INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
Publishing | Todd Allen pulls the camera way back for a broad look at four challenges facing the comics market: the shift from serial comics to graphic novels, editorial changes at DC Comics and Marvel, and the virtual monopolies that comiXology has in the digital sector and Diamond Comic Distributors has in print. How could that play out? “In the best-case scenario, Marvel’s relaunch sticks with the audience, DC restaffs and regains its footing, the Direct Market retailers embrace risk diversification and increase their stock of independent comics, bookstores continue to expand their graphic novel selections. Comics enter a legitimate golden age. In the worst case, Disney and/or Warner Bros. both tinker with their formula of making monthly print comics and Direct Market retailers face a new and uncertain business model.” [Publishers Weekly]
Publishing | U.K. comics distributor Impossible Books will close up shop on Feb. 28, after two years in the business. On their blog, owners Camila Barboza and Taylor Lilley explained they simply don’t have the time and energy for the enterprise any longer. They are putting their titles on sale in the meantime, and Zainab Akhtar has some recommendations for bargain-minded readers. [Comics & Cola]
Crime | Daryl Cagle’s website, which hosts a lot of editorial cartoons, went down last week after being hit by a Distributed Denial of Service attack. Cagle tells Alan Gardner that his site gets attacked by hackers fairly frequently, but the latest was different in that the only goal was to take down the site. Gardner speculates it may be related to cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad and Charlie Hebdo. [The Daily Cartoonist]
Creators | Osamu Tezuka, the “godfather of manga,” has been dead for 25 years, but his influence lives on, not just in manga and anime but in his old neighborhood, where a restaurant features his favorite dish and merchants have their own local currency, Astro Money. There’s even a group of inventors who were inspired by Astro Boy to design a “power-assisted hand.” [The Yomiuri Shimbun]
Creators | Ivan Brunetti tried to draw Nancy and failed, but he learned how to be a cartoonist in the process: “Nancy is a harsh taskmaster; resuscitating it was a grueling task, but the challenge was invigorating and edifying. By drawing Nancy, I realized that every character (even the environment) in a strip is the cartoonist and is invested and imbued with the cartoonist’s life force. This is perhaps why continuing a strip after a creator’s death is so misguided, and it also explains the precious few exceptions that prove the rule: those cartoonists made the preexisting characters truly their own, commandeering their ink-on-paper souls.” [BoingBoing]
Passings | Egyptian cartoonist Mostafa Hussein died Saturday following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 79. Hussein had been a cartoonist for the state-owned Al Akbar newspaper since 1974, and was often accused of being sympathetic to those in power. His final cartoon, published in Al Akbar two days before he died, was inscribed “I ??don’t have time to finish this cartoon, forgive me. I will miss you.” [Ahram Online]
Awards | The Cartoonist Rights Network International (CRNI) has announced the winners of this year’s Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning, and for the first time in the history of the award they are women: Indian cartoonist Kanika Mishra and Palestinian cartoonist Majda Shaheen. Mishra faced death threats for her cartoons about a religious leader who raped a 16-year-old (and eventually went to prison); Shaheen also was threatened with violence after she drew a cartoon depicting the Al-Quds Brigades as a dog in a cartoon critiquing Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s relationship with the organization. [Comic Riffs]
Auctions | The Leicestershire (England) Police are auctioning about 1,200 comics — most of them are post-2000 DC Comics titles, described as in mint condition — seized as criminal assets in Dorset (the police force doesn’t have its own eBay account). “Some are signed by the artists and they are mainly Superman and Spider Man, that sort of thing,” said Dave Hargrave, proceeds of crime asset realization manager. “[…] The person who had the comics was obviously a collector.” About 400 comics have been sold, bringing in £600 (about $985 U.S.). [Leicester Mercury]
Publishing | Avatar Press has returned to Diamond Book Distributors as its distributor to bookstores, the mass market, library services, and other markets. Avatar left DBD in 2011 to sign on with BOOM! Studios to distribute its books through Simon & Schuster in the United States and HarperCollins in Canada. [ICv2]
Bluewater Productions, the publisher largely known for its biographical comics about political and showbiz personalities, has announced a complete break with Diamond Comic Distributors. Bluewater comics will now be distributed, and printed, by Comic Flea Market.
Bluewater had already announced a distribution partnership with CFM for some of its titles, so the news piece here is that the publisher is making a complete break with Diamond. Bluewater comics are also available digitally through the usual channels.
