Monday, July 28, 2014

On Business: Checking the Landscape

With the typical hype-machine that is Comic-Con, I'd like to point your attention to this probably-under-seen piece that Rob Salkowitz wrote just as the convention was about to get underway. It revolves around some findings Eventbrite uncovered in surveys they conducted with people who were buying convention tickets through them. If you've been paying attention the last few years, there shouldn't be anything terribly surprising. But, as I've gleaned from some creators, there are those in the industry who simply can't see what's going on in front of their own eyes!

The short version is: fandom is about community, which conventions facilitate. (Of note is that convention populations are getting closer and closer to reaching gender parity, and have done so among those attendees under 30.) But they also provide a good opportunity for commerce. People go to shows to meet up with people in person, and to spend money on stuff (presumably items they have limited access to elsewhere).

Also noteworthy is this statistic that was being presented at Diamond's booth in San Diego. (The photo is care of @CharlieChu, but I can't vouch for the data's origins and/or authenticity.)
Now, obviously, every convention has a slightly different set of demographics, so these wouldn't necessarily apply precisely to any given show, but it's worth keeping track of as someone attending conventions themselves. Perhaps as a publisher, as a creator, as a dealer, and even as a fan. Why is it that people are attending this show and, more importantly, what can you do to help facilitate that?

I was at the small Mania Comic Convention a couple weeks back, and one thing I noticed was that the longest line for pretty much the entire time I was there was for the lady doing face-painting. Next was probably for getting pictures with the cosplayers. Now, granted, a good chunk of the audience there were children and their parents, so the demographic is definitely skewed from something like a Comic-Con Internationa, but the same principle is in effect. The kids were getting the most of out of the show when they had a personal interaction: getting a photo with a superhero, or getting made up to look like one.

Now if you're a dealer or tabling at an Artists Alley, what can you do to encourage that personal interaction? Some of the larger publishers have the "easier" time of it by spending a lot of money on large displays. This makes for easy-to-spot meet-up locations where "under the hanging Marvel logo" is easier to note and visually identify from the floor than "booth #3471". But can you do something eye-catching at a smaller scale for Artists Alley?

The classic "interaction" item at shows, of course, is creator signatures. But what about devoting a portion of your booth to a photo op? How many people stop by to get their picture taken with their head sticking out of the custom-built TARDIS? Or in front of the really cool display that makes you look like you're in a starship? Has anyone tried using a simple green cloth background to let people do their own Photoshopping over your greenscreen?

It's pretty obvious that you need to be aware of what people are responding to specifically with you and your wares at a convention. But by also paying attention to the larger information sets from con-goers at large, you might also be able to draw more people to your booth and help make the show more successful for you!

Friday, July 25, 2014

On Strips: Captain Marvel

Brendan Spillane pointed out to me that Captain Marvel appeared in yesterday's Mutts comic strip and his previous comic strip appearance was at Nancy's 80th birthday celebration last November...
It's a little curious since Captain Marvel never had his own newspaper strip, unlike Superman and other well-known superheroes, but it turns out that he almost did.

Back in 1943, at pretty much the height of the character's popularity, Captain Marvel creator C.C. Beck teamed up with writer Rod Reed to pitch a newspaper strip of the character. They put together a week's worth of samples, but none of the syndicates picked them up. Although they were never expressly told why, Reed assumed that it had to do with the lawsuit DC had filed against Fawcett. Here are the first three sample strips they worked up (originally printed in The Fawcett Companion)...
Years later, after the lawsuit was settled, Beck tried syndication again, this time with Otto Binder. Instead of Captain Marvel, however, they tried selling a Mr. Tawny strip. This also went nowhere, with syndicates claiming that it was too cartoony and they were interested in more true-to-life stories. That may be partially true, but I suspect that legal issues may have been involved here too.

Mr. Tawny was created in 1947 and first appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #79. He would have been under a Fawcett copyright, and would have remained so even after they ceased publication of superhero comics in 1953 as part of their settlement with DC. This is reinforced by the fact that DC had to license (and later purchase outright) the character to use in their comics in the 1970s. So Beck and Binder, while creators of the character, would not have had the rights to use him in a comic strip. The syndicates would almost certainly have been aware of the prior lawsuit -- it was a pretty big deal, and lasted for about a decade with the various appeals -- and even if they didn't fully investigate who owned which characters, they could well have shied away from even attempting to get near a character with a legally grey history.

