Dark Horse Comics

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.

Best Comics of 2011 – A List of Lists for the Listophiles

Whether published as comic books, graphic novels, manga, web comics, digital comics, or some other form of sequential art, comics published this year continues a fantastic renaissance in the art form that brings more creativity and innovation. Barely able to contain their excitement, several outlets have already released their lists for the year’s best. And since we’re now knee deep in the holiday shopping season, let’s see what has won the attention of critics and reviewers in 2011.

I’ll add to the list as more are released. Check out the artists own webpages and check out the publisher links for more info on each book. Select quotes are taken from the site/publication, visit each for more.

First, here are some Black Friday shopping guides that are still worth consulting and will no doubt influence those site’s final Best Of lists:

Also of note is the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs blog sending out an open call for nominations for this year’s Best Webcomics. Let me know if I’ve missed a Best Of list worth reading. OK, on with the lists!

Amazon.ca – Best Books of 2011: Comics & Graphic Novels (published November 28, 2011) [mostly the same as Amazon.com’s list below except for 4 items]

Zahra's Paradise by Amir & Khalil

Publishers Weekly – Best Books 2011: Comics (published November 7, 2011)

“An Iranian blogger goes missing and his family enters a hellish twilight zone of obfuscation in a story that captures the uncertainty of living under religious dogma.”

Host of NPR’s On the Media, Gladstone uses a cartoon persona to take the reader on a thoughtful and entertaining excursion through the history of the media from ancient Rome to the rise of digital technology.

“In this epic work of science fiction, Rachel Grosvenor, an outcast in a world ruled by a complex network of clans, looks to find a place for herself by attempting to join a very exclusive clan.”

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Amazon.com – Best Books of 2011: Comics & Graphic Novels (published November 8, 2011)

Habibi, Craig Thompson’s intricate and moving fairy tale about familial and romantic love, one’s relationship to their environment, the shared roots of Christianity and Islam, and the effects of industrial modernization, tops our list of the best Comics & Graphic Novels of 2011.”

The New York Times – Holiday Gift Guide: 100 Notable Books of 2011 (published November 21, 2011)

“In this capacious, metaphysically inclined graphic novel, a flock of finches act out Nilsen’s unsettling comic vision about the food chain, fate and death.”

The Gender Inbalance of Comics

House of Night #1 (cover art by Jenny Frison)

House of Night #1 (cover art by Jenny Frison)

The issue of gender in comics has been getting a lot of attention over the last few months. One of the recurring criticisms is the lack of female creators. The grassroots anthology Womanthology proves that there is an abundance of very talented comic book creators ready and willing to work, and that there is a very enthusiastic audience ready and willing to pay for such material. And yet most comics publishers still have a significant minority of female creators. Or in some cases, none whatsoever.

To get a better understanding, I’ve taken a look at nearly 25 comic book publishers and the products they are planning to release this November.

The only publishers that have an even split or majority of female credits are manga publishers Viz Media, Yen Press, Go Manga/Seven Seas, and Digital Manga Publishing. Publishers with a more literary or alternative focus, such as Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, have 1/3 female creators. Of the major comic book publishers, proportionally Dark Horse probably has the best female representation, but still a minority. Despite criticism leveled against DC Comics for the lack of women creators in their New 52 marketing blitz, they are not the worst of the larger publishers. Archie Comics surprisingly has only one female writer.

Jenny Frison appears to be the busiest with 7 credits, mostly for cover art, such as the image here.

What does all of this prove? Manga captured a greater female readership for a reason. It’s a lesson that the rest of comics could stand to learn, just as it was learned by the producers of the sitcom Community. Despite all of the numbers, it’s not a quota. Hitting an exact 50% or more really isn’t the goal or the point. The idea is that if you want to speak to a demographic, you hire that demographic. And it works.

This doesn’t mean that men can’t produce work that appeals to women or that they shouldn’t be hired. There are plenty of examples and reasons why that doesn’t hold water. There are enough comics (and jobs) for everyone, especially if more people are reading comics because of the increased diversity.

And of course the other lesson is that real diversity and experimentation often happens first outside of structured publishers. That’s why there are so many fantastic female creators making web-comics with varying levels of financial success. The establishment will eventually catch up.

For a great look at how the industry got to this disparity, see this excellent Comics Alliance article. And for some great solutions, read Shaenon K. Garrity’s column at Comixology.

Click through if you want all of the nitty-gritty numbers. Corrections welcome. (more…)

In Recognition of Memorial Day

Our Army at War #13, August 1953 (Art by Bernie Krigstein, published by DC Comics)

The 1812 War, Fall 2011 (Art by George Freeman, published by Renegade Arts Entertainment)

Civil War Adventure, May 2011 (Art by Gary Kwapicz, published by History Graphics Press)

It Was the War of the Trenches, February 2010 (Art by Jacques Tardi, published by Fantagraphics)

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6, August 2006 (Art by Joe Kubert, published by DC Comics)

Two-Fisted Tales #27, May 1952 (Art by Harvey Kurtzman, published by EC Comics)

Last Day in Vietnam, July 2000 (Art by Will Eisner, published by Dark Horse Comics)

Gulf War Journal, August 2004 (Art by Don Lomax, published by iBooks)

Dougie's War, August 2010 (Art by Dave Turbitt, published by Freight Design)

War Fix, June 2005 (Art by Stephen Olexa, published by NBM Publishing)

Looking at the Eisners: Nominees for Best Limited Series

Today we’re taking a look at the nominees for the Best Limited Series category. This is a comic book series that, similar to a TV mini-series, runs for a set duration, usually around 4 to 8 issues.

