I’m running a small experiment. Would you please take a few seconds to fill in this quick poll?
What new comics coming out this week are you most excited about? You can select up to three.
I will publish the results tomorrow. Thanks!
In Dark Horse Presents #4 (November 2014), publisher and editor Mike Richardson writes:
Comics in the 21st century
For those of us who love comics, this is an exciting time. Our homegrown industry (yes, comics is one of the few original American art forms) is enjoying newfound success. While the traditional comic book may have seen its sales dwindle over the last few decades, we now seem to be experiencing a reversal in that trend at the same time that graphic novels have become more popular than ever. What’s more, the industry has enjoyed a marked increase in the number of its distribution channels, with digital comics leading the way: sales as high as $90 million were reported in 2013. The New York Times has speculated that digital distribution may, in fact, be bringing customers into bookstores rather than siphoning them away. According to Publishers Weekly, sales of comic books and graphic novels generated $870 million last year, the biggest number since 1993. Finally, comics are being noticed as never before, not just in this country, but around the world. September was Comic Book Month in faraway Auckland, with libraries throughout New Zealand taking part. Expanded distribution and availability, a new literacy in the form, and a growing respect for comic books in general are all adding up to a great future for our beloved four-colour medium.
Sales are healthy, and that’s great. I just hope this means we aren’t headed for another crash.
Unlike the early 90s, there is a more quality, creativity and variety in books today. And, yes, Marvel and DC aren’t playing the exact same game when it comes to boosting single copy sales. But it’s arguable whether malaise among longtime readers of mainstream hero books is also on the rise fed by the tricks of those two publishers.
(I haven’t read Death of Wolverine, but I hear Logan is already coming back – even if Wolverine is not, technically, at least for now…)
I’m currently reading Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics The Untold Story.
It’s still early in the book: we’re only in the 60s, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man had just been introduced. Artists like Jack Kirby are scrappy in the ways they make a buck. There have been a few ups and downs, hirings and firings according to the vagaries of the publishing industry and a fickle reading audience, the economy and a government witch hunt — but it’s still the heady days of comics when you consider what’s around the corner.
Howe hasn’t tackled anything terribly controversial so far. Stan “The Man” Lee is depicted very much as the guy always looking for an opportunity or an angle, but also the one who makes sure everything gets done. He knows how to craft a story — whether the narrative featuring monsters or spandex between the covers or concocting the Marvel Bullpen. He’s a creative and marketing genius in the making.
Fast forward to today. We’re a few days away from Fan Expo Canada in Toronto where the comic industry pioneer is a featured guest after some 70s years in business.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail‘s Courtney Shea, Lee shares four secrets to his success in the entertainment industry.
(The lovely illustration at the top of today’s article is by Camilla d’Errico)
The job you’re meant for may not be the one you apply for
A lot of my early career came down to luck. I applied to a magazine company to work as a writer – I didn’t even know they made comics. I started off as an office boy, getting lunch for the two guys that I worked for – I’d bring them up a sandwich, I’d erase pages. After a while, they let me try writing copy and it turned out I was kind of good at it. That was a different time, though. There weren’t really any great writers in the business. Almost anybody who could put a few words together could write a comic strip. It got harder and harder over the years, but lucky for me, I was already there.
Don’t listen to the poo-poo-ers
It has been really rewarding to see the reputation of comics change over the years. When I was starting out, most parents didn’t even want their kids to read comics. They were really considered junk. Today, some of the finest screenwriters in the world are working on comic book stories. I don’t want to sound like a name-dropper, but I was once talking to Steven Spielberg and he said to me, “You know Stan, you and I do pretty much the same thing except my pictures move.”
The corner office isn’t for everyone
When they made me the president of Marvel [in 1972], I was suddenly involved in the business end – all sorts of financial decisions – and I realized pretty quickly that it really wasn’t my thing, and I wasn’t any good at it. I was asked to provide a five-year plan for where the company was heading. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m going to have for dinner tonight! I decided to step down. It was a lesson in knowing your strengths.
The secret to loving your boss
It’s easy for me to decide which projects I’m going to get involved in because I come up with almost all of the projects I work on, and since I’m my own biggest fan I like almost everything I do! I have always valued freedom in my career and I’ve been lucky to have quite a lot of it, though I guess you could say that the drawback is that if something goes wrong, there’s no one to blame but me.
Digging through the long boxes a few weeks ago, I came across Nonplayer #1 and wondered what was happening with the second issue, why the delay?
The short answer: life happened. Like all too many personal projects, Nonplayer took a back seat to creator Nate Simpson’s work and family life. But apparently issue #2 is nearly complete.
