Thursday at this time, many Americans will be digging in to their bountiful Thanksgiving dinner or, depending upon the time zone, blissfully enjoying a tryptophan coma. Feasting isn’t the only tradition, however: There’s also the custom of giving thanks, hence the holiday’s name.
With the end of the year approaching, it seems like a good opportunity to reflect on the state of comics, and celebrate what’s working. Sure, this crazy industry can be frustrating at times, but it also gets a lot of things right. So in keeping with the numerical motif of our namesake, here are six things in comics for which I’m thankful.
1. Image Comics is killing it
There are a lot of fantastic comics today. It’s been said a number of times by myself and others but it’s so fun to repeat: We are living in a new renaissance period for comics. I don’t think there’s ever before been such a sustained output of quality books. You can’t reasonably give credit for that to one publisher, but if we’re just looking at the major players in the direct market, Image Comics is just killing it this year. I don’t think they’ve ever had such a stellar line-up of quality creators putting out books that look fantastic, have great hooks to them, and stand on their own as solid entertainment.
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]
With 23 days left in a Kickstarter campaign to fund its spring/summer season of books, Fantagraphics has already surpassed its initial $150,000 goal.
“We literally are stunned by the support you have shown in less than four days,” Publisher Gary Groth wrote Monday in a Kickstarter update, “it’s incredible and we humbly thank you.”
As he explained last week to Comic Book Resources, the effort came in the wake of the illness and death earlier this year of co-founder Kim Thompson, which led 13 of the books he edited to be canceled or postponed. That amounted to the loss of about one-third of the spring/summer season, and a significant financial blow to the publisher. The Kickstarter is designed to help Fantagraphics finance the next season of books — 39 in all.
With that $150,000 goal now met, Fantagraphics is expanding the number of premiums. The campaign ends Dec. 5.
Creators | Anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, who announced his retirement just two months ago, is reportedly drawing a samurai manga set during the Warring States Period. Asked on the Japanese television show Sekai-ichi Uketai Jugyō over the weekend how the 72-year-old filmmaker will spend his retirement, Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki replied, “I think he will serialize a manga. From the beginning, he likes drawing about his favorite things. That’s his stress relief.” He also confirmed the manga’s setting before cutting off the line of questioning with, “He’ll get angry if I talk too much. Let’s stop talking about this.” Miyazaki has illustrated several manga over the past four decades, most notably the seven-volume Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. [Anime News Network]
Libraries | Mitch Stacy takes a look at the new Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University, which is scheduled to open this weekend with a gala celebration. [ABC News]
In addition to launching their first-ever linewide Kickstarter project this week, Fantagraphics announced another “first” for the company — their first digital-first comic. The 50-page, self-contained Violenzia by Richard Sala (Delphine, Cat Burgler Black) will be released on comiXology Nov. 20.
“A fast moving, self-contained story, Violenzia is a blast of pulpy fun, told in scenes of audacious action and splashes of rich watercolors,” said Fanta’s Jen Vaughn. “With elements of golden age comics and old movies mixed with Sala’s trademark humor and sense of the absurd, Violenzia is serious fun, a bloody enigma masked as eye candy, a puzzle box riddled with bullet holes.”
(Hmmm … it’s funny how we’ve never seen Violenzia and Jen Vaughn in the same room together …)
Check out some additional art from the comic below, and some additional thoughts on the project from Fanta’s Eric Reynolds at The Comics Reporter.
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]
Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor, Fantagraphics Books, 120 pages, $24.99.
I enjoy both hip-hop and reading books about the history of music or nascent art forms in general, so this book fits right in my wheelhouse anyway, but, man, did I like this comic. I liked the way Piskor designed the book, making it look like one of those oversized Marvel or DC “Treasury” books from the 1970s, and even goes so far as to use newsprint-like paper and print the colors slightly off-register at times, all the better to evoke those lap-sized comics of yesteryear. I liked the way he juggles a huge cast of characters, jumping around from one to the next without losing or confusing the reader. I like how he employs some wonderful bits of cartoonish exaggeration (that, it should be noted, never devolves into ethnic stereotyping), so that Grandmaster Flash wears an impossibly large cap, Mellie Mel’s afro seems larger than his head at times, and Russell Simmons is a cross-eyed guy with a bad lisp. Piskor seems to know intuitively how to relate the best, most revealing and juiciest anecdotes without bogging the reader down in minutiae. I’ve enjoyed Piskor’s work in the past (most notably with his hacker book Wizzywig) but he’s never seemed quite as confident a storyteller as he does here. Can’t wait for volume two.
