Month: September 2011

Friday is Brought to You by Bear-Attacking Kitteh

Watch out for the rogue foot about halfway through.

REMINDER – Less than 100 tickets left for Drama After Dark: A Night of the Macabre with Poe and Gorey, which I am in along with many other talented actors at the Huntington Gardens, Saturday, October 8, 6:30-9:30 PM. Tickets are $35.

Graphic Novel gets reviewed in comics form

Michael Cavna reviews Habibi using comics (click to read)

Michael Cavna of The Washington Post‘s Comic Riffs blog posted a wonderfully illustrated review of the new graphic novel Habibi by Craig Thompson. I really wish this would happen more often.

I’ve said this before in the past. I love when people in comics use the language of comics to talk about the world of comics. What better way to express oneself. And Cavna presents fantastic evidence to support my case. As he puts it, “it seemed only right to respond with pictures to one of the year’s best comic projects”.

Cavna runs an excellent blog, so it’s easy to forget he’s also an amazing artist. His syndicated comic strip Warped ran in major newspapers across the country, including our own Los Angeles Times, from 1996 to 2003. It’s clear from this that he needs to do more illustrated content for Comic Riffs.

In his review, Cavna weaves together the various threads that led to Habibi. From Craig Thompson’s health problems with his hands following the release of the acclaimed break-out graphic novel Blankets, to his mid-west fundamentalist background. From Thompson’s personal response to 9/11 and religious anxieties that followed, which led to an interest in studying the Qur’an. Arabic writing in turn fed into Thompson’s interest in calligraphy, which informed much of the design of Habibi. Drawing from Arabian NightsHabibi is, as Cavna puts it, “a story of wounded love between a eunuch and a prostitute”. But more than that, it is about Thompson learning to embrace and embody being a man, about sexual trauma, and ultimately about healing. Cavna ends his review intertwining visual motifs of Blankets and Habibi, and calls the latter “a visual masterwork”.

How to Find the Webcomic for You

Screen shot of inkOUTBREAK's reader

The internet is a big place. Discovering a webcomic can be next to impossible unless you’ve determined to comb the intertubes for an entire weekend, or you visit just the right sites. Fortunately, there’s a promising new alternative called inkOUTBREAK that doubles not only as a portal to discover new webcomics, but a way to bookmark your current favorites so you never miss an update.

Sure you could subscribe to an RSS feed, but what if you’re at a different computer? Or have no clue about RSS thingies? Or just don’t really like RSS feeds? inkOUTBREAK lets you follow webcomics you like and takes you to the specific website that houses the webcomic, so you get the entire experience. And every time your favorites update, they’re at the top of your screen. Plus, it does what RSS feeds can’t, it recommends new webcomics to discover. Through the use of customized tags, you can specify the kinds of webcomics you’re interested in. Combine that with the “bump” of a thumbs up you can give strips you enjoy, you also get a suggested stream of webcomics, somewhat similar to exploring music on Pandora Radio.

I’ve just never been a fan of RSS and my email inbox gets pretty cluttered, that I’m reluctant to subscribe to webcomics that way. So this is great news to me. Thanks to inkOUTBREAK, I’ve been able to find several webcomics I lost track of because I’d forgotten the title after some late night internet-wandering (notably Amazing Super Powers). And I’ve already discovered some new ones I’m liking (such as I am Arg!, this surreal Cat and Girl, and this visual treat on Ellie on Planet X). And I’m very happy to be able to read some of my favorites without having to remember their update schedule (like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and The Abominable Charles Christopher).

Having said that, it’s not perfect. It’s still in beta after all. Some of the navigation to work out your settings, like tags and favorites, isn’t the most intuitive to me. You definitely have to be willing to tinker around with it a little bit. Because of just how many webcomics are out there, even a site like this can’t be expected to have everything, especially right out of the gate. But there are a few surprising omissions, as well as some of my favorites that are missing. No Hark! A Vagrant, no Max Overreacts, no Sheldon, no Destructor, none of Kevin Church’s Agreeable Comics, no Now It Can Be Told (or any of Act-I-Vate, for that matter). You get the idea. And unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a way to suggest webcomics to be added to the service. (It looks like that option used to exist but now the creator of the webcomic has to do it themselves.) Friends with Boys is there but something in the code seems messed up. I’m sure a lot of this will be fixed in the near future.

But it’s a promising start and a fantastic idea. For more on the site, check out this walk-through.

MetaMaus reveals Why Comics

MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman (click to buy at Barnes and Noble)

Art Spiegelman‘s Maus is a really important graphic novel. So much so that it seems kind of silly to feel the need to even point it out. In actuality, it’s a really important book that happens to be a graphic novel.

