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Grumpy Old Fan | It can’t be Halloween all the time

Spoiler alert: Rick Jones sneezes on the Martians

Spoiler alert: Rick Jones sneezes on the Martians

I really like Halloween, but it’s always been hard for me to come up with a spooky post that relates to DC Comics. The emphasis here is on “for me”: DC has a wealth of spooky material from which to draw, and I’ve just never been able to work with it meaningfully.

For this year’s Halloween post I thought about doing a survey of DC’s horror-themed titles over the years, because certainly the publisher has had its share. There are stalwarts that go back decades, like House of Mystery, Swamp Thing and The Sandman (whose sequel miniseries starts this week, as you might have heard). The first round of New 52 titles included I, Vampire and Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE — and while both of those have bitten the dust, Justice League Dark still heads up the superhero line’s magic-oriented section.

However, the more I thought about it, this space is really not big enough — yes, even with my extreme verbosity — to do right by the horror books. Besides, most of them have ended up at Vertigo, although some are being reincorporated into the superhero line. House of Mystery is a good example of the “serious horror” migration. It started out in the ‘50s as a supernatural anthology before switching over to science fiction (after the fall of EC) and then, briefly, superheroes (specifically, the Martian Manhunter and “Dial ‘H’ for Hero”). When the Comics Code relaxed its stance on all things scary, HOM told horror stories, including an extended run as the original home of “I, Vampire.” The title ended in 1983, after 32 years and more than 300 issues, but it’s never really been forgotten. The House itself (along with its companion from another eponymous title, the House of Secrets) became a part of The Sandman’s landscape, and was the setting for a Vertigo relaunch, which ran from 2008 to 2011 (42 issues and a couple of specials). Now it belongs to John Constantine and serves as Justice League Dark’s headquarters, which I suppose is better than limbo.

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Comics A.M. | Graphic novel sales rise again in book market

The Walking Dead, Vol. 18

The Walking Dead, Vol. 18

Graphic novels | Graphic novel sales are up 6.59 percent in comics shops, and they are also up in bookstores, according to the latest issue of ICv2’s Internal Correspondence. Sales have been increasing in the direct market for a while, but this is the first uptick in bookstore sales since the economy crashed in 2008. There seem to be several factors, including the popularity of television and movie tie-ins — the success of DC’s graphic novel program linked to Man of Steel is singled out — and a turnaround in manga sales. The article winds up with lists of the top properties in a number of different categories. [ICv2]

Digital comics | Here’s today’s news article on Crunchyroll’s new digital manga service, which offers same-day releases of 12 Kodansha manga titles for free and an all-you-can-eat service for $4.99 a month. Tomohiro Osaki interviews Japanese publishing insiders, who are upfront about the fact that this is an attempt to compete with pirate sites, and translator Matt Thorn, who says that better translations on the official site may lure readers away from scanlations. [The Japan Times]

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Can we wait 25 years for more ‘Sandman’ mysteries to be solved?

sandman-overture2aTo celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Sandman, Neil Gaiman looked back to the very beginning of the acclaimed series to answer a lingering question: What left the mighty Lord of Dreams so weakened that he was able to be imprisoned for 70 years?

“We learn, as the story goes on, that he arrived in England exhausted, dressed for war, from somewhere very far away, and that was why they captured him so easily,” Gaiman told Fast Company ahead of the Wednesday debut of The Sandman: Overture, his six-issue collaboration with J.H. Williams III. “But I never told that story. And it’s big, and it’s very weird.”

However, over the course of the The Sandman‘s 75-issue run, there were at least two other untold tales that are certainly just as big, and undoubtedly just as weird — and they both involve the letter D (naturally).

“If we ever get to the 50th anniversary, I may tell the story of how the character of Delight became Delirium, or the story of how the first Despair died,” Gaiman teased. “But that’s the 50th anniversary, so there’s plenty of time.”

