Collins! What is best in comics?

200911250120If you thought yesterday’s A.V. Club Best Comics of the Aughts list was going to tiptoe by unnoticed and uncommented on, you were wide of the mark by a fair bit. Sean T. Collins delivers a total smackdown, from the lack of manga to the last of KRAMERS ERGOT to the lack of an ordered list.

By simply listing 25 books in alphabetical order, this list avoids making difficult and absolutely crucial distinctions regarding quality, dodging the hard work necessary to back those distinctions up with considered criticism. I don’t know what good a Best of the ’00s list that sits The Goon right next to Louis Riel does anybody under any circumstances, but at least a countdown would provide context; juxtaposing two books like that through sheer alphabetical accident provides us with no window into its authors’ critical worldview(s), and actually may do more harm than good in terms of articulating what matters. Frankly, I feel like it’s a cop-out.

Although a lot of the analysis on the list was flimsy, I’m actually not so big on the ordered list, really — this isn’t a slalom race. Why does someone have to come in 7th? Do we really need MORE arguing on the internets? Do we have the time to PROVE that Sean Phillips is a better artist than R.M. Guéra?
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More CON-troversy in Boston!

When we ran the press release announcing the new New England Comic-Con last week, we were puzzled by one aspect of the acquisition by con impresario Gareb Shamus: namely that the show acquired had been running for 35 years. As revealed in the comments section and now a post by A. David Lewis, that’s because the show Shamus acquired was run only once by its current owners. Lewis lays out the facts and digs up all the scuttlebutt, as well:

My sources (who at this time wish to remain nameless) say that Shamus, indeed, is taking part in the show run once by Harrison. That is not a typo: It wasn’t “once run” by Harrison but, rather, run only once by him. Prior to that, it was overseen by Monkeyhouse Entertainment/Primate Productions as “The Boston Comic Book & Toy Spectacular,” frequently taking place at the Boston Radisson. (Note the convenience of dropping the “& Toy” from its title.) This no-frills, recurring event passed to Harrison recently when its original show-runner alledgedly got into trouble with the authorities for assaulting a person. Moreover, attendance at the latest Spectacular was less than 200 people, putting Harrison et all in dire straights.

Well, that is enough drama for one paragraph!

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The comics-loving Wall Street Journal on manhwa, Paley, more

Is the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal just trying to make us fret over the day when we can no longer Google their articles? The finance paper has had a recent rash of comics/animation related stories. Perhaps the most stark is this account of the dwindling fortunes of Japanese animators:

Morale is low. Industry executives estimate nine out of 10 new workers quit within three years, with the many talented employees leaving for better-paying jobs in areas like videogames. A survey conducted this year for industry executives showed that animators in their 20s made just 1.1 million yen ($11,000) a year on average, while those in their 30s earned 2.1 million yen.

Yasuna Tadanaga, 23 years old, left her position as an animator at a small Tokyo studio last year, only six months after landing what she thought was her dream job. To meet deadlines, Ms. Tadanaga worked 13 to 14 hours each day. During one month, she was given just one day off.

The grim state of the anime workers is because so much work is being farmed out to cheaper studios in Korea and China. Can’t someone do something? We hear Lou Dobbs is free.

¶ While a WSJ article on manhwa is mostly very positive, it’s not a free ride there, no sir. It seems that while everyone is off undercutting Japanese animators, it’s the Korean manhwa artists who are feeling the pinch at home from That Darned Internet. Trickle down economics, for sure.

Now artists are feeling the effects of free online content, despite manhwa’s growing popularity. Ten million Koreans read free Web comics, while only three million choose to pay, according to the Korean Culture and Content Agency, a government-affiliated body that promotes Korean arts around the world. In the past two years, at least 10 Korean cartoon magazines have stopped publication due to a lack of subscribers. South Korea only has 12 such magazines now, compared to 300 in Japan.