In case you’ve never gotten around to checking it out or actually don’t know, Maus is the story of Art’s strained relationship with his father, and the elder Spiegelman’s experiences in the Jewish Holocaust of World War II. The first of two graphic novels telling the entire story was released in 1986 and earned a metric ton of accolades. The second followed in 1991, which brought on another wave of critical praise and recognition, including a Pulitzer Prize Special Award. While the Pulitzer Prize has a category for editorial cartoons, the prestigious award for excellence in journalism and the arts had never recognized comic books and hasn’t since. It was one of the most significant steps forward for comics to start to be seen as a legitimate form of expression and art in America. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, it was also one of the most high profile examples that comics didn’t have to be about superheroes. Aside from all of that, it’s a really good read.

Now 25 years later, Spiegelman returns to his most well-known work for a companion book MetaMaus. Included is a new comic by Spiegelman, as well as tons of archival documents, early sketches, and a bonus DVD that includes recordings of his father, and much more.

In excerpts heard in the below trailer, Art Spiegelman talks about why he chose to use comics to tell this story and he talks about the maverick and underground nature comics held for a long time, and still do in some respect.

I really liked the satire magazines, the comic books that made fun of the culture around me. Those were the ones that really seemed to be talking about television, advertising, politics in a way that said primarily the grown-up world is lying to you. And this was the Rosetta Stone that would let you kind of break the code and see what was really going on in the world.

MetaMaus will be released on October 4.

 

Comics and Graphic Novels at this year’s West Hollywood Book Fair

10th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair

The West Hollywood Book Fair is this Sunday, October 2nd, and a good number of comic book and graphic novel authors, artists, publishers and retailers are taking part. There are plenty of panels and events, which all include signings immediately after. Here’s a look at what’s happening:

Programming:

The Comics, Graphic Novels & More Pavilion will have panels throughout the entire day. Good discussions will be held to examine how comics are attempting to diversify their readership, as well as the rise of graphic novel anthologies and young adult graphic novels. There will also be a look at comic book adaptations of the worlds of Jim Henson and a broader look at comics getting adapted to film and TV. The day is then capped off with a live podcast covering Superman’s impact on American and world culture.

11:00 am – 12:00 pm: Diversity in Comics panel. Former TokyoPop senior editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl moderates; panelists: author/illustrator Leland Myrick (Feynman), manga editor/writer Troy Lewter (Priest, Cabin in the Woods), and writer Kimberly Komatsu (Womanthology, In America’s Shadow).

12:15 pm – 1:15 pm: The Rise of the Graphic Novel Anthology. Comedy writer Asterios Kokkinos moderates; panelists: Kazu Kibuishi (editor of Flight, Explorer), DJ Kirkbride (editor of Popgun), Nicole Sixx (contributor to Womanthology), and Michael Woods (editor of Outlaw Territory).

1:30 pm – 2:30 pm: The World of Young Adult Grapphic Novels. Lillian Diaz-Przybyl again moderates; panelists: author Cecil Castellucci (The Plain Janes), writer Deborah Vankin (Poseurs), and editor Barbara Randall Kesel (Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives, Wicked Lovely: Desert Tales).

2:45 pm – 3:45 pm: Jim Henson and Comic Books: Putting Puppets to Paper. Writer/editor (and Henson specialist) Tim Beedle moderates; panelists: The Jim Henson Company‘s Director of Product Development Jim Formanek, writer Brian Holguin (Dark Crystal), consulting editor Joe LeFavi of Quixotic Transmedia (Fraggle Rock, The Storyteller, Return to Labyrinth), and writer Heather Nuhfer (Fraggle Rock).

4:00 pm – 5:00 pm: Comics to Screen & Back Again. Moderated by Sax Carr and Blair Marnell of Crave Online’s The Idiot Box podcast; panelists: writer/editor Len Wein (Swamp Thing, X-Men), executive story editor/writer Deric A. Hughes (Warehouse 13), and writer Sam Sarker of Johnny Depp’s production company Infinitum Nihil (The Vault).

5:00 pm – 6:00 pm: Inside the Comics Industry: Superman. A live broadcast of the Fandom Planet podcast hosted by comedians Tim Powers and Sax Carr; panelists: artist Jon Bogdanove (Superman: The Man of Steel), writer Elliot S! Maggin (Action Comics, Superman), and comics historian/cartoonist Scott Shaw! (Oddball Comics, Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew)

The Current Events & Hot Topics Pavilion will also include some comics mixed into their “traditional” book discussions. Writer Joshua Dysart (Unknown Soldier) will be one of the panelists for The Way of the Gun: Fascination & Fear in Fact & Fiction, moderated by writer Gary Phillips (Cowboys). Other panelists include novelists Naomi Hirahara (Blood Hina: A Mas Arai Mystery) and Adam Winkler (Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America).

