Conventions | Although convention organizers rolled out an altered name — WonderCon Anaheim — and logo when they confirmed two weeks ago that the event will return to Anaheim, California, again next year, they insist they haven’t close the door on San Francisco. “We still want to get back to the Bay Area. [...] We are in touch with [the Moscone Center organizers] fairly regularly and we have an open dialogue,” says David Glanzer, director of marketing and public relations. “They haven’t given up on us, either.” The convention was uprooted from the Moscone Center in 2012 first because of remodeling and now because of scheduling conflicts. WonderCon Anaheim will be held April 18-20. [Publishers Weekly]
Digital comics | I spoke with Archie Comics Co-CEO Jon Goldwater and iVerse Media CEO Michael Murphey about the new “all-you-can-eat” digital service, Archie Unlimited. [Good E-Reader]
Retailing | Fans of the Fall River, Massachusetts, retailer StillPoint Comics, Cards & Games kicked in $5,000 in a GoFundMe campaign to keep the store in business. The shop, which opened in 1997, had to close for 10 days last month after its power was shut off. [The Herald News]
Publishing | Following confirmation last month of a Space Mountain graphic novel series, Heidi MacDonald talks with executives from Disney Publishing Worldwide about the expansion of the new Disney Comics imprint. [Publishers Weekly]
Events | Sean Kleefeld reports on Day 1 of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum Grand Opening Festival of Cartoon Art in Columbus, Ohio. [Kleefeld on Comics]
Conventions | Brian Howe looks at the rivalry between Comic Book City Con, which debuted two weekends ago in Greensboro, North Carolina, and NC Comicon, which returns Saturday in Durham. The latter, which is now co-owned by artist Tommy Lee Edwards, drew 4,000 attendees last year (its first at the Durham Convention Center), and this year doubled its exhibit space and ramped up its programming. The conflict, which manifested in a flier for Comic Book City Con that one party considers playful but the other calls “bullying,” seems to be rooted in the proximity of the dates and a perceived lack of communication. However, it’s not simply a rivalry between nearby conventions; it’s one between retailers: Durham’s Ultimate Comics organizes NC Comicon, while Greensboro’s Acme Comics operates Comic Book City Con. [Indy Week]
Digital comics | The Chernin Group, headed by former News Corp Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin, has acquired a controlling stake in Crunchyroll, the streaming anime site that just launched a digital comics service. [All Things D]
Digital comics | Rob McMonigal takes a look at Believed Behavior, a website where subscribers can read comics by five different creators for $8 (there’s a free component as well) and then get them in print form. [Panel Patter]
Manga | Dark Horse announced Tuesday that there are 750,000 copies of the various volumes of Berserk in print; that number is about to increase, as the publisher is about to release new printings of the volumes that are low in stock, which is pretty much all of them. Volume 37 is due out later this month. [Anime News Network]
Though I can appreciate that a lot of reviewers don’t have the artistic vocabulary to really review art, they always have lots to say about the story. An analysis of the storytelling would be interesting.
– Marvel artist Declan Shalvey, on how comics reviewers can better discuss visual art in criticism.
It’s a commonly recognized phenomenon that reviewers tend to focus on the writing part of comics, because they are, after all, writers and that’s what they have the vocabulary for. Criticism of visual art requires a different set of terms that frankly, not a lot of comics critics know. Shalvey pokes holes in that excuse, however, by offering for critique an aspect of comics art that writers should already be equipped to discuss: the effectiveness of visual storytelling.
