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Are the Eisners over superheroes?

Hawkeye: the only truly great superhero comic of 2012?

Hawkeye: the only truly great superhero comic of 2012?

Every year, the Eisner Awards present a snapshot of the most significant comic books released in print and online. In 2013, the Oscars of Comics reflect a shift with the level of diversity possibly unprecedented in American comics.

As has been noted, Tuesday’s Eisner nominations have a remarkable number of nods to literary comics house Fantagraphics and creator-owned comics publisher Image, and a scarcity for Marvel and DC Comics, despite their majority hold on market share. The dominant genre of that same market has long been superheroes, but for the first time, there are hardly any superhero comics recognized by the Eisner judges. The notable exception is Marvel’s Hawkeye, which is tied with two other non-superhero books for most nominations. Despite Hawkeye‘s strong showing, the majority of nominated works are in the genres of drama, slice-of-life, humor and non-fiction, with a decent percentage of adventure, crime, fantasy and science fiction.

Hawkeye isn’t the only superhero title among the nominees: Chris Samnee’s work on Daredevil and The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom earned him a Best Penciler/Inker nod. J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart were nominated for Best Cover Artist and Coloring, respectively, for what they created in Batwoman, although Stewart’s is also for six other non-superhero books. Finally, Paul Grist was nominated for Best Lettering for Mudman, and IDW Publishing’s Daredevil Born Again: Artist’s Edition was nominated for Best Archival Collection and Best Design. So all told, there are only about a half dozen superhero comics that are Eisner-worthy enough to stand out from the pack.

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On the epic saga of ‘Saga’ #12

seal kid

This week’s new comic book releases included such noteworthy publications as  the final issue of Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly’s drama based on UFO folklore, Saucer Country, the latest installment of Marvel’s line-wide crossover-event series Age of Ultron, the one-issue return of some of Marvel’s fan-favorite Runaways characters in the tie-in Ultron #1, the latest issue of the best superhero comic book on the stands, Hawkeye,  and the final issue of the Mark Millar-written comic-as-movie pitch series Secret Service, maybe better known as “What Dave Gibbons has Been Up to While DC Published Before Watchmen.” And those were just the serially published comic book-comics.

The comic I heard the most about this week by far, however, was Saga #12, the latest chapter in Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ deservedly popular space fantas. And the reasons this particular issue was so talked about? Early in the week it seemed as Apple had rejected it for distribution for a couple of images of gay sex (although Wednesday afternoon, comiXology CEO David Steinberger said the move was actually due to his company’s mistaken interpretation of Apple policy).

I’m a somewhat-casual consumer of comics news these days, and yet I encountered iterations of this story over and over this week. And in the time between the story’s initial reporting and Steinberger’s clarification, I’ve seen stories on numerous comics news sites and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s blog. A Google News search for “Saga #12″ and “Apple” brings up 9,370 results, the top two being for The Washington Post and NPR, so obviously the mainstream media bit on the story as well.

Having actually read the comic book, though, the content that earned the mistaken, temporary pre-banning was so small and inconsequential, I probably would have missed it. (Note: Some images below may be not safe for work.)

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‘Persepolis’: Choosing is not the same as censoring

persepolisThe National Coalition Against Censorship has written to Lee Ann Lowder, deputy counsel for the Board of Education of Chicago, questioning the school district’s authority to remove Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis from seventh-grade classrooms. The letter is signed by NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein, as well as representatives from PEN American Center, the National Council of Teachers of English, and other organizations. I don’t usually find myself on the opposite side of an issue from these folks, but my own opinion is that this case has been overblown.

Here’s the backstory: On March 14, employees showed up at Chicago’s Lane Tech to physically remove Persepolis from classrooms and the library and ensure no one had checked out any copies. This seemed sinister, to say the least, and word spread literally overnight. As parents planned a protest on March 15, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett backtracked and said the book was to be removed from seventh-grade classrooms but not from school libraries. Byrd-Bennett said the district would develop guidelines for teaching the book to juniors and seniors, and possibly in grades eight through 10 as well, but it’s not clear whether the books also were removed from those classrooms.

I think the issue here is really not the removal of Persepolis but rather the way the Chicago Public Schools handled it.

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200,000 more passionate customers or 20 million casual ones?

guardians of the galaxy1

March’s best-selling comic book

Is the goal for comics to become a mainstream form of entertainment an unattainable goal? That seemed to be the angle Tom Spurgeon took on Monday’s Deconstructing Comics podcast and in his additional commentary at The Comics Reporter. He feels the industry is better served by regaining a few hundred thousand more devoted readers to restore unit sales to mid-six-figure levels. While comics have shown there is longevity in niche markets, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of also attaining a larger readership.

