Comics Worth Reading » LinkBlogging Independent Opinions on Comics of All Kinds Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:16:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 You Have to Tell People Honestly What They’re Buying Sun, 14 Dec 2014 19:42:34 +0000 I was pondering whether these links were too old to talk about now, when retailer Mike Sterling posted a related item and made everything current again. (Thanks, Mike!)

But first, some context. When you think about buying a comic, you probably assume that a reader is the customer. But in the comic store direct market, most all those pretty pieces of paper are sold non-returnably, so the actual customer of the publisher is the retailer/store owner. If something doesn’t sell, or if something can’t be sold, in most cases, they’re stuck with it. And if the retailer doesn’t commit to preordering a particular title from a publisher, it often won’t matter if customers would have purchased it.

(That’s why it’s difficult these days to find places to browse new and lesser-known titles — retailers don’t have a lot of incentives to take chances, for fear of them being stuck with something their customers don’t want to buy. And with publishers more often selling directly through websites or conventions, this isn’t the kiss of death it once was — although a lot of publishers haven’t really geared up their direct-to-end-customer marketing. But that’s all a different topic.)

One of the big tensions of this traditional comic market is thus the amount of information retailers are given by publishers so they can place accurate (for their store, their market, and their audience) preorders. Sometimes publishers just don’t know what’s going into a comic in two months. When we’re talking about the big commercial (which means superhero) publishers, though, they’re more tightly editorially controlled these days, so they can predict what the storylines will be.

The problem is that so many readers are looking at exactly the same ordering material as the retailers are. Retailers like it when their customers preorder, since that reduces their uncertainty. But to have them do that, they give them the Previews catalog (or an equivalent). There isn’t a retailer-only information channel, so retailers are often left unaware of why a publisher thinks a particular comic will be a big seller if that turns on a plot event (like a death) that the publisher doesn’t want to reveal early. The publisher can’t tell their actual customer because there’s no way to keep the information from going wide to the public.

That’s been an issue so long as the direct market has been around. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. (Long digression, huh?) What I want to point out is three examples of material where the publisher can and should have given retailers information that would definitely affect their ordering patterns, but chose not to.

First, let’s talk about a legal liability. Image Comics put out Humans #1 by Keenan Keller and Tom Neely last month. It’s meant to be a grindhouse-style biker-gang story with sex and violence, only starring apes instead of people. However, they went further than expected with, as Chicago retailer Tim Davis reports, “one of the ape-like female humans holding the erect penis of an ape-like partner, performing fellatio on it”.

Davis is right, that’s the kind of content that can get retailers arrested, in certain areas of the country, which puts them at risk for losing their store. And it’s the kind of content that should be indicated with more than a small “MR” (mature readers) note, since, again from Davis, “at least a quarter of my books have some sort of (MR) Mature Rating attached to them.” We’ve established that comics can be for adults, and no one’s suggesting that the book shouldn’t be published, but the creators should be honest and transparent about what they’re including in the book, since it went beyond the usual understanding of the MR term covers.

My second example isn’t as dangerous, but it’s a clear indication of bad marketing. DC Comics has been publishing stand-alone Wonder Woman stories by a variety of creators digitally and then collecting them in print as Sensation Comics. Many of these stories might appeal to the non-traditional superhero comic reader. However, with issue #3, DC put fun stories that look like this:

Wonder Woman and Catwoman by Amy Mebberson from Sensation Comics

Under a crappy, stereotypical, violent cover by Joe Prado and Ivan Reis that looks like this:

Sensation Comics #3 cover by Joe Prado and Ivan Reis

As Hibbs points out in his piece, titled “Why I Hate The Comics Industry, Part 8756412“:

SENSATION COMICS #3 is a pretty great comic — it’s the kind of comic you could give to a 10-year-old girl, or her 45-year-old hipster mother equally. It is kind of exactly the kind of WW comic that a whole swath of people really really want right now, because empowering but also really really cute. I can absolutely sell this comic to a LOT of folks.

Except for the barrier they put in my way…

This is the kind of cover pretty much designed to repel the people who would be interested in the insides of the comic, and the people for whom the cover is attractive would be APPALLED by the content on the inside.

This comic will get cancelled pretty soon — which is a damn shame because this is the kind of content that today’s new audience really wants — and someone somewhere will probably point to it as an example of why sweet, cartoony, empowering material doesn’t work. But they’re wrong, this is a failure of positioning and marketing.

