It’s been four months but I’m still here reading X-Men comics! Well… more or less. I got a bit sidetracked. And I’m about to get sidetracked again. But I wanted to get in one more post to finish up the long build-up to the Fall of the Mutants, which sets up the next sustained status quo for the book.
For those just joining, I’ve been (at times, very slowly), reading the entire Uncanny X-Men comic book series, from its start as X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963, to its resurrection by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum in 1975, to the legendary stories by Chris Claremont and John Byrne that turned it into Uncanny X-Men, the biggest-selling comic at Marvel Comics and the headlining title of a franchise.
Even more so than the previous year’s Mutant Massacre event, each participating comic book series pretty much kept to itself. So I didn’t read New Mutants or X-Factor, only the Uncanny X-Men issues (#225-227) of The Fall of the Mutants, which were originally released in late 1987. I’m also including the semi-epilogue issue 228.
In many ways, these three issues are the culmination of some long-percolating sub-plots. Anyone jumping on with this event was probably pretty confused. But for those that had been following the book, the Storm and Forge thread gets some good pay-off. In one of those great comic book oddities, they spend a year exiled on a fake Earth in the span of a night on the normal Earth. At this point, the two are doomed lovers who keep getting close to a happily-ever-after, only to find out it’s not the real thing. While there is tragedy to them, Storm gloriously and finally gets her powers back, another subplot that’s been running through the books for some time.
Colossus also makes a return to the book. Apparently he was planned for the upcoming spin-off book Excalibur until it was decided his powers would be redundant once Captain Britain was added to the cast. After so deliberately being shuffled off the book, he’s shuffled right back on, at last finalizing the X-Men roster that will be in place for the next year or so.
Speaking of changed plans, the original plot was intended to use elements of a story by Alan Moore that had appeared in Marvel UK books. Apparently, Moore’s contract with Marvel was unique from State-side freelancers, giving him more authority over what he’d created, so Claremont had to make some big changes to his story. Probably the Adversary story would’ve ended in the previous issues, and this would’ve been an entirely new threat.
Still, the mystically cosmic battle may seem like a mismatch for X-Men adventures, which usually work best when dealing with themes of racism, bigotry and alienation. But it ends up serving as a good juxtaposition against yet another long percolating subplot, the Mutant Registration Act. Anti-mutant hysteria is at an all-time high, and the X-Men’s classically heroic sacrifice ends up being the best pro-mutant propaganda. Unfortunately it doesn’t show that any real change came from it, although that’s probably a more realistic ending.
The Blob lands on Wolverine
Pencil/ink team Marc Silvestri and Dan Green continue an enjoyable run of issues, adding some fun and even funny visuals. Silvestri particularly shines during the battle with Freedom Force in the first issue. The only real downside is that his pages sometimes feel a bit cramped with small panels crowded by excessive dialogue from Chris Claremont. This might be more on Claremont’s shoulders, as his scripting approach has solidly taken on the verbose style that really defines the book for a long time. Letterer Tom Orzechowski hits his 100th issue on the book and continues to be a vital element of the book’s winning look and feel.
The epilogue issue is a bit forgetful. It seems like a leftover plot from Dazzler’s solo series, and is mostly a flashback from before the Fall of the Mutants story. Only the last page has reference to the X-Men’s death. Rick Leonardi’s art is nice though.
These stories weren’t my absolute favorite but the Storm stuff is great, the inclusion of Freedom Force was fun, and I’m intrigued to see the new status quo get rolled out. The next batch of issues see the X-Men start a new life in Australia.
But first… As I said in the beginning, I’m going to be putting my Uncanny X-Men re-reading on hold while I join my fellow Part-Time Fanboy podcasters for a re-reading of Fantastic Four #1-100 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This is the comic that created the Marvel Universe, so I’m really excited to be diving in to this book. We plan on recording early this week, with the first episode to go live pretty quickly after that.
Much of this year was a struggle for most of the comics industry, but it seemed particularly apparent in the primary publishers of American superhero comic books, Marvel Comics and DC Comics. Those two publishers also comprise about 75% of the comic book market, as tracked through North American comic book stores, so if they’re struggling, the entire industry struggles. For the first 3/4 of 2010, sales at comic book stores drifted away.
