Axel-In-Charge: Waid & Samnee on "Black Widow" and the Dawn of the All-New, All-Different Era
It used to be gospel among publishers that getting a book banned in Boston juiced sales. Can the same be true for Kindle? Digital Manga is banking on it; the Akadot retail site is offering all three of the books that were removed from Kindle (presumably for adult content) as a discount bundle. These are print editions, and the price, $18.99 for all three, is a considerable discount over regular retail, so it’s a good deal. The Digital folks have done well for themselves out of this whole affair, as the three books in question (two of which were deep backlist) have gotten a lot of attention; advertising them as too hot for digital is a pretty shrewd move.
At Publishers Weekly, Todd Allen crunches some numbers and points out that if you look strictly at the number of books solicited per month, you could argue that Kickstarter is the third largest indie graphic novel publisher in the U.S. In May, Allen points out, 10 graphic novels and 5 single-issue comics were pitched on Kickstarter. Looking strictly at graphic novels, more books were solicited on Kickstarter than by Image, Boom, or even Vertigo.
Allen admits he is comparing apples and oranges:
It perhaps isn’t natural to look at Kickstarter as a publisher. Functionally, it exists somewhere between a direct-to-consumer pre-sales program and a PBS/NPR pledge drive. Consumers are pledging money to projects they’d like to see completed and if they pledge in sufficient amounts (in most cases) they get a copy of the finished work.
Indeed, as the name implies, Kickstarter is mostly used to get a project off the ground, either to help fund a self-published work or pay an artist to work on a book that will be published by a traditional publisher. It’s one-time money; you don’t fund a monthly comic on Kickstarter, you fund your first issue or two. Traditional publishers build a brand—Kickstarter will publish 10 or 15 different comics every month, never repeating itself, while Vertigo will publish issue after issue of Fables and American Vampire. The other major difference is that Kickstarter is just a storefront. The artist does all the work of creation, promotion, and distribution. There is no editor, no marketer, no sales person (unless the artist hires them). Kickstarter may help fund and publicize a project, but it won’t get the completed work into comics shops or bookstores.
Allen envisions an expansion of the model in which creators use Kickstarter to pay themselves and the cost of printing a small run, say 2,000 to 3,000 copies of a comic or graphic novel, and then selling it both through Kickstarter and in the direct market. The snag here is getting it to the direct market: Diamond doesn’t generally take chances on small comics, although the interest generated through Kickstarter might change that. Furthermore, as many comics creators have learned, promoting and marketing your comic is a lot of work, and doing it all yourself takes time away from the drawing board. That’s not a sustainable model in the long run for most creators. While it’s a great incubator for new projects, Kickstarter is not likely to upend traditional comics publishing anytime soon.
Comics-and-More blogger Dave Ferraro, who works at a Barnes & Noble, remarked last week that the bookstore chain has moved comics from the Games section to the newsstand and greatly expanded the selection, from about 10 to about 60, mostly Marvel, DC, and Archie. Todd Allen spotted some in the wild (including a very non-mainstream comic), and Rich Johnston has another example.
I’m not sure this is as much of a novelty as people think: The Borders near me always had a large selection of comics on its newsstand—mostly Marvel, DC, and Archie—and while they were set off in a corner, they were very visible and the selection was good. Since my store is gone, along with hundreds of other Borders stores, B&N may simply be picking up on an unfilled niche.
Todd makes an interesting observation:
The Marvel titles were all marked “Newsstand” and priced $3.99, with the exception of Incredible Hulks. That one went for a massive $4.99. That means some $2.99 titles jacked up $1 for newsstand and some $3.99 titles staying steady. I have no immediate explanation for the Incredible Hulks price.
ICv2 has news that the iTunes search engine now reaches all the way in to in-app purchases. That should make life a lot easier comics readers, especially those new to the system who haven’t yet internalized which comics are on comiXology and which are on Comics+ or Graphicly — or only in a single-publisher app.
This solves the problem I pointed out in December, that with no universal search engine, digital comics were becoming a walled kingdom. However, the search function has a ways to go. Searching on Stan Lee’s Starborn, which seemed like a good test case, returned six different apps that include the comic. However, the search results only lead to the app, not to the comic itself. The user still has to exit the iTunes store, go to the app, and search within the app to find the comic. Extra steps? That is not the sort of elegant user interface we iPad users are accustomed to. In a case like Starborn, where the comic is in multiple apps, readers who are new to comics may be confused by the multiplicity of choices. And it did occur to me to wonder what the logic is behind the order of the search results — why is comiXology first and Stan Lee’s own app in the last row?
