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Passings | Writer, editor and historian Bill Blackbeard, widely credited with saving the American comic strip from the ash heap of history, passed away on March 10 at a nursing home in Watsonville, Calif. He was 84. A lifelong collector of comic strips, Blackbeard founded the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art in 1968, filling the garage and basement with thousands of bound volumes of old newspapers let go by libraries when they converted their archives to microfilm. His collection grew by the 1990s to 350,000 Sunday strips and 2.5 million dailies, which eventually made their way to Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Blackbeard wrote, edited or contributed to more than 200 books on cartoons and comic strips, including The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, 100 Years of Comic Strips and Fantagraphics’ Krazy & Ignatz series.
Numerous obituaries and reminisces have appeared since yesterday, most notably from R.C. Harvey, Tom Spurgeon, Jeet Heer, Dylan Williams, ICv2.com, and Dan Nadel, who collected a handful of tributes. [The Comics Journal]
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, AnnArbor.com]
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.” [ICv2.com]
E-books | Amazon announced it will allow Kindle users to read e-books from more than 11,000 libraries, marking a reversal of the company’s policy. Previously library users who borrowed e-books could read them on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony Reader and other devices, but not the Kindle. “We’re excited that millions of Kindle customers will be able to borrow Kindle books from their local libraries,” Jay Marine, Amazon’s director of Kindle, said in a statement. The Kindle Library Lending will debut later this year. [The New York Times, press release]
Publishing | Several DC Comics staff members laid off as part of the sweeping corporate restructuring — among them, editors Mike Carlin and Pornsak Pichetshote — have been hired by DC Entertainment’s newly formed Burbank-based Creative Affairs division, which operates alongside Creative Services. [Bleeding Cool]
Legal | Japanese police have arrested a 25-year-old man suspected of using Share file-sharing software to upload about 28,000 manga and anime files without the copyright holders’ permission. [Anime News Network]
Retailing | The bankrupt Borders Group agreed to revise its $7.8 million retention bonus plan by tying potential payments for top executives to the company’s ability to pay unsecured creditors. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn told the bookseller on Thursday it must make further changes to the proposal, and negotiate with the U.S. trustee, before he would approve it.
The struggling bookseller says that 47 executives and director-level employees have quit since the company declared bankruptcy on Feb. 16 — two dozen just this month — leaving only 15 people in senior management positions. The book chain had sought to pay $6.6 million to 15 executives, including $1.7 million to CEO Michael Edwards, and $1.2 million to 25 director-level managers in a bid to retain key personnel.
Under the new terms, agreed upon by Borders and the creditors before Thursday’s hearing, the top five executives would receive $4.9 million at most if they recover $95 million to unsecured creditors under a sale or restructuring by Aug. 15. They could get $1.8 million in $73 million is returned. [The Detroit News, Bloomberg]
Retailing | A bankruptcy judge is expected to hear arguments today from the bankrupt Borders Group, which is seeking to pay $8.3 million in bonuses in a bid to retain key corporate personnel. The struggling bookseller says that 47 executives and director-level employees have quit since the company declared bankruptcy on Feb. 16 — two dozen just this month — leaving only 15 people in senior management positions. In a court filing last week, U.S. bankruptcy trustee Tracy Hope Davis objected to the bonus proposal, characterizing it as “a disguised retention plan for insiders, which also provides for discriminatory bonuses for non-insiders.” [The Detroit News]
Publishing | Todd Allen looks at sales estimates for the first issues in Marvel’s “Point One” initiative, which featured self-contained stories designed to serve as a jumping-on point for new or lapsed readers: “With the sole exception of Hulk, retailers ordered less copies of the ‘jump on’ issue, than the regular series. If you figure people picking up the title would also pick up the ‘.1′ introductory issue, this is a flaming disaster and there aren’t going to be a lot of these comics finding their way into the hands of new readers. It smack of very low buy-in from the retail community.” [Indignant Online]
Retailing | Publishers characterize a restructuring plan presented Wednesday by Borders Group as unrealistic, with some saying they’re more convinced than ever that the struggling bookstore chain — the second-largest in the United States — will be forced to sell itself or liquidate. The bookseller, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 16, reportedly contends it could turn a profit by the end of this year. By 2015, it hopes to draw almost 40 percent of its revenue from online sales. The company, which is in the process of closing 226 superstores and is set to shutter 20 more, is also considering moving its headquarters from Ann Arbor, Mich., to less-expensive space in metropolitan Detroit. [The New York Times, The Detroit News]