Some retailers began to complain that Marvel and DC weren’t providing any big high profile comics to bring readers in. Through much of the 2000s, both publishers had released big summer events that consumed much of their respective lines. These big crossover events, like DC’s Identity Crisis (2004) and Marvel’s Civil War (2006), garnered some headlines from mainstream media and definitely got fans talking. Most important, it got them buying. Soon, much of their publishing strategies were built around the next event, with comics devoted to teasers, prequels, accompanying mini-series, spin-offs, sequels and so forth. It got to the point where it would literally cost one or two hundred dollars to get every issue that was part of one single event, if one was that much of a compulsive completionist (and let’s face it, plenty of superhero fans are just that). Toward the end of the 2000s, readers started to complain of what became called “event fatigue”. The never-ending cycle of an earth-shattering, teeth-gnashing crisis leading right into the next bleak crisis was losing appeal. So DC and Marvel took a break from them, although they kept publishing smaller more contained mini-events. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, they didn’t replace these sales magnets with compelling comics that would bring readers back (or, to dream the impossible dream, bring new readers in).
So to answer retailers’ concerns, instead of innovating, they returned to the same trick: big line-wide crossover events. Unfortunately it didn’t work this time. Marvel’s Fear Itself and DC’s Flashpoint were largely met with lukewarm sales and reviews this summer. Meanwhile, Hollywood was showing that it could actually do halfway decent superhero stories, certainly more accessible, entertaining and populist than their current comics counterparts. All summer long, big screen audiences were hit by Thor, X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger, with no compelling reason to carry any interest in the characters to comic book stores. Even DC Comics’ valiant promotion of rolling back or holding cover prices at $2.99, instead of the increasingly common and excessive $3.99, didn’t do much to turn losses around.
So it finally became clear something truly big had to be done. Waving arms around yelling “hey look!” in the traditional fashion didn’t get anyone to really notice or care, so it was time to bring back the old stand-by of adding in a hearty table flip. Just after their Flashpoint crossover had started, DC Comics announced that their entire superhero universe would be (sorta) reborn. Every series would be cancelled and an entirely new line-up of 52 comics would start over the next month. In many ways, it’s the mother of all events, and similar to a move DC Comics made in 1985 with Crisis on Infinite Earths, where their entire universe was reset for the first time. The difference this time is that there would be a clean break. Starting August 31, every DC Universe comic book was set back to issue #1, with updated costumes and streamlined origin to create a younger, hipper world of superheroes. The New 52 got a lot of press. DC’s chief executives and architects went on an aggressive tour of comic book stores to win over support of the massive gamble. They offered retailers great incentives and the ability to return unsold comics. They did interviews for radio, TV, newspapers, websites. They made TV commercials that airing on cable networks, played before movie trailers and streamed online. Yes, they did something almost unprecedented: they did real marketing to people outside of the current comics reading habit. Letting people know that something they might like exists is a foreign concept to most comic book publishers, but somehow it worked. Sales have been great. In many cases, sales of relaunched books doubled the first month of the launch. DC Comics’ market share jumped to make them the #1 comics publisher of North America for the last quarter of 2011, after at least a decade of being #2 to Marvel. Some other publishers have even reported improved sales for their own unrelated comics as a possible side effect of the New 52.
Miles Morales stars in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1
So the industry is saved, right? Well… not quite. Reviews have been mixed, the consensus seems to be that some books are good, some are OK, some are bad. There are concerns over excessive violence and objective depictions of females, just as there were before the relaunch. After five months, retailers are already seeing sales settling back down to how their stores were selling DC books before the New 52 launch. Unfortunately that has historically been the pattern with events. Initial enthusiasm reflects in temporary sales bumps. But without sustaining quality that speaks to larger audiences, it’s always temporary until the next big event needs to be concocted.
While Marvel hasn’t done something quite as aggressive relaunching their entire line, they have been making changes, amid a series of layoffs and cutbacks. Probably their highest profile move was their new Spider-Man, the multi-racial Miles Morales, in their Ultimate Comics imprint, also first announced in USA Today. They’ve also announced plans to release in 2012 a new line of original graphic novels updating the origins of their most popular characters. Previously swearing that original graphic novels just didn’t make financial sense to them, the move is presumed to be a response to DC’s successful Superman: Earth Oneoriginal graphic novel, released in 2010.
