In the midst of a global pandemic, almost nothing is proceeding as normal. And yet, on a dim October morning, the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist announcement went brightly, briefly and virtually streaming into homes and revealing the five books that had moved one step further towards winning Canada’s largest and arguably most prestigious literary award.
In some ways, however, this business as usual was a disappointment. After all, the Giller recently changed its submission guidelines to allow graphic novels to be submitted to the prize, and even more recently announced that a graphic novel was, indeed, included on the longlist — Clyde Fans, by highly acclaimed Canadian author and cartoonist Seth.
But after raking in praise and aplomb for featuring a graphic novel on its longlist for the first time, the Giller — like so many other book prizes — just couldn’t bring itself to put Clyde Fans on the shortlist. Business as usual, indeed.
Graphic novels, nonfiction, and poetry stand as one of those topics in the wider industry of publishing that seem to be continually “new,” strangely needing to be “introduced” over and over.
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As Publishing Perspectives readers know, France’s Festival d’Angoulême recently had its 47th iteration and other festivals and fairs in world publishing are widening their embrace of the many variants of visually developed storytelling that fall into the sector.
It’s harder to determine whether headway is being made in terms of broadening consumer interest in graphical work. While there’s a growing interest in it for purposes of sales and artistic latitude, the world of comics and other graphically developed forms seems to have the sort of appeal that black-and-white photography has: you either like it or you don’t. And while one image or one narrative work might surprise a non-believer from time to time, the general preference for mostly visual or mostly textual work may not be as fungible as we might wish.
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Have a look at this. Here are two few frames from Melanie Leclerc’s 2019 graphic memoir, Contacts (Mécanique generales, 2019), in which her dad hands over his beloved Leica. As he introduces his daughter to the nature of the camera and how to think of foreseeing a shot, he tells her that framing is the key to the best work.
“Framing means choosing,” he says, “out of everything it’s possible to see, what’s going to stay, what’s going to tell the story.”
And so it is with textual editing—framing, if you will. What an editor leaves out, what she or he chooses to include, is at the heart of good narrative, whether in fiction or nonfiction.
PG just can’t get into graphic novels. He doesn’t mind a handful of illustrations in a printed book, although he doubts he would note their absence in most cases.
In the graphic example in the OP, he doesn’t perceive any greater interest or clarity by either omitting the graphic entirely or inserting a simple focus rectangle inside a framing rectangle if the author feels the reader won’t understand a description. PG doesn’t emotionally or intellectually engage with the crude drawings of a guy with a hat and glasses.
PG has his visual side, as long-time inhabitants of TPV know from the photos he inserts in posts from time to time, but graphic novels still don’t do anything for him.
For the avoidance of doubt, PG is happy to have people writing and publishing graphic novels and wishes them success in their creative endeavors, but he suspects he is not alone in not likely being or becoming part of their readership.
A San Diego-based comic publisher has figured out a novel way to actually get people to read the Mueller report: Turn it into a graphic novel.
IDW Publishing announced on Friday that it is publishing “The Mueller Report: Graphic Novel,” an illustrated version of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Justin Eisinger, who’s editing the book, believes comic illustrations are the key to drawing more eyeballs to the report’s findings.
“This really is the easiest way to get people to actually read it,” he told HuffPost.
Artist Shannon Wheeler, who is doing the book with journalist Steve Duin, said he was surprised by how “readable” Mueller’s report actually is — and says real-life characters like President Donald Trump, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon are “straight out of Dick Tracy.”
Wheeler promises a combination of factual information (there will be footnotes referencing the report throughout the book) and a lot of real-life hilarity.
With Avengers: Endgame set to break box-office records – it is predicted to make $1bn in its first week – it seems that the superhero business really is the one to be in. In Hollywood, at least.
But what of the medium in which the superhero originated – the comic book – and the purveyors of the hundreds of comics that are released every month? The high street is not as bulletproof as multiplexes, and comic shops are having a tough time of it.
Dozens of closures have been reported across the UK and US over the last few months – including, in January, the end of St Mark’s Comics, once one of New York’s most venerable institutions. (It even appeared in Sex and the City.) Last year, comics website Bleeding Cool documented how 50 comic shops had closed in the previous year, in both the US and UK. And since June 2018, at least 21 shops in the US and 11 in the UK – including shops in Nottingham, Ramsgate and Tooting – have closed, with others likely going unreported.
