You will never walk by Artists Alley the same way again

Andre CampbellMust reading: Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine has a comic book cover story — not one of the usual stars of comics, like Frank Miller or Art Spiegelman or Chris Ware…but on Andre Campbell, a legally blind artist who is one of those folks in Artists Alley you passed by countless times:

Having toiled for nearly 20 years, Campbell, 44, had produced — with Eades’s assistance — one comic book and one graphic novel, both self-published, starring Campbell’s Alpha Agents (“Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”). Unlike the professional comic book artists, who had been invited to attend and who had made their names by working on some of the most beloved superhero titles of our time, Eades, 33, and Campbell had paid $150 out of their scarce resources to rent a table. But now they were focused on the significance of this day. For the first time, they had traveled to an out-of-state convention to promote their company, Heritage Comics HSQ (Heart, Soul, Quality). When they found their way to the corner of the convention center set up for small-press artists such as themselves, they settled in for eight hours of talking up characters that no one had yet heard of.

Writer David Rowell walks us through everything in a clear-eyed, but sympathetic manner. As a comics professional, I would have dismissed Campbell by the second paragraph of his story — or other people, like Vell Trueheart , a 60-something comics rookie who can’t afford a scooter because she’s sunk so much money into her comics. They are the peripherals, the hangers on, the dreamers. Rowell takes us inside Campbell’s dream, and you can’t help but dream with him, because all humans must dream, must aspire.

The article begs the question of whether the dream is worth having…or worth spending $3 on. And that is the harsh judgment the passers-by must make, and keep making. The process has no end point. Campbell will keep dreaming — and we will keep walking by.

Edit: There was a chat today, with both Rowell and Gregory, on Washington Post dot com that you might also want to check out

The questions we face

Prominent comics blogger Tom Spurgeon had a series of pertinent questions about the industry over the weekend. All deserve continued contemplation, but we’ll take a crack at a few.

Why Don’t Alternative Comic Books Sell Better In Comics Shops?

Fifteen years ago it was conventional wisdom and strongly supported in anecdotal fashion that comic books ranging in popularity from Eightball to Artbabe sold the vast majority of their issues in a tiny, tiny handful of stores. Since then we seem to have seen a significant proliferation of stores like those stores. Why hasn’t there been a corresponding surge in alternative comics sales?

Perhaps the reason is that nobody publishes alternative comic books any more. Everybody publishes alternative graphic novels, and the odd issue of TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE or PALOOKAVILLE slips out once every 12-18 months, but periodical publishing is no longer the engine at the front of the train. Plus, indie audiences are trained to look for the CD, not the single.

The question 4. Why Have Sales Gone Up On The Lower Part Of The Top 300?actually seems to contradict question #1.

The comics at the bottom of the sales estimates have apparently gone up even as the top of the charts remains locked into a successful top ten to twenty followed by a slightly steep slide into the second-rung performers paradigm. I’ve seen plenty of people note the bottom-chart success, and some stick their chest out about it, but I have yet to see a convincing explanation for it. If you’re going to ask me to believe that it just means that market is healthier than previous thought, I want to know why it is right now in that specific way when it wasn’t before.

Maybe….it is because there are more stores, as surmised in question #1?

That answer may seem flip, but it would take a small number of new stores to boost the levels of those that order non-Marvel and DC comics. We’d guess that more people are buying more kinds of comics, to some extent as well. The bottom 100 includes comics from Archie, Bongo, IDW, Image, Dark Horse, Red 5, Avatar, Dabel Brothers, Dynamic Forces and Zenescope, among many others. It’s not a complete epic poem of genre diversity, but there are kids’ comics, horror, humor, SF, fantasy, Westerns, war comics, and so on…different stuff. Perhaps the ginormous PR campaign undertaken by comics in the last five years or so, as well as the victory of nerd literacy simply means…more people read comics. Not on the order of MILLIONS of people, mind you, but hundreds.

We’d agree, though, this is a ripe topic for exploration, especially with ruin facing the world’s economy.

Studio coffee run: SPIRIT, THOR, the return of…

§ Hero Complex has a long, detailed, fascinating article on a long ago attempt by Pixar’s John Lasseter to make THE SPIRIT:

But if the world had turned a little differently, if fate had been a little kinder, a “Spirit” feature film would have debuted in the 1980s that would not only have been revolutionary but — those of us involved in it were convinced — a huge hit, possibly the first $100 million-grossing animated feature. And the futures of such filmmakers as Brad Bird, Gary Kurtz, John Musker and John Lasseter might have taken alternative paths.

§ Splash Page reminds us that Kenneth Branagh is making a THOR movie!:

He continued excitedly, “There’s science fiction and science fact and fantasy all woven into one. It’s based on Norse legends which Marvel sort of raided in a brilliant way.

So who will play Branagh’s hero? Asked about the rumors of Kevin McKidd being up for the role, the director waved it off as premature speculation.

“There’s been lots of talk [about casting] — I sound like a politician — but we are too early at this stage. We’re getting the story and the visual effects together and all of that is very exciting. Someone sensational is going to play the part but it is early days.”

§ Io9 reminds us that SPEED RACER has become a whipping boy:

I understand that this summer’s big screen version of Speed Racer may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but I did think that those who saw it all admitted that the special effects were amazing… until I found out that the movie wasn’t on the short list for Oscar recognition in visual effects. The argument that, “well, there were a lot of other movies with great special effects this year, maybe Speed Racer wasn’t as worthy of recognition as those” loses all respectability when you see that Hancock and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull are two of the fifteen films up for selection for the Oscar Short List. Can anyone out there really argue that Indiana Jones was more visually impressive than Speed Racer?

We predict vindication some day. Some day!