Both Marvel and DC also stepped up their schedules in releasing digital comics. DC announced they would release their comics on the web and mobile devices the same day their print comics are released in comic book stores the same day their New 52 began, August 31. Marvel has been slowly rolling out a similar strategy instead of a line-wide shift all at once. They announced to Gizmodo in November that by March 2012, all of their titles would be on a simultaneous digital/print release schedule (excluding licensed comics and their mature MAX imprint). Marvel was the first of the two to experiment with this kind of release. Comic shop owners have been nervous about digital stealing away customers, and their vocal protests is believed to be the reason for the staggered pricing schedule that has become standard for day-and-date digital releases. For digital comics released the same time as their print counterpart, their price will match the print version’s cover price (typically between $2.99 and $3.99). After a month, the price drops to $1.99. Both Marvel and DC tend to have sales that drop some prices to $0.99, and some issues are available for free.
Did DC’s New 52 just stall the inevitable? How will Marvel respond to regain their lost market share? How will retailers who rely on superhero comics deal with digital comics? 2012 will be an interesting year.
Happy Holidays, everyone. Now stop using the internet. That appears to be the message from a number of comics publishers, however unintentional.
On Thursday, December 22, the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, chaired by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), released a list of supporters of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). This bill is an attempt by lawmakers to address intellectual property security concerns on the internet. However, it has been flagged by various organizations and individuals for going too far, giving broad power without due process, limiting free speech and discouraging technical innovation. Graphic Policy has a great summary of the bill’s weaknesses and how it relates to the comic book industry. Some are claiming it could cripple social sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Tumblr, along with thousands of harmless fan-sites and any other sites sharing their IP addresses.
Among the corporations and organizations listed as supporters of SOPA are the following comic book and graphic novel publishers:
Marvel Entertainment, LLC (Disney-owned corporate name of Marvel Comics)
As we come out of the holidays, many of these organizations might have to start responding to a vocal outpouring of concern among customers and partners, and in some cases, threats of organized boycotts.
There has been considerable push back already, and from public pressure some organizations have dropped their support of SOPA. The Graphic Artists Guild has retracted their support, stating “We are concerned that the bill may have unintended consequences that may do more harm than good.” They also added that they “have not spent a dime on any lobbyist in Congress for this bill”. The largest domain name registrar GoDaddy faced massive threats of boycotts, and has also reversed their position. Time will tell if more will shift their support.
Two of the true innovators and original pioneers of the comic book industry died recently.
Jerry Robinson died Wednesday, December 7, at the age of 89. Robinson will forever be most linked with the 1940 creation of Batman’s nemesis and possibly the first super-villain, The Joker. During this time, he also co-created Robin the Boy Wonder to be Batman’s sidekick, which established what soon became an iconic narrative device for superhero comics, and of course the inevitable wave of sidekick imitators. As if forever changing the superhero genre wasn’t enough, he also created another iconic element of Batman, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred. Following his genre-defining work in superhero comics in the 1930s and ’40s, Robinson went on to fight for creator rights (notably in support of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman), write The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art (one of the earliest publications to detail the history of the art form [Dark Horse Comics published a revised and expanded edition earlier this year]), as well as establish CartoonArts International, a syndicate that helped create distribution networks for political cartoonists around the world. He is the only person to have served as President of both the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), and also served as guest curator for several art galleries hosting shows featuring comics art.
Joe Simon died last Thursday, December 14, at the age of 98 of an undisclosed illness. In late 1940 with his partner Jack Kirby, Simon created Captain America, one of the first and certainly the most influential superhero meant to stir up patriotism as the United States considered involvement in World War II. The first issue of Captain America Comics, released in December 1940 (cover-dated March 1941), brazenly featured Captain America slugging Adolf Hitler in the jaw right on the cover. While Hitler now seems like a comic book villain, he was then a real-world political leader. With nearly one million copies sold, it was considered an instant hit and got the attention of Nazi sympathizers and anti-war activists who wrote angry and even threatening letters. Flag-draped superheroes soon came out of the woodwork but few could compete. Simon served as head editor of the Marvel Comics precursor, Timely Comics, during this time, but soon moved on with Kirby to create a brand new genre for the comics art form: romance. Now frequently satirized, romance comics were a massive hit and brought in a whole new demographic. The two were also pioneers in establishing the horror and true crime genres in comics, which were also huge sellers. Simon went on to consult for Harvey Comics in the 1960s, helping to develop then new characters Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich. Simon also wrote two autobiographies, The Comic Book Makers and this year’s Joe Simon: My Life in Comics.
