IDW Publishing

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.”

Read It: Richard Stark’s Parker by Darwyn Cooke

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke

If you like crime fiction and caper stories, I have a pair of graphic novels that are required reading for you.

Parker is a cold criminal who is nearly killed when his wife and partner turn on him for money. Parker then methodically goes about seeking revenge, which brings him in conflict with the mob. Author Donald Westlake created the character after walking over the George Washington Bridge, where he was struck by how the cold steel bridge responded to the gusting wind and speeding cars. That speed, solidity and tension was transformed by Westlake into Parker, who debuted in the 1962 crime thriller The Hunter by Richard Stark (a pseudonym). The book was a hit and kicked off a series of crime novels starring Parker. It also inspired a number of movie adaptations (Point Blank, Full Contact, and most recently Payback starring Mel Gibson) but Westlake never allowed the use of Parker’s names in those movies, perhaps a statement that he never felt they were authentic enough. In fact Westlake has never allowed any adaptation to use the Parker name until a recent series of graphic novels.

Starting in 2009, illustrator Darwyn Cooke has been releasing graphic novels with the full approval and cooperation of Donald Westlake and his estate. Sadly Westlake didn’t live long enough to see the release of the first book, but he collaborated with Cooke during its creation. The Hunter and The Outfit are both wonderful adaptations that use the medium of comics to really enhance the feeling of being in the early 1960s, and seeing this compelling yet dangerous man named Parker go to work. Cooke uses differing storytelling devices and stylistic changes to lay out the various capers. His skills at depicting this world make for a fully engrossing and cool read.

The original plan was to adapt four books but there has already been talk of expanding it to five. The third book is expected to be The Score, where Parker joins a group of criminals for an ambitious heist of an entire town. It’s scheduled for next summer from IDW Publishing.

Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke

Digital Comics Update: Doing Great in Some Non-Specific Way

Justice League #1 - Record-setting sales for DC's digital comics

While still a fraction of print sales, digital comics continue to grow. (Digital comics being comic books you read on the web and mobile devices like the iPad and Android phones.) Great news, right? I’m a big believer in digital comics. But it’s not so easy to know exactly how much they’re growing or whether everyone’s just really excited about a lot of unsubstantiated press release hype.

Within a week of each other, the largest comic book publishers in North America both claimed that sales of one of their digital comics surpassed their own records for digital sales. In both instances, the record-setting digital comic was released on the same day as its print counterpart was released in comic book stores. DC Comics announced in this interview with Salon the good sales news for Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, the launch title for their ambitious and highly publicized New 52 initiative.

Jim Lee: [B]ased on recent numbers, certainly Justice League No. 1 has surpassed the recent highs in comics sales. […] It’s also setting records digitally. I can’t give numbers, but on the first day it set a record for us.

Salon: Once you compared the volume of DC’s digital comics sales to dental floss. Is it up to dental tape now?

Jim Lee: It’s too early to say.

Marvel Comics later issued a press release for their announcement regarding Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, where the webbed adventures begin for the half-black/half-Latino Miles Morales.

The trick? Neither publisher actually revealed any concrete sales data.

This has caused a bit of consternation among comics industry watchers, who are trying to understand the actual strength of digital comics and sales of comics in general. As The Comics Reporter‘s Tom Spurgeon wonderfully puts it, sales figures are usually only hinted at or used for hype by publishers like DC and Marvel, resulting in the “I have a girlfriend in Canada” of sales analysis.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 - recording-setting sales for Marvel's digital comics