§ Speaking of vindication, or at least resurrection, against all odds, Steven Norrington is going to be allowed to make a movie again, after taking a five-year break following his last film, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. And surprise, it’s a comic book movie, namaely a reboot of THE CROW franchise:

For Norrington, “The Crow” deal marks the end of a long screen sabbatical. After making his breakthrough with the Marvel Comics hero “Blade,” Norrington took on a big-budget comic transfer with “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Neither the director nor his star, Sean Connery, has made a film since.

Norrington said he felt demoralized by that experience, and the accomplished sculptor spent the next five years writing and working on his art. He made a deal to direct “Clash of the Titans” for Warner Bros., but left the project, he said, because he was “unable to excite Warner Bros. with my take, or influence the screenplay to any comfortable extent.” That pic goes into production early next year with Louis Leterrier at the helm.

Kibbles ‘n’ Bits

§ Frank Santoro reports from the Pittsburgh stop of the KEVII tour:

I think Bill pre-sold like 20 copies and, I think, every person who bought one came to the signing. It was pretty steady. Not the tables tho’—Kevin scowled a few times cuz I kept reaching for french fries and shaking the thin table. Whoops, sorry Kev! There was a personal connection between maker and reader, the readers, like I said, being genuinely thrilled to be meeting the likes of Kevin, Sammy, Regé, and John Pham, all of whom hadn’t been to Pittsburgh before. Jacob Ciocci, Matthew Thurber, and I are always around it seems, ha ha. We got respect, but damn, people totally stutter in front of Kevin. It’s kind of sweet.

§ Likewise, Chris Butcher reports and opines from Toronto:

How it stirred up the anger it did is a little beyond me… I think a lot of it was because of the lack of information surrounding the initial solicitation. Cheers to Tom for getting the low-down on that, but If I had to put a guess out there I’d say that if the info in that interview with Sammy were available 3 weeks earlier, things wouldn’t have reached the depths of rhetoric they did. Maybe that was just the sort of buzz the book needed to get noticed in a crowded marketplace? Maybe not. That’s why I’m generally in favour of more information.

§ Io9 was busy this weekend with a list of 10 Graphic Novels That Make Thrilling Gifts:

§ John Jakala investigates balloon placement.

§ The Two Jimmy Aquinos are going to meet!

Turanga Leela

LeelaDecember 10th was the centennial of the birth of Olivier Messiaen, one of the 20th century’s greatest composers, and one of our favorites. Last night, we got to see a performance of his Turangalîla-Symphonie at Carnegie Hall, which was an unbearably thrilling and rhapsodic experience. Which doesn’t have anything to do with a comics blog, but we’ll try desperately to find a connection.

• Messiaen was a real life Hogan’s Hero: as a prisoner of war in a Nazi prison camp, he composed his “Quartet for the End of Time” using the only available instruments: a violin, a cello, a clarinet, and an upright piano. The piece, recognized as a masterpiece of the 20th century, was first performed for an audience of 5000 guards and prisoners on a frigid night in January, 1941.

• The symphony — comprising 10 movements of slashing, percussive and soaring themes performed by a full orchestra aided by vibraphone, piano, cowbell, and the theramin-like ondes Martenot — is taken from two Sanskrit words and inspired the name of a popular character on Futurama. (Matt Groening is a fellow Messiaen fan.)

The venue was perhaps two-thirds full, and we were curious to see who my other fellow admirers were…a mix of folks, many young, and all, we got the impression, extremely knowledgeable about classical music. No one made a move to clap between movements, although the performance — by the Yale Philharmonia, and conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw — was so very inspiring. De Leeuw was a friend of Messiaen’s and is known as one of his most important interpreters, and we would say the reputation was earned, as de Leeuw kept the abruptly changing moods and tempos of the piece together, and the often exotic (one might say sci-fi) orchestral registers clear and in service to the extreme sensuality of the music.

All in all, it was quite remarkable, an experience we would recommend to all.

To Do: December 15 – 21

This week is slightly lighter in the lead-up to Christmas, but there’s still a lot going on, including appearances by Dame Darcy and Paul Dini, a book release from Matt Leines, and the Boom! Studios Christmas party. In the long run, it may be Monday’s event that is the most important though:

Monday, December 15

Santa Barbara, CA, 7 PMLance and Carla Hoffman benefit screening of Star Trek II


A benefit screening of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN to raise money for Carla Hoffman, former Newsarama blogger and manager of Metro Entertainment, and her husband Lance Hoffman, who were badly burned in Santa Barbara’s Tea Fire last month. In a poignant illustration of just how severely they were injured, The Santa Barbara Independent reported this weekend that it was a month after the accident before they were even fit enough to see each other again. Tickets to the screening are $15, or $25 with admission to a pre-movie reception at 5:45 PM, and are available from Ticketmaster.

Tuesday, December 16

San Francisco, CA, 7 PMTotoro Forest Project opening reception


The Cartoon Art Museum hosts an exhibition of artwork created for The Totoro Forest Project Charity Auction, which saw nearly 200 acclaimed animators, cartoonists and fine artists create illustrations and sculptures inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s classic MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. The project raised money to preserve the Sayama Forest, which inspired Miyazaki’s film. Special guests at the opening reception include Pixar Animation Studios artists Dice Tsutsumi, Enrico Casarosa and Ronnie Del Carmen. The show runs through February 8, although the full exhibition will only be on display through January 18.

Tuesday, December 16

New York, NY, 7 PMBAT-MANGA crew at Rocketship


Brooklyn retailer Rocketship hosts BAT-MANGA designer Chip Kidd, photographer Geoff Spear and translator Anne Ishi for a slideshow and Q&A about the book which examines how the Caped Crusader was depicted in 1960s Japan. Kidd has designed a special one-night-only bookplates for those who get their books signed that night.

Wednesday through Sunday after the break!

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