Comics News Roundup

Top Cow reorganizes

Teaser for new Top Cow series Netherworld (click for preview)

It’s been a rough first month of 2011 for comics in general, with good and not-so-good news turning heads throughout the industry as the times continue to change. There’s been some adjusting locally too.

Top Cow Productions, a partner studio of Image Comics, announced during my week of computer meltdown that a reorganization has taken place. The LA-based publisher will consolidate its resources to more closely rely and coordinate with Image’s central office in Berkeley. From the press release: “Image Central will work more closely with Top Cow to coordinate production, marketing and sales efforts in much the same way it already does for the other Image partners.” Publisher Filip Sablik stressed that Top Cow would retain their editorial freedom. Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat looked into this further here and here.

While the hope is that Top Cow will be able to benefit from some of the successes Image has seen recently, such as The Walking Dead‘s continual rise in popularity thanks to the AMC TV show and new hits like Chew and Morning Glories, it doesn’t mean good times for everyone. Unfortunately some people from Top Cow were let go to eliminate new redundancies from the closer partnership, such as PR and Marketing Coordinator Christine Dinh, Director of Sales and Marketing Atom Freeman and Editor/Designer Phil Smith. Freeman, an award-winning retailer who co-owns the comics shop Brave New World Comics in Newhall, was hired as Direct Market Liason last summer and promoted to Director of Sales and Marketing this past October. No word yet on what’s next for Dinh and Smith, although at least Smith is helping with the transition. Sablik has stated that now other layoffs are planned. At Image Comics, PR and Marketing Coordinator Betsy Gomez has been replaced by Sarah deLaine.

Top Cow President Matt Hawkins bluntly told The Beat, “There’s going to be more consolidation (like Image and Top Cow) and some people won’t be around in a couple years”.

Just prior to that news, Top Cow announced they had signed artist Jeremy Haun (Detective Comics) to an exclusive contract. Haun, who has worked on Top Cow’s Alibi and Berserker, has been assigned to The Darkness with writer Phil Hester, one of Top Cow’s biggest properties. The book was a massive seller in the ’90s where it had a record-selling 11 variant covers for a single issue. Haun will also have the ability to develop new original properties. On his site, he explained that the contract goes into effect February 2011 (so, tomorrow). In explaining the reasons for his decision, after being a freelance artist for years, he said, “The major ones where working as a regular artist on a continuing series and almost more importantly, being able to develop my own concepts.” As he points out, Haun has written Narcoleptic Sunday for Oni Press and a story in Image’s award-winning Comic Book Tattoo anthology based on the music of Tori Amos, so he does have some writer chops. And more original creator-owned comics is always a good thing in my book.

Top Cow Productions started in 1992 as the studio for Image Comics co-founder and partner Marc Silvestri. Throughout the decade, they grew a line of successful fantasy comics like The Darkness, Witchblade and others guided by Silvestri’s distinct art style that defined the look of the publisher for many readers. The publisher has struggled to shake that perception over the last ten years, and have been pushing their attention to more creator-owned books such as the new thriller Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal, and the upcoming supernatural noir Netherworld by co-writers Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin, and artist Tony Shasteen. Hill and Levin have both worked for Top Cow in the past, last collaborating together on Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box. MTV’s Geek News has a preview of Netherworlds.

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Comics shed scarlet letter

Seal of Approval gone from comics (click for Washington Post article)

Last week, DC Comics announced they are no longer submitting their comic books for approval by the Comics Code Authority. The CCA is (or was, I suppose) a content review board created by the comic book industry in 1954 to reassure parents and newsstand dealers that comics with the Seal of Approval on their cover were safe for children.

Starting in April, DC Comics will instead utilize their own in-house grading system, modeled somewhat after the rating system used for video games by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. This is similar to Marvel Comics‘ decision made in 2001.

The day after DC’s announcement, Archie Comics responded to an inquiry by announcing their own abandonment of the Comics Code starting in February. They had apparently stopped submitting their comics for review over a year ago.