While superheroes have never had a higher profile, the gap between cinema and comics has never been wider. The days when you could pick the latest issue of Spider-Man or Batman from the newsagent’s shelves are long gone.
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So why are so many going out of business? Like other retailers on the high street, comic shops must factor in rents, business rates, staff wages, insurance – but the profit margins on comics are so narrow as to make this a very delicate balancing act.
“There isn’t a huge profit in comics and graphic novels,” says Jared Myland of OK Comics in Leeds. “Nobody gets into comic retail to be a millionaire. We do it because we love comics. Unfortunately, closures are a more and more common topic on both sides of the pond. Most comic shops make enough to get by if they make cuts, but some retailers depend on the generosity of family and friends to help support the shop.”
One of the unique challenges in comics is the monthly gamble on what will sell. Comics released every few weeks, as opposed to the collected editions available in bookshops or on Amazon, aren’t returnable; with 600 to 1,000 such items published every month, stores must make educated guesses or be stuck with their mistakes. At OK Comics, 90% of what Myland gets in are pre-orders, with the rest put on shelves for casual customers. “Smart retailers would rather under- than over-order,” he says.
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[Lisa Wood] says being unable to return comics leads to less risk-taking on unknown names: “Marvel and DC stuff will always do well but for a retailer, when money is tight, taking a risk on new work by unknown creators can end up being very costly.”
I’ve been waiting a long time for the Alita:Battle Angel movie, which is based on the Gunnm manga series by Yukito Kishiro. I fell in love with the nine-volume epic, which was called Battle Angel Alita in its English versions, when I first discovered the series in high school.
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Battle Angel Alita takes place in the Scrap Yard, a world of junk and trash where violence is rampant due to a non-existent police force. Crime has to be regulated by a group of bounty hunters. Above the city floats a huge aerial metropolis called Tiphares, where no ground dweller is allowed to visit.
We meet Alita first as a damaged cyborg who only has her brain and face intact. Dr. Ido, a cybernetics specialist, is the one who rescues her, becoming a paternal figure in the process. He has a mysterious circular mark on his forehead, signifying his connection to Tiphares.
Due to Alita’s memory loss, she is learning all about life again, and her youthful curiosity is part of the first volume’s charm. At the same time, she possesses lethal martial arts skills that only a soldier from Earth’s dark past can possess. That clash between the soldier in her and what remains of her humanity is part of what makes her arc so compelling. Alita handles her post-apocalyptic enemies with a violence that makes poetry out of her fighting skills, punctuated by bursts of calming “cuteness.” Here I refer to the cuddly smiles and youthful ripostes in the middle of all-out fighting and viciously gory mutilations, which add levity to offset the seriousness of the material.
The opening volume details Alita’s origin story and her path to becoming a hunter-warrior. The main conflict revolves around Alita’s fight against Makaku, a mutated goliath that devours human brains for the endorphin stimulants they provide. He’s the first villain to put Alita to the test after she easily disposes of an earlier slew of criminals. Makaku literally crushes Alita’s body, forcing Dr. Ido to flee with her remains.
“Sabrina,” the first graphic novel to make the longlist for Britain’s prestigious Man Booker prize, is everywhere in book conversations this summer—and almost nowhere on shelves.
“Everything in our warehouse is now gone,” said Peggy Burns, publisher of Drawn & Quarterly, which released the graphic novel by Nick Drnaso in the U.S. and Canada in May. Following the July announcement that “Sabrina” was one of 13 titles in contention for the 2018 Man Booker, it sold out at many bookstores. It won’t be back in stock until mid-August.
The recognition for “Sabrina,” a chilling story of a murdered woman and a media campaign that denies her death—a work treated with reverence by members of the comics community—is one of several milestones graphic novels have reached in recent months.
“The Adventure Zone,” a graphic novel based on a podcast that features a father and his grown sons playing Dungeons & Dragons, just debuted at the top of the New York Times paperback trade fiction bestseller list, a category driven by less expensive versions of hardcover books. Tillie Walden’s “Spinning,” a figure skating coming-out story from a Macmillan imprint, recently won the comics industry’s Eisner award for reality-based work—what some industry veterans consider an accomplishment for a nonfiction work with a strong literary bent.
