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Talking Comics with Tim | Nick Dragotta on ‘East of West’

Panels from "East of West" #4

Panels from “East of West” #4

There are certain artists who prove that their work only gets better with each new project and new issue. Such is the case with Nick Dragotta on East of West, his new creator-owned ongoing series with Jonathan Hickman.

I relish any opportunity to interview Dragotta, particularly in the same week that East of West 5#. His ability to lay out some spectacular action scenes continues to be a given in this Image Comics series, but I have also grown to appreciate his ability to develop distinctive architecture as well as engaging, yet more sedate, scenes.

In addition to discussing East of West, Dragotta also brought me up to date on Howtoons, which we talked about in our first interview in 2011. As the father of a kid who loves do-it-yourself activities, I appreciate the involvement of the artist and his wife Ingrid in a project that fosters fun, educational activities for children. To learn he has gotten creator favorites of mine, such as Fred Van Lente (no stranger to educational entertainment), Jeff Parker and Sandy Jarrell involved is just icing on the DIY cake.

Back to East of West, the artist and I also got a chance to (hopefully) satiate Comics Should Be Good’s Greg Burgas’ curiosity regarding the East of West creative process that he broached in a recent essay on reviewing the art in comics. In addition, Dragotta was kind enough to share an unlettered page from East of West #5 as well as unlettered pages from issues 2 and 4. With the first trade (collecting issues 1-5) set for release on Sept. 11, we also discuss its potential impact on audience growth. Full candor: Dragotta blindsided me with his Rob Liefeld fan club confession. Seriously, though, it is refreshing to see a talent such as Dragotta reveling in the opportunity to do creator-owned work.

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Digital to account for 15% of Image’s revenue this year

Image Comics sales

Image Comics sales

While the launch on Tuesday of Image Comics’ DRM-free digital comics storefront rightfully attracted a lot of attention, the bigger eye-opener may end up being some of the numbers behind that decision.

The publisher shared with Wired.com statistics — and charts! — that should go far to ease lingering concerns about piracy and digital’s “cannibalization” of print sales: As you can see above, digital sales accounted for 12 percent of Image’s overall revenue in 2012, a figure that’s expected to increase to 15 percent by the end of this year. Twenty-two percent of the sales of the bestselling Walking Dead comes from digital (presumably that’s monthly sales, although the article doesn’t specify). What’s more, “when measured solely against print comics sold in the direct market at comic book stores, digital makes up 27 percent of revenue.”

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What Are You Reading? with Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder

gl20-tease

Hello everyone, Happy Memorial Day weekend to America, and welcome one and all to What Are You Reading? This week we are joined by special guests Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder, the creative team behind Halloween Eve and the upcoming Rocket Girl. I spoke to them earlier this month about Rocket Girl, which surpassed its Kickstarter goal but you still have some time to get in on the action and rewards.

To see what Brandon, Amy and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.

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Comics A.M. | Singapore cartoonist arrested; crowdfunding scam

Leslie Chew cartoon

Leslie Chew cartoon

Legal | Singapore cartoonist Leslie Chew was arrested last week on charges of sedition, held over the weekend, and released on S$10,000 bail. His cellphone and computer were also confiscated. The charges stem from two cartoons on Chew’s Demon-cratic Singapore Facebook page. [Yahoo! News Singapore]

Crowdfunding | Chris Sims tells the truly bizarre tale of a crowdfunding scam: Someone copied Ken Lowery and Robert Wilson IV’s Kickstarter campaign for Like a Virus, including the video, and made it into an IndieGoGo campaign, presumably planning to pocket the money and run. [Comics Alliance]

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Conversing on Comics with Eric Stephenson

HEADER Eric Stephenson

“Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

It’s a telling quote, both for Wright and for Eric Stephenson, who used it on the masthead of the personal blog he wrote from 2010 to 2012. The word arrogance may have its negative connotations, but when practiced in a measured way it exudes confidence and pride in your work. Wright had it. Steve Jobs had it. And Stephenson, as a nearly 20-year veteran of comics publishing, and the public face of Image Comics, has it.

And in recent years, Stephenson has a lot to be prideful about. Image has been experiencing its best years since its initial debut with The Walking Dead, Chew and Saga. It hosted an well-received expo last year, and has successfully wooed some of Marvel and DC’s top talent for a return to creator-owned work. Stephenson, the company’s publisher, also has finally been able to return to his neglected passion for writing with Nowhere Men, a collaboration with artist Nate Bellegarde.

Although best known for his work behind the scenes — he’ll mark his fifth year as publisher of Image in July — Stephenson has written comics for Rob Liefeld’s Maximum Press, Marvel and DC, not to mention his creator-owned titles.

In February we spoke to Nowhere Men artist Nate Bellegarde, and now we turn to Stephenson to discuss the series, and his past work, but also to delve into his publishing duties — specifically, headhunting talent, finding a place for Image in digital comics, and separating the company from the crowd.

