Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
I got to know Ryan Sands almost 10 years ago, when he was publishing the strangest manga I had ever seen on his blog Same Hat! Since then, I’ve watched him follow his enthusiasm for innovative comics as the publisher of the Electric Ant zine, the translator of Suehiro Maruo’s The Strange Tale of Panorama Island for Last Gasp and now, as he explained to Chris Mautner in August, the creator of his own small press, Youth in Decline.
His flagship publication is Frontier, an anthology series in which each issue is a complete comic by a single creator. Frontier ended 2014 strong with comics by Emily Carroll and Sam Alden, and this year’s lineup looks equally good, with Jillian Tamaki, Anna Deflorian, Becca Tobin and Michael DeForge on the roster.
Sands has signed up some of the most interesting up-and-coming creators in the indie comics scene and has presented their works in interesting and sophisticated ways, so I asked him to talk to me in depth about his work on Frontier.
Brigid Alverson: The Frontier anthology seems to be evolving into a place for side stories or experimental work by creators who are already working on other, longer projects. Do you think these comics would be published if not for Frontier?
Ryan Sands: The goal for the Frontier series is to spotlight each individual artist and a distinct story or collection of work. I tried to set out the goal pretty explicitly on our site when starting Frontier, saying we’d focus on three types of books: up-and-coming talent in the North American indie scene, introducing the work of international artists I like, and presenting “uncommon dispatches” from more-established creators. The first year of Frontier was mostly focused on the first two goals, but with Sam Alden and Emily Carroll’s books — and now with Jillian Tamaki and Michael DeForge creating issues for 2015—I’m hoping to mix in some of these interesting stories from established creators.
Creators | Osamu Tezuka, the “godfather of manga,” has been dead for 25 years, but his influence lives on, not just in manga and anime but in his old neighborhood, where a restaurant features his favorite dish and merchants have their own local currency, Astro Money. There’s even a group of inventors who were inspired by Astro Boy to design a “power-assisted hand.” [The Yomiuri Shimbun]
Creators | Ivan Brunetti tried to draw Nancy and failed, but he learned how to be a cartoonist in the process: “Nancy is a harsh taskmaster; resuscitating it was a grueling task, but the challenge was invigorating and edifying. By drawing Nancy, I realized that every character (even the environment) in a strip is the cartoonist and is invested and imbued with the cartoonist’s life force. This is perhaps why continuing a strip after a creator’s death is so misguided, and it also explains the precious few exceptions that prove the rule: those cartoonists made the preexisting characters truly their own, commandeering their ink-on-paper souls.” [BoingBoing]
The nominees have been announced for the 2014 Ignatz Awards, which will be presented Sept. 13 during the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland.
Named in honor of the brick-wielding mouse in George Herriman’s Krazy Kat strip, the awards recognize achievement in comics and cartooning. Nominees are selected by a panel of five cartoonists — this year it was Darryl Ayo, Austin English, Melissa Mendes, Thien Pham and Whit Taylor — and then voted on by SPX attendees.
The nominees are:
“People are constantly in communication and sharing with each other. But they physically want to meet each other in the flesh. There’s obviously a tactile element, but also a craft element in the production of the object, that’s lacking when you see it on the Internet. It’s the difference between seeing a Coca-Cola commercial on TV, and going to buy one.”
— Bill Boichel, owner of Pittsburgh’s Copacetic Comics, talking about this weekend’s PIX: The Pittsburgh Indie Comix Expo, which is sponsored by his store and the Toonseum. Boichel’s point is particularly apt for small-press comics shows, where many of the works are handmade or have an artisanal quality that doesn’t necessarily come across on the Internet.
While PIX is drawing in a number of out-of-town guests, including Trina Robbins, Boichel notes that Pittsburgh has quite a comics scene of its own, with seven out of the 10 bestselling graphic novels in his store being local products.
The small press publisher Hic & Hoc has announced its publishing plans for the year. The upcoming line-up includes:
Mimi and the Wolves Act I by Alabaster. A new edition of Alabaster’s self-published about a young girl who goes off into some mysterious woods to find a cure for the disturbing dreams she’s been having. Due in the spring.
Irene Volume 4 edited by Dakota McFadzean, Andy Warner and d w. An anthology of work by new cartoonists, including Amy Lockhart, Emi Gennis, Jackie Roche and James Hindle. Due in the spring.
Scaffold: The Collected Edition by V A Graham & J A Eisenhower. A sprawling, experimental comic with elaborate map-like layouts involving a dystopian fantasy world. I read the first volume of this at Comic Arts Brooklyn, and I’m not even sure how to accurately describe it. Due in the summer.
Beneath the racks of Big Two superheroes and genre comics sits a thriving world of art and storytelling. Some call it independent comics, some call it small press, but in a interesting minicomic, Pat Barrett has some other words for it.
