In case you hadn’t already read, cartoonist Kyle Baker on Tuesday casually made put up on his website free digital versions of eight of his creator-owned graphic novels. That includes acclaimed works like Why I Hate Saturn, Nat Turner and You Are Here. You can read them through an embedded reader on his site, or download them. Sometimes the digital files aren’t the best, but all the more reason to go for the print version if your interest is piqued; each page has links to Amazon listings. While most are out-of-print, re-sellers are offering new and used copies for less than cover price in most cases.
This is a veritable feast for readers, but it’s an interesting and unexpected move by the artist. As mentioned, only three of the eight downloadable graphic novels appear to be in-print: Nat Turner, The Bakers: Babies and Kittens and Special Forces. As this doesn’t appear to be a promotional campaign to boost sales, it may be a way to prove audience interest to a publisher. Baker mentioned on Twitter last night that he’s negotiating for a new publishing deal, which could include a sequel to Why I Hate Saturn.
So if he doesn’t really have to worry about cannibalizing print sales (even though we know that doesn’t happen; we’ve seen time and again evidence to support the theory that digital sales actually help boost print sales), why just give them away?
Diamond Comic Distributors this week released its lists of the bestselling comics and graphic novels of 2012, and ahead of all the expected big titles from Marvel and DC was The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn. While the splashy headline is that The Walking Dead‘s 100th issue is the bestselling comic of the year — possibly of the past 15 years — what makes the achievement so remarkable is that the success is so thorough and consistent.
Not only did The Walking Dead top both the comic and the graphic novel lists, but nearly every conceivably qualifying product with the words The, Walking and Dead appears significantly high on both direct-market charts. Nine issues of the comic book are in the Top 300. In additional, all 17 volumes of the softcover trade paperback are among the Top 30 graphic novels, with Volume 1 claiming the top spot for the third year in a row. But wait, there’s more: Both oversized Compendiums, all eight hardcover collections and The Walking Dead Survivor’s Guide all appear elsewhere on the graphic novel chart. These are all remarkable achievements for an indie comic, and in many ways has primed the direct market for the success of Saga, Chew, Fatale and other titles that didn’t come from established franchises.
Over the holidays, writer Peter David announced on his blog that he had suffered a stroke. On New Year’s Eve, his wife Kathleen explained more, and another update followed Tuesday. She’s planning to let people know of David’s recovery on a daily basis.
Our thoughts are definitely with him and his family and friends. As the husband of someone with multiple sclerosis and lupus, I can somewhat relate to what they’re going through. A health scare like what they’re going through is just that, scary. Really, it’s downright terrifying. In addition to the emotional response and challenging medical decisions to be made, there’s also the question of how to pay for the ambulance ride, CAT scan, MRI, multiple other tests, medication, physical therapy, and whatever else. I don’t know David’s healthcare situation, but it reminded me how many freelancers and self-employed workers, which is the vast majority of comic book creators, have little to no healthcare benefits of any kind.
Rantz Hoseley recently sent out to creators and other industry figures a rough outline for a proposed American Sequential Arts Guild, which would include access to healthcare coverage for members. Note that he is not proposing a union, but instead an advocacy group. Some discussion ensued, like on this thread at The Beat. But I haven’t seen much movement since. Perhaps it’s happening privately, but based on past incidents, I fear it’s not.
BBC’s revival of Doctor Who in 2005 met with immediate success, but with the arrival of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Steven Moffat as executive producer, its popularity seemed to rise to a new level. IDW Publishing has been releasing Doctor Who comics since 2007, and this year launched a new series with writer Andy Diggle as “showrunner.” With December’s Issue 3, up-and-coming writer Brandon Seifert and artist Philip Bond stepped in for a two-part story in which Amy sends the Doctor and Rory on a boys’ night out to help build their strained relationship.
