Month: July 2011

Friday is Brought to You by Rabbit Feet Kitteh

Things to do in LA this weekend:

ART / COMICSZombification Process art show with Jeffrey Brown at Secret Headquarters in Silver Lake, on Friday, 7 – 9 PM.

COMICS – Pre-release party for Echoes with Joshua Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal at Collector’s Paradise in Pasadena, on Friday, 7 – 10 PM.

COMICS – Book signing of Elephantmen with Richard Starkings and Boo Cook at Collector’s Paradise in Pasadena, on Saturday, 12 – 3 PM.

THEATER4th Annual 24-Hour Play Festival to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association, presented by Above The Curve Theater at Actors Workout Studio in North Hollywood, on Saturday, 8 PM – 11 PM. Tickets: $10.

MUSIC – Fairytales and Fantasy VI, put on by the Southern California Lyric Theater as part of the Concert in the Park Series at Sierra Madre Memorial Park in Sierra Madre, on Sunday, 6 PM – 8 PM. Tickets: FREE!

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The Comic-Con Alternative: The Non Con

The Non Con

(Logo by Ryan Fisher)

Not everyone could be at Comic-Con this past weekend. But through the magic of the intertubes, a group of web-comics creators were able to quickly set up a virtual convention for all the people not at Comic-Con. Conceived and spearheaded by Ryan Fisher of Gin and Comics, The Non Con served as a place for fans and creators to interact through live chats that simultaneously resemble Comic-Con’s panels and artists alley but with none of the traveling costs and long lines. Response was very positive, so Fisher plans to hold more non-conventions at TheNonCon.com, probably starting as soon as the first weekend of September.

The site is officially in public beta, as the site was built within 2 days before Comic-Con when Fisher got the idea. There is a slideshow currently showing off some of the artwork created by artists that attended the inaugural event. Creators and retailers can also register to participate in future Non Cons.

The live chat is particularly ingenious due to the inclusion of live video feeds integrated into the chat room. When I spent some time in there, I was able to watch two artists creating artwork for their own web-comics. It was really cool to watch. We could ask them questions and interact in a way that would be difficult on a loud convention floor. Visitors can chat either through the old fashioned keyboard or by using a microphone and/or webcam, which creates a really interesting dynamic of some people talking to silent/typed questions or comments. If you don’t want to sign up with the WordPress system they’re using (and the registration process isn’t quite the smoothest), there’s also integration with Facebook chat.

Ryan Fisher has big plans for The Non Con. There will be a few each year, with over 150-200 creators attending each one. There will be an art feed to see what is being created, as well as a schedule of panels done via chat and podcasts. There will also be a store for attending creators and retailers to sell directly to fans.

Comic-Con is a fun adventure but not anyone can travel across the country (or the world) to attend. This brings the experience of comic book conventions straight to fans, with an unprecedented level of interaction and creativity happening all at once. Sure, similar things are happening on Twitter all the time, but they’re unstructured, spontaneous, and requires people search out and follow the people they like. This preserves the crucial element of discovery that can happen at comic book conventions, where you seek out artists you know and love, and also end up finding new artists.

As big as Comic-Con has become, this has even bigger potential, as the attendance limitations are only confined to how much the site’s servers can handle. We’ll check in again come September to see how the first full blown Non Con goes.

Comic-Con Wrap-Up: Banjo Playing and Speedo Wearing

My Comic-Con 2011 Haul

My Comic-Con 2011 Haul (click to see what I got)

Those two things didn’t happen at the same time but they were two of the most memorable moments of Comic-Con for me this year.

As the comic fates would have it, I was only able to attend one day of Comic-Con this year. Dreading the annual 3-hour drive down to San Diego, I decided instead to ride Amtrak’s Surfliner train down to San Diego from LA’s Union Station to spend the day, and then head back that same night. It ended up being a great way to get around the inevitably terrible traffic and parking headaches. I got to relax, enjoy the spectacular view of the California coast, check out Comic-Con’s app (much improved over last year) to mark panels I might want to see, waste time on Facebook without feeling guilty, take a nap or two, and on the way back I got to read some of the awesome graphic novels I bought. It was dreamy. I will almost surely be doing this from now on (until Comic-Con finally moves up to LA to make it more convenient for me).

