Month: January 2011

Technical difficulties… Please stand by…

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and corrupted hardware is absolutely annoying. Or something.

Normally I would post this week’s LA Comics Events today but the tech gremlins had other ideas. So please bear with me. I should be up and running again by Thursday. (Oh and for the record, WordPress’ iPhone app is a laggy and quity pile of poopie-pants.)

In the meantime, have a great Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, everyone!

Comics can teach

Comics in text books (click for interview w/creators)

More and more, teachers and librarians are realizing the educational power of comics (whether as comic books or graphic novels).

The Graphic Novel Reporter has an excellent interview with Dr. James Bucky Carter, assistant professor of English Education at the University of Texas at El Paso, and Erik A. Evensen, an award-winning artist, lecturer and teacher. The two have collaborated as writer and artist, respectively, to create Super-Powered Word Study, a text book for grades 5-12 that uses mini-comics to enhance language lessons.

The two talk about the power of sequential art in the classroom. Evensen: “[S]tudents need multiple, high-quality interactions with a word before they can really learn it. I’ve seen numbers range from around a dozen interactions to around fifty. What few vocabulary books or articles do, however, is actually offer really engaging texts to help bolster the enrichment. The mini-comics are what we hope qualify as examples of those high-quality interactions, the quality coming partly from the fact that kids are interested in comics and actually will spend some time reading them.”

And there’s also the power of creating comics to help strengthen a child’s education. Carter: “While I also believe that quizzes and traditional tests have their place, the best way to see if someone knows something is to see them utilizing its concepts or producing something new related to them. For vocabulary, this means asking students to use words they’ve learned, not just define them out of context or match them to definitions on the other side of the paper. The book teaches teachers a variety of ways they and students can use “clue language” or context clues to suggest they know a word’s meaning, and it asks them to do so in creative writing-based scenarios.”

While I wish the text book completely embraced comics, instead of only for 15 mini-comics 3-5 pages long, it’s still significant that this kind of book can be published by an educational publisher like Maupin House, where it will actually go out to schools. In the interview, Carter also talked about his efforts to overcome the still prevailing prejudice that comics are intrinsically ‘lesser than’ in comparison to other art forms and communication methods, so the battle is far from won. But it’s a great step forward.

Archie leads the digital comics revolution

Archie goes digital

Who would have thought? A publisher often viewed as very traditional and conservative like Archie Comics is leading the way toward digital comics.

The New York-based publisher announced yesterday morning that starting April 1, all of their comic books will be available on their Archie Comics app the exact same day and date that those same issues are on sale at comic book stores and newsstands. Print comics will remain at $2.99 an issue. Digital versions will be priced at $1.99 each. The app, developed by iVerse Media, has been downloaded from iTunes nearly 1.8 million times for use on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. That number is expected to grow significantly when Verizon carries the iPhone next month. A version for Android phones and tablets is planned this March.

This is definitely a big deal. Archie Comics is one of North America’s oldest publishers, right alongside DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Like the two superhero publishers, Archie has iconic characters with a huge recognition factor both nationally and internationally. That a major publisher like Archie has made the jump to simultaneous releases is a huge vote of support for digital comics. Most have felt that for digital comics to truly work, this would need to happen. Marvel, DC and other publishers have toyed with one-off day-and-date releases, usually pricing them equal to or more than their print versions.

There is a lot of concern amongst comic shop retailers that digital comics will steal away their business. So there has been a lot of careful walking on eggshells on the issue because publishers don’t want to damage their relationship with retailers. Archie having the courage to do this probably has a lot to do with them not having as big of a reliance on the comic book store market as other comics publishers. Archie has had a strong presence in grocery stores and other newsstand outlets for some time, and their comic shop sales have been historically weaker due to that market’s preference for superheroes. Archie primarily publishes comedy and teen romance comics, although they have some adventure comics, such as the licensed Sonic the Hedgehog comic.

Reflecting their forward-thinking approach, one of the first comic books to be released simultaneously will be the first issue of Kevin Keller, a mini-series starring the first gay character in Riverdale. Also confirmed for simultaneous print and digital releases: Archie, Archie & Friends, Betty, Veronica, Betty and Veronica, and Jughead. There will also be a digital exclusive release, Reggie and Me.