Created using the style and template of the fondly remembered 1978 classic How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema, Barrett delivers a comedic but seething look at the small-press industry. Debuting last month at the Small Press Expo, How to Make Comics the Whiner’s Way lampoons the plight of would-be comic artists in the realm of independent comics. Available for sale online at Birdcage Bottom Books, it’s a tongue-in-cheek “how to” that could also be read as a screed against a growing trend in comics.
“Do you like to gripe? Do you also like to draw? Then the world of small press comics is perfect for you!,” Barrett writes on the comic’s back cover. “The unheard-of Pat Barrett takes a stab at legitimacy by telling you how to accomplish what he hasn’t. Because those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, write a how-to book. Heed his words, learn some things, and most of all, Never Stop Whining!”
Here’s a sample of what’s inside the eight-page comic, which is available for $2.
RJ Casey is a comics writer who has plunged into small-press publishing with energy and ambition. He publishes his own comics, and those by several other creators, under the name Yeti Press, and knowing that he is a micropublisher, I was impressed to see him and his collaborators at both C2E2 and TCAF this year. He’s going to CAKE in a few weeks as well. Oh, and his comics were recently reviewed on a major comics blog.
Yeti Press is about to celebrate its second anniversary, and to celebrate, Casey is taking his work digital for the first time. Starting on Monday, he will make one comic at a time available as a downloadable PDF at a discount off the print price; after two weeks, he snatches that comic away and puts up another one. That one-at-a-time approach interested me, as did Casey’s life as a small-press creator, so I asked him to talk a bit about how he goes about his work, how it balances with his day job as a teacher, and why he chose this particular route for digital sales.
First of all, what is Yeti Press? Who runs it, why did you start it, and what do you do?
We like to consider ourselves a small publishing behemoth out of Chicago. We put out a variety of minicomics, graphic novels, and even distribute a few select books. On a day-to-day level, I generally run the operation with help from co-founder Eric Roesner. Eric and I created Yeti Press back in 2011 to have a unified name when we worked together on the first issue of our Pecos series. I’m fairly confident that neither of us knew all the steps in every which direction Yeti Press would take following that first comics. To make sure the comics keep rolling though, some of my responsibilities include editing, taking treks to the post office, working with printers, paying artists, and scheduling release dates, signings, and conventions. I also try to get some writing done in my free time.
Creators | Daniel Kalder looks at the state of French comics tradition following the death last month of Jean Giraud, the influential artist widely known as Moebius, and finds it’s in the capable hands of David B (“one of the most sophisticated cartoonists in the world”) and Nicolas de Crecy (“the ‘mad genius’ of French comics”). [The Guardian]
Creators | Tom Spurgeon talks to Michael Cho about what sounds like a really interesting project, his book Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes: “Because I don’t have an affinity for drawing a pastoral landscape. [laughs] You know what I mean? I’ve never lived in that environment, so I can’t draw that thing with confidence. When I close my eyes I don’t visualize that with any confidence. But a city is something I’m surrounded with constantly. With alleyways and lane ways and how light poles connect up to transformer towers which have extra leads leading down to the basement apartment. I can see that when I close my eyes, you know?” [The Comics Reporter]
As the end of 2011 approaches, websites and publications are unveiling various year-end lists and gift guides — so many that keeping up is a challenge. Here’s just some of what’s been released in the past few days:
• The Village Voice shares their list of the best comics and graphic novels of the year, a list that includes several collections of older material, Animal Man, Spaceman, Mister Wonderful and more.
• Comic creators Jim Woodring and Anders Nilsen, along with Thor star Chris Hemsworth, landed in the bottom quarter of Pop Candy’s annual 100 People of the Year list. The rest of the list will roll out all this week.
• The top ten comics list by Joe Gross of the Austin-American Statesman includes Criminal, Journey Into Mystery, Finder and Hark! A Vagrant, and is topped by Love & Rockets: New Stories #4.
• John Lucas at The Straight lists his favorite graphic novels of 2011, including The Cardboard Valise by Ben Katchor, Paying For It by Chester Brown and Habibi by Craig Thompson.
Founded by Marc Arsenault and altcomix lifers Tom Hart and Sam Henderson back in 1988, the publisher/record label/mail-order business/what-have-you known as Wow Cool was a mainstay of the 1990s zine scene and has operated on and off in the venn-diagram overlap of comics, zines, and indie music ever since. But now it’s back in a big way, thanks to a spiffy redesigned web store that Arsenault recently launched. The Wow Cool website boasts some of the best books in the alternative and underground comics world, and a lot more besides. From back issues of legendary anthologies like Zap, Weirdo, and Arcade to newer comics by Michael DeForge, Lisa Hanawalt, and Kevin Huizenga, from punk rags like Cometbus and Maximum RockNRoll to comics mags like The Comics Journal and Comic Book Artist, from books to records to beyond, it’s a well-curated collection of comics and cultural ephemera. Heck, even superhero readers scarred by the loss of precious continuity in DC’s New 52 ought to have fun with Arsenault’s “Oh No!!! Retconned Again!!!” t-shirt, available for the insane price of $6.99. The Wow Cool blog is a great read, too — witness this recent post on the artists of Adventure Time. Go ye and browse.
