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Why Toronto Comic Arts Festival matters

Raina Telgemeier, Lynn Johnston, and Kate Beaton at the opening panel at TCAF

Raina Telgemeier, Lynn Johnston and Kate Beaton at the opening panel at TCAF

On the opening night of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, organizer Christopher Butcher articulated a simple and very important vision for the event:

I looked at the people we were already approaching for 2014 last year, and we had an incredibly strong lineup already of people who wanted to participate who were women who were working in the industry with a history or who were fresh faces doing exciting, wonderful material, and we decided that was going to be an unspoken theme, we were going to really try to spotlight, highlight, the work of women in the industry … This isn’t a one-year thing for us. This isn’t just a theme this year, we aren’t going to be going back to anything, I think we have done a good job of showing the diverse faces of the comics industry but we can always be better… I want us to continue to be as inclusive as possible and to include all different kinds of work. I want comics to be the theme of TCAF and that means including everyone who makes comics, and particularly people who are doing a good job.

Then Butcher did something truly amazing: He introduced a panel of three women that was not titled “Women in Comics.” At TCAF, women were simply treated as equals and judged on their merits. And trust me, I walked the halls at the Toronto Reference Library and came back with two bags of comics and graphic novels, so I know: There were no charity cases at TCAF. Every exhibitor, male and female, was top-notch. This is a show that a huge number of people want to be a part of, so organizers can pick and choose. What they did this year was simply choose more women, which makes sense in a field where women have been well represented for many years. (There were plenty of men as well, they just weren’t in the majority as they are at every other show.)

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Pat Barrett takes aim with ‘How to Make Comics the Whiner’s Way’


Beneath the racks of Big Two superheroes and genre comics sits a thriving world of art and storytelling. Some call it independent comics, some call it small press, but in a interesting minicomic, Pat Barrett has some other words for it.

Created using the style and template of the fondly remembered 1978 classic How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema, Barrett delivers a comedic but seething look at the small-press industry. Debuting last month at the Small Press Expo, How to Make Comics the Whiner’s Way lampoons the plight of would-be comic artists in the realm of independent comics. Available for sale online at Birdcage Bottom Books, it’s a tongue-in-cheek “how to” that could also be read as a screed against a growing trend in comics.

“Do you like to gripe? Do you also like to draw? Then the world of small press comics is perfect for you!,” Barrett writes on the comic’s back cover. “The unheard-of Pat Barrett takes a stab at legitimacy by telling you how to accomplish what he hasn’t. Because those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, write a how-to book. Heed his words, learn some things, and most of all, Never Stop Whining!”

Here’s a sample of what’s inside the eight-page comic, which is available for $2.

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Humor, mystery and cruel birds: Three books from Hic & Hoc

The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor

The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor

Continuing my ever-ongoing look at new comics from relatively new publishers, here are three books I recently received from the New Jersey-based Hic & Hoc:

The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor, edited by Lauren Barnett & Nathan Bulmer ($10): It’s about time we had a decent humor-themed anthology; we’re long overdue. While none of the contributions contained in this 64-page comic reaches the level of divinely inspired hilarity, there are nevertheless some pretty great contributions from folks like Noah Van Sciver, Bort, Sam Henderson, Grant Snider, Dustin Harbin and Julia Wertz. My favorite is probably a sex comic by Sam Spina in which the participants say the most bizarrely un-sexy things (“I have to tell the rainforest a secret,” “Mash my bean bags”). The stories run from the outrageous to the gentle and observant but it all flows together nicely. Good job everyone. I look forward to the second volume.

Me Likes You Very Much by Lauren Barnett ($14): Here’s a case of a cartoonist finding a unique niche and working the hell out of it. Just about every gag in this 192-page book involves fruit, vegetables and birds being absolutely horrid to each other. (Baby bird: “My tummy hurts.” Mom bird: “That’s because you’re filled with lies.”) Her art style is deliberately crude — (her occasional realistic renderings of animals suggest she does have some genuine artistic talent — which adds to the general absurdity of the gags. For the most part, this stuff is pretty funny, or at least funny enough to make you forgive the occasional weak punchline or just plain odd non sequitur. But while it goes down pretty quickly, I suspect these types of comics work best in small doses, i.e. a minicomic or thrice-weekly webcomic. I’m not sure this chunky book format offers the best sort of presentation for her work. That’s not to say it’s not worth reading. There’s enough funny stuff here that will provide some good chuckles and the occasional guffaw. Perhaps it’s just that I’d like to see her extend her reach a bit beyond the static one-panel gag format the next time she publishes something of this size.

