A Plea from a Comic Retailer regarding the Disney/Lucasfilm merger…

It seems most people are happy about the merger, and think that Disney has done right by the properties it has acquired. But apparently, according to the owners of Toronto’s Beguiling comic book store, this isn’t entirely so…

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Editorial: Keep the Star Wars comic books at Dark Horse, please.

Posted Wednesday, October 31, 2012

We don’t normally write editorials like this on our blog, preferring to remain more ‘comics agnostic’ when it comes to genre publishers, but we felt we should say something.

Marvel’s acquisition of the Disney/Pixar license for comics has potentially cost us thousands of dollars since January 2011.

Marvel Comics has drastically reduced the publication of Pixar and Disney Comics titles since the rights were pulled back from BOOM Studios almost two years ago following Disney’s purchase of Marvel. With today’s purchase of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars property by Disney, we would greatly appreciate it if Disney, Marvel, and Lucasfilm could just lead the Star Wars properties alone, and with Dark Horse. Dark Horse is doing a fine job with this material, working hard to keep it in print at various price points and in various formats. Putting the Star Wars comics at Marvel will hurt our bottom line, and we believe the bottom line of all direct market comics retailers.

Briefly: At the height of production, BOOM! Studios had been publishing as many as 10 comics a month featuring the Pixar and Disney characters. During their tenure with the license from January 2009 through December 2010 (2 years), they produced roughly 200 comics, and more than 30 trade paperbacks of that material. We don’t normally share numbers, but here goes: we were ordering between 10 and 15 copies of each issue, and 75 and 200 of each trade paperback, to be distributed through retail and specialty channels.

In the two years since Marvel acquired the license (January 2011-December 2012), they will have produced approximately 8 comic books, 8 magazines, and near as we can tell, 4 graphic novels (only 2 in 2012). Some of that was reprints of BOOM! comics. Some of that was reprints of Dark Horse Comics from a few years back. I should also note that it’s difficult for us to be sure about these, as there is not a dedicated Disney/Pixar section on the Marvel website after two years.

What you’re seeing there is a 90% drop in production on highly salable product. Books with international name recognition that we were selling a ton of, and those sales basically evaporated.

Now lets talk about Dark Horse.

Dark Horse is producing 4-5 comics based on the Star Wars franchise every month. Dark Horse is producing trade paperbacks of that material, omnibuses of that material, reprints of that material. Quite a bit of that material. We’d say probably 10-12 new trade paperbacks a year, 4-5 reprints. We’re worried, and I think justifiably so, that Marvel will do to the Star Wars license what they’ve done to the Pixar license, and just take hundreds of salable comics and dozens of salable trade paperbacks out of the market, to be replaced by… nothing.

Or rather, 4 comic books, 4 magazines, and 2 trade paperbacks per year, which is almost worse than nothing.

No specific disrespect to Marvel is intended with this message, they publish superheroes very well. Unfortunately they have elected not to publish Disney/Pixar comics despite having the license to do so, and made us (and quite a few fans) unhappy in the process. We’re just saying: don’t fix what isn’t broken. Let Marvel continue to publish superheroes, and let comics retailers and the book market continue to sell Star Wars comics. Particularly since we’ve been so badly deprived of Disney/Pixar comics, over the past 2 years.

Sincerely,

The Staff of The Beguiling

via http://www.beguiling.com/index.php 

Do American Comics still mean Superhero Comics?

My friend Don C. proposed an interesting theory to me last night when we were talking, he said that in his educated opinion (and he does know a lot about comics) the age of the Superhero Comic in North America was finished. That while there are still Superhero comics being sold, their future is as limited as their sales. (In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Marvel Comics were selling close to a million copies per title for their top tier, now they sell close to a million comics for their entire lineups!)

His thesis is that although it hasn’t become clear yet, Manga won. Not just in terms of sales, but in terms of being the comic form that captured the imaginations of the next generation of readers and creators. He sees superhero comics are largely running on inertia and nostalgia, and thinks that while they won’t disappear, that superhero comics will be a smaller and smaller piece of the North American comics landscape.

Now, this doesn’t mean all comics will become Manga, or even manga-wannabes (although the market does have a fair amount of both), but it does mean that a generation that sees comics as an open art form that can tell many different kinds of stories is now rising up. I myself agreed with this thesis when I thought about the current webcomics market. Those are the next generation of comic creators, and they’re producing slice of life, comedy, romance, drama, fantasy, sci-fi, and a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t fit into any one genre, but they’re not producing much in the way of superhero books.

Right now, part of the reason we’re seeing so much in the way of superhero movies is because the current generation (my generation) grew up in the great Bronze Age revival of Superheroes in the 70s and 80s. They’re the ones ruling the Hollywood roost, and they’re drawing from their formative reading years in what they’re producing. The upcoming generation grew up on Harry Potter and Manga, so what will they produce when they rule in the roost in 10 to 15? And will Superheroes still hold a place in that world?

