The Power of Comics — Recharged

9781472535702

Randy Duncan and Matthew Smith have published a second edition of their essential textbook on the history and business of comics — and this time, they’re joined by a new author: Paul Levitz.

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Can a fan-led branding campaign save Constantine?

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When people talk about saving John Constantine, usually it’s a hopeless task, as the scouser magician’s soul has long been consigned to hell for his many sins on earth. But another campaign to save Constantine is under way—and this time it’s fans attempting to keep his TV show going past a 13 episode commitment despite middling ratings.

Arrested Development has plans for a fifth season on Netflix, Twin Peaks will see you on Showtime twenty-five years from the 1991 series finale, and Yahoo Screen will bring Community closer to its promise of #sixseasonsandamovie, airing new episodes this spring. It’s a golden age of fan campaigns with the ability to resurrect dead and mostly-dead shows with measurably vocal fan bases. It’s a golden age fans of NBC’s Constantine are counting on, as the last of the series’ 13 episode initial run airs this Friday, February 13 at 10pm. The network has halted any further production on the show, prompting fans to organize on Twitter and Facebook under the hashtag #saveconstantine in support of its renewal — whether on NBC or another network entirely.

Fan campaigns to save television shows are nothing new, with the late sixties fan campaign to save the Star Trek original series largely credited as the first of its kind. Still, there does seem to be a trend in the growing power of fan campaigns to have an impact on programming, even those who represent much smaller audience shares than the high-profile efforts of yesteryear, prompting fledgling networks to pick up where network and even cable channels have left off.

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So what does all this mean for fans of Constantine, starring Matt Ryan as trench-coated demon hunter John Constantine? Do they feel a campaign to save the show, based on the long-running DC/Vertigo series Hellblazer, has a better chance of being saved now than it would have 10 years ago? “They definitely are more successful — especially with social networking being the way it is,” said Breanna Conklin, who has been active in the campaign to #saveconstatine since NBC confirmed in late November they would stop production on the series. “I am in a few nerd groups on facebook. You’re able to spread the word to like minded folks and your friends within a few seconds. Social media gives awareness that wasn’t available to us ten years ago.”

The #saveconstantine effort began to gain momentum when a slick-looking website, saveconstantine.com, went up in December. In addition to links to the petition and fan communities, saveconstantine.com offers a detailed description of the importance of the recently introduced Twitter TV ratings model from newly-formed group, Nielsen Social. An off-shoot of the more traditional Nielsen ratings, Nielsen Social “identifies, captures and analyzes conversation on Twitter in real time for every program aired across over 250 of the most popular U.S. television networks, including Spanish language networks, as well as over 1,500 brands” according to the company website.

The challenge for Constantine fans is to ensure that their awareness of the need to campaign for the continued life of the series is leveraged in a way that speaks both to NBC and their advertisers. It’s not enough to simply prove there’s interest in Constantine from the hallowed 18-49 age demographic; advertisers need to ensure that ad placements can actually have an impact on that demographic. As television consumption proliferates on an increasingly diverse group of content platforms, strong same-day viewing ratings don’t necessarily show advertisers that their ads will be seen instead of fast-forwarded on a DVR viewing post-broadcast.

It’s a challenge the organizers of the #saveconstantine effort hope to meet by being better educated on the increasingly complex world of network tv ad buys. “It’s a big group effort,” said Allison Gennaro, one of the campaigns many organizers. A fan of the Hellblazer comics, Gennaro became involved in the campaign upon hearing “NBC had capped the airing to just 13 [episodes],” which she took to mean the show was “in trouble” but also that the “ratings might not be meeting the NBC demo of choice.” Hoping to convince NBC not to cancel the series, the #saveconstantine organizers publicized a petition for the show to get a second season across social media platforms in late November. The petition cites a “38% bump in the ratings and an 87% viewer retention rating (after Grimm) with the introduction of The Spectre” as evidence of the viability of the series which currently boasts over 20,000 signatures.

The description on saveconstantine.com explains the impact live tweeting Constantine episodes can have on the Twitter TV ratings. The site believes the live tweets “denote that a show has a consistent and loyal audience,” and may show advertisers they “are being rewarded for their investment in the network…so if you want to save Constantine, please watch, tell your friends, and tweet.” Gennaro cultivated a group of Constantine fans through a mailing list to help push the #saveconstantine hashtag and live tweet campaign. “We even threw Friday night twitter parties before the show to trend and gain attention,” she said.

Fan campaigns of the past relied on letter writing, placing ads in trade magazines like Variety, even buying billboards to plead for their respective shows. While Constantine fans have also employed letter writing and email to NBC executives in this campaign, their informed approach in targeting advertisers and leveraging their consumer power is in step with more recently successful ‘save our show’ campaigns. In 2009, Wendy Farrington began a campaign to save another NBC series with supernatural overtones: Chuck. Her game-changing approach acknowledged the fact that the show enjoyed better ratings on off-network viewing platforms and galvanized fans of the series to support a major advertiser of the show, Subway.

According to a 2014 article by Christina Savage for Transformative Works and Cultures, which examined fan-run ‘save our show’ campaigns, on the day of Chuck’s season finale hundreds of fans went to their local Subway and bought a $5 foot-long sandwich featured on the series via product placement. They then left behind comment cards explaining their purchase was in support of Chuck. Savage explained that by “focusing on Chuck as a business transaction, fans used their knowledge of the industry” to support their effort. Shortly thereafter, NBC ordered 13 more episodes of the series. Savage wrote: “co-chairman of NBC Ben Silverman said that this campaign was one of the most creative he had seen, and as a result, Subway would increase its presence within the show.”

John Constantine may not eat at Subway, but fans of the demon exorcist are invoking similar brand marketing powers with their #saveconstantine efforts. Only this time, the fans themselves are the product. By targeting Nielsen’s Twitter TV ratings specifically, Constantine fans “become valuable social ambassadors for programmers and advertisers alike as they amplify content and messaging through their social spheres,” Nielsen Social wrote in a an article posted in September. But will it be enough to push NBC to order another season of Constantine? Could it make the show attractive enough to warrant a rumored move to sister-network Syfy, which has released several high-profile interviews with network executives seeking to return the channel to it’s Sci-fi/fantasy genre roots? NBC president Jennifer Salke told IGN in January that “we wish the show [Constantine] had done better live. It has a big viewership after [it airs] in all kinds of ways and it has a younger audience, but the live number is challenging.”

We spoke with Dr. Balaka Basu, a professor specializing in pop culture and fan studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte about the viability of the type of campaign #saveconstantine is waging. “Campaigns helped to save Chuck and Roswell, and gave Firefly fans closure in the less-than-successful Serenity,” she said. “ I think the key was demonstrating an understanding of how television economy works. With Chuck, for instance, fans literally gave their monetary support to the chain sandwich shop Subway…this demonstrates a comprehension of the relationship between advertisers and television producers.”

Fans like Miguel Gonzalez Cabañas, who lives in Madrid, show the global reach of the #saveconstantine fan efforts. He calls Constantine “the best series with a paranormal plot” on television. He, along with Allison, Breanna and the thousands of other fans who make up the campaign to #saveconstantine will be redoubling their efforts tonight: tweeting their support for the show before, during and after the season finale. But beyond the comic book fanbase, beyond charismatic lead Matt Ryan or the show’s arcane mythology: what is it about Constantine, or any other fan-campaigned series, that produces this kind of fan advocacy? “Whether it’s a show like Constantine, where many fans came into the show already in love with the character,” says Dr. Basu, “or shows like Buffy and Angel, where they were allowed to fall in love over the duration of the show, it’s really when the characters feel like real people that you don’t want your relationship with them to end, ever. And that’s been true since the days of Star Trek.”

 

Mariko and Jillian Tamaki on This One Summer winning the Caldecott and Printz Honors

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By Harper Harris

Mariko and Jillian Tamaki‘s This One Summer was one of the most highly acclaimed graphic novels of 2014, popping up on a great number of top ten lists as well as winning an Ignatz Award for Best Graphic Novel. To say it was an attention grabber for the already heralded Canadian creators is an understatement.

Just last week, this tale of two childhood friends on the cusp of adolescence was awarded with the prestigious Caldecott Honor, being the first ever graphic novel to do so, along with the Printz Honor (and joins Gene Luen Yang‘s Boxers & Saints as the only other graphic novel to notch that award as well).

Mariko and Jillian were kind enough to join me for a brief Q&A regarding the recent wins and the creative process on this landmark work.

Where were you each when you learned you won the Caldecott Honor? Who called whom?

Jillian Tamaki: I was in bed.

Mariko Tamaki: I think we eventually texted each other about it.

Is there a sense of accomplishment or “I’ve made it” for winning such a prestigious award? Jillian, how does it compare to your Eisner nominations or the Ignatz award that This One Summer also received?

JT: The feeling is one of gratitude. I’ll never felt like “I’ve made it!” until I’m like a hunched-over old person still making things.

Is it more gratifying to get recognition outside of the world of comics, which you’ve done multiple times at this point?

JT: Both are gratifying. Honours granted by librarians are special to me because it represents a knowledgeable, discerning audience that actually works with young people. Honours granted by comics people are special because it means perhaps I am creating something of value within the medium.

Were you relieved that you both got nominated for this award, rather than one or the other as in some past awards?

MT: When one of us gets nominated, I generally see it as a misconception of how graphic novels work.  So, yes.

Do awards matter to you? I hope that’s not a weirdly loaded question.

JT: Um, they are nice, yes. Especially when there is money attached, because comics are not lucrative. But I try to not let outside validation determine the micro and macro decisions I make as a creative person.

MT: I guess awards help sales.  There are many awesome comics and books out there that have not been nominated, so we’re in good company either way.

This One Summer ended up on many top ten lists for 2014…how does it feel to have one of the most critically acclaimed OGNs of the year among fans? Is it rewarding to see that fans of more mainstream comics are picking up and really enjoying works like yours?

JT: Of course!

As cousins, were you making comics as kids together? When did you decide to pursue sequential art collaboratively?

MT: We lived in distant cities as kids, so there was little comics making.  It wasn’t until we made our first mini comic of Skim back in…2006 (?) that we started working together.

How long has this idea been gestating, and how long did it take to actually script and illustrate This One Summer?

JT: It took probably 3 years in total. It took a year of solid work to do the final artwork.
MT: Roughly 6 months to script.  Plus changes.

What was your working process on This One Summer? Especially since I understand you don’t live near each other? Was there an initial script first and then an art stage, or was it done in a more section by section basis?

JT: We Skyped a lot. Mariko scripts the dialogue with occasional actions. I do a sketch version. We edit it together, a lot. Then I do the final art.

Where were your individual high and low points in the creative process of this book? Were there any parts that drove you crazy or were difficult to pull off?

JT: The most difficult part was the editing of the sketch phase. As it is with any book, I’m sure.

