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Comics A.M. | NECA to acquire Hastings in $21.4 million deal

Hastings

Hastings

Retailing | Hastings Entertainment, which operates a chain of 149 stores that sells books, comics, video games and more, has announced a $21.4 million agreement to merge with two companies owned by Joel Weinshanker, president and sole shareholder of Wizkids parent National Entertainment Collectibles Association; Weinshanker already holds 12 percent of Hastings’ outstanding shares.

“NECA is a significant supplier of movie, book and video game merchandise and collectibles to the Hastings superstores, and we’ve had a close and growing business relationship with Mr. Weinshanker over the last decade,” John H. Marmaduke, Hastings’ chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “Mr. Weinshanker, through his affiliation with the estates of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali, and his company’s management of Graceland, is one of the leading drivers of the lifestyle industry, and we believe Hastings’ business will continue to benefit from our relationship with him and NECA.” Marmaduke will retire with a $1.5 million cash payout once the merger is approved. The announcement was followed by press releases from two New York City law firms that say they’re investigating the plan on behalf of Hastings shareholders. [press release]

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Comics A.M. | Manga market showing signs of ‘modest’ recovery

New Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1

New Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1

Manga | In a two-part interview, ICv2 talks at length to veteran Dark Horse manga editor Carl Horn about how the manga market has evolved since 1987, which manga do and do not do well, and what the future may hold. The good news is the market seems to be recovering after several years of declining sales; the hard evidence is that Dark Horse is sending more royalties back to the Japanese licensors. And the new reality is that while the market may be smaller, almost everyone knows what manga is now: “You can’t simply put a manga on the market and expect it to sell because it is manga (that was one of the nice things about the boom because you could take a chance on more marginal titles), but on the other hand you don’t have to do as much explaining about what manga is anymore.” In addition, ICv2 lists the top 25 manga and the top 10 shoujo and shonen properties from the last quarter of 2013. [ICv2]

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Comics A.M. | Batmobile copyright fight heading back to court

A Batmobile replica from Gotham Garage

A Batmobile replica from Gotham Garage

Legal | Eriq Gardner delves into the issues underlying the continuing legal battle over unauthorized replicas of the Batmobile from the 1966 Batman television series and the 1989 film: This summer the Ninth Circuit will consider the appeal of Gotham Garage owner Mark Towle, whose Batmobile replicas were found in February 2013 to violate DC Comics’ copyrights and trademarks. While Towle argues that Batman’s ride is a “useful article,” meaning a utilitarian object not protected by U.S. copyright law, a federal judge ruled the Batmobile is “a copyrightable character.” Gardner notes that if the appeals court sides with DC/Warner Bros., “Hollywood studios would win a powerful weapon to stop products that are similar to props like light sabers and ruby slippers.” [The Hollywood Reporter]

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Comics A.M. | U.K. artists Gordon Bell & Tony Harding pass away

"Dennis the Menace," by Gordon Bell

“Dennis the Menace,” by Gordon Bell

Passings | British cartoonist Gordon Bell has died at the age of 79. He was a contributor to DC Thomson’s children’s comics, including The Beano and The Dandy, in the 1960s and ’70s; his creations include The Bash Street Pups. After that, he went on to become a political cartoonist (under the nom de plume Fax) for the Dundee, Scotland, newspaper The Courier, which is also apparently owned by DC Thomson. Lew Stringer has posted a sampling of his work at Blimey! [The Courier]

Passings | Another U.K. creator who drew for weekly children’s comics, Anthony John “Tony” Harding, has also died. While Bell’s work was on the goofy side, Harding drew soccer stories for action-packed boys’ comics such as Bullet, Hornet and Victor. His best-known gig was as the artist for “Look Out for Lefty,” the story of a hotheaded soccer player with a skinhead girlfriend, which got a bit too close to reality with its depictions of violence during soccer games. Again, Lew Stringer posts some of his work. [Down the Tubes]

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Comics A.M. | Creator couples discuss sexism in industry

"Bandette," by Tobin and Coover

“Bandette,” by Tobin and Coover

Creators | Frannie Jackson talks with a handful of prominent creator couples — Mike Allred and Laura Allred, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction, Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin — about sexism within the comics industry. “I’m occasionally invited to participate in panel discussions about ‘women in comics,’” Coover says. “I’m usually emotionally torn by those invitations, because, yeah, I want women in comics to thrive and be seen as thriving, but I’d much rather be part of a discussion about ‘awesome creators in comics’ that’s stacked with awesome women and men.” [Paste]

Retailing | Andrew Wyrich visits several comics shops in the North Jersey area and finds they rely on a friendly atmosphere and incentive programs to keep customers coming back. “People who buy comics tend to have a $40 weekly budget,” said Len Katz, co-owner of The Joker’s Child in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. “We hear of people who love comics, but eventually just hit a wall with expenses. The key for us is to get customers coming back. The reality is we are not a necessary item; we aren’t milk, bread or cheese.” [The Record]