Hibbs is right. You have to be consistent in your packaging. The cover should reflect the contents to find the right audience. Companies don’t think that’s important, though, since they’re relying so much on preorders. There is a potential new customer out there, though, who can be attracted by the right cover.

Justice League #36 LEGO variant cover

And in this title’s case, maybe also quit splitting two-chapter stories across two different issues, which just smacks of trying to force readers to come back.

My last example is the Sterling one I mentioned earlier, and it also features bad cover strategy from DC. Sterling has been seeing customer interest in the LEGO variant covers that ran on a bunch of books last month. As he says,

These customers saw Lego Superhero covers, wanted Lego Superhero comics, and were almost universally disappointed not to find any Lego content at all beneath said covers.

… this feels like a huge missed opportunity, particularly since many of the people attracted to these covers weren’t necessarily typical consumers of what DC and Marvel usually offer….

I’m hoping there will be some kind of comic book tie-in to the forthcoming Lego Batman movie, but I also hope DC and Lego don’t wait that long to capitalize on that desire from the funnybook-interested public, at least at my shop, for capes ‘n’ tights ‘n’ plastic brick adventures.

I’d like to read one of those, having enjoyed the cartoons.

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I’m in the Paper Recommending Graphic Memoirs Mon, 24 Nov 2014 14:31:12 +0000 Johanna Draper Carlson

The local paper, the Wisconsin State Journal, has a regular Sunday column where book-related folk recommend three titles. I was the latest participant, recommending Lucy Knisley’s An Age of License, Mimi Pond’s Over Easy, and Liz Prince’s Tomboy.

Somewhat ironically, this was just after I stopped subscribing to the paper — they decided to use a cable company-like strategy of expecting me to pay 50% more for the same product when they raised their rates recently — but I was surprised at how many people clipped the column and mentioned it to me.

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How to Get Your Comic Reviewed Sat, 22 Nov 2014 17:55:43 +0000 Megan Byrd at Women Write About Comics has assembled some useful tips on getting review coverage for your comic.

Stack of mail

I particularly second knowing whom you’re targeting. (You’ll get a good idea of what I’m looking for through my guidelines.) You’ll get better results if your book is the type that a particular site or reviewer appreciates. Many of the other pieces of advice, valuable in their detail, can be summed up as “be professional” — proofread your book, think about what the person you’re pitching will need from you, and so on.

I still struggle with the question of whether and how to turn someone down. As someone who does this in their spare time, I have more books I want to write about than I have time to do so. (And I’m thankful for that problem — it’s much better than the reverse.) But when someone emails me with links to their work, and it’s clear from a quick scan that it’s not a title for me, I’m unclear on whether to tell them that (because no one likes hearing it) and if so, how blunt to be (usually a problem when someone is a less experienced creator, and it shows in the work). But perhaps that’s a discussion for another day.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for advice from the other end, here’s my post on how to get review copies.

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Why Draw Digitally and Lose Out on Original Art Sales? Sat, 08 Nov 2014 23:02:10 +0000 Drawing on monitor

Ben Towle (Oyster War) answers the question I asked above at Quora. Artists might choose to work digitally, eliminating potential sales of the original art pages, for the following reasons, according to him:

* It’s faster, allowing the artist to accomplish more work.
* The benefit of page sales might be overestimated, since many originals aren’t in much demand. Purchasers want cool action scenes or splash pages, not the majority of work that gets the storytelling done.
* And here’s the one I found most surprising: you save a lot of money by not buying art supplies, which can add up quickly, from paper to brushes.

As with deciding whether or not to attend conventions, this is a business decision where every artist should weigh costs and benefits for herself.

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This Weekend, See Ed Brubaker’s Play as Part of the Noir Series Sat, 08 Nov 2014 15:21:32 +0000 The Heretick Theatre Lab in Los Angeles is hosting “The Noir Series” this weekend. It’s a set of four plays performed in 90 minutes. Why would you care? Because one of the writers is Ed Brubaker, and readers of his comics Criminal and The Fade Out know he knows noir.

Another one of the four is by Stephen McFeely (co-writer of the Captain America movies and writer for the Agent Carter show). The remaining two are by “award winning local Los Angeles theatre artists Burglars of Hamm, and Nancy Keystone’s Critical Mass Performance Group”.

