If it’s the first Grumpy Old Fan of 2013, it must be time for “Ten From the Old Year, Ten For the New.” For those who came in late, every January I evaluate 10 predictions/observations from the previous year, and present 10 for the next. Accordingly, first we have commentary on 2012′s items.
1. The Dark Knight Rises. I had three rather superficial questions about the final Christopher Nolan Batman movie. First, “[c]an it make a skillion dollars?” Not quite — while it did make over a billion dollars worldwide, it didn’t make as much as its predecessor domestically, and it came in second to The Avengers. Next was “[w]ill it have Robin?” Well … [SPOILER ALERT] it depends on your definition of “Robin,” I suppose. And finally, referring to certain issues about Bane’s elocution, “[w]ill it have subtitles?” Nope — as it turns out, they weren’t needed. Instead, Bane’s accent was perfectly suited to breaking not just Batman, but Alex Trebek as well.
“I think the digital playground is still working out its own rules for comics and the best ways in which to incorporate comics. The conceptual problem is that when a new delivery system comes up, everyone tries to shove previous content into the new venue without understanding the benefits of the new form, like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. It’s not just a new distribution system, it’s a new system, and you have to adapt and create something new and suited to its rules. When television was aborning, the fledgling networks brought in radio drama writers who wrote dramas or variety shows that were structurally identical to what they’d done in radio; playwrights brought in from New York to give the new form legitimacy wrote one-set or two-set plays that could have been produced on any stage, they just filmed the play. Digital comics = the filmed play. We’re not there yet. But we’ll get there.”
– J. Michael Straczynski, on the state of digital comics
Christopher Butcher has a nice reminiscence of how he discovered comics that shows up both the advantage the newsstand had and its fatal shortcoming. Little Christopher spotted The Transformers #3 in his local convenience store:
I loved Transformers, and didn’t realize that there were comics. I knew that there WERE such things as comics, I’d see them in the Beckers’ convenience store across the street from my house, but I wasn’t really interested … I asked (probably demanded) that my mom get it for me, that there are TRANSFORMERS ADVENTURES NOT ON TV AND LOOK IT ALSO HAS SPIDER-MAN IN IT THAT’S CRAZY. She relented.
But when he went back to the store, he learned that, unlike TV, the comics industry doesn’t churn out a new episode every day, and he would have to wait a month for the next comic — which, when it came in, was Issue 5. Which was equally awesome, but … what about Issue 4? I remember this problem — specifically, I remember when comics went from being mostly self-contained in a single issue to four-issue arcs, and suddenly it mattered what the number on the cover was. Here’s the thing about newsstands: They were everywhere, and you had the serendipity of just running across a comic you never knew existed, but because distribution wasn’t consistent (and neither were trips to the drugstore), you never knew if you would be able to get the next issue. Chris’ story has a happy ending (spoiler): His parents discovered a local comics shop and got the missing issues, and now grown-up Chris runs one.
On the other side of the coin, David Brothers writes about how he has gradually given up his Wednesday visits to the comics shop for reasons of both quality and space.
It’s been a while since anyone last issued an honest-to-goodness comics declaration, something Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors writer Mark Andrew Smith remedied this morning with the delivery of “The A to B Manifesto,” which challenges the current distribution system for (creator-owned) comics, which a characterizes as an upside-down pyramid “with the creators at the very bottom”:
In this upside down pyramid the creators are the last ones allowed to recoup from their work and they get the leftovers or scraps after everyone else is finished. (If there is anything left for them.)
The creators are the people who put in all of the time and energy into the very product that’s being sold. Even if you heavily promote your book, you’re doing it to make other people money.
It’s something Smith touched upon in his interview with Robot 6 about turning to Kickstarter to fund Sullivan’s Sluggers, the baseball-horror graphic novel he created with James Stokoe: “The Kickstarter model has room for publishers and also room for retailers. Comics are small right now and this is growth, and it helps the creators ,who should be at the top of the pyramid but are actually almost under it, to actually benefit and be rewarded for their labors.”
Creators | Novelist and X-Club writer Simon Spurrier recounts how he gave up his seat on a panel at last weekend’s London Super ComicCon to creator Tammy Taylor, in the spirit of “Panel Parity”: “Paul’s idea is that you can’t expect true gender parity in comics unless you create the conditions to facilitate it. Even if one has to dabble in positive discrimination, even if one must expect outraged cries of ‘tokenism!,’ ‘political correctness gone mad!,’ ‘patronising cockcentric condescension!,’ it’s worth it. So Paul created a movement he called ‘Panel Parity’ in which he planned to exercise the only real power he has – like any of us in the weird world of industry conventions – to make a difference. Paul pledged that whenever he’s invited onto a panel which doesn’t feature at least 50% women, he’ll surrender his own seat to a female speaker. Even if that means tracking down someone less ‘well-suited’ to discussing the topic at hand than himself. Even if it means disappointing people in the crowd who travelled to the show specifically to see him talk. As long as Said SheGuest is able to contribute in some way to the conversation, Paul feels her presence on stage is more valuable than his own. Which is a brave and important and splendid thing to say.” [Simon Spurrier]
The fantasy-action-comedy comic Skullkickers was one of the surprise hits of the past year, and now the creators are going to post the back issues on Keenspot. The web version starts out with two prequels, short stories that writer Jim Zubkavich and artist Chris Stevens created for Image’s Popgun Anthology.