Indicative of how small the industry is and was back then, the two shared studio space in New York City for a time.
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.
After the last two days, I think we need something to lighten things up before we head off to the Thanksgiving weekend.
If someone thinks about comic books long enough to consider that people actually make them, that person is probably aware of Stan Lee. The head editor and face of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, Stan “The Man” Lee helped plot and script nearly the entirety of Marvel’s then growing line of groundbreaking superhero comic books. He also either helped write or oversaw the western, romance, suspense, humor, war and other comics back when Marvel wasn’t primarily limited to one genre. He was also an innovator in fan interaction for the comics world of the time, taking on a carnival barker persona that remains to this day. While he hasn’t been involved in Marvel’s day-to-day operations for a long time, he’s still thought of as the guy who created the Marvel Universe, even if that title almost completely ignores the contributions of the brilliant artists working at Marvel at the time (most significantly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko). Despite the controversies and legal issues of who really created Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and all the others, and to what extent, Stan Lee remains a beloved public figure of Marvel and a legendary force of goodwill and visibility for comics in general.
These days, he remains as active as ever with his POW! Entertainment, where he’s provided concepts for a mini-line of superhero comics published by BOOM! Studios, superhero characters for the NHL, manga, and countless other projects, along with a first look deal with Disney and other production partnerships. (But not Stripperella. Nobody had anything to do with Stripperella.) And on the side, he makes cameos in Marvel Studios’ films:
To expand his Twitter and Facebook presence, Stan Lee is getting ready to launch TheRealStanLee.com, which is going to be a community-focused site. Here’s the promotional video that was released yesterday:
And thus we get to the real point of me posting all of this. Included in the above video is a clip of Stan Lee meeting The Fake Stan Lee. Played by cartoonist/improviser Kevin McShane, the Fake Stan Lee hits the right balance of playful tribute and pointed satire. For a few years now, McShane has been posting funny videos of himself as Stan Lee attending comic book conventions and interacting with attendants unabashedly being Stan Lee. And if you don’t know what that means, you got a glimpse at the above video. Now check out the below two videos. The first includes the two Stans meeting at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.
And they had another showdown in last year’s Comic-Con:
For more Fake Stan Lee videos, check out his YouTube channel.
LifeHealthPro has a lengthy article taken from the November 7th issue of National Underwriter Life & Health Magazine covering the heart-breaking story of comics writer Bill Mantlo. For Marvel Comics, he co-created the super-hero duo Cloak and Dagger, which is currently being developed as a TV series for ABC Family, and the sci-fi oddity Rocket Raccoon. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, he also wrote Spectacular Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, over 500 issues total. As the article details, in the early ’90s, he had become a public defense attorney for a non-profit until he was severely injured by a hit and run in 1992. For a moment, it looked like he would have a miraculous recovery, but through a series of bullying and manipulation by his insurance company, he ended up losing the ground he’d regained and getting stuck in what amounts to a nursing home. Bill’s brother Mike Mantlo has been running his affairs since the accident, and as you’ll read, it has not been an easy journey. That might be one of the biggest understatements I’ve ever written. Please read the article.
I reached out to some of the people who have been involved in various fundraisers and also Mike Mantlo to get some additional details.
In communicating with Mike, there were a few points of the article that he felt were inaccurate, and I offered him the opportunity to offer up his side for the public record.
Regarding the contentious selling of Bill’s comic book collection, which served as his archive and research library for his prolific work with Marvel, Mike told me that Bill had sold it prior to the accident. According to Mike, “he himself sold it off around 1986 to finance the cottage”.
As the LifeHealthPro article states, that cottage is another matter of controversy with the family. Mike stated that Bill never owned it outright, but shared ownership in a co-op. “Bill’s ex-wife was given 3 opportunities to assume the debt remaining on the mortgage that Bill bought her out of, but reneged 3 times with the bank.” Mike added, “I was forced to sell it to a friend of another co-op member through a ‘short sale’, just to get the asset off of Bill’s ledger so he could qualify for Medicaid”.