Noir Series

Also, they are filming the plays, mixing them instantly, and streaming them over the web, so you can pay $7.99 to see this afternoon, tonight’s, or tomorrow’s performances. (Use the first link above.) They’re described as “four plays inspired by the dark and pulpy noir of Hollywood’s past, filmed and streamed with an eye towards Hollywood’s future.”

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Comic/Media Art Mash-Ups Sat, 08 Nov 2014 01:52:10 +0000 Old friend Brian Saner Lamken has done something creative — he’s selected famous images from superhero comics and found media pictures that allows him to graft the two together. Like this take on the classic Action Comics #1 cover, put together with Superman Returns. He’s calling the technique Panel to Frame. Click the link to see more including the Flash, the Walking Dead, and Captain America.

Superman by Brian Saner Lamken

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Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics Reviewed Wed, 05 Nov 2014 15:28:38 +0000

Vixens, Vamps & Vipers cover
Vixens, Vamps & Vipers

I mentioned Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics last month when it came out, but I didn’t discuss it in depth because I was reviewing it for another site. That review is now posted at the Washington Independent Review of Books, in case you’re curious to find out more about this anthology of Golden Age comic stories featuring distinctive bad girls. Or check out editor Mike Madrid’s previous volume, Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics.

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Comic Publishers Aren’t Looking for Writers Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:43:43 +0000 At least, that’s the message I took from Steve Morris’ useful round-up of submission guidelines for comic writers.

Stack of mail

The best-known flat-out don’t accept unsolicited submissions. Others only want to see completed comics or, at least, pitches from creative teams with several pages of sample art, which means an aspiring writer has to find an artist to team up with. You want to write comics? You’re going to have to do a lot of work, including talent review and networking.

This makes sense — there are so many aspiring comic writers that they’re a drag on the market. Everyone thinks they have a story for their favorite character, but a career as a writer takes a lot more than just generating ideas. Better to work with someone who knows the value of an artist and how hard it can be to get a comic published and sold.

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Disney Achieves Four-Quadrant Success by Appealing to Female Gamers Sun, 21 Sep 2014 20:59:36 +0000 Disney Infinity characters

The Disney Infinity video game, a way to expand console gaming sales by constantly selling players new figures and characters, appeals much more to women and girls than the company expected. Instead of a 70/30 male/female split, the franchise breaks out 55% boys to 45% girls.

It helps that you can play as Elsa from Frozen or Merida from Brave, female characters with abilities and appeal. That makes Infinity “a four-quadrant franchise for the company in the interactive space, which is the first that we’ve ever had,” according to executive producer John Vignocchi. “When you hit a four-quadrant property, that’s when you’ve made something with long-lasting staying power at the company.”

Who would have imagined that not driving away girls would mean a more successful property? That might be what young male gamers are so afraid of — inclusion is so much a smarter strategy for companies that they’re going to have to share. Plus, the Infinity concept is great. You can play Marvel superheroes against classic Disney animated characters.

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How to Bind Your Comics Into a Book Wed, 06 Aug 2014 21:33:59 +0000 I’m not nearly this crafty, but this is way cool: Someone called dozymuppet has posted a step-by-step with lots of pictures on how he created his own hardcover comic book collections (for those series that don’t have commercial paperback reprints). Hit the link for much more.

Making a comic book bookMaking a comic book book

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Two Creators Share Valuable Creative Influences Sun, 03 Aug 2014 12:48:38 +0000 Underground #2 page 4 art by Steve Lieber

Getting advice from those making good comics is always valuable, and this week, I came across two.

Brad Abraham, author of the Mixtape series, while sharing news of his work on the second volume, lists the comics that inspired him. It’s a good list of stories about real people and strong characters, and surprisingly, for once, I’ve read them all.

Natalie Nourigat, who has just launched a digital travel journal comic series called Tally Marks, advises on good comics for the use of solid blacks. I haven’t read all of these, because (perhaps given her recent travels), she cites a wide range of sources, including European comics, manga, and a couple of webcomics. I’m pleased, though, to see someone remembering Andi Watson’s Slow News Day. Her list reminded me to reread Underground, which was fun. (Page shown here.)

If you know of other such suggested reading lists, please add them in the comments.

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Comic-Inspired Recipe Column Sat, 02 Aug 2014 14:22:24 +0000 How did I not know that Annie Bulloch has a column at Women Write About Comics dedicated to recipes called “Cook Your Comics“? The latest, inspired by the scouts of Lumberjanes, is a classic campfire dinner wrapped in foil, but she’s also written about meatloaf for Captain America, breakfast and pancakes for Hellboy, and pink cake for Ma Hunkel, among others. Fun stuff!

