The Shadow Of The Northern Lights, left) and several of the more prominent practitioners. The FPI blog talks about the piece here.
* Mort Walker talks about the deal his International Museum of Cartoon Art has reached with OSU's Comics Research Library to create the largest comics art resource in the entire world. Also included is a description of the museum's many moves, both real and aborted.
* Time Warner or Warner Bros. or whatever they're called these days is allowing one of the disputed charity auctions to go forward. I heard from a couple of people yesterday when I wrote that I couldn't see the objection to Warner corporate shutting the kind of thing down that noted that what was annoying was the capricious nature of shutting this one group of things down instead of dozens of other similar violations arising from the legal issues involved, and that as a charity effort it should have been granted greater consideration, not singled out.
* the retailer Brian Hibbs has moved his Tilting at Windmills feature to Comic Book Resources and starts well with a full look at the Fantagraphics/Diamond announcement. About the only thing I'd question is his assumption that Fantagraphics is eating the difference for the new sales discount; Eric Reynolds of Fantagraphics told CR they were actually receiving a better percentage from Diamond under this new deal, which indicates that Diamond is eating that difference, not matter how unlikely that sounds. It could be that they were talking about slightly different thing, or I just didn't understand what I was asking or the answer I was given, though.
* finally, with the "we need hot authors" story yesterday and now this, I think it's safe to say that the book industry is gross. Also, I think TCJmay now pay more than PW for reviews.
* I think that this kind of an article is going to be most common from now on: pieces about the general issues of censorship and protest with the Danish Cartoons being one of many items of concern. I'm happy that more and more writers seem to be criticizing the newspapers that refused to provide their readers with some way to access the Danish cartoons.
* if you remember the story about the Belgian pulpit from early 2006, you are my ideal reader and I'll do anything you'd like to ask of me. Basically, one of the items brought up in the press as an example of Muhammed iconography was not greeted with a "Oh, well, then we withdraw our complaint" response but a "we demand that thing be destroyed as well" response. Here's an update.
Dirk Deppey does me the honor of responding at length to a few remarks I made yesterday regarding on-line comics vis-a-vis certain recalibrations I'd recommend for the serial comics market. As is usual with this kind of thing, most of my objections to what he argues are to rhetorical constructions that I don't think fairly or completely represent what I've said. I was never recommending that comics pursue affordable downloads as a way to combat piracy, for instance, nor was I arguing that comics downloads couldn't become a sampler market as much as I was stating that it's not a desirable, exact replacement for the kind of sampler market comics used to have in singles. There's a big difference there. Also, I don't see my general recommendation that comics vigorously pursue multiple tracks to market as a platitude because I feel comics history is in part defined by the abandonment of practices that we know work for something that might potentially work better -- not because economic forces dictated that should happen but because the response to those market opportunities was short-sighted and limited. Still, I don't want to get into a characterization argument point by point by point, because I think you'll miss the meat of Deppey's interesting perspective. Just keep in mind that I don't always agree with the picture being painted on my behalf, will you?
However, I hope that Wizard and all of you will agree with me that little doubt exists as to the #1 greatest comics character in the history of the medium: J. Wellington Wimpy, from EC Segar's Thimble Theatre. All you really have to know about Wimpy is that he'd gladly throw over all of his friends and loved ones for a plate of hamburgers. I found this hysterically funny as a kid; I find it even more so now.
Wimpy is the first modern character in comics, by which I mean he's a contradictory mess leaning towards the awful. He's smart, lazy, annoying, dishonest and completely amoral. He has the best catch phrase of anybody ever -- "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" -- which achieves greatness because of the "gladly" and the specificity of "Tuesday." He ignores everybody else on the page and exists in his own bizarre world. He adds nothing in the way of moral instruction. He's every friend you ever had that you couldn't explain to anyone else, and every person you heard a story about that made you mad at the person telling it. He's perfect and I love him. All hail J. Wellington Wimpy.
"Speaking from our point of view though, we like the opportunity to deal directly with Fantagraphics, because if Fanta has a book in print, then they will have it in stock. That is not the case with Diamond. We hope that Fanta knows what they're in for on that front."
I appreciate Chris's concerns and these were concerns that were paramount to us before striking the deal. But part of our new relationship includes access to sales and inventory data that we will be checking on a daily basis to ensure that supply more than meets demand. Diamond will stock every single title we have in print and we will monitor this inventory constantly; this was not the case in the past and was fundamentally part of the problem with reordering Fanta titles thru Diamond. Fulfillment will be much more efficient, fast and cheap than it was both for retailers who previously reordered directly from Fantagraphics and those who stuck to Diamond for reorders. I appreciate what Chris is saying and fully expected it, but would respectfully ask that he wait-and-see.
Chris goes on to add that "many [comics publishers] aren't happy with their exclusivity deals with Diamond," and while he may be right, I would also add that our arrangement is not necessarily identical to our competitors. With all due respect to Christopher, I wrote most of the news about the distributor wars in the early to mid-1990s. I broke the news of Diamond's exclusive deal with DC Comics. We are not ignorant as to the realities of today's or yesterday's marketplace, and our considered stance on the subject of exclusivity over the last decade-plus has very much informed the establishment of the particulars of this new relationship. We obviously wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think we -- and by extension, our retail partners -- should improve our sales considerably as a result.
* this seems like happy news: Mort Walker's International Museum of Cartoon Art holdings will find a home and a dedicated gallery at the OSU Cartoon Research Library. This has a chance of ending those works' long-time odyssey from place to place to storage to place to storage to place.
* the boutique publisher AdHouse Books has announced that its Pulphope has won a Silver Award for Publication Design at the 2007 Richmond Show.
* not comics: I think we all know it either happened already or was about to happen, but it's hard not to barf in your mouth a bit while reading this story.
* the cartoonist Alec Longstreth finds a European publisher. I can't remember anyone other than John Porcellino finding a publisher in Europe solely on the strength of self-published mini-comics, although I'm sure that's a fraternity bigger than two members.
* finally, is it my imagination, or is this a terrible title? Not for a comic book: for anything. Why does it need the proper nouns in there? "We need to make sure that no one buys this comic by accident... is there something we can do with the title that will add musty fanboy qualities to the entire affair?" Can you imagine if Lord of the Rings were called Mordor/Rivendell: Lord of the Rings?
Fantagraphics Signs Exclusive With Diamond For Direct Market, DBD For Canadian Book Distribution
By Tom Spurgeon
Fantagraphics has signed a deal with Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. for that company to be its exclusive distributor to the comics direct market (DM). According to Diamond's announcement today, the distributor "has cemented an exclusive distribution deal... to exclusively distribute their products to comic book, game, and specialty store market outlets worldwide."
In addition to the company's high-profile both within the industry as its largest art comics publisher, Fantagraphics was the most visible non-exclusive publisher to be directly involved in the mid-1990s maneuvering that led to the current, Diamond-dominant marketplace. As such, their decision to go with Diamond should raise eyebrows and invite scrutiny as to the state of the market that led them to this decision.
Some of the more pertinent points of the deal as best as CR has been able to ascertain from the two agents include:
* exclusivity to the North American direct market marketplace.
* as such, the deal will have no effect on the company's book distribution partnership with WW Norton, a company-saving arrangement when it was made with which Fantagraphics continues to be happy.
* it's through Norton that Fantagraphics is able to supply retailers with books through Ingram or Baker and Taylor, so those options remain available to comics retailers, as will starting an account with WW Norton.
* the company will no longer sell direct to comics shops but will ask those accounts to go through Diamond on what has long been a healthy re-order business. This will correspond with an upgrade on the material the company has Diamond keep on hand, going from about 1/6 of their available titles to, apparently, all of them.
* they have grandfathered in their relationships with Last Gasp and Bud Plant, both of whom do business with DM retailers. Eric Reynolds of Fantagraphics told CR that these were the last two DM distributors with whom Fantagraphics had a relationship that wasn't Diamond.
* the individual sales agent Tony Shenton will no longer be able to sell Fantagraphics products to stores.
* Fantagraphics will get a better percentage from Diamond. Retailers ordering Fantagraphics material through Diamond will receive a better discount (moving from the F discount, described as "lower of 45 percent or Standard Discount, to the E discount, described as "lower of 50 percent or Standard Discount"), and, Reynolds says, better shipping rates. The deal is designed to allow for quicker verification on availability.
* Fantagraphics will now be able to design its own Previews section.
* in what some may see as a surprising move and a development that was not part of the initial rumor, Diamond Book Distributors will take over Fantagraphics' Canadian market book distribution from Raincoast. Reynolds estimates that the company's current business north of the US border accounts for less than five percent of their total sales. DBD has been the Eros imprint's distributor for a while now.
As for why Fantagraphics made this move, the fundamental reason is likely to be found in what they describe as the declining fortunes of the DM side of their overall business and what they as a small company with limited resources is able to invest in that side of their business in order to give it the best chance running smoothly and perhaps enabling it to grow. While that department at the comics publisher saw a slight boost in cost-efficiency moving from Greg Zura to Jason Miles -- at least one would assume this, given Zura's long-time tenure at the company -- the new deal frees Miles from physically taking retailer orders and accounting for them in favor of the salesmanship and support aspects of his position. Designing their own catalog section has to have some appeal given the nature of their books compared to most of what's available in the DM and the relative skill of their design staff as currently constituted Both should aid Miles in his attempts to drive retailers to the company's books.
Assuming a number of aspects about the deal that have since been announced, Brian Hibbs of Comix Experience feels the deal will be an overall positive. "... the impact on retailers should be minimal, and probably positive; the impact on FBI, depending on what they're giving up to Diamond, should be neutral to slightly positive," he wrote to CR.
Negative reaction to the deal seems likely to arise from both a general antipathy towards Diamond and a belief that Diamond's inability to restock Fantagraphics' titles over the last decade or so will continue despite the new arrangement. Past history dictates that there are real fears regarding the ability to restock books from a company like Fantagraphics, a vital part of the equation in these days of conservative initial orders, particularly from companies not the two big mainstream publishers. While it's hard to track the veracity of such claims on a case by case basis, Diamond has less than a stellar reputation in many circles in terms of always and reliably stocking its suppliers, including some of the exclusive ones.
"We really wish that Fantagraphics had consulted us as their retail partners before they made this move, because we would have said 'Good God No, Don't Do It,'" Chris Butcher of The Beguiling told CR. "We're very sympathetic to the general indifference of the Direct Market to good comics, including those that Fantagraphics publishes, and we understand the reasons they made their decision." Butcher points towards being able to order directly from the publisher as a key concern. "Speaking from our point of view though, we like the opportunity to deal directly with Fantagraphics, because if Fanta has a book in print, then they will have it in stock. That is not the case with Diamond. Even on the largest publishers that have moved their Direct Market business exclusive with Diamond, publishers like Viz and Tokyopop, our fill rates on in-print books are less than adequate. We hope that Fanta knows what they're in for on that front."
Fantagraphics staked out a significant position against Diamond back when most companies were signing exclusives with the distributor, a position in which some took heart because of what many felt was an outright unfortunate outcome to the mid-1990s distribution battles -- a virtual monopoly held by a company with unpopular policies and operating philosophies. Butcher went on to claim that companies holding exclusives has been bad for holding Diamond responsible for change.
"Not to put too fine a point on it, but as The Beguiling we're fortunate enough talk to reps from a large number of publishers, great and small, and many of them really aren't happy with their exclusivity deals with Diamond. No one will go on the record about it of course, because regardless of exclusivity or not they're still going to be working with Diamond going forward and being openly critical of Diamond is not the best way to get good service from them. So, no one talks about how things are not going the way they had hoped, and everyone re-ups for another few years hoping things will change because hey, everyone else is doing it. Worse still, we're worried about the sort of 'chilling effect' that goes on whenever a publisher signs an exclusivity deal. Fantagraphics better than anyone (thanks to reportage in The Comics Journal) the havoc that exclusivity agreements caused direct market retailers, particularly with regards to Image and Dark Horse deciding on Diamond after DC had made their deal. Has the consolidation of the direct market to, effectively, Diamond Comics Distributors, shown a noted increase in stores, sales, or market strength over the past 10 years? Particularly for any company that isn't Marvel or DC? Not at all, and yet the consolidation continues, leading many publishers to believe that there's no other way to do business and succeed -- or at least stay afloat -- in the market."
Hibbs points out another potential outcome. "This makes it, in my estimation, less likely that another viable distribution choice can come into being to challenge Diamond in the DM."
Eric Reynolds summarized his company's position in an e-mail early today. "One of the areas we've struggled in the last few years despite overall growth has been in the Direct Market, and this new relationship will invariably strengthen our relationship with the Direct Market and allow us to serve it better. It will result for retailers in a better discount on average, better shipping rates, and better availability / information / fulfillment on all titles. We will have better information at our disposal all the way around. It also means lower overhead for us, and enables us to devote less time to accounting and order-taking and more time to actually focus on providing useful sales and marketing tools to retailers," he wrote.
CR Backlash: Readers’ Thoughts On Comics Maybe Being Too Darn Expensive
Here's a sampling of the e-mail and links I received on this essay, about the expense of comic books given the presumed primary consumer experience in buying them.
"My wife and I live on the combined salaries of a teacher and a writer. We own two cats. We pretty much never buy anything more expensive than clothes at Target, CDs and DVDs from Amazon, or meals at Grand Luxe Cafe, but we do enjoy doing those things. We're buying a house. We'd probably like to have a kid. With all that in mind, I stopped buying comic books regularly when I lost my job at the A&F Quarterly back in 2003 and stopped altogether once I started working at Wizard and was able to read them all for free, and great googly moogly, there is no way I'd ever start again. What a waste of money! Trades and GNs and manga volumes are cheaper for more, and more complete, entertainment. Multiple expenditures of $2.99-$3.99 for 20-something pages of story every week? You're off your chum." -- Sean T. Collins
Tom Spurgeon replies: This is exactly what I'm getting at. It isn't just about whether or not an individual comic is worth the money spent on it, it's about the purchase of comic books generally -- that's two different things. In theatre terms think of it as paying to go all the Tom Stoppards as opposed to developing a habit of seeing plays; in movie terms it's the difference between targeting very specific films you like and being in the habit of hitting the movie theater or joining Netflix. Here we have someone who likes comics, who likes reading comics, but still opts out of the system as currently constituted. It's too easy for too many people that might otherwise spend money on comic books to spend that money elsewhere, and feel better about doing so. There's no reason why any effective comics market should be allowed to go obsolete, let alone be forced into that direction because of price and value issues.
