Conventions | The University of Calgary’s student newspaper looks at the rapid growth of the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo, and the problems that go with it: Last year, ticket holders had to be turned away because the event was over capacity. “Last year it was really a shame that people had so much trouble,” says Lyndsay Peters, owner of Dragon Chow Dice Bags. “We saw a lot of frustrated customers and we talked to a lot of frustrated people. I know there are some people who won’t be coming back this year. But everything we have been told as vendors and everything that has been communicated to us shows that they are taking it very seriously this year.” This year’s convention will be held April 26-28. [The Gauntlet]
Awards | The jury has been announced for the Doug Wright Awards. [Doug Wright Awards Blog]
Passings | Bob Clarke, one of the original artists for MAD Magazine, passed away Sunday of complications from pneumonia. He was 87. Best known for his “Believe It or NUTS!” parodies, Clarke actually began his career at age 15 as an uncredited assistant on the Ripley’s Believe It or Not comic strip before joining the Army, where he worked for Stars and Stripes. At MAD, he also drew “Spy vs. Spy” for many years, and illustrated the famed January 1961 back cover congratulating John F. Kennedy on his election (the front featured Richard Nixon; the editors were hedging their bets). [The News Journal]
Creators | Charles Soule talks about taking the reins of DC Comics’ Swamp Thing: “Swamp Thing isn’t just a horror book by any means — it’s also a book about superhero action and philosophy and humor. This is a title that’s open to just about anything.” Soule’s plans include new supporting characters and short story arcs that build up to a bigger structure. [USA Today]
Publishing | This wrap-up of the third annual India Comic Con, which drew an estimated 50,000 attendees (up from 15,000 last year), doubles as a snapshot of that country’s $22 million comics industry. The growth of the market is attributed in large part to the rise of graphic novels, which are luring young-adult readers. [The Times of India]
Comics | Writing for The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky weighs in on the backlash over DC Comics hiring Orson Scott Card in an article titled “The Real Reason to Fear a Homophobe Writing a Superman Comic”: “It’s disturbing to have Orson Scott Card writing Superman, then, in part because Superman is supergood, and the supergood shouldn’t hate gay people. But it’s also disturbing, perhaps, because Superman is a violent vigilante — and because violent vigilantism in the name of good is often directed not against injustice, but against the powerless.” [The Atlantic]
This week’s announcement that all Tor books will be DRM-free by July made me wonder about what that meant for graphic novels. Tor publishes the Seven Seas line of manga, some of which have been available in digital formats for quite a while, so I checked in with managing editor Adam Arnold to see what the deal is. His answer surprised me: “I’m happy to say that all of Seven Seas’ ebooks have been DRM free from the very beginning.”
Most of what’s available at the moment is original English language (OEL) manga such as Amazing Agent Luna and Aoi House, so I took the opportunity to ask whether Seven Seas would be publishing digital editions of licensed books as well.
“We have the majority of our OEL titles available and are working towards making our Korean licenses available as ebooks as they come out in print, Arnold replied. “My Boyfriend is a Vampire is already available, and we’ll have Witch Hunter, Jack the Ripper: Hell Blade, and Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries available this summer.
“For Japanese manga, it’s a bit harder to make them available digitally. The biggest hurdle is that a lot of Japanese licenses simply don’t have digital rights as an option, and if they do, there’s no real guarantee of a certain amount of ebook sales a month so that you can break even. We are interested in expanding our ebook line-up to include Japanese titles in the future, though. So…stay tuned!”
When Apple opened its iTunes bookstore last year, comics and graphic novels were just mixed in with everything else. That changed today, as Apple introduced its Comics and Graphic Novels Section.
The selection is rather eclectic, with everything from Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland to The Walking Dead to How to Draw Manga. There are separate sections for Marvel, children’s comics, and collections of newspaper strips, which is a great idea, but everything else is a bit of a mishmash. (Most of these books were already in the iTunes bookstore; this page just collects them in one place for easy browsing.) In addition to Marvel and Image, the publishers represented include IDW (with their Locke and Key books), Archie, Seven Seas, and Manga University—but I didn’t see any DC titles. It’s definitely a bookish selection, but there are some bargains—and even some freebies—to be had.
You don’t often get to do an experiment across the entire population of the U.S., but the Borders bankruptcy offered just that opportunity earlier this year. ICv2 notes that bookstore sales, which have been declining for years, rose 7% in the first half of 2011. Why the sharp turnaround? ICv2 attributes it to the Borders bankruptcy and the subsequent liquidation sales.
This was reflected in the September Bookscan top 20 graphic novel list, which included some older graphic novels, including Lucky in Love from Fantagraphics and the Seven Seas manga Dance in the Vampire Bund, that probably got a boost from those last-minute markdowns.
What I take away from this is that books are too expensive. E-books and online sites like Amazon have been eating away at bookstore sales for years, but apparently you can increase sales of print books in brick-and-mortar stores simply by decreasing the prices. Perhaps this is an oversimplified view of the situation, but I honestly can’t think of any other reason why the trend would turn around like that. (OK, there is one: The prospect of scarcity. People who are losing their only local bookstore might be tempted to stock up, but that would only be true in a few areas.)
From everything I’m seeing, sales of e-books continued to climb during that period, which suggests a tantalizing possibility: The market as a whole, print and digital, online and brick-and-mortar, could continue to increase, if only books were cheaper. Publishers set prices based on the cost of production and the profit they want to make, but readers have their own price points—I know I do—and apparently the two don’t match very well.