Fans of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting have had to be very patient, as there was a four-year gap between the release of the first volume in 2006 and the second in 2010. Last year, three more chapters were released as single issues that finished the story of volume 2, and Fantagraphics published the work anew as a “definitive edition.”
This week, the Fantagraphics blog updated Medley fans with news that she’s back at work on Castle Waiting, drawing storyboards for the third volume — although the publisher can’t say yet in what format the new story will be released.
And there’s more: Medley has also dusted off an unfinished project, Twelve Witches, a Castle Waiting spinoff for younger readers. As she explained in this 1999 interview, it’s based on the characters in her first comic The Curse of Brambly Hedge, which was originally published with the support of a Xeric grant. (Another interesting tidbit from that interview: Medley was a penciler for Justice League of America and Doom Patrol, both very different from her current work.)
Fantagraphics has posted some penciled pages from Twelve Witches on its Tumblr.
The first is Batter Up, Charlie Brown, another in the series of Peanuts collections organized around a theme, rather than chronologically. It’s due in April, just in time for Opening Day. As Tom notes, this must mean that last year’s Christmas-themed book went over pretty well, and he also points out that the 65th anniversary of the strip is coming up in 2015.
Next up is The Complete Eightball, collecting the first 18 issues of Daniel Clowes’ comic in a deluxe format, two hardcover volumes in a slipcase. Eightball has been collected before, but not like this: In addition to the prestige format, the new edition, which coincides with the 25th anniversary of Eightball‘s debut, includes material that has only been published in the original comics. Fantagraphics Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds told Spurgeon there is “a not-insigificant amount of strips that for whatever reason, Dan never wanted to collect.” The book will also include additional commentary by Clowes, making it sort of the director’s cut of Eightball. Watch for it in August 2014, and start saving now, as the list price is $95.
Finally, there’s Buddy Buys a Dump, the latest collection of Peter Bagge’s Buddy Bradley comics, and the first to appear in seven years. The 144-page book will include some previously unpublished material, and the expected publication date is in April.
Publishing | Although there’s been no official announcement beyond an Amazon listing, Fantagraphics is set to publish a Don Rosa Library line, beginning next summer with the 248-page hardcover Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: “The Son of the Sun.” That was the title of the cartoonist’s first Scrooge McDuck comic, released in 1987. [The Comics Reporter]
Creators | Writer and editor J.W. Rinzler talks about adapting George Lucas’ initial draft of the Star Wars screenplay into the Dark Horse comic The Star Wars: “This is not something you could film. Here’s a giant city and then here’s a giant vista filled with huge spacecraft. (Lucas) was doing his blue sky version of what he wanted to do. He knew this was not going to be filmable.” [The Associated Press]
Publishing | The Archie gang has canceled a (fictional) trip to Russia because of that country’s draconian anti-gay laws. One law would allow the arrest of foreigners suspected of being gay or “pro-gay,” while another defines any pro-gay statement as pornography and therefore makes it a criminal act to make such statements in front of anyone under the age of 18. Archie cartoonist Dan Parent, who created Riverdale’s first openly gay character, Kevin Keller, is taking a stand in his own way: “Russia should be boycotted, so much so that actually in an upcoming special four-issue story arc I’m writing the Archie gang are going to take a world tour to four countries. Russia was to be one of them. But they’re not going there now. They just can’t and they won’t. They love and support Kevin.” [Back2Stonewall]
Fantagraphics Books announced today at Comic-Con International in San Diego that it will publish the work of Australian cartoonist Simon Hanselmann, best known for his ongoing series of “Megg, Mogg and Owl” strips that he now releases on his blog Girl Mountain.
Titled Megahex, the hardcover will feature than 200 pages of Megg and Mogg comics, including 70 never-before-seen pages. It will debut in summer 2014.