While I love superheroes, I have to admit that for a long time I think they’ve been the thing holding back Comics as an art form in North America. Only superhero books seemed to sell, so that’s mostly what got produced, and people came to associate comics with superheros so tightly that I think it was hard to differentiate the two. Given that superhero books are inherently 14 year old power fantasies, it’s been hard for comics to break out of the ghetto society has placed them in. It will only be when we break the comic=superhero link that the art form of Comic Books will truly flourish and they will become an accepted medium in society as a whole.

As Don suggested, that may have already happened. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Rob

CGI Animated Marvel Superheroes video from 2008

The significance of plot without conflict – still eating oranges

The necessity of conflict is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet “guides” to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general—arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? Does plot necessarily hinge on conflict? No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity. For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict “built in”, so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kishōtenketsu.

Kishōtenketsu contains four acts: introduction, development, twist and reconciliation. The basics of the story—characters, setting, etc.—are established in the first act and developed in the second. No major changes occur until the third act, in which a new, often surprising element is introduced. The third act is the core of the plot, and it may be thought of as a kind of structural non sequitur. The fourth act draws a conclusion from the contrast between the first two “straight” acts and the disconnected third, thereby reconciling them into a coherent whole. Kishōtenketsu is probably best known to Westerners as the structure of Japanese yonkoma (four-panel) manga; and, with this in mind, our artist has kindly provided a simple comic to illustrate the concept.

Fascinating idea. Although I wonder if what works for a Kishotenketsu in short comic form works as well for a longer work?

Also, I wonder about the claim that Kishotenketsu are really without conflict. The chaotic element is an element of conflict that is still resolved. Kishotenketsu seem to run like a formula:

A is true. (Panel 1+2)

B is also true.(Panel 3)

This is how A + B (which are in conflict) resolve. (Panel 4)

Is there not still a plot of conflict and resolution there? The only difference is that the result tends to be co-operative rather than a single side achieving victory. It’s not the 3 act structure, but it is still a plot centered around conflict. Therefore, claims of the Kishotenketsu form being without conflict are untrue. At least this is how I see it.

via The significance of plot without conflict – still eating oranges.

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Season 2 Thoughts

Thanks to Australia airing Season 2 of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes at a rate of 4/week instead of 1/week like North American TV, I’ve just finished watching the second (and sadly last) season of Avengers a bit early. (Like 3 months, earth.)

I really enjoyed this series overall, and taken as a whole considered it a solidly good little show. I’ve been a longtime casual Avengers fan, so it was neat to finally see the characters animated and some of the Avengers storylines brought to life. I was especially impressed how they weaved forty years of superheroing into a single coherent form, and actually managed to improve upon it.

There are characters like Kang and Baron Zemo who I neither really liked or understood as villains, but this show really made me finally appreciate them and actually come to like them. (At least, in this version.) I also liked what they did with Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, the Black Panther, and loved how they handled The Vision overall. (I say overall, because it depends on who’s writing the episode on how effective he is.) The show did a great job with the characters, and stayed true to the comic versions of them nicely.

This is not to say the show didn’t have issues, as the animation quality could vary widely, and so could the writing. There were more than a few episodes where things happened because the plot called for it, and a number of stories were rushed, especially during second season.

I would say that First Season of the show was the better of the two, as it was well paced and planned. It did have a bit of a sharp learning curve at the start, since it plunged us right into a story about a whole prison worth of supervillains escaping and didn’t give us much of an explanation of who these villains were. Of course, they went back and introduced most of them later (which they also did with the heroes) and in the end it all worked out pretty nicely. The season all led up to a big showdown in Asgard that took several episodes and was a great epic ending to the show.

Season Two, on the other hand, was a real rollercoaster. It started out well enough, but then as it went on it become more and more uneven. The steady pacing of the first season seemed gone, replaced by a frantic rush to introduce new characters and hit us with as much adventure as possible. The episode introducing Beta Ray Bill is a perfect example, where they took 6 issues worth of comic story, and told it all in 22 minutes at lightning speed. It wasn’t bad, just…rushed.

I blame much of Season 2’s uneveness on outside interference. Between Season One and Season Two a new head of Marvel Animation came in named Jeph Leob, who publically stated right from the start his opinions about how these animated series should be done. At the heart of his opinions was the idea that it was wrong to do multi-part episodes (something season one relied on heavily) and that all episodes of the shows should be self contained. (Holy 80’s Flashback, Batman!)

This is really evident in the second half of Season Two (the portion Leob had control over, because the first part was largely done before he came in) which is packed with stories that should have been 2-3 episodes long being crammed into single episodes. The feel of the show really changes at that point, and while there’s still some good episodes I feel it lost some of the grandeur that it built up in first season.

That isn’t to say it’s a total loss. I especially loved the episode Emperor Stark, which is The Vision’s first episode as a member of the Avengers, and which worked well in the condensed form. Also the last three episodes of the show (written by showrunner Chris Yost) were fairly well done, with the finale truly being a finale worthy of the series.

