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Hollywood guilds join push for Supreme Court to hear Kirby case

jack kirbyThree organizations representing Hollywood actors, directors and screenwriters have thrown their weight behind an effort to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal by the heirs of Jack Kirby that could have ramifications far beyond Marvel and the comics industry.

The case, as most readers know by now, involves the copyrights to the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Thor and other characters created or co-created by Kirby during his time at Marvel in the 1960s. The artist’s children filed 45 copyright-termination notices in September 2009, seeking to reclaim what they believe to his stake in the properties under the terms of the U.S. Copyright Act. Marvel responded with a lawsuit, which led to a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s 1960s creations were work for hire and therefore not subject to copyright reclamation. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in August 2013, which brings us to the Kirby family’s petition to the Supreme Court.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Screen Actors Guild-Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America have filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief that insists the Second Circuit’s ruling “jeopardizes the statutory termination rights that many Guild members may possess in works they created.”

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Comics A.M. | The secret of Batman’s enduring appeal

Detective Comics #27

Detective Comics #27

Comics | Liam Burke, editor of the essay collection Fan Phenomena: Batman, discusses the enduring appeal of the Dark Knight, who of course turns 75 this year: “This isn’t a guy who’s from an alien planet, this isn’t someone who was bitten by a radioactive spider. This is an average guy, albeit incredibly wealthy and incredibly intelligent, at the peak of human fitness, but an average guy nonetheless. That sort of aspirational quality has been identified as the reason Batman sort of stands above Spider-Man, Superman or any number of heroes.” [RN Drive]

Publishing | David Harper looks at the economics of monthly creator-owned comics, as well as how trades fit into the picture; for creators, the monthlies provide a regular stream of income so they can always be working on the next issue. Brandon Montclare, Jim Zubkavich and others provide some first-hand commentary on how things work in the real world. [Multiversity Comics]

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Will Supreme Court weigh in on Kirby heirs’ fight with Marvel?

kirby marvel charactersIn an interesting analysis, Eriq Gardner of The Hollywood Reporter sees signs the U.S. Supreme Court might consider the five-year dispute between Jack Kirby’s heirs and Marvel over the copyrights to many of the company’s most popular characters.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in August upheld a 2011 ruling that Kirby’s Marvel creation in the 1960s were work for hire, and therefore not subject to copyright reclamation by his children. (They had filed 45 copyright-termination notices in September 2009, seeking to reclaim what they saw as their father’s stake in such characters as the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk; Marvel fired back with a lawsuit.) In their March petition to the Supreme Court, the Kirby heirs took aim at the Second Circuit’s “instance and expense” test, arguing that it “invariably finds that the pre-1978 work of an independent contractor is ‘work for hire’ under the 1909 Act.”

Gardner points out the the justices discussed the petition at a May conference, and then requested that Marvel respond (the company initially didn’t file a response). Those p0tential portents were followed by a pair of friend-of-the-court briefs: one filed by Bruce Lehman, former director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, on behalf of himself, former U.S. Register of Copyrights Ralph Oman, the Artists Rights Society and others, and the other by attorney Steven Smyrski on behalf of longtime Kirby friend Mark Evanier, Kirby historian John Morrow and the PEN Center USA.

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HeroesCon releases harassment policy

heroes con-harassment

Just days before HeroesCon kicks off in Charlotte, North Carolina, organizers have released a code of conduct addressing harassment and cautioning exhibitors about images and materials that exceed the event’s PG-13 standards.

Signed by founder Shelton Drum, the policy extends beyond the exhibition floor to after-hours events at host hotels, and spells out that, “HeroesCon is dedicated to providing a fun, safe and harassment-free convention experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age or religion.”

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Nominees announced for Will Eisner Retailer Award

eisner-spirit of comics

Comic-Con International has announced the nominees for the 2014 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award, given annually to a store that has done an outstanding job of supporting the comics medium in both the industry and in the local community.

