Month: December 2011

Alternative Comics Publisher Brings Literary Graphic Novels to Digital E-Readers

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown

Alternative comic book and graphic novel publishers have been slow to bring their material to digital platforms like the iPad, Kindle and Nook e-readers but one of the most acclaimed and influential has made an initial step. Drawn & Quarterly announced yesterday that Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography and Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being A John, two of the most critically praised graphic novels by cartoonist Chester Brown, are now available on the Kobo Vox e-reader. Kobo apps are also available on the iPad and iPhone (although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to do a search on either version of the app, and had to go to their website just to set up a new account) as well as the Android.

Louis Riel is a meticulously researched yet somewhat fictionalized biographical account of the life of the Canadian folk hero and leader of the Métis people. TIME Magazine named it one of the best comics of 2003. It won prestigious Harvey Awards for Best Writer and Best Graphic Album, and was also nominated by the Ignatz and Eisner Awards both for Outstanding Graphic Novel. In October, Louis Riel was selected for Canada Reads, an annual competition put on by the CBC to select that country’s essential read.

Paying For It is Brown’s newest release, and like the sub-title says, it tells of his experiences hiring prostitutes. The controversial release was covered here previously and has continued to inspire debate and discussion, as well as consideration as one of the year’s best releases.

Drawn & Quarterly and Kobo are Canadian companies that have both agreed to a non-exclusive contract, with the implication being that the publisher is free to distribute their digital books on other e-readers. In a rare bit of generosity, Drawn & Quarterly also revealed that proceeds from e-book sales on Kobo would be split 50/50 with Drawn & Quarterly and Chester Brown, per the Writers’ Union of Canada. The majority of comics publishers have not revealed what, if any, cut creators get from digital sales. Drawn & Quarterly plans to add more creators to Kobo and to also expand to other devices next year. So maybe we can look forward to being about to buy Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant, The Death-Ray by Chris Ware, Big Questionsby Anders Nilsen, Wilson by Daniel Clowes, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle, A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and so much more.

(via Publishers Weekly)

Happy Holidays from the Magic Meathands

Thank you all to those who came out for our last set of shows of the year! We had great turnouts and really fun shows! This whole year has been a banner run for us, and we couldn’t do it without you.

We have a Comedy Outreach Project show this Thursday for a boys’ home, and then we’re putting 2011 to bed. The holidays are a wonderful time for giving but sadly there are people in need all throughout the year. That’s why we do Comedy Outreach shows all year long! If you are part of a non-profit organization that provides for those less fortunate in the Los Angeles and surrounding communities, or know someone who is, and you think they could use some laughter, please drop us a line. We’ll arrange to come to your group and provide a safe, fun and content-appropriate show that will bring out joy, laughter and creativity.

Happy Holidays!

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.

Comics Lose Two Original Innovators

Two of the true innovators and original pioneers of the comic book industry died recently.

Jerry Robinson died Wednesday, December 7, at the age of 89. Robinson will forever be most linked with the 1940 creation of Batman’s nemesis and possibly the first super-villain, The Joker. During this time, he also co-created Robin the Boy Wonder to be Batman’s sidekick, which established what soon became an iconic narrative device for superhero comics, and of course the inevitable wave of sidekick imitators. As if forever changing the superhero genre wasn’t enough, he also created another iconic element of Batman, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred. Following his genre-defining work in superhero comics in the 1930s and ’40s, Robinson went on to fight for creator rights (notably in support of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman), write The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art (one of the earliest publications to detail the history of the art form [Dark Horse Comics published a revised and expanded edition earlier this year]), as well as establish CartoonArts International, a syndicate that helped create distribution networks for political cartoonists around the world. He is the only person to have served as President of both the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), and also served as guest curator for several art galleries hosting shows featuring comics art.

Joe Simon died last Thursday, December 14, at the age of 98 of an undisclosed illness. In late 1940 with his partner Jack Kirby, Simon created Captain America, one of the first and certainly the most influential superhero meant to stir up patriotism as the United States considered involvement in World War II. The first issue of Captain America Comics, released in December 1940 (cover-dated March 1941), brazenly featured Captain America slugging Adolf Hitler in the jaw right on the cover. While Hitler now seems like a comic book villain, he was then a real-world political leader. With nearly one million copies sold, it was considered an instant hit and got the attention of Nazi sympathizers and anti-war activists who wrote angry and even threatening letters. Flag-draped superheroes soon came out of the woodwork but few could compete. Simon served as head editor of the Marvel Comics precursor, Timely Comics, during this time, but soon moved on with Kirby to create a brand new genre for the comics art form: romance. Now frequently satirized, romance comics were a massive hit and brought in a whole new demographic. The two were also pioneers in establishing the horror and true crime genres in comics, which were also huge sellers. Simon went on to consult for Harvey Comics in the 1960s, helping to develop then new characters Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich. Simon also wrote two autobiographies, The Comic Book Makers and this year’s Joe Simon: My Life in Comics.

Indicative of how small the industry is and was back then, the two shared studio space in New York City for a time.

Do Graphic Novels Belong in the Classroom?

Teachers have really been embracing comics and graphic novels as a powerful and effective tool in the classroom over the last 5-10 years but there is still a debate that goes on in those circles as to whether comics are just a lazy way out of “real” reading.

Award-winning cartoonist Jeff Smith, who created the mega-popular and wonderful Bone series, was a guest last week for a discussion on whether graphic novels belong in the classroom. Also speaking in defense of comics was Larry Swartz, co-author of Learning to Read with Graphic Power and educator at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Rounding out the panel was children’s book author Mahtab Narsimhan (The Tiffin). The discussion was hosted and moderated by Cheryl Jackson for the TVO Parents Book Club Meeting. TVO is an Ontario-based non-profit TV station and organization dedicated to education. (Kinda like PBS here in the States, I guess.)

