Kaboom

Year in Review: BOOM! takes some hits but doesn’t go out

This has been a year of challenging transition for the Los Angeles-based comic book and graphic novel publisher BOOM! Studios. As I mentioned last year around this time, popular comics writer Mark Waid had stepped away from his role as Chief Creative Officer of BOOM! (although he continues to write Irredeemable and Incorruptible, two very strong sellers) and acclaimed writer/cartoonist Roger Langridge had wrapped up his final work on the much-loved The Muppet Show: The Comic Book. Unfortunately that turned out to be just the beginning, but the publisher has shown persistence in keeping their foothold in the industry by releasing new properties with sufficient success to cover for the properties that were lost over the year.

Irredeemable Vol. 1 (one of BOOM!'s strongest selling graphic novels)

Last December, I thought the BOOM Kids! imprint still had a lot of life left in it. But the risk with licensed properties is the owner of the licensed properties may eventually choose to not renew contracts to keep new comics coming. That’s just what the Walt Disney Company did, which resulted in the all-ages line today being entirely altered from what it was a year ago. Over this year, what had been a growing line of Disney-related comics that, in addition to the Muppets, included classic characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, beloved Disney Afternoon characters like Darkwing Duck and the cast of DuckTales, and recent stars from Pixar movies like The Incredibles and Cars, trickled away as Disney shifted their comics publishing to Marvel Comics, which they had acquired in December 2009. (Concurrently, Marvel has been releasing magazine-style reprints of a number of these stories, and early next year plans to publish its first all-new Disney story since the acquisition [although that may be a story originally published in Italy that’s simply never been published in English before].) The Pixar comics mostly ceased at the beginning of the year and the classic Disney material by July. The remaining Disney Afternoon material was allowed to wrap up throughout the Fall, with Darkwing Duck, one of the best-selling titles of the Disney material, concluding last month.

Meanwhile, in the publisher’s main line of comics, three other licensed comics that helped bring in sci-fi and horror readers concluded. Their 28 Days Later comic ran its course, ending with issue #24 (there are plans to revisit the world, although the third movie of the franchise 28 Months Later may be stuck in development). Farscape, based on the Sci-Fi Network show of the same name, wrapped up a few months later, with no apparent plans to continue. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a faithful comics adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name, which served as the basis for the movie Blade Runner, also came to a close after a strong start in 2009. All three titles ended with estimated sales of 3,000-4,000 copies per issue among North American comic book stores, although they have had or are likely to have better cumulative sales over time in their collected forms as graphic novels.

Clive Barker's Hellraiser #1 (one of BOOM!'s strongest debuts this year)

As if all that wasn’t enough, a highly publicized launch of three super-hero comics somewhat sizzled out this year. The legendary Stan Lee, co-creator of many Marvel Comics characters from the 1960s, helped conceive of a trio of new titles written and illustrated by some acclaimed modern creators, but even the possibility of a new Marvel Universe couldn’t sustain the mini-line past a year. While all three titles, Soldier Zero, The Traveler and Starborn, did well initially at comic shops, sales drifted over the last 12 months. The last issues were released over the last month or so, with the material being used for a set of decent selling graphic novels.

When big names like Disney and Stan Lee don’t work out for whatever reason, it’s time to double down. And that’s just what BOOM! Studios has done this year, replacing outgoing properties with new material both familiar and brand new. They have released well-received comic books based on the new Planet of the Apes movie, a new Hellraiser comic, and an anticipated Steed and Mrs. Peel from the ’60s Avengers spy TV series by popular comics writer Grant Morrison. You’ll note in that Planet of the Apes link that they created a mini-site that includes web-comics and other material to help reach out to potential readers. That’s a new strategy they’ve been practicing well for several of their launches this year. Similar digital initiatives were done for the launches of Michael Moorcock’s Elric: The Balance Lost. They tested this idea by releasing a free PDF sample of Hellraiser through Wired.com. This savvy awareness of the online world is also being used to help out promising original comics that haven’t quite captured the best sales, as in the case of Dracula: The Company of Monsters, a horror/thriller of a modern corporation trying to control the legendary vampire. The 12 issues released so far are being serialized as a web-comic for free, and new content will eventually be added, with graphic novel collections in print to follow. It should be interesting to see if a traditional print comics publisher can succeed with a formula that works well for many original web-comics. (Avatar Press seemed to do well enough going this route with FreakAngels, running from 2008 to this past August, although it’s something they’ve yet to repeat, which might mean it wasn’t successful enough to try again.) In addition to the successful launches and web-initiatives, BOOM! Studios continues to keep their digital comics library robust. You can read most of their comics through comiXology (or through their mobile apps for iOS and Android devices).

