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Catch me in San Diego & San Francisco!

Hi folks!

So I haven’t posted about it here yet but I have a new job. After 14 years I’ve left the good folks at The Beguiling, and I’m now a Consulting Editor with VIZ Media. I’m psyched! It’s gonna be great! You can read the official announcement here:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/newsbrief/index.html?record=1391

I’m still working with everyone on the TCAF team to put on The Toronto Comic Arts Festival every year, and I’m still helping out at Page & Panel: The TCAF Shop, our retail store opened two-and-a-half years ago. Everything’s copacetic with The Beguiling too, it was just a great opportunity with VIZ that I didn’t want to pass up.

So! That means I’m going into Comic-Con this week wearing a different hat than usual, AND it means that I’ll be heading down to the VIZ offices in San Francisco following Comic-Con for about a week. If you wanna catch me in either city, drop me a line! chris@comics212.net

Speaking of Comic-Con, I’ll be on three panels this year! They’re all pretty great too:

Thursday, July 20th

Editing Comics
What does an editor do? What goes into editing a book? This program is a discussion of how professional editors from the industry’s most prestigious publishers work with authors to make awesome comics and graphic novels as well as what else goes into an editor’s job. This program is for people interested in the behind the scenes of publishing as well as for aspiring and young writers and artists. With Robin Herrera (Oni Press), Cassandra Pelham (Scholastic), Mark Siegel (First Second Books), and Shannon Watters (BOOM! Studios). Moderated by Christopher Butcher (TCAF).
Thursday July 20, 2017 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Room 4

Publishers Weekly: Selling Comics to a Diverse Audience
It’s no secret that the audience for comics has become far more diverse over the last decade. As more children, women, people of color, and queer readers discover comics-and more work is created for these audiences-reaching out on a retail level is even more important. PW senior editor Calvin Reid talks with comics retailers and booksellers about expanding the readership and standing up for representation and what works and what doesn’t. With Christopher Butcher (The Beguiling), Terence Irvins (Kinokuniya), Jennifer Haines (The Dragon), and more.
Thursday July 20, 2017 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Room 23ABC

Friday, July 21

Manga Superheroes? Super Differences Between Japan and the US
From Astro Boy to Ultraman, Sailor Moon to One-Punch Man, the super-powered characters of manga, anime, and live-action tokusatsu TV shows wear costumes and fight bad guys, but how do they differ from their U.S. counterparts, and how do they reflect differences in U.S. and Japanese societies, values, and politics? Join Andy Nakatani (editor-in-chief, Weekly Shonen Jump), David Brothers (4thletter!, Comics Alliance), Chris Butcher (director, Toronto Comic Arts Festival), and Brigid Alverson (MangaBlog, Good Comics For Kids, Smash Pages) for this fun and super-charged discussion, moderated by Deb Aoki (Publishers Weekly, Anime News Network).
Friday July 21, 2017 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Room 4

Alright! My plane is boarding. See you in San Diego!

  • Chris

New Usagi Yojimbo Figure & Comic from Nickelodeon at Comic-Con

I’m on the PR list for Comic-Con this year and I’m getting a deluge of emails. One of the ones that I liked best though was the news that there’d be a new box-set featuring a brand-new Usagi Yojimbo action figure from his upcoming run on the TMNT Animated series, Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! That’s nice enough, Stan Sakai is a great fellow and deserves every bit of attention for his long-running Samurai-rabbit serial, but the best part is that the figure comes with a comic reprinting two of Usagi’s crossover appearances in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series! Nick’s putting the comics back into comic-con!

Here’s the scoop:

Nickelodeon is bringing three decades’ worth of iconic characters to life at this year’s SDCC, with retail items that celebrate memorable ‘90s shows like Hey Arnold!Rocko’s Modern LifeThe Ren & Stimpy Show and Rugrats, and fan-favorite properties including SpongeBob SquarePantsTeenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesThe Loud HouseAvatar and Danny Phantom.

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Playmates Exclusive Samurai Rabbit Usagi Yojimbo Figure

In Nickelodeon’s 2017 Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the samurai rabbit Usagi Yojimbo will reunite with the Ninja Turtles once again for a three-part story arc that begins airing July 23.  The San Diego Comic-Con exclusive of the 2017 Usagi Yojimbo new character design action figure comes in a limited edition of 350.

