Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Shipping News

I'm slacking. Christopher Butcher updated Previews Review yesterday, and I didn't link to it. So, go read his take on some of the books hitting the shelves this week, including Above & Below, Mage Vol. 1: The Hero Discovered hardcover and New Avengers #1. Go on. Read it.

Bighead strikes again

The Portland, Ore., Tribune spotlights Bighead and Clumsy creator Jeffrey Brown, who still maintains a day job managing the music section of the Deerfield Barnes & Noble store in suburban Chicago:
“I’m getting more picky, but sometimes I like to leave in mistakes and things that aren’t quite right to give the human presence as big a part as I can. It’s the same reason I don’t use rulers to draw the panels and the handwriting is not always that clear.”
Brown will appear tomorrow at the CounterMedia bookstore in Portland.

Fantasy fans: Check out FarLight Saga

I had a feeling I was forgetting something in my Mid-Ohio Con report: Jared Koon and Sarah Hebblethwaite were displaying some beautiful art for their new webcomic, FarLight Saga. I'm not a big fan of sword and sorcery, but I'll definitely check out the comic when it goes live tomorrow.

How long have you had these feelings, Clark?

At Movie Poop Shoot, Marc Mason chats with former comics writer and editor Danny Fingeroth about his book, Superman on the Couch, heroes who kill, and the psychology of supervillains:

MM: Your section on villains is probably the strongest in the book, as you openly state what was quietly pushed forward by the recent BATMAN films: the heroes are merely a device in many ways, as it is the villains who are the agents of change and progression, even if it is negative change. That's one reason why true changes for characters like Superman are rare and fleeting: heroes are about the status quo. Was it just something blatantly obvious that you felt like writing down or was it cathartic to discuss this on the printed page?

DF: I don't think I invented the idea, but it certainly touched a chord in me. Villains want to make the world over in their image. Heroes want to protect the world as we know it. (Of course, the best villains see themselves as heroes. Dr. Doom sees himself as an agent of positive change.) The most interesting heroes, though, have more complex agendas.

One of the things that was revolutionary about the Marvel heroes when they first appeared was that they had a touch of the villain in them. They weren't perfect and didn't pretend to be. Spider-Man started out to make money and have fun with his powers before his uncle was murdered. The Thing hates being the Thing and would love to go back to being a normal human. They're still heroes, and not quite the "anti-hero" that a Dirty Harry is, but they do end up having at least a touch of wanting more than to just preserve the status quo. If nothing else, the fact that a status quo that may arguably be beneficial for a society could be detrimental to that society's superhuman protectors creates all sorts of character-enhancing and story-generating conflicts.

The general point is a fascinating one. Villains want change; they want the world to behave to their benefit. The heroes want to prevent that change. If a hero started to effect change, some people would stop seeing him or her as heroic. There've been some fascinating comics that use that premise.

And right on cue, the comics arrive

I think DCBS could just stick randomly selected books in my monthly shipment, and I'd be none the wiser. I never remember what I ordered. ("Lady Death's T&A Spectacular #37? Hm, I guess I bought this ...") But here's what just arrived:
  • Adam Strange #3 (DC Comics)
  • Authority: Revolution #2 (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Black Widow #3 (Marvel) -- I think I dropped the miniseries with this issue.
  • Digital Webbing Presents #19 (Digital Webbing)
  • The Kindaichi Case Files Vol. 1: The Opera House Murders (Tokyopop)
  • Books of Magick: Life During Wartime #5 (DC/Vertigo) -- Is anyone else reading this? It's pretty good, if a bit ... uncomfortable at times.
  • Madrox #3 (Marvel)
  • Fallen Angel Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC)
  • Gloomcookie Monsters Christmas Color Special (Slave Labor)
  • Angeltown #1 (DC/Vertigo)
  • Gotham Central #25 (DC Comics)
  • The Supernaturalists graphic novel (Mad Yak Press)
  • Bone One Volume Edition softcover (Cartoon Books)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Dead #1 (Dark Horse)
  • Detective Comics #800 (DC Comics) -- Just to see what David Lapham does with it.
  • JLA: Classified #1 (DC Comics)
  • Little Endless Storybook hardcover (DC/Vertigo)
  • Marvel Age Mary Jane Vol. 1 (Marvel)
  • Musashi No. 9 Vol. 1 (DC/CMX)
  • Sylvia Faust #2 (Image)
  • Western Tales of Terror #1 (Hoarse & Buggy)

After 50 years, Godzilla gets his star

The Associated Press reports that after a 50-year movie career, Godzilla finally received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday during a ceremony outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Producer Shogo Tomiyama served as official spokesman for the King of Monsters:

"I'm here representing Godzilla. Unfortunately, he cannot speak English. We're very excited he is being honored in America."

A different kind of newspaper comic

The Poynter Institute spotlights the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger's use of sequential storytelling in its business section to explain the "ups and downs of the modern comic-book industry." It's comic as explanatory financial journalism.

You can view a PDF of the six-page broadsheet comic, and watch Star-Ledger editor Jim Willse's Flash presentation on how comics can be utilized by journalists. (His voice is creepily distorted on my computer, so I only watched a few seconds of it.)

Monday, November 29, 2004

Mini Mid-Ohio report

Mid-Ohio Con is a curious little beast: It's large enough to draw some big-name creators like Jeff Smith, Adam Hughes and (last year) Brian Michael Bendis, but too small to get much attention from publishers. Still, it's a fun show whose crowds are manageable enough to allow you to chat with creators who would be overwhelmed at other conventions with requests for autographs and sketches.

The only "news" to come out of MOC already has been reported by Newsarama: At Sunday's "Marvel Chat" panel (which, for some reason, included Phantom Jack writer Mike Sangiacomo), Sean McKeever confirmed that Mary Jane will return in March for a four-issue limited series.

And now for observations that hardly qualify as "news," but are still somewhat noteworthy:
  • This year's convention initially was touted as a big 25th-anniversary blowout, but the guest list and attendance really don't reflect that. Organizer Roger Price had some health problems this year, which may account for a less-than-stellar show. There were no convention programs available, because they apparently were stuck at the UPS hub until today. But Price repeatedly announced on Sunday that he plans to hold another 25th-anniversary show next year. The explanation goes something like this: This is the 25th annual show, but 2005 marks 25 calendar years. Or something. Anyway, expect a much stronger MOC next year.
  • Although attendance was noticeably lower, I sold a lot more books this year. Of course, last year I had just one book to sell; this year I was pushing three. It didn't hurt that the Mile High Comics guys were swarming the tables Sunday, buying up stock.
  • Headliner John Byrne, in what was advertised as his "last convention appearance ever," walked around with his nametag turned over so it read, "Off Duty." Only when he was signing books did we learn that he was really, yes, "John Byrne."
  • The convention floor on Sunday was littered with anti-Byrne fliers that suggested questions to ask the creator, and tips for how to be John Byrne. One featured a photo of Byrne holding a sign, over which was scrawled, "I'm a Tool." Show staff removed a lot of the fliers, but they continued to reappear throughout the day.
  • Mike Sangiacomo, whose Phantom Jack was dumped by Image and picked up by Speakeasy Comics, had a sign at his table advertising for pencilers and colorists, presumably for another series.
  • As I mentioned last night, I finally met the delightful Steve Lieber, which was great, and caught up with folks I hadn't seen since last year's convention. I also chatted with the guys from Western Tales of Terror, who invited me to pitch them a little something. So, I may be cooking up a little Western/supernatural thingy very soon.
  • The $5 graphic novel table rules, as the kids say.
And that, I think, is that. I'm sure I'm missing something. I'll update later if anything comes to mind.