This year, a record 37 stores were nominated from across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore. The finalists will be announced the week before Comic-Con International, and the winner revealed July 25 during the Eisner Awards ceremony. The 2014 nominees are:

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Comics A.M. | Turkish cartoonist begins prison sentence

Mehmet Düzenli

Mehmet Düzenli

Legal | Turkish cartoonist Mehmet Düzenli began serving a three-month sentence this week on charges of insulting Muslim preacher Adnan Oktar, who espouses controversial views, such as creationism and Holocaust denial. Oktar sued Düzenli over a cartoon about him, and Düzenli refused to appeal the sentence on the grounds that even if it were suspended, he still would not be able to express himself freely. “If Mr. Oktar has the right to claim that he is the Mahdi [the redeemer who is supposed to appear at the ‘end times’], I have the right to say that he is lying,” he said. [Reporters Without Borders]

Comics sales | ICv2 has sales estimates for the direct market in May, which was a good month for chart-toppers, with four titles selling more than 100,000 copies, compared to just one in each of the first three months of the year. The top seller was Marvel’s Original Sin #1, at 147,045 copies, but ICv2 notes that sales were juiced by incentives, including variant covers and a plastic eyeball, and that orders for the second issue are considerably lower. They also give the top 400 comics and the top 300 graphic novels charts for the month. [ICv2]

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A creator’s eye view of Graphicly

Graphicly

Graphicly

The announcement late last month that digital distributor Graphicly would close and its key employees join self-publishing platform Blurb was met immediately by questions, many of which centered on whether the company’s clients will be paid what they’re owed.

Originally envisioned as “iTunes for comics,” Boulder, Colorado-based Graphicly was soon overshadowed by competitor comiXology, and in 2012 shuttered its comics app to focus instead on providing visually based books and comics to eBook platforms. In its most recent incarnation, Graphicly was a digital conversion and distribution service: For a fee of $150, the company would convert a comic to ePub and other formats and distribute it to digital platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Apple’s iBooks. Graphicly would then act as middleman, collecting money from sales on those platforms and passing it along to the creators. Unlike other digital comics distributors, Graphicly didn’t take a cut of sales on eBook platforms, just the upfront fee.

Since Graphicly announced its closing on May 27, a number of creators have asserted publicly that the company wasn’t tracking sales correctly and hasn’t paid them what they’re owed from sales. Bleeding Cool spoke to Dave Dellecese and representatives of Th3rd World Studios, as well as a former Graphicly employee. At The Beat, Marc Ellerby and Mike Garley told similar stories, and Eric Grissom and Dara Naraghi added their names in the comments. Ellerby tweeted:

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Reminder: Eisner Awards voting ends Friday

eisnerawards_logoComic-Con International is fast approaching, and so too is the deadline for online voting for the 2014 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards: It’s midnight Friday (June 13).

Among those eligible to vote — you can do so here — are comics creators (writers, artists, colorists and letterers), editors, publishers, retailers, graphic novel librarians and scholars, and all nominees. The full list of nominees, which again includes Comic Book Resources for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism, can be found here.

This year’s judging panel consisted of retailer Kathy Bottarini, author/educator William H. Foster, reviewer Christian Lipski, Comic-Con International board member Lee Oeth, library curator Jenny Robb and Eisner Award-nominated cartoonist/critic James Romberger.

Comic-Con International will be held July 24-27 in San Diego. The Eisner winners will be announced Friday, July 25 during the annual awards ceremony.

Comics A.M. | Relaunched Eagle Awards renamed again

True Believers Comic Awards

True Believers Comic Awards

Awards | The awards ceremony for the recently renamed Stan Lee Eagle Awards has disappeared from the program of the London Film and Comic Con, and has been replaced by the True Believers Comic Awards. It’s not clear whether this is just a name change or something more, as Mike Conroy, the organizer of both awards, had no comment, but the Stan Lee nominations page is gone. There is an online voting page for the True Believers Comic Awards, however. Lee is still scheduled to attend the event in person. [Down the Tubes]

Creators | Writer Caitlin Kittredge talks about her first comic, Coffin Hill. [The Kindle Post]

Creators | I interviewed the “three-headed monster” behind the Adventures in Cartooning books — James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost — about their new kids’ graphic novel Sleepless Knight. [Good Comics for Kids]

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Prism Comics opens submissions for 2014 Queer Press Grant

queer press grantPrism Comics, the nonprofit organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender creators, comics and readers, has opened submissions for the 2014 Queer Press Grant.

The grant is awarded to writers/artists or teams self-publishing comic books, comic strips, webcomics or graphic novels with significant LGBT characters and themes; creators don’t need to be LGBT to apply. Entries are judged by the Prism board and past recipients based first on artistic merit, and then financial need, proposal presentation and the work’s contributions to the LGBT community.

The grant is funded through donations from creators and fans. Past winners include Hazel Newlevant, Robert Kirby, Eric Orner and Megan Rose Gedris.

