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Interview: Box Brown on Retrofit Comics

While the rest of the world is going digital, Box Brown is heading in the other direction: Last month he launched Retrofit Comics with plans to publish 17 print comics by new and independent creators in the next 17 months. He got the seed money for Retrofit with a Kickstarter drive, and the launch comic was James Kochalka’s Fungus. All the books are by different artists, and most are one-shots, although Brown said he is open to creators incorporating their Retrofit comics into their ongoing series. This month’s release is Drag Bandits, by Colleen Frakes and Betsy Swardlick, which Brown describes as “kind of like The Scarlet Pimpernel, a woman dressed as a man and a man dressed as a woman, and it’s really exciting.” Comics by Pat Aulisio and Josh Bayer round out this year’s offerings, and plans for the future include an anthology in the spirit of the Japanese underground-manga magazine Garo, a project that Brown says was the brainchild of Ian Harker, editor of the free alt-comic newspaper Secret Prison. The comics are sold both in selected retail stores and by subscription, and Brown estimates he has 150 subscribers to the four-month package and a handful with six-month or twelve-month subscriptions.

While he is handling all this, Brown, who recently won two Ignatz Awards, continues to self-publish his own work, and Blank Slate will publish his graphic novel The Survivalist in December. We talked to him this past weekend about the genesis of Retrofit Comics and what it’s like to run a really, really small press.

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Comics A.M. | Prosecution rests in Michael George murder trial


Legal | Prosecutors in Macomb County, Michigan, rested their case Friday in the second trial of Michael George, a former retailer and convention organizer accused of the 1990 murder of his first wife Barbara in the back room of their Clinton Township comic store. The judge this morning will hear a defense motion for a directed verdict, seeking dismissal due to lack of evidence, before testimony resumes.

George, now 51, was arrested in August 2007, after a detective reopened the cold case, and convicted seven months later of first-degree murder and insurance fraud, among other counts, and sentenced to life in prison. However, the judge later set aside the verdict, citing prosecutorial misconduct — George’s mug shot was shown to the jury — and the release of new evidence that could lead the jury to believe another person was responsible for the murder. His retrial began Sept. 14, and should conclude this week. Prosecutors contend that George staged the killing to look like a robbery so he could collect money from an insurance policy and a shared estate, and start over with another woman. George insists he was asleep at the time of the shooting, and that his wife was the victim of a robbery gone wrong. [Daily Tribune]

Publishing | Chip Mosher, marketing and sales director for BOOM! Studios, left the publisher on Friday after four years. Marketing coordinator Emily McGuiness will take over his duties. [BOOM! Studios]

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Retrofit Comics has arrived!

Box Brown started Retrofit Comics as a Kickstarter project, with the intention of publishing 16 alternative comics. And by “alternative comics,” we mean 32-page floppies, not webcomics or graphic novels but old-school ink-on-paper pamphlets.

The enterprise bore its first fruit last week with the publication of James Kochalka’s Fungus, which features two mushrooms that are also characters in the video game he is developing; Kochalka described both in a recent interview with the A.V. Club. The next comic is Drag Bandits, by Colleen Frakes and Betsy Swardlick, and it’s due out in October. The current plan is to publish one comic a month for 17 months, at a cover price of $5 each. Four- and six-month subscriptions are available; each gets you a free comic.

In the original Kickstarter solicitation, Brown opined that floppy comics are important for creators because they allow them to connect with their audience while the work is still evolving:

Without the floppy comic (or mini-comic) the artist is forced to work on a largescale graphic novel mostly in private and THEN sell it. What if it doesn’t sell? What if the audience isn’t there? What if there are kinks that could have been worked out somehow? The artist basically has to go back to the drawing board. If there is an avenue and audience to work with, the artist can produce better and more refined work. 

But he hasn’t neglected the retail side: He has already arranged for a number of retailers to carry the comics, which should bring them more (and more regular) traffic from indy-comics fans. Check the Retrofit website for updates as well as sample pages from upcoming comics; looks like there’s some good stuff in the pipeline.