While the rest of the world is going digital, Box Brown is heading in the other direction: Last month he launched Retrofit Comics with plans to publish 17 print comics by new and independent creators in the next 17 months. He got the seed money for Retrofit with a Kickstarter drive, and the launch comic was James Kochalka’s Fungus. All the books are by different artists, and most are one-shots, although Brown said he is open to creators incorporating their Retrofit comics into their ongoing series. This month’s release is Drag Bandits, by Colleen Frakes and Betsy Swardlick, which Brown describes as “kind of like The Scarlet Pimpernel, a woman dressed as a man and a man dressed as a woman, and it’s really exciting.” Comics by Pat Aulisio and Josh Bayer round out this year’s offerings, and plans for the future include an anthology in the spirit of the Japanese underground-manga magazine Garo, a project that Brown says was the brainchild of Ian Harker, editor of the free alt-comic newspaper Secret Prison. The comics are sold both in selected retail stores and by subscription, and Brown estimates he has 150 subscribers to the four-month package and a handful with six-month or twelve-month subscriptions.
While he is handling all this, Brown, who recently won two Ignatz Awards, continues to self-publish his own work, and Blank Slate will publish his graphic novel The Survivalist in December. We talked to him this past weekend about the genesis of Retrofit Comics and what it’s like to run a really, really small press.
SPX, or the Small Press Expo, returns to the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Bethesda, Md. this weekend.
The show’s special guests include Roz Chast, Jim Woodring, Diane Noomin, Jim Rugg, Ann Telnaes, Chester Brown, Johnny Ryan, Craig Thompson and Matthew Thurber, and fans who attend will also have the opportunity to meet and/or hear from Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, Jessica Abel, Sarah Glidden, Alex Robinson, Brian Ralph, Mike Dawson, Meredith Gran, Roger Langridge and Julia Wertz, just to name a few. I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that our own Chris Mautner will be attending and conducting a Q&A with Johnny Ryan on Saturday, so be sure to tell him hi for us.
Russ Kazmierczak will head west from the Arizona desert to the much cooler San Diego area this weekend in support of his new comic, Amazing Arizona Comics #4, which feature stories about current events and politics in Arizona.
“Amazing Arizona Comics #4 is a flipbook, and in the lead story, a jealous Lou Ferrigno (recently deputized by Sheriff Joe Arpaio) tried to trump fellow celebrity law enforcer Steven Seagal by busting crooks on the Mexican border, and a local superhero, Dust Devil, tries to control the chaos,” Kazmierczak told Robot 6. The comics will recent featured by the local ABC and Fox news affiliates in Phoenix.
Find Amazing Arizona Comics at the small press K.O. Comix table.
The massive Comic-Con International runs July 21-24 in San Diego, but it’s never too early to start planning your shopping list. So we’ll be running a list of potential “wishlist” items you may want to check out at the show.
If you are a comics creator or publisher, and you’re planning to bring something new to the con — a sketchbook, a print, a graphic novel debut, etc. — then we want to hear from you. Drop me an email at email@example.com and let me know if you’ll have something cool on hand that attendees should know about. Feel free to send any artwork as well.
Aspen Comics sends word of two variant covers they’ll have at the show, for Executive Assistant Iris and Charismagic
I was exchanging e-mails with Sean O’Reilly, the founder and CEO of Arcana Studio, just before Borders filed for bankruptcy, so when the other shoe dropped, I asked him to talk a bit about how it affects his business. Arcana is a small publisher, and I assumed the bankruptcy would have a big effect on them. What interests me about his response is the importance of the middleman, Diamond Book Distributors, in this case.
As always, I also wanted to talk about the different ways the company gets its books out to readers, and the relative importance of the different channels. Having spent the weekend at C2E2 talking about these different factors, I was interested to hear how they directly affect a single publisher.
Brigid: How much of your revenue comes from each channel—comics shops, bookstores, online sales, digital?
Sean: While digital is an ever-growing market to keep an eye on, that part of the industry is still in its growth phase. The majority of Arcana’s current sales come from bookstores and online – still primarily through Diamond Comics and Diamond Books, Amazon, eBay and of course you can find our product in local comic shops as well. That said, we’ve made a significant turn away from the ‘floppy’ comic market and are concentrating on the graphic novel market. Digital is the next step and we’re working with Comixology, Wowio, Graphic.ly and others.