Guidelines can be found on the Prism Comics website. The deadline for proposals is Sept. 1; the recipient will be announced at the Alternative Press Expo, held Oct. 4-5 in San Francisco.

Free Comic Book Day sees record-breaking turnout

fcbd pic

Retailers gave away a record 4.7 million comics on Free Comic Book Day, up slightly from the more than 4.6 million handed out in 2013. According to Diamond Comic Distributors, more than 1 million fans — an attendance record — showed up at more than 2,100 participating locations on May 3.

“Free Comic Book Day was a tremendous success this year,” FCBD spokesperson Jason Blanchard said in a statement. “A large percent of participants celebrated FCBD for the first time and loved it! The fans were pleased with the variety of comics available and commented on the fact there were numerous kids comics, making FCBD an even bigger family-orientated event.”

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Comics A.M. | Amazon breaks silence in Hachette dispute

Amazon

Amazon

Retailing | Finally breaking its silence regarding the feud with Hachette over sales terms, Amazon acknowledged it’s buying less print inventory and “safety stock” from the publisher and is no longer taking pre-orders for its titles. And while Amazon conceded that “Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives,” the retail giant said “we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon.” The company also recognized the affect the dispute may have on authors, revealing it offered to fund 50 percent of an author pool to help mitigate the impact. Hachette responded, saying it was glad Amazon has admitted its actions have an effect on authors: “We will spare no effort to resume normal business relations with Amazon—which has been a great partner for years — but under terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing, and distributing them, at the same time that it recognizes Amazon’s importance as a retailer and innovator.” [Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat]

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Warren Ellis reveals ‘a thing that I probably shouldn’t’: ‘Trees’ numbers

trees1In an industry that’s quick to trumpet distributor-level sellouts and multiple printing, publishers and creators are generally reluctant to reveal any actual sales numbers. Sure, there are those monthly direct-market sales estimates, but they’re just that — estimates (and most anyone who attempts to divine meaning from them is usually quickly reminded of their inaccuracy).

And so it was refreshing to see Warren Ellis disclose orders for the first issue of Trees, his new Image Comics collaboration with Jason Howard, in his Orbital Operations e-newsletter. Or, as he puts it, “I am going to tell you a thing that I probably shouldn’t.”

Retailers ordered about 38,500 copies — “I don’t recall the precise number and can’t check it right this second,” he writes — and he and Howard authorized a print run of 50,000.

Ellis confesses, “That’s a big overprint, and it could easily blow up in our faces — if the overprint doesn’t sell, then the print cost is taken out of our hides. On the other hand: if you go looking for it, and your store tells you it’s sold out or that they couldn’t get any, you can tell them that I told you we printed 12K extra copies.”

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Comics A.M. | C2E2 sees growth in attendance, floor space

C2E2

C2E2

Conventions | Lance Fensterman, ReedPOP’s global senior vice president, talks about his company’s strategy of focusing on a few big shows, rather than a lot of smaller ones, and gives the numbers for last month’s Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo: Attendance was about 62,900, up 18 percent from last year, and the show floor grew by 15,000 square feet. Attendees are mostly in the 18-to-35 age group, and the majority are male, although the proportion of women at C2E2 has increased by 6 percent since 2011. Male or female, many of the folks on the floor seem to be “casual consumers” rather than “hardcore fans”: About 50 percent of attendees at New York Comic Con were there for the first time. “Depending on which exhibiting company you’re talking to, they either love it or they’re not sure what to do with it,” Fensterman said. “You’re delivering new readers and new potential consumers. We think it’s cool that you’re getting that fresh perspective, not quite so jaded (been there, done that).” [ICv2]

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Van Lente & Skillman launch Kickstarter for ‘King Kirby’ play

king kirby

The husband-and-wife team of Fred Van Lente and Crystal Skillman have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund King Kirby, a play about the life of legendary comics creator Jack Kirby. Characterized as “a real-life Adventures of Kavalier & Klay,” the production is set to be staged at Brooklyn’s Brick Theater as part of the Comic Book Theater Festival on June 20, the day the campaign ends.

“King Kirby has been a long-term passion project of mine,” Van Lente, known for his work on such comics as Action Philosophers, Archer & Armstrong and The Incredible Hercules, said in a statement. “With Crystal’s help, it’s down on paper. Now, with your help, we’ll bring this crucial piece of comics history to life on stage.”

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