The final point he wanted to make was regarding the life insurance issue. “There was never any $100,000 life insurance policy that was surrendered for cash.” He pointed out that “if there had been, the state would have seized any funds” for Bill’s Medicaid coverage.
In 1994, Mike Mantlo set up a fund to help raise money to cover the ongoing expenses of Bill’s care. Recently writer Greg Pak (Incredible Hulk) wrote a wonderful tribute about Bill Mantlo’s influence on his own writing and included a link to Mike’s fund through PayPal:
I also checked in with Jim McLauchlin of The Hero Initiative. It was somewhat perplexing and disappointing to read in the LifeHealthPro article about The Hero Initiative’s apparent confusion over their own contributions. However, when I briefly spoke with McLauchlin, he said he had provided lots of information for the article. As he recalled to me, his contact with Bill’s brother was initially around 2002 and 2003 when the organization was still very young. This 2009 interview with Mike Mantlo confirms that The Hero Initiative provided the first support of any kind from the industry:
I had to struggle to fight his insurance company from cutting off his benefits, and the comics industry didn’t really step forward until many years later (probably because Bill had left it in the mid-80’s to become a lawyer). It was only when [The Hero Initiative] (comic book professionals support group) was formed in the late 90’s-early 00’s, that any assistance, or (financial) support came through. They deserve a lot of credit, as does Tony Isabella, who’s been the biggest champion of Bill’s throughout this whole ordeal.
The Hero Initiative is a great organization that has done crucial work to provide financial support and employment opportunities for comic book creators in dire need. The structure of the organization requires that requests for funds or assistance comes from the recipient or their family. McLauchlin stated that he hasn’t heard from Michael for about 3 or 4 years. I asked Mike Mantlo about whether he was considering re-approaching The Hero Initiative for additional support, but he said it wasn’t something he was planning on doing.
I will always be indebted to them for their kindness. I do not intend to approach them again, as I feel their mission is to assist all comics industry professionals that are in need, and I know their funds are stretched pretty thin with the many people they help (Ed Hannigan being the latest example that i was aware of). Bill would have wanted these funds shared equally, and I support his wishes in that regard.
Artist Ed Hannigan collaborated with Bill Mantlo on Spectacular Spider-Man and in creating Cloak and Dagger. Below is a video of Hannigan talking about his career, his struggles with multiple sclerosis, and how The Hero Initiative has helped him.
As The Hero Initiative’s Jim McLauchlin expressed to me, Bill’s story is tragic and it is indicative of issues that go beyond him and beyond comics. As health care reform takes full effect in 2014, we’re likely to see more of this topic on the national stage.
Mike Mantlo isn’t the only one remembering Bill. Over a year ago, Bill’s daughter Corinna Mantlo and her brother Adam Pocock set up the Facebook page The Bill Mantlo Project to pay tribute to their father and attempt to rebuild a complete library of Bill’s work. Eventually, they also hope to set up a non-profit scholarship fund to help kids pursue an education in art and writing. As the Facebook page mentions, “Bill was lucky enough to attend public art high school in NYC and then Cooper Union for a virtually free college art education, but many aren’t as lucky.” Friday night, I reached out to Corinna for additional details but by press time had not received a response.
As briefly mentioned in the LifeHealthPro article, during the last decade there have been other efforts made to pay tribute to and raise funds for Bill Mantlo. It started with Sleeping Giant Productions in partnership with Mike Mantlo producing Mantlo: A Life in Comics, a book which covered Bill’s life history and career (disclosure: I donated to help cover some production costs). While now out-of-print, it can be downloaded at Wowio.
I checked in with David Yurkovich of Sleeping Giant Productions to see his response to the article.
I wasn’t aware that the article was being published. My priorities over the last few years have shifted away from comics (ie, now a parent, new job, etc), which has left me with little time to devote to the medium. Even the Mantlo portal of the Sleeping Giant Creations web site has become terribly outdated, I’m afraid. But as the saying goes, you can only do what you can do. The article was heartbreaking. Obviously I’d known about Bill’s condition for a while, but my understanding was vague and limited. Bill Coffin’s article appears to have been exhaustively researched, both from a personal and health industry perspective. The costs associated with Mr. Mantlo’s care are staggering. I would have been interested in knowing more about the “new medication” that, for a time at least, improved Bill’s cognition and activities of daily living. If the drug was working, why did the physician in charge suggest doubling the dosage? Why wasn’t a small, gradual increase suggested? All water under the bridge now, I suppose.
