Month: November 2010

Kids Comics: still a struggle but worth the fight

The general consensus among mainstream comic book publishers is that comics aimed at kids, or all-ages comics, don’t sell. And sadly, they’re usually right.

Take for example the apparent cancellation of the endlessly charming Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee. Even an impending big Hollywood movie of Thor couldn’t generate enough interest to sustain the series past eight issues. Why? Maybe it’s because there are also about four other comics starring Thor or some Thor-like character and who can keep them straight? Maybe it’s because too many comic book stores cater to their established audience base of young-ish to older adults who aren’t interested in an all-ages comic book no matter how much praise and acclaim it gets.

So kids comics are doomed, right?

Not quite. Fortunately a growing number of comics stores actually do have enough business savvy to diversify their customer base. In support of this, Diamond Comics, the primary distributor for comics shops, has been amping up their KidsComics.com website, now with a handy-dandy order form kids and parents can print out to make sure their local store orders what they want.

And more effectively, and unlike ten or more years ago, there are now other ways for comics to find their audience. As examples, walk into a book store and see how long it takes you to stumble over a display of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Granted, they technically aren’t comic books (or graphic novels), but often not far from away are copies of Bone by Jeff Smith, Owly by Andy Runton, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz adaptation by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, The Muppet Show Comic Book by Langridge himself, and lots more. And they’ve all been selling very well. Yes even the Twilight graphic novel adaptation by Young Kim. And tons of manga too, plenty of it age appropriate (see Manga4Kids for recommendations – I’ve still got a lot to learn myself). The School Library Journal has a great blog to help find Good Comics For Kids.

There are also great web-comics for kids online. Two of my favorites are the whimsical Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl and the delightfully absurd Axe Cop by Ethan Nicolle and Malachai Nicolle (age 5!). LunchboxFunnies.com is a good place to start, although they sadly haven’t updated for several months now. Hopefully it’s just temporary. There have been a few sites attempting to track age appropriate web-comics but sadly most are over a year old now, basically ancient artifacts in internet time.

Plenty of the above mentioned comics have been released as digital comics on mobile devices and online through services like ComiXology. Although they have yet to parse out kids comics to make shopping easier, they do have age ratings, which helps a great deal. Much of Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener is recommended for kids 9 and up, and it is regularly among the most downloaded.

So kids comics do sell. You just have to know how to get them to kids.

What does a nightmare sound like?

I was very intent on creating a specific musical soundtrack for the video that posted yesterday, Pants: A Nightmare. So, as a little behind-the-scenes exclusive, I’ve posted the music I wrote and recorded for the sketch video. It’s at my Acoustic Roundtable profile which I nearly forgot existed. I’ve posted the final music that was used in the video as well as an earlier demo-type version.

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, although I’m constantly frustrated by the limitations of my musical abilities. Even so, the overall effect, and several specific moments, achieved what I was going for. So I’ll consider this a success, and keep learning.

I actually thought about putting this up on iTunes to sell, but I doubt I could get away with charging 99 cents for a 40-second atonal instrumental.

For those that care about this kind of thing: I used GarageBand to record this. There are three tracks of guitars (2 with some kind of distortion effect). These were recorded live with my nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, a pretty clean, folkie sounding instrument, so I was pretty happy with how dirty and electric-ish I could get these. There’s a vocal track with the ambient vocals effect – I think I did just one take, maybe two. The rest are instruments imitated by GarageBand that I played with my keyboard or mouse – two horn parts (high and low) and strings.

What do you think? Ever have a nightmare sound like this?

Pants: A Nightmare

Magic Meathands sketch comedy video #3!

This one has a whole lot of me in it. I wrote it, I co-directed it (with fellow Meathand Kevin Callahan who was a great help in breaking this sucker down so we had a super-efficient shoot), I starred in it, I wrote the music (or as I like to call it, sonic enhancement), I edited it. So there’s me all over. But it would simply not exist at all without the Magic Meathands. The fantastic camera work is by Wendy J.N. Lee (she also provided invaluable technical consulting). I absolutely love the freaky taunting by Shane Boroomand, Lara Sterling, Travis McElroy, Kevin Callahan and Mary Benedict. And of course Nikki Turner as Mom. Getting her costuming to work was way harder than I expected but it came out way better than I expected so it was way worth it. Way.

