Mark Waid

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.

Comic Books Have Heart: Hero Initiative Raises Money for Creators in Need

You might not think it, but the comics community has a big heart. One great example is The Hero Initiative, a Los Angeles-based charity that raises money for creators who are in dire straits (not the band but the financial situation). Here’s a video I put together of a special event held at Meltdown Comics this past Saturday night.

For you savvy comics folks, that’s writer Mark Waid of Kingdom Come fame yelling out “you’ve made a powerless enemy”. He and producer Tom DeSanto were probably the most generous bidders. Mike Malve of Epic Digital Media was the winner of the Alex Ross cover in the video above. The entire night raised about $15,000 for The Hero Initiative.

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.

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…)

Year in Review: Disney Comics go BOOM!

You’d think that with their over $4 billion purchase of Marvel Entertainment a year ago this week, the Burbank-based Walt Disney Company would have brought things in-house for comics featuring Disney characters. Instead, Disney has licensed a small but highly acclaimed line of comics to Los Angeles comics publisher Boom! Studios over the last year plus. And with their Boom! Kids line, Boom! has helped resurrect the all-ages corner of the comic book industry, something that many feared was a lost cause. Not only is this good news for increasing variety, but it’s absolutely crucial in making sure that another generation doesn’t slip by without learning and internalizing the language of comics. (more…)

Diversity is the key

Marvel Comics announced details late last week of the launch of a new imprint that will focus on genres other than superheroes. Marvel’s CrossGen line will cross into genres not typically associated with the publisher of Spider-Man, Iron Man and Captain America.

Outside of their Marvel Illustrated line of comics adapting classic novels like the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Pride and Prejudice and Treasure Island, more modern adaptations of Stephen King’s Dark Tower and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, and other sporadic attempts here and there, this is the first concerted effort to reach outside of their known superhero material since the publisher was releasing westerns and monster comics in the 1960s.

The CrossGen imprint is actually a resurrection of a publisher that failed and was purchased by Marvel’s new parent company Disney in 2004. CrossGen Entertainment came onto the comics scene with some daring moves. Instead of relying on freelancers, CrossGen relocated their talent to the company’s Florida compound and provided them with a salary, health insurance, 401k and other benefits largely alien to most creative types in the comics industry. They also were among the first to aggressively reprint their comics every 6 months or so in soft cover graphic novels (or “trade paperbacks”) targeted to book stores, now an industry standard. They were the first publisher to experiment with digital comics, with an online portal similar to Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited service. They also had a school and library outreach program with some of their material available in special lesson plan editions. Unfortunately CrossGen didn’t survive long enough to see these distribution channels mature to the point they have in the last 5 years and the company’s chutzpah ended up burying it.

Considering some of the trash talk thrown out by CrossGen’s president when the company was on the rise, it’s almost too ironic that its properties are now being published by Marvel. Still, the company put out some good looking books. They had a knack for attracting strong talent and putting out quality books that filled niche holes in the industry at the time. And now Marvel is using those properties to expand their line into new areas, a long overdue move that major competitor DC Comics knew to do back in the ’90s with the creation of the Vertigo imprint (even if it has typically limited itself to more mature readers content).

But with the struggling economy, is now the time to launch new initiatives? Marvel is keeping things modest with just two 4-issue series priced at $2.99 (versus their nearly standard $3.99 cover price). And they’re putting worthy talent in place to help garner interest. Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, The Flash) remains a hot writer, and is actually getting a second go at Ruse (pictured above), a Sherlockian mystery set in Victorian England. Mike Carey (Lucifer, The Unwritten) will write the more overhauled Sigil, a sci-fi war epic.

Initial response seems positive so far. CrossGen garnered an enthusiastic cult following in its day. (Disclaimer: I loved them.) And based on online responses so far, most seem eager to see these books return. Of course as we’ve seen, online enthusiasm doesn’t always translate into sustainable sales. But then sometimes it does.

When comics’ largest publisher launches an imprint that brings more diversity in their line of books, it can’t not be a good thing. Hopefully execution will match the good news. Hopefully retailers and readers will embrace the books. Time will tell.

The two new books are scheduled for a March 2011 release.

Comics Events in Los Angeles: Week of 11/14/10

You don’t have to sit at home alone reading to get into comic books and graphic novels. There are always great events going on that celebrate the vitality and creativity of comics. Just here in Los Angeles, there are more events I can ever make. But I try, and so should you. You never know what you’ll discover.

Here are some local Los Angeles events coming up that celebrate the sequential art form.

This week:

Wednesday, November 17: NEW COMICS DAY! Find your local comics specialty shop.

Wednesday, November 17, 8:30 PM: The Meltdown (weekly comedy show) with stand-up comics David Koechner, Jen Kirkman, Nick Thune, TJ Miller, with videos by Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray, at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90046. Tickets: $8.

Wednesday, November 17, 9 PM: Top Cow Productions’ publisher Filip Sablik, president Matt Hawkins and writer Jeff Katz are guests for this week’s live podcast of Bagged & Boarded with Matt Cohen, at SModcastle, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90038. Tickets: $10.

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