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Comics A.M. | Comics sales dip in September, graphic novels rise

Thanos Quest #1

Publishing| Comics sales in the direct market were down in September relative to last year, but that may be because the launch of DC’s New 52 pushed sales unusually high in September 2011. Graphic novels were up by 14.4 percent, making for a slight uptick in the overall market. Year-to-date and third-quarter sales were also up by a goodly amount from last year. [ICv2]

Editorial cartooning | The position of editorial cartoonist as a staff job on a newspaper is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, but attendees at the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists meeting in Washington, D.C., don’t seem too downhearted; new opportunities are opening up, and this year’s presidential campaign is presenting them with plenty of material. “Times are tough for the old idea of cartoonists, but all kinds of other things have opened up,” said cartoonist Chip Bok, “And editorial cartoons, all cartoons, are more popular than ever. You see them all over the Internet. The problem now is figuring out how to get paid.” [Voice of America]

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Comics A.M. | Sony’s PSP Comic Store to close Oct. 30

PSP Comic Store

Digital comics | Sony is shutting down its PSP Comic Store as of Oct. 30. After that, readers will no longer be able to purchase new comics from the store, although they will be able to download at least some previously purchased comics until January 2013. After that, the whole thing is just gone. Sony pulled something similar in Japan, but its new PS Vita store includes a manga service. The PSP doesn’t seem to have been a very popular medium for reading comics in the United States, but it’s too bad that those who did take a chance on it have no way to permanently preserve their comics in a way that isn’t dependent on an aging piece of hardware. [Engadget]

Publishing | The Brooklyn Daily chats a bit with Sean Howe, the writer of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, whose book includes an account of Marvel founder Martin Goodman, a Brooklynite who gave Stan Lee his first gig but was barely remembered by the company when he died. [Brooklyn Daily]

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This weekend, it’s the Small Press Expo

The annual Small Press Expo, better known as SPX, will arrive at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Saturday and Sunday. This particular SPX promises to be excellent — mayhap the bestest SPX evar — so allow me to run through some of the goings-on if you happen to be in that area this weekend.

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Quote of the day | The great lost Adrian Tomine graphic novel

When I finally sat down to work on my next comics project, I felt obligated to attempt a real “graphic novel.” I was looking at these giant tomes that some of my peers were working on, and I felt really envious of that kind of achievement. It also just seemed like that was the direction everything was moving in, and my old habit of publishing short stories in the comic book format was already an anachronism. So I pursued that for awhile, doing a lot of the kind of preparatory work which is actually the hardest part for me, and the whole time I had these nagging thoughts like, “Do I really want to work on this for ten years? Do I want to draw and write in the same way for that long? Does the material really merit that much of an investment?”

I actually completed about twenty pages of this material — completely written, drawn, and colored — and I still couldn’t shake the growing suspicion that I was headed down the wrong path. The scope of the project was completely draining any amount of joy from the work for me. Then when my daughter was born and I essentially became a stay-at-home dad, that really changed everything. I felt like that needed to be the main focus of my life for the time being, and I’d need to find a way of working that would accommodate that. So returning to short stories seemed like the right solution, and now I honestly think that, at least at this point in my life, it’s the mode that I’m best suited to. I love being able to draw twenty pages in one style, finish that story, then start the next one completely fresh.

Optic Nerve cartoonist Adrian Tomine tells CBR’s Jorge Khoury about his failed attempt to create a big fat graphic novel in the vein of…well, pretty much everyone in literary comics these days, I guess. Anytime I read about lost projects and abandoned pages like this I feel a twinge of regret, but it seems to have led Tomine to an epiphany about the kind of work he wants to be doing and the kind of life he wants to be living. If that’s failure, then we should all fail more often.

Daniel Clowes and Seth in “Spot the Alternative Cartoonists”

Can you find the acclaimed comics creators behind The Death-Ray and The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists in this photograph by Adrian Tomine from their trip to the Miami Book Fair? Just be patient and keep searching — I’m sure you’ll see them in there eventually!

Move over, Ana Alexandrino’s photo of Killoffer — there’s a new sheriff of Awesome Pictures of Cartoonists-Town.

Viva la Foletto!: On Adrian Tomine’s still floppy Optic Nerve #12

The last two pages of Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve #12 look like the roughest and most quickly considered and drawn pages in the entire issue, but they are also the funniest, and the most concerned with the quickly disappearing format of alternative comics like Optic Nerve.

In two black and white, 20-panel-grid pages that most closely resemble the style and tone of Tomine’s recent Scenes From an Impending Marriage, Tomine’s unshaven avatar in opaque spectacles gets lauched at by his fellow cartoonists when one refers to him as “The Last Pamphleteer.”

