New Magazine ACE Wants to Bring Back the Price Guide

ACE magazine cover

In the latest Previews catalog, there’s a new magazine announced. ACE stands for All Comics Evaluated, and the two folks behind the projectComic Book Artist editor Jon B. Cooke and retailer Robert Yeremian (oddly, both names are left out of the catalog ad) — are promising “a thorough and accurate price guide” that will be “amazingly comprehensive and real-world”.

It’s not just about the money, though. They promise to cover the “aesthetic and critical” as well as financial worth of comics, with reviews and interviews on contemporary comics plus coverage of comic-related media projects.

Now I remember the days of Wizard and Hero magazines and how crazy people were to see how much their collection was “worth” — not realizing that those were the prices they’d be asked to buy at, not sell for, since retailers expected to turn a profit by buying lower than guide. Nowadays, I find it more useful to simply do an eBay search on completed sales to see what items are really selling for. As you can see from some of the inflated prices from Amazon third-party sellers in that marketplace, just because someone’s asking $XXX for a graphic novel doesn’t mean anyone’s willing to pay that.

Anyway, the first issue of ACE will be on sale March 18 with it planned to be monthly afterwards. I’m curious to see whether it draws enough of an audience

Super Genius Comics Announces Edits to Future WWE Superstars Reprints

Papercutz has an imprint for “top quality graphic entertainment for teens and adults” called Super Genius Comics that so far has only released wrestling comics. WWE Superstars puts wrestling names into comic-book situations.

The one issue I tried, I found too much aimed at existing wrestling fans for it to be an enjoyable read, so I can’t speak much to the content. However, at the end of last year, the company put out an odd press release that was rather coy about pending changes. I quote:

In the just-released WWE Superstars: Haze of Glory trade paperback, co-created by Mick Foley and Shane Riches, and illustrated by Puste, a major character bids the WWE Universe a fond farewell, as he moves on to write comics for a major publisher. While this particular superstar appeared in the first eight issues of the WWE Superstars comicbook series in a major role, he unfortunately will not be appearing again in the ongoing WWE Superstars series. In fact, once the first eight issues and first two trade paperbacks go out of print, they will never again go back into print with that superstar in it — the stories will be rewritten and redrawn to feature other WWE Superstars still with the WWE. Whether or not that makes the first printings of these comics collectors’ items is something the fans will decide.

Or whether or not demand is such that there’s even a need for second printings is something the company likely won’t reveal.

These planned changes are taking a brand tie-in a bit too far, in my opinion. Sure, the WWE requires agreements to use the names and appearances of their characters, but changing printed work as though any one wrestler was interchangeable with another? You can’t rewrite history that way. Plus, this makes things complicated for regular customers, who may not even realize that there are unlabeled content variants.

I’m guessing — just because he’s the only one I know writing comics — that the departing wrestler is Mick Foley. But why not even be clear about that? If you don’t want to talk about what’s going on, why put out an oblique press release?

Update: Commenters point out that a better guess is CM Punk, whose poor treatment from the WWE has caused him to leave the business. I agree, that’s more likely. This is the problem with indirect references — people get the wrong impression based on a lack of knowledge.

As I say at these times, whenever the question regarding the comic business is “why”, the answer is usually “money”. Perhaps Papercutz wants fans to know to seek out the comics now, while they can still get the original version, and bump sales. Nothing wrong with that, and they’re probably making the best of a bad situation driven by the licensor. Does illustrate a hazard in dealing with brand content, though.

TJ Editions Releases Stories of European History, Ypres Memories and Scout’s Honor

TJ Editions is a relatively new publisher (started 2013) out of London and Belgium focusing on European graphic novels about either history or sport (such as their graphic history of the Manchester United football club). What I’ve seen so far from them has been firmly in the “boys’ adventure” tradition.

Ypres Memories by Philippe Glogowski came out last spring. Focused on “the plight of the Scottish Military who fought during World War I”, it was named the “official graphic novel of the 100 year commemorations of the 1st World War” in the UK.

A grumpy old man in 1986 goes to a military parade exhibition, which throws him back into his memories of the struggle of battle in 1914. (The timeline is barely workable.) Another story illustrates the diary of a lieutenant at the lines.

The art is solid, but the heavily captioned and narrated work doesn’t take full advantage of the comics format. The publisher is emphasizing the educational elements, so perhaps that’s why this feels like an illustrated text. Unfortunately, not enough context is provided for those who, like most Americans, don’t understand the importance of this battleground. The result is a generic “war is terrible” piece that feels overly familiar, made up of a series of horrific incidents, and is a struggle to get through.

Scout’s Honor is more rah-rah, less depressing. Three writers and five artists tell inspiring scouting stories.

