Philip K. Dick

Year in Review: BOOM! takes some hits but doesn’t go out

This has been a year of challenging transition for the Los Angeles-based comic book and graphic novel publisher BOOM! Studios. As I mentioned last year around this time, popular comics writer Mark Waid had stepped away from his role as Chief Creative Officer of BOOM! (although he continues to write Irredeemable and Incorruptible, two very strong sellers) and acclaimed writer/cartoonist Roger Langridge had wrapped up his final work on the much-loved The Muppet Show: The Comic Book. Unfortunately that turned out to be just the beginning, but the publisher has shown persistence in keeping their foothold in the industry by releasing new properties with sufficient success to cover for the properties that were lost over the year.

Irredeemable Vol. 1 (one of BOOM!'s strongest selling graphic novels)

Last December, I thought the BOOM Kids! imprint still had a lot of life left in it. But the risk with licensed properties is the owner of the licensed properties may eventually choose to not renew contracts to keep new comics coming. That’s just what the Walt Disney Company did, which resulted in the all-ages line today being entirely altered from what it was a year ago. Over this year, what had been a growing line of Disney-related comics that, in addition to the Muppets, included classic characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, beloved Disney Afternoon characters like Darkwing Duck and the cast of DuckTales, and recent stars from Pixar movies like The Incredibles and Cars, trickled away as Disney shifted their comics publishing to Marvel Comics, which they had acquired in December 2009. (Concurrently, Marvel has been releasing magazine-style reprints of a number of these stories, and early next year plans to publish its first all-new Disney story since the acquisition [although that may be a story originally published in Italy that's simply never been published in English before].) The Pixar comics mostly ceased at the beginning of the year and the classic Disney material by July. The remaining Disney Afternoon material was allowed to wrap up throughout the Fall, with Darkwing Duck, one of the best-selling titles of the Disney material, concluding last month.

Meanwhile, in the publisher’s main line of comics, three other licensed comics that helped bring in sci-fi and horror readers concluded. Their 28 Days Later comic ran its course, ending with issue #24 (there are plans to revisit the world, although the third movie of the franchise 28 Months Later may be stuck in development). Farscape, based on the Sci-Fi Network show of the same name, wrapped up a few months later, with no apparent plans to continue. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a faithful comics adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name, which served as the basis for the movie Blade Runner, also came to a close after a strong start in 2009. All three titles ended with estimated sales of 3,000-4,000 copies per issue among North American comic book stores, although they have had or are likely to have better cumulative sales over time in their collected forms as graphic novels.

Clive Barker's Hellraiser #1 (one of BOOM!'s strongest debuts this year)

As if all that wasn’t enough, a highly publicized launch of three super-hero comics somewhat sizzled out this year. The legendary Stan Lee, co-creator of many Marvel Comics characters from the 1960s, helped conceive of a trio of new titles written and illustrated by some acclaimed modern creators, but even the possibility of a new Marvel Universe couldn’t sustain the mini-line past a year. While all three titles, Soldier Zero, The Traveler and Starborn, did well initially at comic shops, sales drifted over the last 12 months. The last issues were released over the last month or so, with the material being used for a set of decent selling graphic novels.

When big names like Disney and Stan Lee don’t work out for whatever reason, it’s time to double down. And that’s just what BOOM! Studios has done this year, replacing outgoing properties with new material both familiar and brand new. They have released well-received comic books based on the new Planet of the Apes movie, a new Hellraiser comic, and an anticipated Steed and Mrs. Peel from the ’60s Avengers spy TV series by popular comics writer Grant Morrison. You’ll note in that Planet of the Apes link that they created a mini-site that includes web-comics and other material to help reach out to potential readers. That’s a new strategy they’ve been practicing well for several of their launches this year. Similar digital initiatives were done for the launches of Michael Moorcock’s Elric: The Balance Lost. They tested this idea by releasing a free PDF sample of Hellraiser through Wired.com. This savvy awareness of the online world is also being used to help out promising original comics that haven’t quite captured the best sales, as in the case of Dracula: The Company of Monsters, a horror/thriller of a modern corporation trying to control the legendary vampire. The 12 issues released so far are being serialized as a web-comic for free, and new content will eventually be added, with graphic novel collections in print to follow. It should be interesting to see if a traditional print comics publisher can succeed with a formula that works well for many original web-comics. (Avatar Press seemed to do well enough going this route with FreakAngels, running from 2008 to this past August, although it’s something they’ve yet to repeat, which might mean it wasn’t successful enough to try again.) In addition to the successful launches and web-initiatives, BOOM! Studios continues to keep their digital comics library robust. You can read most of their comics through comiXology (or through their mobile apps for iOS and Android devices).

First Peanuts graphic novel

BOOM! Studios also re-branded their kids line as kaboom! Studios, headlined by the first Peanuts graphic novel (based on the new animated special Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown) and a new Peanuts ongoing series. (While selling very well, new Peanuts material not from the hand of the late Charles M. Schulz hasn’t been universally accepted, as it was his wishes that no new comics be created after he died. However, he was specifically referring to the comic strip, and there is evidence of others working on Peanuts in comic books released in the 1960s. Regardless, since the Schulz Estate does not have majority ownership of Peanuts and the brand management firm Iconix does (80%/20% split), new comic books is what we get. However the comic strips appearing in newspapers today still consist entirely of rerun strips by Schulz.) kaboom! also brought Roger Langridge back to BOOM! with a new original comic called Snarked. While it lacks Muppets, it’s missing none of the humor and charm. There are also two new WordGirl graphic novels based on the PBS animated series.