Although Destruction, who long ago abandoned his Endless duties and disappeared, was found during the series, Delight’s transformation into Delirium was a mystery to which not even Destiny knew the answer. And while clues were dropped about the death of the original Despair — she even appeared in 2003’s Endless Nights — readers were left wondering about the details, including who was behind it.

But, hey, we can hold out until 2038 for the answers, right?

Quote of the Day | Neil Gaiman on serialized storytelling

sandman overture1“I started to feel an enormous amount of sympathy and empathy for Charles Dickens, because he was doing the same thing – a serialized story. And I started reading Dickens in a very, very different way. While writing The Sandman I’d go, ‘Ah, this is part of the big plot that you absolutely know what you’re doing, and this bit is you going, “I’m not quite sure what I’m doing here, so I’m gonna busk a little bit. And this is you just bringing on a character and just going I know I’ll find a use for you somewhere down the line.”‘ These days, probably the nearest thing to it outside of comics would be serial television, if you had just had one writer. [...] But the one thing that TV has is the same thing wonderful thing that Dickens had, and same thing that I had – to be able to take stock of what you’re doing and what’s working as you go, to the point where you bring on somebody who was a little better than an extra and you go, ‘Actually, everybody really likes that guy and we like that guy! Let’s bring him back and have him do something else.’ And by season two he’s one of the stars and nobody actually remembers that he wasn’t even in the original outline. There were definitely things when I was writing Sandman that were like that. And in a peculiar way, there are moments when I’m writing Overture where I get to do little things that set up for later things that I wasn’t expecting.”

Neil Gaiman, reflecting on writing The Sandman on a monthly basis, in an interview with RollingStone.com

Vertigo keeps on Vertigoing: A survey of some of its latest titles

vertigo adDC Comics’ Vertigo imprint has been the subject of a lot of speculation over the past year or so, due to  a variety of portents: the departure of founder and longtime executive editor Karen Berger; the end of the imprint’s longest-running title Hellblazer, with the character reclaimed by the DC Universe in Justice League Dark and Constantine; the debut at Image Comics of several comics that, not long ago, likely would’ve been pitched to Vertigo; and the launch of the offbeat Dial H, by none other than acclaimed author China Mieville, in the New 52.

There was the perception that the imprint’s branding had become confused, with books that used to fall under to the dissolved WildStorm imprint (and seem like better fits for the DC brand) appearing under the Vertigo banner (superhero comics Astro City and Tom Strong, movie adaptation Django Unchained). And then there were the low sales and cancellations.

Well, Vertigo’s still around. It launched The Wake, a limited series by American Vampire and Batman writer Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy, and the imprint has plans for a new Sandman miniseries and a Sandman spinoff.  And in the last few months, it has launched enough new series to be considered a wave.

So what does that mean for the future of the imprint? I’ll be damned if I know. However, I do know it’s not the most important question in my mind. Of greatest import to me, as always, is whether the comics are any good. So let’s take a look at the the beginnings of  Vertigo’s latest crop, excluding The Wake, which I think it’s safe to assume will find an audience.

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Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean on the birth of ‘The Sandman’

Sandman Overtures #1 Cover for the 25th-anniversary story Neil is currentlyI like this too-brief piece for The Guardian in which writer Neil Gaiman recounts the beginnings, and the “end,” of The Sandman and artist Dave McKean recalls the evolution of the comic’s distinctive covers.

“I’d been keeping it secret that the story would one day end. But, around issue 30, I began dropping hints,” says. “And it was explained to me that this couldn’t happen: with a successful monthly, when a writer leaves, a new one comes in. I decided not to argue. But in every interview I did, I said I hoped they would stop it when I left, because if they did I would keep on working for them. That percolated into the world and one day I got a call from Karen [Berger] saying: ‘You know, we really can’t keep this going after you’re done.’ That was the biggest thing Sandman changed: DC’s most successful comic was stopped because the writer was done. Otherwise, the brand would have been tarnished.”

As a nice bonus, there’s also a gallery of McKean’s favorite Sandman covers, complete with commentary. The Sandman: Overture, by Gaiman and J.H. Williams III, with variant covers by McKean, debuts Oct. 30.