When I started reading This One Summer, I almost thought it was autobiographical…do either of your personal experiences play a role in the story? Were any of the designs of the characters based on real people?

MT: Nope.  There is an actual cottage area that inspired TOS, up in Georgian Bay, Ontario, which I highly recommend people visit.

What is it about the adolescent stage of life that attracts you?

MT: I think most people spend their whole lives trying to figure out how and what to be.  As I understand it, it’s not something that stops with adulthood.  I think adolescence is interesting because it’s the start of this process.  Everything is just that much more on the surface that it is when you’re an adult.

I love how you use Rose and Windy watching horror movies as a kind of metaphor for seeing the world in a more adult way…are you big classic horror movie fans, or how did that aspect of the story develop?

JT: No, I am a chicken. It was easy for me to draw the freaked-out kids.

Your capturing of the pre-teen voice and body language is wonderful…where do you pull that from? Is it based on your memories, or did you embark on any research?

JT: I am fascinated by the storytelling potential of bodies. We are very attuned to what they are communicating and I like to stretch that to effect. Sometimes I get very hung up on tiny details that I’m sure no one will see, but I think it adds up to an overall sensitivity.

MT: I am a chronic eavesdropper.  Although the other day on the subway I was pretty sure some kid called me out for doing it so, I’m going to have to learn to be a little less gleeful listening to teenagers talk.

Rose’s family is fraying apart for much of the book. Why was it important to highlight the onset of familial strife, particularly seen from the eyes of a younger character?

MT: Who doesn’t have a little familial strife in their lives these days?  It would seem kind of weird to me not to include it, whether writing about kids or adults.

This One Summer is considered to be all-ages, but there are different elements that clearly resonate with adults, which sort of mirrors how Rose is beginning to see the world as well. Who do you feel is the intended audience for the book? Or do you feel like This One Summer is fairly wide-ranging in its appeal?

JT: I only think of a few ideal readers when I work on the book. Some of those readers are real people, some are imagined. They’re usually not young kids. Some are teenagers. Most are my age.

MT: I think a books audience is self selecting.  I don’t see a 10 year old reading this book cover to cover.  Beyond that I think the idea is to write about not for.

What made First Second your choice of publisher, and why return to them after Skim, specifically?

JT: Groundwood, which published SKIM, put out TOS in Canada, and they have done a wonderful job. First Second made sense in that they had very strong ties to the American library system, in addition to the Macmillan network. But I think it has been excellent having both publishers, as Groundwood can prioritize the Canadian industry. After all, we are Canadian authors and the content is largely Canadian.

How are your next individual projects coming along? Mariko, I understand you’re working on a new YA novel, and Jillian it sounds like you’ve got some more “irons in the fire” in addition to your work on Adventure Time.

JT: My webcomic “SuperMutant Magic Academy” comes out in book form in April from D&Q. Also in April, Youth in Decline is publishing a short story of mine called SexCoven. It will be part of their “Frontier” series.

MT: My next prose YA book, Saving Montgomery Sole, will be released by Roaring Brook/Penguin Canada in Winter 2016.

This One Summer is available through First Second and on sale at your local book retailer

Michael Davis talks about why he’s not in Milestone 2.0

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In the last few weeks there’s been a bit of online speculation about why Michael Davis, one of the original Milestone Comics founders, along with Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and Dwayne McDuffie, and co-creator of Static Shock, is not involved with the new Milestone 2.0, which is being run by Cowan, Dingle and Reggie Hudlin. Davis has alluded to the matter, but at last broke it down in his online column—it’s long and you should read the whole thing, but I’ve extracted a few of the key points—Davis had always intended to be part of Milestone 2.0, and had planned the announcement for several panels and events, he says, but it didn’t happen at those times. And then….

Why didn’t any of this happen? Why was I part of Milestone 2.0 and now I’m not? Why did the Milestone announcement take 4 years? The simple and sad answer is people change. Deals change and ultimately the company changed and that changed my involvement.

When the post article came out, I broke down and cried. Although I should have known how it would affect me, it still didn’t stop me from dying a bit inside. My world felt just like a weather report, 40 degrees outside but with the wind chill factor it feels like minus 2.

The Post story and the dozens of stories since read like I’m simply not involved and I am not. Yes, simply put that’s what it is except it’s not simple at all. Simplicity went out the door when there was no statement from Milestone 2.0 about me. Hey, don’t EVEN look at me, that statement was supposed to come from them.


And then:

Bottom line, in the four years since Milestone 2.0 came to be, the focus has changed.

Those changes have made it impossible for me to be a part of Milestone 2.0 at this time.

Although it’s a bit hard to parse, it seems there are no hard feelings among the principals, and

Milestone 2.0 is in three capable hands. What they are about to do will change the game just like the original Milestone did almost 22 years ago. Also just like the original Milestone a great deal of the talent that will work on the new universe came out of my studio mentor program.


Davis promises the rest of the story at Comicmix in a few days, so stay tuned.

YALSA 2015 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list is out

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The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) releases a yearly list of recommended graphic novels, and this year’s list is out, 79 titles from a diverse range of publishers, from Batman to the Kingsmen to Moonhead and the Music Machine.

The list celebrates “the enormous variety of the graphic format including tales about forgotten heroes and heroines, online rebellions, new takes on beloved characters, and so much more.” said Chair Marcus Lowry. “The richness of these titles will engage and delight teen readers for years to come.”

There’s also a Top Ten list as follows:

• Afterlife with Archie: Escape From Riverdale, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla (Archie Comics)
• Bad Machinery Vol. 3: The Case of the Simple Soul, by John Allison (Oni Press)
• 47 Ronin, by Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)
• In Real Life, by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (First Second)
• Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona (Marvel)
• Seconds: A Graphic Novel, by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Ballantine Books)
• The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew (First Second)
• Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
• Trillium, by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo)
• Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki, by Mamoru Hosoda and Yu (Yen Press)


Making the YALSA list is a good boost for a graphic novel, putting it on the radar of libraries across the nation. Library sales can add thousands of copies to a book’s bottom line and remain one of the great hidden sales outlets for comics that have fueled their growth in recent years.

Via Robot 6

http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2015/02/yalsa-announces-2015-great-graphic-novels-for-teens/

Templesmith Does Lovecraft

by Pamela Auditore

Anyone familiar with Spike TV Scream Award Winner and New York Times Bestselling Artist/Writer Ben Templesmith’s work knows he is profoundly influenced by HP Lovecraft. Even a cursorary glance at his art makes this apparent. Lovecraft’s influence is most directly on display in Templesmith’s most recent graphic novel Squidder.  A tale of a one time warrior doing battle and eluding the common place acolytes who’ve accepted the Dark Cephlopod Gods as their own.

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But now, the marriage is official!

Templesmith will be tackling Lovecraft himself, the horror master who has influenced creators for nearly a century, including Mike Mignola, Nic Pizzolatto (“True Detective”) and GRR Martin.

In an e-mail yesterday, Templesmith, announced he is temporarily forgoing a sequel to Squidder, for an adaption of HP Lovecraft’s “DAGON.” “A proto-Chuthullu story,” as the Kickstarter page calls it.

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As Templesmith tells it:

“‘DAGON’ is the first Lovecraft story I ever read… and is just oozing in mood and fear [sic]…so I figured I’d turn the visuals it gives me in to a deluxe graphic novella. I finally get to handle some of the unspeakable horrors of Lovecraft, especially because it’s the 125th anniversary of his birth.”

Templesmith also says he will be working on Fell, and is in talks with Warren Ellis for more issues of Wormwood.

It’s true: women know how to read comics

About six months ago, I took a victory lap. And I’m gonna take another one. Because I was right, all along. Last’s week’s twin announcements of the revamped DC line-up and Marvel’s all-woman A-Force showed that even the big two have embraced the idea of a diverse readership as a sound business model. It was only four years ago, when the New 52 launched, that there was an outcry about only 1% of the creators being female, and DC co-publisher Dan DiDio got put on the spot and reacted with a less than conciliatory tone.

And now, even gender-cruncher Tim Hanley notes that things improved dramatically with The New 24:

DC Comics made a big announcement today, revealing the post-“Convergence” line up for their main superhero titles. Along with 29 continuing titles, DC unveiled 24 new series and minis, many of which featured new creators and a variety of new and underutilized characters. It was a good day for women at DC across the board as well.

In recent interviews, DiDio revealed that this was just good sense:

DiDio: And there are a lot of first-time attendees there, who are new to the business, new to comics, and it’s for us to be able to grab these people and attract them.

And you know, I get a lot of anecdotal information from our writers and artists, especially when you talk to somebody like Jimmy [Palmiotti] and Amanda [Conner], who are commanding these monstrously long lines because of Harley Quinn right now, and it’s almost all women. They’re even taken aback by that, by this really intense loyalty and love for this character by an audience that includes a lot of women. And we realize that, and we have to really start to gear our product to attract them to more of our books.

So we try to find the trends that are drawing these changing audiences to shows and create product to really build on that interest.

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Harley Quinn has consistently been one of DC’s top three sellers for a while, and that is hard to ignore. DiDio is surely referring to observations like this one, from Palmiotti last year:

What we are learning is that the traditional idea of done–in-one stories  not selling in comics just doesn’t apply to the new audience buying the  books, and believe me, most of that new audience are female. I think the problem right now is we have some people running the companies that just aren’t going out and trying new comics or interacting with the next wave of readers and keep pushing things the traditional way they did years ago. The retailers themselves are seeing this happening daily now and I feel it’s the reason Image comics will continue to grow and eventually outsell the big two, unless they start thinking outside the box and just make superheroes a PART of their publishing plan and not the entire thing and start looking at the different ways a superhero type of book can be done. Harley is one example, Hawkeye is another . The traditional graphics people associate comics with have been changing for years now and the market is embracing different looks and styles that are outside the house style and its pretty cool to see.

It is pretty cool!

The trail of evidence isn’t quite as clear for A-Force, because Marvel has been making sounds about appealing to female readers for quite some time, and Squirrel Girl, but the A-Force news as reported by Mashable supplied a bit more more support:

Though A-Force is its first all-female Avengers team, it’s not the first team title to feature only women. it’s not the first team title to feature only women. In fact, it’s the fifteenth; the most recent was last year’s X-Men run, which was comprised of all women. Marvel says its female fanbase has been exploding recently, and with the emergence of Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Black Widow and more — and it’s easy to see why.

While DC’s move to the world of modern comics readership is more recent, the rise of the female comics buyer is old news if you’ve been reading this site for any length of time. But what has me sitting back in my recliner here at Stately Beat Manor and enjoying a victory 20-year port is that I’ve been saying that women liked comics for…all my life, really. And I was told I was wrong so many times. So many times.

I know I’ve talked about this many times, but I was given SO MANY REASONS why women couldn’t read comics—women aren’t visual, women don’t like action, women DON’T KNOW HOW TO READ COMICS. The most amazing thing about these statements is that they didn’t come from comment thread trolls but from the men who ran the industry for the last 30 years. That’s right, POWERFUL DECISION MAKERS IN THE COMICS INDUSTRY TOLD ME WOMEN DON’T KNOW HOW TO READ COMICS.

