Amazing Spider-Man

Marvel Comics and the Elusive Minority Demographic

Miles Morales is Spider-Man

Miles Morales is Spider-Man (art by Sara Pichelli)

While DC Comics is working through a gender controversy, Marvel Comics has taken a step forward in representing racial minorities in their super-hero comic books. On Tuesday it was announced in USA Today that Spider-Man would now be a half-black, half-Hispanic teen named Miles Morales (right).

The story is not being told in Marvel’s flagship Amazing Spider-Man (where Peter Parker is still swinging through New York City, white as ever), but instead in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, which starts with a new issue #1 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli (yes DC, a woman!) in September. The Ultimate Comics imprint is set in a younger alternate universe, apart from the bulk of Marvel’s comics. Since the licensability of Marvel’s big characters, which date back to the 1960s and ’70s (and some to 1939), is dutifully protected in Marvel’s main line of comics, the Ultimate Universe allows creators just a bit more leeway. This is easily the best example of that leeway, and could be a refreshing signal of things to come for that imprint.

The first appearance of Miles Morales as Spider-Man is in the just-released Ultimate Comics Fallout #4, which itself spun out of the recent “Death of Spider-Man” story.

Bendis told USA Today, “Even though there’s some amazing African-American and minority characters bouncing around in all the superhero universes, it’s still crazy lopsided.”

He’s right, but this helps. Of course there have been plenty of foolish reactions, from anonymous internet posters trying not to sound too racist to Glenn Beck‘s weird conspiracy theory. Fortunately, cooler heads prevail, and have been celebrating what was unthinkable even five years ago. Why unthinkable? Because comic books with black leads have historically been a tough sell. The Black Panther, comics’ first headlining black hero, has had intermittent series since his debut in 1966. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn is the only comic book series to star a black or African-American in the starring role to last so long (although Al Simmons was replaced with the white Jim Downing last year). Heidi MacDonald at The Beat explores this issue and more in this well-written piece.

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)

Free Comic Book Day 2011 is this Saturday

Do you want FREE comics? You’re in luck! This Saturday, May 7, is Free Comic Book Day!

After enjoying the new Marvel Studios movie Thor opening this Friday, head out to your local participating comic book shop and get yourself some all-new comics for absolutely nothing. It’s a great way to discover comics for the first time, get back in to them if it’s been a while, or just celebrate the American art form of comics! (It’s also a great way to prepare yourself for the other big comic book movies this summer: Priest (May 13), X-Men: First Class (June 3), Green Lantern (June 17), Captain America (July 22), and Cowboys & Aliens (July 29).)

You can get exclusive comic books made just for Free Comic Book Day featuring the Amazing Spider-Man, Avatar the Last Airbender, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Green Lantern, Betty & Veronica, Darkwing Duck, Kung Fu Panda, Richie Rich, the Dark Crystal, the Simpsons, Captain America, Thor, Inspector Gadget, Sonic the Hedgehog, the Tick, Mickey Mouse, Young Justice, Batman: the Brave & the Bold, and so many more. See here for a complete list of free comics available at participating stores.

Lots of stores are also holding special sales and events including signings with comics creators.

Locally, comic stores all around Los Angeles County will be celebrating with free comic books, discounted comics and graphic novels, guest appearances by comic book artists and writers, and more! Additional announcements will probably be announced this week, so keep your eye on your favorite store’s website or Facebook page.

Some stores have really pulled out all of the stops:

Golden Apple on Melrose will be open an hour earlier than normal for the big day. Starting right at 10 AM, there will be comics creators giving free autographs and sketches all day, plus 20% off everything, free Lipton Brisk Green Lantern tea & hot dogs, free Priest movie stuff, a bounce house for kids (!) and more! Creators signing: 10 AM – Top Cow Productions president Matt Hawkins, writer Jeff Cahn (Red Spike), writer Owen Weisman (Samurai’s Blood) and cartoonist/animator Scott Shaw! (The Flintstones, Simpsons Comics); 12 noon: actor/writer Walter Koenig (Things to Come); 2 PM – writer Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead, Super Dinosaur) and artist Jason Howard (Super Dinosaur); 4 PM – writer Marc Andreyko (True Blood: Tainted Love, Let Met In: Crossroads), and writers Brian McCarthy & Michael Lent (Brimstone).