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DC brings collections lineup to comiXology and Google Play

dc logoDC Entertainment announced today that it’s making nearly 100 graphic novels and collected editions, ranging from perennial bestsellers like Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns to New 52 releases like Aquaman and Dial H, available for download from comiXology and Google Play.

Although the offerings are heavy on Batman and Superman, readers can also find such Vertigo titles as American Vampire, The Sandman, Punk Rock Jesus and The Unwritten, and recent DC Universe collections of Wonder Woman, Animal Man, The Flash and Catwoman. You can see the complete list below.

“This expanded distribution furthers DC Entertainment’s goal to offer our readers convenience and choice,” DC Entertainment Co-Publisher Jim Lee said in a statement. “ComiXology is a clear leader in delivering digital comics, while Google is one of the biggest mobile content brands in the world. We’re very excited to bring bestselling DC Comics and Vertigo graphic novels to their customers.”

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Comics A.M. | Jeff Smith on CBLDF; Archie’s ‘hardcore horror book’

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Creators | Jeff Smith, who was named last week to the board of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, talks briefly about the importance of the organization, and the 2010 challenge to his all-ages graphic novel Bone in a Minnesota school. [Comic Riffs]

Comics | Archie Co-CEO Jon Goldwater, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla have a few things to say about the new zombie series Afterlife With Archie. “We are taking a series of characters known to be lighthearted and young adult-oriented and doing a horror comic with them, so the mood, atmosphere, and setting are very important to make this a believable horror and not a comedy horror,” says Francavilla, who’s also the creator of The Black Beetle. “Fortunately, I am really good at making things dark and ominous.” [The Associated Press]

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John Constantine creators won’t see money from new TV deal

constantine1While the announcement of a Constantine series on NBC may be good news for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics-based television plans — the project joins Gotham and the Arrow spinoff The Flash on the agenda — it won’t mean immediate financial benefit for the creators of the fan-favorite character. It seems those media rights are part of an earlier deal.

“As of this morning, it appears there will be NO payment to the Constantine creators for this series,” Stephen R. Bissette, who created John Constantine with Alan Moore and John Totleben, wrote Monday on his Facebook page. “This option apparently rolled out of the already-paid-for option for the Constantine movie in the 1990s. Thus, we’ll only see $$ waaaay down the road, it appears, IF this series makes it to being a series. If it makes money. If it trickles down.”

The movie Bissette references is actually the 2005 supernatural action-thriller that starred Keanu Reeves as the cynical occult detective. Although the adaptation was lambasted by many fans for its casting of the American Reeves as the English Constantine and the liberties taken with the source material, it managed to gross more than $230 million worldwide on a reported $100 million budget. Its option apparently included sequel and television rights.

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Six things DC Comics is doing right

AdventuresofSuperman1DC Comics hasn’t had a particularly good run of things lately. To be frank, the publisher has done blown it a number of times over the past few years. But don’t worry, DC fans — I’m sure it’ll soon be Marvel’s turn, as the two rivals seem to trade off every five years or so.

I’ve been calling out DC for the past couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean everything it does strikes me as wrong. It’s important to declare shenanigans, but it’s also important to recognize when a publisher does something that’s good for comics.

So here are six things DC is doing right:

1. Digital comics: Legends of the Dark Knight and Adventures of Superman are digital-first anthology series that feature some excellent creators (from Jeff Parker and Chris Samnee to J.M. DeMatteis and Jeff Lemire) producing completely accessible and entertaining stories that stand on their own; no college course on the New 52 or Crisis on Infinite Earths required. Yes, these stories are out of continuity — so for a percentage of readers, they don’t count. That’s a mistake, because there’s nothing wrong with a straight-up superhero tale that exists on its own terms. These two anthologies are the gems of DC’s digital-first line-up, but Batman ’66 and Batman: Li’l Gotham also offer fantastical takes on the iconic Caped Crusader that are bright and fun. For those exhausted by the angsty versions of serious stories, you owe it to yourself to check these out.

