Mouse Guard

Comics at the LA Times Festival of Books 2011

LA Times Festival of Books loves comics, Hi De Ho

Comic books, graphic novels, manga (whatever you want to call sequential art) was pulling in the crowds at this past weekend’s LA Times Festival of Books, the nation’s largest book fair. After 14 years at UCLA, the free open air event moved to rival campus USC in South LA and it didn’t seem to hamper attendance. The more concentrated layout, and the campus’ access to public transportation seemed to please most attendees.

(Although, it could’ve been more clear where to park and where to walk to get to the Festival as you arrived. We saw no signs at Vermont and Jefferson after heading south from the 5. Hardly an obscure route.)

That nitpick aside, all seemed to go well for the most part, and perhaps the most favored part of the Festival was comics. While I was only able to attend over half of Saturday, almost every comics booth and panel I checked in with had a heavy turnout with a good mix of what seemed like a lot of curious newcomers and some diehard (or at least familiar) comics readers.

Hi De Ho Comics & Books with Pictures, a longtime store located in Santa Monica, had a very prominent location and a big booth setup (right). This was probably one of the most consistently and heavily trafficked booths we saw on Trousdale and Childs Way. Legendary Archie Comics writer George Gladir, co-creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch with artist Dan DeCarlo, was signing copies of Archie’s Americana series. He was particularly proud of his name getting credited in the two Best of the Eighties volumes, noting how rare it was for Archie to name the creators at the time. Adults that grew up on Archie and kids that are growing up on Archie now clustered around his table, sometimes making it near impossible to even see him. By the middle of the day, Hi De Ho had sold out of Best of the Eighties Volume 1 and George had to keep asking for the staff to replenish copies of Volume 2. It was also great to see the great diversity of people that were drawn to him, proving that Archie truly is a pervasive American icon. On the other side of the booth, graphic novelist Mark Kalesniko was providing free sketches with purchases of his books, like his latest release Freeway, about that most unique of LA experiences: soul crushing traffic. Yet just from the little I’ve read so far, it maintains such charm and humor with an amazing ability to depict movement and the main character’s emotions, sometimes with no dialogue whatsoever.

SLG Publishing was the second booth we discovered, and it kept getting waves of people checking out their great selection of graphic novels, comic books, t-shirts, posters and Ugly Dolls. In addition to their own material, they also had a smattering of graphic novels from other publishers. We easily spent the most money here, which surprised me. Nahleen actually out-spent me at SLG, which might be a first when it comes to comics.

Kids, parents eat up kaboom's Disney comics

Right next to SLG was the Boom! Studios booth, which had a constant mob trying to check out the Disney and Peanuts graphic novels from their kaboom! imprint. Boom! smartly had a buy 1, get 1 free deal going on. Kids and parents alike were asking all sorts of questions about what’s best, what’s age appropriate, and more, and the Boom! staff was great. They clearly love this material too. One kid asked which volume of Donald Duck: Double Duck was best, and the guy responded not as a dry sales person, but as an enthusiastic reader. One somewhat awkward moment came when a mother asked where Boom!’s store was located, so she could buy more at a later date. She had to be informed that there is no store, Boom! sells to other stores. She must’ve sensed it was going to get confusing so she said she would just check out their website, and I suspect she did based on her kids’ eagerness. Fortunately kaboom! has an online store, so I’m optimistic they’ll eventually get what they want.

Next stop was the booth for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. This was a pleasant surprise, because I didn’t see them listed on the exhibitor list posted on the Festival’s website or iPhone app. The CBLDF provides crucial First Amendment protection to the comic book industry, so it’s great to see them accepting donations and getting the word out about their work in this kind of mainstream venue. Unfortunately not as many people were stopping at their booth. Maybe it needed to be laid out differently, with the tables pushed more toward the front of the tent, or maybe people thought something with the word “Legal” in the title was too boring to even bother. But they had a steady stream of 2-3 people at a time, at least. (One guy abruptly stopped in and asked if there was a way to volunteer to get into Comic-Con, which seemed a little transparently like someone didn’t get tickets to the sold-out convention, but still wanted to go and maybe or maybe not cares at all about the work CBLDF does. But whatever.) They had awesome “I Read Banned Comics” t-shirts for sale, as well as signed copies of some fantastic material all reasonably priced.

