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Best of 7 | Marvel ‘Cosmic,’ comics TV, Hello Kitty! and more

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Happy Mother’s Day and welcome to Best of 7, where we talk about “The best in comics from the last seven days” — which could be anything from an exciting piece of news to something great fans are doing to an awesome comic that came out. So let’s get to it …

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Comics A.M. | TOON Books launches imprint for older readers

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel

Publishing | I talked with TOON Books founder Francoise Mouly about her new imprint, TOON Graphics, which will feature “visual books” (picture books and comics) for readers ages 8 and up. The line launches with three titles: Theseus and the Minotaur, by Yves Pommaux, Cast Away on the Letter A, by Fred, and Hansel and Gretel, retold by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. [Publishers Weekly]

Commentary | Former DC Comics senior editor Joan Hilty tackles the issue of sexism in comics and calls for publishers to include more women in their senior editorial rank:. “Women are getting the bestselling books into stores and greenlighting the million-dollar movie franchises, but they’re barely represented among the creative executives who map out the universes and storytelling strategies. That’s where you cement broad-based, long-term loyalty to authors and characters, tap new audiences and trends, and grow readership, without which none of those books or movies would exist.” [The Guardian]

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Comics A.M. | Manga market showing signs of ‘modest’ recovery

New Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1

New Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1

Manga | In a two-part interview, ICv2 talks at length to veteran Dark Horse manga editor Carl Horn about how the manga market has evolved since 1987, which manga do and do not do well, and what the future may hold. The good news is the market seems to be recovering after several years of declining sales; the hard evidence is that Dark Horse is sending more royalties back to the Japanese licensors. And the new reality is that while the market may be smaller, almost everyone knows what manga is now: “You can’t simply put a manga on the market and expect it to sell because it is manga (that was one of the nice things about the boom because you could take a chance on more marginal titles), but on the other hand you don’t have to do as much explaining about what manga is anymore.” In addition, ICv2 lists the top 25 manga and the top 10 shoujo and shonen properties from the last quarter of 2013. [ICv2]

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Comics A.M. | IDW’s ‘My Little Pony’ comics hit 1 million in sales

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

Publishing | Sales of IDW Publishing’s My Little Pony comics, in single-issue and graphic novel format but not counting digital, have topped 1 million copies. (It does really well in the iBookstore — there are multiple issues in the Top 10 every week — although it seldom registers on the other digital comics platforms.) IDW’s Ted Adams says this is because it’s such a great comic, but shrewd marketing such as offering a special Scholastic Book Fair edition with a bonus pony figure probably helped a lot. [ICv2]

Digital comics | The motion-comics platform Madefire has secured $5.2 million in funding. In July it announced agreements with four comics publishers — IDW, BOOM! Studios, Top Cow and iTV — and the first IDW comics came out in August. Madefire also has a partnership with DeviantArt. [Publishers Weekly]

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Comics at the book con: A day at BookExpo America

Andrew Aydin and Rep. John Lewis

Andrew Aydin and Rep. John Lewis

BookExpo America takes place the Javits Center, just like New York Comic Con, but it’s a completely different kind of show. It’s a trade show, not a consumer show, so the folks in the aisles aren’t fans looking for a fix, they are potential customers to be wooed. And what you see there is a pretty reliable guide to what everyone will be talking about in a couple of months.

So if you happened into the little graphic novel enclave at the right time, you might see Gene Luen Yang sitting there, pen in hand, ready to autograph a free Avatar graphic novel for you, or maybe Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights pioneer, sitting next to Andrew Aydin, with ashcans of their graphic novel about Lewis’ life, March, and while you might have to wait a few minutes for your turn, you wouldn’t have to stand on the sort of long lines they might draw at San Diego. The pace is more leisurely than a comic convention — the creators chat as they sign your comics — and the blasting noise of video game and movie displays is blissfully absent.

It’s true there aren’t a lot of comics publishers at BEA, although there are a fair number of book publishers who include comics in their lines. Abrams didn’t send their ComicArts people, but if you consider Diary of a Wimpy Kid to be a comic (I’m always happy to claim that one for our side), then they were well represented, and many attendees had Wimpy Kid stickers on their badges.

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Previews: What Looks Good for March

It’s time once again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for cool, new comics. We’ve each picked the five comics we’re most anticipating in order to create a list of the best new stuff coming out two months from now.

As usual, please feel free to play along in the comments. Tell us what we missed that you’re looking forward to or – if you’re a comics creator – mention your own stuff.