Beyond that, the double search means that bad results are a bigger headache. Checking to see if scanlations linked to by bootleg manga apps were included in the search results (they aren’t), I searched for “Fairy Tail,” the name of a Kodansha manga, knowing that it is not available digitally. ComiXology turned up as the first search result, but of course (I double-checked), Fairy Tail isn’t included in comiXology. I’m sure there are comics with the words “fairy” and “tail” in their titles in the comiXology roster, and the result is that the user is led on a frustrating wild goose chase. One obvious way to reduce the incidence of bad results would be for the iTunes search engine to allow users to search on an exact phrase by enclosing it in quotes, as Google does, but that doesn’t seem to be the case (at least, I got the same funny results when I put “Fairy Tail” in quotes).
The new capability has the obvious benefit of drawing in readers who are new to comics. This wasn’t really possible before, but now if someone searches on, say, “Green Lantern,” they get the comics apps. The dedicated Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead apps were created precisely to address this problem, and while apps like that will still have some value, the new capability means they will no longer be necessary.
Manga fans have fond memories of Go! Comi, a manga publisher that produced some interesting and high-quality series during its brief lifetime: You Higuri’s Cantarella, the story of the cursed, but incredibly hot, Borgia family; After School Nightmare, a gender-bender tale that was nominated for an Eisner Award; and the beautifully drawn, sensitively written Song of the Hanging Sky. They also published entertaining trash like Train + Train that was simply fun to read. We liked Go! Comi.
Did we like them enough that we would donate money to help them get started again? As Kevin noted earlier, some enterprising scammer apparently thinks so: The Go! Comi web domain expired last year, and it looks like someone has picked it up and launched a fake Go! Comi website, complete with an appeal for donations so they can relaunch. Continue Reading »
Toronto-based publisher Udon Entertainment, best known for comics based on Capcom games like Street Fighter, is launching a new line of original graphic novels—and dropping the monthly-comic format.
The line is launching with the first volume of RandomVeus, an original graphic novel by Jeffrey “Chamba” Cruz, who has honed his skills working on Udon’s Street Fighter graphic novels. Here’s the publisher’s brief description, which I could not possibly improve upon:
Created by Jeffrey ‘Chamba’ Cruz and co-writer Leonard Bermingham, RandomVeus stars bouffant-sporting hero Raimundo and the team of One-Dimensional Couriers as they deliver mysterious packages to every corner of the wild world known as the RandomVeus! Octopus ninjas, jazz-playing demons, buxom lady-pirates, cyborg gorillas, samurai mushrooms, and one giant furry squid monster are all on tap in this zaniest of zany adventures!
That certainly seems to have a lot of crowd-pleasers, but don’t go looking for a monthly fix: Udon will be publishing these original stories strictly as graphic novels in an amply sized 8″ x 11″ format, and they plan to move in that direction with their game-based comics as well.
“We want to give our artists’ stories the best presentation possible right out the gate, so our focus is shifting to this deluxe format for our releases, dropping the monthly ‘floppy’ comic entirely,” says UDON managing editor Matt Moylan. “While comic book sales are down all over the industry, UDON continues to do very well with our trade paperbacks and art books. We’re taking the best of both by producing full length graphic novels at the same oversized dimensions that readers of our art books and ‘Ultimate Edition’ collections have come to enjoy.”
BOOM! Studios announced via press release this week that the first printing of Hellraiser #1 has sold out, with a second printing on the way. While Hellraiser #1, which was released last week, is no longer available from distributors, your local comic shop may still have copies on store shelves.
These sorts of announcements are fairly common nowadays, to the point that it’s probably pretty rare that we’d even blog about them. Michael May did a really thoughtful interview with the Archaia folks earlier this year about sellouts and what they mean. Looking back at Michael’s intro, he highlighted some questions that I know go through my mind when I see these sorts of press releases, things like whether retailers under-ordered, was the print run really low, did the comic just really click with the audience or was it marketed really well?
While no doubt it doesn’t hurt to have Clive Barker, a writer with a built-in fanbase, returning to write one of his signature creations, BOOM! gave credit to that last one in the press release. The company released a PDF copy of Prelude to the Hellraiser #1 on the day the comic came out.