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20 years ago, as an editor at a magazine where plenty of girls reads the comics and I had the fan letters to prove it, I was so incensed by this constant nonsense that I joined with a band of like-minded women (among them Deni Loubert, Anina Bennett, Martha Thomases, Cheryl Harris, Jackie Estrada, Liz SChiller and of course Trina Robbins) and we started an organization to show how getting more women readers could benefit the entire comics industry, because who doesn’t like new customers. I have to admit, the idea of greater revenue was more of an enticement for industry leaders to ponder this idea than just “Of course women like comics, they just don’t all like YOUR superhero comics.”

Friends of Lulu did some things right and some things wrong, but like I always say, at least we we started a dialog. And the internet finished it.

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A few days ago, an 11-year-old girl wrote to DC Comics asking why there weren’t more comics for girls.

My name is Rowan and I am 11 years old. I love superheroes and have been reading comics and watching superhero cartoons and movies since I was very young. I’m a girl, and I’m upset because there aren’t very many girl superheroes or movies and comics from DC.

And the official DC Comics twitter actually answered her:

What’s that you say, girls don’t read comics because they don’t process visual information? Well I say SUCK IT.

Okay I know there is a long way to do and we need more women in positions of influence WITHIN the industry, and less objectification and for gods sake, can’t we make toys of superheroines, and there are one million other things every day that are dedicated to making sure that women are treated as less than equal, but for today on this one matter—that women don’t read comics—I think the case is closed and we can move on to the next challenge.

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Before I got to talking about the next challenge, one more thing. The future of comics is probably going to be even more female. On his tour for The Sculptor, Scott McCloud has been quoted as saying that he expected the comics industry to be female-dominated in every way by 2024. I don’t know that setting a nine-year time frame is exactly right, but as I’ve also mentioned here many times, most cartooning schools are female dominated now, and on the indie scene, female cartoonists seem to be getting the most attention. The Comics Reporter ran one of its Five for Friday reader survey asking for respondents to “Name Five Comics-Makers You Like Age 30 Or Younger and I’ve stolen the entire list because it’s at least 50% female (also a great list, check out the links)
Afonso Ferreira

Aidan Koch

Ales Kot

Alex Heberling

Amanda Baeza

Angie Wang

Anna Deflorian

Bastien Vives

Becca Tobin

Blue Delliquanti

Brecht Evens

Daniel Warren Johnson

Gillian Renk

Gina Wynbrandt

Heather Benjamin

James Harren

James Stokoe

Jenn Liv

Katie Skelly

Katja Klengel

Kevin Budnik

KJ Martinet

Lala Albert

Lale Westvind

Laura Knetzger

Leah Wishnia

Lucy Knisley

Lyra Hill

M. Trower

Mia Schwartz

Michael DeForge

Minna Sundberg

Noah Van Sciver

Olivia Vieweg

Philippa Rice

Rebecca Sugar

Rudolfo (Diogo Jesus)

Ryan Cecil Smith

Sam Alden

Sofia Neto

Sophie Bédard

Sophie Yanow

Tiago Baptista

Tom Toye

I could do a whole post on how Allie Brosh, Roz Chast and Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki ruled the world of graphic novels last year, but it’s clear that women can not only read comics, they can make them too. And that phenomenon doesn”t show any signs of slowing down.

Now, this could all be a fad, or a marketing trend or someone could put a halt to it tomorrow, because that’s traditionally what happens when women try to take on positions of authority and respect. In the 90s we had Ripley and Xena and Buffy and Scully and we’re still arguing about whether woman can star in action shows and films. In the 80s we had Louise Simonson and Elaine Lee and Christy Marx and people still thought that women couldn’t write mainstream comics. Hell, in the 50s we had Lucille Ball and people still say women aren’t funny. My laurel resting lasts for the duration of this post and no longer. But just this one time: “I WAS RIGHT! I WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG!”

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BUT…the battle is still on. Last week, one of my Friends of Lulu fellow soldiers, Martha Thomases wrote a column called The Great Comic Book Lock-Out which talks about girls reading comics, but also the wider narrow-mindedness:

There seems to be a school of thought in which the only fiction available to readers is about the readers themselves. Boys can only read about boys. Girls can only read about girls. African-Americans can only read about African-Americans or, possibly, racial minorities can only read about other racial minorities. Certainly, the thinking goes, white kids are only interested in reading about other white kids.

Let me be clear. I don’t think there is some kind of committee that issues these edicts. I think it is a more subtle form of bigotry.

Comics may have “solved” the woman question for the moment, but they have a lot more problems to solve where diversity is concerned. David Walker writing Cyborg is nice, but we need a lot more non-white voices in comics. People of every race and ethnicity around the world also read comics, and the American comics industry needs to recognize that. Hell, American culture in general needs to recognize that. As a country, we’ve taken many steps backwards in that regard, and it’s this kind of regression that makes me wary of any supposed progress on any front. I do think refuting foolish statements like “Women aren’t visual so they don’t like comics or superheroes” is a step-forward, but it’s far from the only foolish idea running our entertainment industry.

But today, at least for one day, the smart people won.

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Comics pay HOW much?

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For some reason, this post from two years ago, Creator says creator-owned comics pay as little as $31.25 a page—if you’re lucky went mildly viral on FB over the last few days. It refers to THIS post by Jim Zub where he laid out the economics of an Image Comic:

Printing varies wildly, but let’s say 80 cents per issue holds true. With the remaining 30 cents per issue, the following has to be paid:
• Advertising/promotion.
• Publisher operation/office expenses.
• Money left over for the creative team to actually get paid anything.
• Profit?

On a print run of 5000 comics (and many, many creator-owned titles sell less than that in the current market), it means $1500 remains for those 4 important categories. Guess how that breaks down?

If the advertising cost was ZERO and publisher expenses were ZERO, then the writer and artist of a 20 page comic would each get $37.50 PER PAGE. Oops, no money in there for the cover art, sorry. Add in more people (inker, colorist, letterer, etc) and the amount gets split even further, but this is a BOGUS number. The publisher has expenses/staff to pay for.


While I have no doubt that the numbers are still relevant, I feel that two years later, the rise of Image Comics in general should be noted. The December sales chart shows the #300 book selling just a shade OVER 5000 copies. To pick a random book, The Wicked and the Divine #6 sold 22,159 copies or so. Of course, Gillen and McKelvie have come a long way since the single can of tuna days of Phonogram, but Image Comics are HOT. Readers check out the latest books as they would the latest Big Two titles, and a lot more are selling over the break even point than ever before. Skullkickers may have reached it’s “Standard attrition” level, but Zub’s new book, Wayward, sold  10,009 of issue #5.

I’m sure Jim Zub will be along in the comments with his own observations, and like I said, there’s still a lot of Kraft macaroni and cheese to be eaten before—IF—you get to add some pancetta to the dish, but the market has changed a LOT since that post was written, and I wanted to point that out.

Interview: Jeff Lemire on the Stellar Future of Descender [Exclusive Art]

By: Lindsey Morris 

 

2015 is already a banner year for the creators of Descender, which has seen smashing success weeks before the release of its first issue. With the film rights recently acquired by Sony Pictures and amazing groundswell from the gorgeous preview pages, Descender is poised as an early contender for the best comic of the year.

Writer Jeff Lemire was kind enough to speak with Comics Beat about the incredible universe he has been crafting with co-creator and artist Dustin Nguyen in their new monthly ongoing series.


Comics Beat: Let’s start with a summary of Descender. What can readers expect from the series?

Jeff Lemire: So Descender is a science fiction comic in an ongoing series that I’m writing, and Dustin Nguyen is drawing and painting. The story sort of focuses on a young boy robot named Tim-21 who becomes, for various reasons, the most hunted robot in a universe where all robots, androids, and AI have been outlawed, hunted, and destroyed. There is something special about Tim and the secrets surrounding his origin that make him the most sought after robot in the universe.

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Jeff Lemire #1 Variant

CB: Tell me about the process for creating this story. You’re blending themes that you’ve worked with before in Sweet Tooth and Trillium like time, space, and being ostracized and hunted. Did this narrative come naturally to you?

JL: It certainly is an exploration of stuff that I’ve touched on in the past, but in a lot of ways … Like in Sweet Tooth, there’s the idea of the complete innocent, lost in a world full of fear and hatred and violence. Seeing it through his eyes is always something that has fascinated me and continues to.

I think as a parent myself, I kind of look at the world that my son will grow up in, and the fear and ignorance in everything going on – and it’s a scary place. I start to worry about what will happen when I can’t protect him from that anymore, so that’s always something that’s very much on my mind, and definitely something that went into Sweet Tooth, and again into Descender.

I think Descender has maybe something a bit new for me, in terms of exploring our relationship with technology. And again, I think that goes back to my son. He’s six now and I look at his relationship with technology compared to how it was for me when I was six. I’m 40 now, so you know, when I was a kid we didn’t even have computers in our houses or anything and here he is swiping an iPad when he’s five. It’s such a bizarre leap in technology and just the way he relates to technology. So that’s something that was on my mind as well. You look at Tim, and he epitomizes that, because he IS technology. He’s the ultimate interface between mankind and technology – he’s a robot so advanced that, in a lot of ways, he’s the most human character in the book.

So that was all swimming around in my head when I was developing the story, for sure.

CB: It’s funny you should say that, because when I was reading the first issue, I actually forgot for awhile that Tim was a robot.

JL: Yeah, I kind of wanted that. When I was first writing, I almost wrote it so that the first half of the book you think he’s just a normal boy, until he kind of reveals himself. And the way Dustin watercolors the book – the humanity he puts into the faces of the children and in general – I knew, hopefully, that Tim would be a very relatable character.

CB: Well Dustin is doing an amazing job, those pages are breath-taking.

JL: Yeah, it’s crazy he can do that on a monthly schedule. He’s a machine. Dustin was exclusive at DC for I think 14 years, and I think he was underused there. They sort of took him for granted just because he was so reliable. He’s one of those rare guys that can do the monthly deadline without much of a problem. So when they had something they needed to get done, they went to him, and as a result he didn’t get much opportunity to spread his wings. I’d see his sketchbooks and stuff at conventions, and I saw the drawings and paintings he’d do, and I knew that if he had a chance to do creator-owned, he’d really catch some people by surprise. He’s really embraced the opportunity on this book for sure. I’m pretty lucky to be working with him.

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A Nguyen sketch for Tim-21

CB: So how did you two end up on this project together?

JL: Well I was at DC as well for what, five years? So Dustin and I just got to know each other through circumstance of being at events together or whatever. I think we both really admired each others work and always talked about wanting to do something together. And then I knew his exclusive was finally coming up and mine was as well, and I was looking to do more creator-owned stuff so it just seemed like a great time for us to try something, and he was really into the idea. So it was just a combination of good timing, and us both being at a point in our careers where we were both anxious to do more creator-owned stuff.