Comic Book Creator #1

Graeme McMillan

Comic Book Creator #1 (TwoMorrows, $8.95): I still fondly remember the now-defunct Comic Book Artist magazine from years ago, and now the creator of that magazine, Jon Cooke returns with a new 80-page offering to take its place. With a first issue filled with Jack Kirby, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, this is a must-read for me.

Mark Waid’s The Green Hornet #1 (Dynamite, $3.99): Waid has been having a career renaissance, in terms of recognition at least, and that led to getting his name on the title of this new revamp of Dynamite’s Green Hornet line (art is by Daniel Indero). I dig the creator, I dig the character, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when the two collide.

The Secret History of Marvel Comics HC (Fantagraphics, $35.00): I’ve been looking forward to this one since I first heard about it. Blake Bell looks at the non-comics material being published by the company that would one day become Marvel Comics, including pulp and girlie mag work by Jack Kirby, Bill Everett and Dan DeCarlo. It’s like the perfect companion for Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story!

Star Wars: Legacy — Prisoner of the Floating World #1 (Dark Horse, $2.99): As if the Brian Wood series wasn’t enough to get me back into Star Wars comics, now we get a new series from the Planet of the Apes team of Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman? If these are the final days of Dark Horse’s Star Wars license as many are rumoring, then they’re definitely going out with a bang.

Wake Up, Percy Gloom HC (Fantagraphics, $24.99): I fell madly in love with Cathy Malkasian’s beautiful Percy Gloom graphic novel a few years back, which was as beautiful as it was unexpected, so there is little to no way that I am not eagerly anticipating this follow-up. For those who like gorgeously-illustrated, melancholy and touching books: This is for you.

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Two great ‘kids’ titles adult comics connoisseurs will want to read

Even at this advanced point in the decades-long flowering of the graphic novel, both in public esteem and in mainstream publishers’ plans, David Nytra’s The Secret of the Stone Frog stands out as a remarkable book, one that accomplishes something I don’t remember seeing any other similar work manage.

It’s from Toon Books, editor Francoise Mouly’s imprint of Candlewick Press, which for years now has been producing superior, hardcover kids’ comics for readers of various ages. And at 77 pages, it’s the first to be explicitly labeled a graphic novel.

The story is a traditional one of two children, brother and sister, the latter of whom is on the cusp of adolescence — their parents think Leah is now old enough to get her own room, rather than sharing one with her younger brother Alan — and one night when they go to sleep, they awake in a world that’s similar to the one they know, but with familiar aspects exploded in fantastical directions. The setting, or settings, suggest Victorian England, and Nytra’s artwork suggests classic children’s literature from in and around the same period.

His elaborate and detailed black-and-white art, drawn with a crowquill pen and india ink, resembles that of John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Pauline Baynes’ for C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series; although the fine line work and classic-looking subject matter may also suggest to you E.H. Shepard’s illustrations for A.A. Milne’s Pooh books, or Beatrix Potter’s drawings for her many animal tales, or the full-page illustrations that appear in the various Andrew Lang colored fairy books.

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Food or Comics? | Wonton soup or Womanthology

Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a splurge item.

Check out Diamond’s release list or ComicList, and tell us what you’re getting in our comments field.

20th Century Boys, Volume 22

Chris Arrant

If I only had $15, I’d walk out a happy camper despite only having one book, because that book is 20th Century Boys, Vol. 22 (Viz, $12.99). While your typical American comics fan may have no idea who Naoki Urasawa is, he is in my mind undoubtedly the best cartoonist working today. Twenty-two books in and he hasn’t let up, delivering comics’ example of long-run storytelling perfection a la Sopranos. Friend is one of the most terrifying villains I’ve seen in comics in some time, and the mad assemblage of childhood pals out to stop him are some of my most treasured fictional friends.

If I had $30, I’d come back to comic stores on an American tip, starting off with Godzilla: Half Century War #2 (IDW Publishing, $3.99) by James Stokoe. I missed this when the first issue came out, but since then I’ve found it and relished its pure cartooning chaos. The first issue was an ideal debut, and I’m interested to see Stokoe take Lt. Murakami to Vietman in the ’60s for the ongoing war on Godzilla. After that I’d get the satisfying chunk, Dark Horse Presents #16 (Dark Horse, $7.99). I’ve been repeating the same praises every month, so let me try to spin it differently. This new issue, I have little idea what’s in it besides the return of Crime Doesn’t Pay; there’s a new series by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray in it I have heard nothing about, but DHP has re-built its track record of excellence and I’m fine spending $7.99 sight unseen. My final pick would be Daredevil #18 (Marvel, 2.99). Chris Samnee is quite different than the original artists on the book, but is excelling with Mark Waid in a new way — and that’s good. Instead of aping what had gone before, Samnee assuredly gives us his own style that would make any true fan of art in comics smile.