Give Bluewater President Darren G. Davis credit for putting a bold front on it and saying in the press release that Diamond “abruptly” canceled several Bluewater comics because they didn’t make their sales benchmarks. In an interview with MTV Geek in March, Davis presented Bluewater’s problems with Diamond as a clash of business models.
“It’s really difficult, because according to these benchmarks your comics have to make a certain amount of money, or they won’t issue you a purchase order,” he said. “I get it — they’re a bigger company. And if we have a book that only sold 500 copies, there’s no reason why they should distribute it. But it just doesn’t help me as a publisher. But I don’t condemn them for it.”
Davis emphasized today that this move does not mean Bluewater is abandoning the direct market; on the contrary, he pledged to continue to offer Bluewater comics to retailers at about the same discount they were receiving from Diamond.
“My experience has shown me that if your name is not DC or Marvel, it is very difficult to get support from Diamond,” Davis said in the press release. “As an independent producer, I felt it was time to take our titles to the next level.”
Comic Book Resources reached out to Diamond and Davis for comment but has yet to receive a response.
AdHouse Books publisher Chris Pitzer announced on the company’s blog that he’s shutting down AdDistro, his distribution effort to make comics from small publishers and self-publishers available for purchase through AdHouse proper. Pitzer kicked off AdDistro two years ago.
“Basically, I started AdDistro with the thought that I was bringing hard-to-find bibliogoodness to the people,” Pitzer said in his post. “Times have a-changed, and now the once hard-to-find beautiful things are a little easier to obtain.”
Through AdDistro, Pitzer has distributed comics from Nobrow Press, Bernie Mireault, Thomas Herpich, Koyama Press, Revival House Press, Malachi Ward and Benjamin Marra.” While there was once a pond that kept Nobrow from us, now you can get their stuff from Consortium. While I was once the go-to place for Koyamaness, I am proud to point you Secret Acres way. Others have joined forces with others, and honestly, it was a lot of work, at least for lil’ ol’ AdCasa,” Pitzer said. “Adding Thomas Herpich and Bernie Mireault at the end was the proverbial icings on the cake.”
AdHouse still has several of the AdDistro books available on their site, so if you’d like to get your hands on them in one big swoop, head on over there and stock up.
Mark Andrew Smith certainly isn’t heeding the advice on this sign from Sullivan’s Sluggers, his upcoming baseball-horror graphic novel with James Stokoe. As we noticed last week, the writer is moving forward and scouting out new territory in comics distribution through Kickstarter.
After that post appeared, I was reminded that Sullivan’s Sluggers was originally solicited a couple of years ago by Image Comics, so I asked Smith about that as well as his extremely successful use of Kickstarter. As I’m writing this, Smith and Stokoe’s book has raised more than $40,000 in pledges. Their original goal was $6,000, and there are still 24 days to go.
Michael May: Sullivan’s Sluggers was originally solicited through Image. What can you say about why it’s not being published there now?
Mark Andrew Smith: We know how many copies of Sullivan’s Sluggers retailers ordered. We were going to end up working for four years to make the book (working for free) and end up losing a lot of money to do it. Sullivan’s Sluggers through Kickstarter made more business sense, and selling direct from the creators to the readers. So it was a matter of stay put and don’t rock the boat or take a risk for once and change everything.
We chose the second option and I wouldn’t go back, not in a million years.
As announced at WonderCon, Steve Niles and Matt Pizzolo have teamed up with Epitaph Records to distribute creator-owned comics. That enterprise now has a name, Black Mask Studios, and its first project–Occupy Comics, the activism-inspired charity anthology and successful Kickstarter project that Pizzolo headed up.
“Initially I was hoping we could partner with a publisher or retailer to work with us on distribution, but we weren’t happy with any of the deals we were offered,” said Pizzolo on the project’s Kickstarter site. “So instead I decided to invent a solution we’d be happy with, and it wound up seeming like a pretty cool way to support comics creators in general. It’s called Black Mask Studios and you can read more about it over at Wired.”
Occupy Comics is planned for release in late 2012, and will include contributions from Alan Moore, David Lloyd, Mike Allred, Shannon Wheeler, Eric Drooker, Ryan Ottley, Darick Robertson, J.M. DeMatteis, Joseph Michael Linsner, Douglas Rushkoff, Ben Templesmith, Amanda Palmer and many more. Ales Kot and Tyler Crook are teaming on a story called “Citizen Journalist” (above); check out more artwork from the anthology over at Wired.com.