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Comics A.M. | French manga market shows signs of weakening

Naruto, Vol. 60

Naruto, Vol. 60

Manga | While at the Angouleme International Comics Festival, I had a chance to study the French manga market and talk to some of the publishers. Manga represents more than one-third of the French comics market (last year, there were more new manga releases than BDs), and sales and production dipped for the first time last year. [Publishers Weekly]

Comics | Gary Cox rounds up reactions from refugees to the Australian government’s online comic that warns them not to try to enter the country without a visa. “The people who are coming here are not economic migrants, they’re coming to have a safer, peaceful life here,” says Ibrar Hassani. And an advocate for refugees pointed out that the images of refugees suffering in detention centers were evidence that the government is deliberately mistreating them. [SBS]

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Comics A.M. | ReedPOP partners with Australia’s Oz Comic-Con

ReedPOP

ReedPOP

Conventions | As comics conventions continue to become an international phenomenon, ReedPOP bags a big one: The company behind New York Comic Con, C2E2, Star Wars Celebration and Penny Arcade Expo has announced a partnership with Oz Comic-Con, which runs several conventions in different locations in Australia. [press release]

Passings | Paul Burgarino reports on Sunday’s memorial service for Wee Pals cartoonist Morrie Turner, who died last month at the age of 90. Wee Pals was the first comic strip by a black creator to get a national syndication deal, and speakers remembered him as both a pioneer and an inspiration. “Through your unique artistry and personal kindness, you’ve helped show the world what we can be, should be and must be,” said David Shaffer, the son of one of Turner’s close friends. [Contra Costa Times]

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Comics A.M. | Artists rally in support of jailed Tunisian cartoonist

"Free Jabeur"

“Free Jabeur”

Legal | Artists from around the world are drawing in support of Tunisian cartoonist Jabeur Mejri, who is serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence for posting caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad online. Just two weeks after Tunisia adopted a new constitution that protects freedom of expression, Jabeur’s supporters have launched a “100 Cartoons for Jabeur” website and released a statement saying, “While freedom of expression and conscience are guaranteed in this founding text, the continued detention of Jabeur Mejri is contrary to the spirit and the text of the constitution.” [Yahoo News]

Publishing | Andrews McMeel’s AMP! division will publish Reading With Pictures: The Graphic Textbook, a collection of graphic stories on a number of topics, including math, history and social studies, that is designed to fit into the Common Core standards. The creators involved include Roger Langridge, Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. While this is big news for Reading With Pictures, the organization behind the book, it’s also an interesting move for AMP!, which has been focusing on kid-friendly reprint collections of its parent company’s newspaper strips. [The Beat]

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Comics A.M. | Taipei festival expected to draw more than 330,000

Taipei International Comics and Animation Festival

Taipei International Comics and Animation Festival

Conventions | So you think Comic-Con International is too big? The Taipei International Comics and Animation Festival drew 330,000 attendees last year — its first year — and with Attack on Titan creator Hajime Isayama as a guest, this year’s show promises to be just as big. [Focus Taiwan]

Conventions | Crystal Gutierrez files a report on Albuquerque Comic Con, which took place  over the weekend. [KRQE]

Comics | Gene Demby talks to several “thoughtful geeks” about race and superheroes, using as a starting point Orion Martin’s project in which the X-Men were re-colored to appear to be brown-skinned. Related: Writing for CBC News, Niigaanwewidam Sinclair looks at the depictions of indigenous peoples in comic books. [NPR]

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Comics A.M. | ‘Walking Dead’ reclaims top spot in bookstores

The Walking Dead, Vol. 19

The Walking Dead, Vol. 19

Graphic novels | Five volumes of The Walking Dead made the November BookScan list of the Top 20 graphic novels sold in bookstores. As ICv2 points out, the fact that the first volume is still charting (at No. 13) bodes well for the series, as it means new readers are continuing to come in. The latest volume of Naruto took the No. 2 slot, and there were nine volumes of manga overall, including three volumes of Attack on Titan and the newest volume of Yotsuba&! There were five DC Comic titles on the list, as well as the latest volume of Dark Horse’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. Completely missing from the Top 20? Anything from Marvel. [ICv2]

Publishing | After three years at DC Entertainment, John Rood will step down on Jan. 1 as executive vice president of sales, marketing and business development. The position is being eliminated, with marketing and publicity to fall under the auspices of Amit Desai, senior vice president of franchise management. Sales, custom publishing and business development will again be overseen by Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee. [The Beat]

