Home Columns Kibbles 'n' Bits Kibbles ‘n’ Bits — 8/24/09

Kibbles ‘n’ Bits — 8/24/09


We’ve been kind of spotty with our kibbling and bitsing of late, so we’ll try to catch up a little.

§ LINK O’ THE DAY: Yet another reminder that comics are HERE, man, The Washington Post — the WASHINGTON POST asks, of all things, why movies don’t sell more comic books:

But the celebrity dazzle obscured the strange reality: Movies based on comic books often turn into box-office hits, but their sources rarely see a related boost. Why? And why aren’t comics publishers doing more to sell their material to moviegoers when their business has been dampened by the recession?

§ Frank Santoro at Comics Comics reruns an interview from Ben Katchor from 1996, that’s still good.

Santoro: How do you feel about the different media you employ? Right now, you’ve got a weekly strip in many national newspapers, and you’ve begun doing short radio segments for NPR based on your Julius Knipl strips.

Katchor: Well, there are things you can do in comics, I suppose, that you can’t do in these other forms, and vice versa. So hopefully you should be doing what you’re supposed to be doing in each medium. There are things that you don’t…I guess you could draw certain kinds of textures and certain ephemeral light effects, but in a way then you are sort of approaching the power of photography. The picture that would result would be very…well, at least not the kind of picture I would want to make by drawing. Drawing is a more, y’know, shorthand reference to hw things look. There are certain limitations, but I guess they’re more imposed by my taste. You could draw anything…I suppose. But it wouldn’t…

§ Johanna Draper Carlson looks at a WSJ article on motion comics from 2008, and wonders why everyone is getting into them so much — the article suggests that because motion comics are sold on iTunes it represents a way to actually get people to pay for something for a change. But…

So is this the future of comics, or just another stunted branch of experimentation? (That many of these efforts are only available in the U.S. may affect the answer.) Have you watched a motion comic? Would you want to? Does your answer change depending on price?

Our answer: Someday there will be a D.W. Griffith of motion comics. When that day arrives, please let us know and we’ll race on over.

§ Tom Mason unearths job postings at DC and, in a separate piece, Viz, Disney, and Hastings. Don’t everyone send in their resume at once.

§ George Gene Gustines talks to Chip Kidd about cover design.

… and to Josh Neufeld about his new Katrina comic.

The winding road leading to the New Orleans novel began when Mr. Neufeld signed up to work with the Red Cross after the hurricane hit, serving as a disaster response worker in Biloxi, Miss., for almost a month. He said the catalyst for volunteering was 9/11. “Having been in New York when the towers fell, I remember that overwhelming feeling of helplessness and displaced anger,” he said. “When Katrina hit, I saw what was happening, and I realized that I, as a single person, could somehow help.” Mr. Neufeld blogged about his experience and self-published a collection of his dispatches called “Katrina Came Calling.” That book got into the hands of Jeff Newelt, the comics editor for Smith, an online magazine (smithmag.net) with a focus on personal narratives.

§ Over at Comixology, Jason Thompson looks at one genre that ISN’T wildly popular in Japan:

Traditionally, Japan is not known for autobiographical comics. True, Frederik Schodt singled several out in Dreamland Japan, and the works of Hideo Azuma (Disappearance Diary), Kazuichi Hanawa (Doing Time) and Yoshihiro Tatsumi (A Drifting Life) have been acclaimed both in Japan and overseas. But European and American comic artists—Harvey Pekar, Robert Crumb, Marjane Satrapi, Ariel Schrag—produce, proportionally, more and more-acclaimed autobiographical works.

  1. Whenever a movie is based on a comic we see the inevitable article about how the film does or doesn’t effect book sales (though this seems to reflect only on super hero comic adaptations more so then comics in general).

    Has anyone ever done a breakdown of prose book sales when they’re adapted for the big screen? Books have been turned into films for decades, it’s a normal practice, but with the exceptions of the REALLY well known adaptations like Gone With the Wind or the most recent Harry Potter films, does the normal prose adaptation effect it’s book source sales at all?

  2. It’s not the same thing though is it? Books are sold on the high street and comic books are sold in the local gimp shop.

  3. I know that they did a whole bunch of James Bond novel reissues when Casino Royale came out to reboot the movie franchise, but I saw almost the complete set in the local Borders’ remainder bin about 2-3 months afterwards.

    I think that there are some characters who have moved from their original medium into film, TV, and other media so successfully that the original medium is essentially separate from the others. I’d put James Bond, Tarzan, and a lot of comic book superheroes on that list, since I would bet that a majority of people today who have seen a movie or TV show of those characters has never read the original source material. In contrast, Harry Potter has not made that leap — he is still a literary character, first and foremost. I expect he never will since J.K. Rowling keeps such tight control over the character.

    I’m still not quite sure what this means for a character, other than that you shouldn’t expect an uptick in book sales because a new movie is coming out.

  4. “Books have been turned into films for decades, it’s a normal practice, but with the exceptions of the REALLY well known adaptations like Gone With the Wind or the most recent Harry Potter films, does the normal prose adaptation effect it’s book source sales at all?”

    For what it’s worth, a recentish USA Today article (http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2009-08-05-book-buzz_N.htm ) talked about various books that came to top their book bestseller list when the related movies were released. The article mentions the perhaps-obvious TWILIGHT, but also THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE and MY SISTER’S KEEPER, as well as the then-forthcoming-to-theatres JULE & JULIA.

