As I’m writing this, the United States and England are, both but independently, fighting to make it to the knockouts, the French have disintegrated spectacularly and it’s not clear yet at all whether Germany, Spain and Italy, all considered top contenders, will survive the group stage. It’s the World Cup, of course.
I greatly enjoyed Brian Phillips’s Slate piece on international soccer managers, appropriately titled “World Cup Weirdos.” It’s a spot-on observation of one of the most underrated and most appealing aspects of the tournament, and it actually makes me want to watch a good TV show dealing with the ongoing drama faced by the likes of Domenech, Eriksson, Capello or Löw.
Apropos of nothing, it occurs to me that Diego Maradona, in his latest incarnation, bears an uncanny resemblance to German comics mascot Mecki.
The North American comics market is suddenly a vastly more interesting place than it was a week ago. As Rich Johnston reports and investigates at Bleeding Cool, there’s a new major player in the direct market: The retail chain Hastings is planning to open extensive comic-book sections in about 150 of its stores.
Johnston provides an in-detail interview with Hastings representative James Parker, who is set to be in charge of the company’s comics program. Basically, what they’re offering seems a lot like what most existing comics stores are offering—except, of course, that we’re looking at a very different set of resources here.
The comics specialty retailers Johnston talks to about the news nicely cover the spectrum of opportunities and challenges involved for Hastings and its competitors. Mainly, what sticks out in the article are the different perspectives on what “the comics business” means: Parker talks about how he’s been “collecting” comics and retailer Chris Powell refers to comics as a “hobby”; retailer Rick Shea, on the other hand, points out that films based on “stand-alone” properties, like Kick-Ass and Watchmen, tend to drive more people into his store than ones based on more “fragmented” comics franchises, like Iron Man 2 and Batman.
What this suggests, I think, is that there are three largely separate major audiences for print comics in the U.S.: one each for “manga” and “graphic novels,” which both tend to view their comics as pieces entertainment and buy them where they buy other pieces of entertainment; and one for “comic books,” which tends to view its comics as a hobby and buy them at comic-book stores.
And Hastings is specifically aiming at the latter with this program, which seems noteworthy all of itself.
(And that’s for print comics, mind you. Given that all the major comic-book publishers—hello, DC Comics—now have working, potentially prosperous digital delivery systems for their output in place, we could be looking at a fourth “largely separate” major audience within a few years.)
Kiel Phegley’s conversation with DC Comics publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio is a riot, for a number of reasons. Heidi, Sean T. Collins and Sean T. Collins point to, and comment on, some of the juicier parts.
One of the most funny bits comes from DiDio, not unexpectedly:
“If you look at our line now, some of our lower sellers are books we took risks on: The Great Ten and Magog or The Shield and The Web. These are things that don’t come pre-sold like Superman or Batman, but we wanted to give them every opportunity because it helped diversify and spread out our line.”
He means every opportunity except the ones that involve such minor concerns as focused promotion, a supportive publishing strategy involving a prominent position in the company’s overall line-up that gives books like these any room at all to breathe in the marketplace, or generating confidence in your product by publishing the 10th issue of a 10-issue miniseries, of course.
On another note, I’m fairly nonplussed by the way DC and a lot of industry observers tend to look at the properties that have come to be associated with Vertigo. Why on Earth should it pose a problem to have the Swamp Thing show up in DC Universe comics while also being the star of his own, competely self-sufficient Vertigo title? Marvel have been doing it for years with the Punisher.
Meet the first title in comic-book history whose awfulness causes revilement on such a universal scale that even The New York Times takes note.
Out this week in comics shops across America are two recommended comics by writer Kurt Busiek, in new packages.
The first (link above) is a hardback collection of the six-part Marvels: Eye of the Camera, drawn by Jay Anacleto; it’s the sequel to Marvels, the 1994 series with artist Alex Ross that was Busiek’s mainstream breakthrough. The other is a $ 1.00 reprint of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City #1; originally published in 1995, this issue marks the start of Busiek’s creator-owned series with art by Brent E. Anderson and covers by Marvels collaborator Ross.
What Marvels and Astro City have in common is their approach to superhero comics. Unlike most of the genre material that’s been published since the late 1960s at least, they don’t take superheroes and their conventions for granted. Rather, Busiek’s angle—in both Marvels volumes and in each new Astro City story—is to imagine what it would be like to see them for the first time, every time, and always keep them grounded in concerns shared by actual, nonfictional, living and breathing human beings.
The result have been some tremendously compelling stories that show a clear appreciation of the thrills associated with the superhero genre, but that reach well beyond them, in a way that makes Busiek one of the most literary and universally accessible American comics writers. So here’s your chance to catch up.