Digital piracy | Although some have credited, or blamed, Rich Johnston for bringing pirate website HTMLcomics.com to the attention of publishers, Harlan Ellison has stepped forward to gleefully suggest he may have had something to do with its exposure: “Several months ago, if you recall, we were advised of an internet pirate who was posting — along with about 30,000 other pages — DC, Marvel, Archie, Dark Horse, and on and on — my stories from HARLAN ELLISON’S DREAM CORRIDOR. When we advised him to cease and desist, he essentially told me to go fuck myself, and urged me to sue him. Just like every one of them, all the way back to my AOL suit, he told me he couldn’t be found, he was impregnable, I could go fuck myself. … I warned him. … I asked four members of The Flying Blue Monkey Squad to help me. They found him in one day, unsnarled all his shunting devices, tracked his footprint back to his main server, we got his name, his location in Tampa, Florida, and sent that data on to, well, friends of friends.”
The direct market reached a milestone in March, one that will make a lot of comics readers very unhappy. For the first time, more comics in Diamond’s Top 300 were priced at $3.99 than at $2.99.
That’s according to chart-watcher John Jackson Miller, who provides the breakdown: 130 titles priced at $3.99, 124 at $2.99, and only 16 at “the intermediary step” of $3.50, which seems destined to disappear altogether.
It’s a slim margin, to be certain and, in Miller’s words, “mainly a psychological barrier,” as the average price still comes out to $3.55. But it’s a sure sign that the $4 comic soon will be the norm, with or without additional content or “co-features.”
Every month around this time, the retail news and analysis site ICv2.com posts its sales estimates for comics sold to the direct market, and virtually every month there’s a new round of complaints from readers about the increasing number of $3.99 titles. Yet, despite all the (virtual) gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes, the $3.99 books keep on selling. Of the Top 25 comics in March, 14 were priced at $3.99; of the Top 50, 27 were at the higher price.
Now, a lot of those titles were event comics, or tie-ins to event comics, or special one-shots, or miniseries, or — well, you get the picture. So I’ll agree with Miller that it’s possible the “common price” of comics could slide back to $2.99 once some of these crossovers and miniseries and so on wrap up. After all, DC’s next “events,” Brightest Day and War of the Supermen are priced at $2.99. However, most of Marvel’s “Heroic Age” launches and relaunches appear to be $3.99 books.
So, what does it all mean? Most likely, it’s a hearty welcome to the Four-Dollar Era. But don’t get too comfortable: The Five-Dollar Era will be along before you know it.
Conventions | Although WonderCon organizers are still tabulating attendance from last weekend’s convention, they say that “by all accounts the numbers for 2010 met or exceeded those for 2009.” Last year’s event drew about 34,000, a significant increase from the 20,000 that attended in 2008. They also set the dates for the 2011 convention: April 1-3, which undoubtedly means we’ll have to endure numerous April Fool’s announcements of titles and creative teams. [press release]
Creators | In an oddly worded post, Clifford Meth reports that 83-year-old comic artist Gene Colan was injured last week, and his being cared for by his children: “In addition, it appears that some of Gene’s artwork has disappeared, including pages from Nathanial Dusk and a Star Wars-related piece. The police are involved in the matter.” [Clifford Meth]
As many of us grapple with the recession, layoffs and a looming tax deadline, it may be difficult to muster much sympathy for the problems of millionaires, but we can try.
A historic 19th-century mansion owned by Diamond Comic Distributors CEO Steve Geppi will be sold today for $7.7 million at a foreclosure auction at the Baltimore County (Maryland) Courthouse. Cliffeholme — yes, it has a name! — has an outstanding mortgage debt of $3.25 million.
Geppi and wife Melinda paid $4.8 million in 2004 for the eight-bedroom, 13,000-square-foot mansion and nine-acre estate. The home features nine fireplaces, a 65-foot grand hall and a master bedroom suite with a gym. The couple moved to another home in the area before putting Cliffeholme on the market in January 2008.
As the Baltimore Sun notes, it’s not been a good year or so for Geppi: He’s been sued over investment properties and printing debts; his Gemstone Publishing closed its offices in White Plains, Missouri, laid off five employees, and failed to renew the Disney comics license; and Geppi’s Entertainment Museum has struggled to pay its bills. Diamond, meanwhile, has experienced its share of difficulties.