    And the JULIE & JULIA film seems to have caused Julia Childs’ classic cookbook “MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING” to uptick in sales significantly (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/24/business/24julia.html ), so it seems that there are plenty of examples of film adaptations of “real” books indeed boosting the sales of their bookish source material.

  5. Reading comics is reading, and reading requires more time and patience than does watching a film. Some people just don’t like to read. Other people go to the movies for all the trappings surrounding the film– story and technique regardless– they like the coming attractions, the anticipation of the film starting, the sense of shared experience, the popcorn and twizzlers– reading is a solitary experience.

    I also suspect a lot of people go see a “comic book movie” for the spectacle and the movie star– regardless of source material. It’s always been my contention that comics work best in film adaptation when the stories are perceived as science fiction or fantasy.

  6. Richard, Charles…. From the point of view of a Barnes & Noble bookseller:

    For prose novels (and prose nonfiction), yes it does. “I Am Legend” began selling a year or so before the film was released. Even when the film is a dog, like “Love in the Time of Cholera”, sales increase. Why?
    Adair’s Law of Movie Tie-Ins: Even if a movie adaptation is horrible, people will still buy the book. Audiences know that the book was good enough for a movie studio to invest tens of millions of dollars in producing the movie.

    The movie also acts as a commercial for the book. This is why most bookstores will prominently feature/merchandise books adapted into movies. Heck, this is also the reason why original movies get adapted into paperbacks, like “The Dark Knight”, which made the NY Times mass-market bestseller list last year.

    “The Time Traveller’s Wife” is a good title to study. Just released, the sales should spike then return to normal sales levels.

    With graphic novels, if the movie is adapted DIRECTLY from a graphic novel (American Splendor, Persepolis, Road to Perdition, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Watchmen, 300) then sales do increase. When it is adapted from a character (Spider-Man, Iron Man, Batman, Superman), sales are less likely. DC did have great success last summer with The Dark Knight, as a spike was seen in the notable backlist (Year One, Dark Knight Returns, Killing Joke). DC also published an original graphic novel based on the movie version of The Joker, and had great success selling that hardcover edition.

    Having worked at a B&N frequented by tourists (Lincoln Center), the same holds true for Broadway musicals such as Wicked.

    Publishers Weekly does publish ballpark figures in their annual review. One can cross-reference those sales figures with movie releases.

  7. As far as superhero adaptations go, I would say the lack of a uptick in comic sales is at least partly because the corresponding comic doesn’t exist. Superhero movies are Reader’s Digest versions of decades worth of storylines, costumes, characters, reboots, retcons, etc, etc. Watchmen certainly did all right for book sales (in spite of the movie not doing as well as expected) because it’s available in a nice, neat and tidy 12 issue package down at your local bookstore or from Amazon. You don’t have to ask your local comic book guy (if you even have a comic book shop in your town) to explain the two dozen comic arcs that spawned the various subplots and characters in the movie, lest you pick up the “wrong” issue of Spider-Man/Batman/X-Men and then find yourself confused and frustrated because it has no relationship to the movie.

    I’ll bet a “movie adaptation” comic would sell like hot-cakes though. Sad, but likely true.

  8. When DC and Marvel put these movies out, they should put together a nicely packaged digest of relevant storylines (even if only first chapters), with an introduction by the film’s director on which books he referenced, and maybe some commentary from the actors.

    If they’ve done this already, pardon me, as I don’t follow superhero stuff (but my dad is a huge fan of the movies and I would buy such a book for him). If they haven’t done this, let me know and I’ll tell them where they can send me my cut for my brilliant idea.

  9. Maija… Marvel tried this with Spider-Man 3, publishing anthologies of Sandman and Venom stories. They didn’t sell well in my store. DC’s backlist strategy was more effective. “No, we don’t have the book the movie was based on, but here are some excellent Batman books that are highly recommended.”

    Graphic novel adaptations of original movies do not generally sell (Beowulf is a recent example). One, the writer and artist are adapting the screenplay, not the final edited film. (This is a problem with prose adaptations as well.) Also, there are action sequences in the movie which do not translate well due to static comics images. (Dennis O’Neil comments on this in his excellent book, The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics.)

    Marvel Comics Super Specials were created to test if series were popular enough to continue into regular series. Each Super Special was usually also released as a limited series.

  10. So would the D.W. Griffith of Motion Comics be an *animator*? If Miyazaki worked on the Spider-Woman motion comic it would just be a terrible cartoon.

  11. “Movies based on comic books often turn into box-office hits, but their sources rarely see a related boost.”

    Imho movies help comics very much.

    Some numbers:
    The Dark Knight Returns
    9.200 copies sold in 2003 (bookstores)
    7.720 in 2004
    17.761 in 2005
    15.689 in 2006

    Batman the Long Halloween
    7.419 in 2003 (bookstores)
    4.957 in 2004
    12.777 in 2005
    11.591 in 2006

    Batman Begins was released on October 2005.

    V for Vendetta was released on March 2006.
    In 2006 V for Vendetta sold 117.759 copies:
    – 79.907: softcover (bookstores)
    – 5.992: hardcover (bookstores)
    – 31.860: Diamond

    Sin City in 2005 sold near 300.000 copies:
    1. 79.721 copie (50.457 bookstores + 29.264 comic shops)
    2. 55.801 (33.742+22.059)
    3. 45.253 (27.379+17874)
    4. 34.301 (25.798+8.503)
    5. 29.722 (19.374+10.348)
    6. 30.227 (16.440+13.787)
    7. 21.726 (12.523+9.203).

    Sorry for the “.” instead of “,” but in Italy we use the dot and this is a copy and paste.

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