Comics A.M.| Retailers on print vs. digital; Yang on comics, Christianity

Justice League #1

Retailing | Sacramento, Calif.-area retailers are relatively unconcerned about DC Comics’ newly launched digital initiative or an immediate threat to their bottom lines from digital comics. “I just see it as another way of kind of expanding the whole readership,” says Dave Downey, who runs World’s Best Comics. “If you missed an issue of Spider-Man, and you can’t find it anywhere, you can always go online and read it that way.” However, Kenny Russell of Big Brother Comics sees a time, “years off,” when that will all change: “It’s inevitable, and this is kind of the first step. In no time, iPads are going to be good enough, and it’s going to be easy enough, and it’s going to come out the same day where people are going to just read their comics on their iPads.” [Sacramento News & Review]

Comics | Gene Luen Yang explores the tangled history of comics and Christianity, both of which, he points out, were started by a bunch of Jewish guys who loved a good story. (Good-sized excerpt at the link; full article requires free registration.) [Sojourners]

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SDCC Wishlist | Top Shelf has new Powell, Gentlemen and kung fu

Top Shelf will debut three new books at the San Diego Comic-Con later this month, including the new Nate Powell book, new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Infinite Kung Fu. In addition, James Kochalka will at their booth with his entire family signing a special family portrait print, and Craig Thompson will sign the new hardcover and softcover editions of Blankets.

Check out the debuts below.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 3 Century #2

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol III): Century #2 – 1969
by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is back! Our merry metafictional marauders continue their bestselling adventures through the 20th century! In this volume, the League must battle dark cultists amid the sit-ins, sitars, and psychedelics of 1960s swinging London.

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Save the alternative comic book!

Eightball. Love and Rockets. Hate. Yummy Fur. Grit Bath. Meatcake. Palookaville. Dirty Plotte. In a distant time, serialized staple-bound solo anthology series dominated the alternative comics scene, and these (more or less) regularly published floppy-formatted comics roamed the earth in huge hordes. They also gave people interested in genres other than superheroes a reason to come back to comic shops week after week. Today they’re on the verge of extinction, supplanted by graphic novels and webcomics as the venues of choice for alternative work, with only a quixotic few — Alvin Buenaventura’s Pigeon Press, Igort and Fantagraphics’ Ignatz Line, Anders Nilsen’s recently completed Big Questions, the occasional issue of Uptight or Optic Nerve — keeping the torch lit.

But cartoonist Box Brown is looking to pull this fabled format back from the brink in a big way with Retrofit Comics, a new Kickstarter-funded publishing imprint seeking to publish fully 16 32-page pamphlet-format alternative comic books in a single year. Brown’s assembled an impressive line-up of creators for Retrofit Year One, including James Kochalka, Liz Bailie, Noah Van Sciver, L. Nichols, and Chuck Forsman — as well as a murderer’s row of retailers committed to carrying the comics, including The Beguiling, Jim Hanley’s Universe, Quimby’s, Desert Island, Floating World, Bergen Street, Chicago Comics, and Forbidden Planet UK. I think this last part is key. Brown explains that he’s doing this in part to provide alternative comics creators with the regular feedback of an audience as opposed to having them disappear from view for years at a time to draw a graphic novel, but that’s the sort of thing publishing to the web can take care of. What it can’t do is create an incentive for altcomix fans to visit their local comic shop, which would presumably drive more demand for similar books down the line. That’s worth pushing for.

Click here (or watch the video above) to learn more about the venture and contribute to its Kickstarter campaign.

James Kochalka draws animated cells

Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall when James Kochalka was discussing this assignment with the editor? Kochalka illustrated the cover of the latest issue of Trends in Cell Biology, which provides this helpful caption for his drawing:

The actin cytoskeleton assembles into a variety of structures in order to fulfill its unique role in diverse cellular processes, including polarized transport, cytokinesis, patch formation during endocytosis, and mating in fission yeast.

Kochalka’s fertile imagination has made this both interesting and adorable. But will there be a T-shirt?

(Via the Top Shelf blog.)

Comics A.M. | Archie #1 sets auction record; more bookstore layoffs

Archie Comics #1

Comics | A copy of Archie Comics #1, published in winter 1942, sold at auction last week for $167,300, setting a world record for an Archie title and a non-superhero comic. “Archie may have a ways to go to catch the likes of Superman and Batman, his Golden Age counterparts,” said Lon Allen, managing director of comics for Heritage Auctions, “but you can bet that collectors sat up and took notice when this comic brought that price. This amount exceeds the priciest of Spidey and Hulk comic books we’ve sold, which brought in excess of $125,000 each.” [Luxist]

Retailing | REDgroup Retail, which owns the Australian booksellers Borders and Angus & Robertson, has laid off 321 employees at the two chains following the closing of 38 stores. The company entered into administration last month. [ABC News]

Retailing | Borders Group has asked a bankruptcy judge for more time to decide whether to assume or reject its 681 leases, including those for 674 stores. If granted, the extension would give the company until Jan. 12, 2012, to deal with its leases. [Detroit Free Press]

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Comics A.M. | More details on Wizard closing; did Comics Code end in 2009?


