Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

On Business: Fakery

Matt Kuhns wrote to me asking about fake comics. That is, has anyone been caught selling a forgery of, say, Action Comics #1?

The only "fake" comics I've personally seen were official reprints that someone tried to pass off as original. I've never seen one in a comic shop, but they show up on eBay all the time. Usually someone responds with "Uh, dude, you know that's a 1987 reprint, right?" and they take them down, often claiming ignorance. Doing a little more research, I'm to understand that there have been a few actual fakes that come up from time to time, but the issues they claim to be were no older than the late 1960s, and mostly from black and white indie books like Cerebus or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I've seen a number of people try to sell original comic art that were deliberate forgeries. They're usually easy to spot, especially since the artists that are generally copied were super-prolific and there are TONS of examples to cross-check.

The big forgery market in comics, though, is in "production proofs." Basically, stats of the black line art, often with the lettering removed, that are claimed to have come from the original production of the books. Why they remove the lettering, I don't know, because that's an obvious giveaway that it's not original anything. But what these guys will do will basically just go through the entire 60s Marvel catalog, one page at a time, and by the time they get through them, no one's around to remember that they already sold the original production proof for the cover of FF #5.

I think the reason why there aren't more forgeries in original comics and comic art is because you can't make quite enough money to warrant the risk of being caught. Tens of millions for an "original" Degas, that might be worth it, but a few hundred thousand for Action Comics #1? Maybe not.

But "production proofs" are cheap and easy enough to make that it's no big deal to churn them out by the truckloads, and they're inexpensive enough that the police wouldn't take inquiries very seriously.

Friday, August 15, 2014

On Strips: Syndication Speed

Editorial cartoonists, by the definition of their job, use their artistic talents to comment on current topics. Robin Williams, for example, died on Monday and Daryl Cagle's collection of editorial cartoonists paying tribute to Williams had around 30 different pieces by Tuesday. Universal Uclick had any number of them by Wednesday. With electronic communications, it's incredibly fast and efficient to get a piece of art from an artist's drawing table to a wide number of people.

Of course, that's true of webcomics too. There are any number of webcomikers who broke from the regular storylines to do pieces on Williams. (Erika Moen, of course, turned in by far the most eloquent, original, and touching piece. On the off chance you haven't seen it, it's located here. I got more teary-eyed reading it than I did from the actual news of Williams' death.) That was one of the originally one of the more novel things about webcomics; that they could and did so much faster than traditional syndicates. Syndicates were used to dealing with newspapers, who ran on a much slower (relatively speaking) schedule than the real-time updates of the web. But, to their credit, they seem to have largely caught up and there's very little delay caused by the middleman beauracracy that webcomickers don't have to deal with when publishing their work.

But here's what I don't get...

Why do newspaper strip cartoonists still work on a 4-6 week schedule?

With Garry Trudeau on a sort-of sabatical from Doonesbury, Lalo Alcaraz is currently (I think) the most topically current comic strip artist under syndication. But his latest strips have focused on John Boehner threatening to sue President Obama, and anti-immigrant protesters demanding the deportation of children immigrants. Both of those stories were from 2-3 weeks ago. Trudeau also had a lead time of about two weeks, but over the decades, he had become very astute at getting extremely early reads on news items and predicting where the stories would go in a week or two.
But in a world where events unfold in front of our eyes via multiple sources in real time -- where nearly everyone is armed with a camera and an internet connection -- and where it's not only possible but relatively common to post both written and aritstic reactions in just as real time, why can't comic strip cartoonists work closer to their publication date? Why do they still need to adhere to a syndication schedule that's even outdated within the syndicates themselves?

I could see if there was a greater danger of offending the wrong group and the syndicates wanted to exercise some editorial control, but it seems editorial cartoonists are more likely to do be offensive (intentionally or not) these days, just by virtue of the subject matter. I could see if there was some worry about cartoonists keeping a regular schedule, but they're already doing that just several weeks earlier that publication. I could see if there were more time needed to prepping the cartoons for print, but digital pre-press makes jobs go super quickly and many artists supply their work already prepped. I honestly can't think of another reason why syndicates would require such a lengthy lead time. Anyone have any answers for me on that?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On -isms: Ferguson Needs a 'Genius'

If you've paid any attention to the media over the past couple days, you're probably aware that police in Ferguson, MO have essentially turned the city into a war zone in order to combat peaceful protests of a by-every-single-account totally unjustified killing of a young, unarmed Black man by police. Police have arrested reporters without charging them with any crime, they've tear-gassed Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, and the officers who murdered Michael Brown remain serving without being identified. Citizens of the Gaza Strip are offering advice to Ferguson residents about how to avoid the effects of tear gas.

There are all sorts of stats pointing to how rampant racism is in Ferguson. And with the city having fallen into a police state, I can't help but recall reviewing Genius by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman and Afua Richardson just a few weeks ago. It's about a very intelligent woman who grows sick of having her friends and family relegated to the ghettos of LA and so she essentially starts a war of secession. And she does a damn fine job of it, hence the book's title.

I noted at the time that it was portrayed very realistically, and that if someone like the main character showed up in real life, it would be quite frightening to watch exactly a scenario like that unfold. And here we are watching the police take the same actions we see in Genius, but without the benefit of an actual genius being available for the citizens to stand a chance of defending themselves. And sure enough, it's frightening as hell. All the moreso because I don't see how the citizens of Ferguson stand a chance. And EVEN MORESO because the police have been very effective at silencing the majority of media outlets from getting out accurate reporting that might make them look bad.

