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Ryan North’s To Be Or Not To Be smashes Kickstarter record [Updated]

Illustration from "To Be Or Not To Be," by Anthony Clark

As the final hours tick down on the Kickstarter campaign for To Be Or Not To Be, cartoonist Ryan North’s Choose Your Own Adventure-style take on Hamlet has raised more than $481,000 — that’s 2,405 percent of its $20,000 goal — easily breaking the crowdfunding platform’s record for most successful book project.

As we reported last month, To Be Or Not To Be will allow (adult!) readers to be one of numerous characters from William Shakespeare’s play, including the ghost of Hamlet’s father. “Also,” the Kickstarter page offers, “unlike Shakespeare I didn’t skip over the pirate scene in Hamlet. You get to fight PIRATES. With SWORDS.  And yes OF COURSE you can choose which body part you cut off. Why would you write a book where you can’t do that is my question.” What’s more, North enlisted an all-star roster of artists — ranging from Kate Beaton and Kazu Kibuishi to Vera Brosgol and Dustin Harbin — to illustrate the prose book.

In an article this morning on Wired.com examining the blockbuster success of the campaign, North notes, “No [publisher] would drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on getting this book made because you don’t know if the audience will show up for it, and you have to front all these costs. The better you want to make the book, the riskier it gets. But with Kickstarter, we know the audience is there when we make these decisions.”

Talking with Laura Hudson, Tom Helleberg of New York University Press predicts, “It probably won’t be long until Kickstarter (or something similar) completely replaces the slush pile and agents when it comes to filtering submissions. Then presses are going to have to figure out how on Earth they are going to attract successful authors who are effectively earning 100 percent royalties on self-produced projects.”

Update (11 a.m. PT): Since this post was published, an additional $20,595 was pledged to the project, bringing the tally to more than a half-million dollars. Eighteen hours remain in the campaign.

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Comics A.M. | Scottish city to create Bash Street to honor Beano strip

Bash Street Kids

Comics | The Dundee, Scotland, city council has approved a proposal by publisher DC Thomson to name a street in the city’s west end to honor the Bash Street Kids, stars of the long-running comic strip in The Beano. Dundee already has statues honoring comic characters Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx. [BBC News]

Comics | Laura Sneddon continues the New Statesmen’s week-long series on comics with a look at children’s comics in the U.K., including the digital relaunch of The Dandy, the continuing popularity of The Beano (which sells a respectable 30,000 copies per week) and the new kid on the block, The Phoenix. [New Statesman]

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Quote of the Day #2 | Faith Erin Hicks on the importance of editors

“Good editors are your partners in making good comics. They are on your side. They are the trained second pair of eyes who look at your stories without the baggage you bring to them (sometimes, sadly, artists can get too close to the comic they’ve been working on for years, and not see the occasional story snarl or character breakdown), and challenge you to make your comic the best it can be. They point out when a comic panel doesn’t read properly, when a character looks off-model, and sometimes they’ll even give you notes like ‘this looks awesome!!!’ with little hearts drawn in the margins. Good editors are worth their weight in gold.”

Faith Erin Hicks, on why she prefers to work with an editor

Of course, I’m biased because I was an editor before I was a writer, but I think Faith hits the nail on the head here. Everything is improved by a second set of eyes. The whole piece is worth reading, because Faith talks about the sort of discussions she has with her editor and what she is and isn’t willing to change.

Comics A.M. | Marvel NOW! ‘ain’t a reboot,’ it’s a ‘refresh’

Captain America #1

Comics | Ahead of Joe Quesada’s appearance tonight on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, and the debut Wednesday of Uncanny Avengers, Marvel unpacks its Marvel NOW! initiative for the national press. “This ain’t a reboot, we’re simply hitting the refresh button. ‘Marvel NOW!’ simply offers a line-wide entry-point into the Marvel Universe that you’re already reading about,” Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso says. Tom Brevoort, senior vice president of publishing, calls it “a game of musical chairs” for creators, who will be switched around to make things interesting. [The Associated Press]

Creators | Writer Gail Simone discusses the coming battle between Batgirl and Knightfall in Batgirl #13, as well as the impending return of The Joker: “The Joker is really the Elvis of comic-book villains. There’s no one with his primal star power, there’s no one else anywhere who has sent more chills up the spines of readers, because there genuinely is something terrifying about him.” [USA Today]

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Comics A.M. | This weekend, it’s Wizard World Ohio & Asbury Park Comic Con

