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Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

Mark Fiore's NewsToons

Mark Fiore's NewsToons

Digital comics | Michael Cavna reports that Apple CEO Steve Jobs essentially accused cartoonist Mark Fiore of lying about the rejection of his iPhone app, telling attendees at a tech conference the Pulitzer Prize winner “never resubmitted” NewsToons after the company’s initial brush-off. “We’re doing the best we can, we’re fixing mistakes,” Jobs is quoted as saying. “But what happens is — people lie. And then they run to the press and tell people about this oppression, and they get their 15 minutes of fame. We don’t run to the press and say ‘this guy is a son of a bitch liar!’ — we don’t do that.”

Fiore seems baffled, telling Cavna: “My NewsToons app was, in fact, rejected. … The reason I never resubmitted the app was because I wasn’t about to make the changes Apple sought and remove any ‘content that ridicules public figures.’ Ridiculing public figures is what I do and is an essential part of journalism.” Tom Spurgeon offers some commentary, pointing out how strange Jobs’ accusations are. [Comic Riffs]

Legal | The Democratic Party of Japan, which holds 54 of the 127 seats in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, and several smaller groups are threatening on June 14 to vote down a bill to tighten restrictions on the sexual depictions of minors in comics, animation and video games. Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said Tokyo could come up with a new bill if the current one is defeated. [The Japan Times]

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Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

Legal | Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane will return to court next month after more than seven years to hash out how much Gaiman is owed for his copyright interests in Medieval Spawn, Angela and Count Nicholas Cogliostro. Gaiman wants to learn how much money was generated by three other characters he claims are derivative of those he co-created with McFarlane: Dark Ages Spawn, Domina and Tiffany.

McFarlane asked for another trial on the issue, but on Tuesday U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that Gaiman has a plausible claim, and ordered an evidentiary hearing to be held on June 14. [Wisconsin State Journal]

Conventions | As the bidding war for Comic-Con International continues, convention organizers have asked San Diego hotels to sign contracts guaranteeing room rates for the next five years. A decision on whether the four-day event will remain in the city after 2012 was expected weeks ago, but Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer said that’s been delayed because the competing cities — Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Diego — continue to amend their offers. He now expects a decision within the next month. [The San Diego Union-Tribune]

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Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

Border

Border

Retailing | The struggling Borders Group has raised $25 million from the sale last week of 11.1 million shares of new stock to Bennett S. LeBow, a financier and corporate raider best known for his investments in the tobacco industry. LeBow, who’s now the bookseller’s largest shareholder, also was named chairman, replacing Richard McGuire. [Detroit Free Press, ICv2.com]

Creators | Rich Johnston uncovers the sad family troubles behind Gene Colan’s recent injury, his missing artwork and confusing state of business affairs. Clifford Meth, Colan’s friend and business associate, seems to confirm Johnston’s take on events. [Bleeding Cool]

Passings | Tom Spurgeon pens a more extensive obituary for comics creator and animator Howard Post who, as we noted yesterday, passed away last week. [The Comics Reporter]

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Taymor on Spider-Man musical: ‘I’m not doing this for a small audience’

Reeve Carney

Reeve Carney

Director Julie Taymor has acknowledged what virtually everyone else already knew: that the $52-million Spider-Man musical will have to be a Lion King-sized hit to eventually turn a profit.

“Yes, financially, of course it does, but I’m aware of that, that’s my responsibility as an artist,” Taymor told The New York Times this week. “I’m not doing this for a small audience; I’m doing it for a world audience.”

As it stands, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will have to sell out New York City’s 1,700-seat Hilton Theatre for every show for four years just to break even. With weekly production costs of more than $1 million — hundreds of thousands of dollars more than elaborate shows like Mary Poppins and West Side StorySpider-Man likely will be the most expensive musical in Broadway history.

The production finally is set to open in November after months of delays that led to the departures of co-stars Evan Rachel Ward (Mary Jane) and Alan Cumming (Green Goblin). Relative newcomer Reeve Carney remains as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

Taymor was honored on Tuesday with a lifetime achievement award at the New Dramatists benefit luncheon, where Carney performed an anthem from Spider-Man written by Bono and the Edge called “The Boy Falls From the Sky.” The Wall Street Journal notes that the song, which “carried U2’s familiar anguished wail,” includes such lyrics as “You can fly too high and get too close to the sun/See how a boy falls from the sky.”

Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

Love & Rockets

Love & Rockets

Digital | Sean Kleefeld points out the launch of Underground and Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels, “the first ever scholarly, primary source database focusing on adult comic books and graphic novels,” the site’s home page says.

The site currently hosts 24,000 pages of comics and a small number of The Comics Journal issues — all with the permission of the copyright holders — with plans to eventually expand to 100,000 pages of materials. The site’s advisers and partners include Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth and Kitchen Sink Press’ Denis Kitchen. Access to the site is available for one-time purchase of perpetual access or as an annual subscription. [Underground and Independent Comics]

Publishing | Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson rounds up reactions from the manga community on the recent layoffs by Viz Media. [Publishers Weekly]

Publishing | John Jackson Miller crunches direct-market sales estimates for April, comparing them with previous years. [The Comichron]

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Could the troubled Spider-Man musical tour sports arenas?

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

When, and if, the troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark finally opens, many predict it will go down as the biggest flop in Broadway history. However, the New York Post’s Michael Riedel reports producers have big plans for the $52-million production, including a national tour.

It won’t be just any national tour, though: Riedel’s source says it will target 10,000-seat sports arenas. However, Broadway observers doubt director Julie Taymor’s Spider-Man will even be able to fill New York City’s 1,700-seat Hilton Theatre consistently. And it will have to do just that — sell out every performance — for four to five years just to break even.

But the production has a long way to go before it gets to that point. Originally set to open in March, “cash-flow obstacles” triggered delays that eventually led to the loss of co-stars Evan Rachel Ward (Mary Jane) and Alan Cumming (Green Goblin). Relative newcomer Reeve Carney remains as Peter Parker/Spider-Man — “I guess he’s the only original cast member with nothing better to do,” Riedel writes — with Patrick Page (Taymor’s The Lion King) reportedly being offered the role of Green Goblin.

Now it looks as if Spider-Man will start rehearsals this summer, begin previews in October and open in November. Of course, we’ve been down that road before.

Featuring a score by Bono and the Edge, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark could be the most expensive musical in Broadway history, with weekly production costs of more than $1 million — hundreds of thousands of dollars more than elaborate shows like Mary Poppins and West Side Story.

Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

One Piece, Vol. 27

One Piece, Vol. 27

Publishing | Viz Media has confirmed that its public relations and design departments were among those affected by Tuesday’s layoffs. In a brief statement released yesterday, the company assured fans that, “We have no plans at this time for drastic measures such as product cancellations or business line closures. Your favorite series are not going away.”

Melinda Beasi, Simon Jones, Kai-Ming Cha and Lissa Pattillo provide more commentary. [Viz Media]

Legal | As a Belgian court decides whether to ban Tintin in the Congo because of racist content, Roger Bongos and Sebastian Rodriguez argue that Hergé’s book shouldn’t be censored but rather read and analyzed within the context of the era in which it was created. “You cannot deny however that the book is very discriminatory of black people,” Bongos writes. “Hergé wasn’t a racist person himself: he simply reflected the image the Western world had of the Congo and of Africa during those years, as well as the colonial aspirations of Belgians. In this sense, the book is kind of Proust’s ‘madeleine episode’ for us: it helps us remember our colonial history.” The court is expected to issue its ruling on May 31. [France 24]

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It’s the hard-knock life for Little Orphan Annie as syndicate cancels strip

Annie and her pal Sandy

Annie and her pal Sandy

After more than 85 years, the sun will no longer come out for Little Orphan Annie, Harold Gray’s Depression Era comic about a red-haired waif and the kindly capitalist who gives her a home.

Although the strip, which debuted on Aug. 5, 1924 in the New York Daily News, once appeared in hundreds of newspapers, it now runs in fewer than 20. So Tribune Media Services has decided to cancel Annie with the June 13 installment — a cliffhanger, curiously enough.