"The price of comic books does seem disproportionately high (I'm 47 years old and paid 12 cents for my first comics) compared to the inflation rate for other commodities. However, I think you were right too when you once wrote that the only comic too expensive is a bad comic book. Three dollars feels equitable for an issue of Speak Of The Devil with Gilbert Hernandez's always wonderful storytelling and pretty characters. Criminal includes Ed Brubaker's text pieces and extras (kind of like Neil Young putting the bonus cuts on the vinyl release). Omega The Unknown is a visually interesting looking comic book that makes you glad you own the single issues. In the mid-'80s I remember two dollars seeming expensive for some comics. William Messner-Loeb's Journey always seemed worth the cover price for the great story and how beautiful the art looked on the baxter paper.
"Three dollars does seem too expensive for an average comic book. Ed Brubaker's Daredevil is a good comic but not a stellar one. It reads as well or better in a trade paperback. What I miss these days (with the higher cover price and other changes) is the casual nature of the comic book and comic buying experience." -- John Vest
Tom Spurgeon replies: Yeah, I miss that casual nature, too. I do think there are plenty of titles that reward singles purchase -- in fact, for a lot of comics, it's my preferred way to buy them. I can't imagine wanting to buy an Omega trade, for instance. I really do think there's something to be said for a market the drives people to buy single-issue comic books that are priced the way they're currently priced. The problem as I see it is that there's a disconnect in this market between the way things are priced and the presumed consumer experience.
"I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately. I think an interesting parallel is the crisis the music industry has been in for the past five or ten years. That industry has almost completely imploded for a variety of reasons. The chief one seems to be that their delivery methods were unable to meet consumer demand -- a potential customer in Georgia with an internet connection had a much better chance of illegally downloading the music he wanted than finding it in a store. The Internet allowed listeners to search out and find so much more music that it became impossible for stores to stock everything their customers found out about. Being able to research new artists and bands on the internet allowed the customer to become just as knowledgeable about music as the retailer, and in many cases more so. It became easier to obtain (illegally, still) music online and at first the fact that it was free became a kind of side bonus.
"But the very fact that it was free allowed a music listener to try out more and more music, to the point where most every music fan I knew was downloading far more music than they could ever pay for under the old model of $15 per CD. By the time the music industry caught up to the delivery method fans had created on their own, the listening habits of music fans had changed to the point where paying 99 cents for every song they downloaded would be impossible. For instance, it would cost about $33,000 to fill up a 160GB iPod with legally purchased mp3s from the iTunes online store. It's gotten to the point in the music world where it seems the only system that will be viable for companies and customers alike is a sort of subscription service that allows the customer to continue to sample the amount of music he or she wants and still be able to afford. Whatever your thoughts on the ethics and morality of legally buying music online versus illegally downloading it, the very fact that the illegal/free option has changed consumer habits and expectations is unavoidable. "Customers" expect vast amounts of material available, whatever the price structure is. I think this is something we've come to expect because of the internet/information era, 400 channel cable tv, etc, as well as the online music industry.
"The music industry, at least the old model "record label", is dying because it saw the fact that people wanted to listen to as much of their product as possible but was unable to pay for it as a threat to the distribution network they had created 40 years previous. Had they seen this as a tremendous opportunity could things have played out differently?
"I think comics stands on a similarly dangerous precipice. How many comics fans would read everything Marvel or DC or Fantagraphics published if they could afford to? I know quite a few and I bet it would be possible to find a lot more new readers if they could read anything and everything they wanted in the same way a music listener can listen to anything s/he wants (still illegally because the music industry has failed thus far) or a sports fan can watch anything s/he wants or the same way a movie/television fan can watch pretty much anything with a Netflix subscription.
"I'm not sure how I feel about online delivery of comics. I like the feel of a page, I like the weight, I love smart book design, I like the rhythm of reading a book, I like subconsciously knowing I'm getting close to the end of a story by how many pages remain in my right hand as I read. Hell, I love all these things. But the ability to afford the amount of comics I want to read (or have to read to be considered a well-read comics fan) is prohibitively expensive. I simply cannot afford to spend the $400 in a comic store that I would like to spend on a monthly basis.
"The most distressing part of this equation is something you mentioned -- the prohibitive cost of the books I want to read means I rarely have any money left over for the potentially exciting new work by creators that I would love to know about -- and frankly it also means that most stores can't afford to stock this stuff anyway. Comics is going through one of it's most fertile, creative moments ever right now and it seems dangerously close to being a lost moment because too many people don't have access to great new books like Dash Shaw's Bottomless Belly Button or Jillian Tamaki's Skim or Ken Dahl's Welcome to the Dahl House or Lynda Barry's What It Is (and who knows what else I've missed). One problem is that people will not see all of these books in their local store, the other problem is that those books retail for a combined cost of about $80. What's more valuable -- to have 1000 people buy $80 worth of books or to have 400,000 people read them online somehow?
"Comics publishers are reluctant to let go of their semi-effective model because it still allows them to make a profit. But it seems like the opportunity is there to increase readership in a lot of cases, if only there were a dream online store somewhere. If I could have an online subscription service to read everything Jim Hanley's orders on a monthly basis for instance, how much would that be worth? $40 a month? How many people would sign up for that? Would it work if I could go to the Fantagraphics website and read everything they've ever published for $20 a month online? There must be a way to create an online reader that avoids piracy issues and works for both parties. People subscribe to Netflix and still go out and purchase the DVDs they love -- why can't a similar system work for comics?
"In some ways I'm playing devil's advocate here, because as I've said, I love books and I'm not even sure how much I could stand to read online. But it seems dangerously close to the point the record industry was teetering on a few years ago - people want to listen/read more than they can afford to buy. I think we're at the point where we can either investigate alternative distribution methods that allow a reader to read more content for less that could potentially explode comics to vast new audiences, or we can play in the same comfortable market structure that attracts a certain amount of new readers (usually when a movie comes out) and prices out others as they can't afford to keep up. I think the latter model will continue to function well enough for a while so that people will think this isn't that big a deal. And most people's proposed solution now is getting into bookstores and fighting over the two bookcases for comics in most Borders and Barnes & Noble stores -- but to me, as great as it is to open up comics to new audiences via the bookstore, you still run into the same price structure problems in a bookstore. And of course, the limited shelf space creates an even more watered-down selection of books.
"I think people want to read more comics than they are buying right now. I think this basic supply problem could be served on the internet with some sort of comic superstore that allowed me to read anything I wanted to read for a monthly subscription fee -- but it would have to have everything: Fanta, Marvel, DC, Darkhorse, D&Q, Top Shelf, AdHouse, Tokyo Pop, newspaper strips from King Features etc. It would require supreme vision and cooperation from the various publishers, but I think it could be done. If Netflix can work out a system where they allow people to rent a movie from Sony, Universal or Disney from their site, surely there can be a similar way to work out something where comics companies could do the same. It could even allow for more interesting stuff to be published and put on the same platform. Could Fantagraphics "distribute" via the website an up and coming mini they might not otherwise publish? Yes. There'd be almost no overhead. And, if the mini got a lot of views on the site, maybe it could be published in a traditional form. The online store would not preclude regular publication - more people than ever would probably buy comics collections of their favorite monthly titles from the internet, the way people used to buy Garfield or Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes collections even though they got them for free in the paper every day.
"We're at an exciting point for comics, but also a potentially dangerous one. The product as its distributed now is too expensive to expand the audience. People fall in love with the content when they're exposed to it, as they once were on a daily basis to Calvin & Hobbes and the Peanuts, but the old delivery systems have failed. It's not as if there isn't a massive worldwide delivery method staring everyone in the face everyday though. Why can't there be a subscription based online comic superstore? Is it really too hard to work out the legal issues for the potential gains and continued sustainability of the art form? People will say, "yeah, but the web comix revolution, man!" or name some other online comic reader that's already out there. No. This is about getting the best content in the most peoples hands. I want everything published to be available in one massive online library that works as the amazon.com or Netflix or cable television package for comics. The fans are already here, frustrated, wanting more than they can afford. The potential for new fans at a cheaper entry point is massive. It would be insanely complicated to make this thing, but it's certainly not impossible by any stretch.
Dream on, right? -- Sean Ford
Tom Spurgeon replies: I don't have anything to say in response to this, although I'm sympathetic to publishers wanting to avoid a wholesale endorsement of free content plans based on the past success of related free content plans. There are too many specific contextual issues and too much that's too new in terms of how people relate to such plans for sweeping statements to be asserted about long-term success. Comics is in many ways a niche art form more than it is a popular art form, and has different rules and different risks when it comes to certain transitions.
"1) I can't believe a dude who spends his life/livelihood covering the comic book industry 'doesn't buy many comic books.' Let me rephrase that: I believe you, it just raised my eyebrow. Do you get a lot of freebies or do you just ignore most of the stuff?
"2) I think a huge reason comics are losing their currency (in both senses of the term) is that they are too expensive. They are not worth the price of admission. I remember being completely seduced by comics when I bought DC's Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 (Alan Moore's "The Anatomy Lesson") for 75 cents. I could not believe then (I can scarcely believe it now) that you could buy an incredible, engrossing, thought-provoking, lyrical, original Moore script, brought to life by kick-ass (and unique to my 14-year-old experience) Bissette/Totleben art for a mere three quarters. What a bargain! Of course, buying a mediocre comic written by a journeyman Marvel hack and drawn by someone like John Buscema was, I thought, well worth three thin quarters. Today, most mainstream comics are serviceable bites of entertainment that go down like a dollar's worth at best, you know?
"3) Reading the 50-cent DC Universe 0 that just came out, I was thinking: "This feels like a pamphlet/advertisement for a real comic book to come later. It's entertaining enough. It was worth my 50 cents. But only just." Then I compared this issue with other DC fare I had bought in recent weeks for $3 a pop. Universe wasn't any worse, didn't feel any thinner. If all Marvels and DCs were a buck, would they sell a million copies a month? If only â€¦
"4) I guess mainstream books either have to get a hell of a lot better, or a hell of a lot cheaper, to catch on with non-fans.
"5) All this being said, if Alan Moore teamed with Bill Sienkiewicz and put out a 20-page floppy today, I'd shell out $25 for it, sight unseen." -- Mark Sharar
Tom Spurgeon replies: I get a lot of freebies, Mark. I really doubt that cheap pricing would have a great and immediate effect on new sales. I think reducing some of the pressure could bolster sales overall, over time, up to a factor of two or even three times what they are now. It's not only that comics cost a lot right now but that they're being sold with the expectation of a lot of fans following a lot of them at once, which to my mind just doesn't match up.
"One problem I have with your well-written piece about the high price of comics driving away the market is that you focus on independent comics... and (within some reasonable working definition of 'independent', which I've always considered a problematically fuzzy term), the prices really haven't gone up much at all. Recently, I've been digging through some black-and-white creator-owned comics from about 15-20 years ago, and the prices have been $2-2.95. As an example, the first issue of Bone came out in 1991 with a cover price of $2.95. Similar format books these days seem to run $2.99-$3.99. That's not even keeping up with inflation.
"What is hitting the comics pocketbook hard? The prices of dependent (?) comics have risen much more quickly, really catching up with the independent ones. But the prices also seem extra high because there are more collections available, generally cheaper per page. The comic feels like less of a deal.
"(My more curmudgeonly side feels that the sense of value has also decreased because an issue is less likely to feel like a complete story or even a full installment, and more like a signature for the trade paperback.)" -- Nat Gertler
Tom Spurgeon replies: This is an extremely difficult issue, Nat, because it's hard to find books with continuity that can be compared then to now and the format changes so frequently and in ways that affect the bottom line that it's hard to track exactly where the price increase comes from. Jeff was forward in his 1991 price -- most indy and alt-books were $2.25 or $2.50 at that time. My feeling is that alt- and indy-comics were ahead of the curve when it came to maximizing prices in the early to mid-1990s because they suffered the negative effects of the marketplace far ahead of mainstream comics. Since then, there's been something like an opposite effect keeping prices from going up further in a lot of cases: comic books from those companies are less of a profit center when compared to trades, partly because of an ossified market, so there isn't as much pressure to continue maximum their pricing. And of course, some books did go up. Love and Rockets, for instance, went from $2.50 to $4.50 between 1991 and 2007.
(If you buy my logic that market forces have hit alt-comics first, it might be worth it to compare the negative reaction to Black Eye reducing its prices in the mid-1990s to the backlash you see against some of those cheaper Image books now.)
"Before I even read your column today I was thinking about these same things and a question came to mind. I can't think of a nicer way to ask it than this;
"Why do the advertising sales people in comics suck so very badly?
"Shouldn't a periodical be making money or at least trying to make money of ad sales? I don't know how it works these days. I see the same ads in comics from different publishers so maybe it is up to the printer. I don't know who to point the finger of blame at but I do know they surely do suck.