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Comics A.M. | Gilbert Hernandez wins PEN Center USA award

Bumperhead

Bumperhead

Awards | Gilbert Hernandez is the recipient of the 2013 PEN Center USA award for outstanding body of work in graphic literature. Drawn and Quarterly announced the honor along with news that it will publish Hernandez’s next graphic novel, Bumperhead. [The Comics Reporter]

Conventions | “SPX is all about the hugs,” says Heidi MacDonald, who relegates her business piece on the Small Press Expo to Publishers Weekly and turns to her blog to discuss not only her impressions but what folks were saying on social media. [The Beat]

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Murderer’s Row of creators sink their teeth into ‘American Vampire Anthology’

AV_ANTHOLOGY-tease

While American Vampire is currently on hiatus, creators Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque have killed time until its return by releasing various specials. Earlier this summer we saw The Long Road to Hell, and this past Wednesday brought the American Vampire Anthology, featuring vampire tales by Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, Jason Aaron, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Jeff Lemire, John Paul Leon, Declan Shalvey and many more.

Anthologies can be hit or miss from story to story, but how did this one do? Here are a few reviews from around the web:

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‘Collider’ publisher touts victory against DC in ‘battle’ over title

colliderThe Irish company that prompted Vertigo to change the title of the new series by Simon Oliver and Robbi Rodriguez from Collider to FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics is now hoping to exploit the situation to its own advantage.

Trumpeting its victory in “a battle against DC Comics/Vertigo,” the Dublin-based beActive issued a press release Tuesday promoting its own Collider while gently chiding the American publisher for its lack of diligence. “The Irish company published the COLLIDER comic book series worlde [sic]  in 2012, therefore claiming ownership of the brand,” the release states. “In January 2013, COLLIDER even made the TOP 5 on Comics Plus, the largest online comic book store in the U.S.”

While it’s not unheard of for a publisher to change the name of a comic before publication because of a trademark conflict, in this instance, the announcement came more than a week after the release of Collider #1.

As Oliver recounted last week to Comic Book Resources, “The first issue’s printed and being loaded on the trucks and we get a call from legal to tell us that someone else, on the other side of the globe says that they have creative dibs on the name ‘Collider’ and we have to change our title.” The second issue, out Aug. 28, will bear the title FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics.

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People seem to be flipping for Jeff Lemire’s ‘Trillium #1′

Trillium1

Jeff Lemire’s next big project for Vertigo, following his run on Sweet Tooth, kicked off this week. Trillium #1 sees Lemire return to both writing and art duties after a few months of focusing just on the writing half of the equation with comics like Green Arrow and Animal Man. Reuniting with colorist Jose Villarrubia, who worked with him on Sweet Tooth, Lemire “combines rich historical adventure and mind-bending science fiction into a sprawling, unconventional love story.” Plus, it’s a flipbook!

What did people think of the first issue? Here are a few thoughts from around the web.

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Comics A.M. | Boston Comic Con expected to draw 15,000

Boston Comic Con art by Tim Sale

Boston Comic Con art by Tim Sale

Conventions | Boston Comic Con is coming this weekend, and founder Nick Kanieff talks about how it has grown from 900 attendees at the first con, in 2007, to an expected 15,000 for this year’s event, which was rescheduled because of the Boston Marathon bombings. [MetroWest Daily News]

Publishing | Denis Kitchen discusses the return of Kitchen Sink Press to publishing as an imprint of Dark Horse. It kicks off in December with an anthology, The Best of Comix Book. [Publishers Weekly]

Creators | Peter Steiner’s cartoon, captioned “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” is the most-reproduced cartoon in the history of The New Yorker. On the 20th anniversary of its publication, Steiner looks back on its creation, which came about almost by chance, and the ways the world has changed in the interim. One interesting nugget: The most-reproduced cartoon in The New Yorker has brought its creator a total of $50,000 in royalties over the past 20 years. [Comic Riffs]

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