Even with the chunk of paying readers, many artists say they don’t receive a fair share of their Webtoon revenues. A Web site publisher usually pays a flat fee to cartoonists, then charges the readers a fee to view the cartoons, Mr. Park says. In this system, the publishers’ revenues hardly reach the artists. He is currently planning a Web site that will give a portion of the fees to the artists, possibly cutting out the publishers. The plan, unfortunately, still fails to address the illegal pirating of manhwa that has become so rampant.

¶ Moving back to the Occident, there’s a very interesting piece indeed on how Wikipedia updating is slowing down as volunteers walk away due to increased regulations and more nitpicking. Comics even rear their head:

Nina Paley, a New York cartoonist who calls herself an “information radical,” had no luck when she tried to post her syndicated comic strips from the ’90s. She does not copyright their artwork but instead makes money on ancillary products and services, making her perfect for Wikipedia’s free-content culture.

It took her a few days to decipher Wikipedia’s software.”I figured out how to do it with this really weird, ugly code,” she says. “I went to bed feeling so proud of myself, and I woke up and found it had been deleted because it was ‘out of scope.'”

A Wikipedia editor had decided that Ms. Paley’s comics didn’t meet the criteria for educational art. Another editor weighed in with questions about whether she had copyright permission for the photo of herself that she uploaded. She did.

¶ But the road to Nina Paley doesn’t end there– another piece breaks down how she manages to make $55,000 by giving away her animated film for free. There’s a lesson there for us all, methinks.

Artwork: A still from Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues.

RIP: Sonny Trinidad

Gerry Alanguilen writes that illustrator Sonny Trinidad has passed away in the Philippines. Known in the US for his work on Conan, Dracula, Morbius and DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU, Trinidad was also known as Celso Trinidad.

won the Best Serial Illustrator award during the 1984 KOMOPEB Parangal sa Komiks. His work VIRGA also won in the Best Novel Illustration Fantasy Category.

A native of Sta. Rosa, Laguna, Trinidad’s first professional exposure to comics came by way of working as an assistant to Francisco V. Coching, which would explain the similarity of his early work to Coching.

It must be said, in addition, Sonny Trinidad had the greatest name of any comics inker ever.

Headin’ for a holiday: Muppet Rhapsody

Let’s ease into the turkey glut with this delightful cultural mashup.

Joseph Koch & Neat Stuff Collectibles Brooklyn Warehouse event

VIa PR, longtime comics vendor Joseph Koch announces a big comics swap meet out in Sunset Park. Given the number of folks we hear complaining (ourselves included) about how to, er, dispose of comics books that they literally cannot give away, this could be a lively event:

Where: 206-208 41st St., Brooklyn, NY 11232 (Corner of 2nd Avenue)
When: Saturday December 12th and Sunday December 13, 11am to 5pm.

Joseph Koch & Neat Stuff Collectibles present the largest single vendor buying and selling event in comics history! We have 1,000,000 comics to sell, and are looking to buy MILLIONS more! NOT ONLY COMICS, we’re looking to buy and sell all kinds of collectibles and memorabilia, including:

Comic Books, Sports Cards and collectibles, Non-Sports Cards, World’s Fair items, James Bond, Original Comic Art, Music Memorabilia, Puzzles, Lunchboxes, Toys, and Games. You name it, We want it! BUYING, Selling, and Trading EVERYTHING! Paying Top Dollar! $$$$

Has your comic store given up on selling back issues? They only carry a few issues here or there? Don’t fret. Back issues do have a home in NYC – in Brooklyn! 3/4 million sorted books, 200,000+ for $1 each. Is your comic store not interested in buying your collection, because they don’t sell back issues? Bring ‘em to Brooklyn!

The hot and hip outer borough, Brooklyn is the primordial home of Pop Culture: In 1999, Victoria (Posh Spice) and soccer star David Beckham named their first child “Brooklyn”. Over 50 years earlier, Jack (King) Kirby, co-creator of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the X Men, and the entire medium-revolutionizing Marvel Comics Universe – knighted the American member of the Nazi-fighting Boy Commandos “Brooklyn”. Bring us your Neat Stuff to sell and star in your own “Brooklyn Antiques Roadshow”!