For those that aren’t familiar with Hanselmann’s work, Fantagraphics’ press release aptly sums up its unique appeal:
Megg (a green-skinned witch), Mogg (a black cat), and Owl (an anthropomorphic owl) are a trio of ne’er–do–well roommates cohabiting in a suburban flop house. Megg and Mogg spend most of their time smoking pot and having sex while Owl works various office jobs and usually comes home to find himself the as the butt of every joke. Behind the fart jokes and stoner humor are the depressed and misanthropic lives of these characters. Each possess their own tragedy which weighs on their shoulders, keeping them from escaping the nihilistic pit into which they’ve fallen. Equally funny and melancholic, Hanselmann is able to evoke empathy for his characters, making it easy for readers fall in love with this disdainful bunch. Part Ernest Hemingway, part Johnny Ryan, Megahex will make people laugh, cry, and then take a shower.
“This is literally a teenage dream,” Hanselmann goes on to say. “Fantagraphics has been my favorite/the best comics publisher since forever. I’ve had a Fantagraphics poster hanging over my bed since I was fourteen. My brain is doing confused celebratory cartwheels.”
This is indeed excellent news. As anyone whose read Hanselmann’s comics knows, he’s one of the most interesting cartoonist to come out of the Internet in recent years. While taking the basic template of your average stoner comedy (albeit with some fantasy and funny animal elements), Hanselmann isn’t afraid to take his characters into some very dark (and given their recreational habits, logical) places. It’s emotionally powerful, raw and uncompromising work that also happens to be really funny.
You can read the full press released after the jump, along with a short Q&A I conducted with Hanselmann via email.
This as-yet-untitled book will be Davis’ first major work since 2009′s The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook from Bloomsbury Children’s. In that time the cartoonist has created extensive shorter works for Fantagraphics’ Mome anthology as well as for Little House Comics, the boutique publishing imprint she co-owns with her husband Drew Weing.
Hitting the 30th anniversary of your career in comics is always worth celebrating given the medium’s tendency to chew up and spit talented people out (speaking of which, did you see that Graham Chaffee has a new book out?) That’s doubly true in the case of the Hernandez brothers, as Gilbert and Jaime (and sometimes Mario) have not only been able to stay in the game despite the various radical shifts in the landscape, they’ve been able to produce challenging, thoughtful, emotionally powerful comic consistently over the course of those three decades with nary a drop in quality.
Fantagraphics is celebrating the anniversary with a trio of books the focus squarely on the brothers’ signature title: The Love & Rockets Reader and Love and Rockets: The Covers – both due out later this year – and The Love and Rockets Companion: 30 Years (and Counting) the latter of which, co-edited by Marc Sobel and Kristy Valenti, just came out this past week. It’s an impressively thick tribute to L&R, featuring three lengthy interviews with the cartoonists, a complete list of characters in both Jaime’s Locas series and Gilbert’s Palomar saga, a timeline of the stories, an issue checklist and even a selection of highlights from the letter columns. In short, it’s the perfect scrapbook to some of the best comics ever made.
Sobel is the perfect person to be help shepherd this book: He’s written at length about Love & Rockets for Sequart (and the bulk of those essays will appear in the L&R Reader), and always with insight and intelligence. I talked with Marc over email about the book, how it came together and why it’s important to celebrate and discuss the Hernandez brothers’ work to such a degree. I could have kept the discussion going for days.
How were you initially introduced to Love & Rockets?
As a lifelong comics fan, I was aware of Love & Rockets for years, but I was too young when the series started and then I was just always reading new comics, so I never went back and checked it out. But around 2006, after a few years of writing reviews online, I decided I wanted to school myself in the classics of the medium so I would be a better, more informed writer, and I could enjoy higher quality comics, instead of just always following the latest fads. I decided to start with Love and Rockets because I found someone selling the entire 50 issues of volume 1 on eBay for cheap.
Retailing | Publishers Weekly’s annual comics retailer survey yields some interesting commentary, although the sample size is small (just 10 stores): Sales are up, retailers are optimistic, and Saga is the hot book right now. Also, booksellers who underestimated the demand for Chris Ware’s Building Stories lost out to direct-market retailers who didn’t, making for some nice extra sales during the holiday season. And while readers seem to be getting tired of the Big Two and their event comics, they are more enthusiastic than ever before about creator-owned comics, and Image is doing quite well. [Publishers Weekly]
Awards | Ladies Making Comics presents the complete list of women Eisner nominees for this year, noting that women have been nominated in almost every category. [Ladies Making Comics]