Looking outside of comics, most entertainment companies don’t share honest sales numbers because they consider that proprietary information, but those other industries have something comics doesn’t have – a third party tracking sales through reasonably objective means. Put bluntly, comics needs a Nielsen. The best we have are the sales estimates put together by ICv2, John Jackson Miller’s The Comics Chronicles, and a few others. These are best guess estimates based off charts provided by the largest distributor of comic books, Diamond Comics. But they’re only counting comic book stores in North America. There’s little to no coverage of book stores, no coverage of subscriptions, no sales to libraries and schools, nothing from the UK and other countries, no newsstand sales (meager but still out there), no sales from other outlets like grocery stores. To be sure, North American comic book stores are the dominant sales channel for print comic books. But it’s not the entire picture. What’s more, the sales estimates are determined by using Diamond’s odd index numbering system constructed around everything’s relative sales to that month’s issue of Batman. So if you figure out the sales of Batman in any given month, you can figure out the sales of everything else in that same month. Why Batman of all things? It’s mostly arbitrary but its sales have been historically pretty stable due to the character’s popularity and longevity of the series. On top of all that, the numbers only reflect what comic book stores are ordering. We have almost no idea about sell-through to actual paying customers beyond anecdotal reporting and the assumption that most stores are ordering month-to-month close to what they think they can sell. Needless to say, the accuracy of these estimates has been disputed and called into question. Some say it gives a fairly reasonable picture and is better than nothing, which is true. But numerous comic book creators have gone on record to say that the estimates are wrong when compared to their royalty vouchers and other internal accounting statements.

So we’ve got an entire industry more or less groping in the dark trying to feel out the shape and size of their own business. But it’s the best we’ve got, so numbers are put under the microscope. At least there’s something for print comics. Digital comics have vague statements of modest to booming success. ICv2 estimated earlier this summer that digital comics sales are generating between $6 to $18 million a year, with sales doubling from 2009 to 2010. Archie Comics boasted nearly 2 million downloads back in January. ComiXology, the undisputed largest digital comics provider, trumpeted surpassing 1 million downloads at the end of 2010, and their main Comics app was recently the second grossing iPad app, outselling the popular app for the Angry Birds game. IDW Publishing announced over 1 million downloads of their various digital comics apps back in April. Plenty of similar announcements have been made. It’s great news because it confirms that there are a lot of people interested in comic books. But how many of those downloads generated money. It’s free to download almost all digital comics apps, and there are plenty of free comic books available to download within each app. How many of those millions are paying?

What we do know is that digital comics is one of the biggest growth sectors for comics. The independent comics publisher SLG Publishing recently announced they were switching to digital first distribution. The transition will see the end of print comic books from the publisher. Issues will instead be released only as digital comic books that will eventually be collected and released for the first time in the physical world as print graphic novels. While several publishers have abandoned the single issue comic book format to strictly graphic novels, this is the first significant comics publisher to transition their serialized stories to the digital space. SLG was among the first publishers to embrace digital. They are one of the few that allow full ownership of their digital comics through their Eyemelt store, which sells .pdf, .ePub and .cbz that can be used anywhere. (ComiXology and other digital comics providers are technically leasing you the right to view images of comics files, which can be and have been taken away or locked.) SLG comics are also available on iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, ComiXology, iVerse’s Comics+, Graphicly, and Panelfly.

According to SLG publisher Dan Vado, much of the company’s marketing has not been focused on digital, so their sales there have been promising but not exceptional. In fact, in a surprising break from the above trend, Vado was willing to make public some of the company’s digital comics sales figures.

The best selling downloadable comic we have had is The Griffin #2 at around 200. This is like a 20 year old comic I did for DC Comics.

Most of the other books have struggled to get to triple digits.

How does that one digital comic stack up against the digital sales of Justice League #1 and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1? I’d like to believe there’s a significant difference but who can tell? For whatever it’s worth, Justice League #1 has 318 reviews on ComiXology, while Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 only has 58, at the time I’m writing this. Not everyone that buys and reads a digital comic will submit a review of whether it was a 5-star comic but that seems like a bare minimum at least. Except that anyone can leave a review whether they’ve read the comic or not, as long as they’ve logged in.