The web-comic Green Pieces Cartoons had a booth with a great set-up that was constantly pulling people in: a monitor displayed to passers-by artist Drew Aquilina drawing his environmentally-friendly characters. The gag strip has been covered by National Geographic Kids and there was a near-impenetrable wall of people there when I stopped by. A print version of the web-comic was for sale, along with t-shirts and tote bags.

Lots of interest at the Archaia booth

Archaia Entertainment had another popular booth (right) with probably the best deal at the festival: buy 1, get 1 free; buy 2, get 3 free. This kind of belief in their product goes a long way and caught some off-guard. There were also a few artists on hand to offer free sketches, like Dave Valeza, artist of the graphic novel An Elegy for Amelia Johnson. It’s great cover design really popped out, and was getting a lot of questions, some from young women. Comparisons to Blankets were made. Mouse Guard and The Killer were also getting a lot of attention (The Killer Vol. 1 had sold out), and Revere got one of the best pitches from publisher Stephen Christy (“The British are coming, but the werewolves are worse”).

The team-up booth of Wondermark and Sheldon also had a wall of people in front of it. They not only were attracting a lot of interested, but they probably won the Devoted Fans Award. I overhead a young woman tell Sheldon creator Dave Kellett that she had traveled a considerable distance just to see him. The rest of the Festival, indeed the rest of Los Angeles, was apparently inconsequential. These two web-comics have a unique look and their styles are different, so that no doubt explained the big draw. They were undeniably eye-catching, which probably explains why the comics booths in general got so much attention. Graphic design skills pay off. And then the quality substance kept them there.

The only panel I was able to make was the Graphic Novel panel moderated by the Hero Complex‘ Geoff Boucher. The panelists were three amazing talents: Daniel Clowes (Mr. Wonderful, Wilson, Ghost World), Dash Shaw (BodyWorld, Bottomless Belly Button), and Jim Woodring (Weathercraft, Frank). The three had a fully engaging and frequently funny discussion about their approach to their art, storytelling, technology, their work environments and more. The panel wasn’t quite sold out but the room was definitely packed within 5 minutes after it started. It was fascinating to listen to creators with such diverse styles and approaches.

In 2009, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, begun in 1980, added a Graphic Novel category. This year’s winner, only the second since the category was created, was the amazing debut graphic novel by Adam Hines, Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One. Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld and Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft were also nominated, along with You’ll Never Know Book II: Collateral Damage by Carol Tyler and Karl Stevens’ The Lodger. (Both Tyler and Stevens were guests for the earlier Graphic Memoir panel.) Last year’s Graphic Novel Book Prize winner was the worthy Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. The LA Times Book Prizes were awarded Friday night before the first day of the Festival.

For more pictures, see my Flickr set.

Digital Comics Update: Dark Horse launches Digital, NBM goes interactive, Nook gets Graphicly app, Archie translates digital to Spanish

Comic books continue their evolution into digital comics, where the sequential art form is available on mobile devices like the iPad and Android, game systems like the PSP, and web browsers. Expanding in distribution, getting more competitive with prices, and experimenting with interactivity – these are all good signs that digital comics might be growing from infant to toddler.

After some delays, Dark Horse Comics will launch their anticipated Dark Horse Digital program later today. The system was built in-house and uses a web-based system supplemented by apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. The comics will be priced starting at $1.49 $0.99 (versus competing apps that have comics starting at $1.99), and will be available in bundles as though you’re buying a full graphic novel collection. The app will be free and come loaded with the first issue of Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne. There will also be five free comics available: the first issues of Criminal Macabre by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joss Whedon‘s Fray, Mike Mignola’s Abe Sapien: The Drowning, Gerard Way‘s Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, and Mass Effect: Redemption. The app will have hundreds of other comics for download, including issues of Conan, Joss Whedon’s Serenity, Eric Powell‘s The Goon and more. An Android app will follow.