Update: Dara at the Ferret Press/PANEL blog also has MOC observations, including items on Byrne's nametag and smaller crowds. He promises a full report at The Pulse.

Get your free comics ... over there

"Should It Be A Movie?" columnist Marc Mason is holding his first-ever "massive comics giveaway" at Movie Poop Shoot:
We're talking a lot of books. Over forty of them, in fact; books that would run you well over $200 to buy in a store. Great stuff from Image, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, Devil's Due, and more. Plus great indies you've read about in my column like STYX TAXI and VIDEO. And a special bonus: a kick-ass prize package from HARRY JOHNSON publisher Fulp Fiction and maybe even more surprises from other publishers.
To enter, just email Marc at marc @ marcmason.com with the words "Contest Entry" in the header, and tell him why you want all those books. Follow the link for all the details.

PW's The Year in Graphic Novels

The Dec. 6 edition of Publishers Weekly will feature the magazine's annual The Year in Books. But thanks to Calvin Reid, you can see the staff's choices for the best graphic novels of 2004 right here, right now (to quote Fatboy Slim ... or Jesus Jones):
The year in Graphic Novels:

Bookstore sales of graphic novels grow unabated with manga leading every category in sales. Manga houses Tokyopop and Viz released a record number of titles, while DC Comics and Marvel add manga to their lists. Traditional publishers (Scholastic, Holt and Penguin) launched comics imprints. And once again comics -- Charles Schulz's Peanuts collections and Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers -- made the PW bestseller list.

The Year in Books: Graphic Novels

The Complete Bone by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)
A 1300 page single-volume edition of this delightful fantasy adventure about a group of cartoon cousins lost in a fairytale valley.

Locas by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
Masterful stories about the lovers Maggie, girl mechanic, and Hopey, punkchick troublemaker, in the midst of the 1980s Southern California Chicano-youth and punk rock scene.

Age of Bronze: Sacrifice by Eric Shanower (Image)
Shanowers's masterpiece about the Trojan War continues with Helen's arrival in Troy and Kassandra's prediction of impending death and doom.

In The Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon)
The story of his family's 9/11 ordeal, outrage over the march to war and the history of the American newspaper comic strip.

Tokyo Tribes by Santa Inoue (Tokyopop)
Two former high school buddies, now in rival gangs, are at the center of a brutal murder in this hip-hop-influenced manga about Japanese gangbangers.

Hikaru No Go by Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata (Viz)
The ancient Japanese game of Go comes vividly to life after sixth grader Hikaru Shindo accidently awakens the elegant ghost of a beautiful, 12th century Go-master.

The Filth by Grant Morrison and Chris Weston (DC/Vertigo)
A psychedelic science fiction adventure that pits humanity's need to dream against a backdrop of communist monkey assassins, giant city-states and perverted supermen.

Clyde Fans, Vol. 1 by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly)
A dying fan business in a small town in Canada is the setting as two very different brothers play out lives of quiet desperation.

Breaking news: Kids don't go to comic shops

This just in: Maine Today reports that comic book shops are being invaded by men in their 30s and 40s.

The article goes on to note that comics cost a lot more than they used to:
Using an inflation rate based on the consumer price index, a comic book that sold for 20 cents in 1972 would sell for 68 cents today. But the rise in comic book prices has far exceeded the inflation rate. The average cost is about $2.50, although some go for as much as $3.50.

On the other hand, if you used that inflation rate index to deflate the average cost of a 2003 comic book over that same 31-year period, you would have to pay $1.93 for that copy of "The Amazing Spider-Man" in 1972, or nearly 10 times more.

"I can remember when I collected (as a child), and my comics cost me about forty to fifty cents," said Nate LaChance, owner of Wallcrawler. "When they went to sixty cents, it was hard for me to scrounge up the money."
Also: a profile of retailer Nate LaChance.

Girls who like boys who like boys ...

I'm playing a bit of catchup, so excuse me if you've already seen this ...

Nerve.com discovers the wildly popular yaoi, and immediately notices the differences between East and West:
But thematic differences between East and West were immediately apparent. In Japanese yaoi, genitalia are indicated by a big white circle (per industry jargon, a "glowing cone of white light.") Its American counterpart shows everything: sloppy blowjobs, penetration, facial come shots. While Japanese protagonists are androgynous and can easily pass as women, American yaoi men are manlier (but still never too butch). In Japan, certain subgenres of yaoi feature prepubescent boys; American yaoi artists take great pains to announce somewhere in each story that characters are of post-jailbait age. Still, many conventions stuck. One: a rigid top-bottom power dynamic, in which struggle is foreplay. Two: the sex.

Fans are the first to admit that yaoi is a form of porn, although most bristle at appending the word "gay." In Japan, theories abound as to why the genre appeals to young women. Some believe it functions as a screw-you to a button-down society; others say it allows young women to approach sex without shame or fear of "competing" with another female character.
The article also spotlights Pluto, a 26-year-old illustrator from Michigan who's working on a yaoi story called Bottled Up.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

A quick note ...

I just returned from Mid-Ohio Con, which wasn't as crowded as last year. Still, I sold a goodly number of books -- enough to justify my assaults on the $5 graphic novel table. I also finally met Steve Lieber, which was almost as nice as selling a lot of books. I'll have more details tomorrow, along with the return of regularly scheduled blogging.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Is tryptophan airborne?

Okay, I am being lazy. Thanksgiving preparations, research/writing and general tiredness are getting the best of me. I still plan to post the entry later today about DC and Marvel's output, but I don't envision much blogging beyond that this week.

In the meantime, if you haven't seen it yet, take a peek at the four-page PDF preview of Seven Soldiers #0, by Grant Morrison and J.H. Williams. It's lovely. While you're at the DC site, you also can take a gander at a preview of Morrison and Philip Bond's Vimanarama! #1.

That's all I have for now. I'm off to make oyster and cornbread dressing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Three quick things ...

1. I'm not being as lazy as it seems. I'm compiling information for what (I hope) will be an interesting and informative post about the output of Marvel and DC. That should appear sometime later today tomorrow.

2. Due to some bumps related to switching printers and international shipping, Digital Webbing Presents #19 was delayed a couple of weeks. But I'm assured it's hitting shelves tomorrow. I should receive my copies by Friday ...

3. ... Right before I leave for Mid-Ohio Con. I'll be there all weekend, pressing flesh, selling books, and looking for affordable copies of DC's old Sea Devils series (don't ask). If you're attending, stop by the Digital Webbing Presents table and say "Hi." I'll give you a free comic. Or something.

After 30 years, Britain's superheroes return

Coming a little late to the party, UK's The Independent reports on the revival of some of Britain's best-known superheroes, thanks to the deal between DC Comics and IPC Media. Here's IPC's Andrew Sumner:

"These are characters who have been talked about by UK comic fans for the last 30 years since they ceased publication. They were a fundamental part of every British male's childhood in the Sixties. It has been the equivalent of Spiderman and Superman slipping out of publication 30 years ago and, due to corporate complexity, not being published in any way for half of their life."

Monday, November 22, 2004

Busy. And tired.

I'm preoccupied with Thanksgiving planning and a little writing, so I don't feel much like blogging this morning. I may have something of substance later today. If not, definitely tomorrow. Sorry.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Manga rises in comic-store backlist ranks

Is this a sign of the times? ICv2.com reports that Tokyopop's unit market share of backlist sales to comic stores -- yes, comic stores -- topped Marvel's in October, according to Diamond's Star System market share report. The manga publisher had a 14.88 percent unit share of Diamond's backlist sales, compared to Marvel's 13.48 percent. DC still dominates with 27.03 percent.

