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Food or Comics? | Conan the barberryan

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.

Thief of Thieves #1

Chris Arrant

If I had $15, I’d start with Thief of Thieves #1 (Image/Skybound, $2.99). The gang at Skybound gave me an advance PDF of this issue, and I like it so much I want to hold the physical thing in my hands. Shawn Martinbrough really nails this first issue, and Nick Spencer really puts his Marvel work to shame with this story. Next up I’d get my favorite DC Book – Batwoman #6 (DC, $2.99) – and favorite Marvel book – Wolverine and The X-Men #5 ($3.99). I’d finish it all up with Northlanders #48 ($2.99). I’m not the biggest fan of Danijel Zezelj’s work, but I can’t let up now to see my long-running commitment to Northlanders falter at this point.

If I had $30, I’d dig into Richard Corben’s Murky World one-shot (Dark Horse, $3.50). Corben’s one of those “will-buy-no-matter-what” artists for me that Tom Spurgeon recently focused on, and this looks right up my alley. Next up I’d get Secret Avengers #22 (Marvel, $3.99) because Remender’s idea of robot descendents intrigues me, and then Wolverine and The X-Men: Alpha and Omega (Marvel, $3.99). I didn’t know what to expect from the first issue, and after reading it I still don’t know where this series is heading – but I like it so far. Finally, I’d get Haunt #21 (Image, $2.99). The combination of Joe Casey & Nathan Fox is like a secret code to open my wallet.

If I could splurge, I’d take the graphic novel Jinchalo (D+Q, $17.95) by Matthew Forsythe. I loved his previous book Ojingogo, and this looks to continue in that hit parade.

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Food or Comics? | Hark! A Snarked!

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.

Hark! A Vagrant

Chris Arrant

If I had $15, I’d spend several musty dollars on Fear Agent #31 (Dark Horse, $3.50). This penultimate issue has been a long time coming, and I’m excited to see Remender and Moore enlist Mike Hawthorne to help get these final issues done – big fan of all three of them! Next up would be two of DC’s New 52; Action Comics #2 (DC, $3.99) and Swamp Thing (DC, $2.99); I admit that I feel weird not being more excited about Morrison’s run than I am, but somehow the first Action Comics wasn’t as gripping as the first All-Star Superman … and it’s not the art. For the last pick, I’d get X-Men: Schism #5 (Marvel, $3.99). It got off to a slow start, but Jason Aaron’s an expert at nailing his landings, and I’m intrigued to see how it all goes down.

If I had $30, I’d start off with a pair of number ones – Pilot Season: Test #1 (Image/Top Cow, $3.99) and Roger Langridge’s Snarked #1 (BOOM! Studios, $3.99). Pilot Season has always been a must-buy for me; sometimes the concepts don’t live up to the promise, but they still have a good track record. I just wish more ended up as ongoing series. Next up I’d get the long-running Invincible #83 (Image, $2.99); seriously, this hits all my itches harkening back to my younger comic-reading days. Last up I would get Animal Man #2 (DC, $2.99); I love what Lemire and Foreman started here; I just wish there were more of it!

If I found some extra cash, I would double-back for Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant (D+Q, $19.95). This reads like a literary nut’s comic strip, and I love every bit of it. For some reason it reminds me of Gary Larson’s The Far Side but in a very modern way.

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Osamu Tezuka is coming to your iPad

Can’t get enough of Astro Boy and Black Jack? Here’s some good news for fans of Osamu Tezuka, a.k.a. “the father of manga”: Tezuka Productions is putting out an iPad app containing 62 volumes of Tezuka’s work and 39 episodes of “Motion Manga.” The manga are translated (the motion manga are subtitled) and stored in the cloud, and you can access all of it for a subscription fee of $9.99 per month. It’s already in the iTunes store. The service will expand to Android tablets in the fall and winter, and a host of other foreign-language versions are under consideration.

I downloaded the app, which is free, onto my iPad. The selection isn’t bad: In addition to Black Jack and Astro Boy, it offers volumes of Ode to Kirihito, Apollo’s Song, Dororo, Phoenix, Buddha, MW, and Adolf. (One has to wonder how some of this content got through the iTunes store’s screening.) It’s not very responsive, though: I got the opening screen you see above, but the touch controls to download the magazines and configure the app didn’t respond until I held my finger down on them for a while. This happens sometimes with iPad apps—Comics+ used to be very slow and you had to almost hit the screen to make it work, before they upgraded it—but by now I’d like to see that kind of bug worked out. One more beef, as long as I’m complaining: It’s customary to offer some free samples to entice people to buy, but all you get with this app is an invitation to subscribe. I’d rather pay a few dollars more for one of Vertical’s beautifully produced volumes of Black Jack or Dororo and get to keep it forever, but if you want to gorge yourself at an all-you-can-eat Tezuka buffet, this does offer a lot of manga for a decent price.