Publishing | More details have begun to emerge about the abrupt closings of Wizard and ToyFare magazines, and the announcement of a new public company headed by Gareb Shamus. ICv2.com reports that Wizard World Inc. was taken public through a reverse merger with a shell company, a failed oil and gas venture known as GoEnergy Inc., which acquired the assets of Kick the Can, a corporate repository for the assets of Shamus’  Wizard World Comic Con Tour. Following the acquisition, GoEnergy’s chairman and chief financial officer resigned and was replaced by Shamus. In the process, the new company raised capital through the issuance of $1.5 million in preferred stock. Meanwhile, an anonymous Wizard staff member reveals to iFanboy he was informed that the magazine had folded during a phone call Sunday evening, and was not permitted to collect personal belongings. A freelance contributors writes at Bleeding Cool that he learned about the closing through a Facebook message on Monday morning.

The comics Internet is swarming with reaction pieces: Andy Khouri points out the huge number of comics editors, bloggers and journalists who got their starts at Wizard; Heidi MacDonald does the same, noting that it was “a total boys club”; Albert Ching surveys numerous creators and editors; and Robot 6 contributor, and former Wizard staffer, Sean T. Collins comments on the magazine’s demise and rounds up links.

In related news, GeekChicDaily, the email newsletter and website co-founded by Shamus in 2009, has secured new Hollywood investors. [Wizard World]

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Food or Comics? | This week’s comics on a budget

Batman & Robin #15

Batman & Robin #15

If it’s Tuesday, it must be time for Food or Comics?, where every week some of the Robot 6 crew talk about what comics we’d buy if we were subject to certain spending limits — $15 and $30, as well as if we had extra money to spend on what we call our “Splurge” item. Check out Diamond’s release list to see what arrives in comic shops this week,then play along in our comments section.

Chris Mautner

If I had $15:

I’d get Batman & Robin #15 ($2.99), the final chapter in the “Batman Must Die” arc, which, I think we can all agree, as been one of the best runs in the series so far, thanks largely to the stellar work of artist Frazer Irving. I’d also get Highland Laddie #3 ($3.99), the latest issue in the Boys spin-off mini-series. I haven’t been as impressed with this one as I was with the current storyline in Boys, but I remain ever hopeful that it will come together in some fashion by the end.

If I had $30:

I’d chuck those comics aside like so many election mail flyers and nab Picture This ($29.95), the latest book by Lynda Barry and a sequel to her stellar What It Is. As with that book, this uses collage, comics, autobiography and more to provide an inspirational, thoughtful examination of drawing and the artistic process. I can’t wait to sit down with a copy. If it’s half as good as its predecessor, it will be fantastic.

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Kurt Busiek, artcomix aficionado

from Seth's pencils for the Coober Skeber 2 cover

from Seth's pencils for the Coober Skeber 2 cover

The other day we linked you to the saga of Coober Skeber 2, the Marvel-spoofing, copyright-defying anthology put together by influential alternative comics publisher Tom Devlin and a small galaxy of future alternative-comics stars in the late 1990s. Well, now it’s time for genuine superhero-comics superstar Kurt Busiek to weigh in on the book. On his blog, the Buse shares his memories of getting a copy at Comic-Con International in 1997 and digging it so much he helped get one participant hired by Marvel:

I liked the Hulk story so much that when I got home, I photocopied the story and faxed it to Tom Brevoort at Marvel (this was in those halcyon days before scanners were common), and urged him to get someone to buy it from Kochalka and have it colored and run it as a backup somewhere. It was too cool not to show to Hulk fans everywhere.

Tom wasn’t editing Hulk at the time, but he took over the book a little later, and eventually did try to buy the story. Kochalka wanted to re-do it, so Tom hired him to re-do the story, in color, and it ran in Hulk 2001, that year’s Annual.

Click the link to read the whole story — and to get a look at the full pencils for Seth’s cover, which Busiek bought. This makes me wonder: Does Astro City have a hipster enclave full of superheroes that look like Fort Thunder drawings?

