Month: December 2010

Diversity is the key

Marvel Comics announced details late last week of the launch of a new imprint that will focus on genres other than superheroes. Marvel’s CrossGen line will cross into genres not typically associated with the publisher of Spider-Man, Iron Man and Captain America.

Outside of their Marvel Illustrated line of comics adapting classic novels like the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Pride and Prejudice and Treasure Island, more modern adaptations of Stephen King’s Dark Tower and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, and other sporadic attempts here and there, this is the first concerted effort to reach outside of their known superhero material since the publisher was releasing westerns and monster comics in the 1960s.

The CrossGen imprint is actually a resurrection of a publisher that failed and was purchased by Marvel’s new parent company Disney in 2004. CrossGen Entertainment came onto the comics scene with some daring moves. Instead of relying on freelancers, CrossGen relocated their talent to the company’s Florida compound and provided them with a salary, health insurance, 401k and other benefits largely alien to most creative types in the comics industry. They also were among the first to aggressively reprint their comics every 6 months or so in soft cover graphic novels (or “trade paperbacks”) targeted to book stores, now an industry standard. They were the first publisher to experiment with digital comics, with an online portal similar to Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited service. They also had a school and library outreach program with some of their material available in special lesson plan editions. Unfortunately CrossGen didn’t survive long enough to see these distribution channels mature to the point they have in the last 5 years and the company’s chutzpah ended up burying it.

Considering some of the trash talk thrown out by CrossGen’s president when the company was on the rise, it’s almost too ironic that its properties are now being published by Marvel. Still, the company put out some good looking books. They had a knack for attracting strong talent and putting out quality books that filled niche holes in the industry at the time. And now Marvel is using those properties to expand their line into new areas, a long overdue move that major competitor DC Comics knew to do back in the ’90s with the creation of the Vertigo imprint (even if it has typically limited itself to more mature readers content).

But with the struggling economy, is now the time to launch new initiatives? Marvel is keeping things modest with just two 4-issue series priced at $2.99 (versus their nearly standard $3.99 cover price). And they’re putting worthy talent in place to help garner interest. Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, The Flash) remains a hot writer, and is actually getting a second go at Ruse (pictured above), a Sherlockian mystery set in Victorian England. Mike Carey (Lucifer, The Unwritten) will write the more overhauled Sigil, a sci-fi war epic.

Initial response seems positive so far. CrossGen garnered an enthusiastic cult following in its day. (Disclaimer: I loved them.) And based on online responses so far, most seem eager to see these books return. Of course as we’ve seen, online enthusiasm doesn’t always translate into sustainable sales. But then sometimes it does.

When comics’ largest publisher launches an imprint that brings more diversity in their line of books, it can’t not be a good thing. Hopefully execution will match the good news. Hopefully retailers and readers will embrace the books. Time will tell.

The two new books are scheduled for a March 2011 release.

Comics Events in LA: Week of 12/19/10

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.

Things are slowing down for the holidays but there are still a couple of things to do.

This week:

Wednesday, December 22: NEW COMICS DAY! Find your local comics specialty shop.

Wednesday, December 22, 8 PM: Comics podcast Bagged & Boarded: Live! with SModcastle’s Matt Cohenand Brendan Creecy with special guest geek and gamer girl group Team Unicorn has a show broadcast at SModcastle, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90038. Tickets: $10.

The future:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011: Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, et al.) will be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. More details to come. Tickets: $0.

Have an upcoming comics-related event in the LA area? Know of one? Email me.

LA Comics distributor warehouse closes

Despite the bustling comics scene here in Los Angeles, it’s not all sunshine and ponies.

Diamond Comic Distributors, by far the biggest and most powerful international distributor of comic books and associated products delivering to comic book stores and specialty shops, is closing its Los Angeles distributor center/warehouse this March. How does this effect us readers? Probably not much, at least directly. That is, as long as your local shop can still get their shipment of new comics. And afford it.