Because I only had one day, I wasn’t able to do everything (impossible even if you’re every minute of the day). There were a few people I couldn’t connect with (sorry, Kristian and Brandon!), some publisher tables I never got to (sorry, Boom!, Archaia and IDW!), and some panels I missed (ThunderCats nooo…). Another day probably would’ve done it for what I wanted to do. But I bought a (very heavy!) ton of graphic novels, got to hang out with Scott Shaw! and share a laugh with Sergio Aragonés, and got to experience two things that really stood out as unique and made me absolutely happy that the world of comics exists.

© Eric Drooker, http://drooker.com

© Eric Drooker

The first was artist Eric Drooker‘s panel. Here’s how Comic-Con’s program described it:

Visual artist and Comic-Con special guest Eric Drooker will project hundreds of his magical images and explore how his early years as a street artist in New York City inspired his award-winning graphic novels Flood! and Blood Song. He’ll discuss the process of designing the animation for the recent hit film Howl, starring James Franco, and how he adapted it for the new book, Howl: A Graphic Novel. Best known for his numerous cover paintings for The New Yorker, Drooker will tell hilarious-but-true stories of how he wound up getting published.

A pretty straightforward description. Drooker is a fantastic artist and storyteller, so hearing him talk about his process and history sounded great. It turned out to be so much more than that. He did talk quite a bit about his work and his background, but Eric Drooker also happens to be a talented musician. Over the projected slideshow of his artwork, which has a haunted quality evocative of woodcuts from the 1910s and ’20s, Drooker played his banjo or harmonica and occasionally sang. Like his art, the music he created seemed to harken back a century. There was something incredibly powerful, moving and intimate about seeing and hearing two different forms of art that he had created and was creating live right before us. It seemed like such a personal expression. Here he was expressing himself to us on multiple levels, visually and sonically, and with such immediacy. I guess the easy description is that he created a soundtrack for his own art, but it felt deeper yet more transcendent than simple accompaniment. It was beautiful.

Ajax Wood as Cannibal F***face from Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit 3

Ajax Wood as Cannibal F***face of Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit 3

The second event was a tad sillier but a great example of how comics can take back some of the main spotlight from Hollywood at Comic-Con. I was standing near the Fantagraphics booth when this growling voice bellowed out over the conversations and white noise of the convention floor. In stalked a large hairy man covered in fake blood and wearing nothing but a speedo. He immediately started yelling at people around him, threatening them, cursing at them, mocking them. Now this is Comic-Con, so while there was some confusion, it didn’t take long to figure it out. The bloody man started pacing like a caged tiger behind Johnny Ryan, who was quietly signing copies of his new graphic novel Prison Pit 3. Johnny Ryan is a hilarious cartoonist but he is most definitely not for children. Crass and abrasive, his punchlines are more like blunt objects of comedy that shock and delight at their willful disregard for… everything. He released the third in his Prison Pit series of graphic novels at this year’s Comic-Con. It’s basically a trilogy of absolute violence and gore done on such a deliriously excessive level far beyond the parodying done on The Itchy & Scratchy Show from Matt Groening’s The Simpsons. As a promotional stunt, Johnny Ryan and his publisher Fantagraphics had performance artist Ajax Wood (aka Ardent Vein) done up to look like the main character in Prison Pit, Cannibal F***face. Everything Wood yelled was dialogue from Prison Pit 3. Some of the other exhibitors were mildly annoyed at the disruption, but I think it was a great promotional bit. Now maybe this example scared off more people than it drew in, but it certainly fit into the spirit of Johnny Ryan’s work, which itself isn’t exactly mainstream (although he regularly contributes to Vice Magazine). So it’s actually a pretty accurate marketing stunt. If that kind of spectacle is something that amuses you or draws you in, you’ll probably like Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit 3. Personally, I would’ve given him a few assistants (maybe with fliers) and had him skulk around the convention floor a little bit before sticking him behind the Fantagraphics booth. But it was great. It got people’s attention. Usually at Comic-Con, all of the really flashy stuff is from Hollywood. Publishers and artists would do well to remember that comics are worth some creative pomp and circumstance too. Comics should be the main spectacle of Comic-Con.

The common thread between these two events is that the artists found a way to add performance art to their work. The two had different goals and purposes (one was a panel, one was a book signing) but people in comics are creative enough to come up with more ways to add a level of performance to their art for public appearances like conventions. When they meld so perfectly with the artist and their work, like these two did, it adds a new level of experience and awareness for fans. And it brings back some of that unorthodox spirit that comics have had in the past that make them so memorable.

Comic-Con Wrap-Up: Comics Debuts

I know it’s hard to believe with all the big flashy Hollywood things, but Comic-Con actually had stuff about comic books! There were a number of exciting debuts this year. Scroll through and see if something catches your eye. If so, read the blurb I’ve put together from the publisher’s write-ups, and if you’re intrigued, click the links to find out more.