It hasn’t all worked out (their Decision 2012 comics straw poll experiment fizzled out despite being a fun idea, and their promising BOOM! Town literary comics imprint with Denis Kitchen has yet to really kick in), but it’s worked out well enough for them to solidly maintain their position as the seventh largest North American comics publisher, bubbling just under 2% of the market. Considering the big changes they’ve been through and the economic tumult surrounding them, that’s no mean feat.

New to Comics? New Comics for You! 7/15/09

[Getting late...]

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff coming out this week that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: While it may seem like it, I do not live in the future. For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep #1 – $3.99
By Philip K. Dick & Tony Parker
32 pages; published by Boom! Studios

THE BOOK THAT INSPIRED THE FILM BLADE RUNNER COMES TO BOOM with backmatter by Warren Ellis!
Worldwide best-selling sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick’s award-winning DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? has been called “a masterpiece ahead of its time, even today” and served as the basis for the film BLADE RUNNER. BOOM! Studios is honored to present the complete novel transplanted into the comic book medium, mixing all new panel-to-panel continuity with the actual text from the novel in an innovative, ground-breaking 24-issue maxi-series experiment!

San Francisco lies under a cloud of radioactive dust. The World War has killed millions, driving entire species to extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remained coveted any living creature, and for people who couldn’t afford one, companies built incredibly realistic fakes: horses, birds, cats, sheep… even humans. Rick Deckard is an officially sanctioned bounty hunter tasked to find six rogue androids — they’re machines, but look, sound, and think like humans – clever, and most of all, dangerous humans. Rick Deckard, Pris, The Voight-Kampff Test, Nexus 6 androids, the Tyrell Corporation: join us for the publishing event of the year!

Oh and the by the way, this story inspired the movie Blade Runner.

Interesting idea. Usually when something is adapted to comic book, there’s a writer to re-work the source material. But this comic is apparently taking the original novel word-for-word and having an artist illustrate it out. Here’s a preview, so you can get a feel of what this will be like in execution. I’m not completely sold on the concept but I like that it’s something different, and it’s worth noting. And I’m sure sci-fi fans will want to check this out.

Creepy Comics #1 – $4.99
By a bunch of people
48 pages; published by Dark Horse Comics

What’s black and white and clawing its way onto your reading list? It’s the newly resurrected Creepy, of course! Now, don’t fret, my putrid pets — these new terror tales are cut from the same cursed cloth as the outlandish originals, telling contemporary horror stories with gorgeously ghoulish art from a lineup that’ll make you lose your head!

Original Creepy artist Angelo Torres teams up with devilish Dan Braun on “Hell Hound Blues”; Michael Woods and artist Saskia Gutekunst serve up a dose of “Chemical 13″; Neil Kleid and Brian Churilla provide “All the Help You Need” at a weird weight-loss camp; and jaundiced Jason Shawn Alexander brings his phenomenal painting skills to Joe Harris’s “The Curse”! Plus Bernie Wrightson, the return of “Loathsome Lore,” and more. All this, plus one classic story from Uncle Creepy’s dank dungeon, and you’ve got 48 freakish pages of terror to bring home to mummy!

In 1964, Creepy magazine resurrected the horror genre (huge in the ’50s) using a massively talented collection of artists and writers. Dark Horse is now resurrecting that resurrection. A bit derivative? Maybe. But modern comics have a host of very talented individuals who have injected new life into today’s horror stories in comics. Here’s a preview.

Parker: The Hunter – $24.99
By Darwyn Cooke
144 pages; published by IDW Publishing; available at Amazon.com

The Hunter, the first book in the Parker series, is the story of a man who hits New York head-on like a shotgun blast to the chest. Betrayed by the woman he loved and double-crossed by his partner in crime, Parker makes his way cross-country with only one thought burning in his mind—to coldly exact his revenge and reclaim what was taken from him!

Darwyn Cooke, the Eisner-Award-winning writer/artist of such classics as DC: The New Frontier, Selina’s Big Score, and The Spirit, now sets his artistic sights on bringing to life one of the true classics of crime fiction: Richard Stark’s Parker. Stark was a pseudonym used by the revered and multi-award-winning author, Donald Westlake.

Darwyn Cooke is fantastic. Here’s a preview. Classic hard-boiled crime. I can’t wait to get this.

Franklin Richards: School’s Out – $3.99
By Chris Eliopoulos
32 pages; published by Marvel Comics

Enough of the pencils, enough of the books, enough of teacher’s dirty looks! It’s summertime and school is out of session which gives Franklin more time to get into trouble. Join Franklin, his robot nanny, H.E.R.B.I.E., his teleporting dog, Puppy, in more adventures and laughs. Put on your shorts and come out and play!

This fun all-ages read is like if Calvin & Hobbes took place in the super-hero filled Marvel Universe. Lots of fun yet smart enough for older readers too.

That’s it for this week.