All of which means that the handful of appearances Captain Marvel has made in comic strips were NOT by his original creator, despite his style being perfectly suited to that medium. Nor were any of his appearances in his own comic!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On -isms: What To Read While You're Not in San Diego

Comic-Con International has come and, once again, you're like me and not there. So you try to live vicariously through others online, but that means you miss out on all the parties and get-togethers, formal and informal. And while your feeds light up throughout the day, they go deathly silent outside of the show hours. Particularly as you get into Saturday and Sunday.

So, to fill that extra time, I'd like to recommend a few webcomics to keep you entertained. And, oh, by the way, they happen to focus on characters that aren't straight, cisgendered white men! (This is, by far, not meant to be a comprehensive list of said webcomics, I might add, just some of the still-running ones that I enjoy!)

The Adventures of Gyno-Star by Rebecca Cohen
As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
Ava's Demon by Michelle Czajkowski
balderdash! by Victoria Grace Elliott
Bounce! by Chuck Collins
Empathize This by Tak, Caitlin Jung & Jacelyn McLenaghan
Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto
The Hues by Alex Heberling
O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti
On the Grind by George Gant
Mists of Avalon by Kel McDonald
Relativity by Beck Kramer
Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag
Sufficiently Remarkable by Maki Naro
SuperCakes by Kat Leyh
Unsounded by Ashley Cope
Validation by Christian Beranek & Kelci Crawford
The Young Protectors by Alex Woolfson, Adam DeKraker & Veronica Gandini

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Links

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On History: Launching Pads

I attended the Comic Mania Convention in Elgin, IL this past weekend. It's not a large convention, by any means. It's one-day event with around two dozen people tabling, and organizer Bob Cassinelli said that they had less than 1,000 attendees. It was a really nice, intimate show in a great venue (The Gail Borden Public Library).

One of the cool things about a smaller show like that is that there's a little more flexibility when it comes to talking with creators. Not only is there less background noise to contend with, but there are fewer people poking around at the tables while you talk with them. Which, in some ways, is a bit of detriment to the folks tabling (they make less money that way, after all) but it definitely works in the attendees favor. Which leads me to getting a good chance to chat with Chris Ecker (who co-founded Big Bang Comics and created the Knight Watchman) and Matt Hansel (who inks the Knight Watchmen webcomic).

I'd been reading the Knight Watchmen webcomic since it launched about six months back. It's a fun spin on Golden Age Batman-type stories, and does a good job re-creating the feel of those old books and strips, particularly the Shelly Moldoff stuff. What I didn't realize -- and I kicked myself over this repeatedly while standing there -- was that Ecker has been doing these for about 20 years! His first Big Bang Comics came out in 1994, and Image started publishing them in 1996! How I completely missed these for this long, I have no idea! But I quickly dropped a small chunk of change to pick up several of the trade paperbacks, and some original art.

As it happened, I also received this weekend the copy of The Shadow Hero which I pre-ordered months ago. It's a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew recounting a new origin story for an incredibly obscure superhero named the Green Turtle. Evidently, the character was created by Chu F. Hing as the first Asian superhero in an American comic, but his publisher refused to accept that a non-Caucasian could take a lead role like that and Chu spent the entire time hiding the character's intended race from his boss, blocking even the reader from getting a good look at him. In Shadow Hero, Yang and Liew expand on the character's mythos and try to figure out some in-story rationale for some seemingly odd design decisions. (They do a fantastic job of it, I might add!)

Finally, I also found in the quarter bins at Comic Mania, about half of the run on Kirby Genesis, a relatively recent comic series imagining all of Jack Kirby's creator-owned characters inhabiting the same universe. While the style is marketedly different (Kirby's concepts here are primarily from decades after the previous items) and the content is licensed from the Kirby estate, they're still using older work as a platform to launch new works.

At some level, you could say that any continuing comic (Superman, Archie, X-Men, etc.) is basing the new work on what's been previously published, but in those ongoing series, the build-up is slow, taking place over decades one issue at a time. There really very little connection between Action Comics #1 and the latest issue of Superman. The characters have evolved significantly over the past century. Current creators aren't evoking older stories, so much as evoking just the previous issue.

It's kind of curious that I happened to wind up with a number of different works deliberately skipping over the immediate history and diving at least a few decades into the past. And these newer works aren't slaving over the existing material, as is done with contemporary stories, but just using the basic ideas and concepts and exploring them further with some degree of hindsight. I don't know that it's really popular enough to be a thing per se, and it's certainly not something that's never done elsewhere, but seeing these varied pieces come in at the same time makes one appreciate the effort new creators take in examining the old concepts and seeing how/why they might still be relevant today.