But wait -- there's more:

The cumulative total of comic store backlist shares for manga publishers was also dramatic. Using an estimate of one-half of Dark Horse backlist sales as manga, the cumulative total of manga publishers listed in Diamond's Star System unit market share report (Tokyopop, one-half of Dark Horse, Viz, ADV, and ComicsOne) for October was 30.3%, bigger than DC's.

In dollars, the manga share of backlist sales to comic stores was not as large due to the lower average cover prices of manga trade paperbacks compared to superhero books, but still accounted for 22.8% of the Star System backlist sales in October.

However, the retailer website admits its cumulative total calculations aren't entirely scientific:

... we are aware that Viz, Tokyopop, and ADV produce anime as well as manga, and that their anime products contributed to their share numbers. But we believe that our assumption on the portion of Dark Horse share that is manga is conservative, and also note that there are manga publishers, such as Del Rey, Central Park Media, and Media Blasters, that are in the "other" category in Diamond's reporting. Accordingly, we believe that if anything, our estimates of the total share of Diamond's backlist sales attributable to manga are, if anything, conservative.

Animated casualties of the culture war?

David Sterritt of The Christian Science Monitor considers charges that The Incredibles embraces Nietzschian and Randian philosophies, while The Polar Express wrongly emphasizes the importance of blind faith:
Nobody connected with The Incredibles has laid claim to such subtexts - publicly, at least - and it's possible to read The Polar Express not as a right-wing celebration of "faith" but as a left-wing critique of "traditional values." At one point, for instance, a precious Polar Express ticket gets carried away by the wind, only to be "rescued" by an eagle, fed to a baby eagle, and spat out as unpalatable by the American symbol that tried to swallow it.

Cartooning school holds fund-raiser

The Dartmouth covers a major fund-raiser for the Center for Cartoon Studies, which will open next fall in White River Junction, Vt., with the help of grants and donations from Jean Schulz, Peter Laird and others. Thursday's even featured Art Spiegelman as the speaker.

The school's two-year program is designed "to prepare its students for careers as producers, writers and illustrators of graphic novels":
The school has been actively recruiting students since the summer. Immensely talented artists are pursued less than students who are gifted storytellers. In fact, less-than-superb artistic ability is not a problem in the admissions process.
Update: The center has issued a press release announcing a $150,000 donation from Laird through his Xeric Foundation.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Vancouver's 'comics marvels'

Canada's Georgia Straight takes a look at Vancouver's flourishing comics scene, which boasts mainstream creators like Kaare Andrews, Pia Guerra and Steve Rolston, and independent artists like Robin Konstabaris, Owen Plummer and Robin Bougie. And that's just for starters.

Here's Robin Fisher, who hosts a weekly CiTR show on comics called Onomatopoeia and works at RX Comics on Main Street:
"What I like best is there are always new cartoonists, nearly every month. I see people at art shows influenced by comics, a lot of people always doing comics. Just this past week, a new comic called Almost Evil by Dustin Ladd came out. It's funny cartoons with stick guys but really stylized, and I thought it was really excellent. We managed to sell all six copies."
The paper also spotlights 91-year-old Bus Griffiths, whose comic strips about life in a logging camp were collected in the 196-page Now You're Logging, first published in 1978.

Second star to the right, and straight on 'til Wal-Mart

The folks at Disney, you know, the people who bought CrossGen, do believe in fairies (they do, they do) -- at least when it comes to making billions of dollars from little girls.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, the House of Mouse plans to follow up its financial success with they "Disney Princess" brand -- that's just a repackaged Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle and the Little Mermaid -- with a franchise based on Tinker Bell and a new faction of fairy friends:
Disney says its research shows that Tinker Bell has remained a popular character, despite little exposure in recent years. Last year’s live-action movie version of Peter Pan, which wasn’t produced by Disney, did little to promote the waif. But Disney says girls and young women still warm to her “sassy” attitude, style and looks.
The company hopes that with a pinch of pixie dust and some savvy marketing, the "Disney Fairies" line can pull in more than $1 billion in three to five years through the sales of illustrated books, animated movies, clothing and dolls:
While Tinker Bell retains some of her Victorian feel, she’s updated with new emotions, expressions and a voice (she didn’t speak in the original movie). The book gives her a set of pals including Beck, a fairy that can talk to animals; Vidia, a “troubled” fairy; Prilla, a neophyte fairy; and Rani, a fairy with a generous heart – the aim being to give girls a range of personalities to identify with. There’s a queen of fairies; mother dove (inspired from a bird drawing in the original Bambi movie); and the “sparrow men” – a band of male fairies but Disney didn’t want to use the “fairy” label to identify them.
Yes, for the love of God, don't call the "sparrow men" fairies. That would be like ... like ... calling G.I. Joe a doll! He's an action figure, thankyouverymuch. And the "sparrow men" are -- well, I don't know what they are, but they're definitely not fairies.

Godzilla, now in the autumn of life

Toho Pictures president Shogo Tomiyama poses with, uh, Godzilla, holding the Hollywood Walk of Fame certificate. (AP Photo)

After 50 years of stomping cities, the King of Monsters is calling it quits. Again. The Washington Post reports the upcoming movie Godzilla: Final War -- his 28th -- will be the radioactive reptile's last. But Godzilla's going out on a high note. Sort of: He's getting a star later this month on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:
The lumbering lizard has come a long way from his youthful, black-and-white movie days. Those flicks -- the first one opened in Japan in November 1954 -- seem pretty cheesy and old-fashioned now: an actor in a jiggly latex Godzilla costume, munching fake subway trains, crushing buildings the size of Lego projects and fighting monsters even goofier-looking than he was. (For instance, his foe in Godzilla vs. Megalon was a giant insect with drill-bit hands. )

But don't be too quick to dismiss Godzilla as a scaly has-been. He opened the doors for many Japanese pop culture stars. Without Godzilla, you might never have had Astro Boy, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Powerpuff Girls, or Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon characters. Anime and manga owe a lot to this early mon-star.
Gojira couldn't be reached for comment.

Glasses as the window to the soul

In an odd, but fascinating, installment of his Eye Weekly column, Guy Leshinski chats with optician Mel Rapp about the "psychology of eyewear" -- specifically, as it relates to comic books:
Glasses, Rapp argues, have a language of allusion all their own. Take, for instance, the round frames of Tintin's Professor Calculus. "Round frames are always, I think, suggestive of intelligence," Rapp says, a link established by the thinkers who've worn them -- Frank Lloyd Wright, Sigmund Freud, Gandhi -- and the frames' clever mimicry of our natural contours. "The roundness of the frame is parallel to the roundness of the eyeball." But there's another association: villainy. "If you look at documented, archival ghetto pictures of Jews in the 1930s, you will see a lot of Hasidic scholars wearing perfectly round frames," says Rapp. Through the lens of anti-Semitic propaganda, their specs became malignant. "It depends what you do with that shape. There's a scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which a Nazi is wearing small, round metal frames. He's got this laugh with a mixture of evil, and he's wearing the uniform, but it's the glasses that give credibility to his face as an evil monster. Not to put the round frame in the category of good or evil; it's just a device that is used. These are the stereotypes they're playing on."

Anime & Manga 101

The Cincinnati Enquirer looks at the popularity of anime and manga, and provides a primer for those behind the pop-culture learning curve:
"It's not just a little-kiddie format," says Steve Kleckner, the vice president of sales and distribution for TOKYOPOP, the largest publisher of manga in the United States.

