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Alternative weekly Boston Phoenix closes after 47 years

The final Boston Phoenix

The final Boston Phoenix

The Boston Phoenix, the groundbreaking alternative weekly that in recent years had carried the work of cartoonists ranging from Matt Bors and David Sipress to Karl Stevens and Brian McFadden, has closed after nearly five decades.

The announcement was accompanied Thursday afternoon by a tweet saying, “Thank you Boston. Good night and good luck.” The current issue, dated March 15, will be the last; a final online edition will appear March 22. Executive Editor Peter Kadzis told The Boston Globe that about 40 employees will be let go within the week with another 10 following soon afterward. There will be no severance pay.

In a statement circulated Thursday to staff members and reposted on the Phoenix’s website, Publisher Stephen M. Mindich attributed the closing to a combination of the economic crisis, changes in the media industry and a decline in advertising. Just six months ago the company changed to a magazine format in an effort to attract more advertisers.

“We are a textbook example of sweeping marketplace change,” Kadzis said in a statement. “Our recent switch to a magazine format met with applause from readers and local advertisers. Not so — with a few exceptions — national advertisers. It was the long-term decline of national advertising dollars that made the Boston Phoenix economically unviable.”

Its sister publications The Portland Phoenix in Maine and The Providence Phoenix in Rhode Island, will remain open.

Comics A.M. | Tom Tomorrow wins Herblock Prize

This Modern World

This Modern World

Awards | Dan Perkins, better known to his readers as Tom Tomorrow, is the winner of this year’s Herblock Prize for excellence in editorial cartooning. Panelist Matt Bors cited his “consistently hilarious takedowns of women-bashers, gun culture and the president’s abuse of executive power.” The finalist was Sacramento Bee editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman. The award includes cash prizes of $15,000 (after taxes!) for the winner and $5,000 for the finalist. [The Daily Cartoonist]

Publishing | Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson explains how the company develops licensed properties, specifically “expanded universes” that build on the world of a movie or video game: “So we came up with the idea that we could approach these licensed properties as sequels, particularly in the early days when we focused primarily on film. We’d sit down like fanboys and say ‘Okay, that was great, what can we do next?'” [Forbes]

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Israel arrests Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh

Saba'anehPalestinian cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh, a contributor to the Cartoon Movement comics journalism site, was arrested by Israeli authorities on Saturday and is being held without access to a lawyer, a situation that could continue indefinitely. The Cartoon Movement blog has been tracking the story as well as the reaction by international organizations.

Saba’aneh is a political cartoonist for Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian National Authority, the governing body for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and his cartoons comment on the political and human rights situation of the region, often criticizing the Israeli detention of Palestinians. He also works in the public relations department of the Arab American University. He visited the United States in 2010 as a participant in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

On Thursday, an Israeli military court extended Saba’aneh’s detention for nine days, and further extensions are possible. According to the International Council for Human Rights, “The Israeli security forces refuse to disclose any details on Mohammed Sabaana’s whereabouts and further deny to grant access to his lawyer or his family members. He is also at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment.”

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Reuben finalists announced; Russ Manning nominees sought

Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine

Awards | Brian Crane (Pickles), Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues) and Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) have been nominated for the 2012 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year, presented by the National Cartoonists Society. [National Cartoonists Society]

Awards | Nominations are being sought for the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award, which will be presented July 19 at Comic-Con International during the Eisner Awards ceremony. The deadline is April 5. [Comic-Con International]

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Disney’s not-so-secret shame

“[T]hey broke my spirit,” Don Rosa wrote in an epilogue to his autobiography in comics, explaining why he retired from the job he so dearly loved. The whole tale is heart-breaking but also beautiful in the cartoonist’s abundant gratitude and humility.

“They” of course are Disney and its publishing licensees who don’t pay their comics talent any royalties whatsoever despite the incredibly healthy exporting of Disney comic books around the world. Rosa created Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics for almost 20 years and only ever received a flat page rate, as though it were the 1940s. His rate was better than other Disney comics artists at the time because he was so popular, but his wife was still the primary provider for the family. She was a school teacher, a profession not typically known for financial excess.

Whenever I hear about these kinds of stories, I always wonder why the creator doesn’t turn to creator-owned comics, which allow freedom on many levels, and a greater potential for financial benefit. The Walking Dead, anyone? Rosa, the internationally beloved cartoonist, doing his own comic book series or graphic novel would be an event. It seems like a no-brainer. But it’s easy to forget that for some creators, despite the opportunities, that option is a non-starter.

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Penny Arcade’s reality game show Strip Search prepares for launch

We warned you about this a few weeks ago: Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the duo behind the ultra-popular webcomic series Penny Arcade, are looking to cultivate the next generation of comic artists with a web TV series titled Strip Search.

It’s a reality competition series in which 12 aspiring webcartoonists are locked in a house and pitted against each other in a Thunderdome-like scenario (minus a mohawked Tina Turner) in which their talent, skills and dedication are tested with the ultimate prize of $15,000 in cash and a year working in Penny Arcade‘s offices and taking advantage of the company’s resources. Even the break room.