I hope you enjoy it. If so, please comment, give it thumbs up at YouTube, favorite it, forward it on, and all those other things people do on the Interwebs.

Check back next week for the fourth and final video from our first batch of videos.

And there’s more to come! Yesterday, we shot another batch, and again one of them is written by me. So it’s off to the land of editing with me once again. You’ll probably start seeing the second wave in December or January.

Archives:
Magic Meathands Video #2: Fun and Games
Magic Meathands Video #1: Eddie the Enforcer

Comics Events in Los Angeles: Week of 11/14/10

You don’t have to sit at home alone reading to get into comic books and graphic novels. There are always great events going on that celebrate the vitality and creativity of comics. Just here in Los Angeles, there are more events I can ever make. But I try, and so should you. You never know what you’ll discover.

Here are some local Los Angeles events coming up that celebrate the sequential art form.

This week:

Wednesday, November 17: NEW COMICS DAY! Find your local comics specialty shop.

Wednesday, November 17, 8:30 PM: The Meltdown (weekly comedy show) with stand-up comics David Koechner, Jen Kirkman, Nick Thune, TJ Miller, with videos by Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray, at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $8.

Wednesday, November 17, 9 PM: Top Cow Productions’ publisher Filip Sablik, president Matt Hawkins and writer Jeff Katz are guests for this week’s live podcast of Bagged & Boarded with Matt Cohen, at SModcastle, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90038. Tickets: $10.

(more…)

A Week of Anniversaries

A week of anniversaries comes to a close. In reverse order:

Thursday, November 11: 13 years ago, Nahleen took the train in from Fitchburg to visit me in Boston. While at the frigid City Hall Plaza, we agreed that maybe we LIKE liked each other and should, like, totally go out. Somehow time passed and now we agree that maybe we LOVE love each other.

Wednesday, November 10: Four years ago, my friend Yvis very audibly mistook my wedding ceremony for his surprise birthday party. In front of everyone. It was awkward. And hilarious. (OK, it was planned.)

Tuesday, November 9: 11 years ago, Nahleen and I left New England for Los Angeles! Our journey continues…

Have a great weekend, everybody! (And don’t forget this is happening Saturday night.)

Comics Can Be Anything: The Cookbook Edition

I say it a lot because it’s true. Comics can be anything. Public perception of comic books has significantly improved just in the last 10 years, but for the Average Joe & Jane, comics are still just superheroes and/or funny animals – kids stuff.

Well sure, they can be that. But superheroes and funny animals are two genres, like romantic comedy and political thriller are to books and movies. Comic books as a form can be about anything. And there are hundreds of examples out there to support this argument. (Comics can be romantic comedies and political thrillers, too.)

Here’s the latest example that has me excited: A comic book cookbook! Or a graphic novel cookbook. Or as the artist calls it, a cartoon cookbook. That last one has the best ring to it but isn’t entirely accurate. (I’m sure I’ll get around to my post about comic books vs. cartoons vs caricatures vs illustrated books at some point).

However you describe it, it may be the first of it’s kind. (There is a popular manga genre about food but I don’t think any of those are actual manga cookbooks. Let me know in the comments section, if I’m wrong.)

The Dirt Candy Cookbook (working title) written by chef and New York City-based Dirt Candy restaurant owner Amanda Cohen and drawn by Ryan Dunlavey is scheduled for a Summer 2012 release from Random House/Clarkson Potter.

Dunlavey has a knack for these kinds of projects where he injects a fun appealing energy to information, so I’m thrilled to see him get this kind of gig. He’s probably best known for Action Philosophers with writer Fred Van Lente, where the two ripped through the lives and schools of thought of some of the world’s most brilliant minds. The two also teamed up for a similarly frenetic yet informed look at the history of comic books with Comic Book Comics. What? Comics can be used to teach us about history and philosophy?

Why, it’s as if comics can be anything!

