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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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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 Amazon.ca (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 Suvudu.com, 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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