When comics entrepreneur Marc Arsenault announced almost a year ago that he had bought defunct Alternative Comics in order to relaunch the publisher, a lot of fans (me included) were thrilled. Under founder Jeff Mason, Alternative introduced readers to creators like Graham Annable, Brandon Graham, James Kochalka, Ed Brubaker, Scott Campbell (of Great Movie Showdowns fame), Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld. So with Alternative and comiXology announcing today that the publisher’s catalog is becoming available digitally on the app, I was eager to talk to Arsenault about their plans.
Michael May: For those who don’t know you, what’s your background in comics?
Marc Arsenault: Wow. Where to begin? I’ve been a pretty behind-the-scenes guy for most of my time in comics, but this year I’ve hit the quarter century mark for working in them.
I figured out that I wanted to make comics somewhere around eighth grade when I discovered RAW, Warrior and Heavy Metal. When I found out about the comics program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) my path was clear. I didn’t even apply to any other schools. I got to study with Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, Joe Orlando, David Sandlin, Jerry Moriarity, Marshall Arisman and the very influential Jack Potter.
That experience was very relevant to Alternative Comics’ past and present because it was there that I met Sam Henderson and Tom Hart. I shared a studio space with Tom, and he and Sam had started an off-campus comics anthology called Tuna Casserole. By the fifth issue I became co-editor and we founded the first incarnation of my company Wow Cool. I ended up becoming an illustrator instead of a cartoonist, and did that freelance on and off up until about a decade ago.
While the whole rest of the world, it seems, is experimenting with digital comics, Box Brown has been going the opposite direction, publishing indie print comics through his own Retrofit Comics. I talked to him when he was launching the first season of Retrofit Comics, in fall 2011, and now that he’s back for a second round, I thought it would be a good time to ask him what he learned from the first iteration and what he will be doing differently this time.
Robot 6: What did you learn from your first year as the publisher of Retrofit Comics?
Box Brown: I think I spread myself too thin. I released 17 comics in about 18 months while working on a graphic novel of my own and I was working too hard. I wasn’t able to give each release the attention it deserved. Also, I learned a lot about “seasons” in the retail world. Stuff slows down a lot in the Summer. And, I think I also learned that people actually wanted a comic from Box Brown the cartoonist as well. Publishing your own work until a brand like this is kind of a weird feeling. I think I was uncomfortable with it for a while, but I’ve learned to say “fuck it”
Legal | In the aftermath of last month’s ruling that DC Comics retains full rights to Superman, the heirs of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are urging federal judge to dismiss claims that their lawyer interfered with the publisher’s copyright to the character. DC sued attorney Marc Toberoff in May 2010, accusing him impeding a 1992 copyright agreement with the heirs by striking overriding deals with them in 2001 and 2003. The families insist the publisher filed its claims two years too late, as the statute of limitations expired in 2008. [Law360]
Webcomics | Malicious hackers hit the Blind Ferret servers last week, and they didn’t just wipe out the websites that host Least I Could Do, Girls with Slingshots and other high-profile webcomics — they also wiped out the backups. Gary Tyrell has the story and advises creators to have multiple backups in multiple locations. [Fleen]
On Dec. 31, James Kochalka ended his 14-year run on his diary comic American Elf, but others have taken up the baton, at least temporarily: A number of webcomics artists have created homages to the strip, and Kochalka is re-posting them on his Tumblr.
They include comics more or less in the style of American Elf by Lewis Trondheim, Superf*ckers director Fran Krause and a host of others, expressing a range of emotions from grief to gratitude. Also included in the tributes is a giant picture of every American Elf strip and another that averages the 14 years’ worth of the strips to produce an “eigencomic.”
It’s really interesting to look through them and see how a single (albeit long) comic inspired such a range of responses — and how much people seem to enjoy drawing themselves in Kochalka’s unmistakable style. And, as Kochalka remarks on one of the posts, “Quitting American Elf has kind of been like being able to die and go to my own wake!”