Asbury Park Comic Con

Conventions | MorrisonCon and the Las Vegas Comic Expo aren’t the only comic conventions this weekend (more on them shortly): There’s also Wizard World Ohio Comic Con in Columbus, and Asbury Park Comic Con in New Jersey. Last year, Wizard took over Mid-Ohio Con and turned it into Wizard World Ohio Comic Con, and on the eve of this year’s event, the local alternative weekly looks at how the event has changed and what to expect. Meanwhile, Saturday’s Asbury Park Comic Con gets back to basics: “The problem that I have with the big comic conventions is that they’ve turned into pop culture conventions and it’s anything goes —anything from video games to wrestlers and bands, stuff that has nothing or very little to do with comics. What we want to do is bring it back to what brought us all together — our passion for comics,” says co-founder Cliff Galbraith. The event, which is being held in a rock club/bowling alley, features such comics guests as Larry Hama, Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, Dean Haspiel, Seth Kushner and Reilly Brown. [The Other Paper, Asbury Park Press]

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Fantagraphics adds subscription option for Wandering Son

Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son has been acclaimed by critics all over the blogosphere (myself included), but any publisher is taking a risk on a 200-page hardcover book that sells for $20, and when it’s part of a 12-volume series … well, there is a lot to be said for giving loyal readers a break.

It’s hard to know whether Fantagraphics is feeling nervous or generous, but the publisher is offering a discount to readers who pay up front: A subscription to the next three volumes, vols. 4-6, for $50.38, a 20 percent discount from the list price of $62.97 — plus free domestic shipping and discounted overseas shipping.

This seems like a mutually beneficial deal: Fanta gets its money up front for volumes that will be published in December 2012, June 2013 and December 2013, respectively, and readers get a good price. This sort of pay-now-read-later arrangement is unusual for manga, and for graphic novels in general. If this works, it could set a precedent for high-end graphic novels — I don’t see anyone paying up front for the next 20 volumes of Naruto, but when you think about it, it’s not that different from traditional publishers like Digital getting pre-orders through Kickstarter.

Comics A.M. | Despite overall growth, sales slipped for most of Top 25

Aquaman #12, one of just two ongoing titles in August's Top 25 that saw an increase

Retailing | ICv2 analyzes the August direct market numbers and comes up with some interesting patterns: While the market as a whole is up, the number of comics with sales of more than 1,000 has been declining; sales dropped a bit for most ongoing comics series in the Top 25, but strong sales of Before Watchmen and two annuals more than compensated for that; and graphic novels sell in far lower numbers than comics, but because many of them are backlist titles, the numbers still increase from year to year. ICv2 also posted lists of last month’s Top 300 comics and graphic novels. [ICv2]

Publishing | Yet another big publisher spawns a graphic novel imprint: This time it’s Penguin, whose Berkley/NAL division will launch a graphic novel imprint, InkLit, next month. Helmed by former DC vice president and Yen Press co-founder Rich Johnson, InkLit will publish both original graphic novels and adaptations of prose works. The line will begin with Vol. 1 of Patricia Briggs’s Alpha and Omega, which collects the trades published by Dynamite; the second volume will be all new material. Also in the works are books by Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Sage Stossel. [Publishers Weekly]

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Self-publishing vs traditional: Which is better?

Two horror westerns; two publishing strategies

If you’ve been following the publishing industry (not just comics, but the whole industry), you know it’s been in turmoil for the past few years. Ebooks have made self-publishing a lucrative option not only for unpublished authors, but also for mid-list writers like JA Konrath who are reaching a dramatically wider audience than they ever did with their traditional publishers.

Though the prose arm of publishing has been having this conversation for a while, it’s been pretty quiet in comics except for the tangential conversation about creator-owned vs. corporate-owned. That’s actually a separate conversation, though. BPRD and Saga are just two examples of creator-owned comics that aren’t self-published. Who publishes your book often has nothing to do with who owns the characters and story in it. I’m glad to see First Second’s Senior Editor Calista Brill start the comics arm of the discussion, especially in the as-objectively-as-possible way that she does.

