Month: January 2011

Top Cow reorganizes

Teaser for new Top Cow series Netherworld (click for preview)

It’s been a rough first month of 2011 for comics in general, with good and not-so-good news turning heads throughout the industry as the times continue to change. There’s been some adjusting locally too.

Top Cow Productions, a partner studio of Image Comics, announced during my week of computer meltdown that a reorganization has taken place. The LA-based publisher will consolidate its resources to more closely rely and coordinate with Image’s central office in Berkeley. From the press release: “Image Central will work more closely with Top Cow to coordinate production, marketing and sales efforts in much the same way it already does for the other Image partners.” Publisher Filip Sablik stressed that Top Cow would retain their editorial freedom. Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat looked into this further here and here.

While the hope is that Top Cow will be able to benefit from some of the successes Image has seen recently, such as The Walking Dead‘s continual rise in popularity thanks to the AMC TV show and new hits like Chew and Morning Glories, it doesn’t mean good times for everyone. Unfortunately some people from Top Cow were let go to eliminate new redundancies from the closer partnership, such as PR and Marketing Coordinator Christine Dinh, Director of Sales and Marketing Atom Freeman and Editor/Designer Phil Smith. Freeman, an award-winning retailer who co-owns the comics shop Brave New World Comics in Newhall, was hired as Direct Market Liason last summer and promoted to Director of Sales and Marketing this past October. No word yet on what’s next for Dinh and Smith, although at least Smith is helping with the transition. Sablik has stated that now other layoffs are planned. At Image Comics, PR and Marketing Coordinator Betsy Gomez has been replaced by Sarah deLaine.

Top Cow President Matt Hawkins bluntly told The Beat, “There’s going to be more consolidation (like Image and Top Cow) and some people won’t be around in a couple years”.

Just prior to that news, Top Cow announced they had signed artist Jeremy Haun (Detective Comics) to an exclusive contract. Haun, who has worked on Top Cow’s Alibi and Berserker, has been assigned to The Darkness with writer Phil Hester, one of Top Cow’s biggest properties. The book was a massive seller in the ’90s where it had a record-selling 11 variant covers for a single issue. Haun will also have the ability to develop new original properties. On his site, he explained that the contract goes into effect February 2011 (so, tomorrow). In explaining the reasons for his decision, after being a freelance artist for years, he said, “The major ones where working as a regular artist on a continuing series and almost more importantly, being able to develop my own concepts.” As he points out, Haun has written Narcoleptic Sunday for Oni Press and a story in Image’s award-winning Comic Book Tattoo anthology based on the music of Tori Amos, so he does have some writer chops. And more original creator-owned comics is always a good thing in my book.

Top Cow Productions started in 1992 as the studio for Image Comics co-founder and partner Marc Silvestri. Throughout the decade, they grew a line of successful fantasy comics like The Darkness, Witchblade and others guided by Silvestri’s distinct art style that defined the look of the publisher for many readers. The publisher has struggled to shake that perception over the last ten years, and have been pushing their attention to more creator-owned books such as the new thriller Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal, and the upcoming supernatural noir Netherworld by co-writers Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin, and artist Tony Shasteen. Hill and Levin have both worked for Top Cow in the past, last collaborating together on Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box. MTV’s Geek News has a preview of Netherworlds.

Comics Events in LA: Week of 1/30/11

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, January 31, 7 PM: Tales of the Extraordinary, a 1920s pulp radio serial, spend the month performing their live story “Islands” using the audience as sound FX at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $8.

Wednesday, February 2: NEW COMICS DAY! Find your local comics specialty shop.

Wednesday, February 2, 5 PM – 7 PM: Marv Wolfman (Crisis on Infinite Earths, New Teen Titans) will be signing copies of DC Universe Legends #1 at Collector’s Paradise, 7131 Winnetka Ave., Canoga Park 91306. Tickets: $0.

Wednesday, February 2, 8:30 PM: The Meltdown with Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray (weekly comedy show) featuring stand-up comedians Matt Besser, Ali Waller, Eddie Pepitone, Dominic and Sean, and Tig Notaro, at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $8.

Friday, February 4, 7 PM: Steven Daily‘s Gag Me With A Toon 3, the third annual art exhibit featuring local artists re-imagining and remixing classic ’80s Saturday morning cartoons, opens at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $0.

