I walked into MoCCA Arts Fest a few minutes after it opened, with my friend Erica Friedman, and we noticed the difference right away: The last two shows have had an improvised, “Let’s have a comics show! We can use my father’s barn!” kind of feeling. They weren’t disorganized, exactly, and the talent has always been top-notch, but the show floor felt crowded, cluttered, and confusing.
This was the first year that the Society of Illustrators was running the event. Organizers had a lot to prove, and they proved it. The show felt professional. The aisles were wider. A very simple addition — a bright red backdrop that ran behind the tables — made a huge difference, giving visitors more focus and eliminating the distraction of looking out across that cavernous space. The red curtains also set off a small gallery at the back of the armory that featured original comics art from the Society’s collection, a gentle reminder that they have been welcoming comics creators for more than 100 years. Visitors could buy a slick, nicely produced catalog for $5, and there was a modest cafe downstairs, a pleasant addition that allowed friends who met at the show to sit down and have a bite and a chat without disrupting the experience too much.
Awards | The National Cartoonists Society initiated a webcomics award last year, and this year the organization is splitting it in two, one for short-form works and one for long-form. The challenge with including webcomics, says NCS President Tom Richardson, is that to be eligible, creators must make the majority of their money from cartooning. “That isn’t an easy thing to quantify anymore. With online comics, we need to take into account site traffic, professionalism in consistent and regular publication, online community activity and other factors that are the hallmark of professional online work,” he says. “In some cases, it’s pretty obvious the creator is making a career out of cartooning. In some, it’s not so obvious.” [Comic Riffs]
Well, all conspiracy theories, corporate DNA and the WB’s own woman problems aside, the simple fact is that on a meta level, DC Entertainment produces entertainment for boys. That’s its place within Warners, its demographic slot and I’m sure at some point Diane Nelson has overtly been tasked with keeping the boy audience engaged for films starring Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern.
We may think this kind of pigeonholing is stupid, but in a world run by branding, the message matters. By addressing female readers (and also younger readers), DC risks alienating its core audience of teenaged boys and men 25-35.
Heidi MacDonald hits the nail on the head: Publishers are in the business to make money, not make the world a better place, and of course they are going to cater to their core demographic. This is just one of a number of solid points that Heidi makes in this essay, which links to the other women-in-comics articles that have appeared in the past two weeks, ties them together, and frankly, makes a lot more sense than the two news pieces that were linked. It’s well worth reading the whole thing, including (especially!) the excerpt from former Drawn and Quarterly staffer Jessica Campbell’s essay on why the whole question of “female artists” is bogus at its core. And there’s a great discussion in the comments section as well (I thought Jesse Post made a particularly good point), so keep on scrollin’!
At the MoCCA Festival panel on running a comics shop, the topic of Before Watchmen came up as part of a discussion of pull lists. Tucker Stone, manager of Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn, volunteered that his store wouldn’t be ordering the miniseries except for those customers who’ve already requested it.
ComiXology’s David Steinberger was in the audience and asked Stone to clarify why that was. “We’re gonna lose money,” Stone said. “We’ll probably lose customers. It was a decision that was made.”
I wasn’t there, and it’s difficult for me to interpret Stone’s additional comments without hearing his tone of voice or reading his body language, but based on the panel report, it sounds like this was a decision that wasn’t without controversy even among Bergen Street’s staff. Stone continued, “When I heard that decision, I said that’s a bad idea. That’s an explanation that I’ll have to give over and over again.” But, “as time has gone on, as I’ve seen online response to that project … This is just gross, and we don’t want to be part of this one. We’ll participate with the grossness they did to Kirby on the Avengers books, but this one …”
Heidi MacDonald attended the panel and reports that her tweets about it “got a vociferous response from pros and retailers alike who felt that Bergen Street was being irresponsible and leaving money on the table.” That raises some interesting questions about the role of retailers in creators’ rights issues. Should shop owners serve their own sense of right and wrong (not that all retailers agree about what that looks like in this situation) or does that not matter compared to the mandate to serve the customer? I don’t feel qualified to cast judgment either way until I have a comics shop and a family and employees that depend on how I run it, but it’s fascinating to think about.
