Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
On the heels of its last Kickstarter campaign, which will fund a reprint of Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing the Earth, Digital Manga inaugurated a new Kickstarter drive last week, this one dedicated to producing a print edition of another Tezuka manga Barbara.
Whether the book will actually be published is no longer in question — the campaign reached its goal last week. The question is whether this is how comics publishers should be doing business.
On the one hand, you can argue that Barbara is a book that would be difficult to publish in English by the traditional means. It is one of Tezuka’s more outré books, with adult content that will make it hard to place in the usual channels. Here’s the blurb:
Wandering the packed tunnels of Shinjuku Station, famous author Yosuke Mikura makes a strange discovery: a seemingly homeless drunk woman who can quote French poetry. Her name is Barbara. He takes her home for a bath and a drink, and before long Barbara has made herself into Mikura’s shadow, saving him from egotistical delusions and jealous enemies. But just as Mikura is no saint, Barbara is no benevolent guardian angel, and Mikura grows obsessed with discovering her secrets, tangling with thugs, sadists, magical curses and mythical beings – all the while wondering whether he himself is still sane.
At Manga Widget, Alex Hoffman argues that this is essentially the readers commissioning a book, as a patron might commission a painting from an artist. “Commissions are what works for microniche consumer materials,” Hoffman argues, adding,
This seems quaint now, but it was big news in March 2009 when IDW Publishing made its Star Trek prequel comics available digitally on the iPhone/iPod Touch (the iPad hadn’t been invented yet, kids), and released the fourth issue the same day in print and digital. IDW’s partner in that endeavor was iVerse, and while the publisher’s digital strategy evolved over the next few years, iVerse remained as the provider for its branded iPad app… until this week, when IDW announced it has switched the provider of the branded IDW app to comiXology.
It’s big news, but in an insider-baseball sort of way. Readers who are already riding on the digital comics bandwagon won’t notice a difference. IDW started putting its comics on the comiXology digital comics service a few months ago, and when I checked iVerse’s Comics + app this morning, the IDW comics hadn’t disappeared. That isn’t surprising: IDW has spread its nets wide, putting comics on everything from the Kindle to the manga site eManga. So the headline on the press release is really just a change in the back end. What is really significant is that comiXology now has nearly a complete collection, providing digital distribution and branded apps for almost every major publisher except Dark Horse (which has its own app) and Archie (which puts their comics on comiXology’s Comics app but has iVerse run their branded app).
National airlines like to add a bit of local color to their flights — I remember when I was a kid, getting Smarties and Beano comics on our Aer Lingus flights to Ireland. Now Japan Airlines is taking that high-tech: Passengers on their 787 Dreamliner flights, which start next year, will be able to read 30 different manga for free on electronic setback readers.
Initially the manga will be in Japanese only, but English translations will be available eventually. But don’t plan on buying a plane ticket from the United States to dodge paying for your manga: The service will initially be available on flights from Tokyo to New Delhi, Moscow and Beijing.
I’m biased: 12 percent of the titles that they’ve physically removed were written by me. From my perspective, it’s a ridiculous overreaction [by Barnes & Noble]. The idea that these people [Amazon] have a digital exclusive, therefore [B&N] will give them a physical exclusive, too — I’m not sure it’s a sane business practice.
If you force publishers to decide between the Amazon tablet and the Barnes & Noble Nook, some of them may come down on the Amazon side.
Creator Neil Gaiman on Barnes & Noble’s removal of DC’s graphic novels from its shelves after Amazon announced DC’s graphic novels would be exclusive on the Kindle Fire e-reader for a limited time. Gaiman’s comment is a reminder that this action affects real people—and carries a certain amount of risk for both creators and publishers.
Noted in passing: I was in my local Barnes & Noble over the weekend, and while the graphic novel section has shrunk way down (to a single six-bay bookcase), there were plenty of DC graphic novels on the shelf.
Creators | The Hero Initiative offers an update from colorist Tom Ziuko, who was hospitalized earlier this year for acute kidney failure and other health conditions, and then returned to the hospital for emergency surgery about a month ago. “I can’t impress upon you enough how frightening it is to actually come up against a life-threatening medical situation (not to mention two times in less than a year), and not have the financial means to survive if you’re suddenly not able to earn a living. Like so many other freelancers out there, I live paycheck to paycheck, unable to afford health insurance. Without an organization like the Hero Initiative to lend me support in this time of dire need, I truly don’t know where I would be today,” Ziuko said. [The Hero Initiative]
Publishing | CNN asks the question “Are women and comics risky business?” as Christian Sager talks to former DC editor Janelle Asselin, blogger Jill Pantozzi, Womanthology organizer Renae De Liz and others about the number of women who work in comics, the portrayal of female characters and why comic companies don’t actively market books to women. “Think about it from the publisher’s point of view,” Asselin said. “Say you sell 90 percent of your comics to men between 18 and 35, and 10 percent of your comics to women in the same age group. Are you going to a) try to grow that 90 percent of your audience because you feel you already have the hook they want and you just need to get word out about it, or b) are you going to try to figure out what women want in their comics and do that to grow your line?” [CNN]
As the shape of the digital comics world emerges from the haze of uncertainty, readers are saying one thing loud and clear: “I want to own my digital comics.” And most publishers are sidestepping the whole issue by saying “We will gladly sell you a license to read our digital comics” and going no further.