With March’s estimated direct market sales figures showing yet another double-digit month of growth, manga publishers giving anecdotal reports of the manga market stabilizing, and something of a convention boom going on, there’s no better time than now to re-examine how comics can secure a healthy and vibrant future. Taking advantage of this growth is tricky because, as Spurgeon mentions, no one is exactly sure why the turnaround happened. Although people complain about DC Comics’ New 52 being a mess and Marvel crossovers not having the punch of the Civil War days, overall sales are rebounding. Was it digital comics? Was it the mainstream press for the New 52 or Marvel NOW, or some other stunt? Is it the Hollywood movies?

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Stu Levy responds to Chuck Austen

tokyopoproboA couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts by Chuck Austen about moving on from a project that didn’t go well — in this case, his graphic novel trilogy Boys of Summer, which was to be published by Tokyopop but was only given a limited release in the United States. (Chuck talked to me in detail about the experience in a 2011 interview at CBR.)

Shortly after the post ran, Tokyopop CEO Stu Levy asked me if he could post a response. It seemed to be the fair thing to do, so here is what he has to say (and as with Chuck’s, I’ll add that what follows is his words, not mine):

In response to Chuck Austen’s March 18, 2013 article on CBR

I respect the right of free speech and firmly believe that people should be able to express their opinions online, in a public forum. While I don’t enjoy negativity directed at me, it’s an inevitable part of working in the media industry. In fact, I learn a lot from the constructive criticism that I read online.

However, I do not believe it’s appropriate or permissible for someone to outrageously distort the truth. Unfortunately, that’s what Chuck Austen has done.

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Comics reach for the masses at WonderCon

dark horse-star wars

The Star Wars: OMG that’s Luke Skywalker but it’s not but it is!

Whether WonderCon stays in Anaheim is still up in the air, but no doubt it’s already becoming a favorite event for Southern California. Year Two already appears exponentially more successful than last year, when WonderCon first took up residence in Disney Town.

Three-day badges and badges for Friday and Saturday sold out early, when last year you could easily do a walk-up on any day. The fast acceptance of WonderCon is at least in part due to those burned out on Comic-Con International or frustrated at the five-second sellout looking for a local alternative. It’s not just a good substitute, it’s a great convention. It also had the first big comics announcements of the year to kick off convention season. Looking through coverage here at Comic Book Resources and beyond, there were plenty of things that ranged from boring to intriguing to exciting, but three stood head and shoulders above the rest because of their potential to appeal to larger audiences.

With comics sales on the rise, these publishing moves not only do their part in boosting momentum but in helping the gradual shift of social perception of the comics form. Comics like these always excite me because it’s a reminder of the unique reach comics can have in grabbing people’s attention when the right pieces are in place. More and more these days, there are comics for anyone and when innovative thinking is applied as it is here, they stand a better chance in reaching people that don’t make it a habit of seeking out comics. Of course, comics have long had a problem getting these kinds of things right, so as we’ll see there are challenges, but the potential is exciting.

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The New 52 creative management review

Justice League #1 (2011)Apparently we misunderstood: The New 52 doesn’t refer to the number of titles DC Comics publishes each month but rather the number of times each title changes creative hands. That’s what it seems like sometimes, what with firings by email, quitting on Twitter, rehirings and more. The general impression from behind-the-scenes tales is that the New 52 is in chaos. However, the end product might suggest DC is actually somewhat holding it together.

Creative changes are nothing new; turnover is inevitable. The key is how that turnover is managed. The ideal is to have a long and satisfying run by a cohesive team smoothly transitioning to a new team. Lord knows that doesn’t always happen, and we’ve certainly been hearing about it not happening recently.

With all of the news of creators coming and going, or going before they even get there, it’s easy to get distracted from the results of the finished product. So, I decided to take a look at a sampling of DC’s New 52, from its launch in late summer 2011 to today, and see how the stability of various titles was affected by creative changes. For my survey, I looked at the Justice League family of books, which includes the flagship Justice League, as well as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and others generally associated with the JLA that haven’t had a big Hollywood movie.

