Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Today our special guests are the creative team behind the upcoming self-distributed indie comic LP, Curt Pires and Ramon Villalobos. You can read more about the comic in the interview Tim O’Shea did with Curt earlier this week.
And to see what they’ve been reading lately, click below.
Retailing | ICv2 analyzes the August direct market numbers and comes up with some interesting patterns: While the market as a whole is up, the number of comics with sales of more than 1,000 has been declining; sales dropped a bit for most ongoing comics series in the Top 25, but strong sales of Before Watchmen and two annuals more than compensated for that; and graphic novels sell in far lower numbers than comics, but because many of them are backlist titles, the numbers still increase from year to year. ICv2 also posted lists of last month’s Top 300 comics and graphic novels. [ICv2]
Publishing | Yet another big publisher spawns a graphic novel imprint: This time it’s Penguin, whose Berkley/NAL division will launch a graphic novel imprint, InkLit, next month. Helmed by former DC vice president and Yen Press co-founder Rich Johnson, InkLit will publish both original graphic novels and adaptations of prose works. The line will begin with Vol. 1 of Patricia Briggs’s Alpha and Omega, which collects the trades published by Dynamite; the second volume will be all new material. Also in the works are books by Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Sage Stossel. [Publishers Weekly]
Comics | The August direct market sales numbers are in, and things look good: Comics sales are up almost 20 percent over August 2011, and graphic novels are up 15 percent. This isn’t just a fluke, either: Year-to-date sales are up about the same in both categories. DC had a slight edge in market share, Marvel did slightly better on unit sales, and interestingly, the Big Two stole back a bit of market share from everyone else. And as with bookstore sales, Batman ruled the direct market: “The influence of The Dark Knight Rises is more obvious in the bookstore channel with its tendency to foster backlist sales (Frank Miller’s 1980’s classic, The Dark Knight Returns was tops in the bookstores), while the direct market sales are concentrated more on the most recent releases such as Johns’ Batman: Earth One, which was released in July and Snyder’s New 52 volume that was out in May.” [ICv2]
Passings | Illustrator and panel cartoonist Art Cumings has died at the age of 90. Mike Lynch describes Cumings as “an illustrator’s illustrator and a cartoonist’s cartoonist”; his work appeared everywhere from Dr. Seuss books to Penthouse magazine, and it’s worth hitting the link to see his Balloonheads cartoons from the latter. (NSFW, but in a cute, colorful way.) [Mike Lynch Cartoons]
Because it’s the first week of the New 52 Year Two, the time has come to review where I stand at the end of Year One. It also happens to be the week I’m away on a bidness trip, unable to react to whatever dern-fool thing DC did on Wednesday.
That would probably take a back seat anyway, because I’m a little curious myself to look back at these books. In terms of reading habits, it’s been a rather funky year. Some weeks I wouldn’t have time to read everything I bought, and sometimes that meant books just dropped off my radar. I caught up with a few of these, but a few I just didn’t miss — which, of course, is never a good thing.
You’ll remember that last year I bought all 52 first issues, and talked about each as September proceeded. Of those which remain, I am reading 27: Action Comics, All-Star Western, Animal Man, Aquaman, Batgirl, Batman, Batman & Robin, Batwing, Batwoman, Blue Beetle, Catwoman, DC Universe Presents, Demon Knights, Detective Comics, Firestorm, Flash, Frankenstein, Green Lantern, GL Corps, I, Vampire, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Stormwatch, Supergirl, Superman, Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman.
Additionally, I was reading six titles that have since been canceled: Blackhawks, JLI, Men of War, OMAC, Resurrection Man and Static Shock. For a while I also read Grifter, Red Lanterns, and Superboy. Filling in some of those holes are second-wave titles Batman Incorporated, Earth 2, Worlds’ Finest and Dial H.
To keep your eyes as glaze-free as possible, this will be a two-part survey. Today we’ll look at the Superman and Batman families, the “historical” titles, the main-line Justice League books, and a few others.
