Month: December 2011

New Year, New Laughs

The New Year is coming! And if the Mayans are right, we’ve only got until December 21 to live it up. Better start scheduling your good times now. We’ve got quite a few planned for you throughout 2012 because if we’re going down, we’re going down laughing!

Our first show of 2012 brings us back to the Westside Comedy Theater, right off the Third Street Promenade in downtown Santa Monica. We hit the stage at 8 PM on Friday January 6th to do a fully improvised show combining short-form games and long-form scenarios all made up on the spot based on suggestions you give us. Tickets are $10 for the whole night. If you hang around after our show, you’ll get to experience two other improv groups, The Waterbrains and Mission: IMPROVable. Each group has their own format and style, so you’re in for a real treat.

The above was cross-posted on the Magic Meathands blog. I’ve been a member of the Magic Meathands for nearly 3 years, performing well over 100 shows of improvised comedy. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, give yourself a treat and catch one of our shows.

Year in Review: BOOM! takes some hits but doesn’t go out

This has been a year of challenging transition for the Los Angeles-based comic book and graphic novel publisher BOOM! Studios. As I mentioned last year around this time, popular comics writer Mark Waid had stepped away from his role as Chief Creative Officer of BOOM! (although he continues to write Irredeemable and Incorruptible, two very strong sellers) and acclaimed writer/cartoonist Roger Langridge had wrapped up his final work on the much-loved The Muppet Show: The Comic Book. Unfortunately that turned out to be just the beginning, but the publisher has shown persistence in keeping their foothold in the industry by releasing new properties with sufficient success to cover for the properties that were lost over the year.

Irredeemable Vol. 1 (one of BOOM!'s strongest selling graphic novels)

Last December, I thought the BOOM Kids! imprint still had a lot of life left in it. But the risk with licensed properties is the owner of the licensed properties may eventually choose to not renew contracts to keep new comics coming. That’s just what the Walt Disney Company did, which resulted in the all-ages line today being entirely altered from what it was a year ago. Over this year, what had been a growing line of Disney-related comics that, in addition to the Muppets, included classic characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, beloved Disney Afternoon characters like Darkwing Duck and the cast of DuckTales, and recent stars from Pixar movies like The Incredibles and Cars, trickled away as Disney shifted their comics publishing to Marvel Comics, which they had acquired in December 2009. (Concurrently, Marvel has been releasing magazine-style reprints of a number of these stories, and early next year plans to publish its first all-new Disney story since the acquisition [although that may be a story originally published in Italy that’s simply never been published in English before].) The Pixar comics mostly ceased at the beginning of the year and the classic Disney material by July. The remaining Disney Afternoon material was allowed to wrap up throughout the Fall, with Darkwing Duck, one of the best-selling titles of the Disney material, concluding last month.

Meanwhile, in the publisher’s main line of comics, three other licensed comics that helped bring in sci-fi and horror readers concluded. Their 28 Days Later comic ran its course, ending with issue #24 (there are plans to revisit the world, although the third movie of the franchise 28 Months Later may be stuck in development). Farscape, based on the Sci-Fi Network show of the same name, wrapped up a few months later, with no apparent plans to continue. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a faithful comics adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name, which served as the basis for the movie Blade Runner, also came to a close after a strong start in 2009. All three titles ended with estimated sales of 3,000-4,000 copies per issue among North American comic book stores, although they have had or are likely to have better cumulative sales over time in their collected forms as graphic novels.

Clive Barker's Hellraiser #1 (one of BOOM!'s strongest debuts this year)

As if all that wasn’t enough, a highly publicized launch of three super-hero comics somewhat sizzled out this year. The legendary Stan Lee, co-creator of many Marvel Comics characters from the 1960s, helped conceive of a trio of new titles written and illustrated by some acclaimed modern creators, but even the possibility of a new Marvel Universe couldn’t sustain the mini-line past a year. While all three titles, Soldier Zero, The Traveler and Starborn, did well initially at comic shops, sales drifted over the last 12 months. The last issues were released over the last month or so, with the material being used for a set of decent selling graphic novels.

When big names like Disney and Stan Lee don’t work out for whatever reason, it’s time to double down. And that’s just what BOOM! Studios has done this year, replacing outgoing properties with new material both familiar and brand new. They have released well-received comic books based on the new Planet of the Apes movie, a new Hellraiser comic, and an anticipated Steed and Mrs. Peel from the ’60s Avengers spy TV series by popular comics writer Grant Morrison. You’ll note in that Planet of the Apes link that they created a mini-site that includes web-comics and other material to help reach out to potential readers. That’s a new strategy they’ve been practicing well for several of their launches this year. Similar digital initiatives were done for the launches of Michael Moorcock’s Elric: The Balance Lost. They tested this idea by releasing a free PDF sample of Hellraiser through Wired.com. This savvy awareness of the online world is also being used to help out promising original comics that haven’t quite captured the best sales, as in the case of Dracula: The Company of Monsters, a horror/thriller of a modern corporation trying to control the legendary vampire. The 12 issues released so far are being serialized as a web-comic for free, and new content will eventually be added, with graphic novel collections in print to follow. It should be interesting to see if a traditional print comics publisher can succeed with a formula that works well for many original web-comics. (Avatar Press seemed to do well enough going this route with FreakAngels, running from 2008 to this past August, although it’s something they’ve yet to repeat, which might mean it wasn’t successful enough to try again.) In addition to the successful launches and web-initiatives, BOOM! Studios continues to keep their digital comics library robust. You can read most of their comics through comiXology (or through their mobile apps for iOS and Android devices).