"We were raised that animation was for children and that as soon as you get older you're supposed to leave it behind, like your teddy bear," Kleckner says. "In Japan, it's an art form, and there are stories for adults as well as there are stories for little girls. It's just a format, not a genre."

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Are you there, God? It's me, Morrison

Maryland's North East Booster sounds the alarm over a copy of New X-Men: Imperial -- a book "illustrated like a comic" -- checked out of the Perry Hall Middle School library by a seventh-grader in special education classes.

The girl's mother, Michelle Gillespie, "said she found derogatory language, erotic images and talk of molestation in the book, which she felt also promoted violence":
"If my child went to school with something like this, they would be suspended or reprimanded. Ashley doesn't understand what these things mean, and I don't want to explain them to her.

"... I might be naive. But I thought there was a parent panel that looked at what library books were acceptable. I thought they choose authors like Judy Blume and E.B. White."
Has she read Judy Blume?

Principal Rick Archambault said he hasn't been able to examine the content, because Gillespie hasn't returned the book:
"We try to provide books that motivate students to read, and that includes comic books."

Childhood isn't what it used to be

The San Francisco Chronicle examines the increasing popularity of darker, more complex portrayals of childhood in art, film and literature:
Childhood has become a boundless new frontier in the arts, a terrain of seemingly infinite magnitude, emotional density and thematic complexity. Audiences may find themselves disoriented and unnerved, as the conventional views of innocence, precociousness and predatory corruption give way to deeper vistas of childhood experience and meaning. In complicated, challenging and sometimes confounding ways, children occupy an increasingly large share of our collective imagination.
From the unnerving Birth to the wry A Series of Unfortunate Events to even the action-packed Incredibles, the trend signals a rejection, of sorts, of the "cult of the innocent child," which art historian James Steward calls a "banal, simplistic" product of the Victorian Age:
"Before that," he says, "going back to the Renaissance, children were often depicted in ways that were far more nuanced and psychologically complex." Paintings of children and adolescents by such artists as Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds held "layered references to sexuality," Steward says, "that the audience of the time would have easily understood."
(The image is from Gottfried Helnwein's digital photography exhibit at San Francisco's Modernism Gallery.)

Unraveling Lost's mysteries

I'm not seeing much in the way of riveting comics-related news this morning, so I'll feed my other current interest/obsession: ABC's Lost.

USA Today focuses on watercooler speculation over the many mysteries of the show, which averages more than 17 million viewers each week:
Details get viewers buzzing. For example, what was the significance of bad boy Sawyer reading the book Watership Down? And what is the connection between the polar bear in the comic youngster Walt was reading and the polar bear found on the island?

The focus on minutiae is all part of the larger question: What's really going on? Viewers know an airplane left Sydney bound for Los Angeles, got off course and crashed on a tropical island. But where are they, and how can some of the strange things be explained?

Some fans think it's a giant "ant farm" being observed by aliens; other suggest it's a government project; still others figure it must be a Jurassic Park type of scientific compound, although show co-creator Damon Lindelof has said the unseen monster on the island is "not a dinosaur."

Meanwhile, a Knight-Ridder Newspapers article looks at the series' diverse casting that resulted in a mix of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and even physical types:

Besides the African-American father and son, the show's core cast includes an Arab character (played by Naveen Andrews, a British actor of Indian descent) and a Korean couple, all stranded together on an island after a flight from Australia crashes. Plus, there's actor Jorge Garcia, whose character, Hurley, may not be Latino but certainly adds some diversity of his own as one of the larger characters on TV.

Finally, the New York Daily News chats with Dominic Monaghan, who plays rock musician Charlie on Lost:
"It's great to be in a show that people actually watch. My friends watch it. And it's great because they're not tuning in to a piece of sh-- show just to see me. They watch it because they want to watch it."
Lost airs tonight at 8 Eastern on ABC.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Borders names its Best of 2004

Last week, Amazon.com released its Best of 2004. Now it's Borders' turn.

Unlike Amazon, which combines genres, Borders breakst its best books of the year into 16 handy divisions, from Art, Architecture & Photography to the oddly named Women's Fiction. Its Graphic Novels list is a short one, with just three entries:
The Chris Ware-edited McSweeney's Quarterly Concern No. 13 (McSweeney's): "Ware is one of the most renowned, most revered, and best beloved artists working in comics today. As guest editor of McSweeney's, Ware has assembled an amazing array of sequential art from a prestigious group of contributors. There are comics here from R. Crumb, Dan Clowes, Lynda Barry, the Hernandez brothers, and more."

Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers (Pantheon): "With Maus, Spiegelman changed the way people look at comic books. By telling the story of his Holocaust-survivor father with pictures as well as words, Spiegelman transformed his genre. His latest book is an idiosyncratic record of the events of 9/11, an anxious appreciation of classic comic strips, and another starkly magnificent meditation on the human condition."

Craig Thompson's
Carnet de Voyage (Top Shelf):
"Thompson captured the attention of comics fans and critics with Blankets, his sweetly lyrical and deeply personal coming-of-age illustrated novel. In Carnet de Voyage, Thompson offers an equally compelling depiction of his journey across Europe and North Africa, a travel journal which includes anatomical sketches of the camel he rode across the desert and reveries about the sublime architecture of Gaudí."
The Science Fiction & Fantasy list is more generous, with 14 books, including: Legends II: New Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy (Ballantine Books), which features "The Monarch of the Glen," Neil Gaiman's followup to American Gods; and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Bloomsbury).

Rabbit season!

I'm really looking forward to Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers series, but I'm particularly interested in artist Ryan Sook's take on the underrated Zatanna (see image above). An intriguing -- and blonde -- version of her appears in the curious Books of Magick: Life During Wartime, and I'm told she gets some screen time in Identity Crisis. But too often Zatanna's portrayed as a vampish stage act, so it should be interesting to see Morrison and Sook's interpretation. (I'm a fan of Sook's work from B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth and Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, but couldn't make the leap with him to Hawkman.)

Morrison's vision for Klarion, the Witch Boy promises to be entertaining, too: “I’ve started from scratch and can only apologize to Peter David, who at least tried to keep this particular property in continuity. I’ve thrown all previous versions out to create the poster boy for the Puritan Goth weird horror genre. Klarion as Marilyn Manson." Art is by Frazer Irving.

Photoshop has ruined our childhood ...

Jessa at Bookslut points us to Something Awful, which once again reminds us that message-board geeks with Photoshop and too much spare time are dangerous things. This time, they're making children's books tawdry -- with mostly humorous results. Some of the jokes are obvious, while others are a bit offensive, but most are pretty funny.

My childhood love/hate relationship with Encyclopedia Brown probably makes the above image seem funnier than it really is. Eh, it made me snort, though.

But, as the kids say, your mileage may vary.

McCubbin talks 'Rent Girl' and ribcages

At Movie Poop Shoot, Marc Mason reviews Rent Girl, then chats with illustrator Laurenn McCubbin about collaborating with Michelle Tea, tackling sexual content, and the anatomical sins of Michael Turner:
MM: ... between this book and your self-published effort XXX LIVE NUDE GIRLS, you have developed a reputation as an artist who brings realism and beauty to the feminine form. You’ve concentrated on telling stories about real people, never using your talents for evil, like someone such as Michael Turner. Now you have a project coming out with Warren Ellis, QUIT CITY, which delves a bit into the speculative fiction arena. What was it like working on a book in the genre where women are usually treated more as fetish objects, and how did you adapt your personal style to it?