LA-based Bongo Comics, publishers of Simpsons Comics, made a similar move last year without any fanfare. They replaced the Seal of Approval with a simple “All Ages” rating, as observed by Bleeding Cool.

Most other comic publishers never bothered to submit their comics to the Comics Code Authority for review and approval.

While an important moment, this is mostly symbolic. Newsstands refused to carry comics without the Comics Code Seal of Approval in the 1950s, but most people today don’t even know what it means. That’s if they even notice the Seal. Publishers have been shrinking its size on their comic book covers for decades.

The Comics Code Authority was set up by the Comics Magazine Association of America, which itself was meant to be a trade organization for the comic book industry. The establishment of both was in response to the damaging Senate hearings on comics’ effects on juvenile delinquency. While the Senate subcommittee found no direct cause and effect between the content of comics and delinquency in children, the proceedings were a manifestation of a growing PR problem for the industry and comics in general. Magazine articles, TV programs and books were sending parents a lot of messages that comics were toxic for children. Local politicians starting taking action, attempting to ban or curb the sale of comics. This went so far as to incite comic book burnings in several towns across America.

It all came to a head with the televised Senate hearings in New York, and the creation of the Comics Code, which demanded that publishers join the Comics Magazine Association of America for a fee. The alternative was to lose distribution, since newsstand dealers began refusing carrying comics without the Seal of Approval, not wanting the risk of a lawsuit from an angry mother. Seemingly in an instant, hundreds of publishers and artists were finished. Readership plummeted. And an entire medium and art form was tainted as unsafe, unintelligent trash.

Comics barely survived. Public opinion has been slowly turning around thanks to transcendent work from all corners of the industry. So while the Comics Code Authority lost its authority a good 15-20 years ago or more, it is encouraging to see it finally whither away. After 57 years, the symbol of a simplistic generalization and dismissal of comics as a legitimate art form, comics’ scarlet letter, is gone.

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…)

LA Comics News Roundup: Comics vs. Toys begins, Borders ends

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:

= Rebranded Eagle Rock comic store Comics vs. Toys gets profiled on how it came into existence. Answer: From the ashes of two neighboring Eagle Rock comic stores Another World Comics and Mini-Melt Too. In a time when stores are closing and people in less populated areas are lucky if they have a store within a 3-hour drive, it’s amazing to think that two stores existed side by side for a year. I shopped at this store for maybe a year when it was still the Meltdown Comics satellite shop Mini-Melt Too, after Another World Comics had already closed, and really appreciated co-owner Ace Aguilera going out of his way to get me the comics I liked, which can skew off the beaten path at times. It’s one of those small but great stores that LA is lucky to have in abundance. Read it: Eagle Rock Patch

= And speaking of stores closing, the LA Weekly looks at the slow death of the Borders in Westwood. The Borders company will give severance pay, but hasn’t told the store employees their last day. Apparently it will be when the store has been picked clean at severely discounted prices. Read it: LA Weekly

= Two 24-year-old Los Angeles men, Farhad Lame and Navid Vatankhahan, each have to pay $750, complete 10 days of community service (picking up trash), and remain on probation for 3 years for selling fraudulent passes to this past summer’s Comic-Con International: San Diego comic book and pop culture convention. They pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in San Diego Superior Court. They had sold a pair of 2-day passes to 2 women for $120 each on Craigslist. The passes ended up being photocopies of exhibitor badges, so naturally the women weren’t allowed in. Both men were arrested on the last day of Comic-Con. Read it: Sign On San Diego

= For you creative types, comics lettering and calligraphy innovators Comicraft, based right here in Los Angeles, had their annual New Year’s Day Sale, and “secretly” extended it through the holiday weekend. Maybe it’s still happening when you visit. See it: ComicBookFonts.com

= Comics Alliance wrapped up their Digital December, a month long look at the state of digital comics with excellent interviews with nearly every major player and articles by David Brothers and Laura Hudson: (more…)