First Peanuts graphic novel

BOOM! Studios also re-branded their kids line as kaboom! Studios, headlined by the first Peanuts graphic novel (based on the new animated special Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown) and a new Peanuts ongoing series. (While selling very well, new Peanuts material not from the hand of the late Charles M. Schulz hasn’t been universally accepted, as it was his wishes that no new comics be created after he died. However, he was specifically referring to the comic strip, and there is evidence of others working on Peanuts in comic books released in the 1960s. Regardless, since the Schulz Estate does not have majority ownership of Peanuts and the brand management firm Iconix does (80%/20% split), new comic books is what we get. However the comic strips appearing in newspapers today still consist entirely of rerun strips by Schulz.) kaboom! also brought Roger Langridge back to BOOM! with a new original comic called Snarked. While it lacks Muppets, it’s missing none of the humor and charm. There are also two new WordGirl graphic novels based on the PBS animated series.

It hasn’t all worked out (their Decision 2012 comics straw poll experiment fizzled out despite being a fun idea, and their promising BOOM! Town literary comics imprint with Denis Kitchen has yet to really kick in), but it’s worked out well enough for them to solidly maintain their position as the seventh largest North American comics publisher, bubbling just under 2% of the market. Considering the big changes they’ve been through and the economic tumult surrounding them, that’s no mean feat.

Comics Publishers Come Out in Support of Dangerous Online Piracy Bill

Happy Holidays, everyone. Now stop using the internet. That appears to be the message from a number of comics publishers, however unintentional.

On Thursday, December 22, the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, chaired by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), released a list of supporters of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). This bill is an attempt by lawmakers to address intellectual property security concerns on the internet. However, it has been flagged by various organizations and individuals for going too far, giving broad power without due process, limiting free speech and discouraging technical innovation. Graphic Policy has a great summary of the bill’s weaknesses and how it relates to the comic book industry. Some are claiming it could cripple social sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Tumblr, along with thousands of harmless fan-sites and any other sites sharing their IP addresses.

Among the corporations and organizations listed as supporters of SOPA are the following comic book and graphic novel publishers:

Also included is the Association of American Publishers, which counts DC Comics, Disney Publishing and more among their members.

As we come out of the holidays, many of these organizations might have to start responding to a vocal outpouring of concern among customers and partners, and in some cases, threats of organized boycotts.

There has been considerable push back already, and from public pressure some organizations have dropped their support of SOPA. The Graphic Artists Guild has retracted their support, stating “We are concerned that the bill may have unintended consequences that may do more harm than good.” They also added that they “have not spent a dime on any lobbyist in Congress for this bill”. The largest domain name registrar GoDaddy faced massive threats of boycotts, and has also reversed their position. Time will tell if more will shift their support.

(via Graphic Policy)

Calendar Uses Comics to Tell Story Every Day of the Year

Far Flung 2012 Calendar - frontComic books and graphic novels typically tell stories using panels, or little boxes, lined up one after the other in a sequence depicting different moments in time. Similarly, most calendars use boxes to visually represent the sequence of days in each month. Along comes cartoonist Chris Brandt, who noticed this similarity and ingeniously merged the two into what may be the first calendar comic book.

The Far Flung 2012 Calendar uses each month to tell a chapter in a year-long adventure of four cartoon animals. The top image serves as the splash page, and then each day of the month is one panel or moment in that chapter, just like a long comic strip. It’s a fun, funny adventure of a sheep escaping from a farm with the help of a rabbit, turtle and ring-tailed lemur. The quartet steal a car and head off for freedom and cute shenanigans!

Originally made as a 2000 calendar with a very limited print run (only 300 copies were made), Chris Brandt updated it for 2012 with an equally limited print run at the insistence of friends. But this time he’s made the calendar available as a free downloadable PDF that anyone can print out and hang on their wall to enjoy for the whole year.

More pictures are below, or check out the mini-gallery I made. For more on Chris Brandt, who is also serving as a producer with me on Dig Comics, check out his website Bainst.com.

Far Flung 2012 Calendar - January

Far Flung 2012 Calendar - May close-up