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October 17, 2011

Ten NYCC 2011 Comics Industry News Stories Of Interest


New York Comic Con was this last weekend. With it -- or at least arriving at roughly the same time -- came a flurry of publishing news announcements from publishers large and small. Here are a few that I thought worth a second glance. These are in no particular order.

1. Viz makes plans to phase out print edition of Shonen Jump in favor of digital Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha.
There were a lot of digital comics announcement at NYCC, which is likely the new status quo for such shows (or certainly should be the rage for the immediate time being). For example, Dark Horse doing digital comics aimed at the gaming audience seems smart to me, for as little as I know about how digital comics and comics for gaming audiences work. Marvel releasing a new app for a significant platform is the kind of thing that seems like it's always important. Ditto the IDW library coming to comiXology. This announcement sounds like what Warren Ellis was talking about in terms of a way for comics publisher to load material onto devices without the reader having to seek it out -- whether or not that specifically hits may not be as important than comics slowly circling a way of doing business that could be beneficial in the long run.

Still, Viz offering a digital version of Shonen Jump that comes out a (I'm supposing) pirates-frustrating two weeks after the initial Japanese magazine publishing is worth noting for its major print consequence: the ending of one of the five US comics titles of any kind during the previous decade, Shonen Jump. The role that magazine played in bringing popular manga series to a significant US audience, in making US publishers sit up and take notice in a way they never would have for thousands upon thousand of Sailor Moon or Tezuka books and in bringing comics to parts of the countries that publishers like Marvel and DC largely abandoned in the 1990s during the stupidity of the Distributor Wars era cannot be understated. I enjoyed picking up a copy for years whenever I went to the grocery, and I imagine that if I were in the town I am now at the age of eight years old, it would have been a comics lifeline.

image2. DC unveils its second Superman: Earth One cover, and it's kidtastic!
There's nothing all that newsworthy except in that standard, breathless, fan way about DC Comics unveiling a cover image for a second of its stand-alone Superman OGN series featuring a version of the character aimed in some fashion at newer readers. We pay attention to it, however, because the recent initial success of the line-wide revamp of DC's serial comic books re-contextualizes the success of this stand-alone Superman series' first book as a kind of anticipating event to the more dramatic, 52 comic book effort.

It's also sort of gross and not exactly kid-friendly, two things which probably haven't been a concern of DC's since I'd say the mid-1980s, and certainly stopped being one when they saw that most parents were happy to take their kids along -- at full ticket price -- to that Batman movie a couple of years back featuring the scary, homicidal, killing-people-with-writing-implements Joker. I'm not even saying that's a bad strategy. In fact, there's something clever about DC attempting to seize a market it has some success in recent decades serving as opposed to insisting on 1958's audience for the character -- it's one of the few times when a character being targeted to a specific audience really fails to convince as an attempt to seize the mainstream, as such moves are generally portrayed. It also should be marked in case DC slowly reverts back to the other model, as there's some evidence that they may over time bounce between those conceptions rather than stick to one or the other.

3. Diamond is attempting to coordinate a second Free Comic Book Day to coincide with Halloween.
I couldn't tell you if this is a good move or not from any individual retailer's standpoint. I imagine that for some retailers this will be a welcome thing, and for others it won't be -- just as May's established FCBD event has become. As a semi-interested outside observer with generally fond thoughts aimed in the direction of comics retail, I don't like it all that much. I think a second FCBD potentially dilutes the established event, and I don't know that there isn't a better way for a holiday growing in retail significance like Halloween to be employed than to aim all those potential customers at "free." I also think that in the long run individual retailers are going to be better able to figure out how to serve their communities than going to a pretty regimented and established program. I even sort of wish that the mini-comics giveaway movement had found some traction, as that was at least a different thing.

All that said, all of my points almost certainly suffer from the fact that a working program with FCBD's pedigree is probably going to be way more effective overall, particularly in the short term, than a patchwork of smaller efforts that haven't really cohered into anything major over the last several years. I'm also interested in seeing what happens with a digital version of FCBD that is likely to settle into place as a major thing starting with next year's program.

4. DC's Vertigo line will be moving to releasing digital versions for many titles on the same day as those titles' print versions.
As I've stated many times I think it makes perfect sense for comics to come out in as many iterations as possible on the same day, and I think this should have been done years ago in a matter-of-fact way. The only alternative seemed to be to establish a hard expectation of a standard delay between versions, and when that never developed, it made these kinds of moves seem inevitable. One question I have is if we're not going to see DC relaunch its Vertigo and kids lines next September -- or the September after -- as a natural follow-up to its New 52 efforts, with the same kind of "these are the comics we're publishing and this is how they're publishing" establishment of an easier-to-follow status quo type of effect on those lines. That of course presumes those lines have some significance within the company, and there are definitely folks out there that would question that thought.

5. Ann Nocenti returns to writing comics with DC's Green Arrow title.
There are multiple ways to enter into this piece of publishing news about the former (mostly-) Marvel editor and writer heading back into serial comics creation. You can point out the dearth of female writers in mainstream comics generally and DC's line specifically. You can suggest that fans' complaints about the latter perhaps made a difference in this hire. You can suggest the same thing about some fans' complaints concerning the Green Arrow comic book. I think it's most interesting to me in terms of Nocenti's career as a comics writer. Her work on Marvel's late '80s/early '90s Daredevil in particular has grown in reputation since she was writing it, as a solid example of making a title memorable without closely adhering to a character's most popular stories and themes. The major characters she created have also grown a bit in retrospect, and remain serviceable today. I imagine those particular skills are something that a lot of DC titles could use right now. It's strange to me that even with comics' inherent stupidities someone with those specific talents has gone such a long time since reasonably high-profile gigs, although I have no idea how much of that was her choice.

