Amazon Buys ComiXology

It’s the perfect news story. There’s a shocking fact — Amazon has acquired the most significant digital comic distributor, ComiXology — but no idea what it will actually mean to the comic market, so people have lots of room for speculation. Which is why everyone’s already weighed in on it.

I’m reminded of Bruce Sterling’s quote, “Being afraid of monolithic organizations especially when they have computers is like being afraid of really big gorillas especially when they are on fire.” ComiXology had, in digital, already effectively replicated the monopoly position of Diamond Distribution in print — they were the elephant you had to deal with if you wanted to join the circus. Will being owned by Amazon change that? Make it worse?

Amazon is already publishing comics, although I never heard anyone speak of any of them. Amazon also sells digital comics for Kindle, although they don’t have the Guided View technology that makes the ComiXology experience smoother. From that perspective, we lose competition, as two of the biggest digital markets now will combine.

There was some fear, mostly hypothetical, about what would happen if ComiXology went out of business, since their locked format couldn’t be converted to anything else, so people would lose the comics they’ve “bought” so far. As part of a much bigger company, that’s now less likely to happen — although it’s still possible that Amazon will decide to move away from the format for some reason.

“Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed”, so we don’t know what ComiXology is worth. ComiXology will continue to operate under its name, as a subsidiary of Amazon. Comixology CEO David Steinberger will remain, and their offices will stay in New York City, with no layoffs planned.

Fans are speculating widely, with popular options including hoping for cheaper prices (not up to the company, but the publishers, unless Amazon starts throwing its weight around) and free digital copies with purchase of a physical edition, the same way Amazon does for many CDs. Still to be determined: What does this mean for Submit, ComiXology’s program for independent publishers? Will you still be able to buy comics in the iOS ComiXology app, or will Amazon remove the purchase path that gives Apple 30%? Personally, I wonder if this ties into Amazon’s increased emphasis on providing value to Prime customers now that they’re raising the yearly fees — will free comics come along with the free TV and movie viewing?

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Breakfast Served Anytime

I knew I had to read this YA novel when I found out that it was set at a geek camp, a summer program for gifted and talented students. I’m an alum of geek school myself, and I was eager to read another story of the experience. It surpassed my expectations in its portrayal of friendship among several creative and entertaining young people.

When we meet Gloria, aspiring actress, she and best friend Carol are dreaming of their future escape to New York City. They don’t like Kentucky, and they want their real life to start, imagining artsy existences in the big city elsewhere. That’s typical of her, since she values anticipation more than the actual experience.

But before they move on, Gloria’s going to spend a month at a summer camp for promising high school seniors. The program’s set up to keep talent in the state (when so many want to leave). Gloria’s particular program even asks her not to use cellphones, computers, or other internet gadgets. That’s to help her better get to know her fellow students: Calvin, a farm son who’s brilliant and caring; Chloe, who loves France and the 1920s; and Mason, demented and imaginative.

I liked the exploration of what it means to have a state attachment, a home in a location with some things you like and some you can’t stand. I liked the course, about the magic of writing and favorite books, and I liked the way the teacher was actually honest with the kids. I liked the way not everything came with an answer; like life, there are questions, such as the one about coal mining vs. environmentalism, that didn’t have easy solutions.

I loved the scavenger hunt that bonds the four friends together. I loved how smart and passionate and involved they all were, and how exhilarating their conversation and interactions could be. I miss that feeling of life before you, of discovery and wonder and intellectual exploration. Breakfast Served Anytime captures and shares that well. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Oni Serializes Archer Coe on ComiXology

Archer Coe #1 cover

Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks by Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen, which I enjoyed reading, will be released as a graphic novel in June. However, in advance of print publication, publisher Oni Press has announced that it will be serialized at ComiXology as 14 digital issues. It’s 99 cents for 17 pages, and future chapters will appear every Tuesday and Thursday.

Since print issues don’t make sense any more for a limited-run independent project like this, I suppose this is yet another sign that digital and book collections can run in very complementary fashion. It’s also a great way to make samples easily available — you don’t have to read it all digitally, although if you do (and if the price stays the same), it’s cheaper by about $6.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Want to Ride Captain America Movie’s Coattails

It’s no surprise that Captain America: The Winter Soldier had a dynamite opening weekend, setting a new box office record for April with a $96+ million take. Internationally, it’s also doing well, taking in more already than the first Captain America made overseas in total. The sequel is expected to far surpass the original overall.

