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Best of 7 | Rocket Raccoon goes solo, ComicsPRO buzz, Jellaby returns and more

bestof7-march2

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 a cool publisher’s announcement to an awesome comic that came out.

And what a week it was, as we learned about a new Rocket Raccoon series by Skottie Young, Paul Levitz getting a new gig at BOOM!, the return of Jellaby and more. So let’s get to it …

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A Month of Wednesdays | A lot of DC, plus PictureBox & Vertical

batwomanBatwoman Vol. 3: World’s Finest (DC Comics): It’s difficult to talk about this comic without also discussing the announced departure of its creative team which, like several others that have worked on DC’s New 52, left amid quite public complaints of editorial interference.

As an auteur-driven book starring a relatively new character that’s barely been drawn by anyone other than artist and co-writer J.H. Williams III, the whole affair strikes me as strange, as Williams seems to be at least as big a factor in the book’s continued existence as the word “Bat” in its title. And it’s stranger still he and co-writer W. Haden Blackman are only now reaching the breaking point, as from a reader’s perspective, DC appeared to have pretty much left them alone to do their own thing; like Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated and the Geoff Johns-written portions of Green Lantern, this book seems set in its own universe and is sort of impossible to integrate into the New 52 if one thinks about it for too long (with “too long” being “about 45 seconds”).

Regularly cited as one of the best of DC’s current crop of comics, Batwoman is definitely the company’s best-looking, and most intricately, even baroquely designed and illustrated. As for the word half  of the story equation, I found Batwoman — and this volume in particular — to be extremely strange, even weird, more than I found it to be good.

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Comics A.M. | Second-best month for comics sales this century

Superman Unchained #2

Superman Unchained #2

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]

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Comics A.M. | Palestinian cartoonist released from Israeli prison

Mohammed Saba'aneh

Mohammed Saba’aneh

Legal | Palestinian cartoonist Mohammed Saba’aneh was released from an Israeli prison on Monday, as scheduled. Saba’aneh, who was originally held without charges and eventually sentenced to five months for “contacts with a hostile organization,” drew several cartoons while he was in prison and plans to do a show of his prison drawings, focusing on Palestinian prisoners who, he says, are in prison “just because they are Palestinians.” [PRI's The World]

Manga | In a major coup for a manga publisher, Digital Manga (which, contrary to its name, also published print manga) announced at Anime Expo that it has signed a deal with Tezuka Productions to publish all of Osamu Tezuka’s works in North America. While the details aren’t entirely clear, it sounds like Digital is working on some new licenses and will have digital rights to books released here in print by other publishers. [Anime News Network]

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Comics A.M. | Direct market sales climb more than 22% in March

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

Comics sales | The direct market continued its rise last month, with comics and graphic novel sales up 22.59 percent compared to March 2012, according to Diamond Comic Distributors. Marvel routed DC Comic in this month’s sales, claiming 40 percent of the market to DC’s 27 percent. [ICv2]

Conventions | The fire marshal had to turn away hundreds of people Sunday from the DoubleTree Hotel in Tampa, Florida, where the two-day Tampa Bay Comic Con was being held. An estimated crowd of 4,000 were crammed into the lobby and the ballroom (which is designed to hold a maximum of 1,200 people), with many hoping to see The Walking Dead star Lauren Cohan. Organizers conceded they need a larger venue for the twice-yearly event. [Tampa Bay Times]

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Comics A.M. | Manga publisher Vertical Inc. expands into digital

Twin Spica, Vol. 1

Twin Spica, Vol. 1

Digital comics | Vertical Inc. becomes the latest manga publisher to take the plunge into digital, beginning with the release of three series: Twin Spica, Drops of God and 7 Billion Needles for Kindle, Nook and iBooks. [Anime News Network]

Conventions | Fables creator Bill Willingham is the host of this weekend’s Fabletown and Beyond convention in Rochester, Minnesota, focusing on “mythic fiction.” He and organizer Stacy Sinner give a preview of what is to come. “I’m the host of the event, which means I get a lot of people to do the actual hard work, while I sit back imperiously on my throne and say ‘Yes,’ to this, and, ‘No,’ to that,” Willingham said. “The downside is, of course, I also have to write the checks.” [Rochester Post-Bulletin]

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Comics A.M. | Ware, Stevenson win Cartoonist Studio Prize

Nimona

Nimona

Awards | Slate Book Review and the Center for Cartoon Studies have awarded the Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Graphic Novel of 2012 to Chris Ware for Building Stories, and the prize for Best Web Comic to Noelle Stevenson for Nimona. Each winner receives $1,000. [Salon.com]

Comics | Tom Spurgeon talks at length to Gary Groth, co-founder of Fantagraphics and editor-in-chief of The Comics Journal, about the prospects for young creators today versus years ago, changes at The Comics Journal, and Groth’s own interview with Maurice Sendak, which runs in the latest issue of TCJ. [The Comics Reporter]

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Comics A.M. | How stable are sales of DC’s New 52 titles?

