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Read comics all weekend without breaking the bank

With Labor Day weekend upon us, now is a good time to stock the virtual longbox with some digital comics. We reported the other day that Image has made 20 of its #1 issues free on comiXology; here’s a roundup of some other free’ n’ cheap digital comics to check out over the holiday.

Centsless Books is a website that rounds up all the free Kindle books on Amazon, and it has a dedicated section for comics and graphic novels. There’s a preview of Batman: Earth One up there, and a lot of first issues of different indy series. Some of the graphic novels aren’t really — at least one book I checked was prose not a graphic novel, and Little Nemo’s Wild Sleigh Ride is a picture book that uses Winsor McCay’s illustrations (which are in the public domain). Well worth checking out, especially if you’re a First Second fan, are the two Between the Panels books, which are promotional pieces put out by Macmillan, with creator essays, character sketches and side stories, all related to different First Second graphic novels. Aside from that, it’s a pretty mixed bag, but one that looks like it will be fun to rummage around in. These Kindle comics will also work on the Kindle iPad and Android apps.

Infinity is a free iPad fanzine from Panel Nine, which has published Eddie Campbell’s Dapper John and David Lloyd’s Kickback as standalone iPad apps. The inaugural issue includes an interview with Lloyd, a preview of Dapper John, a roundup of digital-comics news, a couple of app reviews, art by Simon Russell, and an interview with PJ Holden, the creator of Murderdrome, a short comic that was booted from the iTunes store for being too violent (it’s actually a spoof). It’s a nice collection and well worth the effort of clicking that iTunes button.

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Viz goes full-on digital with new BL line

As the shape of the digital comics world emerges from the haze of uncertainty, readers are saying one thing loud and clear: “I want to own my digital comics.” And most publishers are sidestepping the whole issue by saying “We will gladly sell you a license to read our digital comics” and going no further.

So when Viz Media reps unveiled their SuBLime line of Boys Love (yaoi) manga at Yaoi-Con on Saturday, they made manga history: They will be publishing some titles digitally in a download-to-own format, according to manga blogger Deb Aoki, who was tweeting from the panel. The licenses will be worldwide, not restricted to the U.S. and Canada like Viz’s other digital releases. What’s more, the downloads will be PDFs, which can be read on a Kindle, Nook or iOS device as well as pretty much any computer.

That’s right: DRM-free downloadable comics, available worldwide. And the cover price on these e-books is a very reasonable $5.99.

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SLG Publishing goes digital two ways

SLG Publishing has been doing digital comics since before they were cool, and this week had more news on that front: They have signed with iVerse, and their comics will be available in iVerse’s Comics Plus reader. This will definitely help bring their comics to a wider audience. The digital launch includes the first five issues of Nightmares & Fairy Tales, Serenity Rose, and Ben Towle’s Midnight Sun, and the first three issues of Rex Libris.

Checking the SLG site, I also noticed they are doing digital in a different way: They are making Katy Weselcouch’s The Floundering Time available in CBZ format, for use in readers such as ComicZeal, and they say they will be making more comics available in that format in the future. The advantage to CBZ is that you can download it once and keep it. Comics bought through iVerse can only be read in the Comics Plus reader, and if the company or the technology disappears, your comics may disappear as well. Basically, digital comics distributors don’t sell you a comic, they sell you a license to read a comic. CBZ is much more portable and makes it possible to keep your comics forever, independent of a particular distributor or app. The ebook versions of The Floundering Time are priced at a very reasonable $3.99, a considerable savings over the print price of $12.95.

Robot reviews: Short takes on digital comics

Now that I have an iPad, I have been paying more attention to digital comics releases, particularly to comiXology’s weekly e-mail blast. I sampled some of their recent offerings and found them to be a mixed bag—three very good single issues and a graphic novel that was kind of mediocre. The lower price made digital a good deal for all of these, and with comiXology’s web app, they are available to anyone with a browser and a few dollars.

The Royal Historian of Oz #1 Andy Hirsch’s expressive art really lights up this story of an L. Frank Baum wannabe who makes it to the real Land of Oz—and steals a bunch of their stuff. His hapless son, who has barely been keeping things together, is less than thrilled to learn that his house is now home to an assortment of (mostly living) Oz artifacts, and the ruler of Oz isn’t happy with the situation either. Writer Tommy Kovac makes the characters grounded and convincing despite the fantastic circumstances, and Hirsch does a great job of bringing Baum’s lesser-known creations to life, filling the panels with quirky details. It’s in glorious black and white, with a bit of an underground comics vibe, and at 99 cents (a penny less than the print edition!), it’s a solid bargain.