“Given the tremendous fan response online and how well Hellraiser #1 sold in comic shops nationwide, I feel confident in saying the online PDF worked just as we’d hoped,” Chip Mosher, BOOM!’s marketing director, told Robot 6. “But beyond selling out, we wanted to make it as easy as possible for comic book fans and non-comic book fans to host and share the all-new, all-original Prelude to the Hellraiser #1 PDF and give as many people a chance to experience the beginning of an all-new Hellraiser series. We know there are plenty of horror and Clive Barker fans who may not be comics fans, so by having a quick, easy and completely free way to read and share the Prelude to the Hellraiser #1 we hoped this would be enough of a catalyst to get more people interested in comic books.”
Every year, I participate in my city’s Community Reading Day, and every year I bring a big bag of comics to whatever class is lucky enough to get me as their reader. This year it was a fifth-grade class, and I thought their take on comics was pretty interesting — and should be troubling to publishers and marketers.
I always start by asking the kids what comics they read. Calvin & Hobbes is the one constant from year to year — often it’s the only comic most of them can think of. No one seems to read current newspaper strips, or monthly comics, or many graphic novels, but everyone knows Calvin & Hobbes. There is usually one kid who reads superheroes, but this year there were none (although one likes to draw them). Someone had a copy of Big Nate, and two girls who were obviously friends mentioned the manga +Anima. “It’s on the Internet,” one of them explained. Not legally, of course, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them that. If I worked for Tokyopop, though, I’d be worried — they were obviously reading it on a bootleg site, and what’s more, it’s the only manga they read. Whatever marketing Tokyopop is doing is missing the core audience. (Maybe they should buy ads on the bootleg sites.)
The digital comics scene is still evolving, with lots of complications; over at Comics Alliance, David Brothers samples all five of the different ways you can buy Marvel comics digitally, none of which is fully compatible with the other, and none of which is fully satisfactory.
The one thing that all the modes of buying Marvel comics have in common is that they are basically rentals; the Marvel DCU service is available only as long as you keep up your subscription, and even the comiXology and Chrome comics could disappear if the provider disappears. There’s another way of selling digital comics that none of the big publishers will touch: Downloadable, non-copy-protected PDFs (or CBZs or CBRs, which are like PDFs in that they are portable). I just sampled two different sites that sell comics this way, a single-artist site and a digital storefront, and despite a few hiccups in the latter, the experiences were remarkably similar.
The first was the Agreeable Comics store, which is a very simple storefront that sells just one thing: comics by Kevin Church and his collaborators. Buying a comic there was amazingly easy—I didn’t have to set up an account or remember one more password. I chose a comic (I went with the ironic choice, a short horror comic called Copy Protection), clicked the link, and was taken to a PayPal page, where I entered my password and authorized the sale. I was immediately sent two e-mails, one with a receipt, the other with a link to download the comic. That was it. No profile to create, no username, no social networking. I just went to a web store and bought a comic.
The big news this morning is that Tokyopop has signed with Diamond Comics Distributors. Just about five years ago, Tokyopop inked what was supposed to be a mega-deal with HarperCollins. In addition to taking over distribution of Tokyopop’s books, HC would partner with them to develop manga based on popular YA properties like the novels of Meg Cabot. If you have a minute (hey, long weekend going up), go refresh your memory with David Welsh’s delightfully snarky column noting that the deal was not quite as novel as it was touted to be.
Lea Hernandez also had a bit of fun with the press release, mocking Tokyopop CEO Stu Levy’s quote:
St00 Le\/y makes his usual incomprehensible pronouncement: “[the deal] would expand the manga lifestyle into mainstream youth culture, building a new paradigm in entertainment, where east meets west and a new generation of mult-ethnic creators can flourish”
My own reaction at the time was more guarded, noting that manga adaptations of graphic novels didn’t thrill me all that much, manga being a separate medium and all, and I hoped this wouldn’t lead Tokyopop away from the Japanese product.
Wood starts off with a little analysis, pointing out that although TMA was well loved by some vocal fans, it didn’t sell well, and in fact, all-ages material doesn’t do well in the direct market. There is also the fact that Thor is not a particularly popular character, and there are a number of other Thor titles on the market. On the other hand, Wood feels that TMA was at least as high quality as the others, and better than some, so why didn’t it sell? A commenter gets to the heart of the matter:
Consider too that Thor TMA is neither in 616 or Ultimates continuity. As much as some hate this fact, if it “counted”, more traditional consumers would have bought it.