It’s a very effortless collaboration to be sure, and he’s an easy-going guy, so it’s very easy. I’m very hands-off with him, and he’s the same with me, because we really like each others work and just let each other do our thing. It’s very relaxed – there’s very little communication outside of “Oh, this looks cool, thanks!”

CB: Well that was actually my next question, because it seems like you maybe don’t give him too much direction, and just let him go nuts. All that freedom could be a little overwhelming to some, but you both seem to be taking it in incredible stride.

JL: Yeah, I know his work, so I knew that we both come at visual story-telling from a similar place. I knew just inherently that he would tell a story just as good or better than I could if I was doing layouts or whatever, so I didn’t feel the need to control that element. I just let him do his thing and it’s been awesome working with him.

Comics Beat exclusive look at the Ray Fawkes variant cover.

Exclusive look at the Ray Fawkes #1 variant cover.

CB: Did you have the watercolor medium in mind already when crafting the story?

JL: No, I think I had a one-page sort of pitch of Descender that I showed him, and it was pretty undeveloped at that time, just the basic idea. The idea of him doing it in watercolor wasn’t part of it then, but as soon as he said he wanted to do that I got really excited about the possibilities.

Another thing Dustin does really well is he has a background in design. So when you’re building these cultures, worlds, technologies, architectures, and everything else, he can actually design that stuff. He has the robots figured out on a 3-dimensional level where he can actually take them apart and put them back together. So when you have that degree of design sensibility in the pages, but then executed it in watercolor, which is a very organic looking medium, it creates a very interesting visual tension on the page.

Sci-fi can be very cold and sterile, depending on the artist, so the use of watercolor gives it a certain sense of life, an organic look that I really like.

CB: So how long was the first issue in the making? It’s almost flawless, so a lot of careful work must have gone into creating this introduction.

JL: Just by the nature of the story there was a lot of ground work to be done before I could start writing scripts. The story itself revolves around a central mystery involving Tim, and these giant robots that appear in issue one – what they could be and what they might mean. So there was a lot of things I had to make sure I had figured out, and I had to know where I was going.

On top of that, just the world building. There’s I think 12 or 13 different planets at this point that we’ll be visiting throughout the story, and I wanted each one to feel like a real place. So you have to put a lot of work into designing and figuring out the technologies and cultures of these worlds, just to give them a different look and feel from one another. There was a few months of hardcore world-building and plotting before I wrote scripts. It’s been awhile – at least 8 months before I wrote any scripts.

CB: The first issue of Descender is already incredible cinematic. Was that on your mind while creating this universe?

JL: Oh, for sure. When Dustin and I started talking about Descender and conceiving it, our influences were a lot more cinematic than comic. Just by its nature the sci-fi we really loved tended to be films or television shows, and not so much comics. 2001: A Space Odyssey is my favorite movie, so a lot of Kubrick’s pacing and the way he frames shots were really in my mind, and Dustin’s as well. Dustin brings his own set of influences, but I really feel like the pacing on this is a lot more cinematic than other work that I’ve done.

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CB: So Sony Pictures recently acquired the film rights to Descender. And super quickly!

JL: Haha, yeah it all happened very quick. I’ve had other properties or stuff I’ve created… there’s always talk of stuff happening, options and stuff, but it takes forever for anything to actually get done, or it falls through. But this one, for whatever reason, as soon as we announced the book at San Diego last year with Dustin’s promo image, there was just a ton of interest from Hollywood right away. I guess it just sparked something, and basically as soon as we had the first issue ready we started getting offers. It was a bit of a whirlwind.

At the end of the day it’s very exciting and everything, but Dustin and I mostly just care about telling the comic. I kind of write for him. I write stuff that hopefully he’ll think is really gonna be fun to draw, and when he reads the scripts and reacts, that’s sort of the satisfaction I have. That and seeing the art come in. If the movie stuff keeps happening and turns out to be good, that’s awesome, but again, I’m really focused on the comic. That’s what I control and that’s what I can get excited about.

CB: Is there anything else you can tell us about what we have to look forward to in the wake of Descender #1?

JL: Yeah, well every issue is going to be painted, which is fun. The cast is a little bigger than the first issue would have you believe. Tim-21, it’s his story, but there are a lot of other characters that bring different points of view to this universe that I’m excited to explore. Issue #2 kind of focuses a bit more on Tim’s past. We see how he came to the colony, and his first interactions with humanity and how they made him who he is. We learn that he’s very adaptable. You know, he’s a machine created in a laboratory, and he was sent to this colony and you kind of see how his first interactions with humankind evolved him into this character that you see in #1.

The final call for pre-orders is Monday, 2/9/15, so be sure to use Diamond Order Code JAN150567 to reserve your copy!

Descender #1 hits the shelves 3/4/15 from Image Comics.

Two stories about people and their things

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Last week, a sad story made the rounds about cartoonist Jim Wheelock having all of his comics stolen out of a storage unit in Vermont. It was quite a large and potentially valuable collection that went back to the 60s and in an interview at Seven Days he mourns its loss:

“I remember where I was and what I was doing when I bought or read many of [the comic books]. Later, when I worked in the financially rickety world of a freelance artist, knowing the books were in Vermont gave me a sense of security, a retirement nest egg. This is what the culprit robbed me of….I’m deeply angry that a man I never met has done so much damage to my life. But mostly, I want my comic books back. I believe he will attempt to sell them. I hope people will keep an eye out at stores, flea markets and online for a large collection of comics from the ’60s through the ’90s.”


Although a suspect has been found, he hasn’t been definitively tied to the theft and the comics—including runs of Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and The Hulk from their original single digit runs—have not been found.

Wheelock lives in Los Angeles, far from the storage unit, but it’s hard not to sympathize with the idea of having your old comics somewhere safe, though far away. Suddenly finding out they are gone, even if you had no physical contact with them, is a psychological shock. I still have my old comics in my parent’s garage…I think. I’m not sure where they are exactly, but I have the idea that they are somewhere safe…even though I haven’t seen them or touched them in 30 years. Other stuff I had stored was lost in a fire—they didn’t burn up but there was smoke damage—and I still think about things that I had in those long gone boxes…a Spirit printing plate given to me by Denis Kitchen, a page of art from Amethyst, a gift from Ernie Colon, my original Howard the Duck Treasury…how can I still remember these things so clearly and miss them?

Which brings me to my next link, writer Rachel Kramer Bussel’s frank and honest discussion of her hoarding and how it affects her current relationship. We’ve all seen Hoarders, but this is no dead-eyed retiree living in a crumbling brown ranch. Bussel is a vibrant, busy lady (I know her from around town and she’s appeared in some of Seth Kushner’s fumettis) and reading the thoughts of someone this intelligent and present in the world as Bussel is both stunning…and recognizable:

Just to be clear — I didn’t go out of my way to accumulate items. I didn’t have to; they found me. I kept everything — theater playbills, cards from my grandmother, old bras and makeup, lone shoes, a giant martini glass I won playing bingo. I even had a fax machine, though I don’t have a land line. I didn’t mind having to wade through mini mountains to get to the bathroom, because who was I hurting? Even when a momentary desire to “get organized” would strike, I couldn’t fathom where to start, so I just made do. As long as I had my glasses, keys and laptop, I was fine.


As I’ve alluded to here many times, I’m not a hoarder, but I am a packrat. I throw out old underwear…when I get around to it, and everything else seems more important to me. I don’t see clutter, I see cool things. I love my stuff, and I do have anxiety about losing my stuff. (Digital hoarding is now a problem—HOW do you make sure all those digital photos are safe?) Every few years I write about my organization efforts here , but my storage unit is just about full up and now what?

People hold on to things because they have sentimental value—the object is a trigger for pleasant memories of the past—or because they are thought to have some future value. “I’m going to ebay that.” How many times have we said that!

Hoarding is one of the most difficult mental conditions to cure—in fact it can usually only be controlled. The main problem is that it’s simply how you see the world, not a separate condition. I literally don’t understand how people can live in an environment without books or things. But too many things is not a healthy place either. It’s something I struggle with literally every day. But at least I have a degree of mindfulness so far.

The Retailer’s View: Punching the Ouroboros

THE END IS WHERE YOU START FROM

At the end of last year, I tendered my resignation at the comic shop I was managing. During my last year of employment, I had grown to feel out of place in the company, and was eager to try something different. I thought I’d take some time off to write more. I didn’t. Instead, I realized that I didn’t want to stop working behind the counter – I just wanted to do it on my own terms.

At the beginning of this year, I announced that I’d be starting a comic shop. This, is the story of January.

COLD TURKEY

Leaving the old store was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. As it turns out, the decision to leave was the easiest part of leaving. The hard part came in the form of things like not being able to process shipment or see all of my regulars. As weird as it sounds, I loved the work, all the way from figuring out how to order from a variant to matching customers to books that they were going to love. Right now, it still feels as though there’s a little part of my identity that’s missing, even as I fill that space with what’s to come. That said, I think I’m coping rather well. The wife has had to pull me out of a few funks and otherwise, the work of setting up a new shop is keeping me occupied. Quite honestly, everything would be fine if it wasn’t for the intensive detangling process it takes to set up a business.

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THE GORDIAN KNOT

Have you tried to set up a business before, faceless mass of readers? A few of you almost definitely have, and you’ve got a knowing grin slowly crawling across your face right now. Know that I hate you with admiration, in the way that a commenter would lovingly shake the hand of a comic creator were they to ever meet in person.

Anyway, laying down groundwork for a business is like trying to punch the face of an ouroboros or wrestle a gordian knot. Tasks require other tasks in order to be completed, everything pulling on itself at you gently try to work at the problem with great swinging fists. You need a business plan to do almost anything, but to get information for your business plan, you need a location. To get a location, you need to prove you have a viable concern before people will even talk to you beyond offering vague numbers. To do that, you need to work on your business plan, but your business plan can’t be completed until you get SPECIFIC numbers from a landlord. Also, the insurance folks won’t give you a good quote unless you give them a location. Specific to comics retail, Diamond won’t give you information regarding your retailer discounts until you have a business license, which you also need a location for, but again, you can’t really give the loan people and the landlord the business plan without those specific numbers.

This goes on and on and gets more complicated the further you dig inwards. Suffice to say, it takes a while to untangle. As it stands, we’re still waiting on a location to be locked down to my satisfaction, after which all things will move at a blistering hyper speed. Everything is ready and being held in place, I’m just waiting for the foundation to be ready before I set the weight of everything on top of it.