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Group sketch blog The Sindiecate closes down

It must be hard work keeping these group sketch blogs going. While some keep ticking along like clockwork (Eclectic Micks, Scotch Corner), some other favorites have been on lengthy, near catatonic, hiatuses (What Not, Comic Twart). David LaFuente has posted an announcement on The Sindiecate that, after one year of regularly promoting indie comics through character sketches, they’ve decided to call it a day:

Lafuente here with a final report.

THE SINDIECATE is closing down its doors. This month marks the first year of the collective authors and initiative to pay tribute to independent comics. And it’s a good moment to call it a day.

Thanks to Jorge Muñoz, James Harren, Mike Choi, Ryan Ottley, Colleen Coover, Matteo Scalera for joining me on this project. It’s great to look back on that idea I had for the website and see what has become thanks to them.

And thanks to the people who liked our homages, helped spread the word and maybe make some new readers for the indie authors behind the books.

Adios! : )

Perhaps their mission has been accomplished: certainly, Indie comics do seem to be in a healthier state now than even a year ago.  High profile writers and artists seem to be flocking back in that direction, and with the massive sales numbers of The Walking Dead #100, the zeitgeist’s pendulum seems to swung further to the side of creator-owned than anytime since the early 1990s.

Would you buy a digital comics subscription?

whether I like it or not...

The headline on Darrell Etherington’s article says it all: “Comics Should Jump on the iOS Subscription Bandwagon.” His argument is a consumer-based one: He has the apps, but at $1 to $3 a pop, comics are too expensive a habit for him, so he proposes a subscription model that basically gives the reader a 50% discount for paying up front—$25 for 12 issues, say. Etherington thinks that would boost readership, but it could also carry some risks. For one thing, readers who are accustomed to getting print magazine subscriptions for $10 or less per year won’t find that price point attractive (although magazine subscriptions do seem to be more expensive on the iPad, so the price is getting pushed up anyway). And in an industry notorious for delays, 12 issues does not necessarily equal a year’s worth of comics. And for superhero comics (which I think is what Etherington is talking about here), following a single series won’t necessarily give the reader a satisfying experience. Dropping three dollars here and four bucks there for you weekly comics is one thing; lining up $200 worth of annual subscriptions (even though that includes a hefty discount) just to be able to follow the events in a fictional universe could prove to be a troubling reality check to some readers.

Etherington quotes Jesus Hates Zombies creator Stephen Lindsay, who divides the comics audience into three groups: “those inside the industry who buy comics to support one another, the casual reader, and the collector.” I’m impressed that he sees creators as a large enough group to merit a mention. Collectors will always want to have the physical comic, but Lindsay sees the casual readers as a potential market. I’m not sure how well that works with complicated superhero universes, because it takes us back to the problem of accessibility: How will the reader know which Thor comic, say, to subscribe to? I’m not sure it’s possible to be a “casual reader” of superhero comics any more. (For those who want to get on the bandwagon, though, I like the feature that the New Yorker magazine subscription has: Your subscription allows you access to back issues as well. That could be a real boon for new readers.)

On the other hand, creators of self-contained indie series who are good at promoting their work could do very well with this model. Continue Reading »

Alterna Comics raising funds to avoid bankruptcy

Peter Simeti, the president and publisher of Alterna Comics, sent out a mass e-mail this weekend saying “Alterna has had a rough two years” and directing readers to the company’s fund-raising page at Indie GoGo. It sounds like they have a cash flow problem:

Sales don’t come in quick enough (book distribution takes up to 6 months to pay us) and we end up accumulating over $4,000 worth of interest ever year, even though we’ve maintained a small profit for the past 3 years, that profit has been quickly eaten up by the bills we have. The worst part is, our company debt is around $28,000 – which isn’t even a lot for most small companies. But due to the fact that we can’t even make new books to spur new income – the debt has become stifling and will eventually take its toll on us within 1 to 2 years.