Thus, it’s also no surprise that the struggling Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing its best to grab some of that success and interest. Marvel sent out a press release yesterday that said:

Nothing will ever be the same for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. following the jaw dropping events of the blockbuster film Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, now in theaters! In the series’ latest episode “Turn, Turn, Turn,” airing Tuesday, April 8th at 8|7c on the ABC Network, Coulson and his team come face–to-face with the Clairvoyant and must deal with the greatest threat of all … one that will hit closer to home more than they’ve ever imagined.

with the following video clip:

I’m still confused on what this actually means. They talk about how the TV show and film both deal with S.H.I.E.L.D., but didn’t we know that already? Promotion of this kind actually makes me LESS likely to watch the show, since I haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet and I’m now vaguely concerned that I’ll either have something spoiled for me, or I’ll miss something because I won’t know the reference. Of course, it’s probably nothing, just attempted cross-marketing to raise the show’s viewership. And it’s probably a fair assumption on their part that plenty of people did see the movie already, given the ticket sales. I seem to have heard that Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson wasn’t even in the movie, which strikes me as a poor choice, since he’s been the glue of the cinematic Marvel universe so far.

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Far From You

This young adult novel was surprisingly engrossing for blending several stories — teen romance, a murder mystery, dealing with loss, and most importantly, a young woman learning to handle her pain and be honest with herself — with skill.

Sophie’s story is told in interwoven flashbacks, as she copes with first, recovering from a serious car accident that required rebuilding her leg and back. She, her best friend Mina, and Mina’s brother Trev were all affected, but Sophie worst of all. Their relationships were damaged for the first time by Sophie’s addiction to painkillers and the resulting secrets she learns to hide.

The second major event in her life is the night the two girls set out for a party and, after a confrontation that’s more complicated than anyone believes, Mina is shot dead. Surprisingly, by talking about all these events, I’m not spoiling anything. It’s all very quickly established, but the feelings and mysteries are what are slowly revealed over the course of the novel. Why were Sophie and Mina where she got killed? Why did others lie about the cause? What secret did they share that they won’t admit to anyone else and barely to each other?

Tess Sharpe does an excellent job building characters you care for and want to know more about. The alternating chapter structure, between now and then, could be frustrating, but instead, she doles out information at a solid pace, filling in the picture for the reader in a way that mimics how secrets can be revealed, particularly when people have motives to keep them hidden — some protective, some romantic, some murderous. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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MoCCA Fest 2014 Another Success

MoCCA Fest 2014 banner

Under the auspices of the Society of Illustrators, the MoCCA Arts Fest continues to become an ever-better show. Here are some quick thoughts on my time there this year.

Gary Tyrrell and Brigid Alverson at MoCCA Fest 2014

Gary Tyrrell and Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson and I roomed together, which was a great way to decompress from the show, sharing notes about discoveries and some great cheese plates. Here she is with Gary Tyrrell, whom we bumped into at show open and then I never saw again. Bummer! He’s always got great insight into comics, particularly digitally.

Carol Burrell shows off Climate Changed at the Abrams booth at MoCCA Fest 2014

Carol Burrell shows off Climate Changed at the Abrams booth

I was thrilled to get an advance copy of Climate Changed, an upcoming graphic novel from Abrams edited by Carol Burrell. It looks gorgeous, and the topic is particularly timely.

Shannon Watters debuted Lumberjanes at MoCCA Fest 2014

Shannon Watters debuted Lumberjanes

Another early release was the much-anticipated Lumberjanes, which looks terrific. I also picked up a copy of Katie Skelly’s Operation Margarine from AdHouse Books. The show had great timing for getting the jump on anticipated works.

Mike Dawson at MoCCA Fest 2014

Mike Dawson at MoCCA Fest 2014

Mike Dawson had the first copies of his new graphic novel, Angie Bongiolatti from Secret Acres.

Alisa Harris and Alison Wilgus at MoCCA Fest 2014

Alisa Harris and Alison Wilgus at MoCCA Fest 2014

It’s always a pleasure to see Alisa Harris, who put together a short collection of a few of her Cooking Up Comics recipes, and Alison Wilgus, who both had snazzy banners and eye-catching outfits.

The Charlie Brown balloon at MoCCA Fest 2014

Yes, the Charlie Brown balloon was quite impressive

Brigid Alverson and Johanna Draper Carlson at MoCCA Fest 2014

Brigid and I were even happier after the show

I came home with a ton of great reads and lovely memories of conversations and meals. A very rewarding show. I think a lot of people agreed, since there was still a line to get in at 3 PM on Saturday.

