Mike Carey

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.

New to Comics? New Comics for You! 5/13/09

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

Here’s some brand new stuff coming out today 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 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: Having not read these yet, I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, they just might appeal to you.

Unthinkable #1 – $3.99
By Mark Sable and Julian Totino Tedesco
~32 pages; published by Boom! Studios

They’ve been hired to think the UNTHINKABLE. But what happens when the unthinkable actually happens? After 9-11, best-selling author Alan Ripley joins a government think tank consisting of the most imaginative minds in diverse fields. Their job? Think of nightmare scenarios and crippling terrorist attacks so the government can safeguard against them. But what happens when the think tank folds, and the attacks start to happen? Find out in this new mini-series from hot writer Mark (TWO-FACE YEAR ONE, CYBORG) Sable and rising talent Julian Totino Tedesco.

This seems ripe for a movie adaptation, but the original source material almost always has a bit more bite to it. In these types of potentially controversial stories, that’s usually the case even more so.

Applegeeks Volume 1: Freshman Year – $14.95
By Ananth Panagariya and Mohammad F. Haque
184 pages; published by Dark Horse; available at Amazon.com

Jayce, an introspective writer, and Hawk, an excitable artist and inventor, have unofficially taken up residence in the home of sweet and thoughtful Alice and hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-hitting Gina. The foursome’s busy trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, and how the heck to fit their college classes in around marathon video-game sessions, visits to the comic shop, and offbeat road trips, but when Hawk gets fed up with constantly striking out with women and decides to create the perfect girlfriend in his basement lab, passing classes suddenly becomes the least of the group’s worries! If Hawk’s project is a success, will his creation be content with being the perfect girlfriend, or will she have dreams of her own? And… uh… how many more things is she going to blow up?

* Dark Horse Comics is proud to bring the hit webcomic Applegeeks (applegeeks.com) off of the net and into print! Our first volume, Applegeeks: Freshman Year, will include the first two years’ worth of Applegeeks comics, as well as extensive creator commentary, a pinup gallery, and lots of other great bonus material.
* Applegeeks.com receives an average of 250,000 unique visitors a month, and over 1,000,000 page views a month!
* This popular webcomic will appeal to fans of Megatokyo, Penny Arcade, Mac Hall, and PvP.

Looks like a fun read. Probably reads best to a younger audience. Dark Horse recommends 14+ which sounds about right.

Unwritten #1 – $1.00
By Mike Carey & Peter Gross
40 pages; published by DC Comics/Vertigo

Everyone’s read the Tommy Taylor books, the popular series of novels turned pop culture phenomenon about a boy wizard’s adventures. And everyone knows about Tom Taylor, the boy the novels were based on, whose life was so overshadowed by his Dad’s fictional epic that Tom’s become a lame Z-level celebrity at best and a human viral marketing tool at worst.

But what if the resemblance goes even deeper? What if Tom is the boy-wizard of the books made flesh? And if that sounds crazy, why is it bringing him into the crosshairs of an ancient faction that has never been named in any book or text?

To discover the truth about himself, Tom must search through all the places in history where fiction and reality have intersected. And in the process, he’ll learn more about that unwritten cabal and the plot they’re at the center of –– a plot that spans all of literature from the first clay tablets to the gothic castles where Frankenstein was conceived to the self-adjusting stories of the internet.

A conspiracy mystery a la The Da Vinci Code, THE UNWRITTEN is the eagerly anticipated reunion of Mike Carey (X-Men, HELLBLAZER) and Peter Gross (FABLES, Chosen) – the team behind the multiple Eisner-nominated LUCIFER. Acclaimed artist Yuko Shimizu (SANDMAN: DREAM HUNTERS) joins the duo on covers, and the series kicks off with a 4-issue opening storyarc with the extra-sized 40-page debut promo-priced at only $1.00!

Obviously Tommy Taylor is Harry Potter (if Harry Potter had a real-life counterpart), but what’s really intriguing is the exploration beyond that. Mike Carey and Peter Gross are a pretty reliable duo. I have high hopes for this.

From The Ashes #1 – $3.99
By Bob Fingerman
~32 pages; published by IDW Publishing

From the man who brought us the comical miseries of Minimum Wage comes a surprisingly perky take on Armageddon and a new spin on the old autobiographical comics genre: The Speculative Memoir! Bob Fingerman and his wife Michele find out the apocalypse isn’t the end of the world in this hip satirical survival romp through Manhattan’s ruins. Think The Road, only funny!

This should be pretty silly.

(On a side-note, I’m glad to be able to put a number of actual comic books on this list this week. Typically I lean heavier on graphic novels, since they tend to be more easily read on their own, without tons of back story, set-up and explanation.)

I Kill Giants – $15.99
By Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura
184 pages; published by Image Comics; available at Amazon.com

Barbara Thorson, a girl battling monsters both real and imagined, kicks butt, takes names, and faces her greatest fear in the bittersweet coming-of-age story called “Best Indy Book of 2008” by IGN. AICN says “a great mini full of eccentricity, humor and humanity that I not only highly recommend, but hope to see get some well deserved attention come Eisner time.”

From what I’ve seen of this, it looks both weird and fantastic. Another one I’m really looking forward to reading myself.