IN THE MEANTIME

There’s a lot to do when you’re in the “hurry up and wait” portion. First and foremost, it’s important to do your homework. Not only do you need to keep track of all the spinning plates, you need to keep track of where the industry is going, and grab numbers for that. You need to dig your hands into the area you think you’re going to open in and pull out everything you have. What’s the make of the population? How’s the economy? How might one area benefit you over another? Does that balance with the budget you have to pay the lease when you get those numbers? Do those locations have viable parking options? If not, do you need to talk to the community league about potential problems before an audit is done, and your business is deemed unsuitable for the space? What specific licenses and permits might you need in your specific region? There’s a hell of a lot to research and ask about while the larger cogs are slowly grinding and catching.

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How is this relevant? Who cares. That right there, is shirtless Chris Pratt, and he is always relevant.

Aside from that kind of research, you should also consider what you should have in place for when you announce your store. First and foremost, you need a name. The earlier you have one, the better, because then everything you make will have that name on it. After that, get a website locked down. In this day and age, there is no excuse for a business not to have a website, even if it’s just a simple landing page with your location and hours on it. Build a website or have one built while things are happening. Make a list of all the things you want that site to do, and make sure it will do those things. Once that’s started, start grabbing social media accounts. Contemplate the ones that you might actually use on a regular basis (or those that you’ll begrudgingly use due to their ability to reach the audience you need) and start locking those down. In all instances, attempt to make sure you can match your business’ username across all platforms so that your customers don’t have to blindly feel around to find you on anything – they can just type a phrase, and find you everywhere.

Another thing you can do? Start up an inventory. Use whatever you have, and start cataloguing in some format. If you have a pretty sizeable comic collection, I’d suggest starting with pulling everything you have the stomach to part with. Try and put as many things that you own into the store’s inventory. If you’re having a tough time, try to contemplate the future. Do you think you’ll be successful? Successful enough to buy back many of your dearly departed items in a few years time? Then get rid of it. The more you can add to your store inventory, the better you look to loaners, and the less you’ll have to spend at start up. If you still can’t bring yourself to part with too much, you might have to ask yourself if you really think the business will be successful if you’re willing to hold back a lot of choice product that could be sold to keep you afloat.

Beyond that, there’s hundreds of other things to consider. Even though I’ve spent the better part of a month attempting to research and pin down everything, I can almost guarantee there are things that I’ll discover I’ve forgotten, and I will have to deal with the consequences that as they come. That said, if I’ve done any of this right, in a few months, I should be opening my doors to an audience built from years of hard work, and a few months of carefully metered anticipation.

Here’s hoping things work out.

[Brandon Schatz has spent the last eight years working behind the comic book counter, and he will soon be opening Variant Edition in Edmonton, Alberta. In his spare time, he writes about the comics and culture. You can find him on twitter @soupytoasterson and at his website, Submetropolitan. The opinions expressed are those of Schatz and do not necessarily reflect those of The Beat.]

Review: The Sculptor is a page-turning meditation on life, art & love

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By Harper Harris

Although Scott McCloud has worked on fiction comics before, it’s been a while. He wrote and drew his fantastically unique superhero series Zot! in the mid-eighties, and since then the only major return was writing a few issues of Superman Adventures in 1996 and The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln in 1998. What he’s most famous for is his work within comics theory, in the form of the seminal Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and finally Making Comics. These are highly regarded works amongst the comics community; reading the first often marks the beginning of a true devotee to sequential storytelling, acting as a kind of benchmark in fandom. McCloud set a pretty high bar for himself with this series when he set out to return to comics fiction with his massive new graphic novel, The Sculptor, and luckily for him, it mostly holds up to the sort of scrutiny that he brought to the comics world with his analytic books.

The Sculptor revolves around the life of David Smith, a young artist who we find at his lowest: the acclaim surrounding his earlier work has faded away, he has no family left, and he’s spending his last few bucks on a cheap diner meal for his twenty sixth birthday. The inciting action of the book is a Faustian deal with death: David agrees that for the power to create great art, he will only live for 200 more days. Although his new found powers–the ability to sculpt any material with just his bare hands–grants him artistic ability, he still struggles to deal with the fickle art world and most importantly, the fact that he may have met the love of his life with just a few months to live.

The writing is quite strong. David, while not the most likeable guy in every circumstance, is relatable and familiar, especially if you’ve ever known a fine artist. He’s frustrating but inspiring, and his struggles, both existential and tangible, hit a lot of the right emotional beats. It’s a massive graphic novel at just under 500 pages, but for the majority of the book it is a page turner; I found myself not knowing where things were going, in a very exciting way. McCloud throws in many different conflicts, from a breakdown in communication with a loved one to the inability to make art that is both crowd-pleasing and truly great. Perhaps most noteworthy is his portrayal of depression, which comes across as refreshingly true-to-life, not using it as a plot device but rather making it a crucial part of character development.

The art, too, is perhaps McCloud’s best. There’s an excellent sense of pacing that subtly draws you into the perspective of David, with things moving along quickly with smaller gutter space when he’s excited or scared. The book is two-toned, being in black and white with blue shading, and it looks fantastic. McCloud’s cartooning is pretty phenomenal, capturing the moods of each of the characters often with only a look, and particularly important to the book is his rendering of the actual sculptures, which are visually interesting and feel true to both real life abstract sculpture and David’s character. The Sculptor subtly plays with storytelling techniques that are exciting and fresh, crafted with the ambition of a young artist but the forethought of a cartooning master.

My biggest issue with the book comes with the last act, as David’s life is winding down. Things take a narrative twist at this point, and while I wasn’t wholly against the twist, it loses a lot of the “down to earth-ness” that it had up until that point. There are moments when it truly shines–a life flashing before your eyes sequence with literally hundreds of panels over ten pages stands out–but the book loses a lot of momentum and latches onto some unfortunate narrative cliches. The ending is not a mess, but it feels rushed and a bit of a misstep compared to the rest of the book, which is plotted with a lot of care and subtlety and has a unique unpredictability.

That said, the book tackles some fascinating themes. The Sculptor captures what it is to be a frustrated artist better than most stories, and does it in a way that is visually gorgeous, especially if you’re a fan of black and white cartooning. Throughout the bulk of the book, it brings in characters, ideas, and narrative devices that are distinctive and oftentimes quite beautiful. The way in which death is portrayed and explained, for example, and how he shows David the afterlife as a terrifyingly blank page are worth a lot of rumination, and while they reference earlier works (The Seventh Seal in particular), McCloud brings his own visual language to the whole concept.

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Although the last bit left me a bit less than 100% engaged, the majority of the book had me cancelling plans so I could continue reading. Overall, it’s a major graphic accomplishment, one that is both a compelling page-turner and a relevant meditation on life, art, and love, presented by one of the most important cartoonists of our time. It’s certain to be the start of many best of 2015 lists, and despite my issues with it, I can’t say I wouldn’t consider it among the better graphic novels in the last several years. The Sculptor‘s careful storytelling and alluring art far outweigh the narrative problems that slowly creep in towards the last part, and in the end, it’s a book I would strongly recommend with just a few qualifiers.

The Sculptor releases on February 3rd. If you act fast, you can still order signed copies through Barnes and Noble. See ScottMcCloud.com for details on the book tour.

Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptor

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By Harper Harris and Kyle Pinion

In The Sculptor, David Smith is an out of work artist, who feels as though he never quite reached the level of fame he always thought was right within his grasp. When the physical representation of Death comes offering a deal: the power to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands with the caveat that his life ends in 200 days, David cannot resist the possible benefits of such an ability. The after-effects that this bargain has on his friends, New York City, and his love-life become the center-piece of this newest graphic novel by acclaimed cartoonist Scott McCloud.

30 years in the making, McCloud’s new opus is available on February 3rd through First Second. McCloud was kind enough to sit down with us for a lengthy discussion about the new book, critical expectations, his creative process and how he balances his busy speaking schedule and the creation of a 500-plus page graphic novel.

Kyle: How is the press circuit treating you?  I know you’ve been on interviews for weeks now.  Are you exhausted? 

Scott McCloud:  No, I store energy like a cactus stores water and five years squirreled away in my hobbit hole drawing, you store up a lot of energy.  So I was definitely ready to come out into the sunlight and talk to people.  And the reception so far has been amazing.  So far it’s been really encouraging I think is what I mean to say.

Kyle: Well, that’s good to hear.  That actually pivots over to one thought that I was curious about.  Over the past 15, 20 years now, though you’ve of course published books like Zot! and you did some work with DC in the past as well on the Superman Adventures, you’ve been known as the guy that breaks down comic book storytelling via Understanding Comics and the like.  With critical response in mind, did you ever feel a certain level of pressure as someone expected to live up to that analysis with The Sculptor?

McCloud:  Oh yeah.  There was definitely a big target on my chest when I did this thing, but it was a good kind of NEW GRID (TO SPEC)pressure.  The pressure was pretty strong after Understanding Comics, that anything I did in the way of fiction afterwards would be judged with that in mind. I did one or two pieces of fiction that are best left forgotten, that didn’t do so well.  But after Making Comics, there was definitely a bulls-eye on me because I wasn’t just telling people how to read them, I was telling people how to make them. I had to put my money where my mouth was.  But in the end, I thought that was a really healthy kind of pressure because it meant that failure was not an option.  I had to really give this my all and I was lucky enough to have an editor who had the same attitude about it and gave me a little extra room, a little extra time to do so.  This was originally going to be a three year book and we allowed it to grow to five years with his blessing because he felt that we could pull off something really wonderful.  But yeah, I was trying to apply all of these ideas that I had been talking about in books like Making Comics, I’ve been trying to apply them in this work but I’ve also been trying to make sure that they’re hidden, transparent, not on the surface.  I didn’t want people thinking about panel transitions and compositions and my use of bleed while reading the thing.  I wanted them to be thinking about the story and I hope that’s the effect people will have in the reading experience.

Harper: To delve into The Sculptor itself and how you got started with it, one of the concepts in the book is just how David, an out of work sculptor, feels like he’s got this unrealized potential…he’s got all this creativity stored up and then he feels like he can be this big famous sculptor but he doesn’t have the means to do it yet.  As a writer, when you were getting started with this project, do you feel like your creative soul was restless or you had something big you had to accomplish and you just were ready to get it out?

McCloud:  I felt like that when I was in my 20s.  When I was the same age as David, I felt a lot more like David than I do now.  I’ve been lucky because I’ve actually gotten some attention and I’ve been able to get my work out there, but I have a lot of feeling for those who don’t have that, who haven’t had that luck.  Whether they’re young and just starting out or if they’ve been at it for 30 years, there are a lot of people who have trouble getting their work out into the sunlight and who rightly feared that their work might be forgotten someday, maybe even in their lifetime.  Something that happens to a lot of artists is being forgotten in your lifetime. I can easily put myself in that mindset again of imagining that and imagining that fear, the fear that comes with that.  And then the fact that David has this family that’s already gone, both in terms of their physical lives but also in terms of the memories of them, even though they were all three very creative people, his parents and his sister.  That made it a much more urgent need on his part to not be forgotten.

