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Comics A.M. | Angoulême begins; judges come to cartoonist’s rescue


Conventions | Wim Lockefeer lines up the exhibits he’s looking forward to at the 39th Angoulême International Comics Festival, which begins today in Angoulême, France. [The Forbidden Planet International Blog Log]

Legal | Cartoonist Albert Lekgaba was sketching the proceedings of the Botswana Court of Appeal when security officers asked to step out of the courtroom, confiscated his work, and told him he could not draw in court, “especially if the judges were present.” When the judges learned of this, however, they informed the court registrar that sketching is indeed allowed, and they ordered that Lekgaba be readmitted to the courtroom and his sketches returned to him. [The Botswana Gazette]

Passings | California newspaper cartoonist John Lara has died at age 56. [Coastline Pilot]

Creators | Heidi MacDonald sums up a number of recent posts on piracy and the creative life in one mega-post, and a lively discussion follows in the comments section. [The Beat]

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Comics A.M. | San Diego Convention Center plan advances

San Diego Convention Center

Conventions | San Diego City Council on Tuesday approved the basic funding plan for the proposed $500 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, home to Comic-Con International. At the center of the financing scheme is an assessment district that adds between between 1 cents and 3 cents per dollar to room taxes of 224 hotels with more than 30 rooms. Those hotels closest to the convention center would be assessed an extra 3 cents per dollar, and those farthest away could be charged an extra penny per dollar.

The expansion plan has a ticking clock, as Comic-Con has signed a deal to remain in San Diego through 2015, but larger venues in Las Vegas and Anaheim have been lobbying organizers to look elsewhere. [NBC San Diego]

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U.S. House and Senate call off votes on PIPA and SOPA

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this morning postponed a vote on the PROTECT IP Act, a controversial anti-piracy bill that, along with the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act, drew widespread online protest just two days earlier.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House  Judiciary Committee, quickly responded to the announcement by shelving SOPA “until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

The delays appear to be indefinite, with Reid suggesting that PIPA sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) redraft the proposed legislation, saying in a statement, “There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved.”

“I encourage him to continue engaging with all stakeholders to forge a balance between protecting Americans’ intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the internet,” Reid (D-Nevada) continued. “We made good progress through the discussions we’ve held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks.”

In his statement, Smith added: “I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”

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Comics A.M. | FBI shuts down Megaupload file-sharing site


Legal | The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI on Thursday shut down the popular file-sharing site Megaupload, seized $50 million in assets and charged its founder and six others with running an international enterprise based on Internet piracy that’s cost copyright holders at least $500 million in lost revenue. The FBI has begun extradition proceedings in New Zealand to bring company founder Kim Schmitz, aka Kim DotCom, to the United States. He and three other associates are being held without bail until Monday, when they’ll receive a new hearing. Three others remain at large. They face a maximum of 20 years in prison.

News of the shutdown was met with retaliation by the hacker collective Anonymous, which attacked the websites of the Justice Department and the Motion Picture Association of America.

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Greed and giant robots brought down Bandai

The big news in anime and manga circles last week was the announcement that Bandai Entertainment will stop releasing new anime and manga. The current catalog will stay in print, and the company will focus on licensing its products to other companies, but three of its five employees have been laid off.

Like manga, the anime industry in the U.S. has been troubled for a long time, and it’s tempting to blame this on piracy. Indeed, that’s exactly what Charles Maib of Kotaku did. Maib admits he doesn’t follow the anime and manga scene much any more, but that doesn’t stop him from delivering some strong opinions. What Maib does know is what it was like to be an old-time otaku, when you made your own fansubs with love and VHS tapes and chewing gum and chicken wire (which may have been technically illegal but wasn’t harming the industry at all), and also how much work it is to make your own content. Maib himself is a content creator, and he has a long paragraph where he explains all the steps you have to go through to make an animated cartoon.

