Image Comics

Comics Surge Somewhat – But Will It Be Too Late, Will It Be Enough?

Mobs of people & comic books, reunited at last?

Fueled almost entirely by enthusiasm and public interest in DC Comics‘ bold New 52 initiative, the comic book industry is seeing what appears to be a mild turnaround from a 3-year sinking sales trend at local comic book stores. While pulling sales through comic shops into the black for the first time since 2008 is good news, it’s a modest victory that is already showing signs of diminishing returns in the long term. And what’s worse, it may be too little too late for people trying to make a living making comics.

The most halting example of this occurred late last week when a published comics artist posted a message to his personal Facebook page that many interpreted as a suicide note. Over the weekend, the comics community rallied to support him and arrange for help. This artist has provided artwork for the industry’s major publishers, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and Image Comics, as both work-for-hire and producing creator-owned comics. But even with his resume, his calls for work were not being returned, his savings were on the verge of drying up, and desperation had sunk in. For most, creating comics is a lonely profession and few have the business acumen to market their creative talents. After working in the industry since the early ’90s, he seemed to think his career, the outlet for his great talent and passion, was over. Fortunately, he is now safe and getting some much needed support. But how many other stories like his are out there? And how many else are seeing their careers retract not because of lack of talent but because of a slowly vanishing market?

Writer Brian Wood is a critically acclaimed writer who has created memorable comics such as Demo, DMZ, Northlanders and more. On his Tumblr page, he recently spoke frankly about his career and the fluctuating state of the industry in the face of digital vs. print.

I’ve had series cancelled recently.  I’ve had pitches rejected for financial reasons.  I’ve seen my editors laid off. I’ve taken page rate cuts (a LOT of us have).  My income from royalties have dropped.  Most comic shops don’t carry my books.  I have very good reasons to suspect my career in comics may be drastically reduced in the near future. Things just plain suck, but I’ve taken these hits, figuring that everyone else is having hard times too.

This isn’t limited to writers and artists, the two creative roles typically seen as the headlining positions in comics production. Comics would simply not be comics without inkers, colorists, and letterers to make the finishing touches of merging the writer’s script with the artist’s pencils. And yet, they too are seeing less and less opportunities. Gerry Alanguilan wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Elmer, but he first made a name for himself in the industry as an inker for superhero and adventure comics published by DC, Marvel and Image. He too is seeing job opportunities vanishing. He wrote the following on his blog:

It’s a hard hard business. There has been a seismic shift in the comics industry that occured over the last 10 years. On one hand one can point a finger at the dire state of world economy, but at the same time, one can definitely point a finger at developments in technology that has affected the art and craft of creating comics.

Although many in the chain of comic book creation are affected, it is comic book inkers and hand letterers that I think are being hit hardest. With the development of new ways of producing comics, companies are starting to use inkers and hand letterers less and less.

He also links to inker Joe Weems and artist Sean Gordon Murphy echoing these concerns with their own observations as professionals in the industry.

It’s not just members of the creative team. As Wood mentioned above, editors and other staff members have found themselves unemployed. Marvel Comics, which until DC’s surge in September has been the number one comics publisher in North America for at least the last decade or two, has recently been placed under strict new budget requirements that resulted in layoffs of editors, executives and other staff among other cut backs. New comic book series in the pipeline have been taken off the schedule and low-selling comics have been cancelled. The publisher allegedly intends to double-down on their big-ticket properties (Avengers, Spider-Man, X-Men) and simply publish more of the popular stuff instead of taking risks with new, unproven or inconsistent properties. Of course this means less available jobs.

Marvel is hardly the only publisher going through these kinds of changes. DC Comics made radical staff cuts and changes last year before storming the charts with the New 52. While multiple publishers have reported stronger sales since the New 52 launched in September, it was too late for some employees. Dark Horse was forced to lay off staff earlier this year due to struggling sales. Likewise, a number of comic book stores just haven’t seen enough improvements, such as Evermore Nevermore in Mesa, Arizona, which is closing after only 2 years due to the recession and not enough interest from the light downtown foot traffic.

The larger financial picture makes an immense challenge seem impossible. But until the industry makes a concerted joint effort in capturing new audiences with varied tastes, the bigger and bigger publishing stunts working within the same infrastructure will only go so far.