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Manley: Big publishers rule on the iPad (Updated)

DC's iPad app

DC's iPad app

Joey Manley has a provocative post up this week about where the energy is in the digital comics scene. While webcomics are the realm of individual creators making a name for themselves in nontraditional ways, it’s a different story on the iPad and other devices:

On my iPad, the best comics reading experience, bar none, is not from small, scrappy innovators. It’s from the big companies, via Comixology’s apps (the “Comics” one, which includes DC and a lot of other familiar publishers, and the “Marvel” one, which is exactly the same application, but limited in content to Marvel comics only). The deal is this: you buy “issues” of printed comic books, which have been repurposed and re-engineered to be read more easily on the device.

Manley gets right away that these devices are a digital newsstand bringing DC and Marvel comics to a new audience, and he thinks the publishers could be doing a better job of repackaging them, but his main point is that the big, clumsy comics companies of yesteryear are doing the best job of exploiting this new platform. Of course, that’s because they have ComiXology to do the tech work for them; DC and Marvel are really just supplying content, and in this case, it’s mostly content that has already been published in other forms.

In the comments, SLG’s Dan Vado complains that indy comics are getting swept aside:

This is pretty much dead on. Comixology has all but stopped converting SLG titles in favor of, their words, “higher volume” sellers.

UPDATE: ComXology’s David Steinberger responds to Vado and the others in the same comment thread, saying that they remain committed to indie publishers:

To be clear, we’re dedicated to the indie market, and are investing a ton of our resources to make the access to our platform more equitable. We took the opportunities that we created with this platform, and now we’re catching up to being able to continue to get great books from all publishers.

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Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs: Robot 13 and a Luchador

Strongman

Strongman

Strongman
Written by Charles Soule; Illustrated by Allen Gladfelter
SLG; $9.95

I said in the weekend’s What Are You Reading that I wasn’t sure what to make of the lucha libre genre. “I can easily embrace the sillier aspects of it,” I said, “but it’s off-putting to me that people in the stories always seem to take the luchadors so seriously. We’re asked to believe that the ridiculous masks are badges of honor that command respect. Strongman plays around with that idea and I appreciate that about it.”

Having finished the book, I’m not sure that “plays around with” is the right verb. What Strongman seems to do is acknowledge the irony of the concept, but ends up defending it. As writer Charles Soule says in the press release for the book, “The real-life luchadors were incredible, larger-than-life figures. They were basically real-world superheroes – many of them never took their masks off in public. These people were big deals. And I thought a story that played with their legend a bit, while remaining respectful could be something special.” Okay, so Soule uses “played with” too. Maybe that is what he’s doing. I’m not the best person to judge.

As an outsider to the lucha libre world, I see movie titles like Mil Máscaras vs. the Aztec Mummy and Santo vs. the Vampire Women and I think, “Awesome!” I’m not however thinking about how much I respect El Santo and Mil Máscaras. I mean, no more than I respect Indiana Jones or Batman.

More plus Robot 13 below the cut.

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Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs: Warlord of Io

Warlord of Io and Other Stories

Warlord of Io and Other Stories

Warlord of Io
Written and Illustrated by James Turner
SLG; $3.95

Writers like Jeff Parker, Matt Fraction, Fred Van Lente, and Paul Tobin rightfully deserve to be at the top of the People Who Make Awesome list, but they get something of an advantage by being able to throw stuff like the Hulk or MODOK or Galactus into their stories. Not that it’s an unfair advantage. These guys got to play with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s toys by first showing what they could do with the stuff in their own rooms. But right up there with them has to be James Turner.

He may not have the exposure of those other guys, but he’s no less Rip-Your-Brain-Out-Of-Your-Head-Because-You-Won’t-Need-It-Anymore-After-This Awesome. If you’ve read Rex Libris, you know what I’m talking about, but baby he was just getting warmed up there. Warlord of Io and Other Stories has five stories in it and they’re all fantastic.

Half of it is the first chapter of the “Warlord of Io” story. I thought this was going to be a self-contained one-shot, but I’m happy to be wrong about that because I really want to read more of it. It’s about a boy named Zing who just wants to be a rock star, but unfortunately has to take over ruling the moon-world when his father Emperor Zoz suddenly decides to retire to the Pleasure Domes of Zur with Enormous Breasted Space Amazons in Zero Gravity. What’s a poor little Crown Prince to do?

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Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs: SLG’s Captain Blood #1

Captain Blood #1

Captain Blood #1

Rafael Sabatini’s novel Captain Blood opens with rebellion, battle, and a country doctor dragged kicking and screaming into a civil war he wants nothing to do with. It’s an exciting opening that not only lets you know who Dr. Peter Blood is, but also explains his motivations for the rest of the novel.

SLG’s is the second comics adaptation of Captain Blood I’ve ever read – the other being part of Graphic Classics‘ Sabatini volume – and I think it’s interesting that both adaptations choose to begin their stories later in Blood’s life when he’s been sold into slavery by his own government. They both then flash back to England almost immediately, picking up Sabatini’s beginning.