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DC Editorial Hunger Games: May the odds be ever in your favor

I guess not everybody wants a piece of the Action

I guess not everybody wants a piece of the Action

“I want to remind readers of this column that all the Marvel NOW! launches are going strong — none have been canceled or RE-relaunched in a whole new direction after 3 or 4 issues — which is a testament to the talent and coordinated effort of our writers, artists and editors,” Marvel’s Axel Alonso said in last week’s Axel-in-Charge column. Yeah, it’s another trademark swipe by Marvel at its competition, but he isn’t wrong. Putting aside the snarkiness, there’s something to be said for a.) making a plan and sticking with it, b.) having faith in the choices you made, and c.) not undermining your creators and your fans with sudden shifts in creative teams.

I of course have no insight into how things are really being run at DC. But from an outsider’s perspective, it feels like its editorial strategy is inspired by the likes of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. Every man for himself, blink once and they’re gone, blink twice and their replacement is gone. On the day DC announced the new new writers for the Green Lantern books, I remember seeing a tweet that said something like, “Oh, I figured they wouldn’t announce the new writers until [next weekend's] WonderCon.” My first thought? Just wait — maybe they will.

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The Halo Jones moral maze

Check out the exchange between Moore and Gibson in that bottom panel

Check out the exchange between Moore and Gibson in that bottom panel

The U.K. comics community has been getting its knickers in a twist over the whole Ian Gibson/Bristol Comic Expo “nude Halo Jones” saga. Twitter and Facebook completely blew up over it Thursday morning, with the usual mix of knee-jerk condemnation and some occasional voices of reason rising above the din.

Some sterling detective work by Paul Holden revealed that the image at the center of the dispute wasn’t even originally Halo Jones, but a character from Gibson’s long-gestating LifeBoat strip.  I’m glad, because some of the criticism on the matter sailed too close to being personal attacks on Gibson, which made me uncomfortable for a number of reasons.  For starters, “The Ballad of Halo Jones” is a longtime cause celebre for those arguing for creators’ rights within the United Kingdom, especially in the matter of how oppressive the old status quo of IPC and DC Thomson could be.

Gibson is the co-creator of Halo, but sees little to no financial reward from (current owner of 2000AD) Rebellion’s continuing exploitation of the character. If Gibson were to somehow try and monetize his history with the character by working on commissions or selling limited-edition prints featuring the strip’s cast, would that be such a bad thing? The perspective of fans and publishers on such issues is radically different: After all, Marvel sued Ghost Rider co-creator Mike Friedrich for a similar matter. Besides, the Bristol Expo website makes it clear that all these limited-edition prints are being sold for charity.

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Move on … or don’t: a response to the Tokyopop dilemma

The never-released second volume of Boys of Summer.

The never-released second volume of Boys of Summer.

Chuck Austen’s advice to creators of lost OEL manga at the sorta-defunct Tokyopop is sound: Keep creating something new. That’s really a great rule for everyone of every profession. The other aspect of his advice was to abandon what was created and lost to Tokyopop. Heidi MacDonald endorsed the approach, observing, “If you can only create one successful property in 40 years, maybe this wasn’t the job choice for you.” While I appreciate the tough love, I don’t think that is necessarily a realistic position to take or a one-size-fits-all solution.

I prefer seeing new ideas, new concepts and new worlds from my favorite creators. However, I don’t think the quality of a creator, or the validity of his comics career, should be judged on the quantity, but rather on the quality.

The creative mind manifests itself in endless ways. Some creative people are restless, constantly searching for a new story to tell. Some have a dedicated, obsessive drive to explore one thing, one world, for as long as there’s something there that interests them. If publishers can crank out the same comics with the same characters year after year, why can’t creators do likewise if they want? Erik Larsen has been putting out crazy Savage Dragon comics for years. Sure, he’s done other stuff but at this point that will go down as his most significant work, and I don’t think that makes him any less of a creator. Is Dave Sim any less of a brilliant cartoonist for not having created something for the history books after Cerebus? Are Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson sub-par for each only creating one significant comic strip?

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Chuck Austen’s advice to Tokyopop creators: ‘Move on’

The never-released second volume of Boys of Summer.

The never-released second volume of Boys of Summer.

I touched base with Chuck Austen a few weeks ago, when Tokyopop put a selection of its original English language (OEL) manga up for sale on its revamped website. At that point I checked in with a couple of former Tokyopop creators, and I ended up having a fascinating e-mail exchange with Austen in which he said he made more money on one of his prose novels simply by selling it on Kindle than he would have made from a movie option. That caught my attention, and I asked him if he would write a guest post for Robot 6. Here’s what he had to say, and while all opinions are Chuck’s own, I think at the heart of it is some good advice for everyone who has ever done something they regretted later.

