Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
Crowdfunding | Digital Manga Publishing’s recent Kickstarter campaign raised some questions as to the proper role of crowdfunding in publishing. When DMP acquired the rights to all of Osamu Tezuka’s manga that haven’t already been translated into English, CEO Hikaru Sasahara launched an ambitious Kickstarter effort to publish about 400 volumes in just a few years. The campaign raised eyebrows not only because of the large amount of money involved (with stretch goals, it would have been more than half a million dollars) but also because it went beyond the direct costs associated with single volumes to include travel and staffing. That campaign failed, but DMP immediately launched another one that’s closer to the usual model. I interviewed Sasahara and one of his most prominent critics to get both sides of the discussion. [Publishers Weekly]
Awards | Alexis Deacon has won the 2014 Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize for “The River,” “a luscious, tangled, whispering kind of story” that earned him £1,000 (about $1,611 U.S.). The runners-up were Fionnuala Doran’s “Countess Markievicz” and Beth Dawson’s “After Life.” The short-story competition has been held annually since 2007 by London’s Comica Festival, publisher Jonathan Cape and The Observer newspaper. [The Observer]
Publishing | Mark Peters spotlights Archie Comics’ recent transformation from staid to startling, with titles like Afterlife With Archie and the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. [Salon]
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]
Legal | Those wondering how Stan Lee Media can possibly afford its long, and so far entirely unsuccessful, legal battle with Marvel and Disney may want to read this brief Wall Street Journal article about “litigation finance” — which it characterizes as the growing practice of investing in lawsuits. However, pointing to the fight over the rights to Spider-Man and other characters, writer Rob Copeland points out there are high risks: namely, that investors could never see financial return. As we’ve noted before, Stan Lee Media’s efforts are backed by a group of investors that includes the $21 billion hedge fund Elliott Management, which helps to explain why the lawsuits keep coming. [MoneyBeat]
Beginning Wednesday, the streaming anime website Crunchyroll will offer digital manga from Japan’s biggest publisher, Kodansha — some of them on the same day they’re released in Japan.
The service will kick off with 12 series, including Attack on Titan, which is one of the top-selling manga in the United States right now, Fairy Tail, and Ken Akamatsu’s new series UQ Holder. And they will be available in 170 countries, including the United States (where many of the same titles are published in print by Kodansha Comics, which also releases them digitally on Kindle and other e-book platforms). Readers will be able to access the manga via a web browser and can read them on Android or iOS devices as well as desktop or laptop computers.
Publishing | John Jackson Miller dissects the latest sales numbers and finds July 2013 to be the second-best month for comics sales in the direct market so far this century—actually, since 1997. Combined comics and graphic novel sales were up almost 17 percent compared to July 2012, and year-to-date sales are up almost 13 percent compared to last year. [The Comichron]
Retailing | Brian Hibbs, one of the founding members of the direct-market trade organization ComicsPRO, has left the group “because of the reactions of the Board to recent DC moves.” He revealed his decision in the comments on his blog post about DC’s allocation of 3D covers for Villains Month: “The org that I formed was intended to look out for the little guy; the current Board seems much more interested in keeping the big guys big. Democracy in action, I suppose, so I vote with my dollars.” [ICv2]
Legal | Palestinian cartoonist Mohammed Saba’aneh was released from an Israeli prison on Monday, as scheduled. Saba’aneh, who was originally held without charges and eventually sentenced to five months for “contacts with a hostile organization,” drew several cartoons while he was in prison and plans to do a show of his prison drawings, focusing on Palestinian prisoners who, he says, are in prison “just because they are Palestinians.” [PRI’s The World]
Manga | In a major coup for a manga publisher, Digital Manga (which, contrary to its name, also published print manga) announced at Anime Expo that it has signed a deal with Tezuka Productions to publish all of Osamu Tezuka’s works in North America. While the details aren’t entirely clear, it sounds like Digital is working on some new licenses and will have digital rights to books released here in print by other publishers. [Anime News Network]
Festivals | The Angoulême International Comics Festival has opened in Angoulême, France, and that’s where all the cool kids are. Bart Beaty surveys the scene for the rest of us; the president of this year’s show is Jean-C Denis (last year it was Art Spiegelman), and there will be an exhibit of his work, but Beaty says the big draw will be the exhibit of work by Albert Uderzo, co-creator of Asterix. [The Comics Reporter]
Editorial cartoons | Rupert Murdoch has apologized, on Twitter, for an editorial cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in the Sunday Times that depicted Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu bricking Palestinians into a wall with blood-red mortar. Many commentators were concerned that the cartoon, which Scarfe intended as a commentary on the recent elections in Israel, came too close to old anti-Semitic blood libel. Making things worse, the cartoon was published on Holocaust Memorial Day. [The Guardian]
You know, I remember a time when Digital Manga published only print manga. That was back in 2005, before digital comics were a thing — Tokyopop ran a couple of sample chapters on its site, and there were the scanlators, of course, but that was about it. The Kindle was still a flickering star in the distant future (2007), and even when it came along, the first-gen version was a crappy comics reader.