Never fear, Kochalkaholics: James is busily making other comics, and Top Shelf is prepping the fifth volume of American Elf for its digital release.
Creators | Michael Cavna talks to cartoonist Richard Thompson in-depth about his Parkinson’s disease, its effect on his cartooning, and the brain surgery he had this year to combat it, and shows the cartoon Thompson drew during the surgery. The story includes an update on how Thompson has been doing since the surgery and interviews with other cartoonists, including a rare comment from Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, about Thompson’s work and his struggle against the illness. [Comic Riffs]
Publishing | The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were firebombed in 2011 after it published cartoons mocking Mohammed, has released a comic-book biography of the Muslim prophet. Editor Stephane Charbonnier, who has lived under police protection since the magazine first published the cartoons, says the biography is a properly researched educational work edited by Muslims: “I don’t think higher Muslim minds could find anything inappropriate.” [AFP]
After 14 years, and more than 3,500 cartoons, James Kochalka is bringing his diary comic American Elf to an end. Since October 1998, Kochalka has been chronicling small slices of his daily life in short comics, seldom longer than four panels, and if you read the comic, you already know he has mixed feelings about ending it.
Of course, Kochalka has plenty still going on, including the animated version of his comic SuperF*ckers, plus teaching at the Center for Cartoon Studies, playing rock music and being the Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont. He’s going to keep the American Elf site live, and of course, you can get the collected editions from Top Shelf (and digitally via comiXology).
Keeping a diary comic for 14 years is a singular achievement, so we asked Kochalka to talk a bit about the experience of creating — and living — American Elf.
SuperF*ckers made its animated debut today on the Cartoon Hangover site. Based on the comics by James Kochalka published several years ago by Top Shelf, it features, as Kevin noted earlier this week, “teen superheroes doing, and saying, bad and occasionally disgusting things.” And some very funny things.
A censored version of the first episode can be found below, and you can watch the uncensored version on YouTube. Neither one of them are really safe for work, though, so put your headphones on before watching.
In addition, once you’ve enjoyed the cartoon, you can buy the merch … WeLoveFine has a whole Cartoon Hangover section on their site now, featuring the SuperF*cker characters, and to celebrate the show’s premiere, the above shirt featuring Ultra Richard is their deal of the day. They’ve also got one featuring Jack Krak that’s tied to the first episode. You can find images of some of them below.
Awards | Were women underrepresented in the first British Comic Awards? With three women and 13 men on the shortlist, some argue they were; Laura Sneddon follows the discussion, including those making that claim and those who responded. [The New Statesman]
Best of the year | Paste magazine lists its 10 best comics of the year, including Hawkeye, Saga and Building Stories. [Paste]
Best of the year | Rachel Cooke focuses on British graphic novels, although a few outsiders creep in as well, for her list of the best graphic novels of 2012. [The Guardian]
Top Shelf points out that Cartoon Hangover has been adorably counting down to the Friday debut of SuperF*ckers, the online animated series based on the comics by James Kochalka. If you’ve read the series, which the publisher describes as “obscenely funny,” or even just read about it, you have a pretty good idea what to expect from the cartoon: teen superheroes doing, and saying, bad and occasionally disgusting things. If that’s not enough to sell you on the animated SuperF*ckers, it’s produced by Frederator Studios, the folks behind Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors.
Occasional Marvel employee James Kochalka’s first impression is right, that cover is awful, least of all because of
Mark Bagley’s Joe Quesada’s illustration. As sickly sentimental as the composition is, the worst crime there is the dreadful typography.
Anyway, Kochalka is just too darned nice to really go for the throat. As he notes below this entry on his Tumblr, “All apologies to the artists involved. I know how hard this is without random dudes trolling you on the internet … so I hope you just take this as a bit of good-natured teasing.”
