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Comics A.M. | DC’s gay and lesbian heroes, ‘more brooding’ Superman

Stormwatch #1

Publishing | DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio talks about the gay and lesbian characters appearing in the company’s books come September, including Batwoman and WildStorm imports Apollo, Midnighter and Voodoo: “When we looked at trying to incorporate some of the characters that inhabited the WildStorm universe Apollo and Midnighter are two characters that have always popped out. Not because of what they represent, but they’re just strong characters in their own right and [they] were able to represent a story, a style of character that wasn’t represented in the DC Universe. There’s more of an aggressive nature with those characters that will interact interestingly with other characters and allows us to tell more and better stories.” [The Advocate]

Publishing | Todd Allen, Tom Foss and Graeme McMillan react to the list of changes to the “younger, brasher and more brooding” Superman who will inhabit the DC Universe following the September relaunch. [Indignant Online, Fortress of Soliloquy, Blog@Newsarama]

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Comics on the iPad: Yen Press launches its own app

Yen Press launched its iPad app this week, and it’s a thing of beauty—which is good, because it’s also expensive.

The app itself is free, of course, but the books will cost ya: Single volumes are priced at $8.99 each, which is less than the list price of $12.99 for print volumes but pretty close to the actual price most people pay for print—in fact, the print edition of vol. 1 of Maximum Ride is going for less than that on Amazon.com right now.

Let’s talk look and feel first: Yen Press feels deluxe. It opens up to a gorgeous full-color page from Maximum Ride. The catalog page is less cluttered than most, with three featured books framed in black at the top and six more in catalog listings below, with no distracting animation or scrolling. Touch any part of a catalog listing and a frame pops up with complete information. But here’s the nicest part: Touch the preview button and you immediately get a full-page preview, not the smaller images that other app developers provide in their catalogs. Everything loads quickly, so the whole thing works like a dream. The Yen folks didn’t use the comiXology or iVerse platform, like most other publishers, but they did a great job.

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2010: The year in digital comics

What a difference a year makes! A year ago today, the iPad not only didn’t exist, it hadn’t been officially announced yet. People read comics on their iPhones and iPod Touches, but the screens were too small for a good experience (and therefore, no one wanted to spend much money on them). The iPad changed all that, with a big, full-color screen that is just a tad smaller than a standard comics page (and a tad larger than a standard manga page), and publishers started taking digital comics seriously. The distribution was already in place, thanks to the iPhone—comiXology, iVerse, Panelfly—and now the publishers not only jumped on board with those platforms but also started developing their own apps.

The digital comics scene is still developing, but the iPad was the game changer. For many people, it was the first time that they could comfortably read comics on a handheld screen. Now, it’s just a question of marketing—this year, publishers will grapple with bringing comics to a wider audience, outside the existing readership, and balancing the digital marketplace with the established brick-and-mortar retail structure.

Here, then, is a look back at our digital year.

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Square Enix reveals online manga plans

The Japanese publisher Square Enix, whose properties include the best-selling series Black Butler and Fullmetal Alchemist, revealed its online manga plans at the Tokyo Game Show yesterday.

Square Enix already has a website through which fans can purchase games, and they set up an online manga site for North America in July, with some sample chapters and an announcement that its digital media store would launch in Fall 2010. According to the information released at the Game Show, that date has been pushed back to winter. Square Enix already allows users to buy games through their website, and they will use the same system for manga, so existing users will not have to create new accounts.

Several Square Enix properties, including Black Butler, Soul Eater, and Pandora Hearts, are licensed by Yen Press but are not available on Yen’s online Yen Plus magazine. It looks like those series will be running on the Square Enix website.

As far as other platforms are concerned, Square Enix seems to be moving cautiously. In November, it will launch Gangan Online, an iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch app, but that will only be available in Japan, and foreign-language versions are not in the cards for the immediate future.

Interview: Kurt Hassler on Yen Plus online, and more!

8.2010_Cover[1]Yen Press editorial director Kurt Hassler unveiled the online version of Yen Plus magazine at Comic-Con last month, and it has given people plenty of fodder for discussion. The magazine is available in all regions (unlike other online manga sites, which are often limited to North America), and it will cost $2.99 per month, although Yen is offering a free online trial through September 9. What’s up at the moment is a mixed bag of old and new, Korean and original English-language manga—but no Japanese titles, although Hassler has hinted broadly that the all-ages favorite Yotsuba&! will be included in the mix in future.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the Japanese series Black Butler, Nabari no Ou, and Pandora Hearts, which had been serialized in the print edition of Yen Plus, are now up on a new online manga site from Square Enix, the Japanese publisher of those series. That site is also in a free-sample mode right now, with an online store projected to open in the fall. Hassler would not comment on the relationship between the two, but the Square Enix site is currently hosting the Yen Press editions of these manga.