Seifert has established himself in a relatively short time with his medical-horror series Witch Doctor, with co-creator/artist Lukas Ketner, which earned the attention of Robert Kirkman and a spot as the launch title for his Skybound Entertainment imprint. Seifert also was among the initial wave of creators invited to produce digital-first material at MonkeyBrain Comics. And most recently he was selected to write under Clive Barker for the Hellraiser series at BOOM! Studios.
Brandon and I got a chance to chat about his Doctor Who two-parter, how he handles horror in comics, and our shared history with fan fiction. IDW was kind enough to provide us with a preview of Doctor Who #4, which goes on sale Wednesday.
As we finish off Year Five of digital comics (depending on how you count things), the distribution method is positioned to bring in a continually growing sector of new readers.
comiXology, the market leader, is ending 2012 as the third highest-grossing app of the year for the iPad. That’s up from the 10th spot last year, which is even more remarkable when you consider virtually no other app made an appearance on both lists. I can’t imagine that could be accomplished strictly with purchases from direct-market customers crossing over to digital. And when you take into account that direct-market sales have also been improving, that couldn’t happen even if every reader in comics got a big raise this year and was buying both digital and print copies. Worst-case scenario, we’re winning back lapsed readers. But mixed within those two groups (current and lapsed/returning readers) has to be a third, even if only a small percentage at this time. It seems too good to be true but it’s becoming more and more likely that the elusive new reader is being reached.
As digital sales continue to grow (“getting close to 25 to 30% of print sales,” for Robert Kirkman), several elements are in place, or just about in place, that could be creating a perfect storm to increase that new readers section of the pie.
I love comic books, too. They’re awesome. I get plenty worked up sometimes about what goes on in the pages of my favorite books because they’re not doing it right! I get it. I’ve devoted countless hours to these characters. Heck, I’m the guy who ran a New Warriors fan site for years, tracking the chronological order of every random appearance, no matter how minor. And I did it completely without irony! So I get the emotional investment we have for these characters.
I also get how fun it is to use social networks. I use Facebook a lot, and Twitter, too, and it’s easy to get riled about something you see posted there. There’s no ‘dislike’ button to click so sometimes you just have to vent. And sometimes it feels like a regular old “how could you?!” just isn’t enough, that it just doesn’t get across how deeply you disagree with a plot development.
Regardless, none of that justifies sending threats. Dan Slott has received some extreme reactions to the leaked details of The Amazing Spider-Man #700 that go so far beyond normal fan griping that I wondered just what could’ve provoked such a backlash. So I reviewed the leaked information, and I have to say my response was, “That’s it?“
The Internet hand-wringing was set to overdrive when it was announced writer Gail Simone had been summarily dismissed from Batgirl. By email, no less. Virtually every comics news site and blog chimed in, usually followed by a flurry of reader comments. However, freelance creators are let go from comics all of the time. Sure there’s usually disappointment, and it’s never good when someone loses her job. But what made this the event of the week?
There’s a history to this that adds an extra layer of emotion.
Simone is a well-liked creator with a spirited fan base, and she has described Batgirl as a dream job for her. This is the character that hooked her into comics. This is the character she’s always wanted to write. Her dream came true, and now it’s being taken away. So any human being with at least an average level of empathy is going to feel like this is an unfortunate turn of events for her. This was also largely unexpected, as the series was performing well; Batgirl #14 was No. 17 on Diamond Comic Distributors’ November sales chart with an estimated 77,468 copies, although previous issues sold in the 40,ooo to 50,000 range. That’s where some shock and indignation comes in. It seems like an unfair decision (although it is of course fully within DC Comics’ rights to hire and fire whoever it wants).
The news of Karen Berger leaving Vertigo spread quickly. It wasn’t so much that it was a surprise, but that it finally happened. DC
Comics Entertainment has been going through significant changes over the past couple of years, including grabbing characters long associated with Vertigo and returning them to the DC Universe, and rumored changes to creator contracts. Despite the unfortunate end, Berger leaves behind an amazing legacy no matter what becomes of the nearly 20-year-old imprint.