The popular Amulet series of graphic novels by special guest Kazu Kibuishi

The Teen Stage has a live author interview with Cecil Castellucci (The Plain Janes, Janes in Love), conducted by blogger and book reviewer Chelsea Swiggett. The two will discuss Castellucci’s two graphic novels, as well as her popular young adult novels like Rose Sees Red.

Events:

Young Adult author Cecil Castellucci will also be exhibiting her collaborative narrative project Literary Diaspora at the Fair. She mails (yes, old fashion mails!) out words to visual artists and images to authors who then create something inspired by what they received. They then mail it back to her to add to the growing stories. So far comics artists Becky Cloonan, Joe Infurnari, Chip Zdarsky and others have participated. Cards returned so far will be displayed at the Fair, and visitors might even find a card in a books asking them to participate. Check out LiteraryDiaspora.com for more on the project.

Live Art with Billy Martinez – Indie comics creator Martinez will produce art at the Indie Comics Creators Booths all day long. Booth: C 19-22

How to Make Comic Books & Zines Workshop – The Indie Comics Creators Booths will hold workshops and tutorials all day long. Booth: C 19-22

Special Guests:

Cecil CastellucciThe Plain Janes and Janes in Love graphic novels, as well as YA novels Boy Proof, The Queen of Cool and Beige. Official site.
Kazu Kibuishi Amulet graphic novel series, Flight comics anthology. Official site.
Deborah VankinPoseurs graphic novel, LA Times staff writer. Twitter.

Exhibitors:

Archaia Entertainment – Publisher of graphic novels Mouse Guard, Return of the Dapper Men, Jim Henson projects like Fraggle Rock and The Dark Crystal, and much more. Booth: C 4-5
The Comic Bug – A great comic book store in Manhattan Beach. Booth: C 1-2
The Devastator – A quarterly comedy magazine with comics, funny writing and other wackiness run by editor-in-chief Geoffrey Golden (Cracked, National Lampoon). Booth: C 19-22, Table E
Eyedraugh Comics – Independent comics publisher located in Fontana. Booth: C 19-22, Table A
Neko Press Comics – Art studio, school and publisher run by La Mesa-based illustrator Billy Martinez, who will be producing live art all day long. Booth: C 19-22, Table H
OMGcow: A Comic Diary – An autobiographical web-comic by cartoonist Sheika Lugta of Long Beach. Booth: C 19-22, Table A

The WeHo Book Fair is happening this Sunday at the West Hollywood Library, which is itself having a grand opening the day before, and the neighboring West Hollywood Park, at N. San Vicente Blvd. at Melrose Blvd, this Sunday, 10 am – 6 pm.

The Comic Archive shows comic book creators creating

The Comic Archive has been putting up video interviews with comic book creators looking at how they create comic books and graphic novels.

Interested in how technology was changing the way comics are being made, comics inker Michael Furth started interviewing comic creators on camera and putting the results up on YouTube. About a year later, he’s still going strong. What makes these particularly unique is that most of them show the artists actually working in their studios instead of just talking heads talking about it.

He recently posted an interview with graphic novelist Craig Thompson, creator of the mega-hit autobiography Blankets. His long-awated follow-up Habibi was just released by Pantheon Books. (Unfortunately this is a talking head interview, but fortunately Thompson gives some good answers.)

To give an example of seeing an artist in their work environment, this next one is cartoonist Anna-Maria Jung showing how she uses Photoshop. She also discusses how she learned composition techniques in designing a scene from animation.

The Comic Archive’s website and YouTube channel have more interviews totaling over 100 videos. Most creators have multiple videos which make for more digestible installments. Other featured creators: Khary Randolph, Wes Craig, Dean Haspiel, Chip Kidd, Steve Rude, JM Ken Niimura, Phil Jiminez, Paola Rivera, Rick Geary, Denny O’Neil, Yanick Paquette, Art Thibert, Zander Cannon, Tim Bradstreet, Steve Niles, Marc Deering, Joe Sinnott, Joe Kubert, Dexter Vines, Cliff Chiang, Cameron Stewart, and Brian Bolland.