LM: Dude, you totally made me Google Michael Turner, and I may never forgive you. None of his women have ribcages! So, QUIT CITY - the great thing about working with Mr. Ellis is that he is a writer who can write an actual female character, with real personality. Nothing in his script rang false to me - the women are people that I feel like I would know. They have faults and weaknesses, yes, but they can still be heroic. Even if their heroism ends up as just taking control of their own lives.

Yeah, the genre does lend itself to the anatomically ridiculous, but I don't think that means that every artist has to choose to work that way, and there are some that don't. I want to be a part of that elite group! Heh.

Comics sales drop in October (vs. last year)

ICv2.com finds that direct-market sales of comics and graphic novels were down 16 percent in October versus the same period in 2003. Single-issue sales dropped 20 percent, while graphic novel sales rose 12 percent:
We looked at comparisons by publisher to get a better feel for the changes. Both Marvel and DC were down by double digits, with Marvel down 11% and DC down 14%. Image was down 65%, and CrossGen, which accounted for 3.4% market share in 2003, was gone in 2004. Publishers with an emphasis on manga were up by a lot in October 2004, bucking the trend. Dark Horse, for example, was up 20%; and Tokyopop was up 65%.
But the retailer website also reports that more individual titles showed sales growth in October than in September, with nine of the top 25 comics seeing increases.

Top 300 comics (actual sales)
Top 100 graphic novels (actual sales)

Hudlin, Romita Jr. to relaunch 'Black Panther'

The New York Times also has the scoop -- I think -- on a new Black Panther series, set for a February release to coincide with Black History Month. The writer? Reginald Hudlin, director of House Party and co-author of Birth of a Nation. John Romita Jr., who's been long-rumored for the project, will illustrate. Here's the item, from today's "Arts, Briefly" column:
The Black Panther, below, the first African-American superhero, is being polished for comic book stardom by Marvel Comics. The character, created in 1966, is receiving a new monthly series in February to coincide with Black History Month. The Black Panther will be written by Reginald Hudlin, the writer and director of the 1990 film House Party and a producer and director of The Bernie Mac Show on Fox. John Romita Jr., a longtime illustrator of Spider-Man, will provide the art. The first six issues of the series will deal with the Panther's origin. The next six issues will have the Panther take a greater role in the Marvel Universe, interacting with the Avengers, Spider-Man and the X-Men, and meeting many other black heroes, including Blade, Luke Cage and Storm.

New York Times carries Lampert's obituary

The New York Times notes the passing of Harry Lampert, co-creator of the original Flash. Lampert, 88, died Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla.:
Bursting onto the comic-book scene in January 1940, the Flash was among the first superheroes of the genre's golden age. (Superman had appeared just two years earlier.) Written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mr. Lampert, the character made his debut in the anthology Flash Comics, published by All-American Publications, an offshoot of DC Comics. Mr. Lampert received $150 for his work, The Washington Post reported in 1996.

... The character was an immediate success, but Mr. Lampert preferred drawing humorous subjects. (His gag cartoons appeared in Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post and elsewhere.) After two issues of the Flash, he was replaced. He went on to a second career as the owner of the Lampert Agency, an advertising concern, and a third as a bridge writer and teacher of contract bridge.

Giving CrossGen's corpse a once-over ...

The St. Petersburg Times reports on Disney's $1 million purchase of CrossGen's assets, then provides a brief post-mortem of Mark Alessi's brainchild:
Investors sank millions of dollars into CrossGen before it failed. Alessi alone claims the company owes him $5.4-million; he made millions in the 1990s by selling a software company to Ross Perot. Upon filing for bankruptcy, CrossGen had just $2,000 in the bank and liabilities of $14.7-million.

The court will now decide how to divide the $1-million among the company's creditors, which include many former employees and contract workers who filed claims for unpaid wages.

Alessi had been harshly critical of the comic book industry, including its focus on spawning multimillion-dollar films, and that may have come back to haunt him. "Marvel (Comics) makes me want to puke," he said in a 2000 interview with the St. Petersburg Times . "It's basically, as far as I'm concerned, run by bankers."

By 2003, with bankruptcy looming, Alessi was asking Marvel and about 40 other comic book or movie industry kingpins for help.

Of note, a comic about the history of jazz

The Korea Times spotlights the second volume of the Jazz It Up! comic series, which chronicles the history of jazz. Here's Nam Moo-seong, series creator and jazz critic, who decided to draw the books himself:
"I considered a professional cartoonist but I quickly dismissed that idea. I felt whoever was to do the drawings should really know the artists and their music for the portrayals to be as realistic and plausible as possible."
A revised edition of the first volume has been issued to coincide with the release of the second; both come with a compilation CD.

Marvel lawsuit: 'Unreasonable bullying'?

Wired News weighs in on last week's news of Marvel Enterprises lawsuit against the makers of the popular City of Heroes RPG:
"Considering that defendants own no comic characters themselves, it stands to reason that the comic books to which they refer are those that depict the characters of Marvel and others," wrote Marvel's attorneys in the complaint. "Defendants' Creation Engine facilitates and, indeed, encourages players to create and utilize heroes that are nearly identical in name, appearance and characteristics to characters belonging to Marvel."

That sounds good, but experts contacted by Wired News think Marvel is living in a fantasy:
"Asking City of Heroes to police their users to ensure that they don't replicate Marvel characters is like asking a school to police its students to make sure none of them show up for Halloween in a homemade Spider-Man costume," said Cory Doctorow, a renowned writer and advocate for free speech and fair use. "It's unreasonable bullying, and it is bad corporate citizenship."

Monday, November 15, 2004

Dark Horse and B&N's manga 'experiment'

Publishers Weekly (subscription required) follows up on the deal between Dark Horse Comics and Barnes & Noble Books to release several of the comics publisher's best-selling manga titles in hardcover editions, for sale exclusively at B&N.

The agreement originally was announced in late June.

The new editions are priced lower than their original trade paperback releases. For instance, the exclusive Akira hardcover is priced at $14.95, compared to $24.95 for the original TPB. The new edition of Trigun is $11.95 (versus $14.95 for last year's trade).

Dark Horse's Lee Dawson told PW the agreement is "an experiment."

B&N Books will release hardcover editions of Trigun Vol. 2 ($11.95) and Hellsing Vol. 1 ($9.95) in December.

Friends, fans remember Bill Liebowitz

The Los Angeles Times (registration required; try BugMeNot) covers the memorial service for legendary retailer Bill Liebowitz, held yesterday evening at the Golden Apple Comics location on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Liebowitz died of congestive heart failure on Oct. 27. He was 63.

Bob Wayne, vice president of sales and marketing for DC Comics, was among those attending the service: "This is one of the most important comic book stores in the world."

Disney sees potential for CrossGen properties

The Hollywood Reporter pounces on news that Walt Disney Co. has snapped up the assets of bankrupt CrossGen, including Abadazad and Route 666:
The acquisition of the more than two dozen titles comes as Disney is set to launch a TV series in the United States based on W.I.T.C.H., a comic magazine for tween girls that debuted in 2001 in Italy. Disney says W.I.T.C.H. is now the fourth-largest magazine in the world in terms of international editions. Books based on the property are published in 20 countries; the animated TV show will debut on U.S. TV as part of Disney's Jetix block on Toon Disney and ABC Family early next year.

"Publishing is really an incubator of new content," Disney Publishing president Deborah Dugan said. "We said girls 10-12 are big readers, why not comics? That's how (W.I.T.C.H.) started."
Dugan said Disney isn't just interested in CrossGen's "all-ages" fare: "We're not shying away from the more adult titles. We have Miramax Books and other possible outlets for that."