I have a very clear memory of high school in the 1990s where kids much cooler than me were reading The Sandman. These were kids who otherwise didn’t read comics, and certainly not the superhero stuff from Marvel and DC. This was not an isolated incident. Vertigo in the ’90s brought a new audience to comics, a maturing audience with interests in horror, fantasy, suspense and mythology. These readers didn’t have access to, and probably weren’t ready for, the underground or alternative comix scene. As superhero comics turned into garish collector items, Vertigo provided the alternative: stories.
Dismissed as a fad 10 years ago, big-screen adaptations bring comic book characters to millions of people every year. Just when you think they’ve peaked, out comes another blockbuster that tops the previous one. Sure, there are also the moderate hits and outright stinkers, but then there arrives an Iron Man or a Dark Knight or a Walking Dead or an Avengers. They’ve long passed the point of being a fluke. They even influence the collectors’ market, with optioning deals causing spikes in sales of back issues and original art, most recently demonstrated by the crazy prices people are willing to pay on eBay for The Walking Dead #1.
So if going from comics to film and television is so great, why is the reverse so rarely true? Comic books that adapt stories from other media (TV, film, video games, books, etc.) are only sometimes great and rarely garner the same kind of enthusiasm and attention. Someone who’s better at Photoshop than me should whip up one of those “said no one ever” images because no one has ever said, “I can’t wait for my favorite blockbuster movie to get adapted into a comic.” And yet most of us could barely keep our composure over the prospects of seeing Marvel’s The Avengers.
Early last week an otherwise-respected comic book artist took to Facebook to rant about the perceived insult of women attending comic book conventions dressed as comic book characters. Others have since soundly disassembled whatever point he was trying to make, so I wasn’t sure if much value could come from one more person on the Internet condemning the tirade for being ill-conceived, juvenile and sexist. But then I just did, so there you have it.
That aside, this is hardly the first time there’s been an inordinate amount of hand-wringing over whether certain people are enough of a geek or nerd or fan or whatever to qualify for … I have no idea what — some mythical geek clubhouse, I guess. If it’s your job to be a comics encyclopedia, I suppose there’s some basis for this. But most of the time, it’s just teeth-gnashing over fans not being “fan enough.” The people fretting about it are apparently disturbed that someone is falsely enjoying, or not enjoying enough, what they enjoy. Honestly, I don’t understand it. Is it that these people are embarrassed to like what they like, and they think they’re being mocked for liking something silly? Whatever the reason, it no doubt says more about them than the person who may or may not like or know about something with enough fervor.
DC’ Comics’ big announcement last week revealed the digital comics territory has broken out from the in-app fences. The publisher no longer has to hope potential readers makes their way to the comiXology app or the DC Comics app within Apple’s iTunes app store. Now they just need to get to Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK, and search. In one big move, DC has shortened the distance between itself and a potential audience. It may seem like a small hurdle, but in the Internet age of easy distractions, it’s an important and savvy move that’s likely to have a number of effects.
If other publishers follow suit, and I believe it’s all but guaranteed they will, DC has prevented digital comics from repeating the near-monopoly trap that exists in print with Diamond Comic Distributors. comiXology’s comparable dominance of digital distribution has been good for the growth and establishment of digital as a viable channel that doesn’t threaten but in facts supports print. However, it’s too limiting in the long term. By adding the three leading e-book readers to the options of the comiXology apps, it keeps competition alive. It could even help in bringing digital comics pricing more in line with other digital books, which tend to be cheaper instead of matching print. The digital/print pricing parity with comics is frequently cited as a breaking point for people considering digital.
And so another U.S. presidential election comes to a close. While the incumbent was re-elected, the comics industry didn’t seem to embrace the season like it did in 2008.