Friday, February 4 – Sunday, February 6, 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM: Latchkey Studios Gallery opens for a month long exhibition featuring comics and other work from the LA based studio of artists, at The Basement, 14506 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks 91403. Tickets: $0.

The future: (more…)

Q: Has any movie ever made you cry?

A: Oh sure, plenty. I’m kind of a sap, really. I cried at the end of Toy Story 3.

If you want to steal my lunch money, I’ll totally understand.

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

Stan Drake draws James Taylor, Carly Simon and family

Combining comic books and some of my favorite musicians? Yes please!

In 1979, comic strip artist Stan Drake illustrated this profile of folk rock singer-songwriter James Taylor and his four siblings, folk/pop singer-songwriter Livingston Taylor, singer (and now songwriter) Kate Taylor, southern blues singer Alex Taylor, and singer (and now inn keeper) Hugh Taylor. Also included in the profile is James’ then-wife pop rock singer-songwriter Carly Simon. The text was written by Brendan Boyd.

Click for bigginess

The piece originally ran in The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, as part of their Pop Idols series of illustrated profiles, which appeared in the comics section. As you can see in the bottom right corner, The Jacksons were next week’s featured artists. According to the Lewis Wayne Gallery, which has original art for sale for the strips on Jimi Hendrix, the Talking Heads and John Travolta, Stan created the strip.

Stan Drake did an excellent job. James and Livingston in particular are spot on. Although the colorist got a little sloppy with Carly’s lipstick. And kind of strange that Carly, just as major an artist as James, is in the inset and mentioned last in the profile text on the right. I guess because it’s focusing on the Taylor siblings? And what’s with Alex secretly checking out Carly? At least Hugh is having a good time.

I assume the Brendan Boyd that wrote this is not Brendan Boyd of Incubus, as that would’ve made him about 3 years old at the time. Although the thought of alt-rocker Incubus’ front man writing about sensitive singer-songwriters from Martha’s Vineyard is pretty amusing.

For way too much context and back story on Stan Drake, James Taylor, Carly Simon and the other Taylor siblings, click through…


Wizard Magazine runs out of magic

The year 2011 isn’t messing around. Just days after the end of one era (and see here for an addendum to that story), we’re met with another.

According to various reports Monday, comics and pop culture magazine Wizard: The Comics Magazine will cease publication effective immediately. Sister publication ToyFare has also been discontinued. Both now join the ever-growing list in the much theorized death of print newspapers and magazines. (Magazine Death Pool has yet to come out of retirement for this.)

While Wizard, which debuted in 1991, faced more than its share of criticism and derision (Frank Miller famously ripped up an issue during a keynote speech in early 2001), plenty of it I think justified, the magazine was easily the most high profile coverage of mainstream North American comic books in its heyday. For a while, the magazine was so successful, it outsold most of the comic books it covered. In the late 1990s, I knew several people who had given up reading comics for whatever reason, but still read Wizard Magazine so they could keep tabs on what was going on. During a time when comics had otherwise vanished from newsstands, it was the industry’s only mainstream and most accessible presence.


The personal history of Southern California through comics

Excerpt of Now It Can Be Told Chapter 10: I Was the Only Kid on the Island of Blue Dolphins

Cartoonist and animator Scott Shaw! (Flintstones, Captain Carrot) has been releasing his first web-comics and they are an incredibly entertaining way to hear his great stories of his past. And in the process we get a great look at local history in Southern California.

The latest chapter of Now It Can Be Told is about the 9-year-old Scott visiting San Nicolas Island, an uninhabited land mass off the coast of California. Well, uninhabited except for the US Navy where his father was stationed. Scott got to see experiments with robot-piloted drone planes, huge sub-sea caves with ancient rock engravings (right), anti-gravity roads, human skulls, sea lions and lobsters.

The title of the chapter, “I Was the Only Kid on the Island of Blue Dolphins” is a reference to the 1960 children’s book Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, and illustrated by Ted Lewin. Based on a true story, the book is about a Native American woman who was stranded on the island for 18 years in the 1800s. Most people probably hadn’t even heard of the island until this popular book. In an amazing coincidence, the book was released about a month after Scott’s visit to the island.