The first tells of the first scout camp at Brownsea in 1907, led by Baden-Powell, whose tales of military adventure fire the boys’ imagination while they work together to build camp and pretend to hunt stag and whale. If you aren’t familiar with Robert Baden-Powell, acclaimed founder of scouting, the next story goes in to detail about his war service, with a digression into the Jungle Book work of his buddy Rudyard Kipling.

Oddly, the comic has all its dialogue in the word balloons also contained in quotes. Perhaps that’s to indicate authenticity — although no sources are cited — but I found it annoying and distracting.

The other stories include a modern scout’s encounter with a bear; a short version of the life of Guy de Larigaudie, a French venture scout, writer, and world traveler; the tale of a group of Girl Guides who worked underground during the Nazi occupation of Paris; and a hypothetical about a young Paul McCartney and Keith Richards meeting on a scout campout. Boys who adore scouting might enjoy this look at other times and places, but others may weary of the scattershot anthology. (The publisher provided review copies.)

*Monster: The Perfect Edition Books 1 and 2 — Recommended

Monster originally ran from 1994-2001 in Japan, and Viz serialized it in English from 2006-2008. Those volumes, out of print, have been in demand for two reasons. First, author Naoki Urasawa is now better known in the US, winning a couple of Eisner Awards for 20th Century Boys and gathering a great deal of critical praise for Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka. Plus, Monster may become an HBO TV series.

So Viz has done the smart thing. They’re reprinting Monster in an upscale edition. The books are larger, matching the size of his other works in English; they have remastered pages and a new translation; and the volumes include color pages. Each contains the equivalent of two of the previous books, making for bigger reading chunks. They’re lovely.

The story is as involving as ever. Dr. Tenma is a promising young surgeon in Germany with a career on the rise. He’s also engaged to the daughter of the hospital director, who encourages him to think of his soon-to-improve position, because she likes the status. As part of playing the game, he’s asked to give up his research, work that might save lives, so he can ghost-write papers to make the director look better.

An early scene sums up the couple’s relationship, as Tenma tries to rationalize away his guilt at participating, unknowingly, in hospital politics, leading to the death of a poor man so a famous one could be saved, by saying, “I was following the director’s orders”. His fiancee responds, bluntly, “Some lives are worth more than others,” a chilling statement that haunts him.

That’s one reason, when ordered to leave a challenging operation on a young boy to save the life of a mayor whose funding is important to the hospital, he refuses — which ends up ruining his life. His promotion is rescinded, and his fiancee leaves him because his career has ended. However, nine years later, things have turned around for him, after the unexpected death of the director who blocked him.

He soon finds out why. The boy he saved turns out to be a serial killer. Tenma’s choice, while appearing morally preferable, has resulted in a number of other deaths. He gives up his work to search for this anonymous killer, trying to prevent more murders. He travels across Germany, looking for the now-young man and his twin sister. He wants to stop him to make up for saving the monster years ago.

Urasawa’s work is cinematic in its pacing, with excellent linework establishing the strong characters. His expressions of his characters are particularly revealing. Monster isn’t my favorite of his work — that would be Pluto, which is more tightly developed and with themes that resonate more with me. Monster is more of a thriller, and it spins out long for my taste, with some exaggerated plot developments. It’s not as thoughtful, but it’s more adrenaline-paced. Still, it’s worth a read.

I also have qualms with the base premise. Tenma does the right thing, and his life is ruined for it. I suppose the message is that no one can predict who’s going to turn out to be a psychopath, but it’s a bit random for my taste, attesting to an uncaring universe. Going back to the fiancee’s statement, the reader can’t help but think that Tenma’s life, with his ability to save others, IS worth more than that of Johan’s, since all he’s done is murder the undeserved. I don’t think we’re supposed to agree with her, though, since that privileged attitude is also what allows murderers to kill others.

Then again, the entire premise of a high-level doctor is that he can save lives, playing God by holding other’s fates in his hands. It’s certainly thought-provoking. Let’s see how I feel once I re-read the remaining reprints.

By book 2, Tenma is on the run. His asking questions about the various murders has tagged him as a suspect, and his Japanese identity in Germany makes him stand out. Johan is toying with him while Tenma tries to piece together what happened and where he was going, including investigating his childhood in an East German orphanage.

It’s fascinating to see how quickly everything Tenma valued, everything that made up his self-identity, can be replaced when he becomes a lone vigilante. He wanders, meeting a child whose most desired wish is simply a soccer ball and a country doctor trying to do what he can for the village patients. He’s not the only one after Johan; a white-supremacist organization is also looking for him to be the next Hitler.