While it may seem odd to post a comic for free while it’s still available for sale, this move makes a lot of sense: I’m guessing single issues that came out more than a year ago are no longer readily available (although digital editions still are at comiXology), but as the trades have sold pretty well, the creators may figure the value of the new readers who will come to the comic through Keenspot — and ultimately buy the print or digital editions — will more than compensate for any sales lost from those people who might have paid but decided to read Skullkickers for free instead.
This is a calculation every creator should make, because it may lead them to choose, as Zubkavich & Co. have done, to pre-empt the pirates and make their work available online on their own terms.
The big news in anime and manga circles last week was the announcement that Bandai Entertainment will stop releasing new anime and manga. The current catalog will stay in print, and the company will focus on licensing its products to other companies, but three of its five employees have been laid off.
Like manga, the anime industry in the U.S. has been troubled for a long time, and it’s tempting to blame this on piracy. Indeed, that’s exactly what Charles Maib of Kotaku did. Maib admits he doesn’t follow the anime and manga scene much any more, but that doesn’t stop him from delivering some strong opinions. What Maib does know is what it was like to be an old-time otaku, when you made your own fansubs with love and VHS tapes and chewing gum and chicken wire (which may have been technically illegal but wasn’t harming the industry at all), and also how much work it is to make your own content. Maib himself is a content creator, and he has a long paragraph where he explains all the steps you have to go through to make an animated cartoon.
And nobody seems to care. “Consumers have become selfish monsters who are strangling an industry that is already on its knees,” he says, and he points the finger squarely at fansubbers and other pirates, and those who avail themselves of their services:
We created the beast, and we continue to feed it. We’ve reached the point that it’s not uncommon for major websites to publish links to pirated content. Pirating has gone mainstream, and unless we as consumers have the fortitude to reverse our actions, allow the market to work as it should, and develop the patience to wait for new products to become available in our region, or even not become available, the face of the internet and digital media will change. It’s inevitable.
If Darwyn Cooke’s award-winning IDW graphic novels Parker: The Hunter and Parker: The Outfit have piqued your curiosity about the original series of novels by Donald Westlake (who wrote them under the pseudonym Richard Stark), here’s a chance to check one out—for free.
Just in time for the long weekend, the University of Chicago Press is offering Westlakes’s The Score as a free e-book (it would set you back $14 in print) in a variety of formats: Adobe Digital Editions, Google Books, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and Sony Reader. Since most of these readers can be installed on a PC or Mac as well as an iPad, iPhone, or Android device, this is pretty platform-independent.
If you like what you see, the publisher has 19 more Parker books for you, and they are offering a 30% discount on the e-books. Details are at the first link.
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!
Top Shelf announced yesterday that it is going digital, starting out by making over 70 of its graphic novels available via the Comics+ app, which is powered by iVerse. Prices range from 99 cents to $9.99 for an assortment of graphic novels, including Andy Runton’s Owly, James Kochalka’s Johnny Boo, Jeff Lemire’s Essex County, and Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole.
This announcement raised all sorts of questions in our minds, and fortunately, Chris Ross, Top Shelf’s director of digital publishing, was here to explain it all to us. Read on for lots more info, including the answer to the burning question “Will we ever see Lost Girls on digital?” as well as whether they will do same-day print and digital releases.
Robot 6: Why did you choose to go with iVerse over the other distributors?
Chris Ross: Actually, our initial offering is with iVerse, but we’re planning on using many distributors over the next few months. They were the first to approach us, so they’re the first one out the gate.
Robot 6: Did you consider doing your own Top Shelf app? If so, why did you decide against it?
Chris: We have and we will. We’ll be creating two apps in 2011—a company branded app and a kid’s club app.
Robot 6: Have you considered other modes of digital such as Kindle, Nook, or direct download?
“Digital-first, followed by print, is the wave of the future for all publishing.”
That categorical statement was made not by a digital distributor wannabe but by Seven Seas publisher Jason DeAngelis, who was announcing the digital-first release of My Boyfriend Is a Vampire. The first volume went up on the Kindle store this week; the print edition will reach stores in October.
Digital manga is becoming more and more common, on both the web and handhelds, but Seven Seas was putting substantial chunks of their homegrown OEL manga online years ago—I talked to Seven Seas editor Adam Arnold about their use of webcomics to promote their print manga way back in ’08.