Monday, July 21, 2014

On Business: Foil Covers, Take 2

Last week saw several comic announcements of note in advance of Comic-Con. (And for those expressing any level of surprise that they didn't wait until Comic-Con, I have to ask if you've been paying attention? You haven't been able to announce anything AT Comic-Con if you wanted it to get any attention for at least six or eight years now.) Regardless of what you think of the announcements themselves, Marvel probably did the best job of working the media outlets, devulging upcoming revelations on The View and The Colbert Report. I don't recall hearing about any major changes in Marvel's PR/marketing department, but they've either hired a wicked-talented CMO to little fanfare, or they're been getting a lot of help/attention from Disney. Either way, good on them for stepping up their marketing game.

But I'm sitting back here at Kleefeld HQ, and watching the various debates around gay characters in Archie, racism in Captain America and sexism in Batgirl; and there are a lot of interesting points being brought up. "You were okay with Frog Thor, but not okay with a female Thor?" "Is this going to be a Black Captain America, or a Captain America in blackface?" "How are lace-up boots less practical than spandex and high heels?" And so on. Lots of valid points being made there, as I said.

I've seen a few other people note that all this buzz isn't going to do much good because the books are pretty impenatrable to new readers. The Archie issue evidently has two full pages of backstory to get people caught up to speed. Two pages! On Archie, what has historically been one of the most consistently accessible franchises in the past 40-50 years!

So people hear some of the buzz, and call their LCS and maybe pick up a copy or two. Because it's important. Because it's significant. Because it's a piece of comic book history. Because it's collectible.

And therein lies my concern. You know, it was a nice bit of marketing a few years ago when Marvel killed off Captain America. They got some good PR out of it, and it got a lot of people to pick up the book who might not otherwise. But that was done pretty much in isolation. It happened to be a slow news day, as I recall, which helped but that was pretty much the only comic announcement of consequence for some time on either side of that date. It was an event because it stood out as an event.

But with all the publishers jumping on the "we have a PR-worthy event" bandwagon, it cheapens the importance of all of them. How much has the Batgirl talk died down in the wake of a female Thor? Hell, the most I heard about Batgirl after that were jokes about how DC was making these super-timid advances, even compared to Marvel's pretty timid advances.

But that whole "everybody's doing something special which makes nothing special" idea? That was last seen in comicdom when we were inundated with a flood of foil covers, embossed covers, die-cut covers, neon ink covers... And, as you'll recall, that led to a pretty nasty collapse when all the non-comics people realized that they were buying gimmicks that ultimately wouldn't be worth the fortune they thought they would be and stopped buying altogether.

Now, granted, a good story in a comic is more likely than a foil cover to pull in a reader for the long-term, even if the initial hook is pretty gimmicky. And all the announcements we've seen could potentially lead to good, even great, stories.

But, we've heard retailers weigh in and talk about how they would get a flood of phone calls after, say, Spider-Man teamed up with Barack Obama, and a bunch of people would rush in to buy the issue, and the retailer would never see those customers again. So the question I'm wondering is: will these media event stories be the cause of another comics industry implosion? I certainly hope not, but it's something I'll be keep my eye on to see other signs for.

Friday, July 18, 2014

On Strips: Capp vs Lennon

In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono performed a pair of "bed-ins" (one in Amesterdam, one in Montreal) to protest the Vietnam War. It was kind of like a sit-in, but they stayed in bed. It was a form of non-violent protest to try to encourage... well, non-violence, I suppose. They garnered a fair amount of publicity, but not much else from what I understand. Part of the publicity in their Montreal stay came from their inviting a variety of celebrities to come meet with them and talk about issues surrounding the war. One such guest, who was by pretty much all accounts the most adversarial, was cartoonist Al Capp.

Capp spent ten minutes with them, clearly disagreeing on many points, and he put forth more than a little effort into goading Lennon and/or Ono into violence by repeatedly and deliberately insulting and aggitating them. Capp had been growing increasingly out of step with the popular culture, and his personal indescretions were less frequently ignored. This didn't help, though Li'l Abner continued to appear in newspapers under his hand until 1977.

Here's the complete footage of Capp meeting Lennon and Ono for the first (and, I believe, only) time...