Stewing about the fact that the bound, book format has (what we commonly if not quite accurately refer to as “the graphic novel”) has become the default format for (non-superhero) comics, he laments sticking with “floppies”: “I even liked it when the artist was obviously just trying to fill a few extra pages, and you’d get a pointless, dashed-off autobio strip or something!”

Tomine works in an awful lot of jokes in so few pages, and rather masterfully fills those many panels so the art never looks small or claustrophobic (I read Optic Nerve #12 before and after this week’s Justice League #2, and I get such a case of whiplash reading superhero comics and “art” comics; people sometimes wonder why I’m so negative about super-comics, but how can one not be when you see the quality vs. quantity gap between a Big Two pamphlet and an issue of Optic Nerve?), eventually culminating in what is a (hopefully highly) fictionalized encounter with a comics reader at a shop signing.

The dashed-off autobio strip is endearing in the way it allows Tomine to honestly express his feelings about his chosen format and the way the industry is currently going, while also rather mercilessly ridiculing those feelings.

There are several arguments to be made for floppies (“Which is about as withering a terms as I’ve ever heard,” the Tomine character thinks in one panel), and while Tomine makes a couple of them, I think he left out one of the more compelling ones: Neither of the excellent stories in Optic Nerve #12, which are graphic short stories more than graphic novels or even graphic novellas, could have been published as books. They’re just too short to justify a book, and, I think, the expense of purchasing them.

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Everybody’s talking about Jaime Hernandez and Love and Rockets: New Stories #4

Paying off thirty years of continuity and character development. Delivering shocks, gasps, cheers, and tears in equal measure, seemingly at the author’s whim. Offering a master class in everything from laying out a double-page spread to drawing clothes. Telling a story about beloved characters so emotionally engaging that even their most ardent fans wouldn’t mind if this were the last one ever told. Any way you slice it, Jaime Hernandez’s “The Love Bunglers” — his contribution to the recently released Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 and the conclusion to the already wildly acclaimed “The Love Bunglers”/”Browntown” suite from last year’s issue — is a hell of a comic. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Dan Nadel, editor of The Comics Journal, has posted his own appreciation, and invited cartoonists Frank Santoro (Storeyville) and Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve) to do the same. (SPOILER WARNINGS in effect at those links, folks.) Nadel (like Jordan Crane on the first part of Jaime’s tale in issue #3 before him) minces no words: “This is not just Jaime’s finest work, but one of the best (at this moment I’d rank it in my top five of all time) works ever created in the medium.” Santoro calls Jaime “the greatest cartoonist of all time,” saying “No art moves me the way the work of Jaime Hernandez moves me.” Tomine talks of picking the issue up at a signing event for Jaime and being so moved by a two-page spread he encountered while randomly flipping through that he actually had to leave.

I posted my review at the beginning of August, after the book had started circulating at cons but long before it hit stores, but weeks and even months later people would still post comments on the review, like they’d been hungrily seeking out anything anyone had written about this remarkable comic. I’ve got a feeling that as more and more critics read this comic, they’ll never go hungry again.

What Are You Reading? with Chris Duffy

Optic Nerve #12

Welcome to What Are You Reading? Our special guest today is Chris Duffy, editor of First Second’s Nursery Rhyme Comics. We spotlighted this anthology project all week here on Robot 6; check out our interviews with Chris as well as contributors Scott C., Aaron Reiner, Richard Sala and Eleanor Davis.

And to see what Chris and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.

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Quote of the day #2 | How Daniel Clowes got the Ghost World girls right

I learned to blend in to the wallpaper so I was barely there. I found myself very often in the company of girls who were talking very freely and would say, ‘Oh, I forgot he was there!’ So I felt like I had this inner sense that they were closer to me and my friends than I could ever imagine.

Ghost World author Daniel Clowes, responding to an audience question on how he captured the voices of 16-year-old girls so well in his landmark graphic novel. Being invisible to the opposite sex has its benefits after all.

For more from Clowes and his fellow alternative comics titan Adrian Tomine, check out CBR’s report on the pair’s APE panel, from writer Karl Kiely.

Comics College | Adrian Tomine

Comics College is a monthly feature where we provide an introductory guide to some of the comics medium’s most important auteurs and offer our best educated suggestions on how to become familiar with their body of work.

After a brief one-month vacation, Comics College is back with a look at the bibliography of one of the brighter stars indie comics sky, Adrian Tomine.

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Food or Comics? | Buffy, Pigs, Tomine and of course new DC titles

Demon Knights

Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a “Splurge” item.

Check out Diamond’s release list or ComicList, and tell us what you’re getting in our comments field.