The show is set to premiere later this month, with the cast members cartoonists already announced. As we await the first episode, scan through the artists’ bios and choose your early favorites.

The legendary Don Rosa explains why he quit comics

Don Rosa, who drew Disney’s Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck comics for many years has written a lengthy and fascinating piece on why he gave up creating comics.

Rosa, who started working on the series in early middle age, gave up making comics entirely in 2012 for a variety of reasons, including vision problems caused by a detached retina, depression, and frustration that the studio pays no royalties on his comics — a situation that he says is unique to the comics, as other Disney creators do get royalties. (One possible reason for this is that the Disney comics are produced by freelancers working for third-party companies, not for Disney itself.) That became particularly galling once Rosa was well enough known that the collections featured his name in the title — but he still didn’t see a dime. His response was a clever one: He copyrighted his name so publishers would have to ask his permission to use it to promote the books.

Rosa also explains why he didn’t make the switch to creator-owned comics:

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14 cartoonists make NRA’s ‘anti-gun’ list

This might be why Mike Luckovich made the list

I don’t know, maybe lists like the widely reported rundown of “National Organizations with Anti-Gun Policies” on the website of the Institute for Legislative Action — the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association — are common, but just seldom made public. It seems rather Nixonian, to be honest. Who keeps an enemies list any more?

The list includes not only organizations but companies and individuals who have in some way publicly endorsed gun regulation, whether as a member of the Brady Campaign or just chattin’. And 14 editorial cartoonists make the cut. Alan Gardner helpfully pulls them out: Tony Auth, Steve Benson, Jim Borgman, Stuart Carlson, Mike Lane, Mike Luckovich, Jimmy Margulies, Jim Morin, Mike Peters, Kevin Siers, Ed Stein, Tim Toles, Garry Trudeau and Don Wright.

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Conversing on Comics with Jerry Holkins and Robert Khoo

What do you do when you’ve created a comic book series that’s become more successful than you ever imagined? Branch out. It’s what Robert Kirkman did once The Walking Dead established itself as a hit, and in the webcomics world Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade have been doing the very same thing — and their creation keeps getting bigger. And last summer, when their $250,000 Kickstarter campaign generated double its goal, they included some ambition stretch goals — one of which is coming true next month.

In February, Penny Arcade will launch Strip Search, a reality/competition television series in which 12 cartoonists live together in a house and compete to win a $15,000 cash prize and space in Penny Arcade‘s Seattle offices for a year, complete with support from the company with merchandise, marketing and infrastructure.

Described by Krahulik as “Hell’s Kitchen for web cartoonists,” Strip Search isn’t a new idea — CBR did Comic Book Idol for several years — but rather a new format. The show, which is being produced by the comedy troupe/video studio LoadingReadyRun, will feature 12 up-and-coming cartoonists including indie artist Erika Moen. Filmed late last year, Strip Search will debut in February at Penny Arcade’s PATV and will also appear in some unannounced other venues. For more I talked with Penny Arcade‘s Jerry Holkins, along with Robert Khoo, the comic franchise’s president of operations and business development.

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How not to draw manga: Some free advice

How to use how-to books

I’m sitting here looking at a stack of how-to-draw-manga books, and I’m feeling very guilty.

These books were sent to me as review copies, and I feel it’s my duty to review them. They are thoughtfully designed and beautifully produced, and they aren’t cheap. People think being a reviewer is all beer and skittles and free comics, but those comics aren’t free; they carry a serious responsibility with them, and I’m afraid that in the case of these books, I have failed miserably.

The problem is that I don’t believe in the basic mission of these books. I say this as someone who once had aspirations to being a fine artist and who later edited art-instruction books. Let me explain.

When I was in college, I loved the idea of being an artist, but I lacked talent. That didn’t stop me from soldiering through school — I have a BFA and an MFA in studio art — but when I got out into the real world and started trying to make my way as an artist, I realized I lacked both the knack and the spark I needed to be successful.

Nonetheless, I went from being a terrible draftsman to a better-than-mediocre draftsman during that time, and I didn’t do it by reading books. I did it by drawing. So here’s the advice I have for all aspiring comics artists everywhere: Draw from life. You’re better off using those how-to books in an interesting still-life setup and drawing that than copying the illustrations you will find inside.

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Kochalka fans pay tribute to American Elf

On Dec. 31, James Kochalka ended his 14-year run on his diary comic American Elf, but others have taken up the baton, at least temporarily: A number of webcomics artists have created homages to the strip, and Kochalka is re-posting them on his Tumblr.

They include comics more or less in the style of American Elf by Lewis Trondheim, Superf*ckers director Fran Krause and a host of others, expressing a range of emotions from grief to gratitude. Also included in the tributes is a giant picture of every American Elf strip and another that averages the 14 years’ worth of the strips to produce an “eigencomic.”

It’s really interesting to look through them and see how a single (albeit long) comic inspired such a range of responses — and how much people seem to enjoy drawing themselves in Kochalka’s unmistakable style. And, as Kochalka remarks on one of the posts, “Quitting American Elf has kind of been like being able to die and go to my own wake!”