Comics shops uniquely personify the struggle many comics fans are experiencing as they think about these things. Which matters more: creators’ rights or my right to read what I want?
(John Douglas’ Watchmen Too: The Squid cover from Relaunched!.)
Creators | iZombie writer Chris Roberson discusses his recent public announcement that he would no longer accept work from DC Comics and his subsequent dismissal from his last writing job for the publisher. “Well, this has been building over the last few months, and mostly had to do with what I saw DC and Time Warner doing in regards to creator relations. I think the first thing — you have to understand that when I first started working for DC in 2008, the Siegels had just recaptured half of the copyright for Action Comics #1 and I felt very good about that. That seemed like a very positive step. And then over the course of the last few months there has been the counter-suit against the Siegels’ lawyer, Marc Toberoff, and I was less sanguine about that, and starting to get a little itchy about it, and then there were just a few general things about the way that it seemed that DC regards creators now that are working for them — and I can talk about that more in detail — but the real kind of proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the announcement at the beginning of February of Before Watchmen, which I just thought was unconscionable. And so I had already signed a contract by that point to do six more issues of iZombie, of which three of them had been turned in, and so I just made the decision to go ahead and turn in the remaining three, not wanting to jeopardize the livelihood of my collaborators Mike and Laura Allred. But once I turned in the last one, even though I had other work lined up, I would have to at least — if only for my own peace of mind — let people know that I wasn’t happy with it.” [The Comics Journal]
Comic strips | Cartoonist Tom Batiuk, whose Funky Winkerbean has addressed such topics as teen pregnancy, land mines and capital punishment, will next turn his attention to gay rights in a storyline about a gay couple that wants to attend the prom at the comic strip’s fictional fictional Westview High School. “It struck me that whenever I sit in classes at Midview High, which I still do, my overall impression is that the younger generation’s attitudes toward gays is more open and accepting than their predecessors,” Batiuk said. “It’s not perfect, but it shows promise for an emerging generation that will bring this issue (intolerance) to an end. I wanted to take those two opposing viewpoints to reach across that divide of intolerance.” The month-long storyline begins April 30. Funky Winkerbean appears in more than 400 newspapers nationwide. [The Chronicle-Telegram]
“The legacy of his artistic storytelling and abilities played a key role in cementing the enduring popularity of characters like Daredevil, Iron Man, Howard the Duck, Blade and Dr. Strange, and garnered him praise and fans the world over,” columnist George Khoury said in an obituary on Comic Book Resources this morning.
In lieu of flowers, Colan’s friend Clifford Meth is asking folks to contribute to a scholarship being set up in Colan’s name for The Kubert School. Details on how to donate can be found on Meth’s blog.
Fellow creators, fans and friends of Gene Colan are sharing memories. Here are a few; as always, click through to see the entirety of what they have to say about one of comics’ legendary artists:
Clifford Meth: “I knew this day would come but it came too quickly. It’s been a rare pleasure working with Gene. He knew who he was—how valuable his contributions to the world of comic art have been—how prized it remains by so many. Yet he never felt less than grateful to anyone who’d even read a single panel that he’d drawn. Until he was too weak to hold a pencil, he put his whole kishkes into everything he drew—whether it was a $5000 commission or a small drawing for someone’s child. And he was never satisfied with his artwork but always eager to learn a little more, do a little better, try something new. At 84.”
A few different news items related to comic news outlets have come across my desk recently:
- According to the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital site, News Corp. is planning to spin off the pop culture/video game site IGN, and in anticipation will acquire another pop culture/video game site, UGO.com — both of which cover comics.
- Publishers Weekly Comic Week, the weekly email newsletter edited by The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald, is switching to a monthly frequency. Per a post from MacDonald and PW’s Calvin Reid: “Although we are changing the frequency of the newsletter, the change will not diminish our overall comics coverage. Publishers Weekly will continue to cover graphic novels and comics in the book industry and traditional comics industry, publishing news and feature stories through the PW website and PW Daily as well as in our new monthly graphic novel newsletter.”