The final shipment from the LA center will be the first week of January. After that, the southern California area (and beyond) will instead be serviced by a Diamond distribution center almost 2,000 miles east, in Olive Branch, Mississippi. In their notice to effected comic shops, Diamond stated, “based on our quality control monitoring of shortages, damages, and overages, the Olive Branch facility consistently scores on par with Los Angeles”. Given the errors and frustrations some local stores have had with Diamond, that’s probably not very comforting. According to Bleeding Cool, this brings the count of Diamond’s warehouse facilities to 4, down from 24 at one time.

The same week the Olive Branch center takes over, Diamond begins it’s new Day-Early Delivery program for all of its customers, where instead of comics arriving to stores Wednesday morning to go on sale that same day, comics will be delivered Tuesday with a street date of the following day. This should help pad out any delivery delays during the transition. However comic shops must pay a fee to be included in the program, which apparently pays for “secret shoppers” to make sure stores are obeying street date rules. So if they don’t pay in, stores will instead receive their boxes of comics early Wednesday morning for a same-day scramble to get comics sorted, counted, displayed and pulled for subscribers.

Another factor is that some stores opt to drive themselves to the distribution center and pick up their orders, instead of paying for UPS to drive comics to their store. With the LA distribution gone, will stores be forced to pay for deliveries? Diamond says no, for now. A pick-up location will be determined for those stores, at no additional charge. While that’s great, I can’t imagine that’s something they’ll keep doing forever. What’s the point of closing a distribution center if you still pay the rent on a pick-up location?

Comic stores often operate on a slim profit margin, especially smaller stores. With shrinking sales, will these new fees force some stores to rethink doing business?

And what of Diamond’s Los Angeles employees? If they’re willing to relocate to Mississippi, some may still have a job. According to ICv2: “Long-time Diamond Regional Manager James Nash will relocate from Los Angeles to Olive Branch. Other staff has been encouraged to apply for positions in Olive Branch after their tenure in Los Angeles ends at the end of March.”

Who is your favorite superhero and your favorite supervillain?

My real favorites are pretty obscure, which is probably one of the reasons why I love them. The New Warriors were what sold me on superhero comics, so I would go with one of them – probably Namorita because of her sarcasm and political activism but also maybe Speedball because of his outright goofiness.
Of the recognizable characters, I would probably go with Spider-Man. If I could pick a superhero team instead of individual superhero, I would go with the X-Men – such a brilliant concept for reader identification.
Favorite supervillain would probably be Magneto.

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

Who is your favorite actor and actress?

I’ve been agonizing over this question for days. After therapy bills, counseling, support groups, 12-step programs and self-help books, I guess I just have to cop to the fact that I just don’t have a favorite. It fees like weaseling out but it’s the truth. There’s no one actor or actress that I just love to no end.

But as an actor and performer, there are plenty that I enjoy and are or have been either influenced or inspired by, usually based on specific performances. So, I’ll list some of those, although this is by no means exhaustive.

Peter Sellers (Pink Panther series, Dr. Strangelove, and his appearance on The Muppet Show), Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), Jim Henson (Kermit & other characters in various Muppet shows and movies), Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny & other characters in various Looney Tunes/Warner Bros. cartoons), Robert Hays (Airplane! and Airplane II), Leslie Nielson (Police Squad, Airplane! and Airplane II), Rick Moranis (Ghostbusters, Little Shop of Horrors, Spaceballs), Jim Carrey (physical comedy from early to mid ’90s stuff), Steve Carell (Little Miss Sunshine), Andy Samberg (SNL Digital Shorts). And Optimus Prime.

Gilda Radner (Saturday Night Live), Carol Burnett (The Carol Burnett Show, Annie), Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein), Julie Hagerty (Airplane! & Airplane II), Cheetara, Lily Tomlin (9 to 5, Saturday Night Live), Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy), Portia de Rossi (Arrested Development, Better Off Ted), Jaime Pressly (My Name is Earl).

What are your favorites?