Update 1: Newsarama also has some details.

Update 2: The Pulse talks with Abadazad co-creator J.M. DeMatteis, who said his series was "the primary reason Disney wanted to buy CrossGen":
"Shortly before the official bidding, I was contacted by Brenda Bowen, editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books For Children, about her desire to publish Abadazad as a line of children's books. When Disney finally won the bidding, a separate deal had to be worked out for Abadazad (since Mike Ploog and I are co-owners of the property). We were told, a number of times, that Disney was going to walk away from the CG deal if they couldn't get Abadazad."

"My manager, Kevin Cleary of Content House, and my lawyer, Mike Brundage, did some serious negotiating ... and they came up with a deal that Ploog and I are extremely happy with," continued DeMatteis. "We're doing Abadazad as a series of children's books. We'll be taking material from the comics, adding to it, reformating it ... and coming up a combination of prose, illustration and sequential art that we think will be unique. Our plan is to create a storytelling format that is new and exciting ... and we can't wait to get started."
Update 3: Publishers Weekly (subscription required) weighs in with an interview with Disney Publishing Worldwide president Deborah Dugan:
She told PW that CrossGen's assets included about 30 graphic novel titles. She said that Disney will not continue CrossGen as a separate business. The remaining CrossGen staff (about six people) will work for the next three months, during the transition to Disney. Mark Alessi, the former technology entrepreneur who founded CrossGen, will serve as a consultant for at least the next three months. ...

... In addition to Abadazad, Dugan said, Ruse, a Victorian-era alternate reality mystery series, and Meridian, a fantasy series aimed at girls, are among her favorites. She said discussions are ongoing about whether to issue reprints or bring in new artists and writers to continue the story or develop new story lines. "Some of the titles may need testing for a broader audience," she said. But she was quick to point out that Disney will consider selected titles (particularly those aimed at older teens and up) for motion picture or TV development as well as games. And, she said, Disney's "distribution clout, our mass market, newsstand and school channels," can introduce a much larger audience to the works.
Update 4: Disney Publishing Worldwide's official press release.

What's this? A comic shop actually opens?

Now here's something you don't see every day: A new comic-book store has opened in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The Saratogian reports that The Comic Depot, which opened Wednesday, will cater to the usual crowd, with plenty of back issues and RPG supplies:

"All the comic book movies are making it more mainstream. Everyone knows who Spider-Man is nowadays."

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Review: Dark Edge Vol. 1

Dark Edge Vol. 1
Story and art: Yu Aikawa

There's a teen horror-movie logic at play in Dark Edge Vol. 1 that's alternately charming and frustrating.

It's the kind that allows students at Yotsuji Private High School to be warned repeatedly against remaining on campus after sunset without ever asking why -- until it's too late, of course. That same thinking permits them to barely escape from school grounds with their lives, yet return to class the next day.

After the death of his mother, Kurou Takagi transfers to the mysterious school owned by the father he never knew. There, he and his classmates promptly violate the sunset taboo, and find themselves locked within the campus' massive walls and facing a small zombie army of teachers and fellow students.

The school administration, for the most part, watches impassively as the students become prey of the undead: "A school rule is somewhat like a contract that helps the students and administration co-exist," the sinister principal observes. "For those who do not uphold this contract, there is only death. That is our school's rule."

Whatever happened to detention?

Yu Aikawa tries to infuse the fast-paced story with bits of humor, often with mixed results. Although Dark Edge is advertised as an "action-comedy," much of the campiness seems misplaced, diffusing tense moments that might be better served by escalation. Luckily, there are a few truly creepy moments that make these misfires easier to overlook.

Aikawa's art is rich and detailed, if a little inconsistent. A character can be gangly in one panel, then stocky (or even barrel-chested) in the next. Arms, and even breasts, have a tendency to grow, too. It's not fatal to the story, but merely distracting.

Harry Lampert, co-creator of Golden Age Flash, dies

Harry Lampert, the illustrator who created the original Flash with Gardner Fox, died Saturday at Boca Raton Community Hospital in Florida. He was 88. The Associated Press carries Lampert's obituary:
"He based it on the character in mythology (Hermes) ... the wings on his feet," said daughter Karen Lampert Akavan. "He had no idea how big it would be."

Lampert received a steady stream of fan mail and requests for his early 'Flash' drawings. But his favorite illustrations were gag cartoons, which appeared in publications including Time, Esquire, The New York Times, Saturday Evening Post and Saturday Review.

"Up to the last week he was redrawing 'The Flash' and selling it to people," his daughter said.
He is survived by his wife, Adele, his daughter, and two grandsons.

Mark Evanier also notes Lampert's passing, with some background on the Flash Comics collaboration.

The road to 'Lost'

There are just two television shows on my must-watch list for this season: HBO's The Wire and ABC's Lost. I love both of them, but I've become obsessed with J.J. Abrams' survivor soap opera.

The New York Times looks at how the series rocketed from rough concept to green-lit project in just five days, then started filming less than 12 weeks later:

That wasn't the hard part. And transporting the wreckage of an L-1011 jetliner to the show's location on Oahu may have been daunting, but doable. But of all the logistical nightmares that deadline represented none were more daunting than finding actors for the unusually large and internationally diverse ensemble cast - as the parts were still being written.

"It was insanity," said the casting director, April Webster, who had worked with Mr. Abrams on "Alias." "The characters kept changing. Every few days they'd call up and say, 'It looks like there's another one.' "
The article also points out how rapidly casting and characterization changed. Thankfully, it appears to have been for the better:
Charlie, the burned-out English rocker played by Dominic Monaghan, was originally envisioned as a middle-aged businessman with a drug problem. Sawyer, the troublesome American played by Josh Holloway, was going to be a New Zealander. And Jack, the heroic (so far) spinal surgeon played by Matthew Fox, was going to be much older. And since he was also meant to die in the first episode, a one-shot appearance, high-priced movie stars like Michael Keaton and Aaron Eckhardt were being considered for the part.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Millar Media Machine ...

The Glasgow Sunday Herald spotlights Marvel's "chief writer" Mark Millar, who, it contends, "created the world’s first gay comic book stars" and now is sending Captain America to Iraq in The Ultimates Vol. 2. Oh, that zany Millar:
The first of the monthly comics, Ultimates 2, will be published by Marvel across the world at the end of this month. It is being tipped to cause a huge debate, as Millar’s opposition to the war has already inspired hundreds of patriotic American comic readers to sign an online petition to have him sacked. But his right to free speech has been backed by the board of Marvel, and he states that Bush is "the most terrifying threat to the West since the Third Reich."
And here's Millar himself:
“This turned out to be Marvel’s best-selling comic in years, so a sequel was always on the cards. The concept behind this book was taking the heroes-in-the-real-world idea further and having George Bush using his mandate from an election victory to send guys like Captain America and The Hulk out into Iraq and fighting on the front lines in his war on terror.

“There’s a lot of fear right now that, as the scope of Bush’s plan gets wider, civilians are going to be drafted again. In fact, the draft offices were prepared last year for such an eventuality and there are a lot of nervous under-25s.”

The Times focuses on children's books

Kitten's First Full Moon illustration by Kevin Henkes

The New York Times devotes a special section this week to children's books, which features the Book Review's Ten Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2004, and an overview of recent fantasy books, including Jonathan Stroud's The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book Two: The Golem's Eye, and Clive Barker's Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The making of a bestseller list

The Washington Post (registration required; try BugMeNot) wonders why newspapers and magazines continue to compile their own bestseller lists, which often are weeks out of date by press time, instead of using the more accurate and timely Nielsen BookScan data.