Retailing | Ada Price surveys six retailers from across the United States about weathering the tough economy, what’s selling (and what’s not), and the effects of price increases and “event fatigue.” “Event titles brought people in last year, both long-time fans and new readers, but [this year] people are suffering from event fatigue,” said Eric Thornton of Chicago Comics. “The last year and a half [crossover] events didn’t bring people in, and catered to people who are [already] fans.” [PW Comics Week]
Publishing | Manga sales in Japan fell 6.6 percent to $4.63 billion in 2009, the largest annual decline in market history. The Tokyo-based Research Institute for Publications points to fans reading in manga cafes instead of buying in bookstores because of the recession, and the release of fewer hit titles. [Anime News Network]
Conventions | The annual, and often-grueling, rite that is the race for Comic-Con International hotel rooms kicks off at 9 a.m. PST Thursday as Travel Planners begins taking reservations. The convention website helpfully cautions: “As everyone knows from the past few years, the discounted rate offered by Comic-Con on the rooms in our block means that they tend to sell out in the first few hours.” Details can be found here.
In other Comic-Con news, as of this morning Thursday memberships are 97-percent sold. Friday, Saturday and four-day passes went the way of the dodo long ago. [Comic-Con International]
Retailing | As the “buy” buttons for titles from Diamond Book Distributors slowly begin to reappear on Amazon.com, Simon Jones offers additional commentary on last week’s “price glitch” that affected both that online retailer and Barnes & Noble: “… Questions still remain: how did this happen in the first place, why was it almost allowed to happen again at Barnes & Noble, and whether any direct financial burden might be heaved upon publishers? It’s no exaggeration to say that DBD’s immediate outlook may depend on how satisfactorily it is able to address these quandaries when it meets with publishers this week. Rightly or not, there are some justifiable jitters among its clients. Assurances must be made, anxieties must be soothed.” [Icarus Publishing]
MAD Magazine will shift from a quarterly to a bimonthly schedule beginning with June’s Issue 504, according to a letter sent to contributors by Editor John Ficarra.
“Bimonthly isn’t the same as monthly,” cartoonist and MAD contributor Tom Richmond wrote this morning, “but it beats quarterly by exactly 50%!”
The venerable humor magazine moved from a monthly to a quarterly schedule in April 2009 following massive cutbacks at parent company Warner Bros. that resulted in the elimination of 800 jobs worldwide, including positions at DC Comics. MAD Kids and MAD Classics were axed in the belt-tightening.
“I have no idea what’s behind the decision,” cartoonist Evan Dorkin wrote today on his blog, “but it’s welcome news, and I’m sure a number of the ‘gang of usual idiots’ will be pleased to have more assignments after a meager year’s run. As a smaller fish in the gang who mostly does occasional small spot illo gigs, I wasn’t really affected by the changeover. But I felt badly for the ‘usual gangsters’ who likely depended on the steadiness of the monthly schedule, losing eight issues of material had to hurt some people.”
Retailing | In what’s been dubbed “Black Thursday,” the financially troubled Borders Group announced last week that it’s laying off 742 employees at its retail stores. Those follow the 136 layoffs, primarily from its corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan, revealed last month. In the latest round of cuts, 679 are from Borders superstores, and 63 from Waldenbooks. Borders is the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, after Barnves & Noble. [MLive.com, via The Big Money]
Publishing | North American manga and anime distributor Media Blasters began a round of cutbacks on Friday that will lead to layoffs or furloughs for 13 employees, primarily from the print and accounting departments. The New York City-based company reportedly had less than 50 employees for the cuts. [Anime News Network]
Publishing | Sales of periodical comics in the direct market in January “inched up” 1 percent over the same month last year, while graphic novels continued their 10-month decline, ICv2.com reports. The retail news and analysis website notes that the total sales of single issues was the lowest since May.
Siege #1 and Green Lantern #50, which led Diamond’s Top 300, were the only titles to sell more than 100,000 copies. The 11th volume of The Walking Dead topped the graphic-novel chart with an estimated 16,900 copies, followed at a distant second by the first collection of The Unwritten. [ICv2.com]
Retailing | Simon Jones, Sean Kleefeld, Ralph Mathieu and Tom Spurgeon respond to retailer Brian Hibbs’ annual analysis of BookScan sales figures. Spurgeon details the “three big, sweeping problems to Hibbs’ general approach,” and goes on from there. [Tilting at Windmills]
“The problem isn’t with Jen but with the current ad market,” Veitch wrote Sunday on the Comicon message board. “Ever since the Great Recession hit, internet advertising has taken a nosedive. And it costs real money to get real talent like Jen’s.”
In addition to the economic downturn, Veitch placed the blame on a former advertiser that owes the website “a rather large amount of money.”