"Looking at the FCBD offerings, you had ads aimed at kids in the grown up books, ads that would give kids nightmares in the kiddie books. Another thing I see all the time is ads for movies or video games long after they would have been relevant. One of the FCBD books aimed a little kids had an ad for a horror movie which is wrong by itself but if it was also a movie that had already been out for a while by FCBD. If I were the horror movie's studio and I paid for an ad to run weeks after the movie came out I would be freaking pissed and I probably would not buy ads with that company anymore. I remember this issue going back to when I was a kid buying off the spinner rack in the '80s. I would buy comics every week on the day they hit the rack and notice ads for movies, TV shows, games etc. that were already old news. Even in my 11- to 13-year-old brain I was thinking, this can't be worth the money to pay for that ad.
"Do the people that place ads in comics care so little that they don't keep track of when the ad would run or is comics so desperate for page filler that they are giving these ads away for next to nothing?
"Maybe I don't know enough about it but the ads in comics seem like a joke and have since the 80's. I feel like some kids fresh off selling ads for their college newspaper would have more hustle and generate more money than whoever it is that is selling ad space for Marvel, DC etc.
"I don't know how the whole thing works but I know it could be better. Well, I hope it could be better. I'm very interested to hear what you know (or could find out) on the subject." -- Shannon Smith
Tom Spurgeon replies: It does bear some looking into, although print ads aren't really where it's at right now and there are some structural problems that keeps some ads from being sold.
Tom Spurgeon replies: I disagree that I didn't deal with on-line opportunities or piracy, or that it was somehow a missing element in the original essay; I just dealt with it in a summary fashion rather than in great detail. Basically, Iâ€™m not convinced that on-line media works as a direct replacement for comic books' traditional role as a sampler system, not should it. I don't think it works as a replacement, at least not as the industry approaches it right now, in part because the experience of reading some comics on-line is extremely different than the experience of reading them in print and in some cases it's so close to being the same thing. In the former case I think it creates a different experience. In the latter case, I think it creates a substitute experience that has the advantage to the consumer of being free. This sets up a system where the sampling must lead to a secondary purchase in order to benefit the creator and publisher, and although we have a few examples of this happening, I'm not convinced this will always happen.
In general, I'm suspicious of comparisons to music because of differences in how music is experienced multiple times between how comics are experienced multiple times, I'm suspicious of extrapolating from film because of the relative size of that audience and what that makes possible in terms of a small sample pumping money into something, and I'm suspicious of extrapolating from current comics examples because I think there are issues of novelty, scale and the specific consumer culture involved. I also don't believe that one technology necessarily replaces another, or has to, even if it eventually has some of the same functions. In other words, it's complicated, and I think largely unsettled. I suspect there's a friction between old and new habits that operates here that might disappear in half a generation, particularly because the technology is still emerging. In the 1980s there were assumptions about the way people would use VCRs that looked smart in 1983 but by the early 1990s were no longer relevant.
The history of comics is as much about the unfortunate, early abandonment of profitable strategies more than it's about the hesitant adoption of new ones. Ideally, I'd like to see the pursuit of multiple avenues. In this case: 1) more affordable comic books that allow for wider print sampling along with all the other reasons why that format is awesome (and if not that, then an approach to comic books that is more in tune with the price being asked for them), and 2) something for which I've been advocating a couple of years now: every single company releasing downloadable versions of every single print product they release, at a price according to the dictates of that market. It'd be a start, and I think would better prepare the industry to make a move once habits are more ingrained and we're able to track them.
The Eagle Awards finally have their 2007 winners up (they call their awards according to the year of the work in question rather than the year of the awards). They're kind of a comic book industry award as opposed to a wider comics award, which provides some of the explanation for their completely asinine, myopic statements on their own behalf you'll find through the link. Anyhow, here are your winners.
Favorite Newcomer Writer
Matt Fraction Favourite Newcomer Artist
David Aja Favourite Comics Writer
Alan Moore Favourite Comics Writer/Artist
Alan Davis Favourite Comics Artist: Pencils
Frank Cho Favourite Comics Artist: Inks
D'Israeli Favourite Artist: Fully-Painted Artwork
Alex Ross Favourite Colourist
Laura Martin Favourite Letterer
Dave Gibbons Favourite Editor
Tharg Favourite Publisher
Marvel Favourite Colour Comicbook - American Hellboy: Darkness Calls Favourite Colour Comicbook - British Spectacular Spider-Man Favourite Black and White Comicbook - American The Walking Dead Favourite Black and White Comicbook - British How To Date A Girl In 10 Days Favourite New Comicbook Thor Favourite Manga Death Note Favourite European Comics Requiem, Vampire Knight Favourite Comics Story published during 2007 Captain America #25-30: The Death of Captain America Favourite Comics Cover published during 2007 World War Hulk #1A Favourite Original Graphic Novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier Favourite Reprint Compilation Absolute Sandman, Vol. 2 Favourite Comics Hero
Batman Favourite Comics Villain
Joker Favourite Magazine About Comics Wizard Favourite Comics-Related Book Our Gods Wear Spandex Favourite Comics-Based Movie Or TV 300 Favourite Comics Related Website
Marvel.com Favourite Web-Based Comic The Order of the Stick Roll of Honour
Dirk Deppey reminds us that the family of artist Gene Colan, struggling with medical bills brought about by the mainstream comics veteran's liver failure, can be assisted simply by making a paypal donation to the appropriate e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Of previously discussed options, here's the post by writer Clifford Meth that tells professionals where to send items for auction. Meth is also making the full monies earned by the sale of this book available to the Colans.
* this brief profile of the latest Pat Oliphant show contains photos from the exhibit, which actually makes such a huge difference I now want all exhibit reports to come with at least five photos.
* there doesn't seem to me enough material to do a collective memory on last weekend's Emerald City Comicon, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't read the written efforts of the comics industry's Nick Frost and Simon Pegg: Steve Lieber (and friends) and Jeff Parker.
* if you're interested in the latest Marvel numbers and the transcript of a telephone call where board members talk in very general terms about movie positioning strategy, this page is for you.
* finally, the Marvel editor Tom Brevoort hasstarted a series of blog postings about four of the core Marvel titles and the hows and whys of their appeal. Speaking of American superhero comics coverage, this interview with Marc Guggenheim cracked me up because all the questions seemed more like howls of displeasure over the basic concept behind Guggenheim's comic book.
According to the latest local news update, one of the three men accused of robbing and shooting the comics retailer David Pirkola is seeking a plea agreement for his role in the April 25 incident which put Pirkola into the critical condition where he has since remained. Marvin Michael-Marquis Jones, a 19-year-old, waived a probable cause hearing on charges of armed robbery and attempted murder. Another suspect remains in custody while a third is being sought by police.
Mark Heath has announced the end of his feature Spot The Frog, which will come to close in early July. I liked Spot, which I thought was nice-looking and always pleasant, the kind of feature that once upon a time you grew up and had pleasant memories of it having run in your local paper even though you kind of felt that no one else remembered it. I think there a couple things we can take away from the departure of another modestly successful strip, including 1) a book collection isn't a sure sign of success, as people have believed since Garfield became a hit; Spot the Frog had I think two, and 2) it's really tough out there for work to find traction unless it break out. I think that's where the declining number of newspaper spots and the increased churn in terms of dumping and trying strips is most greatly felt. Is there no such thing as a newspaper strip middle class anymore?
The National Cartoonists Society (NCS) is urging its members to write their congresspeople against the Orphan Works Act of 2008, while the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists has penned a letter from both organizations making official their objection to that bill's passage. What's missing, Dirk Deppey points out, is a concise and concrete dissection of the bill's potential evils. On the other hand, I'm not sure that not being able to run off on one's fingers exactly what's wrong with a piece of legislation means that you can't or shouldn't object to it with the rough conception you do have of its likely impact.
This short piece at BdZoom indicates that the court case between former Angouleme Festival Director-General JM Thevenet and the organization that owns and runs the show over Thevenet's 2006 dismissal has ended with enough satisfaction on both sides each was able to muster a kind word about the other.
My first reaction is that only on Planet Bizarro or after some catastrophic development would this be a bookstore distribution arrangement because of the fine deal FBI has with WW Norton. In fact, a major driving force with the recent format change on The Comics Journal was to give Norton a better shot at distributing their flagship magazine after years of pathetic returns from Diamond. So if true this would almost certainly be a DM-only deal.
My second reaction to that is that this would have an effect on almost nobody except Tony Shenton, which should give you an idea of the state of Diamond alternatives in this day and age. The wider rumor could be an extrapolation from FBI ending their relationship with Shenton, although that's a supposition on a rumor with about two too many leaps of logic to take seriously. What else...? The key, I think, would be how any such deal would have an impact on Fantagraphics' direct sales to retailers. I would also guess that if it could be leveraged into better re-order and inventory control through Diamond's services, it could be beneficial to the iconic alt-comix publisher. The symbolism of Fantagraphics, a company that avoided going exclusive with Diamond during the more than a decade ago distribution wars and that also declined to back a heaving and collapsing Capital out of both a real sense that not capitulating was important and that it was possible to see an upgrade in treatment merely by selling more books, might be the biggest reason people pay attention to such a story.
* the writer Marc Sobel continues his issue by issue look at the best comic book series of all time, the first volume of Love & Rockets. He's just exiting what I thought was a magic period for the book when a lot of hugely awesome short stories supplemented a lot of the longer serials, but the longer serials that were still going proved to be pretty astonishing.
* the Thought Balloonists team takes a two-sided look at Brian Chippendale's Maggots. I disagree with a lot of the premises floated -- I could give two shits if Maggots has an influence on future Marvel Comics, and I don't see all that much wisdom in the kind of snotty, dismissive statement from a student I was in the habit of making 20 years ago because I was a hungover punk who didn't want to put effort into understanding anything -- but Maggots is a work that deserves to be discussed at every opportunity.
* the publisher and packager Dynamic Forces/Dynamite signs with Diamond for exclusivity up and down their various targeted distribution companies. It's always amazing to me when a company does this, because I always assume that they already have a deal like this one.
* my father loved this book, and I think it's one of the best titles to any collection ever.
* finally, Tim Broderick writes on promoting one's work. It's a fine piece of its type, although I always get a little irritated by the notion floated that only giant authors receive publicity support. There are a lot of fine, hard-working PR people that work at smaller and boutique publishers. For that matter, there are a lot of ineffective douchebags that work at big publishers, too.
A Thought Or Two On The Notion Of Comic Books Costing Too Darn Much
Let's talk comic books. On Thursday, I bought the above comics and paid almost $19 for the pleasure. The total was slightly shocking to me, because five comics still feels in the hand -- my hand -- like a $10 purchase. Truth is, five comic books hasn't been a $10 purchase for a long time. I knew that, and I didn't know that, if you know what I mean. In my defense, I rarely buy comics and when I do, it's usually one or two as a courtesy to the store I just spent a half-hour casing or a couple hundred dollars' worth around the holidays from Chuck Rozanski or Buddy Saunders. I like all of the comics I purchased Thursday, but for maybe the first time in my entire life of buying comics, I experienced a twinge of regret as the $20 left my hand. "I probably could have spent that twenty bucks more effectively," I thought.
I've always been loathe to throw my lot in with the crowd that constantly yells, posts and cavils that comic books cost too much. They remind me of those people that complain about gas prices but drive everywhere they possibly can in giant sports-utility vehicles. I suspect that for a lot of those people it's not that comics cost too much as much as comics no longer are as cost-effective to enjoy in the very specific way they demand to enjoy them. I tend to be more of a mind with people like Jeff Smith, who's argued in the past -- and if I'm misremembering this, please consider the substance of the argument without the pedigree -- that comics have value as a permanent, perpetual resource for entertainment that buttresses the temporary nature of that first, sweet read. And yet if I'm honest with my own reaction to the way things have progressed, I have to admit that maybe there are points on both sides of the argument.
Jeff Smith's comics in serial form are indeed worth their cover price, largely because, well, he's Jeff Smith. His comics are well-designed, strongly executed and in his life's work to date, Bone, they were part of a propulsive narrative serial of the kind that greatly rewards an interactive installment plan. But let me state the obvious: most comics aren't like Jeff Smith's. Most comics aren't that well executed nor are they as attractively designed nor are they always part of a focused serial that flatters the format. Even the best serial comics only approach those standards occasionally, it seems, in between larger segments where nothing very much at all happens and what happens doesn't happen in a way that's memorable. Serial comics readers remember the good runs for decades afterward, and I think live in partial denial about the dominance of the fallow periods. Because the issues sell at least some copies no matter what, because comics doesn't really have a system where a terrible comic book will sell 10,000 copies one issue after selling 100,000 copies even though the newer issue might deserve to sell that poorly, the system and its aggressive pricing mechanisms stay in place and will remain there for the foreseeable future.
Another source of imbalance, I think, is that the newer, higher prices put a strain on the consumer in a way that cheaper comics did not, partly because of the nature of that consumer. (I don't know how exactly the inflation works out, and I'm not sure that it matters as much as the perception and reaching a perceived tipping point, but calculators like this one suggest prices almost 3X ahead of inflation since 1981.) The fragmentary nature of American comic books post-1980 encourages the purchase of a wide array of comics, an experience where the consumer finds satisfaction across several titles in part because it's missing at any one time in a single series. This isn't a strict rule, and I'm certain there's someone out there that only ever buys comic books with Black Bolt, for instance. I'd strongly suggest that the weight of anecdotal evidence indicates the thrust of that description is true. Surely the average, desirable, expected comics customer since the early '80s -- the person that pops to mind when someone says "comics reader" -- is a person that buys a number of comics instead of just one or two. Here's the thing: the price of serial comics right now makes sense for the reader that only buys one or two comics. It makes much less sense, almost no sense, for the consumer that buys the number of comics most knowledgeable people would gut-reaction say marks an average fan's consumption level.