BookScan's information is taken directly from the cash registers of participating retailers, which include online booksellers such as Amazon.com, chain stores, independents and some discounters. Publications such as The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, use a sampling of stores they feel represent all national booksellers.
In sampling, true randomness can be a strength, but each periodical's specific mix of reporting booksellers is decidedly non-random, determined by a combination of editors' and booksellers' choices. At Publishers Weekly, executive editor Daisy Maryles -- who has been working on the trade weekly's bestseller lists for almost 30 years -- says she is still trying to crack Wal-Mart as a source, as is, for that matter, Jim King at Nielsen. Steve Wasserman, the Book Review editor at the Los Angeles Times, doesn't even pretend that his staff's process yields reliable results. "It's a deeply unscientific -- one is almost tempted to call it whimsical -- compilation, which has a veneer of a certain kind of science," he says.
So, given that questionable reliability, why aren't publications turning to BookScan? The New York Times' Richard Meislin thinks the answer is obvious: "The question is sort of like, 'Given the existence of the Associated Press, why does the N.Y. Times or The Washington Post continue to field its own reporters?' "

The Post points out that BookScan, for good or bad, gives each book equal weight, which doesn't sit well with some editors, who often like to tailor their lists to the tastes of their readerships:
"To Nielsen BookScan, as far as I understand, a book is a book is a book," Meislin says, whereas the N.Y. Times makes some editorial judgments -- most noticeably in its decision to put certain nonfiction titles into the periodic "Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous" category, which cuts off at five titles each in hardcover and paperback. This decision gives a title like Maureen Dowd's Bushworld at least as much prominence as The South Beach Diet, although the former may sell far fewer copies. And it's possible for a how-to title that sells phenomenally well not to make the list at all.

... Jacqueline Blais, who supervises the USA Today's bestsellers, explains the benefit of self-compilation this way: "We're able to archive the information with the sensibilities of people who are book readers, with librarians' instincts, so we can look at a richer pattern of book sales." In March of this year, for example, USA Today ran a story highlighting changing trends in book sales since the list's inception in October of 1993, noting, for example, that religious titles like those in the Left Behind series of apocalyptic thrillers have broken out of the Christian bookstores and into mainstream outlets. (If the N.Y. Times were to report this trend, the data would presumably have to come from somewhere other than its own list, which, according to Meislin, doesn't track "primarily religious books" at all. The Washington Post does list religious titles and, in fact, ran a separate story on the Left Behind bestsellers in a recent issue of Book World.) USA Today also takes pride in having raw numbers, not just weekly rankings, enabling editors to see that over the years a classic like The Elements of Style has sold more copies than a flash-in-the-pan new release.
It's worthwhile reading. (Link via Locus Online, because I don't read The Washington Post like I should.)

Gagné, from A to ZED

At Silver Bullet Comic Books, Tim O'Shea talks with Michel Gagné about ZED and Freaky Flora: From A to Z:

"... I do ZED for myself first and foremost. I deal with issues that I find interesting and relevant. Bringing God in the story was something I wanted to do since the very beginning. I wanted to do it in a completely non-religious way. In my story, God is another alien. But what he signifies is important to the whole story. ZED went through a lot of really horrible stuff in the first four issues. Some reviewers have even called me sadistic! At this point, I felt that I needed to offer ZED some closure and give answers. This issue is really pivotal. It marks the point where ZED stops being a victim and becomes pro-active."

Comic tells tale of royal stray

South Africa's Independent Online reports that a comic book about a stray dog adopted by Thailand's beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej hit that country's bookstores this week, with an initial print run of 100,000. A second run of 100,000 copies is still on the printing press.

Bhumibol, who ascended the throne in 1946, is the world's longest-reigning monarch.

The comic is based on a best-selling book written by the king himself in 2002. However, the monarch felt the original version overlooked the dog's respect for its mother. Yes, that's right:

"The king expressed his concern that the story of Tongdaeng lacked ... her gratitude toward her mother unlike people who become famous and forgot their own humble patronages."

Marvel takes on 'City of Heroes'

The Associated Press reports that Marvel Enterprises is suing the makers of the popular City of Heroes, claiming the computer role-playing game allows players to create characters that are too similar to the company's trademarked superheroes.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, accuses South Korea-based NCSoft Corp. and San Francisco-based Cryptic Studios of violating Marvel's trademarks. The publisher is seeking unspecified damages, and an injunction against the two companies to prevent them from using the characters.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Diamond Book Distributors expects sales growth

In case you need further proof of the growth of graphic novels in the book market: Publishers Weekly (subscription required) notes that Diamond Book Distributors, the bookstore-distribution arm of industry giant Diamond, expects to see its U.S. sales increase by 17 percent this year.

Frankenstein's monster tour

The Lakeland Ledger takes a look at a traveling exhibit from the American Library Association called "Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature," which is making a stop at the University of Central Florida library in Orlando.

The exhibit, which explores the cultural influence of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, features representations of the monster in prose, films, television, comic books and merchandise:
"The image and story of the monster are much more than consumer commodities," the exhibit's production notes state. "They continue to help people articulate anxieties about the possibility of science changing the traditionally accepted boundaries of nature."
The exhibition is scheduled to visit some 80 libraries across the country through December 2005 (that's when I finally get to see it). A complete itinerary can be found here.

'The Golden Age of Comic Books'

Editor & Publisher notes that Jerry Robinson, president of CartoonArts International, is curating an exhibit called "The Golden Age of Comic Books: 1938-1950," which runs through next August at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta.

Robinson began working for Bob Kane in 1939, and is credited with creating the Joker (although that's sometimes disputed).

The museum also is developing an exhibit titled "Curious George: Monkeyshines and Mischief," which will focus on the lives of H.A. and Margaret Rey, and their classic children's book creation.

Manga publisher gives in to political pressure

Japan Today reports that publisher Shueisha Inc. has caved to political pressure, and will delete or modify parts of a manga depicting the Nanjing Massacre that were serialized in Weekly Young Jump.

In a statement in the latest edition of the magazine, the publisher and the comic's writer Hiroshi Motomiya wrote: "The lack of prudence in selecting and verifying the materials for the comic has caused misunderstanding among readers."

Some 21 pages of Kuni ga Moeru (The Country is Burning) featuring "inappropriate scenes" will be deleted or modified.

You kids and your 'comic book craze'

The Fond du Lac, Wis., Reporter is on the trail of a bandwagon:

Are you an avid comic book reader or collector? Have you been enjoying the supernatural storylines of Marvel, DC and Dark Horse long before the silver screen brought superheroes into the mainstream?

If you would like to share your thoughts on the comic book craze for an upcoming GO! story, please contact David Williams at 922-4606, Ext. 265, or dwilliams@fdlreporter.com.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Count Olaf, crimefighter?

Occasionally, a fortunate event occurs.

Publishers Weekly (subscription required) reports that a Count Olaf point-of-purchase standing display mailed out by HarperCollins Children's Books to promote the latest installment of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events has an added benefit: It stops crime.

Well, at least at Watermark Books in Wichita, Kan.:
Bookseller Sarah Bagby reported that a boy in the store had stuffed a book under his shirt, presumably aiming to take a five-finger discount. When the boy passed the standee on his way out, Count Olaf bellowed one of the motion-sensor phrases he's programmed to say: "Where did you get that book?" Believing he had been found out, the boy quickly stopped in his tracks and brought the book back inside the store.
Incidentally, PW notes, the motion-activated chip plays two sinister laughs and two other messages: "Not only am I intelligent, but I'm also very smart," and "Poor Baudelaires. You might as well give up."