So unless they can raise some money pronto, they are going to go into a death spiral of debt. The amount they are trying to raise seems laughably small—$1,000, much less than most Kickstarter drives—but apparently that will keep the wolf from the door for a while. Interestingly, the lowest level of the drive consists simply of buying their books—you fork over $10, you get a $10 book as a “reward”—although a few of the listed books cost more than $10 and at least one costs less. Of course, the indie page cuts out the distributor and thus the distributor’s cut and the time lag in payment. This really goes to Simeti’s point: Alterna’s books are selling well, they just can’t get paid for them, and in a way, the Indie GoGo page is just a direct sales channel that will get a bit of juice from the added publicity of Simeti’s plea. What’s more, it’s a sales channel with some good incentives, as the rewards escalate quickly, and you can get some original art for short money. A plea for funds isn’t really a marketing plan, but maybe this is just what Alterna needs—to sell fewer books through Diamond and Amazon and more on their own.

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Exclusive: Previews from Strange Tales II #3 by Stokoe, DeForge

The third and final issue of Marvel’s Strange Tales II arrives in shops Dec. 8, and will feature stories by James Stokoe, Michael DeForge, Toby Cypress, Harvey Pekar and Ty Templeton, Nick Gurewitch with Kate Beaton, Eduardo Medeiros and Benjamin Marra, among others.

And thanks to our friends over at Marvel, we’re pleased to present two preview pages from the anthology today, featuring Stokoe’s Silver Surfer tale (who we alreayd know draws a jaw-dropping awesome Galactus), and DeForge’s Spider-Man, Jubilee and Iceman.

Check’em out after the jump.

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John Allison comes out swinging with his Indie Comics Manifesto

Scary Go Round, Bad Machinery, and Giant Days webcomics impresario John Allison is throwing down the gauntlet. In his “Manifesto for UK Indie Comics in 2010″, the cartoonist offers some very blunt advice for aspiring comics creators, on everything from content to format to fandom to your personal demeanor as a creator. As is the case with most comics manifestos, there’s stuff in it I applaud, stuff in it that’s somewhere between a nasty rude awakening and a much-needed kick in the pants, and stuff that makes my skin crawl.

For example, I am generally speaking a diary-comics skeptic, and thus point #7, “Diary comics: stop it,” strikes me as advice potentially worth heeding, especially for new cartoonists looking for a way to channel their energies. On the other hand, point #3, “Make comics for people who don’t make comics,” though it sounds like a good enough idea, basically writes off vast swathes of the medium’s best work:

Why is anyone other than your comic making friends and a few select interested parties going to read an art-damaged visual tone-poem about the inside of your psyche? Learn how to engage and entertain people. It’s a profoundly useful skill.

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From minicomics to mainstream, by way of MoCCA

Sarah Glidden, as drawn by Sarah Glidden

When she set out for Israel, Sarah Glidden was carrying some baggage — strong opinions about the country and some suspicion about the sponsor of her tour, Birthright, which provides all-expenses-paid trips to Israel for young Jewish people. “How shall I put it? … When there is an expensive trip offered for free, there is always bound to be a downside to it,” she told the magazine Haaretz.

To keep her skeptical eye, Glidden decided to make a graphic novel about her trip, and the result is How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, which came out this week. Glidden shares her experiences in Israel, and discusses how she turned that into a graphic novel, in the Haaretz article, which is well worth a read. But this Horatio Alger aspect is what caught my eye:

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Exclusive: The Pack is back in David Heatley’s Strange Tales II story

Courtesy of our friends at Marvel Comics, we’ve got not one, not two, but three exclusive looks at next week’s Strange Tales II #2. First up, after the jump, check out a page from a Power Pack/Wolverine team-up story by David Heatley (My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down). Then come back at 9 a.m. Pacific for another one!