Castle graphic novel by Bendis, DeConnick, Medina on the way

Publishers try to keep new projects under wraps, but there’s a whole cottage industry out there of folks who look through the Amazon listings for new books. The latest one, spotted by Albert Ching of Blog@Newsarama: A listing for Castle: Deadly Storm, by Brian Michael Bendis, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Lan Medina. Albert goes out on a fairly short limb and guesses that this is a graphic novel (Medina is listed as the illustrator) based on the ABC series Castle, and indeed, the Hachette Book Group International catalog confirms this—check out page 65. Quick plot summary: This “adaptation” of Derrick Storm’s first novel adventure takes our hero from the gritty world of the private eye all the way to the globe-hopping intrigue of the CIA.” The book is hardcover, 112 pages, full color priced at $19.99 (already discounted to $13.59 on Amazon) and published by Marvel.

Manga blogger Lissa Pattillo has spotted a few more finds on (Lissa is Canadian, so all prices are in Canadian dollars, but it looks like the U.S. prices are almost the same): a Fullmetal Alchemist box set that includes all 27 volumes of the manga, a novel, and other extras, all for $219 (discounted to $137.93) and due out in November, and an omnibus edition of Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo, 880 pages of Tezuka goodness for $29.95 $23.32.

Investors, not bosses: Ed Chavez on the Vertical deal

When the news that the Japanese publisher Kodansha and printer Dai Nippon had each bought a 46% share of the U.S. publisher Vertical, Inc., hit the internet on Wednesday, manga fans’ initial reaction was shock and dismay. Vertical is well known in manga circles for publishing a number of well-liked series, including Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha and the more recent Twin Spica and Chi’s Sweet Home. They recently announced two more series that had a lot of advance buzz, Tezuka’s Princess Knight and the wine manga Drops of God. When fans heard the news, many of them assumed these series would disappear or be put on hold.

Vertical marketing director Ed Chavez quickly got on Twitter to reassure them that Vertical’s manga plans would not change. In fact, when I spoke to Ed to clarify some of the details of the deal, he told me Vertical’s manga sales were up 650% between 2009 and 2010, which is pretty amazing when you consider that the manga market as a whole contracted during that time.

One of the things I wanted to know was which Kodansha bought a 46.7% share in Vertical: Kodansha Comics, which is publishing manga in the U.S., or parent company Kodansha? Ed said it was the parent company. This means Kodansha is pursuing two different manga strategies in the U.S. Kodansha Comics has taken over the former Del Rey line (which was owned by Random House) and is publishing manga directly, although they have hired Random House staff to edit and localize their books. The Vertical deal is different; Kodansha is simply investing in the company, not running it.

Here is the rest of my conversation with Ed.

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Kodansha, Dai Nippon invest in Vertical

Is this what they mean by Vertical integration? Kodansha, the largest publisher in Japan, and the Japanese printer Dai Nippon have made a major investment in the publisher Vertical, Inc., which is best known in the comics world for its high-quality editions of works by Osamu Tezuka (Buddha, Black Jack, Ayako) as well as an eclectic line of works by other creators: Twin Spica, the cute cat manga Chi’s Sweet Home, Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo. Earlier this year they announced that they had licensed Tezuka’s Princess Knight and the wine manga Drops of God.

Anime News Network reports that Kodansha bought a 46.7% share of the company and Dai Nippon bought 46%. Vertical marketing director Ed Chavez said on Twitter yesterday that the deal had been in the works for some time, and that it won’t change the company’s manga schedule. Vertical will not restrict itself to Kodansha manga; in fact, more than half their 2012 books will be from other publishers. “No major changes, just financial stability,” Ed Tweeted, although he added, “and hopefully a return to more balance to our catalog. We’ve been manga heavy lately.”

Vertical lands two coveted manga

Drops of God

Good news for fans of fine wines and vintage manga: Vertical, Inc., a small manga publisher with one of the most interesting lines around, will announce two new manga licenses today: Princess Knight and Drops of God.

Princess Knight, by Osamu Tezuka, was published in 1953 and was one of the earliest shoujo (girls’) manga. It’s a swashbuckling story of a princess who masquerades as a boy so she can have daring adventures and save her kingdom from an evil tyrant. It actually has been published in English before: The Japanese publisher Kodansha published a bilingual English-Japanese edition in 1970. Hardcore manga fans have been clamoring for a new edition for years, and Viz ran a chapter in Shojo Beat magazine in 2007. Kate Dacey, a.k.a. The Manga Critic, has a nice primer on Princess Knight at her blog.