Michael May

If I had $15, I’d start with Demon Knights #1 ($2.99) and Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE #1 ($2.99). I’m excited about a lot of the DC Dark corner of the New 52; especially these two. Frankenstein is a continuation of the only Flashpoint series I stuck with and features one of my two favorite characters from Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory. I wasn’t that interested in Demon Knights at first, but I was impressed by Paul Cornell’s chasing down a female fan after a panel at San Diego to pitch the series to her as something that people who are looking for great, female characters will enjoy. And I’ve been wanting to dig deeper into Cornell’s work anyway. On the Marvel side, I’m still thrilled about how well Alpha Flight is doing (creatively, I mean, but I guess it must be doing okay in sales too), so #4 ($2.99) is a must-buy for me. And I can’t wait to see how Mystery Men ends with #5 ($2.99). That’s been one of the high points of my summer, comics-wise. Finally, I’d grab X-Men Legacy #255 ($2.99) to dip my toe a little deeper into the X-Men world after being away from it for a while.

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Comics A.M. | Borders bonus plan OK’d; more on Dark Horse layoffs


Retailing | A judge on Friday approved a proposal to pay Borders Group executives up to $6.6 million in bonuses as the bookseller reorganizes under federal bankruptcy protection. The company had originally requested $8.3 million — that figure met with objections from the U.S. bankruptcy trustee — in a bid to retain key corporate personnel. Since Borders filed for bankruptcy on Feb. 16, 47 executives and director-level employees have left, leaving only 15 people in senior management positions.

The approved plan comes with conditions, tying some bonuses to the company’s ability to pay creditors and save $10 million over the next two years in leases on the remaining stores or in non-personnel cost reductions. [Businessweek,]

Publishing | Dark Horse CEO Mike Richardson talks more about the publisher’s recent layoffs, saying that some reports of the cutbacks were overblown: “We have 150 employees. We let seven people go across three different divisions. What is that 4%, 5%? Our staff was just getting too large. The real reason for the layoffs is that we get worried about the cost of doing business. We’re sitting there looking at the rising health insurance costs, the changes in the cost of doing business. We thought we were going to get some relief in the form of cover prices moving to $3.99, but I guess the market’s made a really strong statement on that price. Meanwhile we’re getting squeezed on paper and printing costs at the same time — and creators certainly don’t want to take any less money.” []

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Comics A.M. | Comics decline again; Village Voice to pay cartoonists

FF #1

Publishing | The direct market experienced another decline in March, with comics sales slipping 2.43 percent from the same month in 2010, and graphic novels plummeting 10.01 percent. For the first quarter of 2011, comics fell 8.57 percent while graphic novels dropped 7.24 percent, for a combined decline of 8.14 percent.

John Jackson Miller notes that DC Comics’ price rollback appears to be having an impact on the overall bottom line: “While unit sales for comics were up by less than 1% in March, led by FF #1, they were down 2.43% in dollar terms. The quarterly unit-to-dollar gap in periodicals was wider, with a sales loss of nearly 1% in units versus a 5% loss in dollar terms. In the past inflationary periods, we always saw the dollar category doing better than units. Now, the reverse is happening.” []

Publishing | Following widespread criticism, The Village Voice Editor Tony Ortega acknowledges that not paying cartoonists who contributed to the paper’s Comics Issue “was not the best way to help out the cartooning industry.” So he’ll be paying the artists. [The Village Voice]

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What Are You Reading?

Wolverine Noir #1

Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading, our weekly look at whatever books, comics or cereal boxes we happen to be reading at the moment. JK Parkin is on vacation for the next week, so I’ll be your host until he gets back.

Our guest this week is Vancouver artist Jason Copland, who has contributed to the Perhapanauts series and currently draws the online comic Kill All Monsters (which is written, of course, by our own Michael May)

To see what Jason and the rest of the crew are reading, click below.

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Comics A.M. | Borders files for bankruptcy, plans to close 192 stores


Retailing | Borders Group, the second-largest book chain in the United States, filed for bankruptcy protection this morning, announcing plans to close about 192 of its 639 Borders, Waldenbooks, Borders Express and Borders Outlet locations over the next several weeks. It’s unclear how many of the company’s 6,100 full-time and 11,400 part-time employees will be affected by the closings. Borders, which listed $1.29 billion in debt and $1.27 billion in assets, plans to continue to operate through the court process with the help of $505 million in financing from lenders led by G.E. Capital.

The likelihood of bankruptcy has loomed for the past several weeks as the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based bookseller pushed unsuccessfully for publishers and distributors to convert late payments into $125 million in loans. That concession was critical to Borders securing $550 million in refinancing from G.E. Capital. Publishers like Penguin Group, Hatchette, Simon & Schuster, Random House and HarperCollins are now, in Publishers Weekly‘s words, on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. Diamond Book Distributors, which stopped shipping to Borders last month, is owed $3.9 million. [Bloomberg, The New York Times]

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