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

LA Comics: In defense of the comiciness of LA

L.A. Comics #1 (1971)

New York gets all of the credit. Sure, the comic book industry was born there. Sure, the largest publishers are based there. Sure, hundreds of artists live in and around there. But that doesn’t mean Los Angeles is bupkis.

Not to start a pissing contest (because truthfully, LA would lose this one), but I don’t think LA gets trumpeted enough for its rich comics community. And thanks to a healthy creative spirit (and yes OK, the lure of Hollywood), it’s only getting stronger.

So join me now in a quick survey of

DC Comics is currently moving their now-defunct WildStorm and Zuda imprints to Burbank, and merging them into their new digital comics division. Marvel Studios, the Hollywood arm of Marvel Comics, calls Manhattan Beach their home. One of the largest North American publishers of manga, Tokyopop, has its main headquarters here in the Variety Building on Wilshire. Stan Lee lives here, where he runs POW! Entertainment. Also in town is Boom! Studios, who have partnered with Stan Lee on new comics, and are also publishing Disney comics. It’s definitely worth mentioning the great publisher Archaia Comics, home to Mouse Guard, Tumor, Return of the Dapper Men, and other critically acclaimed reads, which has an office in mid-Wilshire. Down in Gardena is Digital Manga Publishing, which has just released manga like Vampire Hunter D on the Nook (possibly the first to do so). Bongo Comics, publisher of Matt Groening’s Simpsons comics, is in Santa Monica. There’s also Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions, publishers of Witchblade and The Darkness, and the late Michael Turner’s Aspen Comics, produces Fathom. And in West LA is Platinum Studios, they publish Cowboys & Aliens, soon to be a major Hollywood movie.

We’ve also got some fantastic comic book stores in every area of this sprawling city with a great variety of style and approach to retailing: Meltdown Comics on Sunset, Golden Apple on Melrose, The Secret Headquarters in Silver Lake, House of Secrets in Burbank, Hi De Ho in Santa Monica, Earth-2 in Sherman Oaks, The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach and tons more!

LA is also the home to one of the most important non-profit organizations helping the comics industry today. The Hero Initiative raises money to give back to comic creators who have fallen on hard times. They have provided over $400,000 to comic creators in need.

Because of animation studios like Nickelodeon, there are tons of artists that cross over into comics in this town. There are countless artists, as well as artist studios like Latchkey Studios. And the Comic Art Professional Society (CAPS), a networking organization for creators that meets monthly in Burbank. Seriously, there are too many artists to list, so I’ll just point you to Tom Spurgeon’s massive list of Comics By Local Scene 2010. Scroll down to Los Angeles and be impressed (although I see at least one who no longer lives here, so don’t take it as the bible.)

The newspaper biz isn’t left out either. The Creators Syndicate is one of the largest independent distributors of comic strips, representing B.C., Andy Capp, Archie, Heathcliff, Rugrats, Liberty Meadows, and others.

LA is also pretty well represented in the comics journalism corner of the industry. Comic Book Resources, probably the #1 source for comics and comics-related news today, has their headquarters within spitting distance of Golden Apple. G4 has also been known to cover comics, like on “Fresh Ink Online” and “Attack of the Show”.

We can’t really be beat in the comic convention arena. A 3-hour drive south is all it takes for San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Even closer is the Wizard World Anaheim Comic Con. Even closer still is the new Long Beach Comic Con. And word recently broke of a promising new convention, the Comikaze Expo, scheduled for next November in the LA Convention Center.

And every week there are comics events going on all over the city.

So yeah. Not bad!

And I’m sure there’s plenty more that I’m missing. Please tell me about it in the comments or email me.

Gabby’s Good Luck Minute

Magic Meathands Original video #6!

Written, directed and edited by Nikki Turner, this video features our newest Meathand, Kathie Bostian. Kevin Callahan plays a sports guru that… well, I don’t want to ruin the ending. There’s also a little bit of me, Shane Boroomand, Mary Benedict, and Lily Gatica. Randy Turner handled the camera with some assist from non-Meathand Scott Hrebek (who also happens to be an ace guitar player).

