The Muppet Show

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.

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.

Year in Review: Disney Comics go BOOM!

You’d think that with their over $4 billion purchase of Marvel Entertainment a year ago this week, the Burbank-based Walt Disney Company would have brought things in-house for comics featuring Disney characters. Instead, Disney has licensed a small but highly acclaimed line of comics to Los Angeles comics publisher Boom! Studios over the last year plus. And with their Boom! Kids line, Boom! has helped resurrect the all-ages corner of the comic book industry, something that many feared was a lost cause. Not only is this good news for increasing variety, but it’s absolutely crucial in making sure that another generation doesn’t slip by without learning and internalizing the language of comics. (more…)

New to Comics? New Comics for You! 8/26/09

It’s the All-Ages Edition! Gather the kids! It’ll be fun!

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

Here’s some brand new stuff that comes 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: 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.

The Muppet Show: Meet the Muppets – $9.99
By Roger Langridge
112 pages; published by Boom! Studios; available at Amazon.com

This hilarious trade collects the first four issues of THE MUPPET SHOW, written and drawn by the incomparable Roger Langridge! Packed full of madcap skits and gags, The Muppet Show is certain to please old and new fans alike! If you have a favorite Muppet, chances are it’s featured in this show-stopping collection!

I’ve recommend a single issue here and there of this series. Now here’s the entire first mini-series all in one place for a great price. Maybe people who didn’t grow up on this show won’t or don’t care. But I’d like to think anyone who can handle singing, dancing and joking bears, chickens and whatevers would get a kick out of this.

Toy Story: The Mysterious Stranger – $9.99
By Dan Jolley & Chris Moreno
112 pages; published by Boom! Studios; available at Amazon.com

This action-packed trade collects all four issues of TOY STORY: THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER. Woody, Buzz and the gang encounter a mysterious egg-shaped toy… They crash Andy’s science fair in a heroic attempt to repair his broken exhibit… The toys must make peace with the family’s new dog, Buster… And finally, Mr. Potato Head decides that he’s tired of just being an inanimate toy. He’s going to reveal his walking-and-talking nature to Andy! Can Woody stop him before it’s too late?

Again, I think everyone has imagined their toys coming to life when they weren’t around, so my gut tells me this is accessible enough to most even if you haven’t seen the Pixar movies. Good fun for the whole family!

Yeah, that’s it. Not all that much coming out this week.

New to Comics? New Comics For You! 7/29/09

[Yes, I'm a week behind. Comic-Con was crazy. Pretend you're a time traveler. This week's list coming soon.]

[Oh and the previous list's late-shipping Citizen Rex #1 is now available. So go get it too!]

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: 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.

The Muppet Show Comic Book: The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson #1 – $2.99
By Roger Langridge
32 pages; published by Boom! Studios

Roger Langridge’s celebrated run on THE MUPPET SHOW comic book begins a new, zany arc! Scooter discovers old documents which reveal that a cache of treasure is hidden somewhere within the theater…and when Rizzo the Rat overhears this, the news spreads like wildfire! Meanwhile, Animal’s acting very strangely—he’s now refined and well-mannered!

Ah the Muppets! Without the voice-acting and puppetry, it’s hard to believe this is any good, but it’s gotten a lot of positive reactions. Should be good for kids of all ages! Here’s a preview for sampling purposes.

Northlanders, Book 2: The Cross + The Hammer – $14.99
By Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly
144 pages; published by DC Comics’ Vertigo; also available at Amazon.com

The second NORTHLANDERS collection, featuring issues #11-16, takes place during the tail end of Viking rule in Ireland. A series of mysterious murders and arsons against wealthy citizens leaves the Viking occupiers worried that a potential uprising might ignite. When surprising details involving the crimes are revealed, though, their jobs become much harder! Once again, writer Brian Wood teams with artist Ryan Kelly (Local) for an intriguing, gorgeously rendered peek at the inner workings of society.

If you haven’t read Northlanders Book 1: Sven The Returned, don’t worry about it. Each volume of this excellent series tells its own story largely unrelated to each other except that the stories are set in the Viking age. If you have even a passing knowledge of Vikings, you know enough. Great stuff but not for the kiddies. Those Vikings didn’t mess around. (And Sven The Returned is excellent.) (Oh and Brian Wood didn’t mind posing with Barbie at last year’s Comic-Con, so he has eternal cool points with me.)

Kaboom – $14.99
By Jeph Loeb & Jeff Matsuda
128 pages; published by Image Comics; also available at Amazon.com

COLLECTED FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER!
The ground-breaking adventures of Geof Sunrise and his amazing transformation into inter-dimensional defender Kaboom! Witness the birth of an amazing new hero as he struggles against the forces of Scarlet! The Nine! And his first date! Can Geoff save the world and make it back in time for his own birthday party? Written by JEPH LOEB (Hulk, Ultimates 3) and illustrated by JEFF MATSUDA (X-Men, Batman Strikes!) KABOOM! introduces an amazing world of magic and monsters that has not been experienced before or since this series exploded onto the scene 10 years ago!

Collecting KABOOM 1-3, KABOOM PRELUDE and the KABOOM CHRISTMAS SPECIAL. Tons of character designs and sketches from the dynamic pencil of JEFF MATSUDA as well as a covers gallery with work from TIM SALE, ED McGUINNESS, ROB LIEFELD, ADAM POLLINA, and KERON GRANT!

Underhanded Plug Alert!: Jeph Loeb was interviewed in our documentary Dig Comics, which has just been accepted in the Vancouver International Film Festival!

Wow, that was sleazy. Who would do something like that?

Anyway, quite a few comic readers from the 1990s remember this comic fondly as a fun and adventurous comic with a dynamic art style. Here’s an interview about this collected edition. It includes a closer look at some of the artwork.

Road to Revolution! – $10.99
By Stan Mack & Susan Champlin
128 pages; published by Bloomsbury USA; also available at Amazon.com

You can’t make history without making a little trouble!

Nick is an orphan who gets by on his wits and whatever he can steal. Penny is the daughter of a tavern owner and knows the meaning of honest work. Though from completely different backgrounds and despite their instant dislike for each other they do have one thing in common: They both want the British out of Boston! When a chance encounter brings them together, Nick and Penny see a way to help the patriots. But first they’ll have to earn the trust of some of America’s great revolutionaries, including Paul Revere and Dr. Joseph Warren, and muster the courage to confront innumerable dangers.

Action packed, laced with humor, and visually dynamic for today’s readers, Road to Revolution! cleverly intertwines fact and fiction for an unprecedented view of American history.

This is probably the most interesting release of the week for me. This is the first in a series of books under the banner of The Cartoon Chronicles of America. This book has been getting good reviews. It’s a shame the publisher doesn’t have the book on their website, along with a peak inside the book. Fortunately the writer has a page up on his website at StanMack.com. It always astounds me when publishers go to the trouble and expense to publish something, but then make the creators do all the heavy-lifting of the marketing. To be fair, the publisher probably sent out the review copies, which helps. Anyway, that’s beside the point. This looks like a great book and I want a copy. Great for history buffs who don’t mind having some fiction weaved into the facts.