First Peanuts graphic novel

BOOM! Studios also re-branded their kids line as kaboom! Studios, headlined by the first Peanuts graphic novel (based on the new animated special Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown) and a new Peanuts ongoing series. (While selling very well, new Peanuts material not from the hand of the late Charles M. Schulz hasn’t been universally accepted, as it was his wishes that no new comics be created after he died. However, he was specifically referring to the comic strip, and there is evidence of others working on Peanuts in comic books released in the 1960s. Regardless, since the Schulz Estate does not have majority ownership of Peanuts and the brand management firm Iconix does (80%/20% split), new comic books is what we get. However the comic strips appearing in newspapers today still consist entirely of rerun strips by Schulz.) kaboom! also brought Roger Langridge back to BOOM! with a new original comic called Snarked. While it lacks Muppets, it’s missing none of the humor and charm. There are also two new WordGirl graphic novels based on the PBS animated series.

It hasn’t all worked out (their Decision 2012 comics straw poll experiment fizzled out despite being a fun idea, and their promising BOOM! Town literary comics imprint with Denis Kitchen has yet to really kick in), but it’s worked out well enough for them to solidly maintain their position as the seventh largest North American comics publisher, bubbling just under 2% of the market. Considering the big changes they’ve been through and the economic tumult surrounding them, that’s no mean feat.

Comics at the LA Times Festival of Books 2011

LA Times Festival of Books loves comics, Hi De Ho

Comic books, graphic novels, manga (whatever you want to call sequential art) was pulling in the crowds at this past weekend’s LA Times Festival of Books, the nation’s largest book fair. After 14 years at UCLA, the free open air event moved to rival campus USC in South LA and it didn’t seem to hamper attendance. The more concentrated layout, and the campus’ access to public transportation seemed to please most attendees.

(Although, it could’ve been more clear where to park and where to walk to get to the Festival as you arrived. We saw no signs at Vermont and Jefferson after heading south from the 5. Hardly an obscure route.)

That nitpick aside, all seemed to go well for the most part, and perhaps the most favored part of the Festival was comics. While I was only able to attend over half of Saturday, almost every comics booth and panel I checked in with had a heavy turnout with a good mix of what seemed like a lot of curious newcomers and some diehard (or at least familiar) comics readers.

Hi De Ho Comics & Books with Pictures, a longtime store located in Santa Monica, had a very prominent location and a big booth setup (right). This was probably one of the most consistently and heavily trafficked booths we saw on Trousdale and Childs Way. Legendary Archie Comics writer George Gladir, co-creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch with artist Dan DeCarlo, was signing copies of Archie’s Americana series. He was particularly proud of his name getting credited in the two Best of the Eighties volumes, noting how rare it was for Archie to name the creators at the time. Adults that grew up on Archie and kids that are growing up on Archie now clustered around his table, sometimes making it near impossible to even see him. By the middle of the day, Hi De Ho had sold out of Best of the Eighties Volume 1 and George had to keep asking for the staff to replenish copies of Volume 2. It was also great to see the great diversity of people that were drawn to him, proving that Archie truly is a pervasive American icon. On the other side of the booth, graphic novelist Mark Kalesniko was providing free sketches with purchases of his books, like his latest release Freeway, about that most unique of LA experiences: soul crushing traffic. Yet just from the little I’ve read so far, it maintains such charm and humor with an amazing ability to depict movement and the main character’s emotions, sometimes with no dialogue whatsoever.

SLG Publishing was the second booth we discovered, and it kept getting waves of people checking out their great selection of graphic novels, comic books, t-shirts, posters and Ugly Dolls. In addition to their own material, they also had a smattering of graphic novels from other publishers. We easily spent the most money here, which surprised me. Nahleen actually out-spent me at SLG, which might be a first when it comes to comics.