Superheroes | Writer Jim Zubkavich tackles the burning question of why there are so few Canadian superheroes: “We don’t have a long standing superhero tradition in this country. We don’t have a long-standing focal point character people recognize (I like Captain Canuck, but the average person on the street does not know who he is). We’re not a country galvanized by heavy-duty patriotic pride that lends itself to a Superman, Captain America or even a Batman. We don’t have the kind of rampant crime that ‘needs’ a heroic symbol to fight back against.” [Zub Tales]
Digital comics | The first issue of Mark Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy sold more than 100,000 copies in stores, but was that because he refused to allow it to be sold in digital format the same day? Steve Bennett is doubtful, because so many people (including himself) didn’t realize until the last minute it would be print-only for now. [ICv2]
Graphic novels | April was a slow month for new graphic novel releases, so the BookScan Top 20 had plenty of room for some backlist titles. The Walking Dead dominated, of course, but the 10th volume of Sailor Moon was there for a second month and actually moved up a notch. And the first volume of Saga came in at No. 12, perhaps because people were curious as to what all the fuss is about. [ICv2]
Editorial cartoons | Nick Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Houston Chronicle, has responded to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s criticism of Jack Ohman’s cartoon with a cartoon of his own. [Comic Riffs]
Conventions | Jeff Smith, Brian Wood, Sean Murphy and Raina Telgemeier are the headline guests at the Maine Comics Arts Festival in Portland on May 19. [Foster's Daily Democrat]
Creators | Alex Zalben talks to James Robinson about his rebooted version of DC Comics’ Justice Society in Earth 2, and the process of creating a world of one’s own: “It always starts with certain plot points that immediately come to you, and you always want those moments to happen at some point, and you work towards them. There are some characters that come to you almost fully formed in your mind, and those are you anchors. And same with the world, there are some aspects of the world that you say, this is what I want to do, here or there, or there. They’re the anchors, and you slowly begin to add the other pieces so it links, and forms, and becomes a whole tapestry.” [MTV Geek]
Creators | Geoff Johns talks about the new, more nuanced version of Billy Batson that he and artist Gary Frank are creating in the Shazam back-up stories in Justice League: “Billy is trouble, but trouble in a way that I think we’ll find understandable, relatable and fun. He has a heart, a big one, but he also has a protective shell around it. He’s mischievous, independent and strong. He’s conflicted, tough and sad. And many other things. For us, Billy had to be as complex and as interesting as his alter ego.” [Hero Complex]
Last week we talked about credentials and whether or not that affects how we value criticism. And in the comments to that post, a lot of folks began to segue into what I want to talk about today: the reasons people participate in criticism. That’s great and actually, it started in the comments section to that first post. I maybe should’ve started this series of observations with today’s post, because it’s so fundamental to the discussion, but I guess I wanted to save the best for last. As some of those comments reveal, we don’t all have the same assumptions for why people talk about comics.
Tom Spurgeon wrote about it that “I used to participate in these frequent discussions on the role of a comics critic, but at some point I just started thinking that writing about comics is pretty much the same about any other writing. I would imagine that applies to writing about writing about comics, too.” I don’t want to put words in his mouth, so I’ll just say that what that suggests to me is that writing about comics (or anything else) is an art form all its own. I know there are those who disagree, but they’re wrong. It probably won’t be that hard to argue that criticism is a lesser art than creating a story, but there’s still art to it. It’s still a medium for expressing yourself. There are those who do it very well and those who do it very poorly and a great number of people somewhere in between who are continually trying to improve.
Since criticism is an art form, in defining good criticism it’s helpful to think about it in terms similar to the way we think about other art. Authorial intent, for instance. In order to judge whether or not a piece of criticism works, it’s not only useful, but vital to know why someone is talking about comics in the first place. I’ve thought of four reasons, but there could be others. And certainly, individuals not only bounce between these groups depending on their audience or mood; they may also have two or more of these motivations going at once. Knowing that is helpful too.
Creators | Any Empire and Swallow Me Whole creator (and our special guest this weekend for What Are You Reading?) Nate Powell appeared at the United Nations earlier this month with several teen-fiction writers who contributed to What You Wish For, a benefit book to fund libraries in Darfuri refugee camps in Chad. Video of the event can now be found on the U.N. website. [Top Shelf]
Business | Details on the collaboration between Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment Inc. and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s Vuguru have emerged: The two companies will work on a YouTube channel called “Stan Lee’s YouTube World of Heroes.” The channel is one of the 100 online video channels announced by the Google-owned video site, which seeks to add “professional, high-quality programming” to its site. [Los Angeles Times]
Business | They might move slow and eat people, but MSNBC estimates that zombies are worth about $5 billion to the economy. [MSNBC]
I’m not quite done talking about comics criticism. Your comments to that post from last week were awesome and gave me even more to think about, so I want to dig into this a little deeper. Maybe for a couple or three posts. In this and the next one I’d like to offer some definitions that I’ve found helpful in thinking about criticism and role it plays in the comics industry. After that, I’m planning to talk about some rules for good criticism, pulled from a variety of sources. We may not agree on all of them, but hopefully it’ll make a good discussion.