Four years ago, the bestselling comic book issue of the year was The Amazing Spider-Man #583, by a wide margin — by such a wide margin that it ended up being the bestselling issue of the decade with more than half a million copies ordered, according to numbers cruncher John Jackson Miller. In fact, this became such a thing that there was nearly a boutique industry of comic books featuring Barack Obama. From Savage Dragon and Army of Darkness to Bomb Queen and Licensable Bear (the first Obama comic), it seemed the president was everywhere. IDW Publishing released an entire line of biographical comics on the presidential candidates, and similar titles were also published by Antarctic Press and Bluewater Productions. The latter’s efforts were so successful that the company continues to mine that niche.
Four years later, this mini-genre has all but vanished. Last year, BOOM! Studios attempted to lead the charge with Decision 2012, the first straw poll conducted through comics: Pre-orders determined which candidates would get their comics published, with the one receiving the highest print run being declared the winner. While a creative idea, the project may have been a victim of poor timing, as the event was held so early in the campaign — it was announced in August 2011 — that there wasn’t a clear line-up of Republican candidates. Despite all of her teasing, Sarah Palin never entered the race, yet she was included among the list of comics. In fact, on the same day the one-time GOP vice presidential nominee announced she wouldn’t be running on the same day that BOOM! revealed the results of its straw poll. Out of the 10 biographical comics offered for pre-order, just four met the benchmark of 1,500 pre-orders: Obama, Palin, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney came in fifth, but just below the benchmark, so he and the five others never got their comics.
So anything interesting happen yesterday? Oh, yes, that’s right. Even the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy wasn’t enough to delay the big announcement any longer: Star Wars is now the newest crown jewel of the House of Mouse. The announcement was made a day after plans were revealed to merge two of the world’s biggest book publishers, Random House and Penguin. The two events, while occurring independent of each other, have all sorts of implications both specific and more broad.
Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm started a lot of people talking, and considering the legacy of Star Wars, it’s only natural. With George Lucas out as director and Star Wars transitioning into something akin to the James Bond franchise, don’t get your hopes up for a return to the sensibilities of the original Star Wars movie. The word “family” was used six times to describe the space opera in the press release and subsequent statements, sending a strong signal that what we’ve gotten most recently is what we’ll get for the foreseeable future. Kathleen Kennedy was hand-picked by Lucas to succeed him as head of Lucasfilm and brand manager of Star Wars. Between her and Lucas’ role as creative consultant, they’ll ensure Star Wars retains something for the kids, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, except for when it manifests itself in the form of Jar Jar Binks and other cartoon aliens with vaguely racist accents. In addition to the two- to three-year cycle of Star Wars films, there are plans for a TV presence and an expanded presence at Disney theme parks.
News bulletin: The Walking Dead is a friggin’ huge deal.
I’m not sure how to measure it, but at least culturally I think the zombie-survival tale by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard is on track to become the biggest deal to come from indie/creator-owned comics since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, circa 1988. I think it surpassed Todd McFarlane’s Spawn during Season 1. Heck, it might even be giving some corporate-owned properties a run for their money.
Fortunately, we haven’t quite hit Christmas special saturation, but there are plenty of items in the AMC Walking Dead shop: action figures and figurines, board games, T-shirts, calendars, posters, costumes, busts, music from the show, a companion book, even dog tags.
There have been some hearty proclamations recently that everything’s coming up Milhouse for the sales end of comics: “the best quarter in a decade” and “everyone up [in sales],” celebrates expert numbers-cruncher John Jackson Miller. ICv2′s recent market white paper concluded they were “bullish on the business.” I’m not denying there have been some encouraging signs. But when a highly acclaimed and savvy publisher like Archaia Entertaiment nearly disintegrates right under our noses because it switched bookstore distributors last year, then clearly not everyone is up. And not everything is quite as rosy as is being suggested.
Comic Book Resources’ recent interview with new Archaia President Jack Cummins should’ve turned more heads. This should have been a cold, hard reminder that small- and even medium-sized publishers frequently dance along a thin line between success and failure.