Interestingly, Seven Seas has chosen not to go with a digital comics app but are selling Boyfriend (which was originally published in Korea, so technically it’s manhwa, not manga) as a book on the iBooks, Kindle, and Nook stores. And they are changing up the format, although digital is still substantially cheaper: A 158-page digital volume is $4.99, but the print edition is a 320-page omnibus retailing at $15.99. On the other hand, you’re more likely to get a discount on the print edition (yup, Amazon has it listed at $10.87).
I can’t possibly do justice to the solicit text for this book, by the way, so I’ll just post it after the jump.
Disney Publishing Worldwide this morning launched its free Disney Comics App for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, with more than 50 titles ranging from the classic adventures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to newer properties like Cars 2 and Tron: Legacy. Two new comics will be added each week.
Individual stories are 99 cents, with themed bundles available for $3.99 through In-App Purchase. The app debuts in the United States and will be available in more than 80 countries. It will be available in additional markets later this year.
Disney boasts that the app offers “a new, director-style reading experience,” with readers allowed to choose portrait or landscape mode, automatic or manual smart paneling, and double-page spreads. Readers also may preview titles before purchase, share their stories on Facebook and save content for offline reading. There’s also a feature that automatically updates readers when stories relating to their favorite characters become available. Also: sound effects!
“Comics are a tremendous part of our heritage and we see great potential and interest in bringing our extensive catalog of Disney Comics to mobile devices,” Russell Hampton, president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, said in a statement. “We create over 25,000 original comic pages each year and it’s critical that we deliver this content to our readers around the world. We have over 1 billion Disney comic readers today, and our Disney Comics App will further broaden that audience.”
Read the official announcement after the break.
Retailing | As the bankrupt Borders Group weighs competing bids, Barnes & Noble — the largest book chain in the United States — reports a loss of $74 million for the fiscal year, in part because of heavy investment in its digital initiatives. However, the company saw a 50-percent sales increase at BN.com, fueled by Nook devices and digital content sold through the Nook Bookstore. [Publishers Weekly]
Passings | Lew Sayre Schwartz, one of Bob Kane’s ghost artists on Batman and Detective Comics, passed away June 7 as the result of an injury suffered in a fall. He was 84. Schwartz drew as many as 120 Batman stories between 1948 and 1953, all signed “Bob Kane,” before leaving comics after a junket entertaining troops in Korea. Eddie Campbell quotes Schwartz as saying, “’When I got back, I couldn’t stand drawing another page’ of Batman.” He went on to work in television advertising, co-founding the commercial production company Ferro, Mogubgub and Schwartz. [Mark Evanier, ComicMix]
Conventions | Scott Lewis looks at the plan by Mayor Jerry Sanders to pay for the $500-million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center: the Convention Center Assessment District, an entity that will add an additional 3 percent tax on room bills for hotels downtown, 2 percent on those out to Mission Valley, and 1 percent on those farther away. [Voice of San Diego]
SLG Publishing has been doing digital comics since before they were cool, and this week had more news on that front: They have signed with iVerse, and their comics will be available in iVerse’s Comics Plus reader. This will definitely help bring their comics to a wider audience. The digital launch includes the first five issues of Nightmares & Fairy Tales, Serenity Rose, and Ben Towle’s Midnight Sun, and the first three issues of Rex Libris.
Checking the SLG site, I also noticed they are doing digital in a different way: They are making Katy Weselcouch’s The Floundering Time available in CBZ format, for use in readers such as ComicZeal, and they say they will be making more comics available in that format in the future. The advantage to CBZ is that you can download it once and keep it. Comics bought through iVerse can only be read in the Comics Plus reader, and if the company or the technology disappears, your comics may disappear as well. Basically, digital comics distributors don’t sell you a comic, they sell you a license to read a comic. CBZ is much more portable and makes it possible to keep your comics forever, independent of a particular distributor or app. The ebook versions of The Floundering Time are priced at a very reasonable $3.99, a considerable savings over the print price of $12.95.
Publishing | May marked the worst month of the year for the direct market since January as sales of comic books and graphic novels fell 11.21 percent versus May 2010. Chart watcher John Jackson Miller chalks up the decline to a combination of retailers ordering more Free Comic Book Day titles than “for-profit” books and publishers’ summer events heating up a little later this year. Marvel led Diamond Comic Distributors’ list of top comics for the month with Fear Itself #2, followed by the first issue of DC’s Flashpoint. Avatar topped the graphic novel chart with Crossed 3D, Vol. 1. [The Comichron]
Legal | The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has joined a coalition that includes booksellers, media companies and the ACLU of Utah in seeking to permanently stop enforcement of a 2005 Utah statute that would regulate Internet speech that some consider “harmful to minors,” including works of art, graphic novels, information about sexual health and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. The law has not gone into effect because Utah consented to a temporary injunction until the case can be decided. [press release]