And nobody seems to care. “Consumers have become selfish monsters who are strangling an industry that is already on its knees,” he says, and he points the finger squarely at fansubbers and other pirates, and those who avail themselves of their services:

We created the beast, and we continue to feed it. We’ve reached the point that it’s not uncommon for major websites to publish links to pirated content. Pirating has gone mainstream, and unless we as consumers have the fortitude to reverse our actions, allow the market to work as it should, and develop the patience to wait for new products to become available in our region, or even not become available, the face of the internet and digital media will change. It’s inevitable.

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Viz honchos talk digital

Manga blogger extraordinaire Deb Aoki sat down with the Viz folks at NYCC and asked some hard questions about their relaunch of Shonen Jump as a digital magazine (to be renamed Shonen Jump Alpha). The magazine will be available via the Viz iOS app and the Vizmanga.com website, but only in the U.S. and Canada.

Aoki asked Viz VP of digital publishing Brian Piech when Shonen Jump Alpha would be available in other regions, and he responded that it depends on Viz parent company Shueisha, which controls the rights. Simply put, Viz has the print rights in the U.S. and Canada, and other companies have those rights in other countries:

This is something that the entire publishing industry is dealing with, not just manga. Digital rights (to a given book or manga) wasn’t always included in the original contracts.

Now, with everything that’s happening, everyone wants the digital rights. But it’s not clear if the print publisher (of a given book in a given territory) has first dibs, or if the rights holder can just shop (the digital rights) around to whomever wants it.

So it’s possible that someone will be publishing Naruto digitally in other countries, but it won’t necessarily be Viz.

There are pretty much three reasons for piracy—price, speed, and regional availability. Viz has the speed thing licked—with the launch of Shonen Jump Alpha, they will be publishing chapters of six of the most popular manga in the U.S. within two weeks of their Japanese release, and there’s a good chance that they may eventually go to simultaneous release in the two countries. On price, the ability to buy a chapter for the magic price of 99 cents (through Viz’s website as well as iOS apps) is a pretty good deal for the casual reader (although the yearly subscription price of $25.99 is a better deal in the long term). But region restrictions, whatever the reason, are bad news; they seem to be driving a lot of the traffic on pirate sites, judging from the comments. Two out of three ain’t bad—but if Shonen Jump Alpha does well, and the Shueisha honchos loosen the restrictions, that hat trick could prove very lucrative for Viz.

Comics A.M. | Superheroes’ big-screen struggle for diversity; Z-Cult FM returns

Green Lantern

Movies | National Public Radio commentator John Ridley critiques Hollywood for being even less diverse than the Big Two when it comes to diversity in lead characters, and demolishes their blame-the-audience theory that white people won’t go to see a movie with a black lead by pointing to a study by Indiana University professor Andrew Weaver: “Weaver found that white audiences tended to be racially selective with regard to romantic movies, but not necessarily when it came to other genres. So, sorry, Hollywood. You can’t blame it on the ticket buyers.” [NPR]

Piracy | Comic-book torrent tracker Z-Cult FM, which was threatened with legal action by Marvel in 2007 and eventually shut down in 2009, has re-opened its virtual doors. [Facebook]

Creators | Becky Cloonan talks about the joys and the hardships of being a full-time comics creator: “Comics are hard work. Comics are relentless. Comics will break your heart. Comics are monetarily unsatisfying. Comics don’t offer much in terms of fortune and glory, but comics will give you complete freedom to tell the stories you want to tell, in ways unlike any other medium. Comics will pick you up after it knocks you down. Comics will dust you off and tell you it loves you. And you will look into its eyes and know it’s true, that you love comics back.” [Becky Cloonan: Comics or STFU]

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Piracy: The Fractale debacle

A screenshot from FractaleSo, there was a big dust-up on the anime side of the blogosphere over the past two weeks, and since it was about piracy and global rights and other things that are relevant to comics readers, I thought it would be interesting to do a quick summary over here.