“There’s more awareness for graphic novels than there ever has been before,” said Gina Gagliano, publishing director of Random House Graphic, a new graphic-novel imprint for children and teens founded this spring. She added that recent successes “really have the power to change the landscape for the adult literary graphic novel.”
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Eric Stephenson, publisher at Image Comics, said the graphic-novel market is rearranging itself. “There was a point not too long ago when the market for graphic novels was split between superheroes and more-literary work, but there’s a great deal of space in between and we’re seeing more and more material that occupies that middle ground,” he said.
The demographics of the readers and writers are changing, said Karen Green, curator of comics and cartoons at Columbia University. “You’ve got more cartoonists coming up who are looking for things that are more challenging, I would say more literary,” she said, adding that the audience for superhero comics now often skews much older.
When this interview was first proposed to the cartoonist, writer, and graphic novelist Art Spiegelman, he seemed puzzled by the pitch. “Why do you want to do that?” he asked. “There are a lot of other cartoonists who are on fire trying to find a place for themselves. I’m not there.”
It’s true that he doesn’t need the publicity. At seventy, he enjoys a success that few in the cartooning world can match. This once “underground” cartoonist is a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, has been a Guggenheim fellow, has two honorary doctorates and a Pulitzer Prize, to mention just a few of his awards and honors. There have been one-man exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and at the Jewish Museum and, perhaps even more important to him, a guest appearance on The Simpsons.
The glory began in a left-handed way in the late 1970s when Spiegelman started experimenting with a project that combined his drawings, psychotherapy, family history, and the thing he loved most in the world—comics. After many tries, what developed was Maus, a two-volume 296-page comic, eventually published by the late André Schiffrin at Pantheon Books. Maus examined Art Spiegelman’s pained connection to his parents, who were Auschwitz survivors, and the terrible legacy their story had bequeathed to him. How do you grow up a “normal” American kid when your parents wake up in the night screaming? How do you get the nerve to make a comic book about it?
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Has your agent been after you to make another graphic novel?
My agent has been wonderful. Anything I want to do, his office will find a publisher for. But then, every year, Maus sells as if it were a new book. It’s in twenty-plus languages. In January, it was number thirty-six on Amazon! That means it’s not economically important for me to find my next graphic novel. It means I can afford to live in Soho.
Actually, I don’t think I’ll ever make another graphic novel. Maus came out of the impulse of wanting to make a long comic that needed a bookmark and that begged to be reread. After I finished it, I did not think, “Aha. Now I’ve found my perfect form.” Drawing it was a struggle. Drawing is always a struggle.
Last year, Marvel announced a new initiative, TapTapComics, to create comics using Marvel characters. But the devil was in the details. Any comics created grant Marvel “the perpetual, irrevocable, exclusive, royalty-free and fully transferable and sub-licensable right, for the full term of copyright protection available (including renewal terms), to use, reproduce, transmit, communicate to the public, print, publish, publicly display, publicly perform, exhibit, distribute, redistribute, license, sub-license, copy, index, comment upon, modify, adapt, translate, create derivative works based upon, make available, and otherwise exploit, in whole or in part, in all languages, anywhere in the world, by all means, methods, processes, and media formats and channels now known or hereafter devised, in any number of copies and without limit as to time, manner or frequency of use, without further notice to you, with or without attribution, and without the requirement of permission from or payment to you or any other person or entity.”
Link to the rest at Bleeding Cool and thanks to Dave for the tip.
Needless to say, PG doesn’t recommend giving Marvel a license to your creations without receiving payment for the digital comics you create unless you really don’t care about them and won’t feel sad if Marvel makes a lot of money from them and you don’t get anything.
That said, PG wonders if Marvel will have any problems demonstrating to the United States and other copyright offices that it has actually been granted the rights it claims by the creator of the comic under its click-to-accept contract, particularly if there is a pre-existing copyright filing that conflicts with the one Marvel is claiming. He suspects a sufficiently-motivated creator could, with the assistance of some others, work around Marvel’s TOU. Without going into detail, PG will observe that, on occasion, creating a very long and complex TOU opens gates and paths that can be used to defeat the intention of the organization for which the TOU was drafted.
