Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
The current cultural interest in zombies seems to be, like the creatures themselves, deathless. Rather than abating, the trend simply finds new ways and places to appear, whether that’s Archie Comics’ entry into horror, a new take on DC’s old war titles, or manga-ka Kentaro Sato’s bizarre Magical Girl Apocalypse.
A recent import from Seven Seas that gives the zombie-apocalypse scenario the unusual agent of a magical school girl, the series is perhaps well-timed, given the resurgence of interest in Sailor Moon, most Americans’ first and strongest introduction to the Japanese trope, that has accompanied her new television show.
Sato’s comic is an odd one in how familiar it is … save for that one big innovation. It’s not even the first manga I’ve read about a zombie apocalypse that starts at a Japanese high school; Daisuke Sato and Shouji Sato’s superior Highschool of the Dead has a similar premise, and much of this first volume features scenes and character types almost identical to those in HOTD‘s first volume.
That isn’t to say it’s a retread, however; it differs in several significant ways — it’s far gorier, it’s less interested in fan service (and some of what’s there seems almost to be a parody of the ludicrously endowed characters that appear in some manga, including HOTD), it’s less interested in characterization (the cast expanding only to shrink almost immediately in a series of gory deaths) and, of course, there’s that magical girl.
Digital comics | Ethan Gach contemplates what the popularity of tablets means for the comics industry, with a particular focus on comiXology. He points out that the digital distributor offers not only bestsellers but also titles that appeal to a broader audience — and has brought success to some indie creators via its comiXology Submit program. [Forbes]
Academia | Tom Spurgeon talks to Professor Benjamin Saunders, director of the Comics & Cartoon Studies Program at the University of Oregon, which just received a major donation that will serve as an endowment for the program. [The Comics Reporter]
Manga | Kodansha will release a second printing of the January issue of Aria magazine, which features the debut of Hikaru Suruga and Gan Sunaaku’s Attack on Titan spinoff No Regrets. The first printing was five times greater than the magazine’s usual press run — Aria has a verified circulation of 13,667 copies — so with this new printing, the January issue will have 10 times the number of copies of the average issue. [Anime News Network]
Comics | Rupp’s Comics in Fremont, Ohio, will display a rare comic this weekend as part of the store’s 22nd-anniversary celebration: Detective Dan: Secret Operative No. 48, published in 1933, is the first comic book to contain a single original story (as opposed to several strips, or a compilation of reprints from newspapers). The new format was not an immediate success, and the series was canceled after just one issue. [The News-Messenger]
Creators | It’s old but it’s good: The Comics Journal dips into the archives for a 1989 interview with Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson. [The Comics Journal]
Creators | John Porcellino reflects on 25 years of King-Cat Comics. [du9]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller dissects the latest sales numbers and finds July 2013 to be the second-best month for comics sales in the direct market so far this century—actually, since 1997. Combined comics and graphic novel sales were up almost 17 percent compared to July 2012, and year-to-date sales are up almost 13 percent compared to last year. [The Comichron]
Retailing | Brian Hibbs, one of the founding members of the direct-market trade organization ComicsPRO, has left the group “because of the reactions of the Board to recent DC moves.” He revealed his decision in the comments on his blog post about DC’s allocation of 3D covers for Villains Month: “The org that I formed was intended to look out for the little guy; the current Board seems much more interested in keeping the big guys big. Democracy in action, I suppose, so I vote with my dollars.” [ICv2]
Morinaga is well known in yuri (lesbian) manga circles; Seven Seas has also published her earlier manga, Girl Friends, and her short story collection Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink. There isn’t a lot of yuri manga — it’s a niche of a niche — so it’s good to see a creator’s works being brought over with some consistency. In addition, this is quite a recent series—it launched last year and is still being serialized in Japan. Here’s the blurb:
As a child, Sasami Aoba fantasized about becoming a defender of justice, like the magical girls and “Sentai Rangers” she admired on TV. Years have passed and now Sasami has become a police officer herself. Her first assignment is to infiltrate Hanagaki All-Girls High School and ferret out any trouble she may find.
On her first day posing as a student, Sasami is shocked to discover that a supposed book thief at school is actually a fellow undercover police officer, Sakuraba Midori. What’s more, Midori insists that she herself is the officer in charge of the school, not Sasami. Will the two girls become rivals, partners…or something more?
If that piques your curiosity, blogger Katherine Hanson has a review up at her site, Yuri no Boke, in which she traces that magical-girl bit back to Morinaga’s love of the genre and the doujinshi (fan comics) she makes. Hanson’s conclusion: “So far, Gakuen Polizi is one part much-needed social commentary and one part love letter to a genre its author loves, with some romance seeds being planted.”
The first volume is due out in June 2014.
Creators | Editorial cartoonist Matt Bors talks about his life in a tough field, comics journalism and people who want him to work for free: “No one would hold a ‘contest’ for chefs to all prepare food and then only offer pay to the ‘winner’ whose meal they like best … If you want to draw your friend’s wedding invitation for free, I say go for it. If someone is making money from your work, they can afford to pay you.” [Truthout]
Creators | Brian K. Vaughan is crowned “king of the creator-owned comics” by Alex Hern, who acknowledges that may be an “artificially constrained” compliment before laying out the writer’s claim to the title. [New Statesman]
The distribution agreement launches with 13 Seven Seas graphic novels: Amazing Agent Luna Vols. 1-3 by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir and Shiei; Arkham Woods by Christopher Rowley and Jhomar Soriano; Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends Vol. 1 story by Yomi Hirasaka and Itachi; Hollow Fields Vol. 1 by Madeleine Rosca; Jack the Ripper: Hell Blade Vol. 1 by Je-tae Yoo; Dance in the Vampire Bund Vols. 1-3 by Nozomu Tamaki; The Sacred Blacksmith Vol. 1 by Isao Miura and Kotaro Yamada; and Vampire Cheerleaders/Paranormal Mystery Squad Vols. 1-2 by Adam Arnold, Shiei and Comipa.
The debut of those titles will be followed by more of Seven Seas’ back catalog, with the two companies promising eventual same-day digital release.
“Since its inception, Sevens Seas’ commitment to bringing the best in original and licensed manga has been evident by how many titles they’ve had chart on the New York Times bestsellers list,” comiXology CEO David Steinberger said in a statement. “Seven Seas publisher Jason DeAngelis has a great eye for talent, whether it’s licensing and translating material from Japan and Korea or creating new content. We’re very excited to help bring Seven Seas Entertainment’s catalog to new and old fans across the globe on comiXology.”
Organizations | The Siegel and Shuster Society is seeking donations to repair the fence surrounding the former site of Joe Shuster’s childhood home in Cleveland and to help maintain the new Superman exhibit at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. The wooden fence, which is decorated with large metal plates depicting the first Superman story from Action Comics #1, was damaged early last month by a drunken driver. Repairs are expected to cost about $3,000; any additional money will be put toward future restoration. Dedicated in October, the airport’s Superman Welcoming Center has suffered wear from visitors encouraging children to pose for photographs beside the statue. The group is seeking $1,500 to fix the damage and install a barrier to keep kids off the exhibit. Donations can be made through the Cleveland Foundation. [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
Conventions | It’s time for the mass media to start earnestly explaining Comic-Con to their readers; here’s one that gives a quick overview of the history of the con and gathers quotes from various notables, including Marvel’s Joe Quesada, the guy who runs the Walking Dead obstacle course, and CBR’s Jonah Weiland. [The Long Beach Press-Telegram]
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.