Go to for more information and updates.
Sponsored in part by Forbidden Planet New York.

The Onion A.V. Club’s Best Comics of the Decade

The A.V. Club’s Onion’s month-long series of looks back gets to comics with 25 Best Comics and 5 Best Archival editions. As the first official, thought out “Best of” for the Aughts of Comics, it’s a solid list, if genre heavy…NO SCOTT PILGRIM? Really???? The book that summed up the decade’s mishmash of media and influences in comics form? And… NO MANGA? That’s seriously F’d…unless there is a separate manga list.

BTW, anyone who gets all math pedant and says “The decade ends in 2011!” can not only kiss my Indian Pocahontas, but stand in line for the lonely life they have earned. Math and sociology are two different topics, yo.

Comics on The View?

Artist Vinnie Tartamella wrote us a line yesterday to say that the Bluewater comics biography of Barbara Walters, for which he painted the covers, was slated to be discussed on The View, this week. He thought it would be either yesterday or tomorrow. According to people close to Walters, she’s seen the comic and loves it and might even write an intro for the collected edition.

Getting a comic mentioned on The View or Oprah has often been seen as the crowning glory of comics mainstreaming — reaching the audience of middle-aged women who like to sit around and be busybodies is the final quadrant for the graphic medium to hurdle — it would all be gravy after that. Speculation over what GN might be suitable for Oprah’s book club — and the millions of sales that follow — is a popular topic among comics types, with something like PERSEPOLIS or LOVE & ROCKETS popular choices. So the Female Force comic making the grade (I believe comics have been mentioned previously on The View, but what hasn’t?) is…ironic, let’s just say.


Spotlight on: George Gene Gustines

Georgeorgegenegustines.jpggeMUST READ ALERT! Marc-Oliver Frisch talks to probably the most powerful person in comics whom we have never seen interviewed before: the New York Times’ George Gene Gustines. As the main comics reporter/reviewer at The Paper of Record, Gustines has an incredible influence over what the rest of the mainstream media thinks about comics — the explosion of the gay Batwoman story to hundreds of outlets is but one example. He’s also involved with reviewing comics and the Times Graphic Books bestseller list. He’s probably the single most influential comics journalist in the country – yet the only picture of him we could find was this dinky little one from a blog.

Luckily, the interview shows that Gustines is smart, knowledgeable and passionate about comics. (And we’re not just saying that because in the interview he says he reads The Beat religiously.) The entire interview is a must read — Frisch, aided by Michael Dean, asks unusually substantial questions for an online interview, and lets the revealing discussion run long. So just a few pull quotes:

When a publisher wants to break something big, they sometimes offer it to me first. I have to figure out if it’s a story that makes sense for the Times and then I have to convince my editors of that. Thankfully, the more I write, the better a sense I have of what makes a good story. That also, in turn, helps me earn the trust of my editors not to come to them with something that’s too “inside baseball.” (I’ve had at least one pitch where I thought, not even comic-book fanatics would care about this. Why do they think Times readers will?)

[SNIP]I don’t think it’s limiting (at least not in a bad sense). It’s more along the lines of there’s a certain level of story that the comic book publications or blogs can do that I can’t. The stories I write have to be for a more general audience. For instance, at one point in my career, I was sincerely pitched a story about the death of the other-dimensional version of a popular comic book character. That is not a story I can write for the paper.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion is when Frisch questions Gustines on whether the mainstream media ever runs negative reviews of comics. On the one hand, reviews that are always positive cheapen the material. On the other hand, when a mainstreamer DOES post critical comments – we’re thinking specifically of David Hajdu on GENESIS — they are often criticized by the comics media for not knowing the territory. On the other other hand, panning crappy comics in the New York Times seems like a waste of space when there are so many deserving books that should get the exposure. Our own thought is that we still need to get to the place where comics are considered a mainstream medium, and not something that is still — pow! bam! — being discovered.