This mismatch of price point and assumed primary experience practically guarantees a constant winnowing of the core fan base into smaller and smaller numbers, those that can handle and will endorse the spending of whatever X-amount of dollars that seems to be the required entry point for full-bore, quality readership. One of many, many reasons manga has been successful is that it not only seems to connote value on a one on one basis -- a manga trade vs. a comic book -- but that the perceived value works according to a standard model of participation. A lot of folks seem to feel that buying x-amount of dollars in manga has a better chance to give you a more rewarding experience than buying x-amount of dollars in American comic books. They have a point. Throw in the lack of discipline ingrained in the North American Direct Market model -- the mysterious way these books come out, the stacking of certain titles on certain weeks, the lack of guarantees regarding creators and the related notion that a book may not even continue if the creative team simply decides not to follow through -- and it's a wonder that anyone, even a tremendously skilled and resourceful buyer, continues to adhere to that debilitating consumer relationship.
It's clear why the publishers that effectively produce serial comics stay the course: serial comics can be hugely profitable, or at the very least constitute a key part of a lucrative publishing cycle. If nothing else, serial publication provides multiple opportunities for publicity and marketing. Serial comics is a growing market for a few major publishers, showing signs of healthy sales beyond the top five or ten all the way down the line. Moreover, there's a sense, I think, that certain serial comics may continue to sell at a profit no matter how high the prices rise -- as long as they don't rise too quickly. Publishers and retailers may talk about killing the golden goose by making them too expensive or through other poor publishing habits, but that the goose is golden seems understood. Heck, we already know a lot of comics will sell at least a moderate amount no matter how frequently or for how long they fall into a creative stupor. The system is so effective in moving a big chunk of comics at prices that push the limits of good sense that efforts to provide an alternative to this sales pattern are looked upon with distrust and scorn. For instance, some retailers see a comic priced to sell at a lower point to a different stratum of fan not as a unique business model with its own positives and negatives but as a rebuke to the current system and a lost opportunity to maximize the amount of cash a comic book with that title's level of appeal might generate.
A big danger, I think, is not that serial comics becomes a market that's wholly unprofitable. Mind you, this has already happened for certain actors in that marketplace. In case you missed it, maybe the best-selling alternative comic in history in an aggregate sense abandons the comic book ship this year. I'm also at a loss to name a half-dozen hit independent comic books since 1993. Still, what seems to me a more likely outcome is that the comic book market becomes a market that fails even more spectacularly to realize its long-term potential and further risks not being able to provide its unique value to the wider world of comics. The serial comics market of a generation past set the groundwork for the current, ongoing, vital groundswell of trades and graphic novels by allowing a wide variety of creators an opportunity to hone their craft over time and a large number of readers a chance to follow and understand and sample them over the same amount of time without great risk, nurturing a love for the form as well as for individual books. I owe much of the breadth of my comics reading habits to the ability to try out new comics at a cheap price, and I bet that's true of a lot of readers ten years on either side of my age.
That market has been replaced by a half-virtual marketplace that may allow one to sample or read some comics without purchase, may bury other comics outright, and all the time hounds the reader to make one more purchase in their comfort zone. It's a market that can be outright hostile to new work that doesn't look a lot like other comics in the top slots. The fact that a Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book can break into the Diamond top ten doesn't seem to me as important as the certainty we will never return to an historical moment when a significant number of creator-owned books could sell 6500 or 9000 or 12000 copies, you could count on their presence in most major markets, and creators had a chance -- only a chance -- to build the beginnings of a career interacting with a readership multiple times a year over a several-year period, all without having to earn back an advance. I would argue it's more important to the general health of the art form and the industry that the next Jeff Smith be able to generate 30,000 in comic book sales than it is that Marvel moves 130,000 units with Stephen King's name on them. I'm not sure the existing Jeff Smith gets to that sales point without some struggle. And I don't think it's as easy as the on-line comic replacing the serial comic as the entry point; that's a seismic shift in culture and in the nature of the reading experience for me to believe it does exactly the same thing. In fact, I would argue that as a group the current on-line comics models come closer to encouraging a medium more like comic books in the 1940s than comics in the 1960s or 1980s.
I once wrote that the only comic book that was too expensive was a bad comic book, and I think that's true as far as it goes. But I also think that a market that allows us to experience not-great comic books is part of what makes most of us better, more passionate readers, and a significant part of what provides the marketplace with the great talents of tomorrow. Do comic books cost too much? Yes. They're too expensive to facilitate a multi-level, satisfying buying experience -- the experience that structurally they cultivate -- for all but a declining few. The squeezing of profits through elements like pricing that outpaces inflation leads to an ossified marketplace that has come dangerously close to fully abandoning its role as the fertile, chaotic creative ground that feeds the medium entire. I'll take it all back if in 10 years the sons and daughters of the bookstore and the free comic on-line can boast of as many great cartoonists in their generation as the Direct Market babies are now able to point to in theirs, and if they have as many readers who know and care enough about their medium of choice to make an eloquent case on those artists' behalf. As is the case with so many things in life, we may only find out what we're missing when it's gone.
The Artist Gene Colan Is Suffering From Liver Failure And Could Use Your Help
The writer Clifford Meth reports on the well-respected and well-liked veteran mainstream comics artist Gene Colan's liver failure, Colan's general mood and an effort to help Colan that includes an auction in threeseparatepostings at his blog. Mark Evanier writes about Colan here. The full text of a letter from Adrienne Colan that went out to Colan fans can be found here. Ed Brubaker and others have filled my inbox this morning with encouragement to write on the issue, all testifying to the lovely character of Colan and his wife.
The Colans find themselves without the ability to pay what are massive, mounting medical costs, which is why I'm asking you to consider helping out in any way you can through the information provided in the above links. Colan was a key player in mainstream American comics for three decades, particularly in broadening the artistic range represented by 1960s Marvel Comics through frequently lovely, lush work on titles like Daredevil and the Iron Man stories in Tales of Suspense. I think what's particularly worth noting is that Marvel has been asked for help. Colan played a key role in creating and developing the two properties that happened to launch both phases of Marvel's major movie-making history: Blade, in his Tomb of Dracula run, and his work on those Iron Man comics. There's no reason on earth why that company shouldn't spare what will probably amount to a single cash payout during a single quarter to a single board member to someone that paved the way for that success. I hope they come through.
This article in the Chronicle Herald News Metrogets into the thinking of the complainant who asked that police and other authorities investigate an April editorial cartoon by Bruce MacKinnon as potential hate speech. And that's pretty much it. I guess there's some news value in that Zia Khan is going to see what happens and then decided how to press his case.
* Masayuki Ishikawa won the Tezuka Osamu Manga Grand Prize for his comedy medical series Moyashimon, about a medical student who can see bacteria in creature form, as depicted above (although I bet that's from the anime). It had been nominated for three years running. The short work prize went to Yumiko Oshima for "Gou-Gou Datte Neko De Aru" and a special prize went to Osaka Prefecture's International Institue for Children's Literature. Ishikawa will recent an approximately $20,000 (USD) prize; the others will receive awards worth approximately $10,000 (USD). Judges included Moto Hagio.
* The Japan Cartoonists Association announced the winners of their 37th Cartoonist Awards on Friday. The Grand Prizes went to Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys and 21st Century Boys as well as Hiroko Minami's Hina-chan no Nichijo. The association also gave out four additional awards in various categories. Minami and Urasawa will receive an approximately $5000 (USD) cash award at a ceremony on June 13. Judged included Monkey Punch.
Mostly, though, I think she fumbles a lot of her points outright. Criticizing Rose and Jyllands-Posten for their asinine free speech stunt is in no way the same thing as absolving the alarmist imams for their much more significant, crucial and direct role in fanning the flames that led to the riots and deaths, as her article suggests. On the flip side, her logic in suggesting that the Chronicle and papers like it might possibly be absolved of their abandonment of their journalistic mission because they routinely don't want to offend anyone is ridiculous. As she points out in noting the role of the imams and their addition of fake imagery to what they presented around the world, what the Danish cartoons looked like was at the heart of that news story; people who saw them were crucially informed in a way that people that didn't were not. News organizations that failed to provide this information to their readers failed them. That's simply not the same as intentionally insulting a religious group in service of presenting an opinion -- which is more along the lines of what Jyllands-Posten did, if you stop and think about it.
* the great Lynda Barry is profiled in the New York Times. The writer, Carol Kino, does a particularly admirable job in summarizing Barry's hard-to-pin-down new book from Drawn and Quarterly, What It Is, in a way that makes it sound compelling, which it is.
* I thought this piece was way more thoughtful a criticism of Marvel Comics than I'm used to seeing from anyone, let alone a newspaper. It ties in some of the unfortunate aspects of the old comics with several little talked-about aspects of the new. It basically says that a lot of them are jingoistic, which is something I feel occasionally when I read certain Marvel comics. It's to the point where I wonder if progressive ideas, which I know many of their writers espouse in general, can even be articulated through Marvel's characters and their modern take on plot-lines. Anyway, good short article for a general audience, no less. Plus the Stephen Colbert stuff is pretty funny; that guy has a future.
* finally, J. Caleb Mozzocco took notes at the Scott McCloud/Jeff Smith joint appearance/interview in middle Ohio, with interesting results. I appreciate Jeff's endorsement of this site, and the casual honesty of both cartoonists when it comes to subjects like making money on the Internet.
I've known Joel Meadows since the mid-1990s, when he was editing the upper-level mainstream focused comics magazine Tripwire -- maybe the first of the niche magazines to go for that Wizard for people that don't like Wizard audience -- and I was working at Fantagraphics on The Comics Journal. He was also one of those guy that I always used to see in San Diego, to the point where the convention seemed weird when we didn't bump into one another. It's taken more than a decade, but last summer's annual format for Tripwire seems like it may be the one that will work for the publication. Meadows is also working right now on publicity for a book he co-edited with Gary Marshall that grew out of Tripwire's "Studio Space" feature. I was happy to talk with him about both projects.
TOM SPURGEON: Joel, let me catch folks up on plans for Tripwire. Are you guys settled into the yearly annual publication from now on? What might keep that from happening?
JOEL MEADOWS: We are pretty settled into the yearly Annual publication for Tripwire as last year's was a bigger success than we thought it was going to be, so at this point it makes sense to continue with that frequency. The new Annual is in the latest Previews so barring tidal waves or natural disasters, then I think we're set on bringing out another Annual for the end of July.
SPURGEON: Were you generally happy with the way your first annual turned out? What do you think was strongest, or on what did you hear back most positively? Is there anything you did in that issue that you will definitely not be doing in the future?
MEADOWS: To be honest, I was very happy with about 95% of what was in the Annual last year. From a content point of view, I think our Simpsons feature which included a new Matt Groening interview was probably the highlight of the issue. The strip content split the readers but we are doing it again. The feature I don't think we thought out well enough in terms of content was the piece on London's film post-production boom and for our film content this time around, I done a lot more research for it and framed the features a lot better. So, no I don't think there's anything we did first time around that we won't be including in the future although I'm hoping we come up with a better design for the Power List!
SPURGEON: Joel, why print at a time when most people are going on-line with increasing intensity? Is there a time when Tripwire might have a stronger on-line presence?
MEADOWS: What can I say? I started with print way back in 1992 and while I certainly wouldn't denigrate online as there is some intelligent content there, I still feel that we can deliver the most depth and breadth from a print title. We are currently working on a stronger Tripwire presence online and hope to have a fully-fledged website up and running by San Diego.
SPURGEON: Tell me about the initial idea for the Studio Space project. How has it changed from your initial conception? Who was the first artist profiled? Why?
MEADOWS:Studio Space came out of Tripwire because back in 2003 when we relaunched the magazine as a full-colour 100 page periodical, we published three "Studio Space" features (John Bolton, Phil Hale and Tim Bradstreet) and they went down very well. So when we were forced to mothball the magazine, myself and my partner on the magazine, Gary Marshall, both thought that it was too good an idea to discard and it was a concept that could work perfectly as a book. Initially, it was to have a dozen artists including Matt Groening and Gerald Scarfe but we revamped the list to make it comic book illustrators. Although if anyone looks at the book, they will see that, although the 20 artists are best known as comic guys, they have a lot more strings to their bows. Phil Hale was the first Studio Space interview in the magazine but Duncan Fegredo was the first interview for the book and he was first just because I have known Duncan for a long time and felt comfortable going up to see him.
SPURGEON: Was it difficult getting the book published given its specialty nature and what I remember to be a similar project from Dark Horse? I seem to remember that there was quite an odyssey there.
MEADOWS: We first started pitching the book at the London Book Fair back in 2004, so it has been a four-year struggle to get it out. The book you are talking about from Dark Horse, The Artist Within, while a worthwhile project, is predominantly a coffee-table photo book whereas Studio Space is about the interviews and the work. We landed the first publisher for the book back in 2005 but unfortunately the advocate for the title left that publisher and it was left floundering until the publisher chose to cancel it. Then we spent a few months talking to different people and it was Richard Starkings from Active Images who recommended Image and we struck a deal with them in Summer 2007. The specialty nature of the book was a problem with some of the mainstream book publishers but it wasn't an issue with Image.
MEADOWS:In The Studio does have some similarities with Studio Space, except that its subjects are less mainstream than ours. To be honest, this is the danger of having waited so long to get it out as it was an unusual idea back in 2003 but, as time has passed, others have decided to try the same tack. I think that Studio Space is less academic than In The Studio, something that I hope is helped by my background in journalism.
SPURGEON: How did you get Michael Moorcock to provide the introduction? Was that written specifically for the book?
MEADOWS: I have interviewed Michael on a couple of occasions and we are interviewing him again for this year's Tripwire Annual, so I don't know him well but I know him well enough so I just asked him. We also got a Guillermo Del Toro foreword, which was very exciting. Both pieces were written especially for Studio Space.
SPURGEON: Is there anyone you wanted but didn't get? Didn't you try to get Moebius?
MEADOWS: There are a number of artists who we had planned to be in the book. They shall remain nameless for reasons of diplomacy -- but one proved to be impossible to pin down for a single lengthy interview and another excused himself from the book because we couldn't offer him any money for publishing his work. Yes, we did try and get Moebius but we couldn't come to a arrangement that was satisfactory for all concerned.