Basically, a U.S. company, Funimation, got the rights to show the anime Fractale online one hour after it was broadcast in Japan. This simulcasting is the holy grail of anime — nobody wants to wait months and months for a product that is already out somewhere else, so the usual solution is that bootleggers make their own subtitles and stream the anime on pirate sites. The simulcast gave anime fans a legitimate alternative. (Here’s Funimation’s Fractale page, which currently has three episodes up, if you want to check it out yourself.)

But some pirated versions of the anime got online anyway, and the Fractale Production Committee reacted by telling Funimation they could not simulcast future episodes until the bootleg videos were removed:

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Comics A.M. | Day-early debut axed for Formic Wars, more on Wizard World

Formic Wars: Burning Earth #1

Publishing | Citing “distribution concerns,” Marvel has canceled plans to allow members of the ComicsPRO retail trade organization to sell the first issue of author Orson Scott Card’s Formic Wars: Burning Earth on Feb. 15 rather than Feb. 16. Announced last Friday, the move was designed to take advantage of Diamond Comic Distributors’ new day-early delivery program, which allows direct-market stores to receive comics on Tuesday for sale on Wednesday. It’s what just this week enabled the early release of the heavily publicized Fantastic Four #587. According to Rich Johnston, complaints from DC Comics and other publishers over that promotion are what led to cancellation of the ComicsPRO incentive.

But publishers weren’t alone in protesting Tuesday releases: On the retail-oriented news and analysis site ICv2.com, store owners complained about “special treatment” for ComicsPRO members, and criticized Marvel for already authorizing day-early sales. “At this rate, by the end of the year, Tuesday will be new comics day,” wrote Ed Sherman of Rising Sun Creations. [Marvel]

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Red 5 founder talks digital strategy

Red 5 was one of the first comics publishers to jump into digital distribution, and Atomic Robo is one of the first digital success stories, so when Red 5 founder Paul Ens talks about his company’s digital comics strategy at TFAW.com, it’s worthwhile to listen in.

Red 5 led with the best-sellers, making their top titles, Atomic Robo and Neozoic, available for the iPhone back when each issue was a separate app. And Ens says the comics are selling, with both revenues and the number of comics downloaded increasing every month. “In terms of total sales revenue, it’s still small but growing,” he says.

Earlier today, Mark Millar expressed some concern that creators would not make as much money from digital comics. Ens has a different take, and I’m going to quote his answer at length, because I think he nails it:

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Comics A.M. | Responses to Heavy Ink, Fan Expo Canada adds a day

Warren Ellis

Politics | Warren Ellis joins the list of creators who want nothing to do with Heavy Ink after Travis Corcoran’s inflammatory remarks. At The Daily Cartoonist, Ted Rall pushes back on the outrage, saying, “If I only bought from companies and individuals whose political beliefs I agreed with, I wouldn’t be buying much.” [Warren Ellis, The Daily Cartoonist]

Conventions | Now there’s even more of Fan Expo Canada to love: The self-proclaimed “largest combined gaming, horror, comic, science fiction and anime event in the country” is expanding from three to four days, Aug. 25-28, 2011. [Convention Scene]

Manga | A Chinese artist named Xiao Bai is this year’s winner of the Japanese government’s International Manga Award. The prizewinning entry, Si loin et si proche (So near and so far), was published in Belgium last year. [Monsters and Critics]

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2010: The year in digital comics

What a difference a year makes! A year ago today, the iPad not only didn’t exist, it hadn’t been officially announced yet. People read comics on their iPhones and iPod Touches, but the screens were too small for a good experience (and therefore, no one wanted to spend much money on them). The iPad changed all that, with a big, full-color screen that is just a tad smaller than a standard comics page (and a tad larger than a standard manga page), and publishers started taking digital comics seriously. The distribution was already in place, thanks to the iPhone—comiXology, iVerse, Panelfly—and now the publishers not only jumped on board with those platforms but also started developing their own apps.