Meanwhile, a police inspector who has sacrificed everything else in his life to solving murderers is on his trail, egged on by Tenma’s now-dissolute ex-fiancee. It’s rather like a 70s action show, with the big premise — Tenma hunts a murderer — allowing for smaller stories within the larger plot. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

*Prophecy Book 1 — Recommended

Sometimes reviews work! I hadn’t taken notice of Prophecy until I saw Ash Brown’s review, which made it clear I would find the topic fascinating.

The figure on the cover of Prophecy is “Paperboy”, a vigilante who covers his head in newspaper when he goes online to promise revenge through underground video postings from internet cafes. All his victims were previously brought to public attention online, whether a company that caused a number of food poisoning cases or a guy who stupidly blamed a rape victim for being “easy”. Although the internet punished them with boycotts or personal attacks, Paperboy takes payback into the real world. Some of his revenge schemes are clever or ironic; others simply violent.

He’s being chased by a Tokyo police unit formed to specialize in internet crime. As the book opens, they’re arresting a junior high kid who’s been accused of uploading pirated video games. He thinks of himself as some kind of fighter for freedoms, but he’s quickly shown how misguided his self-justification is, as those who took advantage of his offerings quickly turn on him once he gets in trouble, laughing at his rationalizations. The attention and affection of an online group are fickle things.

The leader of this cyber investigation unit is a young, pretty detective who’s most noted for being hard as nails and remarkably outspoken. I’m not sure she’s going to be able to achieve her aim, that of preventing Paperboy’s online fans from continuing to grow. She’s concerned they’re going to get out of control — and unspokenly, challenge the social order by supporting individual violence outside the established structure to bring justice, no matter how damaging.

Tetsuya Tsutsui tackles remarkably modern themes within this structure, including social network information sharing, online mobs, mass peer pressure, how online anonymity affects behavior, the desire to have one’s non-mainstream voice heard, and the underemployment of a technologically educated age group. For a story based on computers, he also makes it visually interesting. Similar to a procedural TV show, there are lots of close-ups of emotional people making dramatic statements. Everyone’s attitude is exaggerated, although they’re all also based in authentic beliefs and motivations.

I found it particularly affecting how one character’s background, as a temp programmer who was made promises about permanent employment his boss never intends to keep, reflects so many of the problems in today’s economy. Although one wouldn’t go to Paperboy’s extremes, the motivation is understandable.

Prophecy is only three volumes, as you can see from these Japanese covers at the Vertical Tumblr. I kind of like the all-yellow version of the original cover to volume 1.

Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels

It’s a bit of a specialized book, focused on writing comics for other people (instead of self-publishing or drawing your own work), but it’s full of great advice for those who want to go into that aspect of the business. More importantly, the enthusiasm Brian Michael Bendis conveys for the job is infectious. Similarly, Joe Quesada’s foreword hits the “don’t give up, push through the many failures you’ll have before you succeed” message hard, which is inspiring.

As you’d expect, most of the art is taken from Marvel comics Bendis has worked on, and there’s also a good amount of famous names helping out, with insert sections from fellow writers, artists, and editors Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, Michael Avon Oeming, David Mack, Alex Maleev, Diana Schutz, and C.B. Cebulski.

The first chapter covers motivation, emphasizing that you shouldn’t want to write comics for fame or money (since those rarely come) but because you have to. The much longer second chapter covers script formats and pitch documents. There seems to be a gap in here, covering “what to write”, but this is more of a practical manual, less an artistic one.

The chapter on writing for artists covers how to build a relationship with your collaborator. This is a much-needed section for this kind of business, and not a topic I’ve seen covered much at all in other how-to books. Also included in this chapter is a roundtable interview with a bunch of notable artists, including Michael Allred, Mark Bagley, Adam Hughes, Jill Thompson, and many more, about what they like and don’t like to see in scripts.

The next chapter is another big question-and-answer section, this time with editors Tom Brevoort, Nick Lowe, Scott Allie, Steve Wacker, and others. That’s where the biggest topic aspiring writers want to know more about comes up: how to actually break in, how to convince someone else to pay you to write comics for them. The sensible (but usually unwanted) advice here is to go write other things before trying to work for Marvel, particularly since unsolicited pitches using their characters are legally banned. Bendis calls this section “worth the cover price alone”, and he’s not wrong. However, in my opinion, he doesn’t put enough weight on the fact that he began as an artist, drawing his own stories, as did many of the other talents interviewed for this book.

Another chapter could have been another book in itself — it’s about the need for a smart person (in Bendis’ case, his wife Alisa) to run your finances and business if you, as an artist, aren’t any good at it. Unfortunately, it’s got a completely wrong answer when asked about the difference between an employee and an independent contractor.