Comic Book Movies and TV Shows for the Rest of 2011

Well the big summer blockbusters are all done. But that doesn’t mean comic books are done invading pop culture entertainment. I always think the source material is better, but checking out comic book adaptations, whether TV or film, can be a good way of sampling. Here’s what’s coming down the pike for the rest of 2011:

Piled Higher and Deeper: The PhD Movie – Live action comedy about graduate college.

The Walking Dead returns to AMC this October

The Walking Dead Season 2 – Live action horror TV series about a small group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse.

Batman: Year One – Animated feature-length movie about the noir-ish retelling of the early days of Bruce Wayne’s superhero career.

  • Schedule: Released on DVD, Blu-ray and for download on Tuesday, October 18.
  • Based on one of the seminal DC Comics graphic novels, Batman: Year One by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli. The story was originally published in Batman comic books in 1987.

X-Men Anime Series – Animated TV series imported from Japan featuring the mutant superheroes Cyclops, Wolverine and others fighting for a world that fears and hates them.

  • Schedule: 12 episodes starting Friday, October 21 at 11 PM Eastern on G4.
  • Based on various X-Men comic books and graphic novels published by Marvel Comics over the years but specifically narrowing in on New X-Men by writer Grant Morrison and various artists, as well as Astonishing X-Men by writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday.

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Season 2 – Animated TV series about Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America and their superhero friends fighting evil.

  • Schedule: 26 episodes starting on a Sunday in October at 10 AM Eastern and Pacific on Disney XD
  • Based on a whole slew of Avengers and other comic books by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others, as well as The Kree-Skrull War by writer Roy Thomas, artist Neal Adams and others, and Secret Invasion by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Leinil Francis Yu, published by Marvel Comics. Plus there’s definitely inspiration taken from the Iron Man movies.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Crab with the Golden Claws

Green Lantern: The Animated Series Season 1 – CGI animated series about a sci-fi superhero with cosmically powered jewelry.

  • Schedule: This was originally set to debut last week but now a preview is going to air this Fall, possibly in November, with the full 26-episode season to start in Spring 2012 on Cartoon Network.
  • Based on countless Green Lantern comics but more specifically this summer’s Green Lantern movie and recent Green Lantern comic books and graphic novels by writer Geoff Johns and others published by DC Comics.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn – CGI animated 3D feature film using performance capture technology. It’s about a plucky journalist and his dog going on a globe-trotting treasure hunt.

Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments or email and I’ll add them in.

Comic Books and Graphic Novels Remember 9/11

Like all other entertainment media, comics have released a number of conveniently timed stories in memory of the terrorist attacks that occurred in New York and Virginia on September 11, 2001.

Cartoonists Remember 9/11

Over 90 newspaper comic strips dedicated yesterday’s color Sunday comics to the attacks and those that sacrificed their lives. The strips are also being featured in special exhibits for one week only at the Cartoon Art Museum, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA), The ToonSeum, and The Newseum. The Society of Illustrators held a lecture about the event last Thursday with cartoonists Rick Detorie (One Big Happy), Tony Rubino (Daddy’s Home) and Brian Walker (Hi and Lois).

The entire event was conceived and coordinated by King Features, which syndicates comic strips and other content to nearly 5000 print newspapers worldwide. They were joined by Creators Syndicate (here in LA), Tribune Media Services, Universal Press Syndicate, and Washington Post Writers Group.

The Big Lie

A slightly less reverential take on 9/11 is happening in the comic book The Big Lie by writer/artist Rick Veitch. The issue was released last Wednesday, and depicted a woman traveling back in time to 9/11 so save her husband from being trapped in the Twin Towers when the attack happens. During her efforts, questions are asked and information is revealed that looks beyond the official story of that fateful day. Veitch has said he doesn’t consider himself to be part of the Truther movement and simply feels that questions should be asked and alternate narratives should be considered. Joining Veitch is his frequent collaborator inker Gary Erskine and cover artist and editor Thomas Yeates.

The comic was conceived, financed and co-edited by Brian Romanoff of Nor Cal Truth. The Big Lie is being published by Image Comics. You can read a preview of the issue as well as an interview with Veitch at MTV Geek.

Code Word: Geronimo

Slightly more morbid is this original graphic novel depicting the kill mission that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and founder of Al-Qaeda, the jihadist organization that pulled them off. While the actual details of the mission are classified, retired U.S. Marine Capt. Dale Dye and Dr. Julia Dye of Warriors, Inc. put together a reasonable best guess due to experience and sources. Capt. Dye has been a military advisor for Hollywood (Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers). The 88-page hardcover graphic novel strays away from politics and focuses on the mission itself. The artists Gerry Kissell and Amin Amat weren’t interested in a gory depiction of bin Laden’s death, instead striving for realism. However the Dyes have referred to the need to “celebrate” the event.

