LA Comics News Roundup: publishers kickstart 2011

All the news that’s fit to shove through internet tubes. Here’s the world of comic books and graphic novels in LA and beyond over the last week or so, with some commentary:

= Boom! Studios Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon gets the prestigious Comics Reporter Holiday Interview treatment, talking about the culture and climate of the LA-based publisher and his journey to his current position. Read it

= Silver Lake store Secret Headquarters was named Bookstore of the Week by the LA Times book blog Jacket Copy. More acclaim for a shop that in 2008 was named one of the World’s 10 Best Bookstores by The Guardian. The LA Times article also gives mention to local LA artists Martin Cendreda (Catch Me If You Can) and Sammy Harkham (Crickets). Meanwhile, I have somehow still not checked out this store. Read it

= The ever-expanding Comic International: San Diego could add a balloon parade through downtown San Diego to kick off the festivities. City Council District 4 President Tony Young, a self-proclaimed comic book collector and fan, floated the idea in his New Years address and expanded on the idea in an interview. Read it

= Comics industry numbers from Diamond Comic Distributors, the primary method comics publishers get their comics and graphic novels to comic book stores and other outlets, has released their reports on 2010 and as expected print comics took a hit. “Annual sales of comic books, graphic novels, and magazines to the comic book specialty market declined slightly in 2010, down 3.5% from 2009.” Comics industry number-cruncher John Jackson Miller estimates that the industry generated $415 million last year. The comic shop market hit a peak of $437 million in 2008. However, he counters this gloom with data showing the fourth quarter of 2010 ending 2% up from fourth quarter 2009 due to graphic novel sales. This supports some cautious optimism from some as early signs of a turnaround. Read it: part 1, part 2, part 3

= The death watch is officially on for the bookstore chain Borders (if it wasn’t already over the last year or more). Right before the end of the year, Border Group suspended payment to some publishers. Perhaps in response, some publishers halted shipments to Borders, as executives met in New York City to hammer out a plan with publishers to refinance through a new bank (at least the executives who haven’t resigned). But competitor Barnes & Noble, which had a great holiday season, complained that proposed payment terms between Borders and book publishers would create an unfair playing field in the market. Not that it much matters, as publishers reportedly weren’t impressed with the proposed plan, which would force them to accept “a note or bond in exchange for missed payments”. More details of the plan are to be revealed this week after another huddle between Borders and their new bank. As reported last week, the Borders in Westwood stock is currently being liquidated. Read it: part 1part 2, part 3, part 4

= Print isn’t dead yet, though. In addition to Barnes & Noble’s excellent holiday season, which included the best sales day in their history (OK, so a lot of that was driven by sales of e-readers but there was still an increase in print), MAD Magazine has bucked the trend by reversing a 2-year decline and actually increasing their circulation for 2010, according to the publication’s annual Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation. MAD contributor Tom Richmond makes the observation that MAD Magazine apparently sells better than any other DC comic book, and possibly any other comic book in North America. However he’s only looking at part of the picture. The numbers he cites for other DC comics are estimates based off figures provided by Diamond Comics Distributors, which distributes comic books and other merchandise to comic book stores and other specialty shops only. That MAD figure includes circulation numbers for comic shops, as well as newsstands, subscriptions and other outlets. So it’s kind of an unfair comparison. Even so, MAD Magazine is still probably among DC’s best selling publications (even if it’s technically not a comic book but a magazine with comics). Definitely a testament to the magazine, but the new Cartoon Network show might be helping some too. Read it

= Meanwhile, the world of digital comics continues to be a stream of good news: Comixology ended 2010 with over 1 million downloads from their various apps for the iPad and iPhone. And Archie Comics‘ app, provided by iVerse Media, racked up over 1.7 million downloads. Archie has also released a new app targeted for their Sonic the Hedgehog comics. Those numbers could just be the tip of the iceberg, as USA Today’s Best Selling Books list revealed 19 of the top 50 books had ebook sales that surpassed print sales, the first time more than 2 titles on their list had such a sales comparison. The surge was caused by the estimated 3 to 5 million e-readers (iPad, Nook, Kindle, etc.) activated after Christmas. Read it: part 1, part 2, part 3

= A January jolt of news came from many comics publishers, hoping to shake off a sluggish 2010:

= DC Comics kicked off 2011 with a series of high profile announcements at their blog The Source to win the hearts and minds of readers. The previously announced price rollback went into effect with last week’s releases. All standard sized DC comic books are back down to $2.99, a dollar less than what a majority of mainstream comic books had inched up to in 2010. Good news, although conveniently left unmentioned is the loss of 2 story pages and back-up features that had been added to some series. As some consolation, DC announced the return of letters pages to their books (presumably 1 of the 2 lost story pages), complete with a contact form at DCletterspage.com as an alternative to old-fashioned pony express. Pre-internet, the letters column was one of the primary ways the comics community was formed, but that method died out over the last 10 years with the rise of message boards, blogs, Twitter and other modern ways to directly interact with fans and creators. Still, there is some value (and probably more significantly, nostalgia) in letters columns, which can help make the regular month-to-month reading experience of single issues more unique, as opposed to graphic novels or digital comics. To drive the points home, Co-Publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio did the interview rounds with Comic Book Resources and Newsarama. Also announced over the week:

= Not to be left out, Marvel Comics announced the promotion of Senior Vice President – Executive Editor Axel Alonso to the position of Editor-in-Chief. Former E-i-C Joe Quesada, who guided the company from bankruptcy to a $4 million purchase by Disney, will remain with the company as Chief Creative Officer. Alonso has been with the company for 10 years, quickly rising through the ranks of editorial with his successful handling of Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men, Punisher and other titles. Before that, he was editor at DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint for 5 years, shepherding acclaimed titles such as Hellblazer and Preacher. Alonso’s fellow Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, who has been with Marvel since interning for the company in the 1980s and has edited such hits as Civil War, Fantastic Four and New Avengers, has been promoted to Senior Vice President of Publishing. Alonso followed up the news with an interview at Comic Book Resources and another at Marvel.com. Quesada did a retrospective interview at Marvel.com. Read it: part 1, part 2

= Fantagraphics, who recently announced plans to reprint Carl Barks‘ complete Donald Duck work, updated the release dates of several late publications, among them the legendary newspaper comic strip Walt Kelly’s Pogo will be reprinted in its entirety starting in Fall 2011. Read it

= Top Cow Productions, the LA-based studio/imprint of Image Comics, is teasing a new comics project with nothing but a simple image stating “We Are All Lost” and the date 4/2011. If this ends up being a comic book based off the popular Lost TV series by J. J. Abrams, Carlton Cuse and/or Damon Lindelof, Top Cow could have a huge hit on their hands. It would certainly be a surprise, but Lindelof wrote a comic book mini-series for Marvel Comics (Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk), so it’s not completely impossible. See it

Archie Comics will recapture some nostalgia in May with a retro cover design for some of their titles that harkens back to the layouts used in the 1940′s that lasted well into the ’80s, according to Robot 6. Read it/See it

= The New Yorker art director Françoise Mouly gives a rare interview, talking about how she’s brought comics artists to the venerable publication, as well as her history with influential alt-comix anthology RAW and the challenges of mixing the worlds of comics and children’s books with Toon Books. (I really love the video at that link to Toon Books. Narrated by Mouly, it draws a fantastic analogy about the layers of communication that happen with comics by comparing reading comics to being in a face-to-face conversation with someone and reading body language and other non-verbal cues.) Read it

= Creative projects funding platform Kickstarter CEO Yancy Strickler discusses the site and how a number of comics creators have embraced it as a new tool to help them get published. He tells Comic Book Resources: “[T]he comics category has our highest category of recommended projects. I think the reason for that is that the people who are creating these projects are really good at presenting themselves. You can only really make it to this point by having a background of work, a nice portfolio. You have a lot of images and assets to share. You have a story to tell. You’re a natural storyteller already, so explaining why you’re doing the project shouldn’t be hard. In all these ways, the comics projects have really proven to be wonderful.” Read it

= Comics veteran Tom Ziuko, a colorist for hundreds of comic books, including an Eisner-nominated run on DC Comics’ Hellblazer, is in poor health and urgent need of help. According to artist Allan Kupperberg, “Tom spent the entire holiday season fighting acute kidney failure and several unrelated but severely painful conditions. The good news is that the doctors seem to have finally stumbled on a series of treatments and therapies that have Tom seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news is that Tom, uninsured and unable to work since the beginning of December, is in a tough financial bind.” I hope someone has pointed Tom toward The Hero Initiative. But in the meantime, find out how you can help. Read it

= From the “whatever happened to…” file, artist Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin) talks about the absolute implosion that caused the end of Big Numbers, his ambitious series with acclaimed writer Alan Moore (From Hell, Watchmen). Only 2 of a planned 12 issues were published in 1990, but it appeared to be Moore’s magnum opus, dealing with chaos theory as it reflected on the inhabitants of a small English town and the arrival of a huge shopping center. Chaos, indeed. A portion of the never-published third issue was posted online last year. Read it

= Congratulations to sometimes comics writer Neil Gaiman (Sandman, The Graveyard Book) and musician/writer Amanda Palmer (The Dresden Dolls) on their wedding last weekend, as revealed on their Twitter accounts (complete with wedding kiss pic)! Read it

= For the “I don’t know what to think” file, Ardden Entertainment released information about their March-shipping comic books, which includes Comeback Kings #1 by writers Matt Sullivan and Gabe Guarente and artist Ethan Young. The pitch for the issue reads:

“Bruce Lee. Jim Morrison. Elvis Presley. Andy Kaufman. Tupac Shakur. All controversial cultural icons who died before their time. Or did they? These legends [are] alive and well, part of Project Resurrection, a global crime-fighting unit that’s a cross between The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman and Celebrity Rehab. They’re the world’s most famous dead superstars – and they’re living super-spies! When a terroristic reality TV supervillain plans to extend his 15 minutes of fame by making a play for infamy via a Hollywood holocaust, the Comeback Kings must put aside their differences and reunite for an encore in order to stop him. The show must go on!”

I’m going to assume that the estates of these celebrities have not authorized this, but I could be wrong. Either way… yikes. Read it

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