Now Digital is the most digital of all manga publishers, releasing its work on just about every platform there is — Kindle, Nook, its own iOS app (when it’s not getting thrown off for the naughty bits), its own eManga website, and just in the past few weeks, iBooks, DriveThruComics and Wowio. These last two offer comics the way readers say they want them, as DRM-free PDFs.
Today Digital completed its sweep by putting its manga on comiXology. Digital is starting slow, with four titles from its Juné line, priced at $9.99 each. (It also has some Vampire Hunter D volumes, which look like they have been on the site for a while.) The selection is small, but it’s a significant leap forward for Digital — because company is getting its manga out onto what appears to be the most popular platform for digital comics — and for comiXology, because the distributor is adding manga to its mix, and yaoi fans tend to be voracious readers.
It’s time once again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for cool, new comics.
Wait a minute … “monthly”?
It’s true that we haven’t taken a What Looks Good tour in a few months, but the feature is back with an all-new approach that we hope will be more varied and useful than the old format. Instead of Michael and Graeme just commenting on everything that catches our attention in the catalog, we’ve invited Chrises Mautner and Arrant to join us in each picking the five new comics we’re most looking forward to. What we’ll end up with is a Top 20 (or so; there may be some overlap) of the best new comics coming out each month.
As usual, please feel free to play along in the comments. Tell us what we missed that you’re looking forward to or – if you’re a comics creator – mention your own stuff.
1) Love and Rockets New Stories #5 by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) — How do you possibly top the triumphant storytelling feat that was “The Love Bunglers”? I dunno, but Jaime Hernandez is certainly going to give it the old college try, this time shifting the focus onto the vivacious “Frogmouth” character. Gilbert, meanwhile, brings back some of his classic Palomar characters, so yeah, this is pretty much a “must own” for me.
2) Skippy Vol. 1: Complete Dailies 1925-1927 by Percy Crosby (IDW) — Percy Crosby’s Skippy might well be the great forgotten comic strip of the 20th century. Extremely popular in its day, and a huge influence on such luminaries as Charles Schulz, the strip has largely been forgotten and the name conjures up little more than images of peanut butter. IDW’s effort to reacquaint folks with this strip might change that — the few snippets I’ve read suggest this is real lost gem.
3) The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books) — Tom Kaczynski’s small-press publishing company drops its first major, “big book” release with this memoir from the always-excellent Gabrielle Bell. Collecting work from her series Lucky (and, I think, some of her recent minis), the book chronicles a turbulent five year period as she travels around the world. Should be great.
4) Godzilla: The Half Century War by James Stokoe (IDW) — I usually stay as far away from licensed books as possible, but there is one simple reason I’m including this comic in my top five: James Stokoe. Stokoe’s Orc Stain has quickly become one of my favorite serialized comics, and his obsession with detailing every inch of the page combined with his ability to incorporate significant manga storytelling tropes in his work convince me he can do a solid job chronicling the adventures of the big green lizard that spits radioactive fire.
5) Barbara by Osamu Tezuka (Digital Manga) — Speaking of manga, here’s one of the more noteworthy Kickstarter projects of recent years: Digital Manga’s attempt to bring the master’s saga of a famous author and the homeless, beautiful woman he takes in and assumes to be his literal muse. This is well regarded in many Tezuka fan circles as one of the cartoonist’s better adult stories, and I’m glad to see Digital willing to take a chance on bringing more Tezuka to the West. I’ll definitely be buying this. I should also note that Vertical will also be offering some Tezuka this month, namely a new edition of Adolph (originally published by Viz in the ’90s), here titled Message to Adolph but well worth checking out regardless of the title.
Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a “Splurge” item.