Justice League #1

Justice League #1

Publishing | Todd Allen analyzes the sales of DC Comics’ New 52 titles from their September 2011 launch to the past month. Sales of any series tend to drop off from one issue to the next — Allen compares it to radioactive decay — and when the numbers drop below 18,000 for a couple of titles, DC tends to cancel them in batches and start up new titles to replace them. That plus crossovers and strong sales of some flagship titles has kept the line fairly stable until recently, but as Allen notes, the replacement titles tend to crash and burn pretty quickly, and overall sales have dipped a bit. [Publishers Weekly]

History | David Brothers has a great column for Black History Month, featuring Krazy Kat, All-Negro Comics and other titles by black creators. [Comics Alliance]

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Comics A.M. | Angoulême International Comics Festival kicks off

40th Angoulême International Comics Festival

Festivals | The Angoulême International Comics Festival has opened in Angoulême, France, and that’s where all the cool kids are. Bart Beaty surveys the scene for the rest of us; the president of this year’s show is Jean-C Denis (last year it was Art Spiegelman), and there will be an exhibit of his work, but Beaty says the big draw will be the exhibit of work by Albert Uderzo, co-creator of Asterix. [The Comics Reporter]

Editorial cartoons | Rupert Murdoch has apologized, on Twitter, for an editorial cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in the Sunday Times that depicted Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu bricking Palestinians into a wall with blood-red mortar. Many commentators were concerned that the cartoon, which Scarfe intended as a commentary on the recent elections in Israel, came too close to old anti-Semitic blood libel. Making things worse, the cartoon was published on Holocaust Memorial Day. [The Guardian]

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Vertical asks the fans: What manga would you like to see?

Vertical Inc. is a small publisher with an eclectic line. If someone says “I don’t read manga, except for X,” X will more often than not turn out to be a Vertical book (and over half the time, it’s Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha). In addition to a long list of Tezuka titles (Ode to Kirihito, Dororo, A Message to Adolf), the company has also published some classic and modern sci-fi (To Terra, 7 Billion Needles), the wine-tasting manga Drops of God, Moyoco Anno’s geisha story Sakuran, and the cute cat manga Chi’s Sweet Home, which is probably its bestseller.

So what’s next? Vertical marketing director Ed Chavez, a former blogger himself, often teases new licenses on Twitter, but earlier this month he went further and posted a survey asking fans what titles they would like to see licensed for summer 2013 release. It’s an impressive list that includes Billy Bat, the new manga by Naoki Urasawa (Monster, Pluto, 20th Century Boys), Coppers by Natsume Ono (not simple, House of Five Leaves) and March Comes in Like a Lion by Chika Umino (Honey and Clover), as well as Usamaru Furuya’s Our Light Club, which I assume is a followup to his Lychee Light Club, previously published by Vertical.

Equally interesting is the list of the types of titles Vertical won’t consider, which gives an idea of the publisher’s editorial direction as well as the constraints under which it operates: no adult manga, doujinshi (fan comics) or webcomics; no titles released before 2000; and no manga from the publishers Shueisha or Shogakukan (the parent companies of Viz Media, which gets the lion’s share of their output) or Akita Shoten.

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Take a first look at Moyoco Anno’s Sakuran

Although it’s only June, I’m predicting that Moyoco Anno’s Sakuran is going to be one of the most interesting manga of the year. It’s a bit like the novel Memoirs of a Geisha, with gorgeous Edo-era settings and costumes and a streak of cruelty amid the beauty, only the main character (whose name changes several times) is not a geisha; she is a prostitute. The book was the basis for the movie of the same name.

Sakuran is a bit of a challenge for those who don’t read a lot of manga, because the story is very compressed. However, the fascinating subject matter and Anno’s jerky, expressive art should make up for that. Comics Alliance has a generous preview, and that’s a good opportunity to go see for yourself.

Vertical licenses manga from creator of Blame, Biomega

The Japanese cover of Knights of Sidonia

Vertical Inc. continues its streak of licensing interesting manga with Knights of Sidonia, a sci-fi series from Tsutomu Nihei, the creator of two series that have already been published in the United States, Blame! (from Tokyopop) and Biomega (from Viz Media).

Knights of Sidonia is set in the distant future, when giant aliens called the Gauna have destroyed Earth, leaving humans to travel through space in giant spaceships, protecting themselves with giant robots called Guardians. The story follows Tanikaze Nagate, a young man who has trained himself to pilot the mechs using a simulator and is later made a pilot. This sounds like an action manga, but it’s likely to offer a bit more; Nihei is known for the punk rock-inspired artwork in Blame!, and Knights of Sidonia runs in Kodansha’s Afternoon magazine, home to such offbeat series as Love Roma, Parasyte, and Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō (Diary of a Yokohama Shopping Trip).