So when Viz Media reps unveiled their SuBLime line of Boys Love (yaoi) manga at Yaoi-Con on Saturday, they made manga history: They will be publishing some titles digitally in a download-to-own format, according to manga blogger Deb Aoki, who was tweeting from the panel. The licenses will be worldwide, not restricted to the U.S. and Canada like Viz’s other digital releases. What’s more, the downloads will be PDFs, which can be read on a Kindle, Nook or iOS device as well as pretty much any computer.
That’s right: DRM-free downloadable comics, available worldwide. And the cover price on these e-books is a very reasonable $5.99.
Earlier this year, Mia Weisner, a graduate student at the University of Applied Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, asked readers of the webcomics news site Fleen to help out with her doctoral research by answering a survey on digital comics. Fleen’s Gary Tyrrell posted the results this week, and they make for interesting reading.
Of the 572 people who responded, only half said they read superhero comics. Action/adventure, humor/comedy and science fiction were the top genres, with over 60 percent each. Of course, this wasn’t a random sample (you can tell from the very first number: 98.6 percent were comics readers), and the preferred genres may reflect the sorts of things people come to Fleen to read about in the first place.
Still, these are the folks who are most likely to read digital comics, so the numbers paint an interesting picture. Some of the highlights:
ComiXology announced today that Chip Mosher, former marketing director for BOOM! Studios, has joined the digital comics provider as vice president of marketing, public relations and business development. Mosher left BOOM! at the end of September.
“We’re doubly excited to add a tremendous asset like Chip to our team, while also expanding our physical presence to the West Coast,” said David Steinberger, CEO and co-founder of comiXology, in a press release. “Chip has one of the most imaginative and aggressive marketing and PR minds in the business, and his diverse background in comics brings a unique perspective to comiXology. And while comiXology’s presence is already felt worldwide, having a physical presence in the entertainment capital of the world has become a must for us!”
Check out the press release after the jump, and watch for an interview with Chip on Comic Book Resources later today. Update: Read it here!
Some manga publishers do social media very well. Others don’t. Kodansha Comics took forever to even put up a website (and the one they have is pretty bare-bones—I think they just added a “News” section this week), and they told fans at San Diego Comic-Con that they expected to have Facebook and Twitter accounts by the end of the year—hardly an ambitious schedule. So an impatient fan has done it for them, creating a Kodansha USA fan page on Facebook, complete with logo and the note “I’m hoping if we can make a good fan page it will inspire the real Kodansha Comics USA will make one for them self.”
Ricardo Porven claims that his webcomic Donnie Goth is the first comic ever to be distributed entirely as a Facebook app, with no outside website and no other way to view it. In his press release, Porven says, “Facebook had all the tools I needed to run a successful webcomic. And the viral capabilities to position it for rapid growth. It was the perfect fit.”
That may be, but putting all your eggs in the Facebook basket seems to limit the potential audience somewhat. Aside from that handful of folks who aren’t on Facebook, many users (myself included) shy away from apps because they require you to turn over personal information. When I clicked on the Donnie Goth app, Facebook requested permission to share my “basic information,” which includes my name, gender, user ID, list of friends and “any other information I’ve shared with everyone.” Admittedly, all of that is already out there on my Facebook page, but the idea of handing it over in a neat package to an outside entity give me a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. On the other hand, if I could simply click over to the page, I’d do it — and maybe even “like” it.
It may be, though, that Porven is calculating that the intensity of the experience for those who do use apps outweighs the loss of Facebook-shy readers like me. He has already used MySpace to boost traffic to his original site, so he has every reason to be optimistic that Donnie Goth will go viral on Facebook.
At The Comics Journal, Ryan Holmberg has a lengthy and intricate piece on the Japanese creator Suzuki Miso and his coverage, in manga form, of the effects of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami on the manga industry. There’s a lot to chew on here, and Holmberg casts a skeptical eye on some of Suzuki’s reporting, but there is also a fascinating description of how the Japanese comics market works and why the earthquake hit it so hard. One striking similarity between Japan and the United States is that while comics themselves are only a tiny part of the nation’s economy, they are fertile ground for properties that are developed in other media with much greater impact.
Of course, being part of a comic itself, Suzuki’s journalism was directly affected by the very factors he was writing about: The first chapter of his manga, “The Day Japan and I Shook,” appeared in Comic Ryū, but that magazine was forced to suspend publication shortly afterward. Since then Suzuki has been publishing it online, and it will pick up again in print in December, when Comic Ryū resumes print publication.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, many publishers put their manga magazines online for free. This was due to disruptions in the distribution chain as well as shortages of ink, paper, fuel and other supplies. While it was presented as a selfless gesture of help to those stricken by the earthquake, Holmberg points out that the earthquake victims were less likely to have internet than residents of Tokyo and other less affected areas. Furthermore, the big publishers resumed print publication and distribution as quickly as possible, suggesting that their benevolence was also good business sense: Posting the manga online kept readers in the loop while the physical comics were unavailable to them. This is, of course, exactly what Suzuki is doing.