You know, I do hate that fact. There’s an element of trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole here. Most comics shops don’t have a big kid audience, and despite Diamond’s attempt to change that, the fact remains that most comic-shop customers aren’t kids and most kids never go near a comics shop. The direct market does a good job of delivering a specific product to a narrowly defined audience. That audience is not very interested in all-ages comics, and children aren’t interested in complicated continuity. This is a basic structural flaw: You have a huge potential market for these comics, but you are selling them in a place the target customer seldom goes to and may not even realize exists.
In some families, every child is given a Bible. In my family, every child got a copy of How to Lie with Statistics, which has given me an ingrained skepticism toward surveys of any kind.
So I didn’t fall out of my rocking chair when I read that someone has written a report stating that comics readers are an aging demographic and one out of four comics fans is over 65. At Comics Alliance, which has an interesting deconstruction of the contents of the report, commenter Robert Saggers sums up my thoughts:
Do I think 1 in 4 comic readers is over 65? No
Do I think 1 in 4 people who actually stop and bother to answer marketing research questions is over 65? Yes!
Surveys like this are fraught with peril. I started reading comics when I was 4 years old, but I doubt my mother would have let me talk to some guy on the telephone about it. And what, exactly, do they mean by “comics”? If you’re talking about superhero periodical comics sold in comics stores, then that number sounds a little more plausible, but not very — I think of the average direct market customer as being closer to 40 than 65, although that’s strictly anecdotal. But look at the numbers for Diary of a Wimpy Kid (the next book will have a first printing of 5 million copies) or Twilight: The Graphic Novel (first printing: 350,000 copies). Those don’t have a lot of senior appeal (other than as gifts for the grandchildren), but they outsell a lot of floppies. Someone at Comics Alliance speculated that the people surveyed interpreted “comics” to mean “newspaper comic strips,” which traditionally do appeal to older readers.
At The Sci-Fi Block, Robert Ring talked to BOOM! Studios Marketing Director Chip Mosher about the company’s decision to put its backlist online. This seems to have expanded the publisher’s market rather than cannibalize print sales, and Mosher explains why:
Before we went whole-hog, spread-eagle on making the whole BOOM! Studios back list available, we parsed the data and found out that 40% of the consumers of our digital comics are foreign. They are overseas, outside the country. So, that was really interesting. And that has stayed true. In the other surveys we’ve done we’ve found that about 20% of the people had never bought a comic book before, and then the rest were people who just hadn’t been to a comic shop in the last ten years.
He goes on to say that it’s a false analogy to compare the digitization of comics to the music business, because comics are consumed differently: For the existing fan base, going to the comic store and getting the print comic is part of the experience. Digital comics are a way to reach the millions of people who never set foot in a comics store.
Mike Jasper and Niki Smith won the November 2009 Zuda competition with their comic In Maps and Legends, and the comic started running there in May, but it came to an abrupt end when the site was shut down in July. But it’s coming back! Jasper and Smith will relaunch In Maps and Legends on a variety of different platforms on September 1, and more are coming.
They are currently negotiating with ComiXology, Robot Comics (distributors for Droid phones), Graphic.ly, and Wowio, which covers a lot of bases. It sounds like a complicated process, but good for them for making their comic available on every possible platform—it will be interesting to see which one works the best for them.
Good news from Dark Horse: according to the latest post on their Facebook, the publisher is having “one of its best years ever” and gives readers full credit:
We know there are illegal copies of our books available, but hope you understand that our editions are professionally translated, taken from the original creator files, and carefully tailored by the best in the industry.
Every time a reader chooses to purchase our volumes over stealing them online, American manga remains healthy.
They even acknowledge that they tend to be slow with their releases (Dark Horse is notorious for this) but they’re working on it. But this is what really caught my eye:
We’re currently at a very important point in our company. We know more adult and violent titles like Gantz, Beserk and The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service are beloved by mature readers, yet we’re proud to publish cross-appeal titles like Trigun and Neon Genesis Evangelion as well. But now the question is – What’s next?
They’re actually asking that question of readers, and they seem to be serious: “So tell us what you want to see, and we promise to look into the most popular licenses and bring them to American audiences in the coming months.” The readers oblige with some interesting responses in comments, but what I’m wondering is whether Dark Horse, which has made a pretty good go of selling manga to the more traditional comics-shop crowd, is contemplating a change in direction.