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APE ’10 | A few more items for your ‘to do’ and ‘to buy’ lists

Alternative Press Expo

The Alternative Press Expo, or APE, is coming up this weekend in San Francisco. The show runs this Saturday and Sunday at the Concourse on 8th Street. This year’s special guests include Daniel Clowes, Lynda Barry, Tony Millionaire, Renee French, Rich Koslowski, Megan Kelso and Tommy Kovac. In addition to an exhibitor’s room packed with comics of all shapes and sizes, they also have panels, workshops and even a “speed dating” event to help pair up writers and artists.

Here’s one more round of stuff to do/buy at the show. I’ll be there both days and will hopefully get a chance to blog from the floor.

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APE ’10 | Sparkplug, Omaha Perez, Cartoon Art Museum, The Devastator and more!

Alternative Press Expo

The Alternative Press Expo, or APE, is coming up this weekend in San Francisco. The show runs Saturday and Sunday at the Concourse on 8th Street. This year’s special guests include Daniel Clowes, Lynda Barry, Tony Millionaire, Renee French, Rich Koslowski, Megan Kelso and Tommy Kovac. In addition to an exhibitor’s room packed with comics of all shapes and sizes, they also have all sorts of panels and even a “speed dating” event to help writers find artists (and vice versa).

One thing I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet is that this year they’ve added a full slate of creator workshops, where you can learn how to draw facial expressions with Raina Telgemeier and market a comic that’s easier to read than to describe with Larry Marder, among many others. In other words, APE isn’t just about talking about and buying comics, it’s also about learning to create and sell them yourself.

Prior to the show, I’ll be posting what various companies and creators have planned for APE. If you’d like to be included, email me the details on where you’ll be, what you’ll be selling and all that good stuff. (I’d send them quickly, though, since the show starts on Saturday and I’ll likely just do one more round-up tomorrow).

And now let’s see what folks have planned …

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Man, that was over fast: My SPX 2010 report


Get in line for cool comics

As is my wont, I made the one-day (the one day being Saturday) trek to Bethesda, Md., along with Joe “Jog” McCulloch for the annual Small Press Expo. Perhaps the Earth’s rotation is spinning ever faster, but this year’s show seemed a bit of a blur to me, even by previous years’ standards. Before I had a chance to say “Sorry, I’m tapped out and can’t buy your mini-comic,” it was after 6 p.m. and time to go home. Fortunately I took some pictures to help my fading memory keep the show alive in my tumescent brain. Or at least, I tried to take some pictures.

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What are you reading?

Adam Strange Archives Vol. 1

Adam Strange Archives Vol. 1

Welcome to another round of What Are You Reading. With JK Parkin in the midst of San Diego Comic-Con madness, I’m taking over the WAYR duties for this week. Our guest this week is blogger, noteworthy critic and Newsarama contributor Matt Seneca.

Find out what Matt’s been reading (he’s got a long list), and be sure to include your own current reading list, after the jump …

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That ol’ double standard

The Importance of Being Earnest, as seen on the iPad

The Importance of Being Earnest, as seen on the iPad

At the Prism Comics website, Charles “Zan” Christensen takes a look at the maybe-we-will-maybe-we-won’t world of the Apple app store.

The iPad has been getting plenty of raves as a comics reader, and yet, as Jason Snell points out in his recent exhaustive look at the device’s comics capabilities, the technology may be great but the content is spotty, with some comics available for in-app purchases, others available only as single apps, and quite a few unavailable altogether.

Christensen’s story explores why that is, and it’s an important question. Remember, print comic distribution is already a near-monopoly, at least when it comes to comics stores, and with Diamond refusing to carry books that don’t reach a minimum number of orders, the market has become bleak indeed for new and niche publishers. Webcomics seemed like the logical alternative, but no one wants to pay for webcomics. But iPod/iPhone/iPad users have been trained from the beginning to pay for their content, so these are logical outlets, and Apple’s terms are actually quite good for publishers.

Except that Apple is being very selective about which comics it will carry, and that selectiveness seems to go not only to content but also to how large and established the publisher is. As Christensen points out, Apple shut down a swimsuit catalog app because it had pictures of women clad only in bathing suits but left Sports Illustrated alone.

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