If I had $15, I’d grab with two hands the new issue of Orc Stain #7 (Image, $2.99). Stokoe is one of the few people in mainstream comics blending storytelling in art and writing seamlessly, creating an organic piece of work that’s as good to eat as some of the fictional food he presents in the book. Spaceman #4 (DC/Vertigo, $2.99) has, in its short run, showed the best of what can be done at Vertigo and is pretty exhilarating, especially if you re-read it from the beginning. After that I’d pick up my regular double-shot: Invincible #89 (Image, $2.99) and Walking Dead #94 (Image, $2.99), and then top it off with The Twelve #10 (Marvel, $2.99). I’m appreciative Marvel and the creators saw fit to see it through, and the story’s all the better for it.
If I had $30, I’d go all company-owned super heroes. Avengers #23 (Marvel, $3.99) for the continuing fight against HYDRA by Brian Michael Bendis and Daniel Acuna. Acuna’s really (finally) had a chance to blossom on this book and I hope he sees it through for a good long while. After that I’d get FF #15 (Marvel, $2.99), which has silently outstripped Fantastic Four in my book; the added bonus for this issue particularly is seeing artist Nick Dragotta on this book. I’d wrap it all up with Batman Beyond Unlimited #1 (DC, $3.99). I’ll admit I missed out on the complete fervor of Batman Beyond, but I’m excited by Dustin Nguyen and Adam Beechen’s work and the possibilities of them taking on a future rendition of Batman and the JLA.
And if I could splurge, I’d check out the overlooked Key Of Z TPB (Boom!, $14.99). New York City street warfare told against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse? Sounds like my kind of book. Newcomer artist Aaron Kuder’s got an interesting style that I’d been meaning to check out, and this gives me just that chance.
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,
Digital Manga is a small manga publisher that has explored a number of unconventional ways of doing business, including the Digital Manga Guild, an attempt at legal fan translation. Last week, they tried another new approach: A Kickstarter drive to fund a new edition of Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing the Earth.
Kickstarter is usually a venue where independent creators raise seed money for new projects. At first blush, that’s not what Digital’s pitch sounds like:
Unfortunately we printed too few copies, and the book is no longer available anywhere (except on eBay for exorbitant prices). Fans are constantly asking us to print more of the book, but simply put, we’re a small company, this is an expensive book and we can’t afford to put up the cash for another print run.
As Lissa Pattillo points out, this is a win-win situation for Digital and its readers: Digital gets the money for the reprint up front, and participants in the drive get a pretty generous package of rewards—in addition to the book, backers get their choice of other volumes of Digital manga, with the highest-level backers getting a pretty big box of books (with free shipping). On the other hand, she raises the question of whether this is a sound business plan, if Digital can’t afford $4,000 for a reprint they are confident will make them money.
I used to wonder why Digital Manga only published print books, but over the past few years the company has made all sorts of inroads into the digital realm. The latest: bringing Harlequin manga to the Nook, Barnes & Noble’s e-reader. These Harlequin manga are quite a phenomenon: They are actual American Harlequin romance novels that were adapted into manga for the Japanese market. A company called Softbank has been localizing them for American readers and publishing them on Digital’s eManga site, and plans are also in the works for French, Chinese and Korean editions. There will be two versions, one optimized for black and white, the other for the color Nook; the price is $5.99. If you’re not tied to an e-reader (I have both the Nook and the Kindle apps on my iPad), you might check out the Kindle store, where the Harlequin manga are two bucks cheaper per volume. Most comics look like crap on the Kindle app because of its small size and poor resolution, but the digital files for these manga are somehow better and they look fine.
Harlequin manga are a niche within a niche. I have never compared a Harlequin romance and its manga equivalent side by side, but having read some of each, I can say that the manga versions are pretty compressed—after all, a typical Harlequin romance is about 200 pages of prose, while the manga are about 160 pages with very little text. Even given the economies that sequential art bring to the storytelling, that’s tight.
Digital Manga has been aggressive about expanding its business in several different directions, but I didn’t see this one coming: This week, their eManga website is carrying a number of IDW titles, including Doctor Who, Locke & Key, and Silent Hill. Oh, and Astro Boy, of course—the movie adaptation, not Osamu Tezuka’s original.
IDW and Digital Manga couldn’t be more different, except for one thing: They were both early adopters of digital media. Both put their wares on the iPhone back in the days when every issue of a comic was a single app, and both have experimented with different formats and platforms. IDW isn’t the first outside publisher that Digital has invited over to the eManga site: They also host manga from two potential rivals, Yaoi Press and BLU.
eManga is a Flash-based site, so it won’t work on the iPad, although it should be OK with Android devices. I use it to read manga on my computer, and it works quite well, although the default image size is a bit too small for me (there’s a zoom button). It’s streaming, so you have to have an internet connection to read your comics; there is no way to download from the site.