Oh ,wait, I found some money. I know, I’ll buy Memorial, Vol. 1 (IDW, $24.99). I missed this in singles, and this hardcover looks like the perfect chance to me to make up for past mistakes. These covers by Michael WM Kaluta really get my heart beating, and I’ve been wanting to read more of Chris Roberson on his own. The preview on IDW’s website gives me the impression it’s got down-to-earth personality amidst a fantasy world, and reminds me of classic supernatural fiction like A Wrinkle in Time or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

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Food or Comics | Ziti or Zeroes

Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a splurge item.

Check out Diamond’s release list or ComicList, and tell us what you’re getting in our comments field.

Aya: Life in Yop City

Chris Mautner

If I had $15, I’d buy Boys #70 (only two issues until the big finale) and Classic Popeye #2, IDW Publishing’s ongoing series of reprints devoted to Bud Sagendorf comics from the 1940s, as the first issue was much more fun than I expected it to be.

If I had $30, I’d put those comics back, but would be stuck between a couple of books. The first would be Aya: Life in Yop City, which collects the three previous Aya books by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie in one volume. These are great, funny comics, full of life and observation regarding a culture — in this case African culture — most Westerners know nothing about.

There’s also A Chinese Life, a massive doorstop of a memoir by Chinese artist Li Kunwu (with help from writer Philippe Otie) chronicling his life and times. Kunwu lives through some of modern China’s most tumultuous periods, including the Cultural Revolution, and hopefully his book will, like Aya, humanize a time and culture that for many is just a few lines in their history book.

Finally, there’s Message to Adolph, Vol. 1, one of Tezuka’s final works, set during World War II, about three people named Adolph, one a Jew, the other a German boy living in Japan, and the third the fuhrer himself. Originally published by Viz about two decades ago, Vertical has taken it upon themselves to put out a newly translated version which is great news for those that missed this great manga the first time around.

Is there a greater splurge purchase this week that Dal Tokyo, the collected version of Gary Panter’s off-kilter comic strip? I plugged this book last week, but it deserves another one. I’ve been waiting for this book for awhile.

For the scholarly comics type, the splurge of the week might be Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, a look at the creator of Barnaby and Harold and the Purple Crayon and his wife, a children’s author with whom he frequently collaborated.

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Food or Comics? | Roquette or Rocketeer

Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a splurge item.

Check out Diamond’s release list or ComicList, and tell us what you’re getting in our comments field.

Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1

Graeme McMillan

For once, I’m doing this in semi-reverse order. Or, at least, I’m starting with my would’ve-should’ve splurge, anyway, because if I had the money to spare, I’d definitely pick up the Invisibles Omnibus HC (DC/Vertigo, $150). Yes, I’ve read the comics before, and yes, I own all the trades. And yet … I really, really wish I could own this book. In another world, I am rich enough for that to happen.

Back in the real world, my first $15 pic is very easy: Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1 (IDW Publishing, $3.99); both creators are at the top of their games these days, as demonstrated in Daredevil on a regular basis, and so seeing them both take on Dave Stevens’ classic character feels like the kind of thing I will happily sign onto. Similarly, the first issue of the new Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Spike spin-off (Dark Horse, $2.99) automatically gets a pick-up, based on the quality of both the core Buffy and spin-off Angel and Faith books alone.

If I had $30, I’d add Prophet Vol. 1: Remission TP (Image Comics, $9.99) to my pile. I dropped off the single issues for this early on, because I wasn’t digging it as much as I wanted to, but enough people have told me that I’m wrong that I’m coming back to check out the collection — especially because (a) Brandon Graham and (b) that price point. I am continually a sucker for the $9.99 collection; publishers, you should remember this for me and people like me in future.

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Renee French’s all-ages Barry’s Best Buddy coming from TOON

I don’t know how I missed this, but Renee French (The Ticking, H Day) has an all-ages book coming from TOON. It’s called Barry’s Best Buddy, and that’s all I’ve been able to find out about it — except of course for these great preview images courtesy of the Blown Covers blog. It’s a different style for French, but it’s as delightfully weird as all her stuff and something to look forward to. It’s scheduled for spring release.