Kids, parents eat up kaboom's Disney comics

Right next to SLG was the Boom! Studios booth, which had a constant mob trying to check out the Disney and Peanuts graphic novels from their kaboom! imprint. Boom! smartly had a buy 1, get 1 free deal going on. Kids and parents alike were asking all sorts of questions about what’s best, what’s age appropriate, and more, and the Boom! staff was great. They clearly love this material too. One kid asked which volume of Donald Duck: Double Duck was best, and the guy responded not as a dry sales person, but as an enthusiastic reader. One somewhat awkward moment came when a mother asked where Boom!’s store was located, so she could buy more at a later date. She had to be informed that there is no store, Boom! sells to other stores. She must’ve sensed it was going to get confusing so she said she would just check out their website, and I suspect she did based on her kids’ eagerness. Fortunately kaboom! has an online store, so I’m optimistic they’ll eventually get what they want.

Next stop was the booth for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. This was a pleasant surprise, because I didn’t see them listed on the exhibitor list posted on the Festival’s website or iPhone app. The CBLDF provides crucial First Amendment protection to the comic book industry, so it’s great to see them accepting donations and getting the word out about their work in this kind of mainstream venue. Unfortunately not as many people were stopping at their booth. Maybe it needed to be laid out differently, with the tables pushed more toward the front of the tent, or maybe people thought something with the word “Legal” in the title was too boring to even bother. But they had a steady stream of 2-3 people at a time, at least. (One guy abruptly stopped in and asked if there was a way to volunteer to get into Comic-Con, which seemed a little transparently like someone didn’t get tickets to the sold-out convention, but still wanted to go and maybe or maybe not cares at all about the work CBLDF does. But whatever.) They had awesome “I Read Banned Comics” t-shirts for sale, as well as signed copies of some fantastic material all reasonably priced.

The web-comic Green Pieces Cartoons had a booth with a great set-up that was constantly pulling people in: a monitor displayed to passers-by artist Drew Aquilina drawing his environmentally-friendly characters. The gag strip has been covered by National Geographic Kids and there was a near-impenetrable wall of people there when I stopped by. A print version of the web-comic was for sale, along with t-shirts and tote bags.

Lots of interest at the Archaia booth

Archaia Entertainment had another popular booth (right) with probably the best deal at the festival: buy 1, get 1 free; buy 2, get 3 free. This kind of belief in their product goes a long way and caught some off-guard. There were also a few artists on hand to offer free sketches, like Dave Valeza, artist of the graphic novel An Elegy for Amelia Johnson. It’s great cover design really popped out, and was getting a lot of questions, some from young women. Comparisons to Blankets were made. Mouse Guard and The Killer were also getting a lot of attention (The Killer Vol. 1 had sold out), and Revere got one of the best pitches from publisher Stephen Christy (“The British are coming, but the werewolves are worse”).

The team-up booth of Wondermark and Sheldon also had a wall of people in front of it. They not only were attracting a lot of interested, but they probably won the Devoted Fans Award. I overhead a young woman tell Sheldon creator Dave Kellett that she had traveled a considerable distance just to see him. The rest of the Festival, indeed the rest of Los Angeles, was apparently inconsequential. These two web-comics have a unique look and their styles are different, so that no doubt explained the big draw. They were undeniably eye-catching, which probably explains why the comics booths in general got so much attention. Graphic design skills pay off. And then the quality substance kept them there.

The only panel I was able to make was the Graphic Novel panel moderated by the Hero Complex‘ Geoff Boucher. The panelists were three amazing talents: Daniel Clowes (Mr. Wonderful, Wilson, Ghost World), Dash Shaw (BodyWorld, Bottomless Belly Button), and Jim Woodring (Weathercraft, Frank). The three had a fully engaging and frequently funny discussion about their approach to their art, storytelling, technology, their work environments and more. The panel wasn’t quite sold out but the room was definitely packed within 5 minutes after it started. It was fascinating to listen to creators with such diverse styles and approaches.

In 2009, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, begun in 1980, added a Graphic Novel category. This year’s winner, only the second since the category was created, was the amazing debut graphic novel by Adam Hines, Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One. Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld and Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft were also nominated, along with You’ll Never Know Book II: Collateral Damage by Carol Tyler and Karl Stevens’ The Lodger. (Both Tyler and Stevens were guests for the earlier Graphic Memoir panel.) Last year’s Graphic Novel Book Prize winner was the worthy Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. The LA Times Book Prizes were awarded Friday night before the first day of the Festival.

For more pictures, see my Flickr set.