Digital comics | Seth Rosenblatt surveys the digital landscape, and wonders what’s next: “Though no publisher interviewed for the story would confirm plans to do so, it’s not unreasonable to expect premium pricing for digital comics that come with extra features like audio tracks, or the ability to look at the black-and-white version of the artwork.” He also gets a tease from Oni Press’ Cory Casoni, who says, “”We have digital plans, and we’ll unveil them later this year and in early 2012. We are nefariously, giddily crafting things.” [Download.com]
Retailing | The struggling Borders Group, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 16, has reversed its January decision to close the distribution center in LaVergne, Tenn. The bookseller will instead shut down its warehouse in Carlisle, Penn., leaving the facility in Tennessee and another in California. [Nashville Business Journal, via ICv2.com]
Legal | A handful of publishers address what effect Tokyo’s revised ordinance further restricting the sale of sexually explicit manga to minors might have on the industry. “This ordinance could attack the creativity of genuine authors, not just attacking perverted comics,” says Pascal Lafine of Tonkam, a French publisher of manga. [The Mainichi Daily News]
Publishing | David Itzkoff profiles Marvel, tracing the company’s route from mid-1990s bankruptcy to its current place at the top of a struggling industry. [The New York Times]
Conventions | Early estimates place attendance three-day attendance at Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo at 34,000, up from 27,500 at last year’s inaugural event. “Last year was disappointing,” said Eric Thornton, manager of Chicago Comics. “But now you definitely see this starting to take hold.” [Chicago Tribune]
Retailing | Borders Group has announced it will close an additional 28 stores, bringing the total to 228. The bookseller, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 16, had used the possibility of as many as 75 closings as leverage to negotiate lease concessions. This latest wave will bring the chain’s remaining store total to about 400. [Media Decoder]
Publishers | Chicago-based publisher Archaia, which expects sales of $11 million this year, has raised capital from a group of investors with local connections. [Crain’s Chicago Business, via ICv2.com]
Borders Group, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 16, plans to close another 75 stores — that’s in addition to the 200 locations announced last month.
The Detroit Free Press reports the retail chain will use the closings as leverage in negotiations on lease terms for its 633 stores. Landlords have until Wednesday to indicate whether they’ll accept rent concessions. The closings, which could end up closer to 20 to 25 depending on the outcome of negotiations, will only affect superstores, not Borders Express or airport locations, which Borders Group President Mike Edwards said are performing well.
Meanwhile, the newspaper also reports, the retailer is expected back in federal bankruptcy court today to request more time to decide what to do with those leases. The extension is opposed by a number of Borders landlords.
Borders, the second-largest book chain in the United States, hopes to present a formal business plan to publishers and other creditors in April with an eye toward exiting bankruptcy in August or September.
When it emerges from Chapter 11, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based bookseller is expected to be much leaner, even beyond the significant decrease in the number of locations (anywhere between 358 and 413). Edwards indicated to The Wall Street Journal that the 25,000-square-foot superstores will be reconfigured, with about 15,000 square feet reserved for books. The remaining space will be dedicated to a cafe, children’s books and educational toys, and consumer electronics. The chain may also add used books.
Comics | A near-mint copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, the 1962 comic featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man, was purchased in a private sale on Monday for $1.1 million — short of the record $1.5 million paid in March 2010 for Action Comics #1. “The fact that a 1962 comic has sold for $1.1 million is a bit of a record-shattering event,” says Stephen Fishler, chief executive of ComicConnect.com. “That something that recent can sell for that much and be that valuable is awe-inspiring.” [The Associated Press]
Comic-Con | Hotel reservations for Comic-Con International open this morning at 9 PT. A preliminary list of hotels included in the Comic-Con block is available on the convention website. [Comic-Con International]
Comic-Con | ICv2 has announced it will host the its Comics, Media and Digital Conference on July 20, in conjunction with Comic-Con International. [ICv2]
Comics | A copy of Archie Comics #1, published in winter 1942, sold at auction last week for $167,300, setting a world record for an Archie title and a non-superhero comic. “Archie may have a ways to go to catch the likes of Superman and Batman, his Golden Age counterparts,” said Lon Allen, managing director of comics for Heritage Auctions, “but you can bet that collectors sat up and took notice when this comic brought that price. This amount exceeds the priciest of Spidey and Hulk comic books we’ve sold, which brought in excess of $125,000 each.” [Luxist]