At Earth-2 Comics both store locations will have plenty to do, like free sketches from 10 AM to 12 noon by Todd Brocasso Harris (in Sherman Oaks) and Justin Rodrigues (Northridge). Then from 12 noon to 2 PM, writer and DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, The Flash), and writer and Executive Vice President of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb (Batman: Hush, Spider-Man: Blue) will be available for autographs in Sherman Oaks. The two will be at the Northridge location from 3 to 5 PM. The store will also have an Earth-2 exclusive Green Lantern comic.

Free Comic Book Day 2011 (by Darwyn Cooke)

Meltdown Comics will be holding amazing special events all day long! From 11 AM to 3 PM, including a free screening of Jim Henson‘s classic movie The Dark Crystal and life-sized Skeksis statues used in the original 1982 movie! Writer Brian Holguin, who wrote a new Dark Crystal story in the free comic book flip book released for Free Comic Book Day, will be on hand for autographs, as will David Petersen, writer/illustrator of Mouse Guard, which makes up the second half of the flip book. Plus free posters, prizes, giveaways, and gourmet grilled cheese from The Grilled Cheese Truck. At the same time, from 11 AM to 2 PM, Jason JFish Fischer of Studio JFish will be present to sell his new underground comics, the adults only Junqueland #1, art anthology Fine Literature #2, and fantasy/adventure Jaephisch and the Dark Rainbow Chapters 1 & 2. At 1 PM, Shane and Chris Houghton, creators of the all-ages comic Reed Gunther, will hold a comics creating class just for kids. From 2:00 – 3:30 PM, writers Jeff Cahn (Red Spike) and Owen Weisman (Samurai’s Blood) of Benaroya Publishing will be signing. Finally, at 4 PM in the Meltdown Gallery, there will be a Graphic Noir panel with writer Joshua Hale Fialkov (Echoes, Tumor) and writer/artist Kody Chamberlain (Sweets, Punks: The Comic), as they discuss their creative processes and influences, followed by a brief signing.

Burbank’s House of Secrets will be going all day long, from 11 AM to 7 PM. From 12 noon to 2 PM, they’ll have Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants and Sherm Cohen, cover artist of the new SpongeBob Comics.

The Comic Bug in Hermosa Beach has a ton of creators lined up, scheduled for 12 noon to 3 PM giving free sketches and autographs in addition to huge sales and live super-heroes for photo ops. Their line-up will include writer/artist Mike Mignola (Hellboy, Baltimore), writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night, Criminal Macabre), TV & comics writer Christopher Yost (Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, New X-Men), writer Joshua Williamson (Fractured Fables, Yo Gabba Gabba Comic Book Time), writer/letterer Richard Starkings (Elephantmen), animator/artist Phil Ortiz (The Simpsons), Jeff Stokely (Fraggle Rock) and lots more. Artist Joe Benitez (Lady Mechanika) will be there 3 – 5 PM.

Collector’s Paradise Comics & Gallery in Winnetka has a full day of events planned, including featured guests like Whilce Portacio (Wetworks, Artifacts), Tomm Coker (Undying Love, Daredevil Noir), Joshua Fialkov (Tumor, Echoes) and a lot more giving autographs and/or sketches to raise money for the non-profit organization The Hero Initiative from 12 noon to 3 PM. Plus the store will be having its biggest sale of the year, costumed superhero characters, and the Calbi gourmet food truck.

Read more on the history of Free Comic Book Day… (more…)

Someone make this: Searchable database of comic strips in major newspapers throughout history

I was hoping to find something like this but for the Boston Globe instead of The Oregonian (scan from Jonathan Shipley's Writer's Desk blog)

I was trying to figure out what comic strips were running in The Boston Globe when I started reading the comics section as a young lad. I know there was Garfield, probably the Amazing Spider-Man strip, Peanuts most likely, For Better or For Worse probably, but I can’t really remember what else. I think I started regularly reading the comics pages just before Calvin and Hobbes started, as I remember that being “the new strip”. So probably around 1984? I would love to have that information.

I was hoping I could find a scan of a random page from the ’80s to help refresh my memory. You can find everything online, so I figured this might take some clever Googling but should be doable. Well, apparently not. (Or I’m just not a very good Googler.) I did an image search at “the Google” for said random scan but no such luck. Then I did a search of all the internets, every single one of them, hoping for some ugly GeoCities fan site created by an obsessive-compulsive Globe reader who had cataloged every comics page, preferably using HTML tables and yellow font on a gaudy background. Maybe a dancing Calvin & Hobbes gif to really seal the deal? Well, GeoCities is gone, so maybe it took this hypothetical site with it. Once again, no such luck.