Also included is a set of frequently asked questions Bendis has gotten on his website about his process. It’s more good information, although the book itself, while well-done and useful, boils down to a giant contradiction. Bendis is providing good advice on being a working comic professional for a big comic company, but the way you get there, according to everyone interviewed in the book, is to do your own work, whether with another artist or on your own. There’s not much advice given here for that, so you’ll need another book first to make this one truly relevant (although there’s a short section on a few writing exercises).

*A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium II — Recommended

If you haven’t had the pleasure of trying Rick Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder series, this new omnibus volume is a wonderful starting point. For those of us, like me, who have long recommended these explorations of sometimes-unsolved mysteries of long ago, the handsome hardcover is a delightful way to be reminded of author Rick Geary’s skill.

This substantial volume contains five books’ worth of material: The Borden Tragedy, The Mystery of Mary Rogers, The Saga of the Bloody Benders, The Case of Madeleine Smith, and The Murder of Abraham Lincoln. It’s a great value — considering typical discounts from the cover price, you get these cases for about $5 a story. (The first Compendium only contained three books: Jack the Ripper, The Fatal Bullet (about the assassination of President James A. Garfield), and The Beast of Chicago (serial killer H. H. Holmes and his murder house).) I think the thicker hardcover also better suits the material, since the classic format better matches the straightforward, old-fashioned flavor of the art and storytelling. In comparison with my previous editions, this reproduction seems darker and crisper as well.

Originally published between 1997-2007, this set of stories starts with one of the best-known unsolved murders of all time: the 1892 axe murders of Lizzie Borden’s parents. The case of Mary Rogers is less-known. She was recognized for her beauty, particularly among the customers of the cigar store where she worked, but we don’t know who killed her and dumped her body in the river. She inspired the Edgar Allan Poe story “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”.

The Benders, on the other hand, are known villains, a Kansas family who set up a remote grocery store and small inn. Visitors carrying cash who pass by are rarely seen again, until the number of disappearances cause them to flee, at which point a number of bodies are discovered on their property. The mystery here is what happened to them and where they ended up.

Madeleine Smith is a suspected poisoner in Glasgow, a privileged young woman who wanted to dispose of a secret boyfriend who has become inconvenient. After trial, her guilt is considered “not proven”. The volume concludes with the details behind the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln.

I love the way Geary opens each story with a map to set the stage and remind the reader of how places have changed from decades ago. The approach is journalistic, laying out the facts of the case and presenting the various theories so the reader can judge for herself. It’s often frustrating, not to know for sure what happened, and it’s playing to our morbid curiosity to go into such detail, so it’s important not to succumb to cynicism about human nature. It’s also easy to think “oh, we know so much more about investigation now, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen again” — but that ignores the universality of jealousy, selfishness, hatred, greed, stupidity, and other vices that cause the murders and mistakes in the first place. Each of these stories, although set long ago, involves elements we can identify with, whether the spreading of rumors or sensationalized journalism or the question of how much to trust our neighbors or the ruinous dedication of political groups to lost causes. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

The Garden of Words

A boy in his first year of high school takes shelter on days when it rains in a park gazebo. He sketches shoes and dreams of being a designer of ladies’ footwear. His family is moving apart without him, with his mother spending her time with a younger boyfriend and his big brother moving in with his girlfriend.

On those mornings when he goes to the park, he has company — an older woman playing hooky from work who drinks beer and eats chocolate in the shelter. They strike up a conversation, and he finds himself able to share things with her no one else in his life wants to hear. She seems intrigued by someone who’s still got future choices ahead of him, as a way of escaping her own worries.

Either that description intrigues you, or you’re thinking, “and? what do they DO?” If the latter better fits you, I don’t think this is the story for you, because I found the appeal of The Garden of Words to be in its creation of mood. It’s a comfortable thing to read curled up indoors, safe from the weather.

The events it portrays are necessarily transitory, with its pages capturing life-changing moments bound to end. The two, mismatched as they are, find inspiration in each other temporarily. I found myself thinking about people I’d barely known who still had an influence on my life, about being open to interactions with other people, about how memories become connected to places and moments and elements like the weather.

The one thing that occasionally marred my entering into the poetic dream was the lettering. It’s computerized, and there are times when the words don’t fit the original balloons, bumping up against the edges or parsed into breaks that don’t match English phrasing. It doesn’t aim for elegance the same way the other elements of the book do.

Also typical of Vertical manga, there are no translation notes, so I had to look up what a tanka (similar to a haiku) was. One of these classical poems plays a substantial role in the underlying theme and provides a hint as to why she’s not going to work. Her past dovetails surprisingly with his motivations.

The Garden of Words is a lovely stand-alone story that I suspect one can come to at different times in one’s life and find different sympathies and resonances.




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