SPURGEON: Is there anything you got that didn't make it into the book? Could there be a sequel?
MEADOWS: Myself and Gary have already sat down and worked out a list of another 40 artists we would like to interview, so we potentially have enough for two sequels. There are a couple of artists we removed from the first book that we intend to stick into the follow-ups. Of course, the sales on this one have to warrant another volume but we are eternal optimists.
SPURGEON: Joel, I have to be honest, but some of the preview photography I saw for the book looked a bit muddy. How much photography is in the book, who took the photos and are you satisfied with the reproductions throughout?
MEADOWS: Each chapter has a photo of the artist in their studio, I took about seven of the photos, Gary took a few others and the rest were supplied by the artists themselves. What you saw was a low-res galley of the book so the photos should be brighter and less muddy when they are actually published. I would have liked to have re-shot some of the photos but we didn't have the chance. If we do another book, we shall make sure that all the images are of a suitable standard for publication. It's one of the things we learned during our time on the book.
SPURGEON: I like the vast majority of the artists you profile, but they all seem to me to be of one type -- high-end mainstream craftsmen. Did you think about including any cartoonists more typically thought of as alternative or that work in a funny animal style or even newspaper strips or panelists? Why does that kind of artist interest you?
MEADOWS: Being honest, we wanted to make the first book as accessible to the mainstream as possible and yes we could have included cartoonists like [Dan] Clowes or [Posy] Simmonds but this first list does reflect the sort of artists that myself and Gary are drawn to (if you'll pardon the pun). Many of these are also artists that we had gotten friendly with over the years too, interviewing them for Tripwire and building up a rapport with them. We do plan to include artists like Roger Langridge, Mark Schultz and Frank Cho next time around to increase the breadth of artists in the book. Also, with the alternative artists, In The Studio seemed to do a fine job covering that sector, so we didn't want to step on their toes or duplicate what they had done.
SPURGEON: We're doing this interview mid-April. What are you doing PR-wise to support the book in the marketplace? Generally for you, what's next?
MEADOWS: First on the agenda is a launch of the book in paperback at the Bristol International Comic Expo which runs from May 9th to May 11th. The show features a number of artists from the book, like [Walt] Simonson, [Sean] Phillips, Fegredo, [Dave] Gibbons and [Bryan] Talbot and it is our home show, so it seemed to make sense. Then we have a signing at Forbidden Planet in London on Saturday 7th June with Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Duncan Fegredo and Sean Phillips, which will be exciting to have those four together. Then for the US market, we will have a presence at Image's booth at San Diego in July. We are also looking at some events at Book Expo America at the end of May and a Waterstones signing in London in the second half of June but these aren't firmed up yet. Next on our agenda is a long sleep (if only)! Actually we are finishing off the next Tripwire Annual, which has a brand new Tommy Lee EdwardsDoctor Who painted cover, as well as trying to make another one or two Studio Space books a reality.
* cover to next Tripwire
* cover to last Tripwire
* cover to Studio Space
* roughs of two pages from Studio Space
Studio Space, Joel Meadows and Gary Marshall, Image Comics, 320 pages, May 2008, 9781582409085 (ISBN13), $29.99
Editor's Note: Joel asked me to change the Bristol information because the interview was coming out while the show was going on rather than beforehand, but I'm not sure why it has to be changed and I figure you can all parse out the fact that the interview was done before this weekend and refers to an event this weekend.
1. Grendel (specifically, Hunter Rose) -- because it'd be so funny to read his detailed accounts of last night's hits (along with his iPod playlist) over the morning coffee.
2. Rorshach -- because with gems like "Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach," I wouldn't need homestarrunner.com as a pick-me-up anymore.
3. Jack B. Quick -- because I might learn something AND get a kick out of living in the midwest.
4. Dirk Anger, Director of H.A.T.E. -- I was going to say Dr. Doom, but that would get old; I suspect Dirk's issues might "keep the pipeline flowing fresh".
5. HANDS DOWN MY FAVORITE PICK: Graham Roumieu's Bigfoot -- just because. Call it "Me Have Opinion". SOMEone please tell me this already exists online somewhere.
Uriel A. Duran
2) Jingle Belle
3) The Punisher (if he still keeps recording his war journal,maybe he could do a podcast instead)
4) Delirium of the Endless
5) Peter Parker (lots of gratuitous drama and self-pity,but probably he would do a nice photoblog)
1. Glenn Ganges
2. Dan Pussey
3. Lois Lane
5. Johnny the Homicidal Maniac
Two-Face/Harvey Dent (A Pro/Con Blog called "Two Sides to Every Coin")
Deadman (He'd possess different bodies, so it'd come across as a group blog)
Danny the Street (For the person on the street perspective...)
Black Bolt (In a blog called "Enjoy the Silence")
Galactus (A Diet Blog)
1. Pete Ross
Hey, you never know what kind of secrets the guy might reveal...
2. Alanna of Rann
Although most entries would likely be along the lines of "Damn Zeta Beam--another day, still no Adam..."
3. Brother Voodoo
Because if nothing else, he'd have to link to MY blog! Hey, he owes me...
4. Dilton Doiley
It's always good to learn a little something on the Internet...
5. Cherry Poptart
And what's the Internet without a little porn too?...
1. 'Mazing Man
3. Harvey Pekar's old pal Toby
5. Mr. Vibrator Repair Man
1. The Psycho Pirate
2. Raul the Cat
3. Funky Flashman (lots of pop-up ads I bet)
1. Waldo "D.R." Dobbs
2. Ted Knight, but only his nostalgia blog. Not the science and astronomy one.
3. Detective Conan
4. Buddy Bradley
5. John Constantine
Howard The Duck's Blaaugh (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
J. Jonah Jameson's Bullpen Bulletins (Daily Bugle)
Uatu The Watcher's Blue Area Blog
Kyle Rayner's Green Lantern Sketchblog (you must have LanternCAD 3D installed to view this blog)
Dr Alec Holland's progressivehumus.com (ganking content from Mike Sterling since 1969)
I Am Old, And Sometimes My Brain Doesn’t Work None Too Good
Bruce Mackinnon Editorial Cartoon Being Investigated As A Hate Crime
A Bruce Mackinnon editorial cartoon that appeared in the April 18 issue of Nova Scotia's The Chronicle Herald is being investigated by police as something that possible promoted hatred, according to the publication. The cartoon featured Cheryfa MacAulay Jamal, whose husband had just been released following an arrest in 2006 on charges of attending a terrorist training camp and plotting to bomb targets in Canadian cities. The complaint was made by Ziaullah Khan, the director of the Centre for Islamic Development in Halifax. It's been reported Khan also complained to the Nova Scotia Human Rights commission, although the commission did not confirm to the publication that this took place. The paper vows to fight any negative outcome to the investigation. The incident throws a new spotlight on Canadian complaints against journalistic content as potential hate speech.
The 29th volume of Masashi Kishimoto's worldwide manga hit Naruto debuted on USA Today's bookselling chart at #57 this week. I think this should end all discussion over whether or not last year's crush of Naruto books under the "Naruto Nation" umbrella will have a negative effect on sales; any such sales discussion now will likely focus on the merits of the current volumes and the longevity of the series. Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid books continue to push into phenomenon status higher up in those same charts.
* this is a short profile about Fabrice Neaud's work on Alex ou la vie d'apres. I'm not sure if I completely understand the piece, but it sounds like the book is being made available for free for a short time.
* click here to help Dan Shahin attend a conference.
* every new talent search conducted by a major company should be followed up by a press release saying what was found. Dark Horse found Sarah Oleksyk (work at left) and Liz Greenfield at the recent Stumptown Comics Fest, and will put some of their comics up on-line.
* speaking of Iron Man, here's a piece on Comics Worth Reading that notes a video trailer designed to direct people to the comic books, plus news that although the first issue of the new title is sold out, Marvel won't be reprinting it. What constitutes a sell-out in comics is really up in the air interpretation-wise, so one can't even be sure what that means.
According to local media, police arrested and arraigned two men more than a week ago for the April 25 shooting of comics retailer David Pirkola, but did not publicize this fact because they were looking for a third man suspected of the crime. The two men arraigned on armed robbery and assault with intent to murder were James Muriel-Neal Thompson and Marvin Michael-Marquis Jones. The man they're still looking for is named Jevon Sawyer.
David Pirkola remains hospitalized in critical condition.
Ed Stein, the editorial cartoonist at Rocky Mountain News, has decided to end his Denver Square strip on May 21. The strip is one of the few of this era's remaining local-only newspaper strips. Local-only newspaper strips have been brought back into the media spotlight in recent months because of the passing of San Francisco cartoonist Phil Frank of the long-running San Francisco Chronicle strip Farley and the successful launch of Washington Post Sunday Magazine feature Cul De Sac as a daily. Denver Square was launched in 1997.
Local market comic strips have become a more compelling idea as the newspaper industry has changed in the last 10 years with an aging readership and massive competition on-line. On the one hand, they have potential to offer newspapers unique local content of a kind that can be highly appealing and play in both print and on-line formats. On the other, the economics of profitable strip-making have for decades depended on wide distribution through multiple outlets paying a small fee as opposed to one entity shouldering the entire cost.
* here's some context -- admittedly with a very specific point of view -- on the controversy over the hassles experienced by Ezra Levant and the now-defunct Canadian magazine Western Standard for their republication of the Danish Muhammed caricatures.
* it could be that I just missed it, but I hadn't known until now that the Turkish cartoonist Salih Memecan is touring with a Danish cartoons-related presentation. Memecan could probably also speak eloquently to his own country's problems with government officials going after cartoonists who caricature them.
* this seems to me a fine list of counter-terrorism actions taken by the government of Denmark in recent years.
* the comics business news and analysis site ICv2.com has a profile of two forthcoming non-fiction works from Hill & Wang. I'm not sure why this pretty straight-forward hype-ish article drew my attention, but it did. Is there really a market for books like this?
* the cartoonist Richard Thompson talks about the book serialization debut of his great newspaper strip, Cul De Sac. What's worth noting about the first collection is that Thompson's strip appeared as a Sunday local before being picked up for daily syndication. I was holding out hope that the first book would concentrate on the syndicated material and some boutique house would step in with a complete pre-syndication collection, but instead it looks like they'll put several of the local strips into this new book. This is only a slight complaint, as I'd be happy to have a Cul De Sac collection even if the strips were shaved into some fat guy's back hair.
* finally, here's an issue that doesn't get as much play as it probably should, seeing as it's one of those ongoing broken things in the Direct Market that never gets fixed and is likely to go on forever: big companies like Marvel that stack books on some weeks and starve the market on others in a way that disrupts both cash flow and the ability to sell books by local comics shops.
The Pasadena Museum of California Art has announced Tales From The Strip, a retrospective of publications and original art from the late car cartoonist Pete Millar. This is worthy of note in that a) it's the first major Millar exhibit I can remember, and b) Millar was the most significant talent working in the once thriving arena of car cartoons, an all-but-forgotten avenue for comics expression that was hugely popular in the '60s before tapering hard in the next decade. Here's the PDF:
***** NEW YORK COMIC-CON 2008
103 = David Rodriguez
***** STUMPTOWN COMICS FESTIVAL 2008
012 = Dave, A Boyfriend Who Is Not In Comics At All
020 = Brian Cattapan
024 = Celso
030 = Gary, A Boyfriend Who Is Not In Comics At All
Bruce MacKinnon of the Chronicle Herald in Halifax has won the 2008 Atlantic Journalism Award in the Editorial cartooning category. The winners of the award, designed to honor journalistic achievement in the eastern areas of Canada, were announced during a ceremony May 3 in Halifax. Finalists were Greg Perry of the Telegraph-Journal and Michael de Adder of The Daily News.
* the comics business news and analysis site notes that Dark Horse is publishing an omnibus edition of Clamp's Clover, interesting in that it marks another series moving into omnibus format for a second crack at the market and for Dark Horse recovering a project that was serialized in trade form earlier by Tokyopop.
* this story about a line of Twilight Zone comics from a major publisher leaves a couple of big questions on the table. First, does anyone expect the books as described to be any good? The books from CCS have used a lot of outside talent, not simply faculty and students as this article seems to suggest, in order to keep their Hyperion books at a high level. James Sturm is also much more of a known quantity than most cartoon-educators when it comes to maintaining quality on the page. Second, is "Twilight Zone" really a hot license that demands this kind of investment from a major publisher? Can we expect a Fibber McGee and Molly mini-series soon? I'm always confused by stories like this.
* the writer Don MacPherson notes that Strange Adventures in Halifax is having their FCBD on May 10 because of local flooding. The piece mentions that this does allow them to given Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca's new Iron Man series into the hands of fans of the film. MacPherson earlier wrote about the irony of a certain message that one can read into the film. Johanna Draper Carlson muses on what Iron Man comic one may read that closely approximates the movie. As I mentioned earlier this week, there's not a lot out there that seems to me directly reflective of what the movie seems to be offering. Maybe the new series fits the bill; writer Fraction will be signing copies in support of its debut. He was profiled by the hometown paper.
Key was born in Fresno, California in 1912. He attended the University of California at Berkeley and contributed cartoons to that university's newspaper. He began as a freelance upon graduating, and struggled for several years. His big break came in a 1943 sale to the Saturday Evening Post that led to a subsequent sale featuring a brassy maid named Hazel. The character stuck with readers, and Key soon found the character's voice and settled into a long run with her, first as a popular weekly feature in the Evening Post and eventually as a panel cartoon from King Features Syndicate. Don Markstein notes that the KFS pick-up in 1969 came after the Post folded. He would in 1977 win the NCS divisional award for newspaper panels.
The cartoon's success facilitated a move East to the town in which he would later pass away, where he became a local celebrity. The move probably helped the strip, which in the broadest sense recast certain elements of American social and culture clash into a suburban setting increasingly familiar to many US citizens.