DC Comics and Barnes & Noble have had a fractious relationship on occasion. When DC Comics released 100 graphic novels as a digital exclusive on the Amazon Fire, Barnes & Noble, owner of the Nook, pulled all those books in print from the shelves. It was quite a thing. Eventually, B&N blinked.
And of late they have been happy to run DC Days across all their stores and Marvel was able to use B&N stores to promote their floppy series Mosaic.
But Barnes & Noble also sells floppy comics as part of their magazine newsstand offerings. However, in 2013, they stopped selling Marvel Comics titles, while still selling plenty of DC, Dark Horse and Archie.
But as of late last year, it seems that offering now no longer included DC Comics.
American comics and graphic novels (and media based on them) are more popular than ever, but the way these works are purchased is being transformed by a new wave of consumers looking for new material and new places to buy it. Pop culture trade news site ICv2’s Insider Sessions, an annual trade conference organized at New York City’s Javits Center to kickoff New York Comic Con, brought together industry constituents looking to understand a growing and quickly changing comics marketplace.
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American comics, especially superhero periodical comics, have been sold primarily through the comics shop market (also known as the direct market) since the 1970s. This distribution system is dominated by Diamond Comics Distributors, and the market consists of about 2,000 stores that buy their inventory wholesale on a nonreturnable basis from Diamond.
However, Griepp pointed out, the growth in popularity of book-format graphic novels and the rapid influx of a new generation of female comics fans over the past decade are beginning to produce a U.S. comics marketplace that looks a lot more like the book trade. “2017 has been a year of rapid change,” he said in his presentation. “The direct market is struggling with flat sales, while other channels are gaining new consumers.”
Sales of graphic novels via the book channel—which includes chains and independent bookstores, online retailers such as Amazon, mass market retailers like Target and even Scholastic book fairs—continue to grow. The direct market, on the other hand, is struggling. Rebounding from the recession years, graphic novels sales via the book trade grew from $250 million in 2011 to $405 million in 2016, according to Griepp. In the direct market (which sells periodicals as well as books) the growth was also significant, with graphic novel sales rising from $140 million in 2011 to $185 million in 2016.
The comics marketplace has become a contest between bookstores and the direct market, Griepp said, as well as “a battle of the formats” between traditional periodical comics and the growing popularity of graphic novels. He noted that comics shops are “struggling to accommodate their legacy consumers while appealing to new readers,” many of whom are either unfamiliar with comics shops, uninterested in traditional comics, or looking for new retail options.
Combined graphic novel and comics sales in North America grew 5% to $1.085 billion in 2016, a $55 million increase over the $1.03 billion reported last year.
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Led by the continuing sales growth of book-format graphic novels (which rose to $590 million, from $350 million in 2015), the $1.085 billion figure represents the combined sales of book-format graphic novels, traditional comics periodicals ($405 million), and digital download-to-own comics ($90 million).
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Milton Griepp, CEO of pop culture new site ICv2.com, cited the ongoing growth of graphic novels as key to the increase: “This represents growth in the broadest part of the market, where increased variety of content is being found by new audiences for comics, including kids and women.”
Graphic novel collections have become a staple of libraries across North America. But with greater popularity comes greater scrutiny and new issues. As demand for graphic novels and comics grows—especially among younger patrons—attempts to censor and remove certain titles from library shelves are also increasing.
In addition, self-published graphic novels (which are often crowdfunded) and digitally published comics are becoming more popular. But libraries, bound by acquisitions guidelines that require validation of books’ quality (generally a review in a reputable trade or consumer publication) that is not often available for self-published works, are struggling to include them. And comics in digital formats—such as e-books, streamed comics, and webcomics—are also difficult for librarians to justify purchasing: despite the growing demand for these works, there are only a few library vendors—OverDrive and Hoopla Digital among them—that offer them to libraries.