Gift Guides | Here’s a spin on the traditional gift guide: Ten things not to buy a comics fan. [Crave Online]

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Comics A.M. | More on JFK comic art that surfaced at auction

From "Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy”

From “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy”

Creators | Newsday picks up the story of Al Plastino’s original art for the John F. Kennedy comic that was canceled when the president was assassinated, and then published a few months later at the request of the Johnson administration. Plastino, now 91, had been told the artwork would be donated to the Kennedy Library, but last month at New York Comic Con he learned that a private individual had the art and was planning to sell it through Heritage Auctions, which now says it won’t move forward until the ownership question is resolved. Copyright lawyer Dale Cendall, former DC Comics President Paul Levitz and artist Neal Adams weigh in on the case. [Newsday]

Kickstarter | In the wake of the successful Fantagraphics Kickstarter campaign, Rob Salkowitz looks at the evolution of the crowdfunding platform from a way for individual creators to connect with their audiences to a pre-sale mechanism that eliminates a lot of the risk for smaller publishers. [ICv2]

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Comics A.M. | North Carolina convention war brewing?

NC Comicon

NC Comicon

Conventions | Brian Howe looks at the rivalry between Comic Book City Con, which debuted two weekends ago in Greensboro, North Carolina, and NC Comicon, which returns Saturday in Durham. The latter, which is now co-owned by artist Tommy Lee Edwards, drew 4,000 attendees last year (its first at the Durham Convention Center), and this year doubled its exhibit space and ramped up its programming. The conflict, which manifested in a flier for Comic Book City Con that one party considers playful but the other calls “bullying,” seems to be rooted in the proximity of the dates and a perceived lack of communication. However, it’s not simply a rivalry between nearby conventions; it’s one between retailers: Durham’s Ultimate Comics organizes NC Comicon, while Greensboro’s Acme Comics operates Comic Book City Con. [Indy Week]

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Comics A.M. | Rare Brazilian comics stolen in armed robbery

O Lobinho

O Lobinho

Crime | Three armed men invaded the home of comics collector Antonio Jose da Silva in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and held him and two employees at gunpoint while they stole more than 7,000 comics from his collection of about 200,000. The robbers seemed to know exactly what they were looking for, as they went straight for the most valuable books. Their haul included more than 200 first editions of O Lobinho and O Gibi, which reprinted translations of American comics in the 1930s and 1940s. The value of the thieves haul is estimated at $150,000, and the loss will be borne by da Silva, who was unable to get insurance for his collection. [The Comics Reporter]

Comics | Dana Jennings looks at the renewed interest in EC Comics, once reviled in the popular press as mind-destroying trash that would lead youths astray, now revered by the comics cognoscenti as subversive graphic literature. Locke & Key writer Joe Hill and EC Archives editor Russ Cochran weigh in, as does Fantagraphics President Gary Groth, editor of that company’s EC Library, who says, “They were arguably the best commercial comics company in the history of the medium, and their list of artists and writers between 1950 and 1955 represents a Who’s Who of the most accomplished craftsmen working in comics at that time.” [The New York Times]

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Comics A.M. | Digital’s “biggest competition is ‘Angry Birds’”

Viz Media

Viz Media

Digital comics | ICv2 has a fascinating interview with Gagan Singh, Viz Media’s chief technology officer, in which he discusses not only the nuts and bolts of the publisher’s digital manga program — it now encompasses a number of e-reader platforms as well as a dedicated app — but also the larger questions of piracy, trends and, most importantly, growing the manga audience: “My favorite example is when you’re in the digital domain, your biggest competition is not the next manga or the next book, your biggest competition is Angry Birds because it’s only one click away. When you get into debate over mind share, I’m not just trying to get them to read the next book, I’m trying to get them to not listen to that song or play that video game. That is a bigger challenge where marketing and mind share is concerned.” [ICv2]

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Comics A.M. | Fate of arrested Syrian cartoonist is unclear

Akram Raslan cartoon

Akram Raslan cartoon

Political cartoonists | Michael Cavna looks into a report by the Cartoonists Rights Network International that Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan was executed in July. Raslan was arrested last year by Syrian security forces and, together with a group of journalists, artists and other “intellectuals,” sentenced to life imprisonment. “Somehow, along the way to prison young 28-year-old Akram Raslan (and possibly others) was peeled off, taken out and executed,” the post said. “He is reported to be in a mass grave somewhere near Damascus.” However, CRNI’s Robert Russell told Cavna they have been unable to confirm the report, which came from a “reliable source” close to Raslan’s family. [Comic Riffs]

Conventions | Heidi MacDonald and Calvin Reid file a comprehensive con report on New York Comic Con, including a conversation with ReedPOP Global Vice President Lance Fensterman and a look at the panels and booths. [Publishers Weekly Comics World]

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