As difficult as it was to read the stunning details in Bill Coffin’s article, I’m glad that he wrote it and that it saw publication. The vast majority of comics fans really have no idea whatever became of Bill Mantlo. The struggles he’s had to live with, not to mention the struggles his family have had to endure, really underscore the need for serious healthcare reform in the US.
Regarding any future plans for fundraising, Yurkovich told me the following:
There probably are [plans for more fundraising]. Bill has a legion of fans world-wide. Ideally I’d like to see Marvel step up to the plate and produce a Bill Mantlo Visionaries hardcover collection or an Incredible Hulk Omnibus containing Bill’s amazing run on that series, with a percentage of proceeds going toward Bill’s care.
In addition to Mantlo: A Life in Comics (pictured at the top of this article), the art show Rom: Spaceknight was put on by Floating World Comics in Portland, Oregon. They exhibited and sold new artwork of the cult favorite Rom character in which Bill was so involved. Walt Simonson (Thor), Jeffrey Brown (Incredible Change-Bots), and Guy Davis (B.P.R.D.) were among the artists that contributed. Finally Wowio reached out to Mike Mantlo to issue a digital release of Bill’s original graphic novel and comic book series Swords of the Swashbucklers, although that unfortunately does not appear to be available anymore.
My hope is that the LifeHealthPro article has inspired renewed interest in helping Bill Mantlo and that some of the above projects will see renewed interest and support. If you’re not comfortable with PayPal (above), you can also mail a check made out to Michael Mantlo to help with costs of Bill’s care:
26364 East Pintail Road
Long Neck, DE 19966
A California Raisin tells me Marvel Studios is expanding. A state-of-the-art Marvel Animation studio is currently under construction in Glendale, California. Employees will apparently work in the neighboring city of Burbank, possibly at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, until construction of the Glendale facility completes.
Marvel Animation is part of Marvel Studios, the film and TV production company of Marvel Entertainment, which obviously grew out of Marvel Comics. Located on the other side of Los Angeles in Manhattan Beach, Marvel Studios is behind the successful Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger movies. The recently-created Marvel TV division is run by Jeph Loeb (producer on Lost, Heroes), and has authority over Marvel Animation. And of course the entire Marvel structure is owned by Disney.
Known future plans at Marvel Animation are somewhat limited. There’s the Ultimate Spider-Man show, based on the comic of the same name, debuting next year, and a Hulk cartoon in development, both for Disney XD. Whatever else is in the pipeline, it appears they intend to increase production capabilities on the animation side.
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?
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.
Well the big summer blockbusters are all done. But that doesn’t mean comic books are done invading pop culture entertainment. I always think the source material is better, but checking out comic book adaptations, whether TV or film, can be a good way of sampling. Here’s what’s coming down the pike for the rest of 2011:
Batman: Year One – Animated feature-length movie about the noir-ish retelling of the early days of Bruce Wayne’s superhero career.
Schedule: Released on DVD, Blu-ray and for download on Tuesday, October 18.
Based on one of the seminal DC Comics graphic novels, Batman: Year One by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli. The story was originally published in Batman comic books in 1987.
X-Men Anime Series – Animated TV series imported from Japan featuring the mutant superheroes Cyclops, Wolverine and others fighting for a world that fears and hates them.
Schedule: 12 episodes starting Friday, October 21 at 11 PM Eastern on G4.
Based on various X-Men comic books and graphic novels published by Marvel Comics over the years but specifically narrowing in on New X-Men by writer Grant Morrison and various artists, as well as Astonishing X-Men by writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday.
Schedule: This was originally set to debut last week but now a preview is going to air this Fall, possibly in November, with the full 26-episode season to start in Spring 2012 on Cartoon Network.
Based on countless Green Lantern comics but more specifically this summer’s Green Lantern movie and recent Green Lantern comic books and graphic novels by writer Geoff Johns and others published by DC Comics.