The digital comics scene is still developing, but the iPad was the game changer. For many people, it was the first time that they could comfortably read comics on a handheld screen. Now, it’s just a question of marketing—this year, publishers will grapple with bringing comics to a wider audience, outside the existing readership, and balancing the digital marketplace with the established brick-and-mortar retail structure.

Here, then, is a look back at our digital year.

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Smells like teen spirit

A panel from last week's chapter of Naruto. Took me 10 seconds to find it.

There has been plenty of talk on this blog and elsewhere about the economics and ethics of scanlation, but let’s face it, we’re all grownups here. The vast majority of the audience for manga in the U.S. has been teenagers, and teenagers don’t necessarily operate under the same logic that the rest of the world uses.

The anime blogger who goes by the handle One Great Turtle encountered that logic recently during a chat with a college freshman at the University of Kentucky’s Asia Arts Festival. OGT and a friend were discussing the recent trend toward alternative manga:

After hearing this, the freshman subsequently asked “So, like, are they trying to make it cool to read print manga?” at which both I and the graduating senior goggled for a moment before going “what the hell are you on about?”

Apparently, in his high school, it was seen as uncool to read print manga. I didn’t find out then why it was particularly considered uncool, although the perpetual-behindness of licensed releases may have been a factor, as well as a certain sense borrowed from underground aesthetics that licensed titles may have “sold out” or were otherwise “too mainstream”. It’s also interesting to note that the act of “reading manga” itself apparently wasn’t considered uncool. Just reading print manga.

Which, of course, totally makes sense. Teenagers have always hated anything that smells of a sellout, and scanlations are to their readers what bootleg Grateful Dead tapes were to my generation, much more desirable than the commercial product (except the Dead didn’t get all uptight about it and lawyer up). Copyright is utterly meaningless to a 15-year-old. However, this is a phenomenon the publishers ignore at their own peril, because those 15-year-olds are their core audience. The guys in the suits can splutter about contracts and rights and logistical difficulties, but the kids don’t care. And if a bunch of high school students can translate, edit, clean, and post a chapter of manga in a day, a big corporation like Shueisha should be able to do it too.

(Via Ogiue Maniax, which has additional commentary.)

Libre confirms cease-and-desist notices

The Japanese Boys Love publisher Libre has confirmed reports that it has been sending cease-and-desist notices to scanlation groups working in English.

Libre told ANN that, as a publisher, it was entrusted with the rights to these works by their authors, so it is important for the company protect those rights. Libre wants readers — not just in Japan, but worldwide — to understand that “protecting the authors’ rights goes hand-in-hand with producing their works.” Libre pointed towards a page on its website which details its stance on copyrights.

Libre’s move is unusual in that the groups in question are mostly scanlating unlicensed manga — unlike more blatant groups such as Manga Fox or Onemanga.com who scanlated or simply posted scans of already licensed English-language manga on their sites.

Since last April, Libre’s parent company Animate has been publishing yaoi manga in both English and Japanese on the Kindle.

Marvel and Graphic.ly, part 1: Marvel’s digital initiatives

Another week, another digital platform: Marvel announced last week that it will make its comics available on Graphic.ly. It has been almost three years since Marvel launched its first digital initiative, the subscription-based Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. Since then it has also made its content available through a few different iPhone/iPad applications, including a Marvel-branded one created by comiXology. Like the Marvel app (and unlike Marvel DCU), Graphic.ly allows readers to download comics and keep them; what makes it unique is its social networking aspect, which lets readers post comments about the comic directly on the pages.

I checked in with Marvel’s Ira Rubenstein, executive vice president of the global digital media group, to see how all Marvel’s digital initiatives are going and how Graphic.ly fits into the mix.

Do you anticipate releasing comics on the same day and date on Graphic.ly and in print, either regularly or occasionally?

We have done it with a few of our books, and I can’t speak for future plans but I think we will continue to experiment. Graphic.ly is just another outlet, and we believe in as wide distribution of our content as possible. The big news for Graphic.ly is this is the first time we are on a PC in a sell-through model.

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