Home Culture Commentary Briefs & Boxers! 06/23/10

Briefs & Boxers! 06/23/10


o “The Reed-Thin Coach of Germany Looks Like an Early Sketch From Coraline.”

As I’m writing this, the United States and England are, both but independently, fighting to make it to the knockouts, the French have disintegrated spectacularly and it’s not clear yet at all whether Germany, Spain and Italy, all considered top contenders, will survive the group stage. It’s the World Cup, of course.

I greatly enjoyed Brian Phillips’s Slate piece on international soccer managers, appropriately titled “World Cup Weirdos.” It’s a spot-on observation of one of the most underrated and most appealing aspects of the tournament, and it actually makes me want to watch a good TV show dealing with the ongoing drama faced by the likes of Domenech, Eriksson, Capello or Löw.

Apropos of nothing, it occurs to me that Diego Maradona, in his latest incarnation, bears an uncanny resemblance to German comics mascot Mecki.

o “Gain New Readership, Regain Lapsed Readers and Solidify Current Fans”

The North American comics market is suddenly a vastly more interesting place than it was a week ago. As Rich Johnston reports and investigates at Bleeding Cool, there’s a new major player in the direct market: The retail chain Hastings is planning to open extensive comic-book sections in about 150 of its stores.

Johnston provides an in-detail interview with Hastings representative James Parker, who is set to be in charge of the company’s comics program. Basically, what they’re offering seems a lot like what most existing comics stores are offering—except, of course, that we’re looking at a very different set of resources here.

The comics specialty retailers Johnston talks to about the news nicely cover the spectrum of opportunities and challenges involved for Hastings and its competitors. Mainly, what sticks out in the article are the different perspectives on what “the comics business” means: Parker talks about how he’s been “collecting” comics and retailer Chris Powell refers to comics as a “hobby”; retailer Rick Shea, on the other hand, points out that films based on “stand-alone” properties, like Kick-Ass and Watchmen, tend to drive more people into his store than ones based on more “fragmented” comics franchises, like Iron Man 2 and Batman.

What this suggests, I think, is that there are three largely separate major audiences for print comics in the U.S.: one each for “manga” and “graphic novels,” which both tend to view their comics as pieces entertainment and buy them where they buy other pieces of entertainment; and one for “comic books,” which tends to view its comics as a hobby and buy them at comic-book stores.

And Hastings is specifically aiming at the latter with this program, which seems noteworthy all of itself.

(And that’s for print comics, mind you. Given that all the major comic-book publishers—hello, DC Comics—now have working, potentially prosperous digital delivery systems for their output in place, we could be looking at a fourth “largely separate” major audience within a few years.)

o “We Wanted to Give Them Every Opportunity”

Kiel Phegley’s conversation with DC Comics publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio is a riot, for a number of reasons. Heidi, Sean T. Collins and Sean T. Collins point to, and comment on, some of the juicier parts.

One of the most funny bits comes from DiDio, not unexpectedly:

“If you look at our line now, some of our lower sellers are books we took risks on: The Great Ten and Magog or The Shield and The Web. These are things that don’t come pre-sold like Superman or Batman, but we wanted to give them every opportunity because it helped diversify and spread out our line.”

He means every opportunity except the ones that involve such minor concerns as focused promotion, a supportive publishing strategy involving a prominent position in the company’s overall line-up that gives books like these any room at all to breathe in the marketplace, or generating confidence in your product by publishing the 10th issue of a 10-issue miniseries, of course.

On another note, I’m fairly nonplussed by the way DC and a lot of industry observers tend to look at the properties that have come to be associated with Vertigo. Why on Earth should it pose a problem to have the Swamp Thing show up in DC Universe comics while also being the star of his own, competely self-sufficient Vertigo title? Marvel have been doing it for years with the Punisher.

o “If Cry for Justice Was on Facebook, It Would Be De-Friended”

Meet the first title in comic-book history whose awfulness causes revilement on such a universal scale that even The New York Times takes note.

o “The Man-on-the-Street’s Perspective”

Out this week in comics shops across America are two recommended comics by writer Kurt Busiek, in new packages.

The first (link above) is a hardback collection of the six-part Marvels: Eye of the Camera, drawn by Jay Anacleto; it’s the sequel to Marvels, the 1994 series with artist Alex Ross that was Busiek’s mainstream breakthrough. The other is a $ 1.00 reprint of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City #1; originally published in 1995, this issue marks the start of Busiek’s creator-owned series with art by Brent E. Anderson and covers by Marvels collaborator Ross.

What Marvels and Astro City have in common is their approach to superhero comics. Unlike most of the genre material that’s been published since the late 1960s at least, they don’t take superheroes and their conventions for granted. Rather, Busiek’s angle—in both Marvels volumes and in each new Astro City story—is to imagine what it would be like to see them for the first time, every time, and always keep them grounded in concerns shared by actual, nonfictional, living and breathing human beings.

The result have been some tremendously compelling stories that show a clear appreciation of the thrills associated with the superhero genre, but that reach well beyond them, in a way that makes Busiek one of the most literary and universally accessible American comics writers. So here’s your chance to catch up.

Marc-Oliver Frisch writes about comics at his weblog and at Comicgate. You can also follow him on Twitter.

  1. You can actually start just about anywhere — I’d love to get the first issue from each book collection online for free (and hey, now that DC’s doing digital, maybe we should talk about that) — but for all that there are a lot of good starting places, there’s probably none better than the very first issue.

    And that’s the one they’re selling for a buck!