The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal reports that Sunday strip will end with Daddy Warbucks uncertain of Annie’s fate after her latest run-in with the Butcher of the Balkans.

Annie is definitely not dying,” Steve Tippie, TMS’ vice president of licensing, tells Rosenthal. He says that while “the daily newspaper strip will go away […] that doesn’t mean that Annie won’t come back … whether it’s (in) comic books, graphic novels, in print, electronic. It’s just too rich a vein (not) to mine.”

Indeed, Little Orphan Annie inspired a long-running radio show, three motion pictures, a television movie, and a musical — the basis for one of those films — that ran for six years on Broadway and has since been staged countless times around the world.

IDW Publishing has released four volumes of The Complete Little Orphan Annie collection through its Library of American Comics imprint.

Breaking: Viz Media lays off 60 employees [Updated]

Viz Media

Viz Media

Top-selling manga publisher Viz Media today announced the layoffs of as many as 60 employees and the closing of its New York City branch, Publishers Weekly reports.

The staff cuts — 55 from its San Francisco headquarters and five from the New York office — represent about 40 percent of the company’s workforce.

In a statement today to PW, the publisher acknowledged it is “restructuring to adjust to changing industry and financial market realities.”

Viz, which publishes such hits as Naruto, One Piece and Fullmetal Alchemist, had appeared to weather the worst of the economic and market declines that led to a major restructuring of rival Tokyopop in 2008 and the closing of several smaller manga publishers.Viz previously laid off a reported 12 to 15 people in February 2009.

Update (May 12): Evelyn Dubocq, Viz’s senior director of public relations, revealed this morning on Twitter that she has been laid off after seven years with the company. “It’s so odd waking up on a work day having no place to go,” she wrote.

Update 2 (May 12): Viz Media has released a statement about the restructuring:

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Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

Tintin

Tintin

Publishing | Stanley Pignal takes a look at the transformation of the Tintin brand since the death of Hergé in 1983, as the cartoonist’s widow Fanny Vlamynck and her husband Nick Rodwell drastically changed merchandising strategies. In the process, the prickly Rodwell has become a controversial figure, running afoul of fans and journalists alike in his effort to exert control over Tintin’s image.

Of particular interest is a brief profile of Bob Garcia, a novelist and fan who published a series of books examining Hergé’s possible inspirations for Tintin. Garcia believed he could legally reproduce a few copyrighted illustrations for the purpose of critique, but Moulinsart saw things differently: The writer is now fighting to keep his home as penalties and legal fees mount. [Financial Times]

Crime | Danny Wayne Barton, owner of Kryptonite Komics in Carbon Hill, Alabama, was arrested Thursday after he allegedly sold marijuana to police informants on four separate occasions. Three of those incidents reportedly occurred in Barton’s shop, which also sells smoking devices as the Good Karma Store. The 38-year-old retailer faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison on four counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance within a three-mile radius of a school. [Daily Mountain Eagle]

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Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

Tintin in the Congo

Tintin in the Congo

Legal | A Belgian court will rule next week whether Herge’s 1931 collection Tintin in the Congo will be banned because of its depictions of native Africans. The decision, originally expected today, following a nearly three-year-old effort by Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, a Congolese man living in Belgium, to have the book removed from the country’s bookstores, or at least sold with warning labels as it is in Britain. [Guardian, Mail Online]

Libraries | Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson reports on a C2E2 panel devoted to helping librarians deal with public challenges to graphic novels. On a related note, she also talks to Jeff Smith about a Minnesota mother’s attempt to have Bone removed from libraries in her school district. [Publishers Weekly]

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Iconix and Schulz family purchase Peanuts rights

Peanuts

Peanuts

Iconix Brand Group has partnered with the heirs of Charles M. Schulz to buy the rights to Peanuts from E.W. Scripps Co.

The $175 million deal is for Scripps’ entire United Media Licensing division, which includes Dilbert and Fancy Nancy.

However, Peanuts, whose 1,200 licensing agreements generate annual retail sales of more than $2 billion worldwide, represents a majority of United Media’s revenue. Iconix will control an 80 percent share of the Peanuts brand.