I spoke to Kurt about the new Yen Plus, the recent removal of all the online manga from OneManga.com, and Yen’s new line of children’s books.

Brigid Alverson: How will the paid version of Yen Plus differ from the free version we have been reading?

Kurt Hassler: It’s really not going to be different. The experience you have now will be pretty much the same. The only different element will be the PayPal component for getting your subscription.

Brigid: What about the Japanese content?

Kurt: That is something we are working on. We have the first title, but finalizing the contract is always getting down to the wire. It is not going to be a ton of material initially; you are going to see material being added gradually over time as licensors get comfortable with digital distribution.

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Yen Plus can be read by anyone, anywhere

8.2010_Cover[1]Manga blogger Deb Aoki talked to Yen Press senior editor JuYoun Lee recently, and she brought up an important point about Yen Plus, their manga magazine which shifted this month from print to online publication. Deb pointed out something I hadn’t noticed: Yen Plus is not region-blocked, which is huge. One big reason that people use scanlation sites like the recently defunct OneManga.com is that the “legit” online manga sites are available only in the U.S. and Canada. Says Deb:

So for example, when VIZ Media started publishing the current chapters of Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne simultaneously with the Japanese releases, I was telling readers, “Look, isn’t this awesome? It’s free, it’s available the same day as it is in Japan, and it’s legit.” I asked, “Why are scanlators still scanning and pirating Rin-Ne? VIZ and Shogakukan is going through the extra trouble to translate and post it on the same day as Japan to address fans’ complaints that they don’t want to wait to read the latest chapters of their favorite manga.”

Then I heard from fans who told me that the manga posted on the Shonen Sunday website was blocked to readers who aren’t from North America. They said things like “No, I can’t read it because I live in Mexico,” or “No, I can’t read it because I live in outer Tasmania.”

While the licensors are certainly entitled to demand separate licenses for different regions, that’s not really the way the internet works. And a lot of regions aren’t ever going to have a big enough market to support their own manga publishers, so including them in the potential audience for online manga may be the only way to capture their dollars (or whatever the local currency is).

The inaugural issue of Yen Press was also notable for only having American and Korean comics, however, Japanese licensors are notoriously sticky about terms and conditions, and it may be that the next issue, which will contain Japanese content, will be more restricted.

Yen Plus magazine goes online

8.2010_Cover[1]

Yen Plus magazine launched two years ago at San Diego Comic-Con, and at this year’s SDCC, Yen Press relaunched it as a web-only publication.

Subscriptions to the magazine will be priced at $2.99 per month, compared to $8.99 per issue for the print version, and Yen is offering a free trial through September 6, so I thought I’d go in and kick the tires a bit. What I found was a mixed bag: The interface is clean and smooth, and I was delighted to find a short comic by the talented Madeleine Rosca (creator of Hollow Fields), but just as with the print version, I was left wondering who exactly they are editing this magazine for: The signup restricts it to readers over 17, but most of the series (Nightschool, Maximum Ride, and especially Rosca’s Haunted House Call) are more appealing to younger teens, while Jack Frost and Gossip Girl are clearly pitched at older readers—and may make the magazine off limits to younger teens, at least if their parents get a glimpse of the full content.

There are no Japanese manga in this issue, although the Yen folks promise that Yotsuba&! will join the lineup in future issues. One reason for this may be that the Japanese publisher Square Enix has set up its own online manga site (apparently in partnership with Yen Press) and their titles include Black Butler and Soul Eater, two former Yen Plus series. I hope Square Enix is giving Yen a good cut of the take from that website, because Black Butler is one of their most popular series.

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SDCC ’10 | A roundup of Saturday’s news

Comic-Con International

Comic-Con International

Saturday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, once upon a time, was “big movie day” at the con … back before every day became big movie day at the con. Still, today somewhat lived up to its reputation for being eventful, as the Avengers assembled on stage, Green Lantern movie footage was shown and one poor fan was stabbed in the eye while attending programming in Hall H, where several of the big movie panels took place. The victim was taken to UCSD Medical Center, while his attacker was taken away by police after attendees detained him.

In happier news, here’s what was announced on the comics front:

• Marvel Editor-in-Chief and Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada confirmed that Marvel is “gonna be doing some CrossGen stuff.” CrossGen, which published numerous titles like Sojourn, Way of the Rat, Abadazad and Meridian starting 1998, went bankrupt in 2004. Disney bought their assets that same year.