A portion of proceeds from sales will be donated to the American Veterans Center. The graphic novel debuted last week both in print and digitally. It was included among the publisher’s first books launching on iBooks. The graphic novel was published by IDW Publishing in partnership with Charlie Foxtrot Entertainment.

Holy Terror

Keeping with cathartic violence in entertainment, writer/artist Frank Miller will release his long-gestating graphic novel Holy Terror later this month. Taking wish-fulfilling superhero fiction to its real world conclusion, Miller tells the story of a costumed vigilante (that definitely isn’t Batman, nosiree) who decides that 9/11 is the final straw and takes the War on Terror to the terrorists’ doorsteps.

The project dates back to soon after September 11, 2001, when Miller announced he would create a story about Batman seeking revenge by dismantling the terrorist network Al-Qaeda. The project was eternally delayed (and derided as simplistic propoganda and potentially inflammatory) but will now finally see the light of day without the Caped Crusader. The role of Batman has been recast as a new superhero called The Fixer (he’s “fixing” the terrorist problem, see?).

The action thriller graphic novel is edited by Bob Schreck (former DC Comics editor) and will be the first release from the new comics and graphic novel division of Burbank-based Legendary Entertainment. You can watch a trailer at Entertainment Weekly.

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

This came out five years ago but it’s still worth mentioning. This is a graphic novel by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón that adapts The 9/11 Commission Report, the government’s findings from their investigations into what led to and occurred on 9/11/01. It includes a powerfully effective timeline that shows the simultaneous events surrounding all four planes.

How to do PR for Comics Right

Reed Gunther press release

"Comics for Everyone" Reed Gunther press release by Shane and Chris Houghton (click to read)

Los Angeles siblings Shane and Chris Houghton get it. If you want to sell comics, use the powerful and appealing language of comics.

The creators of Reed Gunther issued a press release in the form of a 2-page comic that trumpets their book’s strengths as an entertaining and funny read. It also explains how their comic book series is intended for all-ages, a reading category that tends to get interpreted by retailers and readers as dumbed down kiddie stuff. The series is published by Image Comics. The press release smartly ends with a plug for ComicShopLocator.com, so that you can find your nearest shop to ask for Reed Gunther issue #3 (on sale now), issue #4 (on sale Wednesday, September 7) and issue #5 (on sale Wednesday, October 5). The first five issues will be published together in the graphic novel Reed Gunther Vol. 1, on sale November 2.

I really wish people in comics would do this kind of thing more. Use the very language that we work in to communicate about comics. How great would it be to regularly read press releases, articles, interviews, and editorials covering comics in such an engaging format? Sure it’s a bit meta. But it’s also a more effective way to show not tell when discussing the very works and topics that we’re excited about or mad about or however else we feel. It might be more time consuming but I bet the content gets better mileage. Heck, if I could draw, this site would be a blog comic.

Anyway, read Reed Gunther! The creators have been doing signings at local comic shops in and around LA. They were at Galaxy of Comics in Van Nuys yesterday for the release of issue #3. Their next appearance will be at the Wizard World: Los Angeles convention at (appropriately enough) the LA Convention Center in Downtown LA, the weekend of September 24 and 25.

Web and Digital Comics dominate Harvey Awards nominations

Gutters by Ryan Sohmer, Lar deSouza, et al.

The prestigious Harvey Awards have released their 2011 nominees for excellence in the comics industry. Named after the influential cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, founder of MAD Magazine, the Harvey Awards are the only comics industry award both nominated and selected by comic book creators, those who write, draw, ink, letter, color, design, edit and/or otherwise help create comics.

This year showed an unprecedented number of nominations from web comics and digital comics, with a total of eight different works getting recognized in multiple categories. Most significantly is the showing from Gutters, which is nominated for a startling six nominations, more than any other single creator or comics work whether in print or not. The web comic that satirizes the comics industry appears to have won a significant number of fans within the industry, as it has been nominated for Best New Series, Special Award for Humor in Comics, Best Online Comics Work, Best Writer (Ryan Sohmer), Best Artist (Ed Ryzowski), and Best Colorist (Ed Ryzowski).