Ma Hunkel

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Bats Bats Bats Bats: The History of Batman’s Costumes Mon, 21 Jul 2014 20:54:42 +0000 The same group that put out an infographic on the history of Spider-Man’s costumes is back with a look at Batman’s outfits over the years. Smartly, they’ve titled it “The Mark of Batman: The Evolution of an Icon” since what changes is the bat on his chest. Some of those early 1940s bats, before branding became a concern, are pretty goofy-looking. The list comes in two sections, one each for comics and movies.

Batman Symbol Evolution Infographic
Infographic Created by

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How Opening a Comic Store Has Changed Over Time Fri, 18 Jul 2014 20:48:44 +0000 Earlier this year, Brian Hibbs, owner of San Francisco’s Comix Experience, wrote a column about acquiring a second store. It’s got lots of great business information, as do his other columns about being a comic retailer, but what struck me most was this end paragraph:

I opened my first store for $10k and a comic book collection, but those days are decades gone. It took me 24 years to get to store #2 because the barriers to open have gotten so high. We should keep lowering them, while encouraging a high standard of professionalism and stock.

Many retailers now, still hanging on, opened in a very different time. We have as many comic stores as we do because lots of people could do that then — their comic collections, in an age where back issues were how you read comic history, were valuable, enough so that you could turn them into a business. You can’t now. You need investment money, and a lot more of it.

Earlier in the piece (which you should read all of), Hibbs provides an estimate of needing $100,000 these days to open a new store properly, before talking about how more support is needed for new retailers. I think these changes indicate a lot about why, sometimes, the comic industry can be tough to change or convince of modern attitudes. The people making business decisions came from a different era, and the new blood has it harder to get in. We knew that was true in, for example, comic art and publishing, but it’s also true in retailing.

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Advice Every Aspiring Artist Needs to Read Mon, 14 Jul 2014 11:22:15 +0000 I really liked this post by Colleen Doran entitled “A Day Job Is Not an Art Crime“. It reinforces much of what I wish more young artists thought about: that fiscal responsibility is a good thing that will ultimately give you more freedom than working 24-7 on your art while struggling to pay basic bills. Some excerpts (but you should read the whole thing):

… few people can make a full-time living in this business. Fewer still can sustain a long term career in the creative arts….

Instead of getting a day job between assignments, some artists sit for months or years without paying gigs. They incur huge debts they can never repay, or take lousy assignments they’re ashamed of, always hoping for the big payday that never comes….

Sometimes it is better to get that day job and do art on the side. You may even appreciate art making more when you don’t have to rely on art for money….

Free yourself from other people’s expectations about what being a successful artist means…. Not being a full-time professional creator does not make you any less an artist.

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Wizard Hosts Separately Ticketed Social Media Con With Wizard World Chicago Wed, 09 Jul 2014 15:21:27 +0000 In conjunction with Wizard World Chicago, held this year from August 21-24, Wizard World has announced a separate show, socialcon CHICAGO, that “highlights stars of social media”. Which means I have no idea who any of them are, although they’re “some of the most-followed social media stars”, whose “combined followers base exceeds 100 million users.” (They all look like teenagers to me.) It will be interesting to see if those followers are willing to actually shell out dollars for “meet-and-greets, concerts, live performances, Q&A panels, autographs, photo ops, and more.”

socialcon will be held August 23-24 alongside Wizard World Chicago at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, but it’s a separately ticketed event. I can’t say for how much, since the show is announcing itself before setting up the ticket purchase system. No prices are listed anywhere I could find. This event does not appear to have been thought through thoroughly, as the homepage for the event gives instructions for users to go to a different URL,, which isn’t operating and is not owned by Wizard.

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Learn How to Pick Colors for Your Comic Fri, 27 Jun 2014 21:13:34 +0000 The talented Melanie Gillman has posted a brief but informative illustrated tutorial on choosing a color palette. Very helpful in understanding some basic color theory.