6. PJ Holden skips the show.
This is also not a news item in an of itself, but I think it's something worth noting anyway. The artist Paul Holden decided not to go this year's New York Comic Con for various professional reasons, and ended up spending the long weekend facing down a variety of family health issues. This put him in mind of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations going on at the same time as the con. He wrote maybe the only blog post I've seen that connected comics issues to the issues of concern to the protesters in a non-facile, non-ridiculous way. As much as comics folks feel compelled to attend shows, and as much as those in the commentary class are compelled to write about them as a combination of big crowds and bigger parties, the freelancer life can be a very difficult one and there's something deeply scary about the way North American comics culture now has a significant network of great shows and almost no dialogue on health care options for all the people that make such shows possible.

7. Comics for kids remain big news, at least at comics shows.
There were at least two significant announcement for kids comics at NYCC this year. The first is APE Entertainment leaking that it's negotiating with the Sesam Street people for a line of comics related to that iconic Boomer enterprise. The other is one of those Stan Lee partnerships leading to a new line of kids comics, this one bearing the comics impresario's name. I'm sure there are any number of individual comics announced in this category, too. I'm also certain that many kids comics were promoted, for instance First Second and its brand-new release Nursery Rhyme Comics.

The cynical thing to say is that announcements at shows are sometimes the highlight for such publishing efforts. That isn't always necessarily true anymore. A better way to look at it, I think, is that kids' comics along with superhero comics are probably comics biggest area of unrealized sales potential. The argument there is that we have sales of certain kinds of comics that match a reasonable expectation of what those comics might ever sell, while one can more easily conceive of the comics featuring guys with capes and the comics for kids selling more than they do now. It's also probably worth mentioning that the more efforts that come into being the greater a chance is that a few of them hit, so in that way every such announcement encourages.

image8. Ed Brubaker announces an Image series; Brian Wood settles in at Dark Horse.
These are, of course, two separate and pretty standard publishing announcements. The prolific team of writer Brubaker and his best collaborator, the artist Sean Phillips, announced a noir/Lovecraftian type of series for Image Comics called Fatale, while the NYCC-aggressive Dark Horse Comics announced that Brian Wood will be doing a run of Conan with his significant collaborator the artist Becky Cloonan, featuring the pair's adaptation of Queen Of The Black Coast. There are a lot of ways to interpret these announcements, from the fact they're pretty promising for fans that like to read quality genre comic books to the role that Image might play as an option for some projects and some creators to the idea that Dark Horse might benefit from going a bit more slightly away from the Thomas/Smith/Buscema model for their world-famous barbarian character license now that they're further along in their relationship publishing new comic book serials featuring him.

What popped for me, though, was the fact that Brubaker and Wood are prominent writers of comic books, and both of a specific and reasonably large generation of emerging talents that came from comics themselves. I'm a great believer in masses of talented people making a difference in comics history, especially when it may be that we're not likely to see another big group emerge from the ooze of comics culture like that one any time soon (we'd have to have another late '90s/early '00s fallow commercial period and walk back the appeal of writing comics to established creators). In that context, I think the fact that these two creators are finding new things to do, with new publishers, is well worth noting.

9. Marvel announces another Avengers title, Avengers Assemble, which will employ many of the same characters used in the forthcoming movie.
I like Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley as superhero comics makers and as comics industry stories, and I imagine a lot of fans will find their doing an Avengers title featuring the movie line-up sans Thor an appealing prospect. However, you can't look at news like this and not think for at least a few seconds that Marvel seems to be risking burnout on the Avengers concept in terms of its long-term, anchor-their-line qualities in much the same way that multiple X-Men titles likely contributed to the combination of rigid fan expectation and story exhaustion the once industry-leading, mutant-related franchise currently exhibits. The one thing that speaks against this, kind of ironically if you think about it, is that the Avengers of all the big Marvel properties comes with the least amount of built-in, fundamental story elements. Stated another way, it's hard to burn out on the theme of Avengers when there aren't really any thematic concerns, even the fake ones that Marvel sometimes trots out to make the writer's role in their concepts' creation look more important than their brilliant 1960s execution. That title's concept was always sort of "everybody team up," and it's unclear if folks could ever really burn out on that one.

10. Abrams acquires SelfMadeHero.
A letter of intent by Abrams to purchase the UK outfit SelfMadeHero was announced the eve of the show rather than at New York Comic-Con, but I assume the timing was so that the move wouldn't be lost in the crush of news to come and to provide Abrams with some additional focus at the show itself. It's a classic convention announcement, though, even though the standard model for comics publishers the last two decades has been to start from scratch on just about any publishing initiative rather than purchase someone who's good at what it is they do.

One way to look at this move gives Abrams a kind of comics-focused mid-list, and it also cements the UK publisher as something other than a publisher of cool-looking music comics or possibly for some as that group that acquires certain European licenses a bit before most North American counterparts wake up to the possibility that A, B, C book is out there. The announced list for Spring 2012 includes a book from Javier Mariscal and I believe the first of the great David B.'s long-rumored efforts to directly engage wider Middle East issues in comics form.

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