A television show version of Hazel starring Shirley Booth debuted in 1961 and ran for five years, four on NBC and one on CBS. Booth won two emmys for her portrayal of Key's character, and was nominated for a third. It wasn't Key's first foray into TV, having created the characters of Sherman and Peabody for the "Peabody's Improbable History" segment that ran on several of Jay Ward's animated shows.
Other credits outside of comics include screenplays for the Disney movies The Cat From Outer Space, Million Dollar Duck and Gus, and a number of children's book, including the extremely popular The Biggest Dog In The World.
Although the exact cause of death is unknown, obituaries note that Key suffered major physical setbacks in 2006 and 2007. He is survived by his second wife, three sons, and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, in 1984.
* When I posted about it last week I suspected that this story of a French newspaper editor being fired for reprinting the Muhammed cartoons might just be the case of an old story -- in this case one from 2006 -- resurfacing on an unrelated site. Now that I'm able to track it to the original BBC story, I'm pretty convinced that's what it is.
* I thought this story was interesting in that statements made and stances taken during the original Danish Cartoons Controversy might continue to dog some politicians years afterwards.
We get a lot of great e-mail here, most of which is never intended for publication and so never finds its way there. Sometimes a passage or two is so nicely-phrased that I remember to ask if we can publish that portion of it somewhere on the site. Here's a few recent ones.
Frank Santoro on FCBD in NYC:
The owner was "dug in" in the back room with a counter full of free buttons and posters. I walked back there to sniff out the free comics but none were on view. The owner said "take all the free buttons you want" when I looked at them. The guy walking in behind me asked for the free comics and he was handed a random stack of two or three comics. When the guy asked for "something like Iron Man" the owner responded "You're welcome for your free comics." (!!!!!!!)
Tucker Stone on NYCC and Conventions In General:
I didn't attend that convention last weekend. I had the opportunity to go as a guest creator for the Comixology website i've been writing columns for, but with my upcoming wedding (this Sunday) I figured it would be pretty selfish to not be around, being as much of a support as I can to my future wife.
The thing is, I don't really have any interest in those things anyway. I went to one as a kid in Georgia -- the "Dragoncon" -- met a really mean Todd McFarlane and a really nice Tom Lyle, bought some comics i could've bought as a store and overall felt really uncomfortable and nervous around some goth-fetish guys. (I was 13, not a grown up liberal white male adult who understood differing lifestyles.) Except for last years MoCCA in NY, I've never been back.
I have, however, been to multiple dental conventions on my through childhood. My dad used to take the whole family to these once a year nationwide dental conventions, where various companies would show off their new products, they'd have panels on new developments in dentistry, etc, so on. They were great. They were opening, welcoming places, with a far higher attendance of professionals or families than any convention I've ever heard about in the US, on par with something like San Diego. (more, probably)
I never had any interest in what my father did at work -- nor does the rest of my family -- but we all looked forward to going and supporting him at the dental convention once a year. We didn't know that's what we doing, supporting, because we enjoyed it -- we enjoyed the way a bunch of scientists and sales reps were so quick to repeat their same PR lines, over and over again, answering the same banal questions, hand out the same free samples, all with an overall genuineness to their manner. I'm not naive enough to think a bunch of sales reps care anything about the future of dentistry, the current state of gum disease, etc. But they were open, friendly people.
When I look back on my memories of Dragoncon, or the Vertigo table at MoCCA, there's no comparison. If I was someone who really felt it was somehow valuable to my time with comics to meet and get an autograph from a writer, or an artist, maybe I'd understand all this talk about conventions. But I don't see the point, not at all. I can understand having PR shows, I can understand marketing comics to retailers, I can even understand that fans want to fill a room to hear Grant Morrison talk about stuff -- but the rest of this stuff? The dogged pursuit of signatures and meetings with other fans? The desire to tell somebody, in person, "Good job?" Or "Countdown sucked?" In a day and age where no comics convention is going to compete with eBay when it comes to finding a copy of Squadron Supreme?
I don't know what that is. But it isn't a trade show. It isn't a convention. It's something else entirely -- something depressing, something immature, and something that doesn't do anything for the art form itself.
Dustin Harbin On Iron Man and FCBD:
Having just read your Iron Man thing, and speaking with my retailer hat on: I agree wholeheartedly that usually there's not that much quantifiable sales upticks around big movies. The big exception was the first Spider-Man, and the biggest disappointments were Daredevil and both FF movies. But Saturday I ran the register for probably about four hours all-told, during which time there was ALWAYS a line 12-15 people or more deep, and I was absolutely flabbergasted by the number of Iron Man anythings that crossed the counter. Both new issues, the Extremis trade, Marvel Adventures books, and -- most surprisingly of all -- Iron Man back issues! And I'm talking '80s Iron Man, with a lot of alcoholic storylines, which I always found pretty boring as a kid. What kid wants to see a hero sweat and stare at various bottles and highball glasses?
Anyway: tons of Iron Man stuff. Matt Brady was there covering things for Newsarama, and there was general agreement that not having Matt Fraction's new Iron Man book (it ships this Wednesday) out for Free Comic Book Day and the movie premiere was a let's-occupy-a-Middle-Eastern-nation level gaffe. Not to mention some other Iron Man one-shot or limited series, also coming out in two days.
The other things I saw a lot, which was very exciting: TONS OF CHILDREN, all of whom were buying manga, kids books, Bone (!!!), and various Japanese-themed merchandise comics (Pokemon, etc). While we get more kids in our store than most, this was a banner year for kids actually showing up AND spending money, which is a big difference from showing up and getting freebies, then leaving. Also: a lot of young girls, not only buying comics but (I'm sorry for all the capitals) STANDING IN LINE TO GET SKETCHES! It was a pretty good day.
I Don’t Know Who You Are: Combined NYCC 2008 And Stumptown 2008 Edition
***** NEW YORK COMIC-CON 2008
101 = Sean Wang
102 = Robert Randle
105 = Douglas Sherwood
106 = Michelle Gomes
107 = Mo Willems
108 = Chip Mosher
109 = John Siuntres
110 = Randal C. Jarrell
111 = Brian Hurtt
112 = Cory Casoni
113 = Matthew Loux
114 = Deb Aoki
115 = Sean Michael Wilson
116 = Kurt Hassler
117 = Hector Casanova
118 = Joe Keatinge
119 = Jim Dougan
120 = Matthew Clark
121 = Jason Aaron
***** STUMPTOWN COMICS FESTIVAL 2008
Questions To CR: How Will Fantagraphics Handle Missing ‘67 Peanuts Strip?
Michael Purdy Asks: Do you have a source at Fantagraphics who might be able to let you in on what they plan to do about the missing strip in the new volume of Complete Peanuts? On the page that should feature the strips from May 1, 2 and 3 of 1967, the May 1st strip appears twice.
Fantagraphics' Eric Reynolds Responds: The mistake was an egregious printer's error. We'd okayed the proofs and all was well and they somehow slipped in the wrong plate at the last moment. We will be printing the missing strip in the next volume, and subsequent printings will be corrected (such as the edition that comes with the boxed set of Vols. 9 & 10 later this Fall).
* ComicMix follows up on word that broke yesterday that Wizard is trying to sell its office and warehouse space, and gets a non-committal comment from a representative of the company. I don't think this is dire news, but it's interesting to see given the enormous personnel turmoil that Wizard has seen in the last about 18 months now. Rumors among ex-Wizard employees has it that current employees found out when they saw someone putting the "For Sale" sign out in front of the building, and that there's been no in-house explanation as of yet.
* the comics review and analysis site Metabunkerprovides a super-solid Best of 2007 list that unlike some such features becomes more compelling the more you read of it. For one thing, their comic of the year is Dominique Goblet's Faire semblant c'est mentir.
* the comics magazine Wizard has their 50 Events That Rocked Comics list up now, and in contrast to the Metabunker list, the Wizard piece only grows more aggravating the more you read of it. I don't believe in automatically busting on Wizard just because they're Wizard, but it's really irritating when they pretend to cover all of comics when it's clear that as a group culture they view comics as superhero books with a few oddball independent titles thrown in for variety's sake. It's even more annoying when people latch on to their sporadic coverage of non-muscle titles as some sort of positive cultural good to be applauded instead of deplorable editorial oversight to be mocked. Also, how did they come up with that date for Mike Diana?
* finally, happy 10th birthday to Scott Kurtz' PvP, one of the first successful, high-profile webcomics. That's quite an achievement, although I didn't need to feel quite so old quite so early in the morning.
The New York Timesnotes that the long-running Pepper... and Salt at the Wall Street Journal is back off the editorial page. This follows a 2007 return. The feature, which has appeared since 1950 and was instigated by the editor Charles Preston, has decamped to the leisure and arts section. Unlike most pieces of this type, it's interesting to note that the paper's angle here seems to be that the move may presage a more significant investment by the paper in a cartooning voice, or that it could even mean a shift in tone away from that feature's gentle nudging of the excesses and follies of One Percent America.
The Direct Market promotion Free Comic Book Day took place over the weekend. It's a difficult thing to cover because a) it's a promotion, and b) it's been around for a few years now.
I would imagine the bigger story with the event, the trend story, is that some people are continuing to do well with the opportunity it presents and some people are either participating in a half-hearted way or opting out altogether. Since that's a judgment call for the most part, I'm not sure how you'd quantify it. What that calls into question is whether or not the event has national reach. There are no comics shops where I live, for example, and if you're in a town with one shop and they're not participating, it may be an hour or two until you find a shop that is. That kind of ruins the benefits provided by national attention.
Anyway, here are few interesting links I stumbled across about Saturday's event.
* Tom the Dog finds the way some shops participate in the promotion to be kind of lame. I swear when the promotion started that you could expect one comic and these were primarily aimed at potential new readers; now it seems like many people expect them all and it's the regular readers that want them the most.
* Maryland Congressman CA Dutch Ruppersberger introduced a resolution supporting the event. No word on whether the other congressmen immediately beat him up and took his lunch money.
The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, which will give out its 2008 awards during a ceremony on Friday, July 25 in San Diego, has its ballots ready to go for the voting pleasure of "professional[s] working in the comics industry." From this page you can find 1) the place to ask for a traditional paper ballot, 2) a place to download a PDF ballot which you then print out and send if like me you're too impatient to wait for a paper ballot but like the tradition of sitting down with pen and the ballot and voting, and 3) on-line voting, which I'm guessing is what a significant percentage of people will do. Mel Thompson and Associates are administering the awards as they've done in years past. Voting closes June 13.
I Don’t Know Who You Are—The Stumptown Comics Fest 2008 Edition
Not Comics: Random Thoughts On The $100 Million Weekend By Iron Man
* first, the news: The first movie in Marvel's new arrangement by which they produce their films themselves, Iron Man, scored an impressive $100 million-plus in domestic box office over the weekend. Unless there's a hideous seizure in future weekends' box office totals, and the reviews are rapturous enough that this will almost certainly not happen, it's safe to say that the Robert Downey Jr. vehicle is a big hit film and a positive kick-off to Marvel's new strategy.
* why it matters: It doesn't matter as much as some folks will tell you it does. Marvel's publishing business is largely insulated from the wider efforts of its entertainment company bosses, in both good and bad ways. Comics also lacks the kind of infrastructure necessary to capitalize on any surge of interest in a major, major way. Still, this new film effort is a core effort rather than something that simply happened to the company, and is likely have both a psychological and even a modest sales and publishing impact on the comics side of things.
* reserve your May 2010 tickets now: I would also imagine that Iron Man's box office success guarantees a sequel, and since Marvel's film slate remains relatively thin and riddled with properties with question marks (how do you approach Thor? will anyone possibly care about Ant Man? will people laugh at Captain America? are Cloak and Dagger and Deathlok viable as more than direct-to-DVD fare?), it should come out in one and half or two years rather than three. If Marvel wants, it should also according to tradition and by intimidating the crap out of the other studios with this performance have a kind of dibs on the same early-May slot. (Updated: Marvel announced this morning it's Thor and Iron Man in 2010; Captain America and The Avengers in 2011. I wonder what happened to Ant Man -- wait, no, actually I don't. I'm trying to remember what's out there and active in terms of movies under the old licensing arrangements, and only coming up with an already-filmed Wolverine movie and an X-Men Year One-style prequel being written.)
* all of this might make you wonder: why did Iron Man do so well? There had been some doubt expressed when the movie was initially announced that the Iron Man character wasn't well-known enough to carry a new film as effectively as Marvel needed it to; that Downey Jr. was too old to carry this kind of movie and that Jon Favreau only had one SFX-driven movie under his belt and his strengths were in other areas. As it turns out, it seems that audiences have come to understand "man in super suit shooting ray beams, flying around and punching things" to the extent they decided they wanted to see the movie, Downey Jr. isn't old in terms of number of times he's been on screen in this kind of movie (he seems fresher than Paul Walker, for instance), and Jon Favreau is a solid director for whom actors like to act that lacks the kind of ego that would cause him to interfere with his effects people. Also, the movie is apparently good, which isn't always a guarantee of success, but generally doesn't hurt. I think just about anything that had the look of a successful, emerging blockbuster had a chance to do well right now given the perceived age and tired qualities of some of the other summer movies out there this year and last, so kudos to the person who staked out the early May slot. That in itself is the best decision by a Marvel-related film person since whatever genius casting director found a last-minute replacement for Dougray Scott in X-Men.
* while superhero movies have a spotty record when it comes to driving interest to superhero comics and collections, I think there may be more of a noticeable effect with Iron Man because he's been kind of a dud sales-wise for a while now. An instance of anyone asking for Iron Man in a comics shop is going to seem like the dawning of the Iron Man Renaissance. In addition, the comic book itself has to seem more of a glamor assignment than it was this time last week. I would imagine the Iron Man: Extremis graphic novel by Warren Ellis and film consultant/hiree Adi Granov will be the winner when it comes to books that could get an individual boost. Other than that one, I'm at a loss when it comes to suggesting another trade that comes close to what the movie seems to be offering on any level, although I love the old Gene Colan art in the anthology-era issues and I'm fond of the Magnum PI-style 1980s book.