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Angel and Faith Season 10 #1

To tie into the new Buffy Season 10, the Angel and Faith series has also been relaunched with a similar title (although it makes less sense here, since there was never a season 9).

Angel and Faith Season 10 #1

Cover by Scott Fischer

I enjoyed the previous run of the series due in large part to how well writer Christos Gage and artist Rebekah Isaacs captured the characters authentically. Now they’ve been promoted to the main Buffy book, and we’re left here with Victor Gischler, whose writing I did not at all care for on the Spike miniseries he did, and Will Conrad.

This isn’t a great issue to evaluate, by the way. The title characters are separated, with Faith off meeting Buffy in the U.S. (tying into the Buffy #1, but more on that later) and Angel moping around “Magic Town”. That’s the new high concept, that part of London is this lawless area with magical baddies and odd happenings. Which seems a bit like a throwback to the show, where the same thing happened to L.A., but fans like the familiar. So far all we see of it is some killer pixies, which means too many pages of Angel fighting them while monologuing, and a typical “ooh, they killed a random to show how bad-ass they are” scene.

Two of the characters Gage introduced that I liked, Giles’ self-centered magic-using aunts, show up, but without much of the froth and individuality I associate with them. The likenesses, where we have actor reference, are good but static, a risk of using photo reference. Sometimes the storytelling lacks from panel to panel, with each one being understandable but how we got from one to another unclear or choppy.

I thought it would be interesting to see the Buffy/Faith/Giles meetup from Faith’s perspective, but I’m left with the nagging impression that the two creative teams weren’t guided enough editorially. Faith in this version shows up in a muscle car with the dialogue papering over the private jet referred to in the Buffy version.

Overall — and this is my main gripe with Gischler’s writing — this comic is mediocre. It hits the expected beats, but with nothing particularly memorable or outstanding, particularly in the dialogue, which is traditionally the appeal of Joss Whedon shows. Characters tell each other things they already know in interchangeable voices, without the spark I’m looking for. Angel’s frequent monologues are unnecessary, as though they’re just there to make some kind of word count or not leave wordless panels on the page.

Worst of all, Gischler pulls a standard superhero writing trick that I hate. He’s building up to the reveal of some mysterious character, whom we see on the last page — but I have no idea who this person is or why we should care. I’m not as big a Whedon fan as some — and googling turns up that this person was in the comic previously, although clearly not distinctly enough to make a huge impression on me — but this whole “look! it’s so-and-so!” when I don’t recognize so-and-so makes me feel left out. And a #1 issue shouldn’t do that.

I’ll check back in later, presumably when Angel and Faith are back working together, to see if their interactions improve for me, but I suspect that my dislike of the writer’s style will prevent this book from being as enjoyable as it was previously.

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Happy Marriage?! Book 5

Now that Hokuto and Chiwa have done the deed (spoiler for book 4), she’s trying to be the kind of wife she’s learned about — cooking her husband breakfast; packing him lunch; making sure he’s got everything he needs before he leaves for work — although he doesn’t want that kind of fussing. One particularly memorable scene early on has him planting a kiss on her before yelling, “Stop acting like my mother. You’re my wife!”

Of course, neither of them seem to know what that means. Since their relationship started so strangely, they don’t have the usual history or feelings to rely upon. Mostly, they don’t know how to talk to each other, which is how they end up in the situations that drive this manga forward, fitfully and episodically.

In this volume, Chiwa gets a job — because her ne’er-do-well father is in trouble with gambling debts again — which leads to a terrible argument between the two. There’s a decent message in there, when she thinks about how “after we fell in love, I thought everything would just magically work”, but any message about a real relationship taking effort is lost in the two either flirting with or yelling at each other.

It doesn’t help that when she finally tells him how she feels and what she wants, a major step, he calls her names. I think it’s supposed to be bemused and in loving fashion, but this manga risks being thought too shallow for that to be apparent. There’s too much jealousy in this manga for me to really love it, that and the sex substituting for communication. I can see a lot of couples finding that realistic — that there’s still a physical connection even when the verbal/emotional one is messed up — but it makes me uncomfortable in fiction.

At least in this volume, Chiwa’s not the only one screwing up. The two take what’s supposed to be a romantic weekend together, but when Hokuto bumps into a client’s daughter, the hidden nature of their marriage gets in the way. He introduces her as his sister to avoid damaging a business relationship, a stupid thing to do when they’re trying to build trust. Also, Chiwa takes an important step with Hokuto’s estranged family on her own, which I appreciated seeing. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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