Boom! Kids expands to all-ages kaboom! with Peanuts

kaboom! launches with Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown

Los Angeles comics publisher Boom! Studios has been releasing info on their re-branded Boom! Kids imprint this and last week, and the big news is the March release of the first Peanuts original graphic novel Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown as the debut title of kaboom! (formerly teased as Boom! Kids 2.0). (Click on the image to the right for a preview, which immediately sold me on the previously unthinkable idea of buying something Peanuts-related that wasn’t directly written and illustrated by the late Charles Schulz.)

Not to be confused with the Mexican comic book studio ¡Ka-Boom! Estudio or the short-lived 1990s comic book series by Jeph Loeb and Jeff Matsuda called Kaboom or the Texas comic book store KABOOM Comics or the Virginia Beach comic book store Kaboom Collectibles or the Australian comic book store Kaboom! Comics, Boom’s kaboom! will also include Snarked! by Roger Langridge, who recently wrapped up an excellent run creating The Muppet Show Comic Book, as well as a licensed comic based on the PBS Kids animated series Word Girl, and a French Star Wars parody imported as Space Warped. The line will also retain their classic Disney comics Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Mickey Mouse and Friends, Donald Duck and Friends, and Uncle Scrooge as well as the Disney Afternoon comics DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, and Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers. (Disney has decided to pull the comics based on Pixar movies such as The Incredibles, Cars and Toy Story in-house where Marvel Comics will publish Disney•Pixar Presents, a magazine currently slated to reprint the Boom!-produced stories.)

Boom! publisher Ross Richie spoke with Comic Book Resources about kaboom! and the Peanuts graphic novel, and I was struck by his explanation for why the re-named Boom! Kids. From that interview:

“We had theorized for a while that we need to change it up for two reasons: one, we were seeing adults apologizing at conventions for buying the kids’ comics for themselves, and we wanted to remove this barrier. Seeing women in their 20s at Emerald City Comicon say, ‘I know the Incredibles comic book is made for kids, but it looks awesome and I love the art and I’m buying it anyway’ — that ain’t right. Let’s remove the perceived barrier,” Richie explained.

“We also knew on the other end that kids that can buy with their own dollars — let’s say 8 year olds for instance — didn’t consider themselves kids, so they were not sparking to the name,” he continued. “A lot of our content is great for this age group, so let’s get rid of that barrier.

“And through the process, what we ended up seeing was that our organic desire as a publisher hewed more towards being ‘all ages’ than a strict ‘kids’ publisher. So why not reflect that? Why not show everyone that our focus is shifting and changing?

I think that realization and change is significant, and it’s smart of them to listen to this and act on it. Many of the strongest material for young readers is in fact enjoyable for a wider cross section of people. It’s why Pixar movies are so successful. It’s why many of the classic Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes cartoons are so timeless. They don’t just speak to a narrow demographic. (As an aside, DC Comics has been publishing Looney Tunes comics for years.)

It kind of ties in with part of a new interview conducted by colorist Chris Sotomayor (Captain America, Hulk) with comics writer Kurt Busiek (JLA/Avengers, Astro City) (via The Beat). In talking about what’s lacking in the comics industry, Busiek said, “What we’re doing wrong is that we’re putting so much of our energy trying to make comics that will keep the existing audience on board, by concentrating the thrills, the hype and the excitement in ways that make the work forbidding to newcomers. And at the same time, not doing enough outreach to new audiences.” He goes on to break down how to bring in new audiences:

The four-part mantra of how to reach a new target audience remains true: 1. Publish material they will like. 2. Publish it in a form they’ll be willing to pick up. 3. Distribute it to places they will see it. 4. Tell them it exists.

When we reach out to new audiences, we often do only one of the four — and sometimes none, and then complain that it’s not possible.

Fortunately Boom! is doing it differently (and there are others too). They get that speaking to the same narrow audience is death in the long term. There’s nothing wrong with being a cult hit or making a product for a very specific audience, but when the majority of a publishing line is developed with that approach, there can only be finite interest.

Those four steps should be plastered on every comics publishers walls.

New to Comics? New Comics For You! 7/29/09

[Yes, I’m a week behind. Comic-Con was crazy. Pretend you’re a time traveler. This week’s list coming soon.]

[Oh and the previous list’s late-shipping Citizen Rex #1 is now available. So go get it too!]