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Comics A.M. | Viz teams with iVerse; Image asks ‘What’s next?’

Viz Media

Viz Media

Digital comics | The manga publisher Viz Media has signed on to iVerse’s digital comics app for libraries; this is big news, because manga, especially Viz’s teen-friendly line, is still very popular in libraries. [press release]

Publishing | In his address last weekend to the ComicsPRO annual meeting in Atlanta, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson urged the audience to continue asking “What’s next?” [Comics Alliance]

Retailing | Journalist and retailer Matthew Price wraps up the ComicsPRO meeting, noting Diamond’s report of a healthy year for comics retailers, with comics sales up 16 percent, graphic novels up 13 percent, and merchandise up 9 percent from last year. [The Oklahoman]

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Conversing on Comics with Nate Bellegarde

When Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson came up with the idea for Nowhere Men, he knew not just any comic artist could handle the project. Luckily for him, Nate Bellegarde isn’t just any comic artist.

Based in Boston, Bellegarde clawed his way into comics at an early age, making his professional debut at age 16 with a back-up strip in Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s Battle Pope. He continued his association with Kirkman, providing back-ups for early issues of Invincible with Benito Cereno before segueing to their own standalone series with Hector Plasm. Bellegarde kept busy doing the first volume of Tim Seeley’s Loaded Bible before being enlisted by Kirkman for Invincible spinoff books like Brit and Invincible Presents: Atom Eve & Rex Splode. His art had the crisp, clear style of his colleagues Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, but his linework betrayed a more subversive subtext. Each of his previous projects seemed to capitalize on part of the skill set Bellegarde had been honing over the years, but never quite captured all of it at once — until Nowhere Men.

Mixing the interpersonal conflicts of science projects like The Right Stuff with more esoteric fiction constructs like the best of Franco-Belgian comics (and a side of British Invasion-era music), Nowhere Men is an uncommon, and uncompromising, piece of work. With three issues on stands and the fourth due March 6, I spoke with Bellegarde about Nowhere Men and its role in his pursuit of a life in comics.

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Quote of the Day | ‘That’s not a trend … that’s the job’

“… the sentiment he’s complaining about is invariably the oldest one there is: ‘The first issue has to give me a reason to buy the second issue, and it didn’t.‘ Yeah: that’s not a ‘trend’ or a ‘meme’ or a ‘fad’— that’s the job. That’s always been the job. That ‘trend’ started at the dawn of the enterprise.”

Abhay Khosla, responding to Eric Stephenson’s commentary on the “trend of expecting the first issue of a comic to explain every single thing about where a series is going.”

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Image clarifies its reprint policy, expands retailer incentives

Chew #31

Image Comics has further clarified its reprint policy, telling retailers that while it’s “pretty essential” to go back to press as long as there’s demand for certain titles, “The thing we can’t do, though, is just reprint everything indefinitely.”

“That was the problem with Saga: We’d reprinted the first six issues already, and it was beginning to look – to us, anyway, or at the very least, to me – like the reprints were becoming a kind of crutch,” Publisher Eric Stephenson writes in the company’s weekly newsletter. “Looking at the way that particular book was selling out every issue, despite both overprints and a proliferation of new printings, it just seemed like we weren’t building any momentum on something that, by all indications, should have been doing exactly that.”

Noting that, “barring extraordinary circumstances, reprinting later issues of a book just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Stephenson promises retailers “that when circumstances dictate that something needs to be reprinted to meet demand: We’ll do that, but we’re not going to just reprint everything as a matter of course. As ‘policy’ goes, I think that’s pretty straightforward.”

Image will continue retailer incentives for new series, and also offer discounts to encourage orders for first issues of new arcs of long-running series following the release of a collection — or, as he calls them, “bridge issues,” “so that you can convert some of your trade waiters to monthly customers, or have an easy sell to someone who is just discovering the series through the trade.” The full statement can be read below.

The newsletter follows a rather brusque announcement last week that Image would end second printings of “known over-performers,” and a subsequent open letter from Stephenson admitting to displeased retailers that it was “a rash decision made somewhat in haste and a little bit out of frustration.”

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Image changes course on second printings: ‘We listen to you’

Following a brusque announcement earlier this week that Image Comic would no longer offer second printings of “known over-performers,” Publisher Eric Stephenson has issued an open letter to retailers admitting to “a rash decision made somewhat in haste and a little bit out of frustration.”

The initial statement, written by Image’s PR and marketing coordinator Jennifer de Guzman, expressed exasperation with store owners under-ordering Saga #7, which marked the return from hiatus of the hit series by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples, and stated in no certain terms that neither that issue nor Issue 8 would be reprinted. “We have decided to cease second printings of single issues of titles that are known over-performers in hopes that it will help initial sales find their proper level,” de Guzman wrote. “That’s marketing-speak for ‘You know this sells, so you’d better make sure you order enough!'”