Last week, I mentioned the idea that everyone’s a critic. To quote Obi-Wan, that’s true “from a certain point of view.” Anyone who talks about the comics she buys is participating in criticism. (And we should maybe pause for a second to clarify that “criticism” doesn’t automatically mean ragging on something. It can be positive or even praising. More on that next week.) But though everyone can join in the work of a critic, it’s still helpful to put some labels on the groups of people who do.
It’s not helpful from the standpoint of classifying who we will and won’t listen to. As I said last week, there are some great professional critics, but there are also useless ones whose primary motivation seems to be getting quoted. There’s a lot of irrelevant noise in message-board land, but there are also people who use that as their primary platform to talk eloquently about the comics they read. It doesn’t matter what the label is; useful discussion about comics can be found anywhere.
A couple of things make these labels helpful though.
I’ve been thinking about comics criticism lately. That may sound a little inside baseball, but it’s not really. Not the way I’ve been thinking about it. As “real” critics are fond of pointing out, the threshold for criticism is extremely low. In fact, we all engage in criticism, even if we’re just talking with our friends about the movie we just saw or discussing our weekly comics stash on a message board. There are supposed to be some differences between someone writing a review for publication and people chatting on Facebook, but I’m not sure there always are.
Professional critics are supposed to adhere to some standards that in reality they sometimes disregard. In contrast, I’ve read some very insightful reviews and had some meaningful discussions about comics (and movies and TV) in the most informal of places. Good criticism isn’t about venue or credentials, it’s about gaining knowledge about a subject and being able to apply that knowledge thoughtfully to the things you read and watch. So when I talk about comics criticism, I’m not just talking about a particular kind, but simply the way we all talk about comics.
Whether they’re reading The New York Times or a comment on a blog post, readers decide whether or not to take criticism seriously based on how seriously the critic is taking his or her subject. And part of taking a comic seriously is thinking about things like authorial intent.
Comics critic Paul Gravett has a peek at SVK, the new graphic novel due out from Warren Ellis and D’Israeli, as part of an interesting article on comics that trick the eye. SVK, which was announced last December, is a graphic novel with a hidden agenda, so to speak: The private thoughts of some characters are invisible on the printed page until the reader shines an ultraviolet light on them, at which point they appear in thought balloons. Gravett shows a few examples of this and then goes on to some interesting historical examples of other comics that use concealed content, including 3D comics, vintage newspaper strips that used invisible ink, and a comic that flips upside-down halfway through.
If you’ve made your way around the Interwebs at all over the past few days (or at least the comic-book derived portion of such) you may have noticed a couple of posts devoted to what’s being called the “Best Online Comics Criticism of 2010.” And, unless your memory is as faulty as mine, you may also recall similar lists being made around the same time last year, as this is an annual event created and overseen by the esteemed critic (and Hooded Utilitarian contributor) Ng Suat Tong.
Suat was kind enough back in January of ’09 to invite me to be one of the judges for this year’s round-up. the other judges consisting of Tim Hodler, Johanna Draper Carlson, Melinda Beasi, Derik Badman, Shannon Garrity and Bill Randall. I’ll go through this year’s winners, with my personal commentary in a minute, but if you’re the impatient type, you can see the final results here and here.
First, some brief observances …
Having looked at what women want in superhero comics, let’s examine their attitudes toward poop jokes.
Sean Michael Wilson, the editor of the alt-manga anthology AX, didn’t do a scientific survey, but he did read the reviews of his book and noticed something interesting:
However, one aspect has surprised both myself and Asakawa, the Japanese editor – quite a few female American reviewers have taken issue with the large amount of scatalogical toilet humour and also the sexual content of the collection. Somehow they seem to find it offensive, or unpleasant, or immature. It was surprising to me to see this kind of reaction, as it never occurred to me at all – as a British person – that these could be seen as negative.
It was surprising to me that Sean would find this surprising, but maybe that’s because I’m a female American comics reviewer, and I have always regarded potty humor as the purview of seven-year-old boys. I haven’t been to Scotland since I was six years old; now I’m beginning to wonder what I’m missing. Do sophisticated people there stand around at gallery openings sipping Cabernet and cracking fart jokes?