Kyle: Now this is a concept that you created decades ago.  I think I heard once it was about 30 years ago, is that correct?

Scott McCloud:  Yeah, it was really terrifying when I realized it was 30.  I was saying 20 and then I think it was Ivy, my wife, just reminded me “nah, it’s actually more like 30.”  That’s a long time!

Kyle: It’s a concept that’s older than Harper here actually.

McCloud:  It’s older than a lot of readers.  It may be older than most of the people who will read this book, some may be younger than the idea for the book itself.

Kyle: I wonder, how has your life experience changed the way you’re approaching the material than if you had written it back in 1980, whatever year it was that you initially thought of it?

McCloud:  Well, I think it’s a better book for having been written much later but the important thing for me was I had this young man’s idea and had had a lot of the things we associate with young ideas.  It has lots of bold, preposterously ambitious ideas in it.  It’s trying to address questions of life and art, mortality, the nature of existence and that sort of thing.  I think as we get older, we’re more likely to just address the struggles of getting your coffee in the morning and going to a job you hate or whatever.  People tend to scale down their ambitions a little.  My goal for this one was to see if maybe I could take that young man’s idea and capture the enthusiasm I had when I was a young man and channel that crazy ambition but channel it in a direction that was informed by the perspective I’d gained as an older man, nearly twice the age that I was when I first came up with it, when I started to work on this thing.  And hopefully I’ve been able to do that.  To not castrate it, not rob it of the vitality of that young idea but try to preserve the vitality while giving a perspective, direction and a more meaningful shape through what I’ve learned in the intervening years.

Harper: Being that this was an idea that gestated for such a long time and you added things and changed things as you were thinking about it, when you actually sat down to start putting pen to paper and writing it, what was your process like?  Were you coming up with a script first, or was it just a rough draft, or were you doing thumbnails?

McCloud:  The first part of the process was when I realized I really wanted to work on this book, it was just as I was starting a 50 state tour in support of that previous book, Making Comics,  2006 and 2007.  And I was so desperate to NEW GRID (TO SPEC)work on The Sculptor but all I could really do was sit in the passenger seat while my wife drove.  I’m not allowed to drive.  I’m a terrible driver.  And just think about it for a year.  And in a way, that was actually really good.  That first part of the process was just thinking about the story and taking lots and lots and lots of notes.  Then I got to work in earnest after we had a publisher and we were ready to start active work on the thing.  I started to create the layouts and for the first year, I did nothing but create these layouts which were – my layouts are pretty tight.  They look a lot like a finished comic, just a rough version.  But all of this takes place before there’s any finished art, right?  So I make this thing, I make the whole thing.  I send it to my editor, Mark Siegel.  I also send it to my “five kibitzers” as I call them – friends who I know will be honest and tell me what parts suck, whatever parts of the story don’t work.  And then I revised it based on their input and I revised it again and I revised it again.  I did four revisions of this nearly 500 page book in layout form.  Took me two years.  This is all before I ever drew a single finished panel.  And then I started drawing the real thing and that took three years.  It took me three years to draw those near 500 pages and that was done on my Cintiq tablet in Photoshop.  It’s entirely digital even though it has that slightly rough hand-drawn quality to it, the entire thing was done digitally.  In fact, the layouts were all done digitally too.  40 pages at a time in a giant Photoshop document.

Harper: Why is sculpture was the main thrust of the book as opposed to him being a painter or something that was a little bit maybe closer to your own craft?

McCloud:  Well on the one hand, sculpture makes good visual theatre in the sense that it exists in three dimensions, it’s dynamic.  The idea of going up against that hard surface, in the case of the sort of things that David is doing, has a nice sense of explosive physical conflict to it.  But beyond that, the choice of sculpture as opposed to any other form, I have to be honest, I never even considered anything else simply because that was the starting point.  That that was this idea in its original state as it existed in that little three ring binder that I have been carrying around with me since high school where I would write down ideas.  That’s where it began, the idea of a sculptor in particular.  I don’t really know if it would be quite as effective if it were say flat visual arts like painting or drawing, although interestingly enough, a book that I really enjoyed, Dylan HorrocksSam Zabel and the Magic Pen is I think coming out around the same time and in a way, he does have that notion of the artist being given supernatural abilities of one sort or another, in his case through literally a magic pen.  So he gets to explore a slightly different side of that artistic deal with fate.

Kyle: Did you have to do any sort of background research at all?

McCloud:  I researched the art world in that area as far as just the cultural and business aspects of it and then just looked at a lot of sculpture.  But in the end, I think it’s important to note that what David makes in many ways fails.  It fails the test and he’s unable to get a wider audience for it for much of the book.  The only things that David ever makes that gain the favor of that world, we don’t actually see.  We don’t see the work he makes before the story begins that had gotten him some attention early on, we don’t see the work that he makes that his friend Ollie considers very promising.  That stuff is off panel.  What I felt I was able to draw or what I was able to imagine is the sort of work that a sculptor might not get recognition for.  And so I was able to just pour my crazy imagination into it and then knowing that I wasn’t presenting this as some kind of masterpiece that would be universally acclaimed, I was presenting his sculpture as something that would probably confound or be uninteresting to that world.  But I did research some of the experience of living in that world, talked to a couple of people who are part of it. In large part, I was just researching what it is to live in New York in 2000 something because of course this took place over several years and just try to get the city right, just try to show the physical environment of the city as well as the cultural environment.

Kyle: In order for David to gain his amazing abilities, he had to strike a bit of a Faustian pact with the embodiment of death.  Do those type of stories fascinate you?  It’s basically the fulcrum that this story into motion, at least in the beginning stages before we get to know the characters better.  Do you find yourself a fan of tales like The Devil and Daniel Webster and the like?

McCloud:  Now that you mention The Devil and Daniel Webster, I actually really enjoyed that but it’s been literally 40 years since I’ve read that one, but I remember really being into it.  I don’t know that the story was in any way commenting on those other stories, but in some way, I think the important departure here is that it is a deal with death and that the ultimate result is still oblivion, as shown in the blank pages towards the beginning of the story.  Like most Faustian bargains, the ending is not in question, right?  You know the final fate of the character.  But this time, because of that notion of oblivion rather than eternal damnation, it’s kind of the secular version of that story, isn’t it?  And I think understanding the difference between that secular, updated version and versions that are more tied to questions of morality than to questions of existential terror, that was interesting to me.  I think that was the main thing was that the way in which the echoes of religious beliefs were resonated a bit through this story, but of course it’s a profoundly non-religious story despite the supernatural element that sets it in motion.

Harper: David can be frustrating at times when he is making the wrong choice, which he does quite often. Did you find it difficult to write a protagonist that has those flaws?

McCloud:  Well interestingly enough, David was even less likeable in early drafts of the layouts.  A lot of my friends who were reading it over, and my editor, pointed out ways in which he was a difficult character to get into.  You can have a character with very negative aspects to their personality who audiences still have a passageway into.  That was my goal primarily was that even when David is being frustrating, I wanted my audience to be able to get inside his head, to see what it was like to be him from the inside.  It goes in a slightly different direction from the question of likeability.  Relatability and likeability, I’ve come to understand are two slightly different things when writing characters.  He had to be relatable first and foremost and that was one of the goals that I internalized when I was going through rewrite after rewrite, to make sure that we could understand where he was coming from, and to get a sense of what drove him forward even when he was being frustrating or stubborn. Part of that was understanding the difference between wanting to be remembered and being terrified of being forgotten.  They’re two different things.  Understanding that difference, I think, was one of my crucial procedures as I constructed and reconstructed this story.

Kyle:  I’d like to also talk a little bit about one of the other key themes that hit me while I was reading, you display clinical depression in this book with a lot of nuance and that’s not something you see done particularly very well in really many forms of media – television, film, comics, whatever we might be talking about.  How much thought and work went into giving that characteristic to that particular character – or was there personal experience at all involved there that sort of informed how that character was resolved?

McCloud:  Yeah, there was a lot of personal experience that went into that and that was crucial to being able to capture those thought processes and the kind of relationship that one might have with somebody going through that.  I think in early drafts it felt a little bit more pat, a little bit more like just a mechanical necessity of the plot and I think it gained in resolution and nuance I think with the rewrites.  That was something that we were very concerned with, that it not simply be a plot device but that it be part of the texture of the story without necessarily departing from what the story was about.  One of the things about getting increasing specific in the portrayal of something like that is that you don’t want the story to become about itself, you don’t want to lose sight of why the story exists in the first place.  And so that was the balancing act, making sure that this felt like a real emotional story but an emotional story that existed within the universe of the ideas of the story as a whole.

Kyle: This is strange to say, but it’s probably my favorite part of the book because it felt so real to life.

McCloud:  That’s really cool.  I have to say, much of what I was doing there was channeling because sometimes when you have direct real life experience, sometimes you just close your eyes and let a character speak from experiences.  You can hear the voice in your head.  You know what words come next because it’s part of the texture of your own life.  It’s not a trick you can do often because you – unless you have profound relationships with many, many people which I suppose normal people do.  Maybe that’s just me speaking as an overworked comic artist that I’m only able to slot in a few in the course of a lifetime.

Harper: Looking at taking the writing process into the art process, how much thought goes into the panel to panel storytelling, or the perspectives that you choose, or whether you’re going to have an establishing shot to set the mood first, or whether you just go back and forth between the two characters? 

McCloud:  Every single composition, every single panel choice and pacing choice was done very deliberately, but always with the goal that it wouldn’t seem deliberate.  I wanted this book to feel as if it NEW GRID (TO SPEC)had just written itself, so transparency was the goal.  One what that I tried to do that was by being very rigorous about capturing the rhythm of ordinary conversations, right down to the silence is something that Mark Siegel encouraged me to do.   Sometimes it’s important, those pauses between speech are vitally important to capturing a credible rhythm of speech.  Something that a lot of comics feel they don’t have the time to do, especially if you’ve got a 23 page story, having a panel of somebody just in between sentences, taking a sip of coffee or something, you’re not going to see that.  And yet that’s something that we intuitively recognize as the music of humans in conversation.  And when we recognize it, they become real.  And when they become real, you stop thinking about panel transitions, you stop thinking about composition choices, you stop thinking about bleeds and you are lost in the world of the story.  The first line of offense in conquering the reader’s perception of a real illusionistic world inside that story is the way people act with other people.  You get that right and you’re more likely to be able to cast that spell and keep readers in the story.

Kyle: In looking through the panel compositions, it seems like there’s a push and pull between the opaque and the transparent and one of the things Harper pointed out to me was this really interesting use of how you show distance, utilizing either opaque figures or transparent figures, or to emphasize perspective and focus.  Was this a tool you consciously decided to use on the book as a visual theme or is this just a natural part of your storytelling tools?