  2. Well, I enjoyed the stuffing out of Marvels and JLA/Avengers, so I’ll pick this up. That would be cool to offer the first issues for free, not a bad model to get new readers (also the first issue for a buck isn’t bad either)

  3. “On another note, I’m fairly nonplussed by the way DC and a lot of industry observers tend to look at the properties that have come to be associated with Vertigo. Why on Earth should it pose a problem to have the Swamp Thing show up in DC Universe comics while also being the star of his own, competely self-sufficient Vertigo title? Marvel have been doing it for years with the Punisher.”

    Easy enough. The mandate has been – if it’s published by Vertigo, it can’t show up at DC. Which is usually not the case the other way around as in the Madame Xanadu series or when Zatanna showed up in the Hunter Age of Magic series.

    In other words, you’re assuming that DC/Vertigo is run the same way as Marvel/Icon. Which it isn’t. Maybe TPTB at Vertigo didn’t want the characters elsewhere – why put it at DC’s feet? So much for your own “industry observation”.

  4. Whew, with talk like this, directly from Busiek and now someone saying it’s one of the best comics they read, hell, I might just buy the trade :)

  5. “You can actually start just about anywhere…”

    As great as the first issue is, I can’t recommend high enough the Astro City Special #1, starring the Samaritan and his arch-enemy Infidel.

    Probably one of the top five comics I’ve ever read.

  6. “why put it at DC’s feet?”

    —cause Marc is pretending once again that he has an insight into how DC/comic publishing runs.

  7. Not to argue with the President of the Internet, or with Mr. Engblom, but if DC really wants to publish the one issue of Astro City which would appeal to the new reader, then they should reprint Astro City #1/2, “The Nearness of You”.

    Of course, everything else is downhill from there (although on a very gentle slope, somewhat like the Guggenheim).

  8. We had the #1/2 issue online for free for a while, and it had been printed twice, a year or so apart, so it’s been used in that manner. And hopefully it’s not the only story we can use for outreach.

    I’d like to get that one online for free again (and I did suggest it to my editor today), but I wouldn’t mind rotating the honors. Maybe next time doing vol. 2 #1 (“Welcome to Astro City”) as a cheapie or freebie, or vol. 1 #4 (“New Kid in Town”) or Local Heroes #1, and so on.

    I’d like to make it as easy as possible to sample a variety of issues, and get drawn in…


  9. I’m not a big superhero reader. In fact, I can barely tolerate most superhero comics. However, Astro City truly is phenomenal stuff. It’s easily one of the best comic series of all time. I think the book is a shining example Mr. Busiek should be regarded in the Pantheon with other greats like Moore, Miller, and Gaiman.

  10. The owner of the comics shop where I buy my books bought 200 copies of the Astro City #1 reprint. As he rang up my purchase and began to sing the series’ praises, I told him I already had the original #1. “Give this to someone then,” he suggested, slipping a copy into my bag, uncharged.

  11. I’ll also vouch for Astro City’s greatness. It took a bit to grow on me though. At first I just thought it was Kurt’s different take on the Big Two’s superhero characters, but it quickly turns into awesome comics that’s like 10,000 times smarter than whatever the big 2 are publishing.

  12. I am mostly a Marvel reader, but i consider Astro City to be the best comic on the market. The first issue is really good, but as Mark said, the special featuring Samaritan is just amazing, one of the best single comics i have read.

  13. Man, there are enough bits of glowing praise in this thread for the next 10 Astro City trades. =^)

    Mark, I totally agree about the Samaritan special, and Torsten, the #1/2 issue is also one of my absolute favorite comics (Astro City or otherwise). As amazing as #1/2 is, though, I’d argue that either #1 of the regular series or the Samaritan special give a bit more of the feel of what the series as a whole is like. Still, as long as someone reads even a bit of Astro City, they’re bound to be hooked.

  14. “… but as Mark said, the special featuring Samaritan is just amazing…”,/b>

    After recommending it yesterday, I couldn’t resist re-reading it last night. Wow…just as good as I remembered.

    Kurt: Since I have the opportunity to ask you, do you have any reflections on Astro City Special #1 you’d care to share, specifically the character of Infidel?

    On one hand, he’s obviously a tribute of sorts to the uber-genius villain tradition…but he was such a vivid, fascinating character, I get the feeling there’s more to his creation than simply that.

    I’m hoping you have more plans for him (as the ending of the story implied).

  15. Mark — actually, the creation of Infidel kinda sorta happened in public, in the WIZARD DARK BOOK ’98. They asked Alex and me to do something about villains, so we created Infidel, as a means of (a) discussing what makes great villains great (b) showing our working process and (c) winding up with a new character we could use. We taped our conversations as we worked out the character, and then they were transcribed, edited and presented along with Alex’s design sketches.

    There was a lot that didn’t make it into the DARK BOOK, of course, and somewhere I have the whole unedited transcript of his creation, and will eventually put it up at my website, to make people’s eyes glaze over. But in the meantime, the DARK BOOK ’98 probably has more of what you want than I could get into a post here.

    As for more Infidel in the future, anything’s possible — but since it took eight years from the time Infidel was created to the time he actually appeared in a story, I make no promises as to how soon he might show up.

  16. Thanks for the insights, Kurt. Whenever you’re ready to do another Infidel story, I’ll be there…and even if it’s not to be, thanks for creating such an instantly-fascinating and unforgettable character.

  17. Wow…
    a major bookstore chain,
    located in smaller markets not usually served by comics shops,
    decides to set up mini comics shops in most of their stores,
    and hardly anyone notices.

    Geeze… a national chain of comics shops, the big dream of fans everywhere, and “meh”.

  18. All of the single issues are great…
    I think Leo’s story has great crossover potential, as well as Beautie’s.

    Hey… no rush… but when can we see an “Absolute Astro City” collection?

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