It took a clipped article from a family member that referenced this article for me to notice its brief inquiry into cash payouts going to Marvel's board of directors, and how unusual that specific kind of reward really is. It's important to note those instances where Marvel board members are rewarded to this degree (and please note there are other kinds of rewards being funneled to people on that level) because of the comics industry's long-time practice of grinding against the creators that make the work these people are being rewarded for later managing or otherwise servicing. It's doubly important in that there are sometimes claims of there being no money to better reward the creators.
* the 2008 MoCCA Festival has announced its programming, and it looks like there's some very interesting stuff in there. My first reaction is that I wouldn't mind at all making the trip off site for three or four of these panels, which I suppose is the idea. Also, I hadn't known they were honoring the animator Bill Plympton this year.
* what looks like a Benoit Peeters film about manga-ka has been embedded in this blog entry. I probably should know exactly what this is, but I don't. Lots of great imagery, though.
* one significant NYC comics personality wrote in with this observation:
Last night, when I turned on the radio's sleep timer, the last thing I heard before drifting off to sleep was a four-minute love letter to Iron Man on the BBC World Service. This morning, when the radio went off to wake me up, the very first thing I heard was a long interview with Art Spiegelman on the BBC's French language service (WNYE is multi-lingual), flogging a new edition of Breakdowns.
I dunno what it means. But I sure know that sorta coverage never happened ten years ago.
* this editorial slamming the prosecutors that brought charges against Rome, Georgia retailer Gordon Lee and held onto them for three years before seeing them dismissed also makes me never want to see the new John Adams mini-series.
* speaking of the Lee case, Sean T. Collins has an appropriate message for all of those folks whose reaction to the case when it was officially announced was that they were 100 percent certain Lee was guilty and the comic was obviously porno and to hell with them both. Didn't hear a whole lot from that whole goofy crowd after the charges were finally dropped, and hopefully the idea that CBLDF support is a merit badge for optimal decision-making as voted on by everybody in comics according to the actions of the imaginary retailer that lives in their head -- as opposed to an organization that takes on unjust laws and their application -- has gone away for good.
I don't know Will Dinski from Adam, but I liked what I'd seen of his comics, so I asked the cartoonist to take part in the 2007 CR Holiday series, a bunch of interviews many of which -- like Dinski's -- never quite came off due to this site's spectacular late-in-the-year server disaster. Dinski's work to date reveals a strong sense of story and an interesting take on various uses for a structural grid. As we discuss below, Dinski both studied comics and lives in one of the medium's great regional strongholds, Minneapolis. If you're one of the people that reads this blog in order to put younger or more obscure cartoonists on the radar, add Will Dinski.
TOM SPURGEON: Will, I don't know anything about you other than the fact that you started turning out comics pages and a lot of self-printed work a few years back. Where did you come from? Did I hear correctly in that you went to art school? When did you start on the latest series of works and what led you to comics that way?
WILL DINSKI: Well, I'm originally from Illinois, but moved to Minneapolis to go to art school. The Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I studied Comics, so I've a BFA in this stuff. I've a day job working as a print production artist for a small education focused marketing firm. All the comics work I do is done in the evenings when I get off work.
I'm not sure what older comics you're referring to but I'm assuming you mean Habitual Entertainment #1 and 2.
SPURGEON: That's them.
DINSKI: I guess the big difference between those comics and the comics I'm making now is the grid I work with. That came about because I was so dissatisfied with my pacing on the first two comics. The story just seemed to go by too quickly. I figured making the panels smaller, putting more of them on a page, and breaking it up with panels of just text, I'd have more control how fast the reader would move through the story. Plus, I like being in control of whether or not the reader is taking in the text or images first. Laying out the pages in this grid lets me do that.
SPURGEON: Before we get any further: For those who haven't had any experience learning about comics in a more structured environment, can you describe a bit about what you learned at MCAD, perhaps those things that you wouldn't have learned yourself had you been on your own? Is there a particular strength of that program, do you think?
DINSKI: The real strength of studying at a college like MCAD is that it's first a really a great Design school. The comics classes accelerated what I may have picked up on my own, but I don't think I could have ever wrapped my head around design or drawing concepts if I hadn't been exposed to so much of it over the course of my education.
As far as the comics program itself, it was nice to have instructors who could verbalize "what you are doing isn't working, this is why and this is one way to fix it." I learned that I wanted to have an eye for looking at my work objectively.
SPURGEON: You did a guest strip at Daily Cross Hatch called "Comics Utopia" that seemed to tweak the messianic zeal that some people bring to the idea of comics on the Internet. Do you have reservations about moving comics on-line?
DINSKI: Not really, I guess. I have my comics online. I even serialized Beautiful, Cool and Irreplaceable online before I made it into a book. But you're right in that I was probably just reacting to that "messianic zeal" that it appears a lot of online cartoonists have. Like if they had it their way, no one would want to read my mini-comic unless it's digital. I hope that it's all just rhetoric and excitement over a new medium.
SPURGEON: In "The Midwestern Artist," you make the observation that Minneapolis tends to celebrate authors who leave to fulfill their dreams. Why do you think that is?
DINSKI: At the time I wrote that, it seemed that the "great" Minnesotan artists couldn't wait to get out of here. [F. Scott] Fitzgerald seemed to be working like a maniac so he could get the money to go to New York. I thought the same was true with Charles Schulz. Since then, I've read that Peanuts biography and it seems that Schulz would have been much happier living in Minnesota.
We celebrate Prince, too, and he doesn't live here. I guess Minnesota is like your mom. "You can visit anytime you want, but no pressure. You'll always have a home here."
SPURGEON: Minneapolis has a well-populated cartooning scene, but no one knows anything about you people. Do you feel a sense of community with your fellow Minneapolis cartoonists? Is there a sensibility that pervades your work as a group that you think may make you different than other cartoonists?
DINSKI: I think there's a pretty good community here. I just spent a good part of today preparing my artwork for the Lutefisk Sushi show here in Minnesota. That's a show of nothing but Minnesota cartoonists that takes place almost annually.
As a community, I like to think the cartoonists here tend to keep tabs on what other cartoonists are working on. We'll talk about what we're working on. We're all trying to do different type of work, but tend to relate because we can sympathize with someone who spends so much of their time behind a drawing board.
I really can't say if there's an overarching sensibility, though. I may be too close to see it. Have you noticed one?
SPURGEON: How are cartoonists treated as part of the overall Minneapolis arts scene?
DINSKI: I guess pretty well. The arts scene in Minneapolis is really big, and comics kind of live on it's own with in it. Like I said, MCAD has a Comics Program here, so comics are on the radar and tend to be taken pretty seriously.
SPURGEON: Is there any other cartoonist in the Minneapolis scene that you feel doesn't receive enough attention?
DINSKI: Aaron Poliwoda. He does a comic call Low-Blow and you can't buy it online. He doesn't have it in any stores either. I guess if you wrote him a letter and sent a couple bucks he might mail one to you. [Aaron Poliwoda/Low Blow Comics; 314 Hennepin Ave. #1108; Minneapolis, MN 55401. $3 will get you a book]
Aaron is a cartoonist I met while at MCAD. Since he graduated, he learned that he's got Aspergers syndrome. This tends to make his comics pretty raw and unfiltered. The guy is really prolific, too. I think he's got about six or seven books completely finished that he can't afford to print up. He broke his leg a couple months ago and just sat around and made about four books.
After reading one of Aaron's comics you sometimes get this terrible feeling in your gut. He can be a scary dude sometimes.
SPURGEON: "Routine," "Endorsement of Smoking" and "Are You Often Impulsive In Your Behavior?" are all in non-traditional comics formats. What draws you to such formats, particularly the more print-like comics formats that you use?
DINSKI: I try to make these comics so that they resemble little art objects. The book needs to set up and present the story in the best way it can. They're all pretty limited quantity and I tend to just sell them at comic shows.
I'd like to think someone might hang my artwork on the walls of their home. That it's something they would want to look at over and over again.
SPURGEON: Was "Are You Often Impulsive In Your Behavior?" drawn from personal experience? How did that become a comic, and because it's critical were you worried at all in terms fairly depicting the process you describe?
DINSKI: Yeah, I actually did go into the Church of Scientology and took their personality test. I think I was pretty fair in depicting what happened -- at least I tried to be. I was mostly befuddled by the whole thing. I didn't understand what my thoughts on the "prisons without bars" system had to do with my personality. I guess I was sizing up the Scientologists the whole time and they were sizing me up too.
It's fun having that book at shows. Everyone has a Scientology story or an opinion about the cult.
SPURGEON: You've run several sketchbook pages on your site. I'm assuming you keep a sketchbook. How often do you draw in it? Is it something you look forward to doing or something you feel compelled to do because of the experience it gives you? What criteria do you use in putting one of the sketchbook pages on-line?
DINSKI: I keep a pretty regular sketchbook, but I didn't always like it. You're right that for a while I did it just because I knew I had to if I wanted to get better at drawing. But now I really look forward to it. It's almost becoming more fun than working on comics in a way. Ever since I started putting the drawings on the blog I feel like I've been getting much more out of drawing in my sketchbook. I'm pretty much putting everything I draw on the website, so I put that much more effort into them so they look good.
SPURGEON: Similarly, there are a lot of greeting card images. Those are personal images I take it? What goes into doing one of those?
DINSKI: Heh. I just find an image that I think represents an interest of the person I'm doing the card for. Then I draw it. I hate buying greeting cards, but people like to get them. So this is just a way to make the whole thing palatable. I haven't been making them for very long, so I can't tell if my loved ones really like them or if they're just being polite in taking them.
SPURGEON: I wanted to ask you a few questions about the latest comic of yours I've seen, "Errand Service." First, can you talk about the way you structured the book? I'd love to hear you talk a bit about both the page structure, and why you use such an elaborate grid, and the decision to put in the two narrative twists near the story's end.
DINSKI: Well, the grid is pretty much the grid I use on all my stories now. It helps with the writing too. In fact, the ending changed a lot before anyone had read it. I took a large chunk that was towards the middle of the story and put it at the end, I guess giving it that "double twist" at the end. I thought the way the story ended before was a little weak and it needed a bigger impact. I try hard to make the beginning and ending of my stories as memorable as possible.
SPURGEON: So the grid assists you in terms of providing the underpinnings of structure, making sections more easily portable -- what exactly helps you?
DINSKI: It allows me to make major edits all the way through the process. I'm just filling in the little boxes. I can move parts around or take sections out and I don't have to completely redesign the page. So the pages become more like paragraphs and the panels like words. Interchangeable and arrangeable.
Also, when it comes to making the books, if the pages are in a grid that can be broken up then I have way more flexibility when choosing the format of the book. The way I drew the pages won't always dictate what the book will look like.
SPURGEON: I found your use of more abstract imagery interesting. What made you decide to do the panels with just the phone, what effect did you want that to have? I'm similarly interested in why you used panels that showed just a silhouette or an outline. Were those purely there to serve the narrative, or was there any element of how those panels affected reading or flow?
DINSKI: Yeah, those panels had more to do with the reading than a specific narrative intent. I jump around in that story a lot, and I wanted to have a repeating element that served as a period or paragraph break. The phone seemed like a good thing to use since it's such a powerful force in these busy people's lives. They're always being told what to do next via phone. I tried to put a lot of clocks in for the same reason.
SPURGEON: Without ruining what people might take to "Errand Service" on their own, is there anything you can suggest in terms of how a reader might look at the story's overall meaning or theme in terms of your opinion of vocational issues? There seems to be a really pessimistic feel to what that story says about the futility of work.
DINSKI: Well, I like work, but errands and busy work can make a person bat-shit crazy.
If anyone wants to read that story, it should be on the Top Shelf Comix web site in a couple weeks.
SPURGEON: Do you have specific ambitions for your work? With traditional American comics kind of breaking up into a thousand tiny nation-states, I'd be interested in knowing how a prolific cartoonist early in the career looks at the field in terms of what you can accomplish. How long do you want to do comics?
DINSKI: I'm not ever going to stop making these stories. I suppose it would be wonderful to get something published. However, I'd be making them if no one was reading them, so most of what I hope to accomplish is in terms of my craft. I'd like it if I could make my drawings beautiful. The feeling of having my most current project being even the slightest bit better than my last is what keeps me going.