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Comics A.M. | How to save the struggling manga industry

Lucky Star

Publishing | Longtime industry hand Jason Thompson has written a thoughtful essay on why the manga industry is in trouble, going beyond the American scene to point out structural problems in the Japanese market: An aging readership, the decline of print and the reluctance of Japanese publishers to embrace digital publishing in any coherent way. “Perhaps wary of creating an iTunes-like behemoth which could drive prices down,” Thompson writes, “publishers haven’t united in any reasonable way to create a consistent digital newsstand/bookstore format for their titles.” This, of course, has just made life easier for the scanlators. He also points to a shift toward the individual creator — it’s the big publishers who are hurting, while self-published and indy manga are on the rise. All this may sound familiar to American comics fans, but Thompson’s prescriptions for the future — more gag manga, simpler art, more color, and motion comics — don’t seem like convincing ways to rescue the industry. An iTunes-like behemoth is probably the way to go. [io9]

Awards | The Horror Writers Association has released the preliminary ballot for the 2011 Bram Stoker Awards, which includes a graphic novel category. [Horror Writers Association]

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Comics A.M. | St. Trinian’s cartoonist Ronald Searle passes away

Ronald Searle

Passings | British cartoonist Ronald Searle, best known as the creator of the fictional St. Trinian’s School, passed away Friday at a hospital near his home in southeastern France. He was 91. His spiky drawings of the wicked pupils of the girls school debuted in 1941 in Lilliput magazine, leading to five books and seven films. Searle, a Cambridge native, also co-authored (with Geoffrey Willans) the Molesworth book series. [Reuters]

Conventions | Four-day passes for New York Comic Con go on sale for $85 today at noon ET/9 a.m. PT. The event will be held Oct. 11-14 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. [press release]

Conventions | Comiket, the world’s largest self-published comic book fair, drew a total of 500,000 people for its winter convention, held Thursday through Saturday at the Tokyo Big Sight in Japan. Held twice a year, in August and December, the event doesn’t use turnstiles or unique passes, so a visitor who attends all three days would be counted each time. [Anime News Network]

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Incoming | A roundup of publishing news

It seems like my Google Reader and email box are getting full, so here’s a quick roundup of several new and new-ish announcements and information about upcoming comics and graphic novels.

The Twelve

• Marvel has announced plans to finally release the last few issues of The Twelve, starting in January. “It’s taken a long while, but finally, FINALLY, the balance of The Twelve has been completed and we’re ready to ship it all to our long-suffering fans,” said Tom Brevoort, senior vice president and execuitve editor. “We appreciate everybody’s patience, and both hope and expect that the conclusion will live up to the wait. And for folks who missed out the first time, we’re making it easy to get back on board no matter how much or how little of the previous eight issues you may have already read, though the release of the softcover trade paperback of the first six issues, and a Marvel Must-Have containing #7 and #8. So you’ve got no excuse not to experience one of the best reviewed, best beloved and long-awaited series Marvel has ever produced as it reaches its ultimate climax.”

• Fantagraphics has released their publishing catalog for Spring/Summer 2012, which includes their first two EC Comics collections, Gary Panter’s Dal Tokyo, more manga from Shimura Takako and Moto Hagio, and new volumes of Peanuts, Mickey Mouse, Carl Barks, Captain Easy, among others. The full catalog is available as a PDF.

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Comics A.M. | Charlaine Harris’ new graphic novel; the origins of Epic

Charlaine Harris

Publishing | Charlaine Harris, author of the “Sookie Stackhouse” novels on which HBO’s True Blood is based, says that after she finishes the last two “Sookie” books, she plans to work on a graphic novel with Christopher Golden. “I’m very excited about that. It’s called Cemetery Girl with Christopher Golden, and it’s a very exciting opportunity.” Harris had mentioned wanting to do a novel called Cemetery Girl back in 2009, about “a girl raised by ghosts in a cemetery,” but put it on hold when she found out the plot was similar to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

Based on the description in the news report, it sounds like the story has been tweaked, as it says the graphic novel “centers on a woman who finds herself living in a cemetery with no memory of her past but a clear sense of a mysterious threat hanging over her.” This isn’t the first time Harris’ characters have found their way into comics, as IDW publishes comics based on HBO’s True Blood, and an adaptation of her Grave Sight novels has been published by Dynamite. [NBC San Diego]

Publishing | Former Marvel Comics editor and Transformers writer John Barber has joined IDW Publishing as a senior editor. IDW also announced the promotion of Tom Waltz to the company’s first senior staff writer position, in addition to his duties as editor, and the expansion of the company’s book department with longtime IDW employee Alonzo Simon becoming an assistant editor. [press release]

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Comics A.M. | Comic sales in December, Nick Lowe promoted