Digital Comics Update: Doing Great in Some Non-Specific Way

Justice League #1 - Record-setting sales for DC's digital comics

While still a fraction of print sales, digital comics continue to grow. (Digital comics being comic books you read on the web and mobile devices like the iPad and Android phones.) Great news, right? I’m a big believer in digital comics. But it’s not so easy to know exactly how much they’re growing or whether everyone’s just really excited about a lot of unsubstantiated press release hype.

Within a week of each other, the largest comic book publishers in North America both claimed that sales of one of their digital comics surpassed their own records for digital sales. In both instances, the record-setting digital comic was released on the same day as its print counterpart was released in comic book stores. DC Comics announced in this interview with Salon the good sales news for Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, the launch title for their ambitious and highly publicized New 52 initiative.

Jim Lee: [B]ased on recent numbers, certainly Justice League No. 1 has surpassed the recent highs in comics sales. […] It’s also setting records digitally. I can’t give numbers, but on the first day it set a record for us.

Salon: Once you compared the volume of DC’s digital comics sales to dental floss. Is it up to dental tape now?

Jim Lee: It’s too early to say.

Marvel Comics later issued a press release for their announcement regarding Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, where the webbed adventures begin for the half-black/half-Latino Miles Morales.

The trick? Neither publisher actually revealed any concrete sales data.

This has caused a bit of consternation among comics industry watchers, who are trying to understand the actual strength of digital comics and sales of comics in general. As The Comics Reporter‘s Tom Spurgeon wonderfully puts it, sales figures are usually only hinted at or used for hype by publishers like DC and Marvel, resulting in the “I have a girlfriend in Canada” of sales analysis.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 - recording-setting sales for Marvel's digital comics

Looking outside of comics, most entertainment companies don’t share honest sales numbers because they consider that proprietary information, but those other industries have something comics doesn’t have – a third party tracking sales through reasonably objective means. Put bluntly, comics needs a Nielsen. The best we have are the sales estimates put together by ICv2, John Jackson Miller’s The Comics Chronicles, and a few others. These are best guess estimates based off charts provided by the largest distributor of comic books, Diamond Comics. But they’re only counting comic book stores in North America. There’s little to no coverage of book stores, no coverage of subscriptions, no sales to libraries and schools, nothing from the UK and other countries, no newsstand sales (meager but still out there), no sales from other outlets like grocery stores. To be sure, North American comic book stores are the dominant sales channel for print comic books. But it’s not the entire picture. What’s more, the sales estimates are determined by using Diamond’s odd index numbering system constructed around everything’s relative sales to that month’s issue of Batman. So if you figure out the sales of Batman in any given month, you can figure out the sales of everything else in that same month. Why Batman of all things? It’s mostly arbitrary but its sales have been historically pretty stable due to the character’s popularity and longevity of the series. On top of all that, the numbers only reflect what comic book stores are ordering. We have almost no idea about sell-through to actual paying customers beyond anecdotal reporting and the assumption that most stores are ordering month-to-month close to what they think they can sell. Needless to say, the accuracy of these estimates has been disputed and called into question. Some say it gives a fairly reasonable picture and is better than nothing, which is true. But numerous comic book creators have gone on record to say that the estimates are wrong when compared to their royalty vouchers and other internal accounting statements.

So we’ve got an entire industry more or less groping in the dark trying to feel out the shape and size of their own business. But it’s the best we’ve got, so numbers are put under the microscope. At least there’s something for print comics. Digital comics have vague statements of modest to booming success. ICv2 estimated earlier this summer that digital comics sales are generating between $6 to $18 million a year, with sales doubling from 2009 to 2010. Archie Comics boasted nearly 2 million downloads back in January. ComiXology, the undisputed largest digital comics provider, trumpeted surpassing 1 million downloads at the end of 2010, and their main Comics app was recently the second grossing iPad app, outselling the popular app for the Angry Birds game. IDW Publishing announced over 1 million downloads of their various digital comics apps back in April. Plenty of similar announcements have been made. It’s great news because it confirms that there are a lot of people interested in comic books. But how many of those downloads generated money. It’s free to download almost all digital comics apps, and there are plenty of free comic books available to download within each app. How many of those millions are paying?

What we do know is that digital comics is one of the biggest growth sectors for comics. The independent comics publisher SLG Publishing recently announced they were switching to digital first distribution. The transition will see the end of print comic books from the publisher. Issues will instead be released only as digital comic books that will eventually be collected and released for the first time in the physical world as print graphic novels. While several publishers have abandoned the single issue comic book format to strictly graphic novels, this is the first significant comics publisher to transition their serialized stories to the digital space. SLG was among the first publishers to embrace digital. They are one of the few that allow full ownership of their digital comics through their Eyemelt store, which sells .pdf, .ePub and .cbz that can be used anywhere. (ComiXology and other digital comics providers are technically leasing you the right to view images of comics files, which can be and have been taken away or locked.) SLG comics are also available on iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, ComiXology, iVerse’s Comics+, Graphicly, and Panelfly.