Artbomb, we hardly knew ye

Artbomb bids farewell today after three years of championing graphic novels.

Review: The Awakening

The Awakening original graphic novel
Oni Press
Story: Neal Shaffer
Art: Luca Genovese

Gialli thrillers tend to rely on a very specific plot template that delights devotees but often falls flat with casual viewers: There's a faceless killer with a fondness for oh-so-kinky black leather gloves who stalks and kills a series of (usually beautiful and scantily clad) victims, typically by strangulation or extremely bloody stabbing/slashing (razors work nicely). Police investigate, but it's an amateur sleuth / witness / intended victim who unmasks the killer -- who's revealed to be a character introduced earlier.

That's it, really; it doesn't vary much.

The Awakening is an homage to that giallo formula -- named for a popular series of Italian pulp novels with yellow (giallo) covers -- with creators Neal Shaffer and Luca Genovese hitting all the appropriate marks. Unfortunately, they rarely do more than that.

The story starts off promising: Teen-age Francesca is the new kid at the exclusive all-girls Grenrock Academy, where her classmates are, of course, only vague caricatures destined for the killer's knife. There's promiscuous Rachel, affable Morgan, bespectacled Elizabeth, cigarette-smoking Chris, curly-haired Michelle, and a handful of others who act as plaid-skirted scenery.

Still, the girls' interactions hint at possibilities for solid character development. However, those are never realized, because the plot has an important milestone to meet: the first grisly murder. You can probably even guess the victim.

Although they're spared the killer's knife, the male characters are subjected to the same broad portrayals. Their primary purpose is to draw suspicion, gaze intently from the sidelines, or help to define the female characters by serving as authority figures (police detective, doctor, father, teacher). The latter aspect is made more pronounced by the similar physical appearances of Det. Landis, school psychologist Dr. Olsen, and Elizabeth and Francesca's fathers. All four have beards, and in several panels, one hirsute character is nearly indistinguishable from the next.

To be fair, characterization is rarely the strong point in suspense/horror, and even less so in the formulaic gialli. So, perhaps those problems in The Awakening can be chalked up to the shortcomings of the genre it's honoring. But the plot, which, by the nature of giallo, should be at least fairly straightforward -- faceless fetishist stabs girls, gets caught by amateur -- becomes mired in the introduction of a mysterious religious order, murky motives and a plot twist that fails to deliver in the end.

Genovese's bold, moody art is the book's strong point. His depictions of Grenrock Academy and the nearby town are beautiful, like foundations for landscape paintings. His figures are fluid and full of life, which lends impact to the gruesome murder scenes. However, some of Genovese's storytelling decisions are puzzling, particularly his use of inset frames to emphasize minor details, or the extremely close face shots occasionally employed for no discernable reason.

The Awakening has the basic elements of a decent thriller, but may have fared better if Shaffer and Genovese had used giallo as a starting point rather than a template, and experimented with the genre's conventions instead of mimicking them.

The Awakening is scheduled for release today from Oni Press for $9.95.

What others say:
Johanna at Cognitive Dissonance
David at Yet Another Comics Blog
David at Precocious Curmudgeon

Eyeing 'Angeltown'

At Silver Bullet Comic Books, Tim O'Shea chats with writer Gary Phillips about Angeltown, his five-issue miniseries from Vertigo. As usual, O'Shea asks some interesting questions:
O'Shea: Do you look forward to a day when an interviewer won't point out that you've developed a strong African-American lead character with Nate Hollis, a rarity still in mainstream comics at present? Would you much rather be at a point in your life (and with consumers as a whole) where they would instead note your use of two to three strong and successful female characters who are more than just props for the men in your story?

Phillips: That's a heck of a two-pronged question. Yeah, I guess black (or for that matter Latino or Asian) lead characters are still kinda rare in comics as they are in TV and film. But that fact that Nate is black is not a statement of anything other than that's how I saw the character in my head. It made sense insofar as the tough urban environment he operates in. Just as I imagine other characters as white, as women, what have you. My job is to try to bring some verisimilitude to the page and present a story that the reader will take away something of value; that they didn't blow their three bucks on ya-ya.

But let me add that being a black writer doesn't mean that I should only write black characters just as being white means you can't write black characters. Angeltown is populated with all sorts of folks of various races, ethnicities, genders and persuasions and how they interact.

And while the mini-series contains sexual content, I'm very conscious, or try to be, that the women aren't there merely as props of sexual conquest to make the hero look good. I hope I've shown them as dimensional characters as I've done with Nate.
Angeltown #1 goes on sale today.

Alcohol bad, comics ... good?

The Everett, Wash., Daily Herald reports on the Snohomish County Health and Safety Network, which uses a comic book called Slick Tracy to teach kids the dangers of alcohol abuse. Eleven-year-old Mohammed Othman thinks it's the best thing since Yu-Gi-Oh! Okay, maybe it's not that good:

"It tells you when you do it, you get dizzy. It gives you other ideas about not doing drugs ... and I like the pictures."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Publishers fumble in the advertising game

Publishers Weekly (subscription required) wonders, when it comes to advertising, why publishers aren't giving readers what they want: a plot summary.

In a survey conducted in January by Bookreporter.com, 83.1 percent of respondents said they'd like to see book synopses in ads. In contrast, just 10.2 percent said they'd like to see quotes from reviews, while only 1 percent cared about endorsement blurbs.

The Book Report Network's Carol Fitzgerald, for one, doesn't know why publishing houses aren't changing their advertising strategies:
"I personally don't find this that difficult. If you cannot describe a book in a sentence or two, what the heck are you doing publishing it?"

"... Everyone in this business has been so conditioned to do what they do. It is the hardest thing to get people to think outside the box."
The article notes that some publishers expanded their marketing into a variety of magazines, and even a handful of blogs. Still, it's the message, not the medium, that matters.

In a sidebar, PW considers what role covers play in selling books, and asks a handful of industry figures what's hot and what's not. Among those questioned is designer and author Chip Kidd, whose own recent work has been criticized as being homogenous and, well, ugly:
What's hot: "Ugly is back with a vengeance. Ugly is working really well. The Da Vinci Code is proof positive that jackets don't sell books. It's the ugliest goddamn thing you've ever seen, and no one cares."

What's not: Anything too literal or obvious. "What am I supposed to do, stand there next to the shelf of books and explain everything? My raison d'etre is moving away from that kind of literal presentation. People aren't dumb."
The whole discussion seems eerily familiar. Replace a few names, and the article could just as easily be about the comics industry.

Amazon's Best of 2004

Amazon.com has released its Best of 2004, featuring the Top 50 picks from editors and customers.

Clocking in at No. 3 on the editors' list was The Complete Peanuts 1950-1954 boxed set, from Fantagraphics. Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers (Pantheon) was No. 10; Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Bloomsbury) was No. 20; Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (Pantheon) was No. 22; Robert Mankoff and David Remnick's The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers) was No. 23; and the Chris Ware-edited McSweeney's Quarterly Concern Issue 13 (McSweeney's) came in at No. 31.

Comics didn't fare so well in the Top 50 Customers' Favorites. That list does, however, rank Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell at No. 24; Lemony Snicket's The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) (HarperCollins) at No. 28; and Christopher Paolini's Eragon (Knopf Books for Young Readers) at No. 38.