My character is thinking, “Yup, this white thing is still on the wall. Looks like my job here is done.”

Magic Meathands Original video #5: Gotcha
Magic Meathands Original video #4: ManCoaster
Magic Meathands Original video #3: Pants – A Nightmare
Magic Meathands Original video #2: Fun and Games
Magic Meathands Original video #1: Eddie the Enforcer

Women Not Welcome: Newspaper comics

It’s strange, but it seems like newspaper comics strips are seeing less and less strips about, created by, or targeted toward women. Maybe I’m just imagining it, or creating a pattern where there isn’t one, but if so I’m not the only one.

Ah, who needs over half the population?

Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse ended a nearly 3o-year long run in 2008. Fortunately it’s still around, as the comic is starting over from the beginning for a new generation, with slight modifications or “fixes“.

But this year saw the end of the legacy strip Little Orphan Annie, originated by Harold Gray in 1924. So beloved was this strip, that in 1945 New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia famously read it to children on his radio address during a 17-day strike that halted newspaper deliveries across the city (NPR story). When it was cancelled this past summer, it was only appearing in 20 papers.

Perhaps more notable was the end of Cathy by Cathy Guisewhite this past October. Starting in 1976, this strip was the first, and for a long time remained the only one created by a modern single woman talking directly to modern single women.

And on January 2, 2011, another legacy strip, Dale Messick’s Brenda Starr, Reporter, will come to an end. It’s currently being created by writer Mary Schmich, a reporter herself who started working on the comic in 1985, and June Brigman, a fine illustrator if ever there was one, who joined in 1995. The strip began in 1940, although it took some convincing because the editor wasn’t keen on the strip’s creator being a woman. Sadly, like Annie, Brenda Starr will be running in less than 20 papers when it comes to an end.

We’ve come a long way since 1940, so maybe it’s time to retire these strips and make room for new ones that speak more directly to today’s women.

So what’s come up to replace these female strips? Not necessarily new female strips, according to Daily Cartoonist Alan Gardner. Back in October, following the cancellation of Cathy, he did a study to find out what editors chose to put in their Cathy‘s spot. Apparently most chose Dustin by Steve Kelly and Jeff Parker, a new strip about a kid that moves back in with his parents after college. So basically young men making another comic about a young man. Not very encouraging. But the second most-chosen was Stone Soup by Jan Eliot, a comic about a single mother raising her two daughters. The strip started in the 1990s.

So it’s not a total lost cause. But… considering the conventional wisdom of the impending death of newspaper comics and newspapers in general, it might be a lost cause for everyone. When things are bleeding badly though, it’s the perfect time to try something drastic. Editors and syndicators should take the opportunity to be experimental. Kick off the dust of the old funny pages format and take a radically rejuvenated approach to reaching out to new readers. What’s the worst that could happen? The readers you’re already losing leave? Maybe you’ll get them to take a second look.

Comics Events in LA: Week of 12/12/10

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:

Monday, December 13, 8 PM – 11:30 PM: Boom! Studios Holiday Party, where readers can mix and mingle with the Boom! Studios crew, at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $0.

Tuesday, December 14, 7 PM: Comedian Patton Oswalt moderates a discussion with writer Paul Levitz (75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking), artist Jim Lee (All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder) and writer Geoff Johns (Green Lantern) regarding the 75th anniversary of DC Comics, at the Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90024. Tickets: $0 (parking $3).

Wednesday, December 15: NEW COMICS DAY! Find your local comics specialty shop. (more…)

Betty or Veronica?

Questions don’t get much more epic than this. This is the biggie, people.

Look, if Archie can’t decide after 60 years…

Actually, this one is pretty easy to me. Betty Cooper. I mean, her mom is named Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper! How could you pass up that opportunity? Every time we visited their parents, I would see how many song references and references to biting the head of a chicken I could work into casual conversation.

Plus, who needs Veronica’s drama? Too spoiled.

Ask me anything about the world of comic books & graphic novels, performing & acting, improv comedy, Dig Comics, and anything else that seems relevant.