At any rate, this is one comic I’d love to see translated. JManga, call your office!
Letterer Jim Campbell takes a run at the problem with digital comics at his blog, and he comes to the conclusion that distributors (such as comiXology, iVerse, and Graphicly) are taking too big a cut.
First, he calculates the cost of labor to produce a single comic, then he looks at the way the various partners take their cut, as described by Mark Millar earlier this year:
1/ Apple take 30% right off the bat.
2/ In the case of Wanted, Comixology then splits 50/50 with the publisher.
3/ Then the publisher pays the agent and creative team out of the remaining cash depending on their deal.
If the comic is priced at 99 cents, then Apple gets 30 cents, the digital distributor takes 35 cents, and the publisher is left with 35 cents (yeah, there’s an extra penny there—I’m rounding, OK?). Under this scenario, the publisher would have to sell over 17,000 copies, Campbell reckons, just to pay their talent—forget the editors, marketers, accountants, and all the other necessities a publisher has, as well as any notion of profit. Looked at from that point of view, it’s pretty hopeless.
Campbell’s great insight is that this process is reversing the traditional model. Continue Reading »
Frank Page has been drawing Bob the Squirrel since 2002—”in internet years, that makes the strip as old as the last ice age,” he said in an e-mail—and he draws much of his inspiration from everyday life. “90% of what happens to me in my real life, whether it is ugly, embarrassing or not, gets put in the strip,” he said. “It’s that willingness to show the blemishes that really speaks to my readers. Anyone who draws a daily comic strip will agree that the process of creating is simultaneously the best therapy and the quickest route to insanity.”
Perhaps that’s why he hit on what seems at first like a crazy idea: He put together a 22-page comic telling the origin story of the title character and invited readers to download it and pay whatever they think is fair. So how’s that going? I was curious, so I e-mailed Frank a couple of questions, and he was kind enough to respond. While donations were “all over the map,” he said, “people seem to be comfortable with the $3-$5 range,” which he characterized as “very fair.”
Quick Q&A after the jump.
CBR’s Alex Dueben interviewed Flight editor Kazu Kibuishi about the release of the eighth and final volume in the much-acclaimed anthology series this week, and Kibuishi talked a bit about why he and his editor decided to bring it to an end:
While “Flight” continues to be very successful for an anthology, it doesn’t sell enough copies to be considered a hit in the mainstream book publishing world, and our sales numbers were not rising. My goal with the project was to reach new readers and bring them into comics, but I was seeing that we weren’t doing a good enough job of it. I think much of the blame can be placed on the size and price of the books. It’s just a bit much to ask someone who has never read the other “Flight” books to spend $27 on a paperback. So I realized that the time spent on the series could be better spent helping the artists begin working on their own books. We’ll revisit the project again, but it will probably show up in a different form.
As comics shift more and more into a graphic novel model, Kibuishi’s words are worth thinking about. Book publishers and comics publishers have different ways of doing things, and apparently the Flight books, as great as they are, didn’t fit neatly into either category. On the other hand, they launched a lot of artists who did go on to make successful graphic novels.
And there’s a bit of good news in the article: Flight 8 is the last volume of the numbered series, but Kibuishi is also working with editor Sheila Keenan on one more volume of the all-ages Flight Explorer anthology, and he will be applying the lessons learned to this new book.
Heidi MacDonald points to an article in the Hollywood Reporter about the runaway success of Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid novels (which are often classed with graphic novels, although they are really more of a hybrid format). There’s a lot to chew on in the article, and Heidi’s post gets some interesting comments about the fact that kids are reading—and buying—lots of comics lately; the only writer whose work is outselling Kinney right now is Stieg Larsson.
One of the really interesting angles of this story, though, is that from day one, the first three volumes of Diary of a Wimpy Kid have been available online, for free. It started out as a web-only book on the kids’ site Funbrain.com, and author Jeff Kinney has insisted on keeping it there. How does that work? I suspect there are two kinds of readers: Those who know about Wimpy Kid but not Funbrain (I’m guessing the target audience doesn’t spend a lot of time using BitTorrent) and those who go to Funbrain for math help, as my daughter did, and stumble on Wimpy Kid along the way. So he’s tapping into two separate audiences, much as comics publishers hope to do with digital and direct market sales. In addition, Kinney upgraded both the writing and the art for the print edition and threw in some extra twists that aren’t online. Although this seems to be pretty ad hoc, it sounds like a pretty good business plan to me.
Kinney had better watch his back, though: James Patterson, the author of Maximum Ride and Daniel X, both of which have done well both as prose novels and as graphic novel adaptations, has just published Middle School, a prose-graphic novel hybrid with a bit of a Wimpy Kid vibe—and he has put the first 20 chapters online for free.