- And finally, via press release, Co-Chief Pop Culture Editor of Wizard World Mike Cotton has announced his last day with the company was April 29. By my count, that leaves Senior Associate Producer Carlos Mejia as the last man standing on the now-digital magazine‘s in-house editorial staff.
For all intents and purposes, NYCC is now my big hometown show. I still didn’t go, despite the fact that between getting a press pass and having a monthly Long Island Rail Road ticket, it would have cost me basically nothing to do so, and despite the fact that nearly all of my friends were there. There are a few reasons for this, including a major one involving the health of a family member (the good health, fortunately) that has nothing to do with the show itself. But it’s also for the reason I talk about in this comment thread discussion with The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald: There wasn’t a thriving alternative/art/literary/underground comics presence.
Heidi points out that Pantheon and First Second and Top Shelf all had booths at the show, which is true, and which is good. I like tons of Pantheon and Top Shelf books and usually one book per First Second slate. But when I say “thriving presence” I don’t mean “are the individual altcomix-y publishers that are there awesome or not,” I mean “Does the altcomix-y section of the show do well, attract attention, get press, draw attendees and creators, put up a formidable programming slate.” In that light, I don’t think that segment of this show is thriving vs. the rest of the show, no. For example, did Pantheon have X’ed Out, its eagerly anticipated, apparently awesome new book from titanic talent Charles Burns, available at the show? If so, awesome, but did you read word one about it in any show coverage? I sure didn’t. That little group of publishers Heidi speaks of–which by the way is mostly the alt-ish wings of gigantic NY publishing houses, not the alternative comics press per se–doesn’t reach the critical mass that it does at San Diego, even San Diego circa 2010, let alone TCAF/MoCCA/SPX/APE/BCGF/etc. I know there are any number of reasons why NYCC lacks the altcomix component that even San Diego has been able to preserve. I know that not all of it rests at the feet of NYCC’s organizers at Reed. I still think it’s a dealbreaker.
If I had to pick one person as the reporter-of-record for the American comics scene, it would be Heidi MacDonald. Although she may not write for Comic Book Resources, Newsarama or Wizard, her compelling voice and expansive knowledge of comics — and virtually all of its players — give her writing for Publishers Weekly and her own site, The Beat, a unique perspective. In addition to her comics commentary, she’s also served as a comics editor herself with stints at Disney, DC/Vertigo and Fox Atomic. This multifaceted experience gives her writing insider knowledge and credibility while lending MacDonald’s colorful wit intact to provide one of the most unique and strongest voices talking about comics.
I quote MacDonald often, many times for her idea of “the satisfying chunk” (ask her!), and with comics in the middle of a unique tectonic shift at the moment in terms of formats, genres and even ownership, I wanted to pick her brain on where things are and where they’re heading. Before I’d probably do this in a hallway to a press room at a convention or over weeks of emailing, but thanks to Robot 6 I can put it down for the world to see.
Chris Arrant: When people off the street ask, what do you tell them you do for a living?
Heidi MacDonald: I usually say I’m a writer, and they always ask what I write, so I say I run a website about comics (or graphic novels, depending on the crowd) and pop culture. They ask what it is called and I say “The Beat — just Google ‘Beat’ and ‘Heidi’ and it will come up.” Over the years the response has generally gotten more positive. Usually someone has a cousin or neighbor who is involved in comics. About half the time I have some familiarity with whoever it is, as opposed to the Olden Days when people were more aghast at the notion of comic books as a whole.
As the final days of summer start to waste away and you’re looking for something to enjoy before hitting the books for school, there’s no better place to find some good stuff to read than right here in our weekly What Are You Reading? column.This week our guest is journalist/blogger Heidi MacDonald, of The Beat and Publishers Weekly fame.
To see what Heidi and the rest of the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below …