Scott’s comic is a look at a part of California most of us will probably never get to see but thanks to the magic of comics (and Scott’s memory), now we can!

Other installments of Scott’s Act-i-vate comic depict his working at the classic animation studio Hanna-Barbera (and inexplicably and hilariously dancing with Joseph Barbera!) in the late 1970s to late ’80s, the pot-smoking early ’70s in the Normal Heights neighborhood of San Diego, meeting hot rod cartoonist “Big Daddy” Ed Roth in the east LA city of Maywood, and more.

(Scott Shaw! also provided animation for Dig Comics, the award-winning documentary I helped produce.)

Comics shed scarlet letter

Seal of Approval gone from comics (click for Washington Post article)

Last week, DC Comics announced they are no longer submitting their comic books for approval by the Comics Code Authority. The CCA is (or was, I suppose) a content review board created by the comic book industry in 1954 to reassure parents and newsstand dealers that comics with the Seal of Approval on their cover were safe for children.

Starting in April, DC Comics will instead utilize their own in-house grading system, modeled somewhat after the rating system used for video games by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. This is similar to Marvel Comics‘ decision made in 2001.

The day after DC’s announcement, Archie Comics responded to an inquiry by announcing their own abandonment of the Comics Code starting in February. They had apparently stopped submitting their comics for review over a year ago.

LA-based Bongo Comics, publishers of Simpsons Comics, made a similar move last year without any fanfare. They replaced the Seal of Approval with a simple “All Ages” rating, as observed by Bleeding Cool.

Most other comic publishers never bothered to submit their comics to the Comics Code Authority for review and approval.

While an important moment, this is mostly symbolic. Newsstands refused to carry comics without the Comics Code Seal of Approval in the 1950s, but most people today don’t even know what it means. That’s if they even notice the Seal. Publishers have been shrinking its size on their comic book covers for decades.

The Comics Code Authority was set up by the Comics Magazine Association of America, which itself was meant to be a trade organization for the comic book industry. The establishment of both was in response to the damaging Senate hearings on comics’ effects on juvenile delinquency. While the Senate subcommittee found no direct cause and effect between the content of comics and delinquency in children, the proceedings were a manifestation of a growing PR problem for the industry and comics in general. Magazine articles, TV programs and books were sending parents a lot of messages that comics were toxic for children. Local politicians starting taking action, attempting to ban or curb the sale of comics. This went so far as to incite comic book burnings in several towns across America.

It all came to a head with the televised Senate hearings in New York, and the creation of the Comics Code, which demanded that publishers join the Comics Magazine Association of America for a fee. The alternative was to lose distribution, since newsstand dealers began refusing carrying comics without the Seal of Approval, not wanting the risk of a lawsuit from an angry mother. Seemingly in an instant, hundreds of publishers and artists were finished. Readership plummeted. And an entire medium and art form was tainted as unsafe, unintelligent trash.

Comics barely survived. Public opinion has been slowly turning around thanks to transcendent work from all corners of the industry. So while the Comics Code Authority lost its authority a good 15-20 years ago or more, it is encouraging to see it finally whither away. After 57 years, the symbol of a simplistic generalization and dismissal of comics as a legitimate art form, comics’ scarlet letter, is gone.

Comics Events in LA: Week of 1/23/11

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, January 24, 7 PM: Tales of the Extraordinary, a 1920s pulp radio serial, spend the month performing their live story “Islands” using the audience as sound FX at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $8.

Wednesday, January 26: NEW COMICS DAY! Find your local comics specialty shop.

Wednesday, January 26, 8 PM: Comics podcast Bagged & Boarded with SModcastle’s Matt Cohen and Brendan Creecy with special guest Reginald Hudlin (Black Panther) has a live show broadcast at SModcastle, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90038. Tickets: $10. (more…)

And we’re back!

Thanks for hanging in there. The computer is back up and running with a bigger hard drive and faster operating system. And all under warranty! Thank you, Apple Genius Bar!

Lesson learned: when people suggest backing up your files, they actually think it’s a good idea for a very good reason. I probably recovered about 80-90% of our files, so not too bad actually. Definitely could’ve been much worse.

Regularly scheduled blogging will resume with more regularity in a regular fashion.

To your right, a visual representation of the repair process courtesy of the documentarians at I Can Has Cheezburger.