McCloud:  Yeah, I think that’s something that I’ve wanted to try out for a long time but I don’t really know that I ever had the opportunity.  Nothing I’d done before would have been appropriate for that particular technique.  Part of it is the fact that we have a POV character and with a POV character, you can play with perception and emotion visualized in a way that you can’t with a third party objective: omniscient viewpoint.  It’s very manga.  Manga was interesting to me for a lot of reasons when I first got into it in the 80s and one of the reasons I liked it was that notion of emotional and perceptional participation.  That sense that you are here, you’re part of the story.  You are the protagonist.  And that was done in a number of ways, sort of sliced up aspect to aspect, pieces of perception of the world around you or moving along with the moving character rather than just watching the character move. There were also all of these emotional expressionistic techniques.  If the character was nauseous, for instance, the whole world might become a little bit wobbly around them because you were perceiving the world through their eyes.  So I tried to do that and I found with the two colors, there were lots of opportunities to do that.  As you mentioned, through transparency, opacity, by using colored contours rather than black contours.  I think 100 years of CMYK printing tends to condition us to always have a black contour, but there are plenty of reasons not to.  So I use them as depth cues and I use them as you said to indicate the perspective of the character, like when he’s focusing on one particular person at a party and everybody else is dimmed out because we’re seeing his mental map of what matters and what doesn’t.

Harper: I know a lot of your work in the past has been black and white.  Was there ever a stage that this book was going to be in color or a different style of color use than the way you used it in the book?

McCloud:  No.  There were practical considerations of cost but there was also the creative considerations that I really like to do it all myself and I’m a shitty colorist.  I’ve never had a good color sense and it looks good to me and then everybody else tells me, no Scott, that’s not good, so.  But I can choose from a Pantone swatch book, that I can do.  And two colors to me is just a little bit nicer than one because with that second color, I can use it not only for the techniques we talked about but just for the simple utilitarian task of clarifying form.  When you have that second color, you can make it more quickly obvious to the eye, even at a casual glance, what the forms are on the page, where are the faces versus the background, where the figures and silhouettes are and sense of depth.  All of these things really come into sharp, immediate focus when you have that second color.  So there were a lot of reasons to go for it.

Harper: In picking the light blue tone that permeates the book; was that a difficult choice or was that something that as you were working through the art, that was just the obvious choice?

McCloud:  Actually in May, when time had pretty much run out and it was time for Scott to pick the damn color, I was in Atlanta at the offices of a company called MailChimp.  I had given a lecture there either that day or the day before, I’ve forgotten which.  And they very kindly gave me their Pantone swatch book and an hour or two in a quiet room in the offices to just sit and select which color it would be.  And I will forever be grateful to MailChimp for saving my ass because my Pantone swatch book was locked up in an office here in California, the office I’m sitting in right now.  I had the key in Atlanta and there was nobody there who could go and retrieve it for me and those things are expensive, so thank god that MailChimp came to my rescue and gave me that Pantone swatch book and I was actually to select the magical hue 653.  I will never forget that number.

Kyle: Between Serial and Scott McCloud giving them praise, MailChimp is having a great couple of months here. I’m trying to couch my next question as carefully as possible here, because it deals with sort of the latter half of the book.

McCloud:  Sure.

Kyle: The actual production of the art towards the end, especially in a selection that is full of a lot of panels, was that a physically stressful piece to produce, especially if you were producing it multiple times in multiple drafts?  I’m referring to the very end of the book.

McCloud:  Oh yeah.  No, I know what you’re referring to and it was tremendously difficult, but it was a kind of difficulty that I had come to relish.  I really loved the hard work.  The hard work of this book was gratifying work.  I loved working hard, I loved being challenged, I loved being forced to do something that I had never been able to do before.  That was great.  What wasn’t great was the fact that I was straining the limits of my system, that it was taking forever to save these files.  It was so complex at 1,200 dots per inch – at least I think it’s 12, not 1,000.  I think the book is 12 – 1,200 dots per inch, in RGB no less, even though it was a two color book.  The thing was just enormous.  Those files were enormous.  They were like half a gigabyte each and boy, was it slow churning out these things and saving them.  That was the hard part was the waiting.  Do I save and have to stop drawing for a couple of minutes or do I wait and risk a lightning storm and a blackout or whatever.  That was hard, that was hard.  But I don’t know, generally speaking though, the hardest things about this book were also the most gratifying because that’s when I felt like I was really finally climbing the mountain.

Harper: One thing I noticed that I really enjoyed in the storytelling was how you used the gutters as far as for pacing.  So the distance between the panels in calmer, normal section of the book, there’s a little bit of distance and there are white gutters and then when there’s these parts that are a little more intense or – for example, when David discovers he has these powers and he’s running home to figure out what’s going on and to try them out, the gutters completely disappear and it’s just this thick black line in between panels. It really changed the pacing a lot and the feeling of timing.

McCloud:  As you mention it, I’m not sure that I did this much in my first comic Zot!, but there was a pretty rigorous practical set of standards for when that might happen, when I might go to a different gutter style or when I might go to a bleed, for example.  And it’s just like for any given moment in the story, the question was: does it pass the test?  Is this the kind of moment where David is overwhelmed by what’s happening, where he’s sent into just an emotional rhapsody of one sort or another, of rage or wonder.  In those cases, the borders do collapse to a single black line in between panels and it goes full bleed.  All of those are full bleed as well.  To me, it feels right.  And I guess what it is is I had seen other artists who had done that.  Sometimes artists just do that for everything.  There are a few artists who always have that single black line and full bleeds throughout an entire book. It just has this – I don’t know, it’s like in Wagner when the extra trombones come in.  It just seems to be that orchestral color that tells you that something of great weight is happening.  And this is a story where I decided to use the full orchestra, so that was one of my tools.

Kyle: I know you speak to a number of different companies professionally, you’re probably on speaker bureaus and the like…

McCloud:  Actually you know what, I’ll tell you a secret.  I do it all myself.  People just email me and I say well, here’s how much it is and I’m either free or I’m not and then we do it.

Kyle:  That’s even easier.

McCloud:  It’s incredibly informal, yeah.  It’s really weird.  I should have representation for it.  I have representation for Hollywood, I have representation for my books but when it comes to speaking, I don’t know, I just haven’t found anyone that could do it better.  It’s weird.  So yeah, I just do it all myself.  It’s kind of insane.  Although I will say for the First Second book tour and my European tour, February, March and April, a lot of that is delegated to the individual publisher.

Kyle:  Of course. How do you balance that schedule with your creative time?  Is there a lot of creative time being done in hotel rooms?  How does that work?

McCloud:  We did a lot on hotel rooms last year when we were doing the technical finishes on the book.  In fact, I particularly remember writing the entire book to  – was it a Holiday Inn in St. Louis maybe or someplace, but we were driving west and we’d stopped for the night and I actually had to unpack my Mac Pro and the Cintiq and everything and it was finally done and we were writing – we got kicked out of our room.  So I actually wheeled the Mac Pro out to where the elevators were and Ivy and I were sitting there and while all of these files are being written to a drive, copied to a drive so that we could run to FedEx and send it out.  And we looked like homeless people.  Our dog was with us and all our coats and we looked like we had camped out next to the elevator and were asking for handouts or something.  But all it was was like I had all of this equipment and all of our suitcases just waiting for a file to copy.

Kyle: I’ve never heard of Holiday Inn ever kicking anyone out of a room.

McCloud:  *laughs* They were very sweet, they were very sweet.  We just explained it and – but it was just nuts.  I mean yeah, we’ve had extreme moments like that where it was just really crazy.  But as far as the travel schedule versus the work schedule, I worked 11 hours a day, seven days a week for five years, except for the last year where it was more like 14 hours a day.  And then I would still travel but in a given month, if I do two or three lectures, that’s really only, what, six days lecturing, traveling and lecturing.  So the six days out of 30 is – is that 20%?  So 80% of the time I’m working.  Of course, Ivy always makes fun of me for this, is that I will say “oh yeah, I was working except when I was traveling.”  And she’s like “that’s working too, you know”.  It’s not like when I’m hopping on a plane to give a lecture at Google, it’s not as if that’s not work.  Of course that’s work.  So yeah, I pretty much only work.  But then when the book is done, then we have fun, then we play and that’s what we’re going to do this year.

Harper: Was the publishing deal worked out before the creative process or afterwards?  I know you had the idea obviously, but was this something that you presented to the publisher and then you went from there?  What made First Second the logical choice for that?

McCloud:  Well, we went to four publishers and they were all interested in the book to varying degrees.  And for various reasons, we went with First Second, but one of the most important reasons of all was just talking to Mark Siegel and seeing that they were willing to put a lot of resources behind it but they also had that sensibility where Mark – Mark is kind of unique.  I talked to some real world class editors but Mark has I think the rigorous demanding aesthetic sense of grand, traditional New York 20th century editor while at the same time, also having tremendous chops as an artist and a writer himself. That’s a very unusual combination to find and it turned out to be essential to this particular book, because I really don’t think anybody else could have pulled this story out of me the way that Mark did.

Kyle:  What can your fans expect when you’re on the book tour?  Will you be speaking at all or will you be displaying any excerpts at all from the book itself?

McCloud:  We’re going to be bringing along visuals but for the US tour, the 14 cities in 16 days coming up in February, which’ll probably be this month by the time this goes out.  For those where it’s going to be mostly conScott.McCloudversation format, so I’m going to be in conversation with somebody.  But then I’ll have some visuals standing by so I can show process stuff, I can show excerpts,  I can show art from the book, things like that.  But otherwise, I had suggested that it be conversation format just so that each talk is different.  So if you see me in New York or Chicago or LA, each one of those conversations is going to be different and that way if – for the ones that wind up on the web, they’ll all be their own unique conversation which ought to be a lot of fun.  But there will still be some visuals thrown in.  And I should mention, I’m still doing the full prepared visual lecture thing.  That’ll also be happening and already we have about five more talks in the spring that are slipping in between the cracks, even though I’m also going to six countries.  It’s kind of insane.  We’re doing 14 cities in 16 days followed by England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands, all of it in February, March and April.  But I’ve also managed to slot in talks in Mississippi, Virginia, Ohio and Vermont into that same period and with a couple of others that are about to land as well. Those things that are a bit separate that I’ve arranged for separately, those are going to be the full stand up, hour long visual lecture which has hundreds of images going by very fast and that’s quite a show. These were organized separately, they’re not just a part of the promotional tour, though of course I’ll talk about The Sculptor a little.

Harper: The Sculptor is a dense book and it’s got a lot of really big ideas and themes about art and life and love and all sorts of different things. What do you hope is the key takeaway or the key message that you hope readers pull from it as they’re picking it up?

McCloud:  Well, there will be a lot of talk about the themes and the ambition of the book.  I think a lot of people already are looking at it as a bid for consideration as a big, serious book.  But, my very first goal for the book, and in a lot of ways still my most important goal, is just to create something that is an enjoyable read, that’s a page turner, that has a kind of narrative momentum that just carries you from panel to panel and page to page.  If I can pull that off first and foremost, I’ll be happy.  I want it to be something that people really get into, that’s engrossing, that they can lose themselves in.  And hopefully something that they can find as a rewarding re-read as well.  That’s a lot of stuff in there that I think will become apparent on second reading and third reading.