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Book challenges—the term for a formal effort to remove a title—filed by parents who find certain works objectionable are a constant in libraries. The visual nature of graphic novels and their prevalence in library collections makes them a big target. “You might be willing to read something, but adding the pictures is still really scary for a lot of folks,” says Carol Tilley, associate professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Thus it should come as no surprise that two graphic novels topped the American Library Association’s annual list of the most challenged books: This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki and Drama by Raina Telgemeier. Both are acclaimed works by respected authors; however, that acclaim may have helped cause the problems. This One Summer, published by First Second, is marketed as a YA book for older teens. It deals with two girls on the cusp of adolescence who are learning about life and sexuality in an honest and nonexplicit manner. However, when it was named a Caldecott Honor book in 2015, some librarians and parents may have assumed it was for younger readers, despite the fact that it also won the Printz Prize for best YA novel.
“Most librarians buy all the Caldecott winners and they may not have been aware of the content,” says Robin Brenner, teen librarian at the Brookline (Mass.) Public Library. The confusion reflects the belief, still widely held in the U.S., that all comics are for children. “Everyone needs to be reminded that the Caldecott doesn’t always go to picture books for younger children,” she says.
James Larue, director of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, confirms the rise in challenges to graphic novels. He notes that both This One Summer and Drama—which includes a subplot about two gay middle schoolers—deal with LGBTQ themes, and “that continues to be a concern for many who challenge books.”
Even acquiring and shelving conventionally published graphic novels for adults can pose problems. Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky collects a popular crime comedy series about a couple who can stop time when they have sex and use their powers to rob banks. The book is rated mature for explicit content. According to Larue, in the library where it was challenged, it was appropriately shelved in the adult section and clearly labeled as such. Larue suspects that, once again, parents assumed that “a book in the comics format is aimed at kids, even when it clearly isn’t.”
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Making it easier for libraries to offer digital comics is Hoopla, a digital streaming service providing a wide variety of content to public libraries. Hoopla Digital is the digital lending service of Midwest Tape; the service offered e-books, music, and movies when it launched in 2014 and added comics in 2015. Hoopla is currently available in 1,400 library systems and 5,600 branches across the U.S. and Canada.
When its comics service began, Hoopla offered only a small selection of DC comics and titles from independent comics publishers. Since then, “it’s grown by leaps and bounds,” according to Michael Manon, public relations and communications manager at Hoopla Digital. The service works with more than 70 publishers (including every major comics publishers except Marvel) and offers nearly 10,000 titles, including single-issue periodical comics, which are often a problem for libraries to carry because they are essentially magazines and not durable enough for circulation. Patrons of library systems using Hoopla can access the comics for free using their library cards.
Marvel Comics aren’t doing well. Sales have declined, even as Marvel has pushed out every major event and crossover it can over the past two years. In a recent interview during the Marvel Retailer Summit, Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel decided to ignore all the problems and criticism in order to place the blame on diversity.
What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales. We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.
Gabriel later reached out to ICv2 and “clarified” his statement, adding that many of the individual characters like Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, and Moon Girl are popular, and won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s also important to note that this was in response to retailer concerns presented at the first day of the summit, so some other issues may not have have been discussed yet. And it looks like those sales slumps had been increasing for awhile, but were especially noticed as of fall 2016.
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During the discussion, retailers pointed out during the summit that the number of Marvel events, and the fact that they overlap, make it hard for fans to focus. Right now, for instance, there’s Secret Empire, which will bleed over with Generations, which starts this summer. In the past two years alone, there have been at least 12 events and crossovers. Events, in particular, have become more of a chore than a reward.
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Then you’ve got issue cost and audience retention. Nowadays, individual issues typically cost anywhere from $3.99 to $5.99 or more, making it harder for fans to want to buy— especially if you’re swapping out an established character for a version they aren’t familiar with. While chatting with retailers, Gabriel actually boasted that their sales almost tripled when they upped the Spider-Man book from $3.99 to $9.99, even though it didn’t bring in any new readers. It just made the current ones pay more money.
Finally, and this is a major one, there’s the problem of talent management. There’s been a steady decline in Marvel’s talent pool, because of better offers and independent retailers. One retailer mentioned at the summit that it’s especially hard to keep talented writers and artists when they can make creator-owned books at publishers like Image. Not only does it give them more flexibility to tell the stories they want, but they also keep way more of the revenue.