Comics | Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns talks with The Wall Street Journal about the introduction this week of the newest member of the Green Lantern Corps Simon Baz, an Arab-American Muslim from Dearborn, Michigan: “As fantastic as the concept of Green Lantern is of an intergalactic police force, the comic has had a history of grounding in the now and dealing with modern characters and concepts and Simon Baz is that. I wanted to create a character that everyday Americans have to deal with. When 9/11 hit, he was 10-years-old. His family was devastated, just like every other American. He’s grown up in that world. It’s just part of the daily life, the new normal.” [Speakeasy]
Comics | The new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, reaches a key moment in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #14, when Aunt May gives him Peter Parker’s web-shooters and the formula for for his web fluid. Writer Brian Michael Bendis explains why he waited so long to pass along the iconic tools: “‘This is like Excalibur. This is it. This is like being bequeathed the sword,’ Bendis says. ‘But, young Miles and (his friend) Ganke trying to figure out how to make web fluid is going to be my favorite stuff to write ever in the history of writing of anything. Just because someone gives you a formula and says, “Here, cook this,” doesn’t mean you can.’” [USA Today]
Legal | Writer Scott Henry details the lengthy attempt to prosecute Dragon*Con co-founder Ed Kramer on charges of child molestation. The case began in 2000 and has yet to go to trial. [Atlanta Magazine]
Publishing | Bandai Entertainment will discontinue sales of manga, novels and anime, with the final shipment of manga going out at the end of October. The company, a subsidiary of Namco Bandai Entertainment, had stopped publishing new work in January and was focusing on sales of its existing properties. [Anime News Network]
DC Comics released Green Lantern Annual #1 this week by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, Pete Woods and Cam Smith, the prologue to their “Rise of the Third Army” crossover event that’ll run through the various Lantern titles. It’s a jam-packed issue, featuring the reveal of the Guardians’ nefarious plans, the introduction of someone called the First Lantern and what the Third Army looks like, Guardian-on-Guardian violence, more of the Hal/Sinestro bromance and of course a holdover from the last big Green Lantern crossover, Black Hand.
It’s a lot of plot, but how was the story? Here are just a few opinions from around the web; I would also point you to Caleb’s review and invite you to leave your own thoughts in our comments section.
Brian Hibbs, The Savage Critics: “Now, this is really a model of how an annual should be — it’s the culmination of the last year of story, in all ways. THIS is GL #13, and sets off a new status quo for the book for a smidge at least.”
“The New 52 is one year old today! We knew going in that it was a major risk and heard every concern, but we had faith in what we were doing and felt it was the right thing for our characters, company and industry. Needless to say, the relaunch achieved everything we hoped for and more! Thanks to everyone for taking the chance and joining us on this wild ride. We have a month long celebration with Zero Month in September and knowing what we have in store for 2013, its easy for me to say, the best is yet to come.”
– DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, marking one year since the Aug. 31, 2011 debut of Justice League #1
by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, the flagship of the company’s linewide relaunch
Serialized storytelling provides superhero-comics publishers a pretty handy buffer. Anything can be judged unfairly, perhaps even after the whole story has been collected. Don’t like a preview image? Wait until the issue itself comes out. Don’t like how the story is going? Wait for it to end, so you can evaluate it in a more proper context. Don’t like how the story ended? Hey, at least you got the thrill of following it issue by issue.
There will always be a certain distance between fans and professionals, simply because the pros know where the stories are going and the fans can only make educated guesses. The previous paragraph’s view of it may be cynical, but I don’t think it’s too far off. Beyond nostalgic, blue-sky wishes for publishers to stop aiming low, and for fans to stop assuming the worst, I don’t have any easy solutions. Sometimes I just wish these sorts of observations weren’t necessary.
Having said all that, I’m not going to call the latest Superman/Wonder Woman pairing (in this week’s Justice League #12, as you might have heard) The Dumbest Thing DC’s Ever Done. I’m not sure it’s even in the Top 20. Heck, I’m not sure it’s the dumbest thing DC’s done in the past 12 months.
What I will say is that it misses the point.
So what, exactly, does a chief creative officer do? Well, if the chief creative officer in question is Geoff Johns, then one of the most obvious answers is “write a whole heck of a lot of comic books.”