Batman: The Dark Knight

Publishing | Diamond’s December numbers for sales in comics shops are out, and the picture is grim. Diamond reports that it sold 89,985 copies of the top selling single-issue comic, Batman: The Dark Knight #1—the lowest number for the month’s top seller since ICv2 started tracking the numbers in 2001. In its more detailed dollar analysis, Diamond sees comics sales down and graphic novel sales up for a slight overall increase, both in December and in the last quarter of 2010 as a whole. [ICv2]

Publishing | Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada announced that Nick Lowe has been promoted to senior editor. Lowe edits Uncanny X-Men, Generation Hope and New Mutants, among other titles. [Comic Book Resources]

Publishing | Douglas Wolk boils down the 2010 comics sales data into some easily digested bullet points, for the benefit of those who don’t like to spend all day squinting at sales charts. [Techland]

Pop culture | Apparently inspired by Tiger Mask, a character from a manga popular in the 1960s, people in Japan have been quietly dropping off gifts for children in orphanages and other institutions. [Inquirer.net]

Digital comics | Johanna Draper Carlson tries out the comiXology app for the Android OS and is somewhat underwhelmed. [Comics Worth Reading]

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Quotes of the day | Tom Brevoort vs. Brian Hibbs on title glut

Marvel's Thor-related products for December 2010

Marvel's Thor-related products for December 2010

“Event Marketing” ultimately conditioned the majority of consumers to not want books that weren’t part of events, weren’t part of the “core continuity.” The over-proliferation of line expansions (seriously who wants eleven different “Thor” comics solicited to ship in a single month? Thor, historically, can barely support a single title) did the same….The thing is: this is a self-inflicted wound. Event marketing, line expansions, overproduction of minis and new #1s, price increases — these were all things that publishers chose to do in order to make as much money as they could. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se — we live in a system of capitalism, and capitalism demands greater profits. But we’ve systematically made what seemed like sound short-term decisions that largely gutted the long-term market for most of the product within it. Ooops!…We have to strip lines down, hard, to just the brilliant shiny heart of it all and have the message be, “Yeah, we’re publishing half of what we used to, but, damn, if we published any more awesome stuff that you just can’t wait to get the next issue of, we’d all explode!”

Retailer and CBR columnist Brian Hibbs, arguing that the proliferation of comics about the same characters has been a disaster and publishers need to radically cut back.

[Reader Question:] Do you think less having titles would be workable? Would having e.g. Batman in only one (or at most two) title be a high-enough seller in the long term (due to not diluting the franchise) to offset the loss of sales from multiple books?

[Tom Brevoort:] No, not at all. Every time this sort of thing has been tried in the past, the results have been the same. For the most part, multiple titles featuring the same character(s) don’t cannibalize sales from one another, nor do the sales aggregate when you eliminate the other books.

Marvel Senior V.P. – Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, arguing that radically cutting back would be a disaster and the proliferation of comics about the same characters is just fine.

One of these men is wrong. But who?

Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

White Indian

White Indian

Publishing | Dark Horse Comics and Vanguard Productions have reached an agreement on who will publish Frank Frazetta’s White Indian comics after each company had reached separate agreements with different members of the Frazetta family. Dark Horse has taken The Classic Comics Archives Vol. 1: White Indian off their schedule. Vanguard will release the Complete Frazetta White Indian Collection, while Dark Horse will collect all the post-Frazetta material that featured the character. [ICv2]

Passings | Mark Evanier reports that Jerry Grandenetti, who began his career as an art assistant to Will Eisner on The Spirit, passed away Feb. 17. Grandenetti’s work appeared in Creepy, Eerie, House of Mystery, Prez and Championship Sports, among many other titles. [News from Me]

Pricing | Douglas Wolk considers the higher price of comics: “Twenty years ago, the price of a new mainstream comic book was 75 cents, about to make the leap to a dollar, the same percentage they’re currently increasing. For a $20 bill, you could get a stack of a couple dozen titles, with some interesting indie experiments thrown in.

“Since then, the price of comics has zoomed far ahead of the cost of living: $20 in 1990 is the equivalent of a bit over $33 now, while new mainstream comic books have more than quadrupled in price. And what happens when comics abruptly increase their cover prices by a third while adding little or no extra content–and the $20 standard gets you all of five 22-page comic books that take a few minutes apiece to read–is that that value proposition gets a lot less enticing.” [Techland]

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