So this got me thinking. This is something that should be out there. All of the major newspapers with comics sections: The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune – it would be a great historical resource to know which strips ran in which papers when and for how long. (Last night on Twitter, I mistakenly included the New York Times in my initial wish list, but they don’t have a comics section.) Getting smaller papers would be great too but at least the major papers initially. And this information undoubtedly exists. The syndicates surely have extensive records of this information and more, although they probably have little motivation to provide it. So it will likely fall to the people to collect this information. So come on, everyone, let’s head to our local library‘s microfiche and get this going!

Learn to read comics with fan-made Power Records videos

As I’ve mentioned in the past, not everyone takes to the language of sequential art instantly. Some need to ease into it. One possible solution probably isn’t really a solution at all, but it makes for a unique way to read some early comic books.

In the 1970s, Power Records released a series of vinyl 45’s of a fully produced performance of comic book stories, complete with voice actors, sound effects and music. A couple of years ago, a crafty YouTube user, noielmucus, put these recordings to an edited presentation of each issue included with each record so that the dialogue and captions being spoken appear on screen. A great way for kids to read along. The pacing is kind of slow for today’s audiences and some voices are just plain weird (like the weird sped up effect on Mr. Fantastic’s voice when he uses his powers) but others are actually quite good. It definitely makes for a fun curiosity.

The Marvel Comics records gave a performance of three classic issues, so it’s a unique way to experience these stories of the origin of the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, and one of the earliest adventures of Spider-Man. But the DC Comics ones appear to be original stories made just for these records (although I can’t identify the creators). They feature Superman against the inter-dimensional imp Mxyptlk, the Joker making his own utility belt to fight Batman and Robin, and more complete silliness.

Apparently this collection of 10 are just the tip of the iceberg. Over 90 LP records and 45-rpm singles were created. A modern version of these for young readers might be worth looking into by some enterprising company. (If you need any voice-actors, let me know.)

Amazing Spider-Man #1 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (1963) parts 1-5

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Happy Valentine’s Day

I’m busy pitching woo with the one I love, so to tide you over here are a bunch of comics or semi-comics pictures celebrating love and the Holiday That Hallmark Built. Enjoy!

Lois Lane debuts with Superman in Action Comics #1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, June 1938. Clark Kent pines for Lois but she only has eyes for the Man of Steel. And the superhero genre's psychological issues with identity and romance are off and running.

Archie Comics #3, Summer 1942, art by Harry Sahle features one of comics' classic love triangles. Will Archie choose Betty or Veronica?

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So you want to read Spider-Man comics

We’re in the thick of the holiday season. Shopping is probably inevitable for a lot of us. If you or someone you know thinks Spider-Man is pretty cool but is clueless as to what to read first, I’ve put together a great big list as a checklist or reading order guide.

Marvel Comics has been publishing The Amazing Spider-Man since 1963, so being a little overwhelmed about what to get is understandable. Peter Parker (right) is pretty confused by it all too. And he’s lived through it.

So, here’s my Reader’s Guide to Amazing Spider-Man with every graphic novel that’s been published from that comic book series, what’s inside, and in what order you should read it. I’ve also included cover prices and if there are alternate ways to get the stories (soft cover, hard cover, etc.). After the list, I’ve also included a recommended reading list if you’re only interested in the most universally loved material instead of everything. Please feel free to join in the conversation if you have any favorites, questions, corrections or suggestions.

Just a note for those of you Spidey-savvy enough: this list only focuses on the Amazing Spider-Man comics series from 1963 to present, and for the most part does not include spin-offs like Web of Spider-Man or the relaunch series like Ultimate Spider-Man or Marvel Adventures Spider-Man (both of which are great ways to read Spider-Man too but they exist in their own universe apart from Amazing Spider-Man, and as such, they’re pretty streamlined, self-contained and easier to figure out where to start – although if you’re not sure, post a comment or email and I’ll be glad to help out).

I’ve also got similar Reader’s Guides to Uncanny X-Men and Fantastic Four. And I’ll be posting more here as time allows. Any requests for comic book series to cover?