I’m in the Paper Recommending Graphic Memoirs

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.

Princess Ugg #5

Princess Ugg #5 cover

With the first collection just out, this issue moves the story of our princesses-in-training forward by introducing the potent force of sex.

The group sneaks out to a tavern to socialize with soldiers, where Ulga’s more brazen talents of holding her alcohol and arm-wrestling are popular with the men. Although Ulga’s skills at diplomacy and fitting in are improving, she doesn’t have the forced restraint of the other girls, so she usually takes things too far. That’s what makes her such a dynamic character, her authentic, larger-than-life self.

It’s a pleasure to see her change and grow, even if I wish that some of the directions she’s forced to learn weren’t quite so twisty. And it’s sadly realistic for those who dislike her to refuse to acknowledge her concessions and alterations, continuing to force her into the stereotype they originally tagged her with.

The schemes and machinations of Ulga’s nemesis, raised in that world of deception, still remain beyond her — setting up a premise which I’m curious to see how it plays out. I’m also concerned about Ulga’s family and tribe, facing a threat that will be more deadly without her. While each issue is a satisfying chapter, it’s these larger themes that make the series rewarding. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

Lumberjanes #8

The first storyline (the series will continue past this) concludes with the gal-pal campers saving the world from a remarkably authentic adolescent Artemis. She’s selfish and distractible and manipulated and focused only on getting the better of her brother. Unfortunately, her self-centeredness has resulted in grim consequences for one of the scouts, but the power of friendship will win through once again, as it has since issue #1.

Lumberjanes #8 cover

The diversely inspired, thick-line art style of the book is really growing on me. It feels handmade and enthusiastic and inspiring and energetic and well-meaning, much like the characters. I wouldn’t have expected blending camp tales with remade mythology to work so well, but it’s very much in keeping with today’s remix culture.

Lumberjanes is to today what the Dark Knight Returns was to another generation — a book that’s bringing in a whole new audience, an outreach book to a group that can love comics, once comics exist for them. Then it was older readers, those looking for mature content; now, it’s young women interested in active adventures, not appearances. It’s great to see a group of female lead characters (still rare in comics). Being a gang, they’re allowed to have different personalities and interests, instead of just being The Girl.

I’m also glad counselor Jen is getting more screen time. And I love the sense of humor in this title, from her facing down the goddess wannabe to the wishes granted from ultimate power. (Hint: One involves kittens.) Now that the major storyline is done, I’m curious to see where the series goes from here. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

Museum of Mistakes: The Fart Party Collection

Before she published Drinking at the Movies and The Infinite Wait and Other Stories, Julia Wertz’s autobiographical comics were published as the “regrettably known” Fart Party.

The now-out-of-print first two Fart Party volumes, as well as material that would have made up a third book, all dating from 2005-2012, are now available as Museum of Mistakes: The Fart Party Collection. Also in the book are Wertz’s early work, before her style developed into the familiar, blocky, black-anchored panels; behind-the-scenes material, including sketches and process pages; and a scrapbook of fan letters and answers and short stories.

At 400 pages, it’s a lot to take in at once, but the format lends itself well to pick-up-and-put-down reading. The chronological look back is presented with recent context. I found it refreshing that Wertz, as a more mature artist, doesn’t cringe over or regret or edit her early work. It doesn’t reflect where she is now, but it can be insightful to dip into over a decade of moments and jokes. It’s the ephemeral that can be revelatory, because we don’t think about how we’re presenting it or recasting it to be memorable for the ages. It’s also obvious that someone would and should change a lot between their mid-20s and mid-30s.

Museum of Mistakes: The Fart Party Collection can be pre-ordered, for a few more days, from your local comic shop with Diamond Distribution code NOV14 1056. There are a lot of preview pages at the author’s website.

Digital Manga Tezuka Kickstarter Fails Miserably

Last month, on October 21, Digital Manga launched a Kickstarter to publish in print many of Osamu Tezuka’s lesser-known works (since the best-known, like Phoenix, Black Jack, Princess Knight, and Message to Adolf have already been handled by other publishers, mostly Vertical). It was incredibly aggressive, seeking $380,000 in a month, to put out 31 books in six series. (Those titles are The Three-Eyed One Volume 1-13, Rainbow Parakeet Volume 1-7, Wonder 3 Volume 1-3, Alabaster Volume 1-2, The Vampires Volume 1-4, and Birdman Anthology Volume 1-2.) They ended up with just under $27,000, or about 7% of their goal, a significant failure. Given that their previous most successful Kickstarter only raised $49,411, this isn’t surprising.

Digital Manga Tezuka Kickstarter

Digital Manga first began running Kickstarters three years ago, first to reprint a traditionally published Tezuka work, and then, when that was successful, to publish a new book, Barbara. This strategy caused a good amount of debate. Later that year (2012), they put all releases on hiatus, before returning to publish in 2013. As far as I know, their previous Kickstarter promises were fulfilled. (And they were trying to move funding to their customers even earlier, offering preorders to secure sales as far back as 2009.)

This latest effort, though, stunned fans and commenters in its audacity and the amount asked for. There’s a catch, too — the $380,000 would only cover two of the titles, 20 books. To actually get all the books that were being promised as rewards, the company wanted stretch goals that totaled $589,000. That’s ridiculous, and it makes the campaign appear to be launching with false advertising. Sure, some Kickstarters have made that much, but those were ones with a much more widespread, current audience and more modern works.

All 31 of these books were promised to appear next year, an ambitious schedule for a company that has only put out 20 releases in 2014 so far, with nothing coming out since September (based on comic shop data). The books were promised with a cover price of $14 each, which adds up to a total of $434 if you were to buy all of them as a bookstore customer.