Color tutorial by Melanie Gillman

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The Importance of Appearance in a Visual Fandom Fri, 27 Jun 2014 12:47:38 +0000 Sean Kleefeld has an intriguing post about how difficult it can be for women to pick the right outfit for a geek event:

they can’t dress too nice when going to a comic shop because then they get comments questioning their fan status. The whole “fake geek girl” bullshit. They can’t dress too slummy either because then they get mistaken for part of a bad crowd, and their fan status is questioned from the other direction. They also can’t show too much skin because there’s then the potential for being on the receiving end of generally sexist/misogynist behavior. They have to look pretty, but not too pretty, geeky but not too geeky, sexy but not too sexy… If they don’t hit the sweet spot right in the middle of all these disparate directions, they run into problems from the men present.

It’s a good point — although I wish Sean had gotten pictures or at least described the outfits they wound up wearing. (When you’re discussing fashion, we have to have some idea of the clothes!) Comic fandom, in particular, is based around visual culture. We’re taught to evaluate content by how it looks, so it makes sense that we’re factoring in a person’s appearance (not beauty, but how they choose to present themselves) when interacting with them.

Yet as he — and the women he talked with — points out, this can be an obstacle and an annoyance. I doubt guys pay as much attention to which t-shirt they’re wearing to the comic shop. It’s a time and attention penalty for the girls, taking effort that could be better enjoyed elsewhere, and getting it “wrong” has the chance of very unpleasant side effects.

I had a similar internal debate recently. My workplace, a software development group, is very casual when it comes to clothes, with jeans a staple. Most of the employees are male, and many wear shorts on days like yesterday, when it was over 80 degrees outside. I decided to wear shorts as well, for the very first time ever to work. (Previously, my jobs have either been not quite that casual or overly air-conditioned to the point where you wouldn’t want to.) But then I had to find a pair that was appropriate, by which I mean not too short. The guys just wear cargo shorts, but women’s come in different lengths, and two inches can make a lot of difference. It was nice to have the freedom to wear shorts, and I’m sure I was thinking about it more than anyone else I worked with, but it wasn’t an unencumbered privilege.

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Top Cow Free Comic Book Day Podcast Sun, 25 May 2014 14:59:32 +0000 Rise of the Magi #0 cover

On Free Comic Book Day this year, I helped at a local store, where they were also recording an episode of Doughnuts & Top Cow, the official Top Cow Productions podcast. And yes, they brought doughnuts.

The hosts briefly describe our day at the store before launching into the focus of the episode, the FCBD release of Rise of the Magi #0 by Marc Silvestri and Sumeyye Kesgin. After the two hosts give their own impressions, they did an interesting thing — they asked FCBD visitors to give their impressions of the issue live in the store (after they’d read it). And you can read the comic free online.

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CBR Affirms Need for Community Inclusion Wed, 30 Apr 2014 22:00:07 +0000 Bravo to CBR. In an open letter from owner Jonah Weiland, Comic Book Resources has announced that they’re shutting down their existing message boards and replacing them with a Community that “will show zero tolerance for intimidation or abuse of all members of the community, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identification. CBR and all areas of its website and operations will be a safe space for all people, of all levels of involvement.”

Here are key excerpts explaining the decision:

While I’m proud of what CBR has become, and I believe CBR has some of the best fans in the world, with some of the biggest hearts and most open minds in all of fandom, unfortunately, we have had an increasingly loud contingent take root on our forums who refuse to behave in a manner respectful to others….

If you’re one of the people who participated in any of these reprehensible acts [attacking Janelle Asselin over a comic book cover review], my message is simple: You are not welcome anywhere on CBR, and in our opinion, you have no place in the comics industry.

But you know what? I’m responsible, too.

I failed to do all I can to make the CBR Forums a safer and better place by adequately dealing with this behavior. And while we employ an army of volunteer moderators, the thread was not properly moderated.

To be clear: this is about more than just this one thread. While there are many examples of good conversation among great members on our old forums, hateful and ugly comments were allowed to be posted in the interest of “free speech,” which made the forums a place that wasn’t accepting or inviting….

I don’t want my name or CBR’s name to in any way be associated with that kind of poison.

The new area will also soon have “an easy to find button to file complaints or ask for help” in addition to a new set of rules that seem fair and comprehensive. This is a remarkable and encouraging choice.

Unfortunately, there are already some people who don’t get why this is a positive and welcome step. It’s a tough road the CBR moderators have ahead of them, to teach the ignorant that you can discuss and disagree without being abusive and you can run a community in a tough fashion without being “fascist”. But then, some people can’t focus on the positive, preferring to look for ways for things to go wrong. I hope this fresh start works out as intended; just the gesture is reassuring.

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