According to SLG publisher Dan Vado, much of the company’s marketing has not been focused on digital, so their sales there have been promising but not exceptional. In fact, in a surprising break from the above trend, Vado was willing to make public some of the company’s digital comics sales figures.

The best selling downloadable comic we have had is The Griffin #2 at around 200. This is like a 20 year old comic I did for DC Comics.

Most of the other books have struggled to get to triple digits.

How does that one digital comic stack up against the digital sales of Justice League #1 and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1? I’d like to believe there’s a significant difference but who can tell? For whatever it’s worth, Justice League #1 has 318 reviews on ComiXology, while Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 only has 58, at the time I’m writing this. Not everyone that buys and reads a digital comic will submit a review of whether it was a 5-star comic but that seems like a bare minimum at least. Except that anyone can leave a review whether they’ve read the comic or not, as long as they’ve logged in.

As The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald points out in the above link, SLG’s most popular and well known property is probably Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez and that will be released digitally next year. Vado expects that to be their top digital seller very quickly, especially since they will have ramped up their marketing efforts focused on new readers instead of readers that already own the print version. If Vado continues to be as transparent, SLG could be a very interesting case study of a publisher transitioning to digital. And in the process, he could give us a better idea of the actual strength and success of digital.

Private Eye Butt Kapinski arrives in LA, solves crime, breaks 4th wall

A whole lot of this please:

Butt Kapinski is a scrappy clown character played by Deanna Fleysher. With a brilliant bit of ingenuity, she has devised a way to light herself for performances that adds another level to the character’s look and physicality. This gives her the freedom to break the 4th wall and roam around her audience for an all-new level of interaction and immersion. Fleysher’s playfulness and joy comes through in the character who is almost instantly likable, funny and fun to watch.

The character originated in New York City but has recently made the trek to Los Angeles. I can’t wait to see what Butt Kapinski does in our city.

Comic Book Movies and TV Shows for the Rest of 2011

Well the big summer blockbusters are all done. But that doesn’t mean comic books are done invading pop culture entertainment. I always think the source material is better, but checking out comic book adaptations, whether TV or film, can be a good way of sampling. Here’s what’s coming down the pike for the rest of 2011:

Piled Higher and Deeper: The PhD Movie – Live action comedy about graduate college.

The Walking Dead returns to AMC this October

The Walking Dead Season 2 – Live action horror TV series about a small group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse.

Batman: Year One – Animated feature-length movie about the noir-ish retelling of the early days of Bruce Wayne’s superhero career.

  • Schedule: Released on DVD, Blu-ray and for download on Tuesday, October 18.
  • Based on one of the seminal DC Comics graphic novels, Batman: Year One by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli. The story was originally published in Batman comic books in 1987.

X-Men Anime Series – Animated TV series imported from Japan featuring the mutant superheroes Cyclops, Wolverine and others fighting for a world that fears and hates them.

  • Schedule: 12 episodes starting Friday, October 21 at 11 PM Eastern on G4.
  • Based on various X-Men comic books and graphic novels published by Marvel Comics over the years but specifically narrowing in on New X-Men by writer Grant Morrison and various artists, as well as Astonishing X-Men by writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday.

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Season 2 – Animated TV series about Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America and their superhero friends fighting evil.

  • Schedule: 26 episodes starting on a Sunday in October at 10 AM Eastern and Pacific on Disney XD
  • Based on a whole slew of Avengers and other comic books by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others, as well as The Kree-Skrull War by writer Roy Thomas, artist Neal Adams and others, and Secret Invasion by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Leinil Francis Yu, published by Marvel Comics. Plus there’s definitely inspiration taken from the Iron Man movies.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Crab with the Golden Claws

Green Lantern: The Animated Series Season 1 – CGI animated series about a sci-fi superhero with cosmically powered jewelry.

  • Schedule: This was originally set to debut last week but now a preview is going to air this Fall, possibly in November, with the full 26-episode season to start in Spring 2012 on Cartoon Network.
  • Based on countless Green Lantern comics but more specifically this summer’s Green Lantern movie and recent Green Lantern comic books and graphic novels by writer Geoff Johns and others published by DC Comics.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn – CGI animated 3D feature film using performance capture technology. It’s about a plucky journalist and his dog going on a globe-trotting treasure hunt.

Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments or email and I’ll add them in.