I know some people are angry that there won’t be a season three of the show, and I admit that I’m also a bit disappointed. That said, we got 52 episodes of pretty good Avengers stories and I’m pretty cool with that.

Who knows, the new Avengers Assemble show replacing it in the fall might be alright, especially since it has a lot of the same production people working on it. But somehow, I still think I won’t enjoy it as much as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Viva Spider-Man 1989 fan film – YouTube

While we’re on the topic, I just stumbled across this little gem. Viva Spider-Man is a loving live-action re-creation of the old 1960’s Spider-Man cartoon down to the camera angles and the way the people walk and talk. It also makes an interesting case for Spider-Man as a period piece. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the trilogy after the current one with Andrew Garfield (and there has to be one, or Sony loses the Spider-Man movie rights- they only have them as long as they keep making movies) will be set in the 1960’s like X-Men:First Class.

Spiderman: The Green Goblin’s Last Stand

For my money, probably my favorite version of Spidey put to film isn’t the recent big blockbuster films, it isn’t even an official film at all! It’s the fanfilm: The Green Goblin’s Last Stand. Which is a shot-for-shot adaption of the classic Spiderman story done by a group of amateur actors with almost no budget, yet which still manages to capture the spirit of Spiderman perfectly.

Here’s Part 1, and I believe the other parts are up as well. (For now, it keeps being taken down off Youtube for copyright violations I think.) Watch it while you can!

‘Spider-Man’ flashback: Nicholas Hammond, reeling in the years

I never got to watch the live action American Spider-Man TV series when I was a kid because I didn’t know it was on when it aired, but I did watch the “movies” (2 part episodes) that aired endlessly on Channel 43 Cleveland on Saturday afternoons during my childhood. When I was ten I used to tie a string to a pen, stick both up my sleve, and then pretend it was a web shooter by swinging my arm around and letting the pen and string fly!

WOOSH! Take that bad guys!

I always found Nicholas Hammond to be a little bland as Peter Parker, and I regretted there not being more actual Spider-Man bad guys (read: any supervillians at all!), but if I remember he did get to fight ninjas, so that almost counted. Still, this interview with Nicholas looking back on his time as TV’s Spider-Man was a fun nostalgic read, and somewhat informative. I had no idea that Spider-Man was so popular among African Americans, or that the suit actor/stuntman thought that Spidy should move like an actual spider.

To see what he’s talking about, watch the clip below. One other interesting thing I noticed is that the bad guys are using Asian-style martial arts. While this might not seem odd to people now (everyone in TV seems to know Kung Fu nowadays) this was before Hollywood as a collective decided that martial arts were cooler than street/fist fighting. It wasn’t until Buffy in the 90’s that I noticed martial arts creeping into TV fights in a big way, because before then the fights were all two-fisted boxing matches and tackles. Watch movies and TV series pre-1990 to see what I mean.

Spidey was ahead of his day in many ways!

And for those with time to kill, here’s the whole pilot movie up on Youtube:

The Avengers ’78 movie promo – YouTube

Brilliant! Althought you might have to be a child of the 70’s or 80’s to really get it. 🙂

Bakuman

I buy very few manga these days, in fact, I can count the number I do buy on one hand without using all the fingers.

But if I had to pick just one manga from that very short list, that manga would be Bakuman.

How do I describe Bakuman to someone who hasn’t read it? Well, I guess the simplest description would be it’s about two Japanese teenagers who want to draw manga (comics).

But, like most things, that simple definition doesn’t even begin to cover what it really is. You see, Bakuman is funny, witty, and charming, but it’s also an in-depth exploration of the creative process, the Japanese manga industry, and even the philosophical underpinnings of what it means to be a manga artist. It manages to critique the industry and the art form itself while at the same time making us fall in love with a sometimes kooky, lovable and weird cast of misfits who inhabit that industry and live in the pressure-cooker environment that it produces.

And, it’s those characters that keep me coming back each time a new volume comes out (I refuse to read it online), because it’s like getting together with old friends with each new release. You become a part of their world, invested in their successes and failures and in them as people.

You also learn from them. Volume 10 just came out this week, and it reminded me of one of the most important things to remember as an artist- failure is good.

Not blind failure, but learning from everything you do even if you fail or if your work doesn’t measure up. The audience will never see the pile of failures that each successful story is built on, but they’re what make an artist’s craft what it is.

It’s so easy to forget that as a writer, and only want to do projects that you think you can do 100% or not do anything at all. But, those risky projects, those experimental projects, and those failures are what will make you that successful artist you want to be.

Bakuman reminded me of this, this week, and helped get me back on the right writing path. So I want to give it thanks.

If you’re curious, some fans did what they call a “visual comic” (a comic with voiceovers, music and sound effects) of the first couple of stories of Bakuman, here’s the first one-

There is also a Bakuman anime, which I’m told is quite good and popular, but I’m enjoying the manga too much to switch over.

Rob