Drops of God (Kami no Shizuku) is a completely different type of manga, and it has gotten quite a bit of press for a series that isn’t legally available in English, perhaps because of the subject matter: It’s about winemaking. After a famous wine critic passes away, his son learns that he has an adopted brother and that the two of them must compete in a wine-tasting contest in order to inherit the estate. Yeah, it’s your basic battle manga, except that instead of trying to kick each others’ asses, the main characters are striving to identify rare wines. The manga has helped boost the sales of some of the featured wines in Japan and South Korea, and it has already been translated into French. The New York Times even profiled the creators of the manga, brother-and-sister team Shin and Yuko Kibayashi.

Food or Comics? | This week’s comics on a budget

Action Comics Annual #13

Welcome to another installment of “Food or Comics?” Every week we set certain hypothetical spending limits on ourselves and go through the agony of trying to determine what comics come home and which ones stay on the shelves. So join us as we run down what comics we’d buy if they only had $15 and $30 to spend, as well as what we’d get if we had some “mad money” to splurge with.

Check out Diamond’s release list for this week if you’d like to play along in our comments section.

Graeme McMillan

If I had $15, I’d spend the first $2.99 on the last King City, which definitely appears on this week’s list. Yay! Then I’d split the remaining $13 between two DC Comics: Paul Cornell’s Action Comics Annual #13 ($4.99), in which a young Lex Luthor meets Darkseid (Editor Wil Moss promised me on Twitter the other week that this will fulfill my sick, sick desire for more comics like Jack Kirby’s Super Powers toy tie-ins from the 1980s, so I’m entirely sold) and Vertigo Resurrected: Winter’s Edge #1 ($7.99), a collection of long out-of-print seasonal tales starring Vertigo favorites and forgotten ghost characters from Christmas Past. Be warned: I’m a sucker for Holiday comics, so expect to see me picking those a lot in the next few weeks. It’s the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, after all.

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If there were a comics version of the Netflix Watch Instantly queue, what would you put on it?

Today Pop Candy’s Whitney Matheson did something that some consider too revealing even in this socially networked, airport x-ray’d age: She posted 20 movies from her Netflix “Watch Instantly” queue. Like anyone else’s, it’s a motley crew of movies made possible by a massive library of films and the power to watch any of them at any time with a few clicks of a mouse — a blend of “comfort food” you want access to at all times, unwatched stuff you’re dying to see at the next available opportunity, major investments of time or energy you haven’t been prepared to make just yet, “eat your vegetables” fare you know you ought to watch eventually, and goofy guilty pleasures you’re simply tickled to be able to watch whenever you feel like it.

This got me thinking. I know there are any number of logistical and financial reasons why such a thing doesn’t exist for comics. But we comics readers are an imaginative bunch, no? And today I choose to imagine a world where I can load up pretty much any book I can think of and read to my heart’s content. So here’s what my imaginary “Read Instantly” queue would look like, circa today. Check it out, then let us know what’s on your queue in the comments!

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Food or Comics? | This week’s comics on a budget

Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science #1

Welcome to another installment of “Food or Comics?” Every week we set certain hypothetical spending limits on ourselves and go through the agony of trying to determine what comes home and what stays on the shelves. So join us as we run down what comics we’d buy if we only had $15 and $30 to spend, as well as what we’d get if we had some “mad money” to splurge with.

Check out Diamond’s full release list if you’d like to play along in our comments section.

Michael May

If I had $15:

As usual, I’d spend it on single issues. Starting with Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science #1 ($3.50), then picking up a couple of Moonstone books: Zeroids #2 ($3.99) and Return of the Originals: From the Vault – The Pulp Files ($1.99). I enjoyed the first issue of the genre-mashing Zeroids and have been looking forward to the next part of the story; From the Vault is sort of Moonstone’s version of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe or DC’s Who’s Who. I don’t know nearly as much about the classic pulp characters as I’d like, so I’m looking forward to the education. Next I’d check out IDW’s Dungeons & Dragons #1 ($3.99) to see if they’ve figured out how to do a good D&D comic. That brings me to $13.47.

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What Are You Reading?

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly survey of your noble Robot 6 bloggers’ most recent reading. This week, our special guest is Jason Thompson, author of Manga: The Complete Guide and The King of RPGs. Jason just wrapped up a year of giving away his surplus manga at, an experience he wrote about at his Livejournal.

Michael May: Graphic Universe has a series called “History’s Kid Heroes” that I’ve been checking out. So far I’ve read The Snowshoeing Adventure of Milton Daub, Blizzard Trekker and The Stormy Adventure of Abbie Burgess, Lighthouse Keeper. They’re short, quick reads – about 30 pages – and exactly the kind of thing I would’ve checked out from the library as a kid. Each one tells the story of an adventurous experience in the life of a real, historical child.