Their titles covered many different genres, from fantasy to horror to detective stories. “I think with the CrossGen stuff you’re going to see us attempt a little more genre publishing, which I think is much-needed in our imprint,” Quesada said. No word yet on what properties they plan to bring back.

• Kurt Busiek announced that American Gothic, the urban fantasy comic announced at last year’s WildStorm panel, will now be called Witchlands. The series will be drawn by Connor Willumson. Busiek is also working on an Arrowsmith novel titled Arrowsmith: Far from the Fields We Know, which will include illustrations by Carlos Pacheco.

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SDCC ’10 | Tokyopop, Yen Press and D&Q announce new manga licenses

Pavane for a Dead Girl

Pavane for a Dead Girl

I’m going to lead with a new license announcement from the Tokyopop panel at Comic-Con International: Koge-Donbo’s Naki Shōjo no Tame no Pavane (Pavane for a Dead Girl), a story about a musical prodigy who makes a deal with the angel of death. Tokyopop’s Marco Pavia told me they have another new title as well, Ghost Face, by Min-Woo Hyung, the creator of Priest.

The other big manga news is that Drawn & Quarterly has the license for two Shigeru Mizuki manga, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths and NonNonBā. (If you’re wondering why that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because NonNonBā won the Best Album Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival a couple of years back. This is very good news for those who like their manga on the literary side. And the D&Q folks had to be smiling pretty broadly after Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s autobiographical tome A Drifting Life took two Eisner awards.

Meanwhile, Yen Press announced a number of new titles, including Otoyome-Gatari (The Bride’s Stories) by Emma creator Kaoru Mori, as well as Highschool of the Dead, Aron’s Absurd Armada, Betrayal Knows My Name, and yet another arc of Higurashi When They Cry. They also revealed that Yen Plus magazine, which stopped print publication this month, will continue as an online anthology that will be free the first month and cost the reader $2.99 per month after that.

There was one bit of sobering news, a reminder that things are still not all they should be in the manga industry: Del Rey’s indefatigable marketing manager Ali T. Kokmen is no longer with the company. Ali is well-liked in the industry, and hopefully some smart manga company will snap him up soon.

SDCC ’10 | Highlights of Friday’s comics programming

Comic-Con International

Comic-Con International

As we inch another day closer to Comic-Con International, which kicks off in just 13 days, organizers have released the schedule for Friday, July 23.

Below you’ll find highlights of the comics-related programming, which range from a panel on AMC’s highly anticipated adaptation of The Walking Dead to spotlights on such creators as Chris Claremont, Moto Hagio, Paul Levitz, C. Tyler and Stan Lee to, of course, peeks at publishing plans for companies ranging from Marvel, DC and BOOM! to Dark Horse, IDW and Top Shelf.

The full programming schedule for Friday can be found here.

10 to 11 a.m. DC Talent Search 2 — DC’s editorial art director Mark Chiarello presents an informative orientation session that will explain how DC’s Talent Search works and discuss the different needs of DC Universe, Vertigo, WildStorm and MAD magazine publications. If you want to learn what DC Comics looks for in artists and how to improve your chances of becoming a working professional, this is the panel for you! To have your work reviewed, attendance at this orientation session is mandatory.  (Please note: Not all attendees are guaranteed a one-on-one review.)  Room 4

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Scanlation update: The land of lost manga

Your manga is being served... on the iPod

Your manga is being served... on the iPod

It looks like the first round in the scanlation wars has gone to the publishers, but appearances can be deceiving.

Shortly after several publishers announced that they had formed a coalition to fight manga piracy, a number of the most popular scan sites removed scans of series that had been licensed in the U.S. Or did they? As a blogger named Kimi-chan explained a few days ago, the site admins at two sites, Mangafox and Animea, merely disabled the links from the home page. If a user had bookmarked the series, however, the bookmark would still work, and Google searches still turn up valid links for these series.

Kimi-chan’s post has been up for about a week, and when manga blogger Deb Aoki tried the tactic with a number of Viz titles on MangaFox, she found that they truly were gone. But that made me curious about something else.

A few months ago, I downloaded an iPod app that pulls manga scans from the Onemanga database—it’s one of several free or cheap apps that do that. I opened it up for the first time since April, apparently, and it immediately updated the list of available titles. Sure enough, all the Viz manga were gone from the list. There were a scattering of Del Rey, Tokyopop, and Vertical series, though, and a number from Yen Press.