The digital comic Box 13, originally released through ComiXology, also had a decent showing, with two nominations: Best Letterer (Scott Brown) and Best Inker (Steve Ellis). Comfort Love and Adam Withers also received two nominations, one for Most Promising New Talent for their web-comic Rainbow in the Dark, and one for Best Anthology for their Uniques Tales.

The remaining Best Online Comics Work category had the following nominations: Guns of Shadow Valley by David Wachter and James Andrew Clark; Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton; La Morté Sisters by Tony Trov, Johnny Zito and Christine Larsen; and PvP by Scott Kurtz, who will be the Master of Ceremonies at the award show at the Baltimore Comic-Con in August.

Last year’s Harvey Awards only saw 3 categories outside of the Best Online Comics Work category nominate digital and/or web comics. The Best Online Comics Work category was added to the Harvey Awards in 2006.

Harvey Awards (1988-present)

On the print side of thing, this year’s Harvey Awards gave five nominations to Darwyn Cooke and his adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov won four nominations for his work in Echoes with artist Rashan Ekedal and Tumor with artist Noel Tuazon. Tumor is nominated for Best Graphic Album Previously Published; it was originally published digitally on the Kindle in 2009. Artist Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets: New Stories) and Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee each had three nominations, with an additional nomination each for The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death, edited by Todd Hignite, and Langridge for his writing on The Muppet Show comic book series.

IDW Publishing raked in 16 nominations, more than any other publisher. Marvel Comics brought in 13, including 1 from their Icon imprint. DC Comics and Image Comics both obtained 11 nominations each with their respective Vertigo and Top Cow imprints bringing in more than half.

Complete list of Harvey Comics 2011 nominations.

This Friday is brought to you by Gravity Defying Kitteh

Things to do in and around LA this weekend:

COMICSReed Gunther Release Party! Celebrate the debut of the all-ages cowboy comic book from Image Comics with creators Shane and Chris Houghton who will be signing and sketching for free. Plus a giant snake! At Golden Apple Comics in Hollywood, Friday, 7 PM – 9 PM.

COMEDY – I perform improv comedy with the Magic Meathands at the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica, Friday, 8 PM. Immediately after us will be the always hilarious Waterbrains and Mission: IMPROVable. Tickets: $10.

ACTIVISMSlutWalk LA is the latest in a series of demonstrations across North America in response to a Toronto police officer who advised students to not dress like “sluts” as a safety tip to avoid rape. Believing that “those who experience sexual assault are not the ones at fault, without exception,” participants will begin in West Hollywood Park, Saturday, 12:00 noon.

COMMUNITY – The Long Beach Basket Brigade has their 3rd annual fundraiser to help families in and around Long Beach. Silent and live auctions, Texas Hold ‘em and Bunco Tournaments, and a fine dinner all help to raise money. At The Grand Event Center in Long Beach, Saturday, 6 PM – 11 PM.

Looking at the Eisners: Nominees for Best Continuing Series

Today we’re taking a look at the nominees for Best Continuing Series category.

The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards released their nominees for excellence in comic books for the previous year recently. A panel of 6 judges made up of professionals throughout the industry selected the nominees. People throughout the industry will now begin voting on the nominees. Winners will be announced at the award show put on at this summer’s huge Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The Eisners are basically the comic book equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards, TV’s Emmy Awards, music’s Grammy Awards, and theater’s Tony Awards, so it deserves a closer look.

I’m breaking down the nominees in each category, providing context and background info, and giving links to Amazon and other sites so you can buy your own copy, if possible. I can’t read everything, so lots of this stuff passed by me or is on my way-too-high to-read pile, so I’m going to avoid saying what “should” win. (I’m also pretty bad at predicting award show winners, so I’m not going to bother embarrassing myself.) Please feel free to post your predictions, preferences, opinions, or questions.

Best Continuing Series

Take a closer look with the click through:
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Economy Catches Up with Comics – Is There Hope?

Comics losing money, as demonstrated by Richie Rich (image via CoverBrowser.com)

Last year, comics were arguably holding ground through one of the worst economic downturns this generation has ever seen, but it looks like ground is finally being lost. It became pretty clear from two recent news items: yesterday’s layoffs of 7 employees at Dark Horse Comics, one of the premiere American comic book publishers; and slipping sales for the first quarter of 2011.