I’m not sure why that is. I understand the advantage of starting a story with later, more exciting events and then skipping back to explain what’s going on. But Blood’s slave career is hardly more exciting than the action and drama around his fateful midnight house call to the bedside of a rebel leader. Or to his subsequent, wrongful imprisonment and monkey trial. That’s cool, thrilling stuff.

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McFarlane appears at this weekend’s Supanova in Australia

Todd McFarlane faces off with Spawn

Todd McFarlane faces off with Spawn

While the American comics community has the Emerald City ComiCon in Seattle this weekend, Australian fans in Brisbane can meet Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, Heroes star Hayden Panettiere, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac creator Jhonen Vasquez and many more guests at Supanova.

Writing for the Courier Mail, Suzanna Clarke profiles McFarlane, who is making a rare convention appearance:

About 20 years ago, McFarlane became a comic book superstar as a result of his work on Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man. So how did he get into the comic biz?

“I was the proverbial best artist in the class,” he says, from Berkeley in California, where Image Comics is based. “I spent a lot of time doodling . . . around 16, I started collecting American superhero comic books. It seemed cool.”

Taken on at Marvel comics in 1984, he was filled with doubt about his abilities. “Every year there was a new kid coming along. I realised I had to get better and figure out how to draw.”

McFarlane said if he had one piece of advice for young people, it is “don’t buy into the corporate line that there is only one way to get what you want in life.”

Robot Review: Throwing My Arms Around Paris

Paris

Paris

Paris
Written by Andi Watson; Illustrated by Simon Gane.
SLG; $10.95

I blame my love for Paris – a city I’ve never physically been to – on Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Gaston Leroux. Any city so full of swashbuckling musketeers, romantic revolutionaries, cathedral-dwelling hunchbacks, and catacomb-inhabiting phantoms is bound to be fascinating. When you figure in Bouguereau and éclairs, Paris tops the short list of cities on the Eventual Michael May World Tour.

My great hope for Paris the graphic novel was that it would come somewhere near capturing everything that I imagine I love about Paris the place. Not musketeers and hunchbacks necessarily, but art, architecture, bistros, coffee, and – oh yes – especially love. I was not disappointed.

Watson and Gane tell the story of a young, American art student named Juliet who’s come to Paris to study at an atelier. The back cover says that the story takes place in the early ‘50s. I don’t know enough about Paris’ cultural history to know why that’s significant – the details of the plot could’ve taken place yesterday as easily as fifty-something years ago – but the style of the thing is certainly nostalgic and romantic; like an Audrey Hepburn movie. Hepburn would’ve been out of place in this particular story, but right at home in the setting.

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WonderCon ’09 | Panel schedule announced

wonderconComic-Con International has posted the programming for WonderCon, which is coming up Feb. 27-March 1 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. As its run by the same folks who do San Diego, it has that same feel and variety, but is a little more laid back and low key than the madness that is the San Diego Comic Con. My brother and I were able to walk right into the X-Files panel last year just as it started … same with the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles panel. I don’t think you could ever do something like that at San Diego. In any event, it’s a great opportunity to see creators and actually chat with them a bit.

Let’s see what will be going on …

• Marvel’s been absent from WonderCon for the past couple of years, and while they don’t appear to have a booth, they do have a presence this year. Both Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction are guests of honor, and it looks like Jeph Loeb, Mark Paniccia and Axel Alonso, among others, will also be there. Of note is a discussion between Fraction and author Michael Chabon on Saturday that will likely be worth the price of admission alone.

• Speaking of special guests, Brian Azzarello and Dave Johnson are also attending and will host a panel on 100 Bullets on Saturday … followed by a night at Isotope Comics. And although Dan DiDio won’t be at the con this year, DC’s got Jim Lee, Will Dennis, Ian Sattler, James Robinson and Aaron Lopresti, among others.

• Oni Press, IDW, Dark Horse, BOOM!, SLG, Aspen and Top Cow will also be on hand, both on the floor and at various panels to talk about their latest projects.

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Robot Reviews: Agnes Quill

Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery

Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery

Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery
Written by Dave Roman; Illustrated by Jason Ho, Raina Telgemeier, Jeff Zornow, Dave Roman, and Jen Wang
SLG Publishing; $10.95

I keep seeing the same discussion every time someone asks a bunch of Hellboy fans where the best place is to start in the series. On the one side, you have those who are really interested in the whole mythos and character development and discovering the secrets behind Hellboy’s origins. On the other side are the folks who prefer the standalone short stories and feel that Hellboy’s personality and humor comes through best in these mini-adventures unhampered by the darkness and heavy drama of the longer works.

Of course, every Hellboy fan will agree that it’s the combination of the two types of stories that really makes the series fun, but there’s still that polite disagreement about the best way to ease into the whole thing. I bring that up because Dave Roman faced a similar choice in introducing readers to the world and adventures of Agnes Quill and he made an interesting decision. It’s not the one I would’ve made, but I’m not sure it was the wrong one either.

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