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Robot reviews: Prime Baby, Black Blizzard, Twilight and more

Prime Baby

Prime Baby

Prime Baby
by Gene Luen Yang
First Second, 64 pages, $6.99

Every book by Gene Yang thus far follows the same basic thematic plot: A young man (or woman, but usually man) feels his life would be perfect if he could only attain that one special thing (acceptance, money, popularity, etc.). Through supernatural or otherwise fantastical means, he obtains his goal, only to discover (all together now) that it wasn’t what he really needed after all.

So it is with Prime Baby, Yang’s newest book, which was originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine. It’s about a young boy, Thaddeus K, who dreams of global conquest and is supremely resentful, jealous of, and thoroughly annoyed by his baby sister. When it turns out that his sister also serves as an inter-dimensional doorway to an alien world and tens of little pod spaceships start spitting up of her mouth, Thaddeus sees an opportunity to rid himself of his sister once and for all. Does he come to regret his decision? Are there stars in the sky?

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Slash Print | Following the digital evolution

Yen Plus

Yen Plus

Manga | Following up on Wednesday’s announcement that Yen Press will move its Yen Plus manga magazine online after the July issue, Gia Manry gets a few more details from Publishing Director Kurt Hassler — among them, that the web version will utilize a dedicated browser designed to emulate the print edition.

Digital publishing | In its White Paper presented last week at C2E2, ICv2 estimates that digital comics sales in North America last year totaled between $500,000 and $1 million. Naturally, it’s expected that sales in 2010 will “expand dramatically.”

iTunes | After Apple CEO Steve Jobs weighed in on the issue, the company has approved for its App store the NewsToon app from Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore. Apple had rejected the app in December, stating that Fiore’s Flash-animated political satire, “contains content that ridicules public figures,” a violation of its iPhone Developer Program License Agreement.

Digital comics | At Extreme Tech, Jim Lynch provides a lengthy overview of comics on Apple’s iPad: “Marvel and the other publishers have taken some important first steps, but they still have a way to go. The iPad has solved the problem of storage and readability, but now publishers must provide the app features, subscriptions, and digital delivery that will fully take advantage of the iPad and make reading comics on it as easy and as much fun as reading them in traditional book form.”

Copyright | A response to a brief post about the Manga Rock 1.0 app is a contender for quote of the day: “This is awful. You’re PAYING to use OneManga, which illegally hosts copyrighted materials! This is such crap.”

Yen Press to move Yen Plus magazine online

Yen Plus (April 2010)

Yen Plus (April 2010)

Yen Press announced today it will end the print edition of Yen Plus with the July issue and move the two-year-old manga anthology magazine online.

“The print magazine will be no more,” Publishing Director Kurt Hassler wrote, “but Yen Plus will live on as an online manga anthology! As such, it will have the ability to reach more readers than ever before while giving those same readers an option to peruse manga (and maybe some light novels?) legitimately online. Will there be other changes? Most definitely. You can expect to see content changes which we will announce when the time is right. Our commitment, however, is to keep bringing you the best and most diverse anthology experience every month.”

Launched in August 2008 by the Hachette Book Group imprint, the magazine has been used to introduce such titles as Black Butler, Nightschool and Soul Eater and the adaptations of Maximum Ride and Gossip Girl.

Twilight graphic novel sells well; sun to rise in east tomorrow

From "Twilight: The Graphic Novel"

From "Twilight: The Graphic Novel"

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Yen Press announced yesterday that Twilight: The Graphic Novel had a highly successful debut week. Here’s the official word:

The graphic novel adaption of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight sold over 66,000 copies in its first week, the largest debut for a graphic novel in the US, according to publisher Yen Press. Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1, illustrated by Korean artist Young Kim, already broke the record for largest first printing for a graphic novel with 350,000 copies.

You may be saying, “Duh! It’s Twilight!” but success doesn’t always transcend genres when a prose work is adapted into a graphic novel. When best-selling author Christine Feehan tested the waters with Dark Hunger, a global manga based on her Carpathian novels, readers on Amazon gave it terrible reviews (some of which, admittedly, were due to people buying it online and not realizing it was a graphic novel). The book was on the remainder tables within months. And this for an author whose readers are so obsessed, they compile book-length guides to her created world.

Twilight looks like it will fare better. While the initial burst in sales is not surprising, early reviews have mostly been positive, aside from Chris Sims’ brutal commentary on the lettering. Japanator’s Karen Gellender does a good job of explaining how the graphic novel compares to the prose book, and what it does better.

Of course, these numbers are tiny compared to the real giant of the industry: Jeff Kinney’s graphic novel-ish Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has sold 24 million copies, according to official company PR. That gives Bella and Co. something to shoot for.


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