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I've always really liked this 1987 Jack Kirby interview from The Masters Of Comic Book Art. Rather than asking about specific characters or stories or events, Jack espouses on his broader philosophy of comics and life. Very much worth the five minutes of your time to watch it...
When I moved to the Chicago area a few years ago, I scoped out the comic shop scene to see what kind of shops were around, and which ones might be worth visiting more, or less, frequently. I had largely dropped my weekly comics habit a few years prior to that, in favor of trade collections and webcomics, but I was still interested in getting "established" at a local shop. That way, I figured, I'd always have a means to order whatever new and potentially obscure books might come out.

Chicago, as you may know, has plenty of comic shops to choose from. I caught a "Top 10 Chicago Comic Shops" list a little while back and was thrilled that I live in an area that can have that kind of list, and it not just be a list of all the area shops! So I checked out each shop and found that, not surprisingly, they each had a slightly different focus and often a very different demeanor from one another. Also not surprisingly, I found that some shops suited my tastes better than others. And those shops, I felt, were quite good.

But here I am, some years later, without a comic shop that I frequent. I think I visit the ones I've liked the most maybe once or twice a year? And then, it's more often than not for a specific event, like an author talk or a signing or something. I'm sitting here, a week out from Free Comic Book Day, and I don't even have a preference on which shop I should stop by.

As I said, I had largely gotten away from the weekly comics habit, so it makes sense that I would no longer need to make weekly visits, but I still buy a decent number of trades. And while some of those do get ordered through Amazon, many do not.

When I started looking at my buying habits, I noticed that many of the books I get anymore are purchased directly from the creators themselves. At conventions or via Kickstarter projects or just through their personal online shop.

And I bring all this up because of what it might mean to the industry in general. A lot of people continue to look at the sales numbers from Diamond, and assume that's representative of the entire industry. And a number of folks will pipe up at such claims and say, "Hey, you're forgetting about the bookstore market!" Brian Hibbs has done an excellent job for a single person piercing some light onto that aspect of comics sales.

But what we don't have numbers for are everything outside those two systems. Convention sales, crowd-funded projects, etc. Now, granted, we're generally not talking about sales numbers on par with Scholastic, but consider these things... Girl Genius sales are enough to sustain Phil and Kaja Foglio, plus allow them to hire a colorist. Least I Could Do and Looking for Group were strong enough to allow creator Ryan Sohmer to also launch his own comic shop, Comic Bento, and a small ad agency. Jeph Jacques is earning over $90,000 a year through his Patreon campaign alone! And, while individually, that's all comfortably impressive for individuals just doing webcomics, think about how many people are making their own comics. Print or online. And while they're certainly not all as financially successful as the three I just mentioned, the number of creators making a couple hundred bucks a month adds up.

Think about this... If only 10,000 people show up to a convention and spend $10 each, that's $100,000. That's gross, not net, of course, but it's still a decent chunk of change for, say, a weekend. And 10,000 is relatively small show. TCAF is a small, independent show, and they pull in over 20,000.

So what I'm saying is that even if you take a look at the Dianond sales figures (which are dreadfully inaccurate in the first place) and the Bookscan numbers (which are a bit fuzzy as well) you're still missing a sizeable chunk of what the total comics market actually looks like. There's a whole missing third of sales that are essentially going unreported. Something to consider, especially when you're talking about the health of the overall market.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Doing What You Love
http://ift.tt/1rud574

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Lost Eisner
http://ift.tt/1VzKNEx

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links
http://ift.tt/1NT3jzO

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Changing Gears
http://ift.tt/1VSmFgT

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: '80s Ladies
http://ift.tt/24mkaV4

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Andy Capp
http://ift.tt/1SOVnnz


Why is Andy Capp syndicated in the United States? I don't mean that in a disparaging way; I find it one of the more consistently entertaining modern newspaper comics. Particularly for a legacy strip (original creator Reg Smythe died in 1998) that was originally rooted in a different era (it debuted in 1957).
But it's a British strip. The humor is frequently uniquely British, and the culture it depicts is not one seen very often in the States. British humor imports aren't unheard of here, of course. Witness Monty Python, Benny Hill, Eddie Izzard, The Office, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson, The Young Ones, etc. And British comics aren't uncommon either. Miracleman, Judge Dredd, Grant Morrison, Alan Davis, etc.

But how many other British comic strips have made it into American newspapers? Only one other one I can find: Fred Basset. That one has more of a generalized style and tone that doesn't scream "Hey, this is British!" (I didn't realize it was an import until writing this piece in fact) so I can see how it might get slid in with Born Loser or The Lockhorns.

But Andy Capp? What American editor saw that and said, "Yup, that's a comic that will resonate with the American public"? I mean, yes, Great Britain and the United States have some shared cultural heritage, and we've been trading artists, writers, musicians, and other creative types across the pond for generations. But The Beatles didn't appeal to everyone. 2000AD doesn't appeal to everyone. Danger Mouse doesn't appeal to everyone. Most of the time, when we brought British art to the US, it was for a decidedly limited market. But Andy Capp was put into newspapers, the original medium of the masses.