Meanwhile on the Nook Color, Barnes & Noble has launched a new app store which includes three graphic novel apps from Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen, Mark Millar and JG JonesWanted, and Mark Waid‘s Irredeemable. All of the apps have been specially optimized for the Nook Color e-reader, which uses Google’s Android platform. Graphicly also has digital comics from major comics publishers available on the iPad, iPhone/iPad Touch and Android, on the web, Adobe Air, and Google’s Chrome browser app.

Dinosaurs Across America (iPad screenshot)

NBM Publishing and their all-ages Papercutz imprint has teamed up with TWP Interactive to produce what they are billing as the first interactive graphic novel, Dinosaurs Across America by Phil Yeh. (It’s not the first, but it’s still cool.) Dinosaurs Across America was first published as a traditional graphic novel in print in 2007. It was named one of the best 25 graphic novels of the year by School Library Journal and has won acclaim for its ability to teach geography to children. The new interactive edition allows the reader to zoom in on individual states, learn fun facts and play with puzzles. The interactive version is now available for $9.99 as an app for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), and for $4.99 as an e-book on Koobits.

And finally, Archie Comics continues its aggressive pursuit of digital, launching Spanish language versions of some of their digital comics Monday. The comics are available on Archie Digital, as well as their iOS app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch provided by iVerse, and the Sony PSP. An Android app is coming soon. Further translations into French and Hindi are planned as well.

LA Comics News Roundup: Comics vs. Toys begins, Borders ends

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:

= Rebranded Eagle Rock comic store Comics vs. Toys gets profiled on how it came into existence. Answer: From the ashes of two neighboring Eagle Rock comic stores Another World Comics and Mini-Melt Too. In a time when stores are closing and people in less populated areas are lucky if they have a store within a 3-hour drive, it’s amazing to think that two stores existed side by side for a year. I shopped at this store for maybe a year when it was still the Meltdown Comics satellite shop Mini-Melt Too, after Another World Comics had already closed, and really appreciated co-owner Ace Aguilera going out of his way to get me the comics I liked, which can skew off the beaten path at times. It’s one of those small but great stores that LA is lucky to have in abundance. Read it: Eagle Rock Patch

= And speaking of stores closing, the LA Weekly looks at the slow death of the Borders in Westwood. The Borders company will give severance pay, but hasn’t told the store employees their last day. Apparently it will be when the store has been picked clean at severely discounted prices. Read it: LA Weekly

= Two 24-year-old Los Angeles men, Farhad Lame and Navid Vatankhahan, each have to pay $750, complete 10 days of community service (picking up trash), and remain on probation for 3 years for selling fraudulent passes to this past summer’s Comic-Con International: San Diego comic book and pop culture convention. They pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in San Diego Superior Court. They had sold a pair of 2-day passes to 2 women for $120 each on Craigslist. The passes ended up being photocopies of exhibitor badges, so naturally the women weren’t allowed in. Both men were arrested on the last day of Comic-Con. Read it: Sign On San Diego

= For you creative types, comics lettering and calligraphy innovators Comicraft, based right here in Los Angeles, had their annual New Year’s Day Sale, and “secretly” extended it through the holiday weekend. Maybe it’s still happening when you visit. See it:

= Comics Alliance wrapped up their Digital December, a month long look at the state of digital comics with excellent interviews with nearly every major player and articles by David Brothers and Laura Hudson: (more…)

Year in Review: Archaia arrives

Continuing my Year In Review of local LA comic book movers and shakers. Yesterday, we looked at Boom! Studios successful Boom! Kids imprint and their line of Disney comics.

Today, we look at comics publisher Archaia Comics. Originally set up as a banner for the self-publishing efforts of writer/artist Mark Smylie and his high fantasy series Artesia, it expanded into a full on publisher in the middle of this past decade, launching the anthropomorphic fantasy series Mouse Guard by David Petersen to much acclaim. More comics were announced until the young publisher seemed to become overwhelmed by its own plans, almost completely grinding production to a halt. It appeared as if Archaia was going to be another in a long line of comics publishers who have abruptly vanished. Then came news of the acquisition of Archaia by Chicago-based media company Kunoichi. For a time this didn’t seem to change anything, but then Archaia came back. In the past year, they have firmly landed on solid ground and proved themselves to be a dependable publisher of quality comics and graphic novels, with an eye to innovation in the digital comics space. (more…)