The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards released their nominees for excellence in comic books for the previous year recently. A panel of 6 judges made up of professionals throughout the industry selected the nominees. People throughout the industry will now begin voting on the nominees. Winners will be announced at the award show put on at this summer’s huge Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The Eisners are basically the comic book equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards, TV’s Emmy Awards, music’s Grammy Awards, and theater’s Tony Awards, so it deserves a closer look.

I’m breaking down the nominees in each category, providing context and background info, and giving links to Amazon and other sites so you can buy your own copy, if possible. I can’t read everything, so lots of this stuff passed by me or is on my way-too-high to-read pile, so I’m going to avoid saying what “should” win. (I’m also pretty bad at predicting award show winners, so I’m not going to bother embarrassing myself.) Please feel free to post your predictions, preferences, opinions, or questions.

Best Limited Series

Take a closer look with the click through: (more…)

Digital Comics Update: Dark Horse launches Digital, NBM goes interactive, Nook gets Graphicly app, Archie translates digital to Spanish

Comic books continue their evolution into digital comics, where the sequential art form is available on mobile devices like the iPad and Android, game systems like the PSP, and web browsers. Expanding in distribution, getting more competitive with prices, and experimenting with interactivity – these are all good signs that digital comics might be growing from infant to toddler.

After some delays, Dark Horse Comics will launch their anticipated Dark Horse Digital program later today. The system was built in-house and uses a web-based system supplemented by apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. The comics will be priced starting at $1.49 $0.99 (versus competing apps that have comics starting at $1.99), and will be available in bundles as though you’re buying a full graphic novel collection. The app will be free and come loaded with the first issue of Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne. There will also be five free comics available: the first issues of Criminal Macabre by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joss Whedon‘s Fray, Mike Mignola’s Abe Sapien: The Drowning, Gerard Way‘s Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, and Mass Effect: Redemption. The app will have hundreds of other comics for download, including issues of Conan, Joss Whedon’s Serenity, Eric Powell‘s The Goon and more. An Android app will follow.

Meanwhile on the Nook Color, Barnes & Noble has launched a new app store which includes three graphic novel apps from Graphic.ly: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen, Mark Millar and JG JonesWanted, and Mark Waid‘s Irredeemable. All of the apps have been specially optimized for the Nook Color e-reader, which uses Google’s Android platform. Graphicly also has digital comics from major comics publishers available on the iPad, iPhone/iPad Touch and Android, on the web, Adobe Air, and Google’s Chrome browser app.

Dinosaurs Across America (iPad screenshot)

NBM Publishing and their all-ages Papercutz imprint has teamed up with TWP Interactive to produce what they are billing as the first interactive graphic novel, Dinosaurs Across America by Phil Yeh. (It’s not the first, but it’s still cool.) Dinosaurs Across America was first published as a traditional graphic novel in print in 2007. It was named one of the best 25 graphic novels of the year by School Library Journal and has won acclaim for its ability to teach geography to children. The new interactive edition allows the reader to zoom in on individual states, learn fun facts and play with puzzles. The interactive version is now available for $9.99 as an app for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), and for $4.99 as an e-book on Koobits.

And finally, Archie Comics continues its aggressive pursuit of digital, launching Spanish language versions of some of their digital comics Monday. The comics are available on Archie Digital, as well as their iOS app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch provided by iVerse, and the Sony PSP. An Android app is coming soon. Further translations into French and Hindi are planned as well.

Looking at the Eisners: Nominees for Best Single Issue

Today we’re taking a look at the nominees for the Best Single Issue or One-Shot category.

The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards released their nominees for excellence in comic books for the previous year recently. A panel of 6 judges made up of professionals throughout the industry selected the nominees. People throughout the industry will now begin voting on the nominees. Winners will be announced at the award show put on at this summer’s huge Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The Eisners are basically the comic book equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards, TV’s Emmy Awards, music’s Grammy Awards, and theater’s Tony Awards, so it deserves a closer look.

I’m breaking down the nominees in each category, providing context and background info, and giving links to Amazon and other sites so you can buy your own copy, if possible. I can’t read everything, so lots of this stuff passed by me or is on my way-too-high to-read pile, so I’m going to avoid saying what “should” win. (I’m also pretty bad at predicting award show winners, so I’m not going to bother embarrassing myself.) Please feel free to post your predictions, preferences, opinions, or questions.

Best Short Story

Take a closer look with the click through: (more…)