Webcomics have been part of the strategy for manga publisher Seven Seas (home of Afro Samurai, Hayate x Blade, and Gunslinger Girl, among others) from the beginning, but always as a way to sell a print book. Now they have set up Zoom Comics, an ad-supported webcomics site that will run both homegrown and licensed manga, launching with four original English language series: Amazing Agent Jennifer (a prequel to their six-volume Amazing Agent Luna), Dracula Everlasting, Paranormal Mystery Squad (a followup to another original series, Aoi House), and Vampire Cheerleaders. Coming soon are two licensed series, both from Korea: Witch Hunter and Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries
Seven Seas formed the site in partnership with Pixie Trix Comix, a webcomics portal set up by webcomics creators Gisele Lagace and David Lumsdon (Magick Chicks) that also runs comics by several other creators.
What’s interesting about the new site is that it looks a lot like a bootleg manga site: The comics are simply displayed in the web browser, rather than embedded in a Flash-based reader, and they are surrounded by ads. If you changed the banner, it could be MangaFox. And Seven Seas has something else in common with the bootleg sites, something traditional publishers tend to neglect: They do forums well, with editor Adam Arnold frequently dropping in to make comments or respond to questions.
“Digital-first, followed by print, is the wave of the future for all publishing.”
That categorical statement was made not by a digital distributor wannabe but by Seven Seas publisher Jason DeAngelis, who was announcing the digital-first release of My Boyfriend Is a Vampire. The first volume went up on the Kindle store this week; the print edition will reach stores in October.
Digital manga is becoming more and more common, on both the web and handhelds, but Seven Seas was putting substantial chunks of their homegrown OEL manga online years ago—I talked to Seven Seas editor Adam Arnold about their use of webcomics to promote their print manga way back in ’08.
Interestingly, Seven Seas has chosen not to go with a digital comics app but are selling Boyfriend (which was originally published in Korea, so technically it’s manhwa, not manga) as a book on the iBooks, Kindle, and Nook stores. And they are changing up the format, although digital is still substantially cheaper: A 158-page digital volume is $4.99, but the print edition is a 320-page omnibus retailing at $15.99. On the other hand, you’re more likely to get a discount on the print edition (yup, Amazon has it listed at $10.87).
I can’t possibly do justice to the solicit text for this book, by the way, so I’ll just post it after the jump.
Publishing | Thursday’s news that DC Comics will replace the nearly 60-year-old Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval with its own rating system was followed on Friday by an announcement by Archie Comics that it, too, will drop the Code. The two were the last publishers to abandon the CCA — Marvel withdrew in 2001, Bongo just last year — which means that as of next month, the once-influential self-regulatory body created by the comics industry in the wake of the 1954 Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency will cease to exist. Before a series of revisions in 1971, the Code prohibited even the depictions of political corruption, or vampires and werewolves, and the use of the words “horror” or “terror” in titles.
Christopher Butcher wonders whether DC’s decision to drop the Code was made with an eye toward the bottom line, while Johanna Draper Carlson offers an overview of the CCA’s history. Elsewhere, Mike Sterling asks whether any retailers ever “experienced any kind of real-world impact of the Comics Code Authority?” And Tom Mason makes some tongue-in-cheek recommendations for DC’s new rating system, including “G – GREYING MAN-BOYS” and “R – REFRIGERATOR.” [Newsarama]
Seven Seas has decided to beat the SDCC rush and go ahead and announce their new licenses now. And they didn’t just announce them, either, they teased them on Twitter for three days running. If you have been following Anime News Network, you already know the answers—ANN guessed correctly on all three: Amnesia Labyrinth, ToraDora, and A Certain Scientific Railgun. (You know, even after five years of covering manga, most of the titles still look to me like they were chosen using darts and an unabridged dictionary.) This press release from Seven Seas honcho Jason DeAngelis confirms it and gives more information about each title, including release dates for the first volumes (spring-summer 2011, with new volumes out every 3-4 months). And they have a little fun:
So why the decision to announce these titles via Twitter and in the form of anagrams, no less? “If I had to write another boring press release, I would’ve stabbed myself with a fork,” said Senior Editor Adam Arnold. “But seriously, we wanted to have a little fun and figured this would be a unique way to announce these new manga series.”
Full press release after the cut.
For manga and anime fans, Anime Expo is the first of the big summer cons. This year only a handful of manga publishers showed up, but all had plenty of energy and some new announcements to make. That’s probably a good snapshot of the manga industry as a whole—there are only a few players left, but the survivors are pretty robust. Anime News Network has pretty exhaustive coverage of the con, and Animanga Nation does a nice job with a more casual feel.
Out of curiousity, I looked over con coverage from previous years to see who is missing this year. Bandai, Digital Manga, Tokyopop and Viz are clearly the survivors of the manga wars, although it was touch-and-go for Tokyopop for a while. Missing from the roster are Dark Horse, Del Rey, Seven Seas, Udon, Yaoi Press, and Yen Press, all of which have appeared at AX in previous years (although not recently), and ADV Manga, Aurora, Broccoli, CMX, DrMaster, and Go! Comi, which have all shut down or at least gone dark.
I thought it would be interesting to see how AX has evolved over the years, so let’s climb into the time machine and take a look at past cons.
I thought I’d wind down our look at the year ahead in comic books and graphic novels with a look at indie/small press publishers Secret Acres and Sparkplug Books, and the manga publisher Seven Seas who is now under the Tor Books umbrella.
Don’t worry, this feature isn’t going away permanently. As the months pass and new preview catalogs come in the mail I’ll get back to typing these run-downs.