“The sad truth is, if this advertiser had been able to pay their bill, Jen would still be on the Pulse right now,” Veitch wrote. Heidi MacDonald seems to identify the advertiser as the Steve Geppi-owned Gemstone Publishing, which last year closed its offices in West Plains, Missouri, laid off five employees and failed to renew the Disney comics license.
Contino helped to launch The Pulse in 2002, and for the past several years had served as the site’s only full-time reporter. Her last post appears to have been on Jan. 18.
Diamond Comic Distributors announced today that it’s modifying minimum-order benchmarks enacted last year that led to numerous small-press titles being dropped from distribution to the direct market.
According to a Diamond Daily dispatch posted by Heidi MacDonald, the distributor now will fulfill initial orders that don’t meet the benchmark but cancel subsequent offerings that fall short. In other words, publishers and creators get a little breathing room with the first issue, but the second (and third) better meet the quota.
“We feel that this modification allows us to better serve our retailers so they in turn can better serve their customers,” Diamond Vice President of Purchasing Bill Schanes said in the retailer newsletter. “If a title or item underperforms, we will still place a purchase order to fill initial orders. We’ll then address our need to avoid unprofitable SKUs [stock-keeping units] by not listing subsequent issues or like products in future issues of PREVIEWS so both retailers and their consumers should order with confidence.”
• Matthew Price, features editor and comics blogger for The Oklahoman, declares Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, the best periodical comic book of the decade. Other titles in his Top 10 include Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s Demo and Greg Rucka & Co.’s Queen and Country.
• At iFanboy, Josh Flanagan selects his best comics of the decade, including Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting & Co.’s Captain America and Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier.
• Tom Spurgeon talks with Dan Nadel about Boys as a comic emblematic of the past decade.
• Heidi MacDonald continues her year-end survey of industry professional.
• Matt Blind counts down his Top 10 industry distractions of 2009, from the financial struggles of the Borders chain to movements in the digital arenas to Disney’s purchase of Marvel.
• Lori Henderson examines the past decade in manga.
• At the Forbidden Planet International blog, reviewer/podcaster Chris Marshall runs down his favorite comics of 2009.
• Chad Nevett looks at titles that were on his Top 10 list last year but didn’t make the cut this time around.
If you’ve put off nailing down plans for Comic-Con International, prepare to kick yourself: Saturday memberships are gone.
Single-day passes went on sale just three weeks ago.
For a quick, and jolting, comparison, Saturday passes for last year’s convention didn’t sell out until April 2009. It seems par for the course, though, considering that four-day memberships for 2010 sold out during the first week of November.
According to the color-coded bars on the Comic-Con website, Friday passes may not be long for this world; they’re at 68 percent as of this morning. Last year they were gone by April 20.
Comic-Con International kicks off on July 21 in San Diego with a (sold-out) preview night, and runs through July 25.
(via Deb Aoki)
Crime | A Pennsylvania newspaper delves into the family feud over the fortune of legendary artist Frank Frazetta that led to the arrest last week of son Alfonso (Frank Jr.) in the theft of $20 million worth of paintings from his father’s museum in East Stroudsburg. Frank Jr.’s wife Lori claims he was only trying to protect the paintings from his brother and two sisters, whom she accused of attempting to take their father’s fortune: “My husband, all he ever wanted to do was to take care of his family.”
Frank Jr. was jailed under $500,000 bail on charges of burglary, criminal trespassing and theft. A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.
The family dispute apparently began after the death in July of Frank Sr.’s wife Ellie, who had long run the business. The 81-year-old Frazetta, who suffers from dementia, lives in Florida with his daughters. [Pocono Record, Pocono Record]
In his annual sitdown with ICv2.com, Dark Horse President Mike Richardson tackles the notion of gateway comics, such as the oft-cited Watchmen:
I love Spider-Man and Superman and all those books that I collected myself. I have boxes and boxes of them back from the beginning. As long as the direct sales market focused most of its attention on those types of titles, we pretty much have the audience we’re going to have. I don’t know that the person who doesn’t read comics is going to be pulled in if they read Watchmen and then they go in and it’s the same books they knew in the first place that were on the rack. I’ll say the same thing I’ve always said: if we had a wide variety of material featuring a wide variety of content we’d bring in a wide variety of readers. In the hard core comic industry, we stay focused on the same characters that we focused on since the late seventies. In the late seventies I had a retail store during, when the direct sales market was birthing. And you know what? If you walked into one of my stores in 1980 or ’81 you’d probably see pretty much the same characters that you see when you walk into a store in 2009: Superman, Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans.
There’s much more at the link, where Richardson also discusses the state of the market, manga, digital content and kids’ comics.