Any Empire by Nate Powell

Any Empire by Nate Powell

Any Empire by Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) recalls aimless summers of Nancy Drew and G.I. Joe, treehouses and army surplus stores… but when fantasy starts to bleed into reality, whose mission will be accomplished? [Interview]

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen: A haunting postmodern fable, this beautiful and minimalist story is the culmination of ten years and over 600 pages of work that details the metaphysical quandaries of the occupants of an endless plain, existing somewhere between a dream and a Russian steppe.

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

Daybreak by Brian Ralph is an unconventional zombie story. Drawing inspiration from zombies, horror movies, television, and first-person shooter video games, Daybreak departs from zombie genre in both content and format, achieving a living-dead masterwork of literary proportions. [Interview]

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes: Classic staples of the superhero genre – origin, costume, ray-gun. sidekick, fight scene – are reconfigured into a story that is anything but morally simplistic. With subtle comedy, deft mastery and an obvious affection for the bold Pop Art exuberance of comic book design, Daniel Clowes delivers a contemporary meditation on the darkness of the human psyche.

Freakshow by David Server, Jackson Lanzing and Joe Suitor

Freakshow by David Server, Jackson Lanzing and Joe Suitor

Freakshow by writers David Server and Jackson Lanzing, and artist Joe Suitor: When five refugee survivors develop monstrous mutations from a devastating chemical explosion that leaves their city in ruins, they band together to seek revenge against the clandestine government quarantine that has seized control in the aftermath. But are they monsters…or heroes?

WAIT, there’s more! Click through…!

(more…)

Comic-Con Wrap-Up: Digital

Foxtrot by Bill Amend notes the limitations of the iPad (originally published 3/21/2010)

Digital comics are gaining momentum as more people enjoy the convenience of downloading comics onto their tablet device and/or phone, and/or read them on their browser while they’re already at their computer. July has already seen a lot of announcements and Comic-Con, as expected, had a ton more. Here are the highlights:

  • Digital comics sales have doubled for the first six months of 2011, according to industry white papers presented by ICv2 Publisher and CEO Milton Griepp. Digital sales were estimated at less than one million in 2009, somewhere between $6 and $8 million in 2010, and will likely double that amount by the end of 2011. Despite fears of losing print readers to digital, the report states there’s little evidence to suggest a significant level of overlap between buyers in the two markets. Much of the growth is led by the strength of the iPad, with a lot of potential still expected from the Android and e-readers like the Kindle and Nook. Digital sales on PSP have mostly collapsed, likely due to a massive hacking incident on the Sony PlayStation network in April that resulted in the service being shut down for nearly a month and the compromise of millions of their users’ personal data. New additions to the PSP Digital Comics Store were discontinued earlier this month, although the program may get relaunched when Sony releases the PlayStation Vita, expected toward the end of the year. (ICv2)
  • Marvel Comics will begin transitioning to simultaneous print and digital releases (instead of waiting months to release the digital versions of their print comics) starting with this week’s Amazing Spider-Man #666, which kicks off the “Spider-Island” summer event, and the current X-Men event Schism. The Spider-Man family of titles will be released the same day and date in comic book stores and through web and mobile devices. Uncanny X-Men #1 and Wolverine & the X-Men #1 will follow in October and November. Marvel, the comics industry’s number one publisher, will look for more opportunities as titles hit good jumping-on points. (ICv2)
  • VizManga.com has launched from the largest US publisher of Manga, Viz Media. The site syncs with their iOS and Android apps, so manga bought at one can be read on the others. There is a 40% sale going until July 31 and the first chapter of each manga is available for free. There are currently over 40 series and over 300 volumes available, with more added each week. (Robot 6)
  • A collection of 39 Japanese publishers will launch JManga, a web portal to read manga online and interact with creators and fans, in August. Popular manga like One Piece and Naruto are expected to be part of the line-up, as well as more obscure titles that have never been licensed for US release. The cooperative initiative is intended to reverse shrinking sales that publishers feel are due to importing lag time, piracy, and the closing of Borders. (Anime News Network)
  • Top Shelf entered the digital space by launching over 70 graphic novels on the Comics+ app by iVerse Media. According to this interview with Robot 6, they want to have everything in their library that they can release digitally to be available by the end of the summer. They will also be launching on other digital distributors soon and will have their own apps, one for Top Shelf’s entire line and a Kids Club app for their all-ages material. They also have some books on the Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Google eBookstore. (Top Shelf)
  • Panelfly will be relaunching their app as Panelfly Prime and Panelfly Plus beginning in early August. The two apps will enhance the now-standard comics reader experience with videos, news and social media integration within the comic, an experience they’re pitching as SuperMedia. Their recently released Burn Notice digital comic is a template for what they’re building. (Comic Book Resources)
  • Graphicly is adding bonus features and other enhancements to digital comics. Similar to DVD bonus features, the first batch includes audio commentary tracks by creators and trailers, with more to come. (The Couch)
  • LucasFilm OK’ed the digital release of Star Wars comics, so the Dark Horse Digital Store now has tons of Star Wars comics, with more to be added every week. Dark Horse Comics has been publishing Star Wars comics for 20 years now. Part of the release includes Marvel Comics’ 1977 adaptation of the original movie Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. (Dark Horse)
  • Manga publisher Square Enix is running a special sale on their online reader site. If you “like” their Facebook page or got a special URL at Comic-Con, you can get the first volume of any of their 15 series (including Fullmetal Alchemist) for free. Books are usually priced at $5.99. The deal is good until August 10. (Robot 6)