The All Japan Magazine and Book Publisher’s and Editor’s Association (AJPEA) released a report on February 24 that estimated that the combined physical and digital sales of the manga industry in Japan amounted to 445.4 billion yen (about US$3.91 billion) in 2016, a 0.4% growth compared to the previous year’s 443.7 billion yen (about US$3.89 billion). The combined sales of both physical and digital approach 2008’s 448.3 billion yen (about US$3.93 billion) total.
Sales of print manga volumes amounted to 194.7 billion yen (about US$1.71 billion) in 2016, a 7.4% decrease from the previous year, while sales of manga magazines amounted to 101.6 billion yen (about US$892 million), a 12.9% decrease from the previous year. The combined 296.3 billion yen (about US$2.60 billion) total of print sales of manga from both compiled book volumes and magazines saw a 9.3% decrease from last year. This the 15th year in a row to mark a decline in sales for manga’s print market. The print-only market is now about half of what it was in the mid-1990s.
However, sales of digital manga volumes amounted to 146 billion yen (about US$1.28 billion), a 27.1% increase from the previous year, while sales of digital manga magazines amounted to 3.1 billion yen (about US$27.24 million), a 55% increase from the previous year. The combined 149.1 billion yen (about US$1.31 billion) total of digital sales of manga from both compiled book volumes and magazines saw a 27.5% increase from last year.
With the growth of digital comic books and the perception that audiences are “waiting for the trade,” it’s easy to buy into a doom-and-gloom attitude about the future of print comic books.
But according to the retailers and publishers Newsarama surveyed, as long as the industry corrects some of its current missteps, the best years of the serial format could lie ahead.
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“We’ve seen steady growth in all markets over the last four years,” said Filip Sablik, president of publishing and marketing for BOOM! Studios, citing growth in both digital and book sales. “In the direct market, since 2012, we’ve outpaced the industry average growth consistently every year and in fact have been the fastest growing top 10 publisher in those years.”
“We had our best year ever,” echoed Jesse James, owner of Jesse James Comics in Glendale, Ariz. “We had a double-digit increase in store and triple digit increase online.”
Yet some of the issues raised during our discussions concern industry-watchers, particularly the oversaturation of the market, with the number of titles being released at record high levels. Add that concern to the rising number of variants, and both retailers and publishers are aware that the numbers might not tell the whole story.
Randy Stradley, Dark Horse’s Vice President of Publishing described the biggest challenge facing the overall industry right now as “the sheer number of comics coming out within a given month” – something, he says, that can affect quality and, in turn, the value of comic books as entertainment.
“All publishers have the responsibility of exercising quality control for all their offerings,” Stradley said. “When they put their logo on the front cover, it is a stamp that this is the best they have to offer. I’m not so sure that everyone is toeing this line.”
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“Periodical comics tend to get the short shrift from publishers, yet in many specialty shops, like mine, sales of periodical comics account for as much as 50% of total sales,” Field said. “We regularly see schedules go off the rails. We rarely get creative teams staying on a title for extended runs anymore. I’d like to see more value packed into comic books including less decompressed storylines, more actual things happening in every single issue.”
Link to the rest at Newsarama and thanks to Shirl for the tip.
Years ago, when I was still somewhat new to the industry, I was working the First Comics booth at a Chicago Con along with my lovely wife, Kim Yale. A group of pros walked past me that included Julie Schwartz, the legendary DC editor, and Roz and Jack Kirby.
My jaw dropped and I started hyperventilating. Kim gave me a strange look.
“Pssst! Julie!” I whispered. I knew Julie from DC, at least somewhat. Ever affable, Julie came to the table.
“Whatcha want, kid?”
“Introduce me to the King!” Julie gave me a strange look.
“Whattaya talking about? It‘s just Jack. Come over and say hello.”
“No no no no no! I can’t! Don’t you understand?! He’s the King! Help a guy out, wouldja?”
Julie looked at me like I was demented, which I probably was. He just shook his head and said, “C’mon, kid.” I was still young enough to be called a kid… comparatively speaking.
Julie took me over to the group and made the intro and Jack Kirby shook my hand and said “Hi. Howareya.” I made noises resembling words. I think my voice cracked. Kim would later tell me that she watched her husband turn into a 14-year old boy, complete with zits a-poppin’.