Previews: What Looks Good for August

It’s time once again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for cool, new comics.

Wait a minute … “monthly”?

It’s true that we haven’t taken a What Looks Good tour in a few months, but the feature is back with an all-new approach that we hope will be more varied and useful than the old format. Instead of Michael and Graeme just commenting on everything that catches our attention in the catalog, we’ve invited Chrises Mautner and Arrant to join us in each picking the five new comics we’re most looking forward to. What we’ll end up with is a Top 20 (or so; there may be some overlap) of the best new comics coming out each month.

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.

Love and Rockets: New Stories, Number 5

Chris Mautner

1) Love and Rockets New Stories #5 by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) — How do you possibly top the triumphant storytelling feat that was “The Love Bunglers”? I dunno, but Jaime Hernandez is certainly going to give it the old college try, this time shifting the focus onto the vivacious “Frogmouth” character. Gilbert, meanwhile, brings back some of his classic Palomar characters, so yeah, this is pretty much a “must own” for me.

2) Skippy Vol. 1: Complete Dailies 1925-1927 by Percy Crosby (IDW) — Percy Crosby’s Skippy might well be the great forgotten comic strip of the 20th century. Extremely popular in its day, and a huge influence on such luminaries as Charles Schulz, the strip has largely been forgotten and the name conjures up little more than images of peanut butter. IDW’s effort to reacquaint folks with this strip might change that — the few snippets I’ve read suggest this is real lost gem.

3) The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books) — Tom Kaczynski’s small-press publishing company drops its first major, “big book” release with this memoir from the always-excellent Gabrielle Bell. Collecting work from her series Lucky (and, I think, some of her recent minis), the book chronicles a turbulent five year period as she travels around the world. Should be great.

4) Godzilla: The Half Century War by James Stokoe (IDW) — I usually stay as far away from licensed books as possible, but there is one simple reason I’m including this comic in my top five: James Stokoe. Stokoe’s Orc Stain has quickly become one of my favorite serialized comics, and his obsession with detailing every inch of the page combined with his ability to incorporate significant manga storytelling tropes in his work convince me he can do a solid job chronicling the adventures of the big green lizard that spits radioactive fire.

5) Barbara by Osamu Tezuka (Digital Manga) — Speaking of manga, here’s one of the more noteworthy Kickstarter projects of recent years: Digital Manga’s attempt to bring the master’s saga of a famous author and the homeless, beautiful woman he takes in and assumes to be his literal muse. This is well regarded in many Tezuka fan circles as one of the cartoonist’s better adult stories, and I’m glad to see Digital willing to take a chance on bringing more Tezuka to the West. I’ll definitely be buying this. I should also note that Vertical will also be offering some Tezuka this month, namely a new edition of Adolph (originally published by Viz in the ’90s), here titled Message to Adolph but well worth checking out regardless of the title.

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Comics A.M. | Arizona legislature pulls back electronic censorship bill

Arizona state flag

Legal | A proposed Arizona law that would make it a crime to annoy or offend anyone through electronic means has been held back for revision after a number of concerned parties, including the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, protested that it was too broad. The bill, which was passed by both houses of the Arizona legislature, basically took the language from the statute criminalizing harassing phone calls and applied it to all electronic devices, without limiting it to one-to-one communications. As a result, the language appears to make it a crime to post anything annoying or potentially offensive on the internet. [CBLDF]

Retailing | Brian Hibbs questions Mark Waid’s math, both with regard to comic shops and the cost of self-publishing, and brings up a number of arguments in favor of the Direct Market. He argues that having gatekeepers in the market is a good thing and that rather than refusing to take a risk on a new or different comic, retailers will go out of their way to stock comics they think their readers will like. [Savage Critics]

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MangaNEXT | Felipe Smith talks manga — and life

Felipe Smith is unique in the manga world: He is an American manga artist working — and being published — in Japan. His three-volume series Peepo Choo was serialized in Kodansha’s Morning Two magazine and then was licensed by Vertical for English-language release. Smith was born in Akron, Ohio, raised in Argentina, attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was living in Los Angeles when he drew his first graphic novel MBQ for Tokyopop, so he is truly a man of the world. He is between projects at the moment, but he implied that he has several pitches with different editors, and I’m quite sure we have not heard the last of him.

Smith was one of the invited guests at MangaNEXT, where I interviewed him in company with another journalist, although “interview” is an overstatement — it was more like taking dictation, with the occasional question thrown in as a prompt. So I’ll dispense with the questions, which were little more than starting points, and just let Felipe do the talking.

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