By themselves, these two items are worrisome, but when you add in more recent history, it starts to paint a bad picture. Since the new year, the comics & pop culture publication Wizard Magazine folded, Image Comics studio Top Cow Productions faced layoffs, and Borders stores are closing, along with several of their distribution centers, without any promising signs of the book chain making its way out of reorganization. I was talking about the sales stagnation of comics over the past decade just last month. And before the new year, the largest comics distributor Diamond Comics closed their Los Angeles warehouse, and #2 publisher DC Comics had a lengthy process of reorganization and layoffs of over 80 employees, as well as their closing of several imprints. Despite some reports of comics retailers having better sales than in the recent past, there are also just as many, if not more, reports of comic stores closing. I’ve also been seeing anecdotal reports of comics creators being released from their contracts with big time book publishers that were dabbling in graphic novels over the few years. Newspaper comics continue to contract. Web-comics continue to flourish creatively but for most they don’t pay enough as a full-time job. The only growing sector of the industry is digital comics on mobile devices like the iPhone/iPad, Android and the web, but that’s still so young it’s but a fraction of print sales.

So is it time to jump out of your nearest window? Is it time to write off comics as over and done with? It depends what floor you’re on but I say no. In their most pure and basic sense, comics will never go anywhere, just as music will never go anywhere even if the big record companies fold. People will always create in the way that speaks to them the most, and there will always be people who will appreciate and enjoy it.

The real question, then, is whether a comics industry should be written off. Again, I say no. There are signs of the economy recovering, however sluggish. So I think a bounce back is possible, maybe even likely. I’m also optimistic that in these times of retraction, others will step up and bring innovation.

Something like Four Star Studios and their original digital comic Double Feature, which has complete stories in a variety of genres with great bonus features for just $0.99. And these stories are created by experienced comics creators like Tim Seeley and Mike Norton, who have worked for major comics publishers. They have contributed to proven properties like Young Justice (DC Comics), GI Joe, and Voltron; and have created successful comics like Hack/Slash, The Waiting Place and Battlepug. It’s a very safe bet. The first issue is now available. You can download for keepsies as a PDF, or download it for your iPhone, iPad and other things with the letter ‘i’ in front. Is this going to save the industry? No. There’s no single solution. But that proves that the industry has some very creative, clever and industrious people ready to experiment and offer smart alternatives.

It’s not going to be easy but I’m excited to see what comes.

Looking at the Eisners: Nominees for Best Short Story

The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards released their nominees for excellence in comic books for the previous year last Friday. A panel of 6 judges made up of professionals throughout the industry selected the nominees. People throughout the industry will now begin voting on the nominees. Winners will be announced at the award show put on at this summer’s huge Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The Eisners are basically the comic book equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards, TV’s Emmy Awards, music’s Grammy Awards, and theater’s Tony Awards, so it deserves a closer look.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be breaking down the nominees in each category, providing context and background info, and I’ll also give you a link to Amazon and other sites so you can buy your own copy, if possible. I can’t read everything, so lots of this stuff passed by me or is on my way-too-high to-read pile, so I’m going to avoid saying what “should” win. (I’m also pretty bad at predicting award show winners, so I’m not going to bother embarrassing myself.) Please feel free to post your predictions, preferences, opinions, or questions.

Today we’re taking a look at the nominees for the Best Short Story category, kind of the equivalent of the Oscar for Best Short Film.

Best Short Story

Take a closer look with the click through: (more…)

Parents: Get your Kid-Friendly Comics on iPhone and iPad

So maybe you get it by now. Librarians, teachers, and other smart people that you trust tell you that comics are a great way to develop and strengthen your child’s reading skills. They also capture their imagination and work visual recognition skills and they do tons of other good things for the brain, in addition to being fun and entertaining. But maybe you’ve also heard that there are some comics that aren’t really appropriate for everyone. So what’s safe? If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad, now there’s a simple way to get great comics for your kids and teens.

Digital comics provider comiXology officially launched their newest app, Comics4Kids, yesterday. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. Almost 175 comic books from 15 comic book publishers like Archie Comics, Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Red 5 Comics, NBM Publishing, and more. I’m sure more will be added every week just like comiXology’s other apps. And hopefully Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Boom! Studios, along with other publishers, will join in since they all have comic books that would fit right in.

One of my initial thoughts was similar to JK Parkin: will kids want to read something that’s so blatantly targeted to them? Most kids want to get the real thing, not the kiddie version, and one red flag is something with “kids” in the title. But seeing this targeted to parents as something they can feel comfortable handing to their children, the branding makes more sense. Time will tell, I guess. I certainly appreciate the effort, and I’m sure parents will too.

For more information, read click through for their press release: (more…)