Iconix, which owns the Candie’s and London Fog brands, expects Peanuts to bring in roughly $75 million in annual royalties. The Schulz heirs will receive a portion of that revenue in addition to their minority stake in the partnership.

Peanuts, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, at its peak appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers. Its characters are licensed in about 40 countries by such companies at MetLife, Hallmark, Walgreen and Universal Studios.

Webcomics.com partners with printer

webcomics-logoWhen Webcomics.com went to a subscription model in January, one of the possible benefits editor Brad Guigar mentioned was that subscribers might get special deals on products and services. Indeed, when we checked in with Brad at C2E2 last week, he was surrounded by subscribers who had gotten a $60 discount on their booths.

This morning he announced another partnership, with Transcontinental printers, which will offer Webcomics.com members a 10% discount on their printing costs. Transcontinental is an offset printer, so it does large print runs of hundreds of books, as opposed to print-on-demand outfits that do one copy at a time. Offset printers generally offer better quality and lower unit costs, so this could push a cartoonist on the edge from one model to the other.

Beyond that, it’s an example of what it takes to make a subscription website work. At this point, Webcomics.com is looking a bit like a professional association, as opposed to simply a place where you go to read articles. It’s a move that makes sense, given the tightly targeted audience.

Warner Bros. buys MMO game developer Turbine

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Warner Bros. has acquired Lord of the Rings Online developer Turbine Inc. for a reported $160 million, adding the Massachusetts-based company to a rapidly growing video-game stable.

The move gives Warner Bros. control of all games based on the J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy series, and enables the studio to develop online games around the DC Comics properties. As the Los Angeles Times notes, Turbine’s specializes in the creation of massively multi-player online games, such as Dungeons & Dragons Online, Asheron’s Call and the previously mentioned Lord of the Rings.

Warner Bros. obtained the rights to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit in 2008 when it purchased New Line. It already has the license to make console-based games based on the Tolkien properties.

Turbine will become part of Warner Bros. Interactive, a division that’s expanded dramatically over the past few years with four major acquisitions: a majority stake in Batman: Arkham Asylum developer Rocksteady Studios in February; Snowblind Studios and most of the assets of bankrupt Midway Games last year; and LEGO games developer TT Games in 2007.

Just last month Warner Bros. announced plans the construction of a studio in Montreal that will develop games based on DC Comics properties.

Troubled Spider-Man musical now loses its Green Goblin

Alan Cumming

Alan Cumming

In yet another blow to the long-troubled Broadway musical, actor Alan Cumming has withdrawn from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark because of a scheduling conflict.

A veteran stage actor who portrayed Nightcrawler in 2003’s X2: X-Men United, Cumming was set to play Green Goblin in the delay-plagued production. However, Entertainment Weekly reports that over the weekend Cumming decided he couldn’t juggle Spider-Man and his expanded role in the CBS drama The Good Wife. The actor’s departure from the $52-million musical comes a little more than a month after that of Evan Rachel Ward, who had been cast as Mary Jane Watson. She, too, cited a scheduling conflict.

The ambitious musical, directed by The Lion King‘s Julie Taymor and scored by U2’s Bono and the Edge, originally was set to open in March at the Hilton Theatre in New York City. However, “cash-flow obstacles” pushed the date to sometime this fall.

Production was stopped in August while producers sought more money for a budget that ballooned from $35 million. In November, Bono’s longtime business partner Michael Cohl was brought onboard to put the show back on track. According to a January report, Disney stepped in to provide “a chunk” of the financing for the musical, whose producers include Marvel and Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Spider-Man, possibly the most expensive musical in Broadway history, will cost about $1 million a week to produce — hundreds of thousands of dollars more than elaborate shows like Mary Poppins and West Side Story — and require the 1,700-seat Hilton to sell out for every show for four years just to break even.

The musical still has its Peter Parker: Reeve Carney, the lead singer of the band Carney who appeared in the 1999 film Snow Falling on Cedars. He and Cumming also have roles in Taymor’s upcoming adaptation of The Tempest.


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