Archie’s press release states “all Archie titles” but some news reports have stated that may not translate to their entire publishing line. It’s unclear at this time whether Archie’s licensed comics, namely Sonic the Hedgehog and the upcoming Mega Man, will take part. There is also the Life with Archie magazine, which continues two what-if story lines of Archie living a married life with Betty and Veronica.

Also no word yet on whether the same release schedule will apply to ArchieDigital.com, a subscription-based digital comics platform for desktop reading instead of mobile devices.

Speaking to the retailer fears of losing business, there’s also this article from Comics Alliance’s David Brothers on exactly who is the audience for digital comics and what they’re buying. There’s still a lot of unknown but initial information seems to suggest that they are not the same people going to their local comic book store every Wednesday. Whether this data and Archie’s bold move will encourage other publishers to adjust their release schedules will remain to be soon, but general consensus is saying it’s a matter of when, not if.

For more: The Archie news was picked up by the New York Times, USA TodayMTV and the Associated Press, which has been picked up by ABC News and other news organizations. Interviews and coverage naturally occurred at all of the comics news sites like Comic Book ResourcesComics AllianceiFanboy and IGN.

See It: The Illusionist

Saw this movie last night. Loved it. Minimal dialogue – just time with characters, observing how weird and silly we humans tend to be. And then the slowly encroaching heartbreak.

Good old fashioned hand-drawn animation (with some objects computer-generated but they were gracefully melded into the world). And I do mean animation – scenes have constantly moving people and things that feel alive.

Click for more on Chomet's comic in French

The Illusionist is directed by Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) from the previously un-produced script by the late great filmmaker Jacques Tati (Playtime). The script was apparently intended as a personal letter to his estranged daughter. The main character Tatischeff was designed to look like Tati and his character Monsieur Hulot, who appeared in most of Tati’s films. In fact, eagle-eyed watchers will catch a sort of meeting of the animated Tatischeff and live-action Hulot from Mon Oncle in one of the funnier sequences.

As an aside, Chomet has written and published comics. His Laid, Pauvre et Malade (Ugly, Poor and Sick), illustrated by Nicolas De Crécy (whose style greatly influenced The Triplets of Belleville), was recognized at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in 1997, although to my knowledge it has never been translated and imported to the States. (Hint-hint, NBM or Fantagraphics or some other publisher known for importing European comics.)

How do you get people to read comics when people don’t know how to read comics?

Photo by Sarah Shatz (Click for Toon Books blog)

I’ve recently been struck with the reality that some people really and truly don’t know how to read comics. This is a real and true hurdle for plenty of people in accepting and even trying a comic book or graphic novel.

For people like me who feel we were born holding a copy of Amazing Spider-Man, it’s hard to believe. But this shouldn’t be dismissed as nonsense. It doesn’t mean the people having trouble reading them are stupid. In fact, I think scoffing this reason is the equivalent of calling comics simple kids stuff for dummies.

But both of these assumptions are fallacies. From my experience, usually the struggling reader is a big book reader and they’re usually quite bright. They simply haven’t had much if any experience with the language of comics.

And comics are far from simple. They are a language all their own, and just like anything else, it takes time to learn the language. There’s more going on than just looking at little cartoon drawings and reading the words. The words and images play off each other and interact with each other, and other images on the page, and the reader, in a way unlike any other medium. Just as we must learn how to read non-verbal cues in face-to-face conversations with people, there are non-word cues that readers must learn to incorporate into the entire message. The artwork is doing much more than just providing a visual representation of the words. Frequently they’re providing information not found in the text, information about how the artist interprets and feels about that the text or the world that’s been created, visual clues about how characters feel, information about environment and setting, aesthetic information that informs tone or mood, as well as stylistic choices that reflect the artist and the prism through which he sees the world. And there’s even more than that. In every panel.

That’s a lot of work. The brain can figure all or most of it out, but it can take time to adjust to receiving information in a new way.

The best way to get used to it is to read comics at a young age when we’re still extremely adaptable. One of the best publishers for first time and young readers is Toon Books. I linked to them yesterday in my Comics News Roundup, but I’m sure it’s easy to miss. I also wanted to feature this video they have on their front page. It’s narrated by Editorial Director Françoise Mouly (so prepare your ears for a French accent). She does a great summary of what they’re about and also has some great information on how comics are great for kids just learning to read.

