KC’s Previews for March 2015

KC’s latest Westfield columns once again look at what’s coming up in March (or later, since books print so far ahead these days). Part One finds a problem in the latest novelization of a Marvel big event, looks at an original graphic novel sequel, and recommends some classic comic book collections, including one about garbage cleanup.

Polly and Her Pals: Complete Sunday Comics 1928-1930 cover
Polly and Her Pals: Complete Sunday Comics 1928-1930

The book KC & I are most excited about this month

Part Two starts off with a gigantic brick of a collection, moves on to classic comic strips, notes some magazine milestones, and makes DNA jokes.

Some Like It Hot-Buttered

Since I enjoyed Jeff Cohen’s The Question of the Missing Head, I thought I’d check out another comedy mystery he’d written. Some Like It Hot-Buttered is the first of three in the “Comedy Tonight” series, named after the theater the protagonist runs that only shows comedies. (The other two are It Happened One Knife and A Night at the Operation.)

It’s the story of Elliot Freed, a divorced Jersey guy who wrote a book that became a bad movie. He turned his profits and savings into the Comedy Tonight movie theater, a one-screen revival house that runs double bills, one classic and one modern (which Freed, and by extension one assumes Cohen, is universally dismissive of). While the classics are named — including Young Frankenstein, Horse Feathers, and Help! — the modern are parodies, non-real pictures that still sound oddly familiar.

Freed is barely making a go of it, assisted by Anthony, a college student/film buff/projectionist, and Sophie, Goth-lite ticket and snack seller. Things aren’t helped when a patron is discovered dead in his seat after a showing. Then the cops find a whole bunch of pirated DVDs in the basement.

As events unspool, the cast widens to include a friendly chief of police, a very friendly blonde officer, Freed’s ex-wife, his father, and a film professor at the local college. It’s an entertaining mystery, with a lot of larger-than-life characters and a strong sense of place. You’d better like, or at least sympathize with, Freed to get through it, though, because we spend a lot of time in his head. I tried to focus on his good qualities, mostly his love of movies, to balance the less-entertaining bits about having to live on his own and never bothering to buy furniture for his apartment.

The denouement turns on a convenient coincidence, although it had been subtly foreshadowed through the book, and I enjoyed the setting enough that I’ll be looking for the other two.

Today’s the Last Day to Submit a C2E2 Panel

C2E2 logo

Convention season will be here faster than we expect, and deadlines are already popping up. For instance, C2E2, the Chicago show to be held April 24-26 this year, has announced that today is the last day to apply to present a panel. Responses to the submissions will be sent January 28. From the request page:

C2E2 is looking for programs that are original, interesting, and creative. Most importantly, think about the value that your Panel will provide to Fans and what sets it apart from others.

I like their list of topics, which range from the expected Comics and Video Games to also include Chicago, Diversity, and Women in Comics.

Tickets for C2E2 are $60 for the weekend, $30 (one-day Friday or Sunday), or $35 (Saturday) plus taxes and fees. Entertainment guests announced so far are David Ramsey (Arrow), Orlando Jones (Sleepy Hollow), Jewel Staite (Firefly), and Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who)! Comic artists will include Amanda Conner, Dan Slott, David Finch, Humberto Ramos, Mark Waid, Babs Tarr, and Chip Zdarsky.

Wizard World Madison Features William Shatner, Exclusive Beer

The first-ever Wizard World Madison Comic Con will be coming to Wisconsin on February 6-8. That’s only a month away! I’m eager to see how it goes, now that I live here.

Wizard World Madison logo

The guests announced so far are the usual media names: William Shatner, Adam West, Burt Ward, Brett Dalton (Agent Beefcake, as we call him, from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), a couple of Walking Dead people, Eliza Dushku, James Marsters, Billy Dee Williams, Ernie Hudson, and George Wendt.

I mention that last one because Wizard World Madison will have its own beer! They’re working with MobCraft to “develop a beer exclusive to Wizard World Madison Comic Con” called “Con Elixir”. How very Wisconsin! Sampling will be available. “MobCraft, founded in 2012, creates custom craft beer based on crowdsourced (user-submitted) recipes. Customers cast their vote by placing a pre-order of beer they want brewed, and MobCraft produces the beer with the most votes.”