Johns is writing three ongoing monthly books for DC Comics, all of which happened to ship this week. While reading them all doesn’t exactly give one a copy of his job description, it does give one a sense of what he’s doing at DC, what he’s not doing and what’s different from his role at the publisher than when he was merely its most popular and prolific writer.
Even as the debate still rages over last week’s revelation that Superman and Wonder Woman begin a romantic relationship in the new issue of Justice League, The Associated Press introduced a potential new wrinkle: that in DC Comics’ New 52, not only have the Man of Steel and Lois Lane never dated — something readers have known for more than a year — but that they “likely” never will.
However, a DC spokesman told Comic Book Resources the latter assertion “definitely” didn’t come from the publisher, which has characterized the story development as “the new status quo,” one made possible by the year-old relaunch that wiped clean much of the history of the DC Universe.
Passings | Douglas Phillips, who drew many stories over the years for the rough-and-tumble British boys’ comics The Rover and The Victor, has died at the age of 85. [Blimey!]
Creators | Green Lantern writer (and DC chief creative officer) Geoff Johns is returning to his hometown, Detroit, to appear at a comics shop and the Arab American National Museum, promoting Baz, the first Arab-American Green Lantern. Johns himself is of Lebanese descent. [Detroit Free Press]
We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the New 52, and I anticipate doing the usual examinations of what worked and what didn’t. Until then, however, this preliminary post will try to organize my general impressions.
I have tried to keep an open mind about the various changes, but apparently I keep coming back to the New 52-niverse’s lack of meaningful fictional history. Much of this comes from the five-year timeline, but a good bit of it is due to storytelling styles. While origin stories can generate a nominal setting, including a regular supporting cast, many of the New-52 books held off for various reasons — like readers pretty much knowing the origins at the outset — and with today’s practical concerns, many books spent their first 12 issues on extended arcs.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been talking about this as a function of “idea generation,” but I think it is a more elemental concept. Specifically, it seems like I have been conditioned to expect a certain amount of continuity in a modern shared universe. Furthermore (and more troubling), I suspect the simple acknowledgment of preexisting continuity helps mitigate whatever weaknesses may exist in the stories themselves.
There are a lot of existential questions one could ask about this project: Why does it exist? Why is it an original graphic novel instead of a comic book series? Why is it subtitled “Earth One”? What does that mean, this year? What does it have to do with Superman: Earth One? Who on Earth is it for? Why was DC Comics promoting it as the more-or-less official Dark Knight Rises tie-in, distributing previews the week of the film’s release? And so on.
The whys I asked myself the most once I actually started reading it, however, regarded the particular choices writer Geoff Johns made while creating it. It’s full of significant, even radical, changes to the familiar elements of what you might think of as the basic Batman story and cast, and many of those changes seem completely random, in service of nothing in particular … save maybe a pretty messed-up message.
I’ve read just about every single comic Johns has written, and while I wouldn’t’ go so far as to say I’m a fan of his writing, I’m definitely very interested in it. I enjoy reading it for its faults as much as for its strengths, and I share his interest in the colorful characters and deep, complex history of the DC Universe, which the bulk of his writing has been concerned with.
In my experience, his very worst work has been that done without the crutch of DCU continuity, the sort of anything-goes wheel-reinventing he’s attempted on the recent Justice League reboot, with which he was paired with the direct market’s most popular artist Jim Lee, who brings strong drafting skills to Johns’ script, but little personality, flair or emotion. Johns’ very best work, on the other hand, has involved in-progress characters he was shepherding from a pre-established Point A to his own desired Point B, with artists capable of emotive character design and accessible, warm work. (His too-brief run on Superboy with Francis Manapul leaps immediately to mind, as does his early Stars and STRIPE with Lee Moder and his long, uneven run on Green Lantern with various artists of various skills and styles.)
While DC Comics is marking the first anniversary of the New 52 in September with a Zero Month, for the second anniversary the publisher is considering a much larger celebration: a linewide crossover.
“I’d love to be able to celebrate the anniversary of The New 52 with something that feels so special and something that unifies the line thematically (maybe not story-wise),” Co-Publisher Dan DiDio tells ICv2.com. “We’re leading to probably our first crossover event in the latter half of next year, but you’re going to see a better continuity developing through the line.”