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff coming out this week that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

The Muppet Show Comic Book: The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson #1 – $2.99
By Roger Langridge
32 pages; published by Boom! Studios

Roger Langridge’s celebrated run on THE MUPPET SHOW comic book begins a new, zany arc! Scooter discovers old documents which reveal that a cache of treasure is hidden somewhere within the theater…and when Rizzo the Rat overhears this, the news spreads like wildfire! Meanwhile, Animal’s acting very strangely—he’s now refined and well-mannered!

Ah the Muppets! Without the voice-acting and puppetry, it’s hard to believe this is any good, but it’s gotten a lot of positive reactions. Should be good for kids of all ages! Here’s a preview for sampling purposes.

Northlanders, Book 2: The Cross + The Hammer – $14.99
By Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly
144 pages; published by DC Comics’ Vertigo; also available at Amazon.com

The second NORTHLANDERS collection, featuring issues #11-16, takes place during the tail end of Viking rule in Ireland. A series of mysterious murders and arsons against wealthy citizens leaves the Viking occupiers worried that a potential uprising might ignite. When surprising details involving the crimes are revealed, though, their jobs become much harder! Once again, writer Brian Wood teams with artist Ryan Kelly (Local) for an intriguing, gorgeously rendered peek at the inner workings of society.

If you haven’t read Northlanders Book 1: Sven The Returned, don’t worry about it. Each volume of this excellent series tells its own story largely unrelated to each other except that the stories are set in the Viking age. If you have even a passing knowledge of Vikings, you know enough. Great stuff but not for the kiddies. Those Vikings didn’t mess around. (And Sven The Returned is excellent.) (Oh and Brian Wood didn’t mind posing with Barbie at last year’s Comic-Con, so he has eternal cool points with me.)

Kaboom – $14.99
By Jeph Loeb & Jeff Matsuda
128 pages; published by Image Comics; also available at Amazon.com

COLLECTED FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER!
The ground-breaking adventures of Geof Sunrise and his amazing transformation into inter-dimensional defender Kaboom! Witness the birth of an amazing new hero as he struggles against the forces of Scarlet! The Nine! And his first date! Can Geoff save the world and make it back in time for his own birthday party? Written by JEPH LOEB (Hulk, Ultimates 3) and illustrated by JEFF MATSUDA (X-Men, Batman Strikes!) KABOOM! introduces an amazing world of magic and monsters that has not been experienced before or since this series exploded onto the scene 10 years ago!

Collecting KABOOM 1-3, KABOOM PRELUDE and the KABOOM CHRISTMAS SPECIAL. Tons of character designs and sketches from the dynamic pencil of JEFF MATSUDA as well as a covers gallery with work from TIM SALE, ED McGUINNESS, ROB LIEFELD, ADAM POLLINA, and KERON GRANT!

Underhanded Plug Alert!: Jeph Loeb was interviewed in our documentary Dig Comics, which has just been accepted in the Vancouver International Film Festival!

Wow, that was sleazy. Who would do something like that?

Anyway, quite a few comic readers from the 1990s remember this comic fondly as a fun and adventurous comic with a dynamic art style. Here’s an interview about this collected edition. It includes a closer look at some of the artwork.

Road to Revolution! – $10.99
By Stan Mack & Susan Champlin
128 pages; published by Bloomsbury USA; also available at Amazon.com

You can’t make history without making a little trouble!

Nick is an orphan who gets by on his wits and whatever he can steal. Penny is the daughter of a tavern owner and knows the meaning of honest work. Though from completely different backgrounds and despite their instant dislike for each other they do have one thing in common: They both want the British out of Boston! When a chance encounter brings them together, Nick and Penny see a way to help the patriots. But first they’ll have to earn the trust of some of America’s great revolutionaries, including Paul Revere and Dr. Joseph Warren, and muster the courage to confront innumerable dangers.

Action packed, laced with humor, and visually dynamic for today’s readers, Road to Revolution! cleverly intertwines fact and fiction for an unprecedented view of American history.

This is probably the most interesting release of the week for me. This is the first in a series of books under the banner of The Cartoon Chronicles of America. This book has been getting good reviews. It’s a shame the publisher doesn’t have the book on their website, along with a peak inside the book. Fortunately the writer has a page up on his website at StanMack.com. It always astounds me when publishers go to the trouble and expense to publish something, but then make the creators do all the heavy-lifting of the marketing. To be fair, the publisher probably sent out the review copies, which helps. Anyway, that’s beside the point. This looks like a great book and I want a copy. Great for history buffs who don’t mind having some fiction weaved into the facts.