As The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald points out in the above link, SLG’s most popular and well known property is probably Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez and that will be released digitally next year. Vado expects that to be their top digital seller very quickly, especially since they will have ramped up their marketing efforts focused on new readers instead of readers that already own the print version. If Vado continues to be as transparent, SLG could be a very interesting case study of a publisher transitioning to digital. And in the process, he could give us a better idea of the actual strength and success of digital.

iBooks carries Graphic Novels even though they’re Not Real Stories

IDW Publishing made headway into semi-uncharted digital territory with their launch on Apple’s ebooks platform iBooks last week. The iBooks app comes preloaded on all Apple iPad tablets. With an estimated 20 million iPads sold, that makes for a significant potential readership.

IDW released nearly 20 graphic novels to the iBookstore, including the simultaneous print/digital release of Code Word: Geronimo, which details the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound by SEAL Team 6 as written by military insider Captain Dale Dye. Other graphic novels now on iBooks include IDW’s reprinting project of every Bloom County comic strip, and graphic novels based on True Blood, Star Trek, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and more. The San Diego-based publisher will continue to expand their catalogue in the coming weeks and months.

In addition to expanding comics into yet another digital marketplace, it’s also interesting to note that IDW has chosen to release graphic novels instead of single issues on iBooks. While ComiXology and other digital comics apps and services used by IDW and other comics publishers like Marvel Comics and DC Comics offer graphic novels, much of the focus is on shorter comic books, similar to most brick and mortar comic book stores. But with iBooks readers already expecting a book-length read, it’s smart to go for the longer form of graphic novels.

Currently Code Word: Geronimo is included in the iBooks store front under New & Notable, along with Jane Lynch’s Happy Accidents, Roger Ebert’s Life Itself and Michael Moore’s Here Comes Trouble. In fact, as of this writing, both Moore’s book and Geronimo have the same number of reviews, with the graphic novel rating slightly higher. Graphic novels appearing right beside prose books can be a powerful bit of messaging that comics are just as worthy a form of expression and literature as novels.

Of course, not everyone will receive that message. One of the two reviews is by a hoodwinked MikSud:

This is a comic. I thought it was a real story and account of what took place during the raid of Bin Laden. Utterly disappointed.

Maybe one day comics will be able to tell “real stories”. If they act nicely and don’t get too uppity.

Despite MikSud’s protests, more integration of graphic novels and prose novels in the digital space is bound to happen with the anticipated release of the first color Kindle, expected for a late November release. If comics publishers are smart, they will jump all over this with the deep Amazon and Android integration that could reach a lot of readers.

Comic Books and Graphic Novels Remember 9/11

Like all other entertainment media, comics have released a number of conveniently timed stories in memory of the terrorist attacks that occurred in New York and Virginia on September 11, 2001.

Cartoonists Remember 9/11

Over 90 newspaper comic strips dedicated yesterday’s color Sunday comics to the attacks and those that sacrificed their lives. The strips are also being featured in special exhibits for one week only at the Cartoon Art Museum, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA), The ToonSeum, and The Newseum. The Society of Illustrators held a lecture about the event last Thursday with cartoonists Rick Detorie (One Big Happy), Tony Rubino (Daddy’s Home) and Brian Walker (Hi and Lois).

The entire event was conceived and coordinated by King Features, which syndicates comic strips and other content to nearly 5000 print newspapers worldwide. They were joined by Creators Syndicate (here in LA), Tribune Media Services, Universal Press Syndicate, and Washington Post Writers Group.

The Big Lie

A slightly less reverential take on 9/11 is happening in the comic book The Big Lie by writer/artist Rick Veitch. The issue was released last Wednesday, and depicted a woman traveling back in time to 9/11 so save her husband from being trapped in the Twin Towers when the attack happens. During her efforts, questions are asked and information is revealed that looks beyond the official story of that fateful day. Veitch has said he doesn’t consider himself to be part of the Truther movement and simply feels that questions should be asked and alternate narratives should be considered. Joining Veitch is his frequent collaborator inker Gary Erskine and cover artist and editor Thomas Yeates.

The comic was conceived, financed and co-edited by Brian Romanoff of Nor Cal Truth. The Big Lie is being published by Image Comics. You can read a preview of the issue as well as an interview with Veitch at MTV Geek.