* from Beautiful, Cool and Irreplaceable
* portrait of the artist
* from Beautiful, Cool and Irreplaceable
* hardcover for Beautiful, Cool and Irreplaceable
* screen print
* cover art from Low Blow #8 by Aaron Poliwoda
* excerpt from The Pressman
* excerpt from Routine
* Routine story reformatted into a poster
* a couple pages from my sketchbook
On Friday afternoon, participating CR readers were asked to "Name Five Locales From Comics You Like That Are not A) A Character's Primary Residence, B) Their Traditional Headquarters." Here are the results.
topic adapted from suggestion by Tom Bondurant
Tom Bondurant and Tom Spurgeon
1. Hydro-Base (Tom Bondurant)
2. The Wayne Foundation Penthouse (Tom Bondurant)
3. The Wonderdome (Tom Bondurant)
4. The Coffee Bean (Tom Spurgeon)
5. Bumpers (Tom Spurgeon)
1. Top of Empire State Building (Spider-Man)
2. Central Park (The Boys)
3. Far enough in space to cover the Earth with an outstretched hand (Supreme Power)
4. Dale's RV (The Walking Dead)
5. Marrisville, Ohio (Y The Last Man)
1) Yancy Street
2) Mad Dog's bar
3) Perry White's office (when he's yelling at someone)
4) Radio Station W.H.I.Z
5) Coconino County Jailhouse
1. Danny the Street in Doom Patrol
2. The Quite Nice Bar in Judge Dredd
3. The World's End Free House in Sandman
4. That forest in Germany where Hans von Hammer and his wolf friend would go hunting together.
5. Lonely Donegan's Eateria in Sinister Dexter
1. Opal City
2. The Daily Planet
3. Ferris Air Force
4. K'un L'un
5. Julie Schwartz's office on Earth-Prime
1. GCPD headquarters, aka Gotham Central
2. The Marvel Universe's Rikers Island prison
3. Gideon's Pawn Shop (from The Crow)
4. The Brooklyn Bridge
5. The Phantom Zone
1. Bibbo's Ace of Clubs saloon (Superman)
2. Kirkegaard Memorial Launderette (Zippy)
3. Dr. Broccoli's Music Shop (Post Bros.)
4. The King Canute (Eddie Campbell)
5. Lilliput's Book and Toy Store (FBOFW)
1. Swanson's Garage (Human Torch's hangout in early FF issues)
2. Latverian Embassy in NYC
3. Transylvania Polygnostic (Agatha Heterodyne's alma mater)
4. Ninja World, the famed theme park in the Tick's The City
5. The Long Walk in the Cursed Earth outside Mega-City One
1) The Phantom Zone
2) The Graveyard of Cathedrals
3) Oakland Public Library
4) Ice Haven
5) The ruins outside Palomar
Quote Of The Week
That's the point of comics -- they don't have to die, because they're fictional creations... We can do anything with them, and we can make them come back and make them defy death... And that's why people read comics, to get away from the way life works, which is quite cruel and unheroic and ends in death." -- Grant Morrison in one of a mini-wave of DC-driven articles about Flash being brought back from the dead
this week's imagery comes from pioneering comic book house Hillman Publications
Volume Six in the Les Blagues Des Toto series by Thierry Coppee has won this year's Prix Canal J, directed towards the best album for young readers. The series has sold over a half million copies. Past winners include Titeuf and Kid Paddle.
The artist and educator Steve Bissette is not only an esteemed comics industry personage, he comes at the issue of Wertham's legacy as someone with an intense professional interest in horror work. A series starts here.
* I don't read the racing press so I may be the only one who thinks this or the last person to say it out loud, but they have got to start chopping the field in this thing. Twenty horses does not generally lead to the best race, and it increases the likelihood that a potential all-timer horse will have something happen to it that keeps it from its place in history. I think there are enough of these 20-horse fields at this point for someone to figure out how to do this fairly and effectively.
* the best moment at the racetrack doesn't come across on TV at all but it's really cool: it's the singing of Stephen Foster's My Old Kentucky Home, and how much so many people in the stands enjoy singing it. Foster, of course, was born in Pennsylvania.
* the second best moment is running into a weird celebrity from the era when the Kentucky Derby was more like a demented, land-locked episode of Love Boat than it was a pre-awards show red carpet special on E! -- Casey Kasem sightings are of course 100 times greater than seeing Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.
* I have some general rules for betting the Triple Crown races, although you have to keep in mind I bet for value rather than to win the most times out, so it's a different set of values than you should apply, say, in your Mom's pool. At the Kentucky Derby I tend to take a long look at horses going off at 15 to 1 all the way to 40 to 1. It's so early in the season that someone is bound to be undervalued up there. Plus there's a group-think among horse people that always leads to some kind of horse being overvalued, like a fixation six or seven years ago on horses with Middle Eastern owners. At the Preakness I take a look at the Kentucky Derby winner, which if not a favorite going into Churchill is probably undervalued at Preakness as people try to re-establish their favorites. If that doesn't apply, go local, but go local with a Place or Show bet. At the Belmont I look at two things: long shots, and horses that ran at the Illinois and Arkansas Derbies.
* remember to always back up your bets. If you really, really like one horse, bet that horse "across" (to win, place and show) rather than simply to win. It's a long race, and a lot can happen. This is doubly true of long-shots.
* if you're at the Belmont and someone has a chance to win the Triple Crown, buy five $2 tickets to sell later on eBay.
* if you're spending a day at the track rather than simply one race, and you don't bet very often or don't have a lot of money to do it, the "boxed exacta" is the amateur's go-to wager for an extended period of time watching the ponies. What this means is you take two horses and bet them both ways. A "boxed exacta on the 5 and 8" is really two bets: for the 8 to win and the 5 to come in second; for the 5 to win and the 8 to come in second. But it sounds cooler to say it in one shot. It's a good bet for beginners because the reward is there if you win without much in the way of investment and it's the kind of bet that forces you to think about the horses in relation to one another.
* best quirk: elaborate hats, and the delight with which many women flaunt these Cher-like monstrosities; worst quirk: the mint julep, which is basically the run-off from when I used to clean my school desk at the end of the year with powdered soap and water.
* fashion's all over the place at the Derby, but the guys tend towards suits or blazer/slacks, and the women wear hats but opt more for cocktail party-type outfits in either cut or color. It's rare to see a guy wearing a hat. It's even rarer to see a guy wearing a hat whose ass you don't want to kick. Unless that guy is standing in the infield and his hat says "I like naked chicks" -- that person is common, and you automatically want to be their friend.
* most nudity on the infield: Preakness, but I only know that because the last time I was out there that was the most nudity I ever saw anywhere. It came dangerously close to ruining nudity. I actually lectured a bunch of 19-year-olds how much sexier it was back in the day when people at Preakness would have sex in the portable toilets without first having to show skin while waiting in line. "Our generation had a thing called class," I intoned from behind my video camera.
* best post-game location: up the street from the event at one of the many houses eager to sell your drunk ass some barbecue; worst post-game location: the soul-destroying taxi line.
* the Iron Man movie opened up late yesterday in the desirable "first out of the summer gate" slot that was once potent enough to make a hit out of The Mummy, and all signs indicate that it could do quite well. It's an important story to comics in the sense that this it's the first movie produced by Marvel itself, and although the company's comics enterprise is protected from a lot of the everyday business of the entertainment conglomerate, the late '90s showed it's not totally insulated from the core efforts, and this is a core effort. It's also important that with Iron Man kind of a long-time non-starter in comics shops, attention driven to the character's books should be more noticeable than with a more established, hit property.
When the Iron Man movie and Marvel's plan to produce its own movies were originally announced, a lot of people thought the whole thing might be a non-starter because the characters Marvel had available to it lacked perceived heavy-hitters like Spider-Man. I thought the plan stood at least some chance of working because 1) you don't have to have another Spider-Man to have a successful run of films, 2) Iron Man is a movie about a rich guy in a metal suit punching things and shooting them with ray beams and seemed like it would communicate to summer-style moviegoers rather well, and 3) the field for competitive blockbusters is much, much weaker than it was around 2002-2003. You never know, but I think this movie and Marvel's film slate in general each has a chance to do just fine, although the odds are always stacked against films and you're likely to see a "they don't have anything except Iron Man" run of analysis even if the Iron Man movie does well. If it falls short of expectations, expect outright burials.
* I found this analysis of Paul Grist's inability to get his serial comics out in an exacting, timely fashion to be an interesting one. I take it from one of the tags that this has been noticed before. It's difficult to put out regular serial work right now, not only because it's difficult in all the ways that getting regular work out can prove to be nettlesome, but the market isn't geared that way anymore and I imagine there are structural impediments as well. At the same time, I don't see how Grist's loopy narratives would work in serial form other than regular publication.
* the writer and retailer Christopher Butcher has penned a short post about some of the inexplicable manga hits of recent years. I like how Butcher admits that sometimes sales are missed; in a lot of pieces, stories like Butcher tells would be the support points in a long argument to avoid the category altogether.
Sarah Glidden Wins 2008 Maisie Kukoc Award For How To Understand Israel
The 2008 Maisie Kukoc Award For Comics Inspiration and its $400 cash prize went to Sarah Glidden and her How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less, an ongoing serialization of a planned longer work. It was awarded last Friday at Guapo Comics and Coffee, on the same weekend as the Stumptown Comics Fest. The cartooning peer of Glidden's that wrote into CR with the reminder called the award "well-deserved." The Maisie Kukoc program is administered by Jesse Reklaw.
You can access previews of Glidden's award-winning work here.
The Globe and Mailnotes the passing April 17 of cartoonist Bob Bierman, a prolific cartoonist who went to the mat for his right to satirize the politics of British Columbia politician Bill Vander Zalm in the frequently nettlesome climate that surrounds expression of that type in Canada.
Bierman and Vander Zalm clashed over 1978 statements made by the politician about the welfare rolls and a subsequent cartoon about the matter in the Victorian Times. Bierman lost the case in its initial hearing, and had the case overturned in the BC Court of Appeal in 1980. Vander Zalm declined to pursue the action further.
Bierman was born in Amsterdam and came to Canada in 1950. He was for a time on the Victoria Daily Times staff, although he was mostly a freelancer. His publications included Victoria Times Colonist and Monday Magazine. He published books in 1982 and in the early 1990s.
He is survived by a wife, two sons, and two grandchildren.
* Editor & Publishercollects details about the forthcoming Dilbert collection, including its physical size, the parameters of the project in a publishing sense and its CD and on-line update components. It sounds like a worthy project, and I think it reflects some thinking on the publisher's part after what I take to be the Far Side collection exceeding expectations and the Calvin and Hobbes collection doing extremely well but not exponentially better than the Far Side effort: there needs in these projects to be a mix of casual readers and super-hardcore fans. No word on whether or not Andrews McMeel will provide counseling to those of us freaked out this all takes place on Dilbert's 20th anniversary.
* I totally missed this, but Classic Comics Press of Dondi and Our Stage collection fame will apparently take on the odd man out in the recent great strips re-publication bonanza: Roy Crane's vigorous and occasionally exquisite Wash Tubbs. I think Crane's work is important because 1) it can be freakishly gorgeous and entertaining, and 2) it reflects a fading element of American self-image in the period directly preceding the Second World War where the US is kind of seen as a vigorous young man stomping around a much bigger world that half-appreciates it, half-fails to care. Mostly, though, I just like looking at the damn thing, and I'm happy for any chance other people will get to do the same. At one point in my life I was obsessing on Crane to the extent that I dreamed I was a television producer for a Hercules: The Legendary Journeys-type Wash Tubbs syndicated TV show starring Michael J. Fox and Fred Ward.
Travel Notes: Near Trip’s End, Things That Have Accrued In My Backpack
We all have that one pocket in a suitcase, backpack or shoulder bag where weird stuff goes on a trip. Here's what been ending up in mine during this current one.
The Vertical catalog. It's interesting that comics has the first page and the center spreads in a catalog with so many different offerings, certainly a sign of the place comics has within that small publisher's galaxy of offerings.
One of the better promotional postcards I've ever seen in that I read the whole damn thing -- for Jenn Manley Lee's Dicebox.
This was the entirety of my notes for the Battle for Talent panel at the ICv2.com Graphic Novels conference.
Promotional flier. Sometimes I feel that at every convention there's another convention going on to which I'm not invited.
Minimalist mini-comics cover from Shaenon Garrity and Andrew Farago. I guess I understand the idea behind it. I liked Traveler when I was a kid.
A David Chelsea mini-comics mini-collection cover. David Chelsea was one of the surprise guests for me at Stumptown. Plus, from the looks of him now, he was 13 years old when he was making the David Chelsea In Love comics, which is fairly impressive.
Press pass from Stumptown. Clean design and you can read the name, which is sadly more than enough to make it the best press pass in the history of comics shows. I liked the lanyard just fine as lanyards go, although I'm a big fan of the stickpin for ensuring people can see names.
See what I mean? This is a horrible badge.
A couple of art show postcards I received. I liked the way both of these looked.
Little program booklet for the ICv2.com graphic novels conference in New York. I wasn't even aware this publication existed until I pulled it out of my pocket.
Three postcards from the Act-I-Vate webcomics collective, shoveled into my hand by a high-energy Dean Haspiel.
Two lovely postcards from Robert Goodin, America's Roger Langridge.
Shannon Wheeler giveaways put into my hand by Dean Haspiel. No, actually they were given to me by Shannon Wheeler himself in respectful fashion.
I've been lugging this around in my backpack despite the fact I could have left it in my mailbox at home. It's the program for the new Jeff Smith art show.
This is a sticker. I hate stickers.
Jor-El, scientist-citizen of Krypton, as illustrated by enthusiastic Portland booster Scott Mills. Mills is doing cartoon illustration commissions again after some time off. I've given or received about a half-dozen of Mills' cartoons, and recommend them, particularly if you have a completist fan-friend or your friend likes an odd or offbeat character.
* the writer and retailer Chris Butcher notes that Fruits Basket will soon end and with it will go Tokyopop's biggest hit by a wide margin.
* speaking of Mr. Butcher, he and the writer/commentator Steven Grant exchange words on the state of comics conventions. Grant's point that for-profit conventions have limitations because there are only limited profits of any kind in comics is well-taken, yet so is Butcher's point that opting for profit isn't as inevitable as Grant seems to be asserting. I think the kind of convention is less important than a lot of execution issues -- I'd rather attend a well-run mainstream convention than a suck-o arts festival, although my opinion may be colored by working to cover the industry instead of simply enjoying whatever I want to enjoy within the medium.
* it's amazing to me that you can get the greatest comics series of all time, Love and Rocket Vol. 1, for $85 brand-new in a great, comfortably-formatted edition. Those are some really awesome comics. In fact, it's weird how much I enjoyed the book of one-offs and hard to categorize works, Amor y Cohetes.
* finally, Dick Hyacinth muses on the Vertigo move into original graphic novels. This is the kind of story that DC's perpetual stranglehold on its own sales number makes difficult to report. I'd guess that there are enough crappy selling Vertigo series that a change in the imprints basic strategy is dependent more on that than some vague sense of possibilities out there.