Publishing | ICv2 sits down for a three-part interview with DC Comics Co-Publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio that takes the long view of the past year, covering the launch of the New 52, the effect of digital and the loss of Borders, and the recent discussions around creators’ rights. “It’s a cyclical thing. It’s an issue that constantly comes back,” DiDio said. “We hear about the great jobs and the great books that creators might participate in, but what we don’t hear about are all the books we’ve invested in over the years that never delivered, where we’ve invested in the talent and the time to make sure they had the opportunity to tell the stories they tell. It’s a very big picture, and it’s a very complex issue that can’t be boiled down. One thing I feel the most strongly is that I feel extraordinarily confident that we do everything we can to make this a very creator friendly company, to make sure they have an opportunity to tell the stories they want to tell with our characters and also in their creator owned stories too.” [ICv2]
Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a splurge item.
If I had $15, I’d settle in first with Dark Horse Presents #14 (Dark Horse, #7.99). This is no mere anthology: Dark Horses seems to be increasingly using it as an alternate means to serialize new single issue stories, especially with this new issue, as the publisher has expanded it to 100-plus pages. Nexus, Finder, a new Ghost series, AND the new Buddy Cops series by Nate Cosby and Evan Shaner? Sold! Moving on from that, I’d next get Saga #5 (Image, $2.99), which is completely not what I wanted this to be, and turned into something else I want even more. My third and final pick of this big week is Avengers Vs. X-Men #8 (Marvel, $3.99). I believe this is Bendis’ first issue as the lead writer post-Phoenix Force 5 and I’m interested to see him bring his dialogue to this. Seeing Adam Kubert on this brings up some questions for me, as I never really saw Kubert’s style fitting in with the overall aesthetic Marvel’s been pushing these past couple years.
If I had $30, I’d get a second anthology title – World War 3 Illustrated #43 (Top Shelf, $7.00). I’ve been remiss in buying this series for the past few years, but after stumbling over it in Previews a couple months back I made it a point to seek it out next time it came out. After that I’d get Glory #28 (Image, $2.99), Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell’s warrior-woman epic. Each issue manages to outclass the one before it, and I’m thrilled and surprised Ross has been able to do five entire issues with no delays or fill-ins. Finally, I’d get Daredevil #15 (Marvel, $2.99). The media-sensitive side of me is torn about this book now because for a time it was considered Marvel’s best kept secret, but now with the creative team coming out of the Eisners with a wheelbarrow full of awards I have to throw away my elitist mentality and fight off my expectations that the quality will drop now that it’s more well-known. Good thing Chris Samnee is on it, and they’re off to Latveria!
If I could splurge, I’d get Stuff of Legend Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Th3rd World Studios, $29.99). I remember reading a preview of this in a previous Free Comic Book Day sampler issue, but I seemed to have missed or forgotten about it in whatever single issues it’d been released in, so I’m glad I took notice of this. I’m a big fan of artist Charles Paul Wilson III, and this story of kids’ toys fighting in World War II sounds so crazily fun I’m excited to read it all in one sitting.
Here’s a digital choice for you: You could pay $3.99 for a single issue of some Marvel comic, or you could get two plump e-books by well-known creators for a penny less.
First, Panel Nine is offering its collection of Eddie Campbell’s Dapper John comics, Dapper John: In the Days of the Ace Rock ‘n’ Roll Club, for $1.99 for the month of August, to celebrate the release of the app on iPhone as well as iPad. The collection is regularly priced at $9.99, so this is a temporary deal. Panel Nine is a small publisher that is developing comics as single apps; it’s also behind the iPad version of David Lloyd’s Kickback. When you have a bit of time, check out From Under the Stairs, the blog of publisher Russell Willis, who’s pulling out his 1990s British comics memorabilia and posting it online.
Meanwhile, Top Shelf is publishing a volume a month of James Kochalka’s diary comic American Elf, with each volume covering a year of Kochalka’s life. The first volume includes 1999 and a bit of 1998, so it’s 454 pages altogether. And each volume is priced at $1.99
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, where each week we detail what comics and other stuff have been on our reading piles. Our special guest today is David Harper, associate editor over at the recently redesigned Multiversity Comics.
To see what David and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.