The tone of the newsletter, and the potential impact of the policy, raised eyebrows among store owners and readers alike, and sparked interesting, and spirited online discussion. But just two days later, Image has changed course. “Believe it or not, we listen to you,” Stephenson wrote. The company now will reprint Saga #7, and offer it at “a massive discount” to retailers.

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Quote the Day #2 | Eric Stephenson on the joys of discovery

“… Without going all old man on everyone, I grew up in a time when you could still go to the movies or sit down to watch something on TV without knowing everything there was to know about it beforehand. Trailers didn’t give everything way, you couldn’t download an album a month before it was out, and you weren’t reading solicitation copy for comics that wouldn’t be out for another three months. It’s like – I saw Star Wars in the theater based off a couple television commercials. I saw a lot of movies just because I liked the way the posters looked, or because they sounded cool. I picked up my first issue of X-Men the same day I bought a used copy of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars with money I’d earned mowing lawns and I didn’t have clue one what either were about prior to the moment I flopped onto my bed to read the one while listening to the other. They both had an immediate impact on me – it was like entering two completely different worlds at once. It’s harder to do that now, because both entertainment and information are transferred so quickly now and maybe withholding information will backfire on us, but I think trying to create something for people to discover is worth a try.”

– Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, explaining his resistance to providing details
about his upcoming series Nowhere Men

Quote of the day | ‘Who’s going to be talking about AvX ten years from now?’

“Part of what we do is make good comics, and we want to be the best version of Image Comics. But part of what we do is create a sustainable market. It has to be a part of what we do. Things like Saga and Walking Dead and Fatale, these are things that people want to return to. People can recommend these things to their friends, even people that don’t read comics. As opposed to tailchasing events, these yearly spike makers, but who’s going to be talking about AvX ten years from now?”

– Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, on how the company contributes to the health of the industry

Image publisher argues independent comics as movie pitches aren’t a bad thing

Robert Kirkman and Eric Stephenson at Comic-Con International, 2004. Photo by Jonah Weiland.

Ever since Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson launched his blog in 2010, it’s been home to some well thought-out essays on comics as the longtime pro sees it, and this week is no different. In a post titled “A Good Idea,” Stephenson addresses the perception some fans have that many comics created today are merely back-door pitches for movies or television series. And while he admits that’s sometimes the case, even at Image, he argues it’s not a bad thing.

“Let’s pretend for a moment that virtually everyone writing and drawing creator-owned comics is only doing so because they want to shop their ideas around to Hollywood, so they can be turned into television shows and movies. Or both,” Stephenson writes. “Let’s say these creative people are so driven by ambition that selling comic books simply isn’t enough. They don’t just want their stories to reach comic book readers – they want them to reach the world. They want as many people as possible to read their stories, to look at their artwork, to experience their creativity.”

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Comics A.M. | Plan to replace New York’s Javits Center falls apart

Jacob K. Javits Center

Conventions | New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has mothballed plans for a giant convention center in Queens, leaving the unlovely, unloved, but well-situated Javits Center as the home of New York Comic-Con for the near future. [The New York Times, via The Beat]

Publishing | Alex Klein sees the “outing” of Green Lantern Alan Scott as a desperate move to boost sales by a publisher whose market share is dropping: “Switching up sexual orientation is a cunning way of compensating for flagging sales and aging characters. In the meantime, the industry is rebalancing: toward independent publishers, author ownership, and cross-platform digital tie-ins. As small studios sap talent from the giant conglomerates, comics are changing—and there’s a lot of money to be made in the process—just not in the comics themselves.” And he talks to The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and Image publisher Eric Stephenson about what they can do that the Big Two can’t. [The Daily Beast]

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Comics A.M. | New York Comic Con absorbs New York Anime Festival

New York Comic Con

Conventions | ReedPOP has officially announced it will fold the New York Anime Festival into New York Comic Con, rather than continue them as separate events held at the same location. “This move has nothing to do with our loyalty or commitment to the anime community and everything to do with the growth and identity of New York Comic Con as a leading pop culture event,” ReedPOP’s Lance Fensterman said in a statement. “NYCC embraces all elements of the pop culture world, including anime, and we have evolved to a point where the existence of NYAF outside our universe is almost a contradiction. We will be better able to serve the anime community from within the NYCC infra-structure rather than have a show which is separate and which will always be dwarfed by everything that New York Comic Con represents and is.” [press release]

Passings | Cartoonist Jim Unger, whose one-panel comic Herman served as an inspiration for Gary Larson’s The Far Side, passed away Monday at his home in British Columbia. He was 75. The comic appeared in about 600 newspapers worldwide from 1974 until Unger’s retirement in 1992. [The Daily Cartoonist]

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