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With April sales numbers released from Diamond Comic Distributors, a subtle pattern has revealed itself: Dark Horse has reclaimed its position as fourth-largest publisher from IDW Publishing for three months straight. It’s a streak of growth in market and dollar share that hasn’t happened for Dark Horse since fall 2011.
It’s great news for an industry mainstay that seemed to be getting eclipsed by the younger IDW at its own game of mixing licensed properties with creator-owned titles. Whether it’s temporary or not, digging into the sales charts, it’s clear there’s more stability in Dark Horse’s catalog than there might first seem.
Obviously Star Wars is the property many know the company for, and when it was announced the license would move at the end of this year to Marvel, some worried how Dark Horse would carry on. However, most publishers realize that no license is forever, so Dark Horse has built a diverse library that seems to be lifting it up now. Despite such diversifying, Star Wars is still the big seller at comic shops, but it’s only the beginning. The back-to-back launch of The Star Wars, a comics adaptation of an early draft of George Lucas’ screenplay, and a back-to-basics Star Wars by Brian Wood provided two accessible titles; if you’d ever seen the original Star Wars trilogy, you’re all set. The last issue of The Star Wars comes out later this month, with a collection in both hardcover and softcover to follow in July.
Today is Free Comic Book Day, and here’s a rundown of some of the comics that caught my interest. If you want to check ‘em out before you go, CBR has previews of many of the FCBD titles. (My FCBD comics came from my favorite Boston comics shop, Comicopia.)
Hands down, the one comic everybody wants is Archaia’s hardback anthology, which includes brand-new stories from six of their titles: Mouse Guard, Labyrinth, Return of the Dapper Men, Rust, Cursed Pirate Girl, and Cow Boy. The stories stand on their own but also tie in to the books in clever ways; the Mouse Guard story is a puppet show, and the Rust story features a boy writing a letter to his father (as his older brother does in the book). This book is a keeper; it even has a nameplate inside the front cover. Here’s a list of where Archaia creators will be doing book signings this FCBD.
BOOM! Studios has a nice flipbook with several Adventure Time comics on one side and Peanuts on the other. The Peanuts comics are mildly funny, but the Adventure Time side is edgier and features extra stories by Lucy Knisley and Michael DeForge. The stories are colorful and lively, and DeForge’s contribution, about a bacon ecosystem that supports tiny breakfast organisms, is downright surreal.
Libraries | The Center for Cartoon Studies has found a new home for the Schulz Library, whose previous location was damaged in a flood in August: the old post office in downtown White River Junction, Vermont. The school was able to purchase the building with the help of Bayle Drubel, a real estate developer and founding CCS board member who bought the post office in 2004. Renovations are set to begin this winter to create room for instruction space, faculty offices and the Schulz Library cartoon collection. [The Center for Cartoon Studies, via The Daily Cartoonist]
Creators | The Atlantic profiles Zippy the Pinhead creator Bill Griffith. [The Atlantic]
Creators | Artist Fabio Moon talks about teaming with Zack Whedon on the new Serenity comic that makes up one-half of one of their Free Comic Book Day offerings. [ComicsAlliance]
Dark Horse Comics has announced two flip books for next year’s Free Comic Book Day, scheduled for May 5, featuring four of their licensed titles — The Guild, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars and Serenity.
The first comic will feature a Buffy the Vampire Slayer tale that sees the title character finding it hard to take a vacation from “all things that go bump in the night,” paired with a Guild tale which features the group of gamers heading to the beach. The second title features a Han Solo and Chewbacca tale where the two have a falling out over one of their customers, paired with a Serenity tale.
You can find additional art after the jump.
Sales charts | Dollar sales of comics sold through Diamond Comic Distributors were up more than 15 percent in August, while graphic novel dollar sales rose by more than 31 percent when compared to the year-ago period. ICv2 puts the gains in perspective, noting that comic sales were down 17 percent in August 2010 and graphic novel sales were down 21 percent. August 2010 also had four ship weeks compared to August 2011’s five. DC Comics topped the August charts with Justice League #1, followed by Flashpoint #5, Fear Itself #5, Flashpoint #4 and Ultimate Comics Fallout #4. Serenity Better Days and Other Stories from Dark Horse was the no. 1 graphic novel for August. John Jackson Miller offers commentary as well as a look at the best-selling comics of this century, a list that will include Justice League #1. [ICv2, Comichron]
Comics | The Centers for Disease Control has awarded a roughly $145,000 contract to Terminus Media to create motion comics to educate young people about HIV. The comics will be offered on “internet-capable platforms” including desktop computers, laptop computers, video gaming systems, wireless phones and tablet computers. [Politico, Via]
As Kevin noted earlier today, Dark Horse Comics is supposed to have some news today at the New York Comic Con about their digital comics initiatives — in fact, the panel is going on right now, so we should know soon what they have planned.
Unlike Marvel, DC and the other major publishers, they haven’t aligned themselves with one (or more) of the third-party companies like comiXology or iVerse (Although I should note they released three titles on comiXology’s app earlier this year). Instead, they’ve continued to release individual applications for their titles. So will today bring news of their titles going to one of the existing apps, or will they continue to offer titles individually, but for the lower cost that Kevin noted? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
In the meantime, they’re handing out flyers (see above) at the New York Comic Con advertising that Serenity: Better Days #1 is free in the iTunes application store, both for the iPad and the iPhone, this weekend. And a quick search on my iPad reveals that there are several other free comics out there as well — Beasts of Burden, Troublemaker and several of the other titles shown on the flyer. So head over to iTunes to start downloading now.
Dark Horse’s Scott Allie has apologized to the creators of a Serenity fan film after an artist mistakenly used their ship models as reference for the Serenity: Float Out one-shot.
“While preparing to draw Serenity: Float Out, artist Patric Reynolds researched ships from the ’Verse online, and mistook some ships designed for the fan film Bellflower for canonical ships,” Allie, senior managing editor, wrote on the Dark Horse blog. “The ships were designed by John Douglass, S. E. O’Brien, Sam Osbourne, and filmmaker Mark James. Their work is terrific, and completely professional, like so much of what the Browncoats do, so no one realized the mistake. … We understand that this was a serious oversight on our part. We want to assure everyone that this is not a usual occurance [sic], and we will make sure to be more careful in the future. Please accept my most sincere apologies, on behalf of Dark Horse and artist Patric Reynolds.”
Members of FireflyFans.net noticed the use of the ship designs within two days of the comic’s June 2 release.
On June 28, Mark James posted that he had written Dark Horse “stating they are in breach of bellflower copyright and that action will be taken. I havent spent this much time on this film to see my ship and verse used in this manner.” He offered an up an update the next day stating he had been in contact with Allie, who had pledged an official apology, artist credits and a donation in charity on behalf of Bellflower.
“Scott Allie and Darkhorse have been absolutely wonderful in regard to this matter,” James wrote, “and I can only say thank you to them for their respect and support. Bless them.”