Buy tons of Top Shelf books for $3

You can buy this book for three bucks

You can buy this book for three bucks

Goodness gracious, look at all the terrific titles that are on sale for $3 over at Top Shelf Productions’ website. That’s some 70 in all, including books by Alan Moore, Jeffrey Brown, James Kochalka, Scott Morse, Liz Prince, and Renee French. Another 30-plus comics and graphic novels are also on sale for suitably impressive amounts — the complete Lost Girls from Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie and the complete Alec: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell may be purchased for just $25 and $20 respectively, for pete’s sake. Top Shelf’s $3 Sale lasts through Friday, September 24th, so get ‘em while the gettin’s good!

Comics at the ALA

Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly meet the peeps

Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly meet the peeps

The American Library Association’s annual midsummer meeting just wound up in steamy but hospitable Washington, DC, and it was a great weekend for graphic novels.

The vibe at a library meeting is completely different from a comic con. It’s quieter, friendlier, more a meeting among equals than a fan/superstar kind of thing. And it’s strictly about graphic novels, not periodical comics (which most libraries don’t collect), and not movies or video games. Marvel and DC weren’t there, but a lot of the smaller indy publishers were (Top Shelf, BOOM!), and Diamond Book Distributors also hosted a number of publishers at their booth. The big guys (Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster) all have booths filled with every type of book, including graphic novels, although funnybooks often get short shrift from the reps there (a source of continual irritation to my librarian friends).

So, what did I see?

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Talking Comics with Tim | James Kochalka



When you’re somebody as well known as James Kochalka, both in terms of music and comics, do you really need an introduction? Probably not, but just in case, Kochalka and I recently got a chance to discuss his latest release, the collected SuperF*ckers (Top Shelf [due out in March])–as well as his upcoming graphic novel/video game project, Glorkian Warrior. As described at the Top Shelf site: “SuperF*ckers collects all four fan-favorite issues of James Kochalka’s beloved series, plus the all-new Jack Krak one-shot! Foul-mouthed, filthy-minded, and completely oblivious, these young ‘heroes’ do everything BUT fight crime – they’re too busy getting high, hazing the new kids, playing video games, scheming to be team leader, and designing new costumes.” I agree with the first line of Top Shelf’s Kochalka bio which states he “is, without question, one of the most unique and prolific alternative cartoonists working in America today”.

After the interview, be sure to check out Top Shelf’s preview of the book here. My thanks to Kochalka for the interview and Top Shelf’s Leigh Walton for his assistance. One final piece of advice, as great as this interview is (thanks to Kochalka’s answers), it only touches upon one of Kochalka’s projects. I reference two of Tom Spurgeon’s interviews in my questions to Kochalka and I strongly recommend that you read both of them.

Tim O’Shea: Looking back at a 2005 Tom Spurgeon interview with you, I was surprised to see you say of SuperF*ckers: “Once it turned into a superhero book, I thought I could force it into some kind of all-ages type book, but the characters just would not stop swearing.” Even the interior page marketing of the first issue has cussing: “Hey kids, take your dicks out of the Playstation Three for one god damn minute and read some fucking comics.” Why do you think the cussing bolsters the comedy (and I ask this thinking it would not be as funny without the cussing).

James Kochalka: Not every character swears. The ones that should swear, do. It fits their personality, a kind of “I can do whatever I want because I’m awesome”, and that includes insane wanton swearing. The swearing is also pretty creative at times, it’s often not just straight up swearing. And it makes the action more dramatic. For instance, instead of yelling “I’m going to punch you” or even “I’m going to fuckin’ punch you”, at one point Jack Krak yells something like “I’m going to fuck your face with my fist”. That’s just way snappier sounding, isn’t it?

To me it isn’t even really an issue of funnier or not. It’s just an issue of the characters being as awesome and overblown as they can be.

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James Kochalka’s American Elf Bros.

Screenshots from Kochalka's game

Screenshots from Kochalka's game

Apparently being a prolific cartoonist, children’s author, singer/songwriter and father of two leaves James Kochalka with a lot of time on his hands, because he recently created a hack of Super Mario Bros. where you get to play as him (or, rather, his pointy-eared elfin character) instead of Mario. And yes, by you, I mean you, the person reading this, as you can download the patch to the game right here. There’s no other surprises. You don’t get to fight Amy instead of the Koopas or Bowser. You’re just controlling a pointy-eared, balding character instead of a red-hatted Italian stereotype. Really, that’s not a bad trade-off.

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