Sometimes we forget just how awesome Farel Dalrymple is…

…and we should not do that. The artist of POPGUN WAR and OMEGA THE UNKNOWN is interviewed by Nick Gazin for Vice. According to the piece, he’s working on a new book called THE WRENCHIES:

The Wrenchies is a post-apocalyptic, science fiction, fantasy, super-hero, secret agent coming-of-age epic with some existential bullshit thrown in. The Wrenchies are these children in a screwed up futuristic world who resurrect ancient heroes also called the Wrenchies. The whole thing was brought into being by a demon slayer named Sherwood, who opened a door to a secret world when he was a boy. The story is really about this kid Sherwood who has this crazy adventurous life but is now sort of a stoner asshole who causes the entire world to go to crap. It sounds really convoluted but hopefully it will be radical when I am finished with it.

Much more delicious drawing in the link.

Take this comic book survey

If there is one thing the comics industry of late is lacking, it’s demographic info we can all sink our teeth into and shake around like a chew toy. Valerie D’Orazio hinted about a study a few years ago (maybe buried somewhere in Marvel’s SEC filings?); Johanna alludes to a 1995 DC reader survey; Diamond also conducted a recent reader’s survey. But the results of costly surveys in recent years are not really available to the general public because a) they are costly and b) that is proprietary info right there. However, we just received an email from one Megan Milliken, and she is running an online survey, which is opt-in and thus less reliable, but, what the heck. Megan explains:

I am a University of Chicago graduate student conducting research on comic book readership. I’m interested in demographic trends of comic book readers as well as the medium’s effect on readers’ consumption of other cultural goods and participation in civic activities.  I’m motivated to do this research first and foremost because I am an avid comic book fan who has derived a great deal of pleasure and inspiration from both the content itself and the community. I’m interested in how comic books have impacted readers and hope to see what it is about a comic book that keeps a reader coming back month after month.  That said I have two surveys (the first is for under 18 respondents, and the other is for respondents that are 18 and over) that I have assembled. It is intended for comic book readers as well as non-comic book readers as I would like to compare responses between these two groups (so please pass it along to the norms as well).

We took the survey ourselves and it doesn’t take long, so help Megan out and maybe we’ll find a thing or two about why we are reading these darned things anyway. So pitch in and pass it along:

18 and Over Under 18

Kibbles ‘n’ Bits, 11/24/09

§ The great Seth will make anyone whose work was ever improved by an editor feel like a piece of sh•t:

For example, I don’t know how anyone can stand to work with an editor. I don’t really know how fiction writers have become used to that idea. I can understand working with a proofreader: that makes sense to me. But even working as a prose writer, if there was someone changing around all the sentences in an article I had written and as a result of that it turned out to be a better-written article, I’d have to conclude at the end that I wasn’t much of a writer.


§ We are as happy as Laura Hudson is that Superf*ckers will be collected. James Kochalka’s completely delirious superhero parody could probably be redrawn by Ivan Reis and only a few people would notice. Cover, above.

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Producers honor Joss Whedon

He may still be on his Dollhouse cancellation-induced drinking binge, but Joss Whedon will need to clean up and dry out to get the Vanguard Award from the Producers Guild at their annual awards in January. The award recognizes big thinks in new media and technology, such as previous winners George Lucas, James Cameron and John Lasseter.

Whedon was typically humorous even in a press release:

“This is an honor I didn’t expect and probably don’t deserve,” said Whedon. “The truth is, I’ve never actually guarded a van. But I am a super-total visionary, so that fits. I’m ready to take my place next to the guys who made ‘THX 1138′ and ‘Tin Toy’ (Did they ever do anything else, btw? They showed such promise.). This is a time of radical change in media delivery and content, and I’m honestly proud the PGA has singled me out as someone who sort of knows what’s going on.”