I'm grateful, of course. As I said, I've enjoyed the strip for many years. But it seems a strange thing to have made it in American syndication. Like trying to figure out why Zippy the Pinhead is in newspapers, you know?
The solicitation for the August installment of the Eisner-nominated Back Issue magazine went up recently, and it promises to spotlight "Eightes Ladies!" My immediate thought was, "Hey, cool! Always great to see feminism promoted in comics!" Here's the solicitation copy...
BACK ISSUE #90 (84 FULL-COLOR pages, $8.95) spotlights EIGHTIES LADIES! FRANK MILLER and BILL SIENKIEWICZ’s Elektra Assassin, Dazzler, Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau), Lady Quark, DAN MISHKIN’s Wonder Woman, WILLIAM MESSNER-LOEBS and ADAM KUBERT’s Jezebel Jade, and Somerset Holmes. Plus: MARTHA THOMASES looks back at Marvel’s Dakota North! Featuring the work of BRUCE JONES, JOHN ROMITA JR., ROGER STERN, and many more, plus a previously unpublished 2003 Elektra Assassin cover by Sienkiewicz. Edited by MICHAEL EURY.
Notice anything odd in that description? Like perhaps that all but one of the creators cited are men? Nearly all of the ladies noted are characters, written and drawn by men. In fact, when you check the table of contents/credits page that's available on the online preview, there are only five women credited in any capacity of the 40 or so contributors.

Now, granted, a number of female characters were created by men. If you want to talk about Elektra's creation, you're going to have to talk about/with Frank Miller. But it seems to me that finding female characters from the 1980s that were created/developed by women wouldn't be that difficult, and would provide a better perspective.

How about Louise Simonson and June Brigman talking about the female half of Power Pack? How about Bobbie Chase talking about She-Hulk? How about Barbara Slate talking about Angel Love? How about Trina Robbins talking about California Girls and/or Misty? How about Colleen Doran on her various A Distant Soil characters? How about Wendy Pini talking about any of a million Elfquest characters? How about Marie Severin talking about any of the bajillion characters she worked on? Cat Yronwood, Donna Barr, Barbara Kesel, Glynis Oliver... There were lots of women working throughout the '80s that could've been brought in. Jenette frickin' Kahn was the publisher of DC comics for the entire decade!

Look, I like Back Issue. I've contributed to it myself. Eury does good work pretty consistently, and that's one of the reasons it's up for an Eisner this year. But it seems to me that if you're doing a spotlight issue on ladies in comics, maybe you should have more than 10% of the contributions come from women.
One of the Kickstarter projects I contributed to last year was for a book entitled The Lost Work of Will Eisner. Not surprisingly, it will feature some previously lost comics by Eisner. These lost works consist of the complete runs of the comic strips Uncle Otto and Harry Karry, the earliest known comic strips by Eisner. Syndication of these strips originally was pretty slim, and sporadic so only a handful of examples from actual newspapers had been uncovered previously. But with this package, we have complete runs of both strips thanks to the discovery of the original printing plates used to publish them.

So what? Why bother with nearly 100-year-old comics that barely anyone has even heard of, and clearly had little lasting impression? I mean, studying Eisner's The Spirit? Sure, that makes sense. But Uncle Otto? We've all gotten along just fine for decades without knowing much of anything about it, so why bother?

There are probably a number of reasons different people could cite, but I'm going to highlight this: Eisner's work didn't start fully formed. It came from somewhere. Eisner studied and practiced, just like every other artist. And like every other artist who studies and practices, Eisner's art and storytelling evolved. In looking at The Spirit and comparing that to PS Magazine and A Contract with God and Comics and Sequential Art and Last Day in Vietnam, we can see what Eisner learned and how he changed his approach to comic storytelling over time. What he learned through trial and error, through experimentation, we can learn through his examples. We can see where he tried things that worked and where he tried things that failed, and we can examine why.

How was Eisner able to solve storytelling problems that have challenged other artists? How did Eisner approach his work differently, and what did that mean for the final product?

Looking at Eisner's earliest work adds to that examination. Looking at how Eisner drew comics when he was a teenager (he was probably 19 when he first started working on these) and then seeing where and how he went from that point to creating better and better comics. How it may have helped to lead him to creating the distribution of work methodology that corporate comics still use today.

Maybe that's overselling it. Maybe we can't glean anything from Eisner's comparatively primitive work. Maybe it won't offer us any insights into his evolution as a storyteller, or the medium as a whole. But we won't know that without checking it out. Without sharing that with a wider audience of comics scholars. Without showcasing the work to a whole host of people who would never get the opportunity to see it otherwise.

And that's why it's important.