Here’s the entire discussion:

One point that I wish was addressed was the comment that there are only a few words in comics. Yes, in comparison to prose, it’s not pages of blocks of text. But try breezing through Chris Claremont’s notoriously wordy Uncanny X-Men. But more seriously I love how Jeff Smith touched on the challenges and imagination needed to read comics, with the mind having to imagine how the story progresses from one panel to the next. It isn’t necessarily easier than reading prose, it’s just different. Mahtab Narsimhan’s example of Asterix is designed to be read fast and easy. Not so with something like The Sandman or Asterios Polyp or From Hell or any other number of examples. Narsimhan has completely missed out on the levels of communication and interpretive skills at play with comics, such as symbolism and non-verbal communications. These elements are relayed visually without accompanying text hammering each and every point with redundancy, and expressing it in a way personal and unique to the artist and their style, all while simultaneously playing off the accompanying text’s own information. Fortunately the trend is that educators are understanding this more and more.

(via The Beat)

Last Show of 2011

One more chance to get gifts for your suggestions at the Magic Meathands‘ improv comedy show!

This Saturday night at 8 PM at the Mary Pickford Studio, our Tag Team Comedy Show starts with The Callbacks and then we hit the stage to finish it all off. Tickets: $7.

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.

Comics Surge Somewhat – But Will It Be Too Late, Will It Be Enough?

Mobs of people & comic books, reunited at last?

Fueled almost entirely by enthusiasm and public interest in DC Comics‘ bold New 52 initiative, the comic book industry is seeing what appears to be a mild turnaround from a 3-year sinking sales trend at local comic book stores. While pulling sales through comic shops into the black for the first time since 2008 is good news, it’s a modest victory that is already showing signs of diminishing returns in the long term. And what’s worse, it may be too little too late for people trying to make a living making comics.

The most halting example of this occurred late last week when a published comics artist posted a message to his personal Facebook page that many interpreted as a suicide note. Over the weekend, the comics community rallied to support him and arrange for help. This artist has provided artwork for the industry’s major publishers, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and Image Comics, as both work-for-hire and producing creator-owned comics. But even with his resume, his calls for work were not being returned, his savings were on the verge of drying up, and desperation had sunk in. For most, creating comics is a lonely profession and few have the business acumen to market their creative talents. After working in the industry since the early ’90s, he seemed to think his career, the outlet for his great talent and passion, was over. Fortunately, he is now safe and getting some much needed support. But how many other stories like his are out there? And how many else are seeing their careers retract not because of lack of talent but because of a slowly vanishing market?

Writer Brian Wood is a critically acclaimed writer who has created memorable comics such as Demo, DMZ, Northlanders and more. On his Tumblr page, he recently spoke frankly about his career and the fluctuating state of the industry in the face of digital vs. print.

I’ve had series cancelled recently.  I’ve had pitches rejected for financial reasons.  I’ve seen my editors laid off. I’ve taken page rate cuts (a LOT of us have).  My income from royalties have dropped.  Most comic shops don’t carry my books.  I have very good reasons to suspect my career in comics may be drastically reduced in the near future. Things just plain suck, but I’ve taken these hits, figuring that everyone else is having hard times too.

This isn’t limited to writers and artists, the two creative roles typically seen as the headlining positions in comics production. Comics would simply not be comics without inkers, colorists, and letterers to make the finishing touches of merging the writer’s script with the artist’s pencils. And yet, they too are seeing less and less opportunities. Gerry Alanguilan wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Elmer, but he first made a name for himself in the industry as an inker for superhero and adventure comics published by DC, Marvel and Image. He too is seeing job opportunities vanishing. He wrote the following on his blog:

It’s a hard hard business. There has been a seismic shift in the comics industry that occured over the last 10 years. On one hand one can point a finger at the dire state of world economy, but at the same time, one can definitely point a finger at developments in technology that has affected the art and craft of creating comics.

Although many in the chain of comic book creation are affected, it is comic book inkers and hand letterers that I think are being hit hardest. With the development of new ways of producing comics, companies are starting to use inkers and hand letterers less and less.

He also links to inker Joe Weems and artist Sean Gordon Murphy echoing these concerns with their own observations as professionals in the industry.

It’s not just members of the creative team. As Wood mentioned above, editors and other staff members have found themselves unemployed. Marvel Comics, which until DC’s surge in September has been the number one comics publisher in North America for at least the last decade or two, has recently been placed under strict new budget requirements that resulted in layoffs of editors, executives and other staff among other cut backs. New comic book series in the pipeline have been taken off the schedule and low-selling comics have been cancelled. The publisher allegedly intends to double-down on their big-ticket properties (Avengers, Spider-Man, X-Men) and simply publish more of the popular stuff instead of taking risks with new, unproven or inconsistent properties. Of course this means less available jobs.

Marvel is hardly the only publisher going through these kinds of changes. DC Comics made radical staff cuts and changes last year before storming the charts with the New 52. While multiple publishers have reported stronger sales since the New 52 launched in September, it was too late for some employees. Dark Horse was forced to lay off staff earlier this year due to struggling sales. Likewise, a number of comic book stores just haven’t seen enough improvements, such as Evermore Nevermore in Mesa, Arizona, which is closing after only 2 years due to the recession and not enough interest from the light downtown foot traffic.

The larger financial picture makes an immense challenge seem impossible. But until the industry makes a concerted joint effort in capturing new audiences with varied tastes, the bigger and bigger publishing stunts working within the same infrastructure will only go so far.