Retailing | REDgroup Retail, which owns the Australian booksellers Borders and Angus & Robertson, has laid off 321 employees at the two chains following the closing of 38 stores. The company entered into administration last month. [ABC News]
Retailing | Borders Group has asked a bankruptcy judge for more time to decide whether to assume or reject its 681 leases, including those for 674 stores. If granted, the extension would give the company until Jan. 12, 2012, to deal with its leases. [Detroit Free Press]
Publishing | In a wide-ranging interview with retail news and analysis site ICv2, Dark Horse CEO Mike Richardson discusses the state of the market, the potential impact of Borders’ bankruptcy, digital comics, the decline in manga sales, the success of Troublemaker and more. Of particular note is Richardson’s confirmation that Apple’s stricter enforcement of a prohibition on in-app purchases outside the iTunes store was behind the delay of the planned January launch of Dark Horse’s digital comics program. He also says that Frank Miller is working on the third issue of his 300 prequel Xerxes, which is expected to be “roughly six issues, but he hasn’t exactly decided yet.” [ICv2.com]
Publishing | Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson provides an overview of recent changes to BOOM! Studios’ kids’ line, from the loss of the Pixar licenses to a new imprint name — changed from BOOM! Kids to kaboom! — to the announcement this week of a Peanuts original graphic novel. “BOOM Kids! was designed to publish children’s comics — kaboom! is designed to be a true all-ages imprint, and for that reason Peanuts is the perfect launch title, the sort of material that adults and kids read alike,” CEO Ross Ritchie said. “Roger Langridge’s Snarked! is along these lines, as is Space Warped and Word Girl. I put the Word Girl announcement on my wall on Facebook and immediately there were a zillion adults commenting, ‘My child loves this show but I’m buying this comic book for myself!’ The title mix will be broader for kaboom! than it was for BOOM Kids!” [Publishers Weekly]
Comic strips | In what Michael Cavna so accurately describes as “a seismic shift” for the world of newspaper syndication, United Media has announced it will outsource all editorial, production, sales, marketing and distribution functions for its 150 comics and other features to Kansas City-based Universal Uclick. (Tom Spurgeon likens the move to Marvel outsourcing all of its titles to DC Comics.) The transition begins immediately, and is expected to be complete by June 1. United Media’s stable of strips include Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine, Rose Is Rose and Marmaduke. Universal Uclick’s lineup includes Doonesbury, Non Sequitur, Garfield, For Better or For Worse and the recently added Peanuts and Dilbert. [Comic Riffs]
Passings | Anant Pai, who’s credited with launching India’s comic industry in the 1960s with his series Amar Chitra Katha (Immortal Picture Stories), died Thursday of a heart attack. He was 81. Affectionately known by his fans as “Uncle Pai,” he also created the children’s series Tinkle and had spent the past three years working on Glimpses of Glory, which chronicles 40 defining moments from Indian history. After falling and fracturing his foot, Pai underwent surgery of Saturday, which prevented him from attending the first Indian Comic Con, where he was to be given a lifetime achievement award. [The Associated Press, India Real Time]
Retailing | Borders Group began liquidation sales over the weekend at 200 stores, discounting items 20 percent to 40 percent. As Publishers Weekly and Blogcritics chart the 40-year rise and fall of the retailer, PW’s Jim Milliot looks at the effects the bookseller’s bankruptcy will have on the publishing industry: “The trickle-down impact will affect everyone from manufacturers to agents. Borders accounted for about 8% of overall industry sales, a higher percentage in some categories. A downsized Borders means publishers are likely to receive smaller orders and in turn place smaller first printings, resulting in less business for printers. The likelihood of lower print sales, one publisher said, means that books acquired one or two years ago when Borders was much bigger will have a more difficult time earning the advance back and that less shelf space could mean lower advances.” [Publishers Weekly]
Retailing | Tracey Taylor has details of retailer Jack Rems’ plans to resurrect Berkeley, Calif., institution Comic Relief as a new store called The Escapist — a nod to the Michael Chabon character — possibly at the same location. [Berkeleyside]
Passings | Perry Moore, executive producer of The Chronicles of Narnia movie franchise and author of Hero, was found dead Thursday in his New York City apartment after an apparent overdose. He was 39. A longtime comics fan, Moore wrote the acclaimed 2007 young-adult novel Hero, about the world’s first gay teen superhero. At one point he and Stan Lee were developing the book as a series for Showtime, but the cable network ultimately passed.
Moore was outspoken about the portrayal of gay characters in mainstream superhero comics, releasing in 2007 a “Women in Refrigerators”-inspired list of ignored, mistreated or retconned LGBT heroes. He also appeared at Comic-Con International in 2008 and 2009 on the gays in comics panels. [New York Daily News]