Motion Comics: Not Comics, Barely Motion

Since my dismissive comment about motion comics, I’ve received tons and tons of hate mail. OK, perhaps I exaggerate. Perhaps I made that up completely. In reality, not one person living or dead made a single comment about it. So either everybody was so enraged, they couldn’t focus enough to write a response, or everybody silently agreed. Or more likely, most people have never even heard of motion comics, never mind knowing enough to form an opinion.

If you are in that last group, you’ll be able to catch up pretty quickly because motion comics are still in their infancy. Put simply, motion comics are adaptations of comic books and graphic novels that use computers to animate the original comic artwork (or recreations), and then replaces the written word with voice actors, music and sound effects. Put way simply, it’s a mini-cartoon based on a comic.

While stylistically more slick, they are basically the old Marvel Comics cartoons from the ’60s.

But they’re not without their fans. The appeal and idea of motion comics is that it brings to life your favorite comics. It’s typically very faithful in look and story because they’re pulling straight from the original comics.

The downside is that the animation is really limited because they’re trying to animate static images that were only ever meant to represent movement, not actually depict movement.

My main problem with them is that they really aren’t comics at all. The comic book industry and art form has been stuck with inaccurate terms for decades upon decades. Comic books aren’t necessarily comical; they more resemble magazines than actual books. Graphic novels aren’t necessarily graphic in content but do use graphic design and imagery; they don’t have be a long narrative like novels. So I suppose adding one more misnomer to the pile shouldn’t matter.

But it’s worth noting: motion comics are not comic books. They do not use the language of comics. They use the language of motion pictures (film, animation, etc.).

This past weekend at King Con in Brooklyn, Act-I-Vate founder and writer/artist Dean Haspiel debuted his attempt at a motion comic with Billy Dogma in “Sex Planet” [warning: adult content, so I won’t embed it here]. His goal seemed to be to include more of the language of comics while pulling back some on the animation. That’s a direction that interests me more than the above example but the finished product is mixed. The voice acting is lacking (Haspiel himself provides the voice of Billy Dogma) and there’s a weird timing issue with having finished read the text and waiting for the actors to catch up, but there are some cute visual gags that have well-timed reveals. See The Beat for more on this.

Clearly motion comics are just getting started. So, “To Be Continued…”

Everybody’s laughing for the weekend

This Saturday night is the Magic Meathands‘ popular Family Friendly Night, and I’ll be there performing with my fellow hands of meat. Opening for us will be Jump Start, an improv group based in Redondo Beach.

$7 gets you in for the whole night! Only $3 if you’re 12 or under!

The show starts at 8 PM at The Spot Cafe & Lounge in Culver City! See you there!

Also be sure to check out our new sketch comedy videos, the Magic Meathands Originals at the group’s YouTube channel!

Fun and Games

Magic Meathands video #2!

I acted in this and I also edited it. Wendy Lee did the fancy hand-held camera work.

Also featuring Mary Benedict (writer/director), Nikki Turner and Travis McElroy, also of the Magic Meathands.

This was a lot of fun to be in. My mission: yell and be angry. Bonus points if you can name all of the real games Mary used to create the fictional Calcatron. (I love that name. Sounds like Megatron’s forgotten step-brother.)

Oh and if I ever invite you to game night, I promise it’s not like this. No, really, it’s not!

Archives:
Magic Meathands Video #1: Eddie the Enforcer

Q: If you discovered a Djinn (Genie) who offered to grant you three wishes (and, no, you can’t wish for more wishes, smartypants), what would you wish for?

Submitted from Formspring.me

A: Is this one of those trick genies where your wish backfires because you weren’t incredibly specific enough? Pretending for a moment it’s not, I would probably be pretty standard in the wish department:

1. Greater empathy and understanding among humans (world peace, etc.).
2. A bottomless bin of money (like Scrooge McDuck).
3. A tail. Yes, an actual tail like a cat’s tail. I have no idea why but they fascinate me and seem like fun. But now I sound like a furry, so maybe that’s a bad idea. Plus it would probably get in the way a lot and all of my pants would have to be modified. Maybe a detachable tail. But it has to actually move around and stuff. Pinning to my butt a long string that does nothing wouldn’t cut it.

Ask me anything about acting, improv comedy, comic books, Dig Comics, and anything else that seems relevant.