Marvel Comics

Rumor Mill: Marvel Animation studio to open

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.

Marvel Animation was formed in 2008 and has put out direct-to-DVD animated features such as Planet Hulk and Thor: Tales of Asgard (concluding their 8-film partnership with Lionsgate), animated TV series like The Super Hero Squad Show on Cartoon Network and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on Disney XD, animated comics (souped up motion comics) such as Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers under the Marvel Knights Animation banner, and the Marvel Anime project from Japan.

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.

Do you have any tips for the grapevine? Email me.

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.

Comic Book Movies and TV Shows for the Rest of 2011

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:

Piled Higher and Deeper: The PhD Movie – Live action comedy about graduate college.

The Walking Dead returns to AMC this October

The Walking Dead Season 2 – Live action horror TV series about a small group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse.

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.

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Season 2 – Animated TV series about Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America and their superhero friends fighting evil.

  • Schedule: 26 episodes starting on a Sunday in October at 10 AM Eastern and Pacific on Disney XD
  • Based on a whole slew of Avengers and other comic books by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others, as well as The Kree-Skrull War by writer Roy Thomas, artist Neal Adams and others, and Secret Invasion by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Leinil Francis Yu, published by Marvel Comics. Plus there’s definitely inspiration taken from the Iron Man movies.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Crab with the Golden Claws

Green Lantern: The Animated Series Season 1 – CGI animated series about a sci-fi superhero with cosmically powered jewelry.

  • 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.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn – CGI animated 3D feature film using performance capture technology. It’s about a plucky journalist and his dog going on a globe-trotting treasure hunt.

Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments or email and I’ll add them in.

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…)

Marvel Comics and the Elusive Minority Demographic

Miles Morales is Spider-Man

Miles Morales is Spider-Man (art by Sara Pichelli)

While DC Comics is working through a gender controversy, Marvel Comics has taken a step forward in representing racial minorities in their super-hero comic books. On Tuesday it was announced in USA Today that Spider-Man would now be a half-black, half-Hispanic teen named Miles Morales (right).

The story is not being told in Marvel’s flagship Amazing Spider-Man (where Peter Parker is still swinging through New York City, white as ever), but instead in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, which starts with a new issue #1 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli (yes DC, a woman!) in September. The Ultimate Comics imprint is set in a younger alternate universe, apart from the bulk of Marvel’s comics. Since the licensability of Marvel’s big characters, which date back to the 1960s and ’70s (and some to 1939), is dutifully protected in Marvel’s main line of comics, the Ultimate Universe allows creators just a bit more leeway. This is easily the best example of that leeway, and could be a refreshing signal of things to come for that imprint.

The first appearance of Miles Morales as Spider-Man is in the just-released Ultimate Comics Fallout #4, which itself spun out of the recent “Death of Spider-Man” story.

Bendis told USA Today, “Even though there’s some amazing African-American and minority characters bouncing around in all the superhero universes, it’s still crazy lopsided.”

He’s right, but this helps. Of course there have been plenty of foolish reactions, from anonymous internet posters trying not to sound too racist to Glenn Beck‘s weird conspiracy theory. Fortunately, cooler heads prevail, and have been celebrating what was unthinkable even five years ago. Why unthinkable? Because comic books with black leads have historically been a tough sell. The Black Panther, comics’ first headlining black hero, has had intermittent series since his debut in 1966. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn is the only comic book series to star a black or African-American in the starring role to last so long (although Al Simmons was replaced with the white Jim Downing last year). Heidi MacDonald at The Beat explores this issue and more in this well-written piece.

Comic-Con Wrap-Up: Digital

Foxtrot by Bill Amend notes the limitations of the iPad (originally published 3/21/2010)

Digital comics are gaining momentum as more people enjoy the convenience of downloading comics onto their tablet device and/or phone, and/or read them on their browser while they’re already at their computer. July has already seen a lot of announcements and Comic-Con, as expected, had a ton more. Here are the highlights:

  • Digital comics sales have doubled for the first six months of 2011, according to industry white papers presented by ICv2 Publisher and CEO Milton Griepp. Digital sales were estimated at less than one million in 2009, somewhere between $6 and $8 million in 2010, and will likely double that amount by the end of 2011. Despite fears of losing print readers to digital, the report states there’s little evidence to suggest a significant level of overlap between buyers in the two markets. Much of the growth is led by the strength of the iPad, with a lot of potential still expected from the Android and e-readers like the Kindle and Nook. Digital sales on PSP have mostly collapsed, likely due to a massive hacking incident on the Sony PlayStation network in April that resulted in the service being shut down for nearly a month and the compromise of millions of their users’ personal data. New additions to the PSP Digital Comics Store were discontinued earlier this month, although the program may get relaunched when Sony releases the PlayStation Vita, expected toward the end of the year. (ICv2)
  • Marvel Comics will begin transitioning to simultaneous print and digital releases (instead of waiting months to release the digital versions of their print comics) starting with this week’s Amazing Spider-Man #666, which kicks off the “Spider-Island” summer event, and the current X-Men event Schism. The Spider-Man family of titles will be released the same day and date in comic book stores and through web and mobile devices. Uncanny X-Men #1 and Wolverine & the X-Men #1 will follow in October and November. Marvel, the comics industry’s number one publisher, will look for more opportunities as titles hit good jumping-on points. (ICv2)
  • VizManga.com has launched from the largest US publisher of Manga, Viz Media. The site syncs with their iOS and Android apps, so manga bought at one can be read on the others. There is a 40% sale going until July 31 and the first chapter of each manga is available for free. There are currently over 40 series and over 300 volumes available, with more added each week. (Robot 6)
  • A collection of 39 Japanese publishers will launch JManga, a web portal to read manga online and interact with creators and fans, in August. Popular manga like One Piece and Naruto are expected to be part of the line-up, as well as more obscure titles that have never been licensed for US release. The cooperative initiative is intended to reverse shrinking sales that publishers feel are due to importing lag time, piracy, and the closing of Borders. (Anime News Network)
  • Top Shelf entered the digital space by launching over 70 graphic novels on the Comics+ app by iVerse Media. According to this interview with Robot 6, they want to have everything in their library that they can release digitally to be available by the end of the summer. They will also be launching on other digital distributors soon and will have their own apps, one for Top Shelf’s entire line and a Kids Club app for their all-ages material. They also have some books on the Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Google eBookstore. (Top Shelf)
  • Panelfly will be relaunching their app as Panelfly Prime and Panelfly Plus beginning in early August. The two apps will enhance the now-standard comics reader experience with videos, news and social media integration within the comic, an experience they’re pitching as SuperMedia. Their recently released Burn Notice digital comic is a template for what they’re building. (Comic Book Resources)
  • Graphicly is adding bonus features and other enhancements to digital comics. Similar to DVD bonus features, the first batch includes audio commentary tracks by creators and trailers, with more to come. (The Couch)
  • LucasFilm OK’ed the digital release of Star Wars comics, so the Dark Horse Digital Store now has tons of Star Wars comics, with more to be added every week. Dark Horse Comics has been publishing Star Wars comics for 20 years now. Part of the release includes Marvel Comics’ 1977 adaptation of the original movie Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. (Dark Horse)
  • Manga publisher Square Enix is running a special sale on their online reader site. If you “like” their Facebook page or got a special URL at Comic-Con, you can get the first volume of any of their 15 series (including Fullmetal Alchemist) for free. Books are usually priced at $5.99. The deal is good until August 10. (Robot 6)

Web and Digital Comics dominate Harvey Awards nominations

Gutters by Ryan Sohmer, Lar deSouza, et al.

The prestigious Harvey Awards have released their 2011 nominees for excellence in the comics industry. Named after the influential cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, founder of MAD Magazine, the Harvey Awards are the only comics industry award both nominated and selected by comic book creators, those who write, draw, ink, letter, color, design, edit and/or otherwise help create comics.

This year showed an unprecedented number of nominations from web comics and digital comics, with a total of eight different works getting recognized in multiple categories. Most significantly is the showing from Gutters, which is nominated for a startling six nominations, more than any other single creator or comics work whether in print or not. The web comic that satirizes the comics industry appears to have won a significant number of fans within the industry, as it has been nominated for Best New Series, Special Award for Humor in Comics, Best Online Comics Work, Best Writer (Ryan Sohmer), Best Artist (Ed Ryzowski), and Best Colorist (Ed Ryzowski).

The digital comic Box 13, originally released through ComiXology, also had a decent showing, with two nominations: Best Letterer (Scott Brown) and Best Inker (Steve Ellis). Comfort Love and Adam Withers also received two nominations, one for Most Promising New Talent for their web-comic Rainbow in the Dark, and one for Best Anthology for their Uniques Tales.

The remaining Best Online Comics Work category had the following nominations: Guns of Shadow Valley by David Wachter and James Andrew Clark; Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton; La Morté Sisters by Tony Trov, Johnny Zito and Christine Larsen; and PvP by Scott Kurtz, who will be the Master of Ceremonies at the award show at the Baltimore Comic-Con in August.

Last year’s Harvey Awards only saw 3 categories outside of the Best Online Comics Work category nominate digital and/or web comics. The Best Online Comics Work category was added to the Harvey Awards in 2006.

Harvey Awards (1988-present)

On the print side of thing, this year’s Harvey Awards gave five nominations to Darwyn Cooke and his adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov won four nominations for his work in Echoes with artist Rashan Ekedal and Tumor with artist Noel Tuazon. Tumor is nominated for Best Graphic Album Previously Published; it was originally published digitally on the Kindle in 2009. Artist Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets: New Stories) and Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee each had three nominations, with an additional nomination each for The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death, edited by Todd Hignite, and Langridge for his writing on The Muppet Show comic book series.

IDW Publishing raked in 16 nominations, more than any other publisher. Marvel Comics brought in 13, including 1 from their Icon imprint. DC Comics and Image Comics both obtained 11 nominations each with their respective Vertigo and Top Cow imprints bringing in more than half.

Complete list of Harvey Comics 2011 nominations.