Comic special guests at the show include Rob Liefeld, Neal Adams, Tom DeFalco, Michael Golden, and Mike Grell. It’s $75 in advance, $85 at the door for the weekend. One-day tickets are $35 for Friday (3-8 PM), $40 for Sunday (11-5), or $45 for Saturday (10-7). (All are plus fees ranging from $6-9.)

It’s gonna be cold, so I hope the cosplayers plan ahead and admission line space is set up indoors. Average daily temperatures in Madison in February range from 11-36 degrees Fahrenheit. I hope there’s a coat check!

Wizard Launching CONtv Digital Network in 2015

2015 appears to be the year of direct-to-consumer TV network offerings, whether from established networks, movie studios, or specialty outlets (like the WWE, which sells its own network of nothing but decades of wrestling programming for $10 a month).

CONtv logo

Now Wizard World has announced CONtv, planned to launch early this year as a digital network sold direct to consumers and geared towards “fans in the Comic Con community”. It’s a joint venture with independent content distributor Cinedigm. Programming will include “cult television, sci-fi, horror and fantasy films, grindhouse classics, thrilling martial arts adventures, and more”, with the following content acquired already:

· Superhero Action: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Voltron, Trial of the Incredible Hulk, She-Ra: Princess of Power

· Cult Classics: Godzilla, Death Race 2000, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, Beware the Blob, Transylvania 6-5000, Night Patrol

· Horror: Evil Dead, Re-Animator, Hellraiser, I Spit on Your Grave (#1 and #2), Hellboy: Blood & Iron, Rob Zombie Presents The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, Ichi The Killer, Puppet Master, Embrace of the Vampire

· Martial Arts: Fists of Fury, Shaolin, Man From Nowhere, War of the Arrows, Legend of the Fist, Yakuza Weapon, Blade of Kings, Lady Ninja

· Gaming: Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, Stargate Infinity, Street Fighter Alpha, Heavenly Sword

· Sci-Fi/Fantasy Television: UK’s Being Human, Farscape, Highlander, Demon King, Stargate Infinity

· Anime: Yu-Gi-Oh, Beyblade, Digimon, Ghost in the Shell, High School of the Dead, Saint Seiya

They’ll also do original programming, such as the horror competition series Fight of the Living Dead, which will follow “nine YouTube stars as they work to survive the first 24-hours of a simulated zombie apocalypse.” Says CEO of Wizard World John Macaluso, “We are excited to offer fans a robust cross section of content curated especially for them. Clearly nobody knows the comic community better than our staff — we’ve got the most rabid fans amidst our own ranks shaping CONtv’s content offering.”

The network will be available for a subscription fee of $6.99 a month “with content exclusives, audience rewards, [and] a dynamic second-screen experience”, or as a “free ad-supported platform” on Roku, Apple TV, Xbox, PlayStation, and Android. They also plan to offer “ticketing bundle opportunities for fans planning to attend Wizard World conventions.” (I can imagine X months for free being offered as part of their high-ticket VIP packages.) Those interested in being kept informed can sign up for a newsletter at their website.

I wish more Wizard programming was included — it would be awfully neat to see panels and appearances on the channel — but I suspect that includes rights negotiations that would be very complicated.

End of an Era: IDW Acquires Top Shelf

Wow, this was some “holy s***” news to wake up to.

Top Shelf logo

Leading comic book and graphic novel publisher IDW Publishing announced today that it has acquired Top Shelf Productions, the award-winning independent publisher of graphic novels, including the #1 New York Times and Washington Post bestseller March by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (with Kevin O’Neill) and From Hell (with Eddie Campbell), Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole, and Jeff Lemire’s Essex County.

“The acquisition of Top Shelf is a milestone for IDW,” said Ted Adams, IDW CEO and publisher. “We looked a very long time for a company that would complement our own publishing line-up, and in Top Shelf we found the ideal match. The addition of Top Shelf’s library further positions IDW’s leadership role among the top powerhouses in comics.”

Top Shelf will remain a distinct imprint within IDW and co-founder Chris Staros will join the company as Editor-in-Chief, Top Shelf Productions. Top Shelf’s fans can expect the same independent editorial approach that has garnered industry-wide awards and made it an envy among its peers.

“IDW is committed to preserving and growing the Top Shelf brand, which we’ve long admired” said IDW president and COO Greg Goldstein. “Chris and his team have built a great working relationship with creators, fans, and retailers alike, and IDW will work diligently to expand Top Shelf’s publishing capabilities and market reach while further developing those relationships.”