There's a post I've written and re-written a couple dozen times without posting (I can never seem to keep it very cohesive) about how little you and I matter to those who are in power. It's mostly focused on the super wealthy and large corporations, because they exert a large and more difficult to discern force on our lives. But Ferguson points to how physical force and bullying at a large -- and literally deadly -- scale can direct our lives as well. Shameful to see this in "the land of the free" even if that phrase has largely been symbolic and not actually accurate for decades.

I don't have a good point or conclusion here. Ferguson is clearly out-gunned, and citizen's rights have gone up in smoke. That Genius debuted only last week is insanely serendipidous, and it has some striking parallels. But one it doesn't have, as I said, is that Ferguson doesn't seem to have its own genius to be their hero. They could really use one.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On History: Kirby4Heroes

We're coming up on what would be Jack Kirby's 97th birthday: August 28th. In what has now become an annual event, his granddaughter Jillian is asking both comic fans, as well as non-comics fans who simply enjoy some of Jack's creations, to donate to the Heroes Initiative. It's the Kirby4Heroes campaign. This year, she's even been able to enlist the broadcasting help of Nerdist to help raise even more awareness.

One of the things I love about Jack's body of work is the force of imagination he put forth. Not just in the stories -- and there is PLENTY of imagination in those -- but in the medium as a whole. He had a hand in reinventing the entire industry multiple times. I've said repeatedly that there is almost no way to overstate his importance to comics. I try to support his legacy in multiple ways: by buying books and works that encourage publishers to produce more of it, by studying and researching his work and writing about it in The Jack Kirby Collector (and occasionally other places), and by contributing to projects like this that are in his name.

Heroes Intiative is a worthy project on its own merits, helping comic creators with medical bills and the like. Guys who unexpectedly run into problems like Gene Colan, Russ Heath and Steve Gerber. Even outside of the annual Kirby4Heroes campaign, I've made donations to them. Even back when they were originally called ACTOR (a name that I never thought made sense).

Listen, there are a lot of comic creators out there who need your help. You can help them now by buying their books, contributing to their Kickstarters and Patreons, and all that fun stuff. You get great comics and they get to earn a living. But Heroes Initiative helps those people even further when they run into problems. It's a very worthy cause, and it's a very worthy name to be donating under. Please take a few moments to listen to Jillian's request, and help out some long-standing veterans of comicdom.

Monday, August 11, 2014

On Business: Social Media Tip of the Day

You know when businesses fail on social media? When they treat it as just another outlet to get their brand out there. You know the ones I'm talking about, right? Where their Twitter feed has lots of notes, maybe written casually, but not really directed at anybody. "Wow, what a great Superbowl! A great time to hang out with some friends!" Or worse, directed at everybody. "You ready for big game? Make sure you have plenty of our chips on hand!" It feels like any ol' mass media, not social media.

Now, granted, you can use avenues like Twitter and Facebook to promote your brand, and it makes sense that businesses want to try to engage consumers and potential consumers where they already are. But while they'll teach you in business courses that social media represents a "many to many" conversation, it's really only done well when it's "one to one."

I caught a comics creator recently who Tweeted about his dog undergoing some surgery. Nothing life threatening, but upsetting nonetheless. Several hours later, he came back, saying his dog was fine, but none too happy about weaing a cone of shame. (Obligatory cute dog picture included.) Purina then responded with a personalized virtual get well card, which included a cartoon draing of a dog wearing a similar cone. I'm guessing they've got a search bot looking for "cone of shame" and then have an individual follow-up with the personalized response. Did Purina get this guy's business? I don't know, but I expect he looks at Purina as a little less of a faceless corporation now.

With comics, it's even more frustrating because you know there's exactly one person behind that account. The vast majority of comic creators can't afford to pay someone to do their social media for them, so if you see a post from them, you can pretty well be sure it was, in fact, that person. Well, sort of. Some folks (and I'll admit to being one of them) set up automatic posts as well. Every time a blog post of mine goes live, links are automatically sent out to Twitter and Facebook, and a copy of the post shows up on Tumblr. It's fairly cold and impersonal, but I do it to guarantee that "I" continue posting even if/when I'm not actually available to do so in person for whatever reason(s).
But I try to make sure that I personally spend time on those sites interacting as well. Responding to what other people are saying, adding my two cents to various discussions, asking after people's pets and other loved ones, congratulating them on birthdays and other milestones. I know that if I did nothing but promote my own work, then there's very little for people to connect with at an individual level. It's no different than a corporate talking about how you should buy their chips for your next party.

Of course, who am I to talk? I've always been pretty bad on execution with anything remotely approaching social media. (Back in the day, I used to shut down discussions on BBSes just by weighing in on the discussion. I would comment, and BOOM! The conversation just stopped. Happened on web message boards all the time, too.) Check out the volume of Likes, Retweets, etc. and I expect you'll find it's pretty average at best.

But that's still better than some creators I've tried following who've been absolutely terrible! Their posts are nothing but self-promotion 100% of the time, and I will absolutely stop following them if that's all they're doing. There are many more effective and efficient ways to communicate that type of message, and it just clutters up my already-full social media stream.

So my business tip of the day, and this is directed pretty squarely at you freelancers out there: you can go ahead and use social media to do self-promotion, but don't let it be the only thing you use social media for! I'm more apt to buy your work if you're friendly and respond to my questions, or Like my comments, or whatever. If you just take me for granted as a reader all the time, I probably won't continue to be one!