Thought for the Day: Scott McCloud

Have we been quoting him too much? Anyway, whatever, a video of a sand painting prompts McCloud to ponder the decade about to pass:

We’re getting close to the end of a decade and a lot of people have been trying to sum up the experience. Short of putting “B.O.B.” on endless repeat, I think a big part of what’s made this decade interesting can be summed up pretty nicely in the phrase “Ukraine’s Got Talent.”

Children’s comics: A not-so-phantom menace

knigthsofthe lunch tableAs someone who spent the entire decade of the ’90s trying to convince comics industry players that kids liked to read comics — while editing comics featuring the world’s most popular characters, no less — I can only nod and smile tightly at Chris Butcher’s latest blog post. Butcher has mostly been on blogging hiatus of late but he comes back with a 40 megaton bomb on the recent retailer discussions about whether there are enough kids’ comics. The entire essay must be read in full, but Butcher’s main point is that what most retailers are asking for isn’t comics for kids, but comics that they read as kids:

I’ve seen this happen myself, and with both moms and dads and daughters and sons, when it comes to getting kids some comics. Sometimes it’s because the parent liked comics as a kid and wants to share that with their children, sometimes it’s because the teacher told them it’ll get them reading. Sometimes it’s just to keep them quiet on a long car ride or plane trip. But the only time I’ve ever encountered someone who wants to buy their kid a comic exactly like they read as a kid? Die-hard superhero fans. It’s that defensiveness again, not only are superhero comics awesome and modern mythology and whatever, but they’re the only comics that they want their kid reading. I’ve seen some pretty appalling behaviour too, parents outright refusing to buy a young reader something they’re actually interested in (Simpsons, Disney, NARUTO) because the parent used to Looooove Spider-Man as a kid and hey you liked the movie didn’t you champ remember we saw all three come on get a Spider-Man comic. It’s upsetting, but it’s how they choose to raise their kid and that’s fine, I’m not going to be paying their therapy bills.

Indeed, I had the same kind of reaction when reading the various laments over the lack of comics for young readers. Bongo’s Simpsons comics collections are barely ever mentioned in polite direct market company, but have years of sales totals that anyone but Alan Moore would die for, to cite but the most obvious example.

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Were the ’90s really a golden age of cartoons?

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Cartoon Brew, the essential Cartoon blog by Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi, has a fascinating post on TV animation in the ’00s that mirrors many of our own ongoing discussions over comics:

How many shows debuted in the past decade that were entertaining, made a lasting impact on their audience, and have a shot at being remembered by future generations? A handful of American shows come to mind as standouts, most of which were cult favorites rather than mainstream successes—Invader Zim, Superjail, Venture Bros., Samurai Jack, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Yo Gabba Gabba. (A comprehensive list of TV shows can be found on Wikipedia.)

Compare this to the 1990s when we saw the debuts of TV shows that were cultural phenomenons like The Simpsons, The Ren and Stimpy Show, South Park, Beavis and Butt-Head, Batman: The Animated Series, Dexter’s Lab, Rugrats, The Powerpuff Girls, Spongebob Squarepants and yes, even Family Guy. It seemed like we were on the cusp of a new era of “creator-driven” shows that were free from the meddling impulses of network execs. It’s little surprise that these shows are the ones that audiences still discuss nowadays.

We’d never really thought of the ’90s as a wonderland for animated TV, especially when there are so many MORE toons these days, and every cable channel has gotten into cartoons. On the flip side, Cartoon Network now is live action, audiences are smaller than ever and there are three shows by Seth McFarlane on.

What’s especially interesting in regard to cartoons is the lack of new blockbuster characters — something that the comics industry also laments. To be fair, sometimes it takes 20 years for a character to become a household name — Deadpool being the latest example. But in the world of animation, things normally move much faster. The merch is part of the plan from the gitgo.

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