For those unfamiliar, here is a brief description of the book:
The future kind of sucks, and that goes double for Dana Stevens – she’s stuck in a dead-end tamale delivery job, and she’s way too old to be living with her mom. But in the online fantasy world of Jarvath, she’s an elite warrior. When she slays the wife of celebrity game character King Heremoth, her fame seems all but guaranteed – that is, until the game spins totally out of control.
The first issue, released in April 2011, earned tons of acclaim. Simpson even won the Russ Manning “Promising Newcomer” Award at the Eisner Awards in 2011. High praise for someone who has only put out one issue of a comic. You can buy a digital version of it here to read what people were talking about.
So what happened in the last two-plus years to delay issue #2?
To be fair, Simpson was forthright from the beginning, this series (intended as a six-part mini) was going to roll out slowly. But between then and now, two things happened as Nate writes on his website:
As a result, Nate has stumbled upon one of the harsh realities of new parenthood the rest of us have also learned:
The last several months have been a blur of diaper changes and burping accidents — it’s weird how early parenthood compresses the flow of time.
Anyone who is a parent knows having a baby is like taking on a second full-time job especially in the beginning. But it gets better eventually. Comic Book Junkie progresses in fits and starts due to competing priorities in my work and family life. But I find oases of time to punch out a few articles. I can’t imaging what it must be like tackling a big project like a full-length comic.
On the plus side, Nate is nearing completion of the next issue.
I am making steady progress and nearing a big milestone, and I hope that things will accelerate a bit after I cross that threshold. I have showed the unfinished book to a few people now, and the reaction seems pretty positive.
But here is a real reality check he’s struggling with:
As far as what happens after #2 comes out — to be honest, I have no idea. It is not easy to find time to work on the book. When I think that I’ve got five more issues to go, and I multiply that number by the number of years I’ve spent on the current issue, it’s hard not to despair. Faced with this yawning abyss, all I can do is focus on getting this issue done in the hopes that its arrival may trigger some miraculous reordering of my work situation.
I wouldn’t blame Nate if he were to shelve the project for a few years until he can reclaim some free time to focus on the comic, especially if he and his partner are thinking of having a second baby.
But let’s hope he can find time to squeeze out at least another issue or two. I am eager to see where this is going.
(“Famous Alexanders” by Kate Beaton)
Here’s is the second collection of highlights from interviews with Canadian cartoonists under the CBC’s Canada Writers banner:
Canada Writes is talking to some of Canada’s best known cartoonists and graphic novelists on the different techniques, challenges, and advantages of working with both text and drawings.
What characteristics make a manuscript jump out of the slush pile?We never, ever read scripts. We like to read fully formed comics. We mostly prefer to see mini-comics or pamphlets to truly read the cartoonist’s storytelling abilities. For us the art and the words are one, and reading a script gives us no idea if we will like a comic. Most of the submissions that come to the office aren’t in tune with our mission, it is more like the artist got out name off a website of comic publishers. We have published submissions, though, notably from Keith Jones of Toronto and Brecht Evens of Belgium. And reactions to their submissions were immediate. We received the package, opened it, were completely floored by their ability and immediately made plans to publish them. Otherwise, we rely on shows like TCAF in Toronto, Expozine in Montreal and SPX in Bethesda MD to look for new artists with new minicomics. (Minicomics are self-published comics, similar to zines.)
Speaking of Kate Beaton, here she offers a few words about making comics. The widespread attention to her work beyond comic circles has a lot to do with her subject matter: putting a humorous spin on historical and literary figures. But I have one good friend who considers Beaton’s cartoons to be chauvinistic, and I think she’s partly right.
Here Beaton describes her creative process:
My process, when I do the historical comics, is a lot of research. Read about a subject until you know it inside and out as best you can, then write the jokes about it. It’s like getting so close to your best friend that you feel like you can rib them about something, and really nail it, but not in a mean way. I think it’s easy to be crass and make a mean joke, and I’m guilty of that too sometimes, but I would rather be clever and make an insightful joke, if I can. I doodle as I research and use those drawings to inform the final drawings for the comics, but on the whole, my process for drawing the comics themselves is pretty loose and simple.
Check out the rest of the interview for her artists influences and advice for aspiring comic creators.
What are some of the advantages of working with text and drawings vs. just text? What do you think that this genre can do that text-only genres can’t?
There are certainly many advantages to working with text and drawings, especially in satire. I enjoy using the first-person soapy narrative, juxtaposed with the grim and ironic imagery to create the sense of naiveté or wishful thinking. In other words, my drawings do illustrate the narrative but not the sentiment or the yearning of the narrator. My characters are often ignorant of the true nature of their circumstance—this knowledge is reserved for the reader alone, who gets to experience the story through both the images and the narrative.This way the reader becomes an integral part of the story, a true witness, and their absence makes the story incomplete.