Toon Books has their books split up into three levels: Grades K-1, Grades 1-2 and Grades 2-3. But to be honest, they’re so delightful and charming that grown-up readers will probably get a smile from reading them too. There’s a reason many of their books, like Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith, Benny and Penny by Geoffrey Hayes, and Stinky by Eleanor Davis, have received awards, made best-of lists, and gotten other praise and recognition. There’s also a teacher’s guide with lesson plans, an online literacy tool, and other free resources for the classroom.

A lot of publishers are adding material for new readers to their catalog. Top Shelf Productions has the Kids Club with the adorable Owly by Andy Runton (who has a great teaching section on his site), Johnny Boo by James Kochalka and more coming in 2011. Traditional book publishers have also opened up to this. Scholastic Books now has the Graphix imprint, which has published material for slightly older readers (Grades 5-7) like Smile and Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitter’s Club series of adaptations by Raina Telgemeier. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. More to come, for sure.

But what about older people who haven’t learned how to read comics? Like I said, more to come…

LA Comics News Roundup: publishers kickstart 2011

All the news that’s fit to shove through internet tubes. Here’s the world of comic books and graphic novels in LA and beyond over the last week or so, with some commentary:

= Boom! Studios Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon gets the prestigious Comics Reporter Holiday Interview treatment, talking about the culture and climate of the LA-based publisher and his journey to his current position. Read it

= Silver Lake store Secret Headquarters was named Bookstore of the Week by the LA Times book blog Jacket Copy. More acclaim for a shop that in 2008 was named one of the World’s 10 Best Bookstores by The Guardian. The LA Times article also gives mention to local LA artists Martin Cendreda (Catch Me If You Can) and Sammy Harkham (Crickets). Meanwhile, I have somehow still not checked out this store. Read it

= The ever-expanding Comic International: San Diego could add a balloon parade through downtown San Diego to kick off the festivities. City Council District 4 President Tony Young, a self-proclaimed comic book collector and fan, floated the idea in his New Years address and expanded on the idea in an interview. Read it

= Comics industry numbers from Diamond Comic Distributors, the primary method comics publishers get their comics and graphic novels to comic book stores and other outlets, has released their reports on 2010 and as expected print comics took a hit. “Annual sales of comic books, graphic novels, and magazines to the comic book specialty market declined slightly in 2010, down 3.5% from 2009.” Comics industry number-cruncher John Jackson Miller estimates that the industry generated $415 million last year. The comic shop market hit a peak of $437 million in 2008. However, he counters this gloom with data showing the fourth quarter of 2010 ending 2% up from fourth quarter 2009 due to graphic novel sales. This supports some cautious optimism from some as early signs of a turnaround. Read it: part 1, part 2, part 3 (more…)

Comics Events in LA: Week of 1/9/11

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 10, 7 PM: Tales of the Extraordinary, a 1920s pulp radio serial, spends the month performing their live story “Islands,” using the audience as sound FX, at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. The band Windows to Sky opens. Tickets: $8.

Wednesday, January 12: NEW COMICS DAY! Find your local comics specialty shop.

Wednesday, January 12, 6 PM – 8 PM: Todd McFarlane (co-founder, Image Comics) signs Spawn #200, the second-longest running independent comic book series in history, at Golden Apple Comics, 7018 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 90038. Limit 2 items per person. Tickets: $0. (more…)

You’re on Death Row, and it’s the night before you’re executed. What do you request for your last meal?

That’s easy. A meal of desserts: ice cream, apple pie, brownies, cookies, cake. And water with a curly bendy straw.

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

Funnies tonight and tomorrow

Reminder: live improvised comedy is happening tonight and tomorrow, as the Magic Meathands return to the stage for our first 2011 shows!

Come on out! You deserve to laugh!

Friday, January 7, 8 PM, $10: MI’s Westside Comedy Theater
Also featuring The Waterbrains and Mission IMPROVable!
1323-A Santa Monica Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401
(In the alley between 3rd and 4th Streets)

Saturday, January 8, 8 PM, $7: Family Friendly Comedy Night at The Spot
Also featuring Jump Start!
4455 Overland Ave., Culver City, CA 90230