The reward tiers are rather complicated, as can be seen by the company having to use spreadsheets to indicate what promised items would be sent to whom depending on how much money they got. Many of the tiers used goodies and giveaway-style items — keychains, tote bags, posters, and other ephemera.

Quickly, the company added a reward of just all the printed books — but you needed to pledge $750, or about $24 a title. (I’m unclear on whether the tiers included shipping. If not, that makes for an even higher price. And at holiday time, when money can be tight, between gifts and travel costs.) That’s a lot for standard paperback format manga, without hardcovers or other upscale packaging. They later added a tier with $420 for all the books in digital, which comes a lot closer to cover price, and changed the all books level to $650 for print and digital.

This was stated to be based on feedback, which I read as their response to fans saying, “I’m not paying that.” While it’s a good thing to be responsive, this thrashing about gives the impression of a company that doesn’t quite know what it’s doing, or at least hasn’t thought things through. They seem to be wanting to see fans as a bank for their desires instead of a community that needs to be nurtured and might revolt. Many potential buyers complained that while they would support the release of all the books, they couldn’t commit such a large amount all at once.

The company president, Hikaru Sasahara, released a video and a statement, which began

We have recently learned that some of the backers voiced a concern that our tier pledges are too pricy and we would like to address explanations to this particular issue as we firmly believe our pricing is appropriate and legitimate.

That’s not helpful. If potential customers are saying, “no, I won’t pay, it’s too much”, responding, “is not!” doesn’t address the issue. I suspect that point is when many fans simply gave up on the effort. This chart from Kicktraq supports that assumption, with very little activity after the first week:

Kicktraq Daily Pledges

Kicktraq Daily Pledges

The president’s statement continued:

There are certain technical issues that are involved in our current endeavors of bringing the entire Osamu Tezuka manga library to the world and that may be difficult for the majority backers to understand.

So not only are people not supporting them wrong, they’re also ignorant. Someone get this guy a competent PR person, stat! You think I’m joking, but one of their project updates was an ad for a Sales Marketing Manga Specialist.

Seriously, the “invisible costs” he talks about are those that are typical of a publisher’s responsibilities — enough staff to do a good job, travel costs to work with the property owner, and so on. He also emphasizes how they want to get out all of Tezuka’s works in 5-6 years instead of 50-60. That’s admirable, but it may not be a goal the market can bear, and your accelerated schedule isn’t my problem. Perhaps your company, at its current size, isn’t the right venue for this, although I know that’s not an option under consideration. He acted as though customers weren’t flocking to the project because they didn’t understand, when the case was that they disagreed with the strategy and approach.

Another bobble — a week into the project, they noticed that Kickstarter rules prohibited “coupons and gift cards” so they had to change their rewards from an online bookstore gift card to a digital book.

Digital Manga Kickstarters have succeeded in the past with a relatively few number of backers. They have deep, not wide, support, which meant that they were trying to distribute a much greater amount of money across relatively few people. Given their $650 book level, they would have needed over 900 backers to pledge at that level. They got 115. Were they expecting the loyal to subsidize production (and pay extra per book) so they could price the individual releases lower later?

Their followup FAQ says, “we will rethink our overall kickstarter strategy in terms on tiers/stretch goals, etc, to meet the needs of our backers.” Let’s hope so.

How to Get Your Comic Reviewed

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.

ComfyCon This Weekend – Online Webcomics Convention

ComfyCon logo

As they did last year, a group of webcomic cartoonists this weekend are providing a number of online panels. There’s still time today to get advice on running an anthology, find out about comic-makers’ day jobs, and see the panel with my favorite title, “I’ve Been Doing Webcomics HOW LONG?” Many of these are recorded, so you can check in on your schedule. In your jammies, in keeping with the convention name! As they say,

Not everyone can go to a convention. Sometimes it’s money. Sometimes there’s none you can get to. That’s why ComfyCon’s here. It’s the convention you don’t have to put your pants on for.

Lady Killer #1

I’ve long admired the work of Joëlle Jones, who’s drawn, among many other things, You Have Killed Me, Token, Troublemaker, and 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. Now, she’s drawing AND cowriting a new miniseries with long-time collaborator Jamie S. Rich.

Lady Killer #1

Lady Killer will launch in January from Dark Horse Comics. (Today’s the last day you can preorder it from your local comic shop with code NOV14 0021. It’s going to be five issues.) It’s tag-lined as “Betty Draper meets Hannibal” because it’s a story, set in the 1960s, about a homemaker who’s also an assassin for some secretive organization.

I got an early look at the first issue, and I loved the period touches, from Josie’s smart suit to her cute pillbox hat. I’m curious to find out how she got into her particularly odd profession; I hope there’s space for it in later issues. This one brings us a scene demonstrating Josie’s determination and creativity — when her poisoning plan goes awry, things get more hands-on, with a well-staged sequence of butchery in the kitchen. And the idea of a killer Avon lady, while likely disturbing to the cosmetic company, tickles me.

The theme of nasty doings under the polished facade of mid-last-century domestic bliss isn’t a new one, although Lady Killer takes things further than Mad Men does. This one is more visceral, more pointed in the details, wringing humor out of the small moments. Jones captures all the small moments without the slick surface that would make it too superficial. There’s grit underneath her images, and that’s well-suited to her story.

Josie’s got a handler, an attractive man who pushes her beyond her comfort level, as well as a suspicious, hostile mother-in-law who will be causing trouble in future, I’m sure. Next issue features Josie undercover at the Kitty Cat Club — you can guess what that costume looks like, only the tail is longer than a fluffy bunny’s.

The creators talk about their inspirations in this interview, if you want to learn more.




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