Kyle: Is this going to mark a trend of more fiction based writing from you or are you going to return to analysis after this?

McCloud:  Actually, my next book will be a nonfiction book and it’s going to be about visual communication and some of the common denominators across different disciplines in terms of visual education.  I feel as if there are common principles to data visualization, information graphics, educational animation, and educational comics.  People in all of these fields I think are knocking on the same door and I think it might be useful to see if I can discern some of the fundamental principles that lie behind all of those disciplines and put them in one work, so that’s the next project.  That’ll also be with First Second Books.

Kyle:  Lastly, where can people find information about the upcoming book tour?  Will that be on First Second’s website or will that be on your website?

McCloud:  It’s on First Second’s website now.  I tweeted about it just the other day and as soon as I’m done with today’s interviews, I am so finally putting up a blog post on my own front page at ScottMcCloud.com and updating my side bar, which is still telling you all about the things I did last year.  By the time people get to hear this, they’ll definitely be up.

You can pick up The Sculptor in book stores or your local comic shop starting February 3rd. 

For those who are so inclined you can also listen to the full audio of the interview below:

Meanwhile in Angoulême: Charlie Hebdo gets special prize; Comixology coverage and just how big is it?

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The 42nd Angoulême International Comics Festival is well underway, wrapping up the second day of exhibits as you read this, and the year is dominated, of course, by the Charlie Hebdo killings. Matthias Wivel is offering on the scene reports, and security is very high for the festival this year the checkpoints and bomb sniffing dogs.

BIZARRO WORLD A rain-drenched Angoulême has been preparing for the annual influx of people from all over the world for weeks, scrambling to take the necessary precautions against possible terrorism. Bomb-sniffing dogs around the Noveau Monde comics tent and body searches with portable metal detectors, backing up visitors at every entrance is the new reality at Angoulême.

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The Charlie Hebdo massacre looms large everywhere, even as people are trying to carry on as usual. The Lewis Trondheim-designed festival mascot appears on the cover of the official program brandishing the ubiquitous JE SUIS CHARLIE sign, while absent festival president Bill Watterson’s delightful official poster, hanging in shop windows around town, reminds one of a (seemingly) more innocent time in comics.

Charlie Hebdo itself has been given a special prize, and the names of those slain loom over the entrance to the festival, a shown in the photo above by Wivel.
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• Comixology is back at FIBD and has a big All Access Angouleme program going on via TwitterTumblr,Facebook, and Google+ channels.

ComiXology, the revolutionary cloud-based digital comics platform, celebrates this year’sAngoulême International Comics Festival with a sale spotlighting comics, bandes dessinées (BD), graphic novels and manga from all over the world from January 29th through February 1st. ComiXology will also be covering the show through their social media channels under the “All Access Angoulême” moniker – giving fans around the world a way to experience the festival. The AngoulêmeInternational Comics Festival takes place in Angoulême, France and runs from January 29th to February 1st.

 

They also have an Angoulême sale going on and just announced a deal to carry Humanoids comics. Both sections reward browsing.
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• LES ROYAUMES DU NORD by Stéphane Melchior and Clément Oubrerie (Aya), an adaptation of Phllip Pullman’s The Golden Compass won the YA prize. I already like it better than the movie.
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• Local resident Jessica Abel has a few tweets of note:


AND she has a new book, Trish Trash! Finally!


And her eating guide in case you haven’t figured out how to buy a crepe.

§ The Sodastream controversy continues, with an open letter signed by 110 cartoonists and allies protesting the sponsorship by the Israeli company that has factories on the West Bank. Festival director Franck Bondoux has responded:

“We are no longer in the same situation as last year,” remarked Bondoux, whom we reached last night. “SodaStream announced in 2014 that the factory under discussion will be moved. This means that the problem is in process of being resolved and has been understood.” The executive director of the festival further believes that the letter “moves into a broader proposal with terminology that goes much farther in its call for a boycott.” “We have moved from a discussion where one speaks of a specific problem to a total generality.” “This is an incitement to a stronger, more militant form of resistance.” Bondoux refuses to “judge” or “comment” if only to say “that in the current situation [reference to Charlie Hebdo and Kosher supermarket attacks], I’m not certain whether this is a time to welcome such proposals.”

But the petition organizers Ethan Heitner (NYC) and Dror Warschawski (Paris) have also responded:

On the eve of the 42nd International Comics Festival in Angoulême, the open letter we have sent to the festival director has more than 110 signatories, including 14 cartoonists having been awarded prizes at Angoulême and 7 Grand Prix laureates.

Additional signatures are still coming in from illustrators outraged by the contempt that Mr Bondoux displays towards them.  Several of them had initially not thought it necessary to sign this letter, feeling that the one sent last year had served as a warning, at a time when Mr Bondoux could plead naivety.  This year, with the facts out in the open, they cannot accept that the art of comics be used to whitewash the crimes of colonization and complicity in war crimes, be it in Angoulême or elsewhere.

Last year Mr Bondoux challenged the truth of the information we had provided and claimed that the Sodastream factory was not situated in territory militarily occupied by Israel since 1967.  This year, without blushing, he declared to the press that “the Sodastream firm announced in 2014 that the factory would be relocated.  The problem is being resolved.” (Sud Ouest newspaper, 23 January 2013).  Firstly, as of now the factory has not been relocated, and Sodastream is still a sponsor of the Angoulême festival.  Secondly, the “problem” is not being resolved and it is now 67 years that the Palestinians have been waiting for a solution.  Finally, cartoonists cannot accept that their art form be exploited by a firm that will, in addition, profit from the expulsion of Palestinian Bedouins in order to install its new factory on their land, and thus participate in the ethnic cleansing policy carried out by the State of Israel.

Mr Bondoux adds that “In the light of current events, I am not sure that such excessive remarks are appropriate”.  We suggest that Mr Bondoux discuss it with Willem, a Charlie Hebdo survivor, Grand Prix laureate in 2013, president of the Angoulême Jury in 2014, and a signatory of the letter.  We also suggest that he speak with the artists to whom his own festival has awarded prizes, and especially with other Grand Prix laureates (Baru, Jean-Claude Mézières, José Muñoz, François Schuiten, Tardi, Lewis Trondheim…).  It is they, rather than Mr Bondoux, who make this festival what it is.  Their voices must be heard, and the Sodastream firm must be driven out of the Angouleme festival.

 

• According to the Matthais Wivel account, China is very much involved as a sponsor in this year’s festival, so you can see cultural clashes of this kind will continue.

• It wouldn’t be an Angoulême without some kind of particularly Gallic controversy, although this year the Hebdo situation has swept most of that aside. Before the fest there was a huge controversy about Bondoux, who actually works for a firm contracted by the festival to put it on, taking aggressive steps to trademark the name of the festival, an event that got everyone’s dander up and forced the Angouleme minister of culture to make a public show of his outrage. Locals tell me that there is a three way battle over the festival between L’Association (no relation to the publisher) which puts it on, 9e Art+, the contractor, and the local government. While this tussle has been put on hold due to the greater events sweeping over the French cartooning community, it hasn’t been solved.

• Finally, this comes from the NY Post of French comics coverage, so add some salt, but along with the above controversy, there have been claims that FIBD (Festival Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême) has inflated it’s attendance figures and does not draw the 200,000 that is claimed. Quelle horreur! A lot of the evidence seems to be based on whether 40,000 is a typo for 400,000, which is flimsy, but there have been other claims about this perviously. Speaking for myself, after actually going I’d guess that 200,000 people don’t all show up every day, but there are more than 50,000 people every day, too. Also, in the rough Google translation, it seems that, SDCC-style, scrutiny is being given to the costs versus the amount spent by attendees, with a study by the local tourism board showing major expenditures: the festival costs € 4.3 million, € 1.9 million of it public money, but brings in € 1.1 million for restaurants and € 0.72 million for hotels, with visitors spending some € 1.42 million (About US$1.6 million.) That actually amounts to….$18 per attendee, so the French may also be a living embodiment of the Single Can of Tuna Theory*.

Bendis on working for Marvel

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On his Tumblr, Brian Micheal Bendis was asked about why he’s stayed with Marvel when so many others have gone 100% creator owned.

Seems like most of the guys from your generation (Fraction, Brubaker, Millar) made a name doing their own stuff, built up a name at one of the big 2, then left to do their own stuff but with a bigger following. What makes you stay on at Marvel? Do you think you always had different goals from the start?


and he pointed out some very good reasons to stay:

Everyone to their own path. 

but it’s weird that I keep being labeled, by some, as just marvel dude because I do produce as much if not more creator owned work as everybody else doing creator owned work. in fact with the powers TV show just a few weeks away I am as involved in the benefits of creator owned then just about anybody on the planet aside from Robert Kirkman. it just so happens that Marvel is also my home for creator owned work and have been publishing powers for over a decade

 but why Marvel? I absolutely love it. I feel an immense honor being  one of the caretakers of these characters that mean so much to so many. my kids are little and all of their friends love the guardians or the avengers and the thrill they feel when they find out I’m somewhat involved is very inspiring.  I am afforded a great deal of freedom to express myself in characters that mean the world to so many.

 so I get the best of both worlds.  why wouldn’t I do both?


You know, there’s nothing wrong with sticking with a job you love, especially when you have a “TV” show coming out that will potentially rewards the fruits of creator-owned labor over many years. Bendis has had one of the most successful careers in comics history, ad having choices is what helped make it so.

Harley Quinn inspires new Hot Topic clothing collection (+giveaway!)

Fandom-inspired fashion certainly isn’t going anywhere; gone are the days of unisex, potato-sack tees as companies like WeLoveFine, Hot Topic and other retailers capitalize on the craze. The latest launch from Hot Topic is one of the most fandom-specific ones I’ve seen. It actually all revolves around a single character: Harley Quinn. And we have some to give away!

Some of these offerings are basically straight-up cosplay fodder, like the Harley suspender leggings and dress:

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Others aim at slightly more subtle/everyday approach, like an argyle cardigan or mesh-sleeve top:

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The collaboration from Warner Bros. Consumer Products and Hot Topic, dubbed Harleen, is available now at a fairly reasonable price point (mostly the $20 – $30 range).

Also, if you’re one of those quizzie types, they’ve launched an app to hook you up with your ideal comics-related companion. While I’m not 100% convinced that the Joker is the right man for me, it’s only a few questions long and comes with a coupon for the gear at the end.

PLUS: Giveaway! You can win a Joker and Harley Quinn Mesh Girls Pullover Top! To enter, tweet “I have mad love for Harley Quinn, @hottopic and @comicsbeat” Prize supplied by Hot Topic, and winner selected in a random drawing. The contest will end Monday, February 2 at noon est. Tweet away!