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Comics A.M. | Turkey lifts ban on thousands of books (and a comic)

Legal

Censorship | At least one comic, alas unnamed, was among the thousands of books removed this week from a Turkish government restricted list. Most of the bans were widely ignored anyway, but Metin Celal Zeynioglu, the head of Turkey’s publishers’ union, pointed out one important effect of lifting them: “Many of the students arrested in demonstrations are kept in prison because they’re carrying banned books. From now on, we won’t be able to use that as an excuse.” [The Australian]

Publishing | Tom Spurgeon’s latest holiday interview is with Shannon Watters, the editor of BOOM! Studios’ children’s comics line, which includes Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors and Peanuts. [The Comics Reporter]

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Comics A.M. | National Cartoonists Society splits webcomics award

National Cartoonists Society

Awards | The National Cartoonists Society initiated a webcomics award last year, and this year the organization is splitting it in two, one for short-form works and one for long-form. The challenge with including webcomics, says NCS President Tom Richardson, is that to be eligible, creators must make the majority of their money from cartooning. “That isn’t an easy thing to quantify anymore. With online comics, we need to take into account site traffic, professionalism in consistent and regular publication, online community activity and other factors that are the hallmark of professional online work,” he says. “In some cases, it’s pretty obvious the creator is making a career out of cartooning. In some, it’s not so obvious.” [Comic Riffs]

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Bill Morrison organizing art auctions to help save Metro Entertainment

Paul Smith

Retailer Bob Ficcara, owner of the well-regarded Metro Entertainment in Santa Barbara, California, is in desperate need of help.

In 2011, he suffered a minor stroke while working at the store, and discovered his health insurance wouldn’t cover much of his medical expenses; that was just a year after Ficcara racked up bills from surgery and physical therapy required for an Achilles tendon injury. He was unable to reach a payment-plan agreement with the medical providers, who took him to court to secure liens and levies. A month ago, Ficcara’s bank account was emptied, and at about the same time his wife Jamie was laid off from work. Now, Ficcara stands to lose the comic store he’s owned since 1991.

However, cartoonist Bill Morrison, co-founder of Bongo Comics, hopes to prevent that from happening. He’s moving quickly to organize auctions of original art to raise the $30,000 Ficcara needs to save Metro Entertainment. Unfortunately, time isn’t on Morrison’s, or Ficcara’s, side: The debt is due Jan. 14.

Morrison is already off to a good start, though, receiving original art from the likes of Dave Gibbons, Bruce Timm, Eric Powell, Paul Smith (shown at right), Dean Yeagle (below), Geof Darrow, Tone Rodriguez (below), Evan Dorkin, Jim Woodring, Humberto Ramos and Herb Trimpe (as well as himself, of course). But he’d like to get more original work from major artists. Those interested in contributing should contact Morrison at roswell2@earthlink.net. Update: Neal Adams has contributed a Hal Jordan/Green Lantern piece, which you can see below.

He plans to begin the auctions Sunday on eBay; although Morrison doesn’t have any auctions set up yet, you’ll be able to find them through his user ID juliennefryes. He’ll promote the auctions at Comic Art Fans as well. Cash donations will also be accepted through PayPal (roswell2@earthlink.net), or by check to:

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Ryan North’s To Be Or Not To Be smashes Kickstarter record [Updated]

Illustration from "To Be Or Not To Be," by Anthony Clark

As the final hours tick down on the Kickstarter campaign for To Be Or Not To Be, cartoonist Ryan North’s Choose Your Own Adventure-style take on Hamlet has raised more than $481,000 — that’s 2,405 percent of its $20,000 goal — easily breaking the crowdfunding platform’s record for most successful book project.

As we reported last month, To Be Or Not To Be will allow (adult!) readers to be one of numerous characters from William Shakespeare’s play, including the ghost of Hamlet’s father. “Also,” the Kickstarter page offers, “unlike Shakespeare I didn’t skip over the pirate scene in Hamlet. You get to fight PIRATES. With SWORDS.  And yes OF COURSE you can choose which body part you cut off. Why would you write a book where you can’t do that is my question.” What’s more, North enlisted an all-star roster of artists — ranging from Kate Beaton and Kazu Kibuishi to Vera Brosgol and Dustin Harbin — to illustrate the prose book.

In an article this morning on Wired.com examining the blockbuster success of the campaign, North notes, “No [publisher] would drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on getting this book made because you don’t know if the audience will show up for it, and you have to front all these costs. The better you want to make the book, the riskier it gets. But with Kickstarter, we know the audience is there when we make these decisions.”

Talking with Laura Hudson, Tom Helleberg of New York University Press predicts, “It probably won’t be long until Kickstarter (or something similar) completely replaces the slush pile and agents when it comes to filtering submissions. Then presses are going to have to figure out how on Earth they are going to attract successful authors who are effectively earning 100 percent royalties on self-produced projects.”

Update (11 a.m. PT): Since this post was published, an additional $20,595 was pledged to the project, bringing the tally to more than a half-million dollars. Eighteen hours remain in the campaign.

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