The business did not fail because our discounts were too low, or because there is no room in the market. DC’s new 52 had no impact on us at all. I just couldn’t reach out to enough retailers when I was the guy placing orders, managing inventory, and packing the damn boxes by myself for most of the company’s lifespan. The vast majority of those customers who did make the leap away from the big D became avidly loyal supporters. It was getting more to break their inertia and start thinking differently that took more time than I had when I was juggling so much by myself. Then at points when we were starting to get ahead, that’s when Mr. Magoo would turn off the tap and I had to return to bootstrap financing. And all sense of progress went up in a puff of smoke.
There’s a lot more at the link, but the bottom line is that Stahlberg sees a lot of potential for a second distributor that focuses on independent comics, but without the resources he needed to run the business, he couldn’t reach that potential. “I simply never had the capital that I needed to expand, or to take advantage of any momentum that I managed to pick up,” he says.
That’s not quite the end of the story, though: Stahlberg says that someone else is planning to enter the indy-comics distribution biz—and hopefully this time they will have the financing they need to run the business properly.
Lance Stahlberg, director of Haven Distributors, has confirmed to Robot 6 that the independent-comics distributor will shutdown at the end of the month after more than three years in operation. He also pledged that, “I do intend to come back.”
Haven was launched in March 2008 by Chicago-based publisher Rogue Wolf Entertainment a month after it purchased the assets of longtime reorder distributor Cold Cut. Stahlberg, who was vice president of Rogue Wolf, became first chief operating officer and then director of Haven, which signed agreements with such publishers as BOOM! Studios, SLG Publishing, Top Shelf Productions and Red 5 Comics.
On Tuesday, Stahlberg sent an e-mail to retailers stating that he will continue to take orders through Oct. 23 and will fill all orders for October-shipping releases. He also said that most of the back stock had been marked down for liquidation.
In the e-mail, sent to Robot 6 by a third party but confirmed by Stahlberg, he emphasized that he isn’t the owner of Haven Distribution, and he added:
That’s an important distinction to make because I feel that closing the company is a very foolish move on the owner’s part. I still get regular requests for books that our competition claims is out of stock, or failed to carry at all. I still get new customer account requests.
To that end, it is my intent to return to the distribution business at some point in the (hopefully near) future with a business partner who shares at least some of my commitment to the comics industry and shows the desire to properly finance the operation and provide the resources it needs to succeed.
Stahlberg declined to name Haven’s owner to Robot 6, but he did say, “All I can say is, he is not a comics guy.”
Distributors | Johanna Draper Carlson catches a couple of tweets from publishers indicating that independent-comics distributor Haven, formed in 2008 from the assets of Cold Cut Distribution, is shutting down at the end of the month. Calls for confirmation this morning to Haven’s Skokie, Illinois, offices went to voicemail. The company’s closing would leave Diamond without any significant competition for independent comics distribution — print comics, at least. As Johanna notes, the industry giant still has a rival in another quarter: digital distributor comiXology. [Comics Worth Reading]
Legal | The defense rested in the Michael George trial Tuesday after the comics retailer, who is accused in the 1990 murder of his first wife, chose not to take the stand. His lawyers argued that if he were to do so, his testimony would become the sole focus of the trial. George’s current wife Renee, who was kept out of the courtroom for most of the trial in case she was called as a witness, also did not testify. Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday, and then the case will be sent to the jury. [Detroit Free Press]
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!
Robert Kirkman’s fledgling Skybound comics line is expanding into Asia through a new distribution deal with the production company Moving Images.
Launched in July 2010, the Image Comics imprint is home to Kirkman’s books, most prominently The Walking Dead and Invincible, as well as hand-picked additions like Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner‘s Witch Doctor, and the recently confirmed Thief of Thieves, a collaboration between Kirkman, Nick Spencer, Shawn Martinbrough and a rotating roster of writers.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Skybound Asia will be based in Singapore, allowing the imprint to distribute directly to regional markets. The new venture will have a presence this weekend at the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention.
“The next step for Skybound and The Walking Dead in particular is the evolution into a global brand,” Kirkman says. “Partnering with Moving Images to form Skybound Asia is the first logical step toward that goal. It will allow us to gain a foothold in emerging markets in order to bring Skybound comics and products to an entirely new fan base.”
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.