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Previews: What Looks Good for September

It’s time once again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for cool, new comics. Michael and Graeme have each picked the five new comics we’re most anticipating in order to create a Top 10 of the best new comics coming out two months from now.

As usual, please feel free to play along in the comments. Tell us what we missed that you’re looking forward to or – if you’re a comics creator – mention your own stuff.

Stumptown: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case #1

Graeme McMillan

Blacklung HC (Fantagraphics Books, $24.99): This one grabbed me as soon as I read the high-concept in the solicits: A man decides to be as evil as possible so that he’ll be reunited with his dead wife in Hell when he dies. Depressing, existential AND romantic? I couldn’t sign up quickly enough for Chris Wright’s original graphic novel debut.

Chris Ware: Building Stories HC (Pantheon Books, $50.00): To be honest, I run hot and cold on Ware’s work; as a formalist, he’s wonderful and his work is technically perfect, but I don’t always get the emotional hook that I want from his work, and that’s a real problem for me. Luckily (or not? This is a pricey book to gamble on), the technical aspects of this box set of interrelated publications, all seen for the first time here, sounds interesting enough to sample no matter how cold the writing leaves me. Damn my curiosity about comics formats!

Happy! #1 (of 4) (Image Comics, $2.99): I’ll admit it; I’m more than a little dubious about the “It’s a hit man teaming up with a magical flying My Little Pony” set-up of this new series, but it’s Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, so I almost feel a sense of “How bad can it actually BE?”

Steed and Mrs. Peel #1 (BOOM! Studios, $3.99): I’ve always enjoyed the old Avengers TV show at something of arm’s length, having only seen a handful of episodes (but enjoyed them greatly); what draws me to this new series is the presence of Mark Waid, who seems to be on fire these days between Insufferable and Daredevil.

Stumptown: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case #1 (Oni Press, $3.99): Oh, you should’ve seen me when I found out this was finally coming out. Not only did I absolutely love the first Stumptown series a couple of years ago, but I’ve also been on a Greg Rucka novel re-reading kick recently, so finding out that Dex’s client for this new story is the lead character from A Fistful of Rain made me almost impossibly happy. Easily my most-anticipated book of the month.

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My own private Eisners

Being a judge in the Eisner Awards meant making hard choices. It’s like being an admissions officer at Harvard: You could make a top-notch set of picks, throw them away, and still have a strong field for the second set. With six judges each having a different voice, sometimes a book that one or two of us think is the greatest thing since sliced bread doesn’t make the final cut.

Here’s my short list of comics that, if it were up to me, would have gotten Eisner nominations.

Best Limited Series

One of my favorite series of 2011 was Spontaneous, by Brett Weldele and Joe Harris. It’s a great crypto-mystery about spontaneous human combustion, with a nerdy know-it-all played off against an aggressive reporter. The story has its flaws, but I couldn’t put it down.

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7)

Nina in That Makes Me Mad: We had an unusually strong field of children’s books, even after we split the category into two age groups, but this book was my first choice for a nomination. The writing is sharp and perceptive, and Hilary Knight’s illustrations are amazing. Even the page layouts are awesome. This is a book that speaks directly to children, in a voice they can understand, yet does it with an elegance that adults can appreciate as well.

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What Are You Reading? with Beth Scorzato

Hell Yeah

Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Our special guest this week is Beth Scorzato, managing editor of the excellent comics news and commentary site Spandexless.

To see what Beth and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.

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Robot reviews | Three neat kids books: Leo Geo, Pandemonium and The Shark King

Leo Geo

Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth
By Jon Chad
Roaring Brook Press $15.99.

This is a clever, literally slim book, designed as skinny as possible in order to highlight its central conceit. You see, the running gag here is that you have to turn the book sideways to follow Leo on his downward trek to the Earth’s core, and then turn it another 180 degrees as he heads back up.

The book combines science with fantasy, with Leo discovering lost worlds filled with crazy monsters while spouting out science facts like “Some countries like New Zealand and Iceland harness the awesome power of lava for their own uses in heating and generating electricity. Though the juxtaposition of fantasy and hard facts seems a bit jarring, it actually adds to the book’s charm. There’s something about a guy standing on a giant underground ogre while discussing thermal generators that’s too silly to dislike.

Though Leo himself is one step up from a stick figure, Chad fills the pages with as much detail as possible and his ornate underworld scenes take on a “Where’s Waldo”-like mania at times, especially as he eschews panel borders to instead depict various versions of Leo crawling across a wide (but narrow) vista. Basically, it’s a fun introduction to geology that the elementary-school set will really dig (sorry, couldn’t help the pun).

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