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Surviving in the manga industry

David Brothers of Comics Alliance talked to representatives of three big manga publishers about how they have weathered the difficult economy. Ed Chavez of Vertical, Michael Gombos of Dark Horse, and Marco Pavia of Tokyopop all discussed how piracy has affected their sales (the unanimous answer was that it hurts them), how they have retooled to face hard times, and what their strategy is for the future. As it happens, Erica Friedman, who runs Yuricon, specializing in yuri (female/female romance) manga, also has a post at her blog, Okazu, looking at the market from the point of view of a small niche publisher.

One thing that emerges is that large and small publishers face the problem of a market that is too small to support everything they want to publish. Says Gombos:

There might be three great titles we’d like to publish, but in some cases, we’ll have to think about how much our infrastructure can support, what other titles we’d have coming out around that time, and perhaps pay a little more for the rights to the title we REALLY want out of three, and focus on that.

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SDCC ’10 | Kodansha to do portfolio reviews

Morning 2

Morning 2

If you aspire to become a real manga artist and draw for a Japanese magazine, like American Felipe Smith has done with Peepo Choo, here’s your big chance: Kaori Kitamoto, editor of Chi’s Sweet Home, will hold portfolio reviews for Morning magazine at the Vertical booth at Comic-Con International.

Published by Japan’s largest publisher, Kodansha, Morning and its sister publication Morning 2 are seinen magazines aimed at young men and are the source of such critically acclaimed series as Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond, the cute cat manga Chi’s Sweet Home and Naoki Urasawa’s Billy Bat.

Vertical’s marketing director Ed Chavez says Kitamoto will be on the lookout for possible series to run in the magazine as well as entries for the Morning International Comics Competition, with the emphasis on the latter. She wants to see stories that are no more than 50 pages long, and she is open to “any style but with clear paneling, strong character development and thoughtful narrative,” Chavez says. Take a look at their site (in Japanese) to get an idea of the range of art styles — it’s not all big eyes and spiky hair by any means.

SDCC ’10 | Vertical to bring Felipe Smith and cute cat

Felipe Smith's Peepo Choo

Felipe Smith's Peepo Choo

The manga publisher Vertical, Inc., is bringing Felipe Smith, the creator of Peepo Choo, to SDCC and Otakon this year. Smith, an American, started out drawing global manga (MBQ) for Tokyopop. He moved to Japan after winning the top prize the Morning International Manga Competition, being offered the opportunity to draw a manga for Kodansha’s manga magazine Morning 2.* The result is Peepo Choo, the three-volume story of a foreigner’s adventures in Japan, and Vertical is closing the circle by publishing Peepo Choo in English—the first volume is due out this week. The press release (full text below the cut) notes in passing that Smith is developing a new manga for Kodansha, so the relationship must be working out.

As if that weren’t incentive enough to visit Vertical’s booth, they will also be announcing their new licenses at SDCC, although they don’t have a panel. I chat with Vertical’s marketing director Ed Chavez fairly often—I have known him since he was blogging at MangaCast—and I’m quite sure that whatever he has to announce, it will be remarkable. And for those who prefer the cute, they will have some adorable Chi’s Sweet Home swag, tying in with their new all-ages book about a lost cat adopted by a family in a pet-free apartment complex.

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Crowdsourcing manga licenses

Saint Young Men: Not coming soon from Vertical

Saint Young Men: Not coming soon from Vertical

Ed Chavez, the marketing director for manga publisher Vertical, Inc., came into the business from the fan side—he ran one of the first manga podcast blogs, MangaCast, back in the day—and he has shown a knack so far for picking books that get fans excited, like Twin Spica, Peepo Choo, and Chi’s Sweet Home. So when Ed gets on Twitter, he’s not just touting his company’s latest release (“Tell me what you like best about Title X!!”), he is asking people what they want—and sometimes explaining why they can’t have it.

It’s licensing time again, so Ed is accepting suggestions from the public, and his former intern Ko Ransom compiled the Twitter conversation into a single page. It makes fascinating reading for those who are fascinated by the ins and outs of manga licensing. For one thing, many titles are off limits because the Japanese publisher has exclusive deals with American licensors; since Shueisha and Shogakukan own Viz Media, for instance, don’t look for Vertical to be publishing any of their titles.

There are other constraints as well: Ed won’t consider long series, 18+ titles (bookstores won’t carry them) or 4-koma manga. And while he would love to publish Saint Young Men, a comedy manga about Jesus and Buddha living together in a Tokyo apartment, the chances of that look slim for now. “i’ve asked its editor and he has said it will not be published in the US at this time. not until the readership changes here,” Ed says. But if that ever does happen, he added, the editor wants him to be the one. If nothing else, the conversation is a reminder that there are plenty of good manga out there waiting to be brought to English-speaking audiences—if only we can persuade Ed (and his counterparts elsewhere) to license them.

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