Code Word: Geronimo

Slightly more morbid is this original graphic novel depicting the kill mission that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and founder of Al-Qaeda, the jihadist organization that pulled them off. While the actual details of the mission are classified, retired U.S. Marine Capt. Dale Dye and Dr. Julia Dye of Warriors, Inc. put together a reasonable best guess due to experience and sources. Capt. Dye has been a military advisor for Hollywood (Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers). The 88-page hardcover graphic novel strays away from politics and focuses on the mission itself. The artists Gerry Kissell and Amin Amat weren’t interested in a gory depiction of bin Laden’s death, instead striving for realism. However the Dyes have referred to the need to “celebrate” the event.

A portion of proceeds from sales will be donated to the American Veterans Center. The graphic novel debuted last week both in print and digitally. It was included among the publisher’s first books launching on iBooks. The graphic novel was published by IDW Publishing in partnership with Charlie Foxtrot Entertainment.

Holy Terror

Keeping with cathartic violence in entertainment, writer/artist Frank Miller will release his long-gestating graphic novel Holy Terror later this month. Taking wish-fulfilling superhero fiction to its real world conclusion, Miller tells the story of a costumed vigilante (that definitely isn’t Batman, nosiree) who decides that 9/11 is the final straw and takes the War on Terror to the terrorists’ doorsteps.

The project dates back to soon after September 11, 2001, when Miller announced he would create a story about Batman seeking revenge by dismantling the terrorist network Al-Qaeda. The project was eternally delayed (and derided as simplistic propoganda and potentially inflammatory) but will now finally see the light of day without the Caped Crusader. The role of Batman has been recast as a new superhero called The Fixer (he’s “fixing” the terrorist problem, see?).

The action thriller graphic novel is edited by Bob Schreck (former DC Comics editor) and will be the first release from the new comics and graphic novel division of Burbank-based Legendary Entertainment. You can watch a trailer at Entertainment Weekly.

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

This came out five years ago but it’s still worth mentioning. This is a graphic novel by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón that adapts The 9/11 Commission Report, the government’s findings from their investigations into what led to and occurred on 9/11/01. It includes a powerfully effective timeline that shows the simultaneous events surrounding all four planes.

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…)

Womanthology Encourages New Generation of Female Comic Creators

A new graphic novel anthology aims to pair comics industry veterans with up-and-coming creators for an opportunity to foster new female creators.

Womanthology intends to showcase the works of women in comics. It is created entirely by over 140 women of all experience levels. All proceeds will go to charity. IDW Publishing has agreed to publish the graphic novel but printing and distributing costs are still prohibitive. On July 7, project manager Renae De Liz set up a Kickstarter page. And amazingly just over 18 hours later, the project met its goal of $25,000. Not yet a week later and the project is over double that.

Turning to crowd-funding for this project ended up being a smart move because it has sent a very loud signal that there are people willing to put significant money forward for female comic book creators. Meanwhile, DC Comics was unable (or unwilling) to find more than 2 or 3 female creators to work on their highly publicized New 52 relaunch this September. Marvel Comics released their own Girl Comics anthology last year but it didn’t change the fact that they and in fact most comics publishers have a lack of female creators as well. When you’re cutting off the perspective of 50% of the population, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. There isn’t a lack of quality female comic book creators. 140 in this project alone and there are plenty that weren’t able to be included.

The volume will also include plenty of extra material to encourage young girls to take up comics.

The purpose of the book is to show support for female creators in comics and media. There will be multiple short stories, “how to”s & interviews with professionals, and features showcasing iconic female comic creators that have passed, such as Nell Brinkley and Tarpe Mills. A Kids & Teens section will also be included, showcasing their work, and offering tips & tricks to help them prepare themselves for their future careers in comics. Overall, this is pretty much a huge book showcasing what women in comics have accomplished, and what we are capable of 🙂 We are also hoping that by doing this book, it will encourage a new generation of women to pick up the pencil and create!