Move On

My name is Chuck Austen. Many of you have probably heard of me, and very rarely in a good way. But that’s one of the reasons I’m here.

Brigid asked me to address my fellow Tokyopop alums — people who created OEMs for that ill-fated company and, like me, watched their properties mistreated, ignored and ultimately thrown into ownership limbo, properties for which we will never retrieve our rights, worlds we imagined into being that we’ll never be able to create additional stories for.

The reason my past history is important is because I am probably the most extreme example of someone who “lost everything” and so am uniquely qualified to tell you this:

Move on.

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The lesson of the comiXology blackout

ComiXology-Free1sMarvel

ComiXology had a sale and all I got was this JPEG

The crash of comiXology’s servers over the weekend brings home a nagging detail to digital comics that deserves renewed attention: the lack of a file for consumers to keep.

The current model for most digital comics providers is to offer access to files through a proprietary reader available through their apps or websites. It’s essentially a leasing arrangement, granting temporary access with an open-ended term limit. You can “download” a local copy, but this isn’t a true download. The file is returned to the provider’s cloud storage after a short period of inactivity, although access remains through your library on the reader.

All things being fine in the universe, that hasn’t caused many problems. There have been a few incidents of comics being yanked back into the archives either because of an inadvertent early release or because a publisher no longer wishes to sell a certain title, but by and large there haven’t been any issues with the current model. Some previously voiced reservations about that arrangement, yet theoretical concerns are often ignored or quickly forgotten until they become a reality. And they became a reality over the weekend.

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It’s one-part ’90s, two-parts ’00s in ‘Age of Ultron’

age of ultron #1The first issue of Marvel’s Age of Ultron is definitely shiny, but is it new? Not hardly.

It is relentlessly focused on the evocation of nostalgia, to a degree that’s remarkable even among super-comics (a genre that’s built out of nostalgia-evocation), but what is perhaps most interesting about the book is the particular frequency of nostalgia the publishers appears interested in.

Yes, this is a comic book seemingly about other comic books, a comic book like so many other Marvel comic books you’ve already read, but which Marvel comic books, and from which decade? That’s what’s unusual about this particular go-round.

It’s hard to look at the cover and not think of the 1990s.

No longer content with variant-cover schemes, Marvel has upped the ante in its silly cover-gimmick arms race with DC Comics, and come up with an embossed gold-foil cover. There’s a metallic shine to the wrap-around cover (the back of which is really an ad for the second issue), justified in-story by the fact that this is about a robot. That robot, Ultron, like the “AU” and “Marvel” logos, is embossed, so the comic feels special — not just metaphorically, but literally. Run your fingertips all over it with your eyes closed; yeah, this isn’t your typical issue of Avengers!

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The slow death of superhero deaths

Batman Incorporated #8

Batman Incorporated #8

Here we go again. A major news outlet has enthusiastically run the exclusive story that a major comic book character dies in a comic released today. Superhero deaths and their inevitable resurrections have been a staple of comics for decades thanks to the sales bump they tend to get from press coverage. But the giddy acceptance of superhero deaths is starting to crack.

Since the heady days of “The Death of Superman,” mainstream news has loved a dying superhero icon. In 1992, Superman’s death was such a big deal, newspapers were writing hand-wringing editorials about what it could mean for the state of America. Right from the start, DC Comics only guaranteed he would be dead until March 1993, but somehow that got lost in the din of cultural symbolism and frenzied collectability. People really thought he was dead, even if they sensed it was financially the stupidest thing DC could do. Needless to say, Superman came back. And ever since, it seems Marvel and DC have been chasing that same media buzz by (temporarily) killing off their marquee characters, whether it be Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man or even the Human Torch. But with each passing media blitz, an interesting thing is happening: Mainstream outlets are beginning to become just as jaded about superhero deaths as we longtime readers are.

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Grant Morrison and the problem of an immortal Batman

batmaninc8

Warning: Spoilers for Batman Inc. #8, The Dark Knight Rises, and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus follow.

Grant Morrison’s reflection on his Batman run is interesting, in that it offers insight into what the writer thinks makes the character tick, but the part that jumps out at me was the very end where he brings up Robin and asks, “What son could ever hope to replace a father like Batman, who never dies?”

It’s something I’ve been thinking about since seeing Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. As flawed as that film is, it has some intriguing ideas about the relationship between creator and creation, whether that’s alien and human, inventor and android, or parent and child. On that last dynamic, Charlize Theron’s character Vickers observes, “A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable.” That’s a horrible thing to say about your father. It is, however, true.

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