I freely admit it. Jack Kirby was the King and, despite making my living in comics, I was still the fan-nerd I had always been.
And still am.
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Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was born in Brooklyn as Jacob Kurtzberg and got into the comics biz in the Thirties which was the dawn of comics. He took out time for World War II and then came back and worked for a number of different publishers.
What makes Jack Kirby the King? For me, it’s this.
Imagination – The word “prodigious” comes to mind. So many concepts, so many characters, bear his mark. So many styles of stories. From the spires of Asgard to the weird distortions of the Negative Zone to the brutal cityscapes of Apokolips, to Ego the Living Planet, no one could top his visuals.
Storytelling – His figures leaped off the page. The panels couldn’t contain the events on them. Even standing still, they vibrated with potential power. There was energy to burn on his pages. You felt them as much as you read them. You couldn’t read the story fast enough and when one issue was done you wanted the next one right now.
Artistry – Okay, his anatomy was not always perfect. And every woman’s face looked the same. He was still one of the best ARTISTS that ever drew a comic because comics are about storytelling and no one beat Kirby as a storyteller.
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He and the other titans of his era invented comic books, for cryin’ out loud! Without the King, there is no Marvel Universe, let alone the Marvel Movie Universe! He created or co-created Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Nick Fury, the Howling Commandos, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, Black Panther, the X-Men, the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, Magneto, Loki, and the Hulk – among so many others… including Groot! At DC he created Darkseid, the whole New Gods, OMAC, Etrigan the Demon, Challengers of the Unknown (only one of the great titles in DC history), the Boy Commandos, The Guardian and gobs of others! And he did a whole posse of Westerns and co-created the genre of romance comics! He turned out three or more penciled books a month plus the occasional oversized Annual! My brain explodes!!!
When the New York Times bestseller lists for the week of February 5 went out this week, literary agent Charlie Olson noticed something odd: several of the usual categories of bestsellers were curiously absent. The only explanation was a brief message which noted that the Times had chosen to “eliminate a number of print but mostly online-only bestseller lists. In recent years, we introduced a number of new lists as an experiment, many of which are being discontinued.” Although the Times has not released an official list of the categories being cut, those on the chopping block so far appear to include middle grade ebooks, young adult ebooks, mass market paperbacks, and all three of the “Graphic Books” lists: graphic hardcover, graphic paperback, and manga. That’s right: in the eyes of the New York Times, graphic novels, comics, and manga no longer qualify as mainstream literary genres. (Let’s put aside for now the fact that comics are a storytelling medium, not a genre.)
Look, it’s literary gatekeeping. Let’s call it what it is.
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Shuffling categories around to manipulate what does or doesn’t make the bestseller lists isn’t exactly a new trick for the Times. Back in the simpler, more innocent days of July 2000, the Times did something it hadn’t done in 15 years: it added a new category to its bestseller lists. The reason? Some upstart of a children’s book series was hogging three of the ten coveted spaces on the Fiction bestseller list. With a fourth book in this outrageously popular fantasy series about to be released, and preorder numbers indicating that a fourth slot on the Fiction list was about to be stolen, the Children’s Bestseller list was created. The series in question? Harry Potter. That’s right: J.K. Rowling posed so much of a literary threat to the Fiction Bestseller list that her bestselling series was relegated to its own special category before Goblet of Fire even hit shelves. (The story doesn’t even stop there – Harry Potter’s perpetual squatting on the Children’s Bestseller list eventually led the Times to shunt it off even further to the new Children’s Series list, because even in its own genre Harry Potter can’t catch a literary break.)
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The Times’ decision to cut the comics lists has already been questioned on social media by a number of comics creators, librarians, publishers, and other industry professionals. Reigning Graphic Paperback bestseller queen Raina Telgemeier exchanged concerned tweets with Pamela Paul about the decision, citing the list as a powerful tool for librarians looking for graphic novels and for creators, both new and established, seeking recognition and validation. Publisher’s Weekly indicated that the decision has caused a stir among comics publishers as well, who rely on the Times‘ bestseller list as a key benchmark of a comic’s success, both in-house and in their marketing process.