Friday is Brought to You by Comic Book Reading Kitteh

Things to do in Southern California:

Comic-Con!

(that’s it)

If wireless signals hold up (and in the San Diego Convention Center, they frequently don’t), I’ll be posting random Comic-Con stuff to Twitter and/or Tumblr and/or Flickr.

Bordering up Borders

When no one shows up, you know it’s over. That’s just what happened with Borders this week. The second largest book store chain in North America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and closed over 200 stores in February. The store then went through the process of looking for a buyer, which was rejected by creditors. So Borders went to auction this past weekend and not a single bid was made. Liquidation is expected to follow, with the remaining 399 stores closing as soon as this Friday. The entire operation will likely be over by September.

Borders’ eBook store, which came too little too late, is being transitioned over to Kobo (and they’re doing just fine, thank you).

While some comic book publishers didn’t have significant distribution at Borders, others are surely feeling this. Like Barnes & Noble, Borders had cultivated a healthy graphic novel and manga section over the last decade. Marvel, DC, VIZ, IDW, Image and more all had prominent placement and now that revenue is lost in an already struggling market and economy. Book market sales simply aren’t what they used to be, and sales from the comic industry’s primary revenue source, comic book stores, continues to slide each month this year.

It’s no surprise then that publishers are feverishly looking at the one growth sector in comics right now, digital. While it’s still a tiny percentage, it’s growing fast and has a huge potential to reach audiences. After all, large portions of the country are nowhere near comic book stores. Comparisons to digital being the new newsstand pop up in nearly every interview publishers give on the topic. And for good reason. Up to the 1980s and even into the early ’90s, most readers first discovered comic books on spinner racks in convenience stores or local newsstands. That distribution method faded away and comic book stores saved comic books from vanishing entirely, but the cost was that you had to know about comic books and their specialty stores to discover comics, which of course is almost impossible. Needless to say, the oxygen has been slowly running out on the sealed tank ever since.

While there is a lot of hope with digital, there is something lost in Borders. What made Borders great might have been a piece of its ultimate commercial failure. Borders was great for browsing. They welcomed people sitting around for hours at a time, reading books they hadn’t purchased. The store itself was designed like you had stepped into someone’s personal library. It allowed for discovery. Amazon.com and digital comics providers like comiXology often (but not always) allow select pages for browsing and discovery, but that’s it. It makes it harder to know if it’s for you and some customers are very reluctant to take that risk and just try something. Or maybe that’s something the digital generation isn’t concerned about.

Of course, the book market isn’t completely gone. There’s still local book stores that carry graphic novels and comic books (surely some do), Barnes & Noble, Chapters (in Canada), and others. Marvel Comics just announced four original graphic novels that are surely aimed at the book store market. Executives at Marvel had previously stated in multiple interviews that it didn’t make financial sense for them to do original graphic novels, instead publishing graphic novels comprised of collections of reprinted comic book issues which allowed them to defer production costs with sales of the comic books. Something has apparently changed in the numbers they’re looking at for them to do an about-face. Last year DC Comics experimented with original graphic novels by releasing Superman: Earth One. by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis. The experiment was so successful that Straczynski abandoned his monthly writing assignments and has been focusing almost entirely on more original graphic novels for DC. Time will tell if the loss of Borders will merely be a blip, or if it’ll be too big of a loss for some publishers to continue.