Founded in 1997, Top Shelf Productions offers a broad library of comic books and graphic novels from dozens of the industry’s top independent creators. Following the acquisition, Top Shelf’s headquarters will remain in Marietta, GA.

“Top Shelf and IDW complement each other perfectly,” said Top Shelf Productions co-founder and publisher Chris Staros. “We both started around the same time, and when I would watch IDW over the years, as a fellow publisher, I’d see them making smart move after smart move. Now I’m extremely excited to combine their talents and resources with Top Shelf’s award-winning literary approach to comics. And believe it or not, the idea to join forces hit us both at exactly the same time. Last year, as I was about to pitch Ted and Greg this ‘crazy’ idea, they approached me to suggest the same thing! How’s that for a good omen? Together, we’re going to be able to publish some incredible work. I’m really looking forward to this.”

It’s good to see that the goodwill and customer awareness Top Shelf has built up over the years will remain, as they’re going to maintain the brand as a separate imprint. Co-founder Brett Warnock, it was announced, “has decided to retire from the world of comics and explore business opportunities through his newly launched food and nature blog,” while Leigh Walton will stay on as publicist and marketing director.

IDW is promising that deals in place will stay the same but that IDW will help make sure the backlist stays in print and royalties are paid on time. Those are great things to assist with.

With this and Boom!’s acquisition of Archaia, this suggests to me that it’s a lot easier to be a critically acclaimed, boutique publisher of graphic novels if you also have an arm of the company that brings in eyeballs and shelf space with licensed titles, whether Adventure Time or Transformers or My Little Pony. Then again, that’s not new news — Fantagraphics, decades ago, funded their artistic works with a porn line. I guess branded titles are today’s porn? Nah, that’s just being silly.

After holding regular sales and fundraisers, I’m glad to see Top Shelf make a deal that will presumably provide more stable business underpinnings, because many of the works they published should be readily available at all times to readers and retailers. Since the company’s founding in 1997, they’ve been a trailblazer in putting out works that go far beyond the stereotypical assumption of what American comics are. They were one of the first non-superhero publishers I found and followed when I was looking for more in reading comics. Thank you, Top Shelf.

I realized that my title may sound a little apocalyptic, but an era ending isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the participants may go on to new and better heights. Here’s hoping for the best for both companies and all employees and creators affected.

Street View

Pascal Rabaté’s Street View is a fascinating art object, a creative take on storytelling that uses format to drive the reader’s attention. It’s an accordion book, a set of painted double-page spreads between two cardboard boards that can be read through one way, showing daytime scenes, and then flipped over to see the evenings. Each sheds new light on the others.

Each image is a straight-on shot of four buildings. As in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, we watch the inhabitants across the street as they go about their business. The Hitchcock reference is quite intentional, since a bald, pudgy man in a dark suit appears in the first image, and one of the “characters” is having his own film festival that includes Vertigo and North by Northwest.

Street View is Where’s Waldo? for adults, a fascinating puzzle that rewards the attention paid to it. You can take in the scene as a whole, or follow just one or two people through the sequence. I found some of the stories — a painter and his model, an unhappy couple — quite easy to comprehend, while others I’ll have to come back to and read again.

(The publisher provided a review copy.)

Jem and the Holograms Comic Debuts in March

I never watched the Jem and the Holograms cartoon, but I’m definitely going to be checking out the upcoming comic, because the premise seems well-suited for the format, given its adventure and light science fiction roots.

Kelly Thompson writes and Ross Campbell (Wet Moon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) draws the ongoing series about a rock group. The plan is to update the classic storylines about music and celebrity with modern attitudes. In this revamp, for example, Jerrica needs her alter ego Jem because although she’s already in the band, she has stage fright.

IDW is very good with media tie-ins. In this case, there’s also a Jem and the Holograms movie planned for October starring Aubrey Peeples. Original show creator Christy Marx wasn’t mentioned in connection with this comic release, which is being handled with property owner Hasbro.

There are five covers for the first issue, shipped in even ratio. This group shot is by Campbell.

Jem and the Holograms cover by Ross Campbell

With four individual cover images by Amy Mebberson.

Jem and the Holograms covers by Amy Mebberson

The cover by Campbell for issue #2, featuring the rival band The Misfits, has also been released.

Jem and the Holograms #2 cover by Ross Campbell

You can pre-order the first issue at your local comic shop with code JAN15 0430.




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