This item features the newly designed Usagi Yojimbo action figure in a 5” scale, dressed in his classic blue robe, and comes with his traditional Samurai swords.  Also included are two additional exclusive, interchangeable Usagi heads, his pet Tokage lizard, and a flag with Usagi’s signature emblem.  All this is presented in a collector edition 5th panel storybook package, with a rerun of the 1987 Comic Book “Leonardo Meets Usagi Yojimbo in Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew,” and the 1989 Comic Book “The Treaty.”

SRP: $30.00

3 cheers for Stan Sakai, I know a low of people that have been eagerly awaiting another Usagi Yojimbo to put on their (our!) shelves… it’s been like a decade since the last one! 😀

(Also I gotta admit I absolutely love Powered Toast Man. Hopefully they make an additional figure where he’s actually pointing at his butt… check out the full PR and images under the cut to see what I’m talking about):

Continue reading New Usagi Yojimbo Figure & Comic from Nickelodeon at Comic-Con

The Problem with Marvel

The Problem with Marvel* is that there is no problem. Honestly. Marvel is, absolutely, integrally, Marvel, and not much is terribly different at the company now from the past 20 or so years that I’ve been paying attention.

However, for the sake of argument, if there is a problem with Marvel it’s that it’s still Marvel, and not, say, what people would prefer Marvel were. Which is to say, Marvel hasn’t significantly changed as a publishing entity in the past 20 years, despite being acquired by Disney, despite the aggressive movie slate creating millions of new fans worldwide. Marvel is Marvel in the face of enormous change around it. The fandom has changed (though there’s still about 30,000 old-timers hanging in there, the Marvel fauthful), the publishing industry isn’t the same publishing industry, and the discussion (‘the discourse’) is so very, very different too. Marvel largely can’t understand its new fandom, can’t understand the new publishing industry, and its certainly having a hard time understanding those with legitimate criticism as anything other than ‘internet complainers that we should not pay attention to.’ These changes didn’t happen overnight, they were gradual and consistent. The fan demographic has been shifting for years and the discussion has changed alongside it. There’ve always been voices of protest, but there are more of them and they are louder now, and there’s a much richer chorus. It’s harder to ignore.

Not, apparently, impossible though.

Speaking of ignoring dissenting voices. I have a lot of sympathy for comic shop retailers, having been a comic shop retailer for a few decades. Marvel, when the stars align, is tremendously easy to sell and a tremendously consistent seller. I’ll even go out on a limb here and say most direct market comic shop retailers would prefer to sell Marvel to anything else (including rivals at DC Comics), from my observations of them and discussions with them. Marvel is a tremendous part of their business, largely low-hanging fruit, and they understand it. They’re invested in it, and have been for a long time in most cases. When Marvel doesn’t sell well, when it’s out of sync with the world around it, retailers’ jobs become difficult, their thin margins evaporate, and their investment in Marvel is shown to have been a fool’s game.

I had a lot invested in Marvel for a long time. Now? Not so much. If this were five years ago I’d say I grew up, but I’m trying to be less inflammatory in my old age, so let me instead say simply that I moved on. Yes, these characters are [still] tremendously important to a number of people. Yes, there are touchstone moments from the history of Marvel comics that were tremendously important to me too–when Northstar came out in Alpha Flight I got to come out a little bit.  But at a certain point I recognized that Marvel is Marvel, it’s designed to be (and stay) Marvel, and I’m not gonna be that closeted teen forever. I’m not gonna be that comic collector, I’m not gonna thrill to seeing Spider-Man web up Megatron, I’m not even gonna be awed viewing the 60s Marvel heroes through the lens of Phil Sheldon until the end of my days. I’m gonna move on and yeah, I’m still gonna enjoy a good yarn, but I probably won’t be able to enjoy it very much if I know that people are seriously hurt by it. It’s the difference between loving something, enjoying it, and being able to appreciate it despite its flaws. It’s being able to see that the emperor has no clothes but he’s still pretty hot if you squint and as long as he doesn’t open his mouth and ruin it.

In their most recent actions, Marvel more-or-less doubled down on being Marvel. I won’t get into specifics, but it looks like Marvel still doesn’t quite want to be anything other than Marvel. Or maybe it doesn’t know how? Regardless, they clearly see their standard operating procedure as no problem. So who am I to argue, right? We all want more of the same, slightly shifted. Heroes Reborn, Reborn, Reborn, Reborn. Alex Ross brought back to give us the old razzle-dazzle, to help us be awed by Superheroes again. Like I said, it’s not for me anymore, but Marvel seems convinced it’s going to work, that there are no problems that can’t be fixed by renumbering their books.

Ultimately Marvel is Marvel, and that ain’t mine anymore. Maybe after this it won’t be yours either? I just hope that in deciding to double down, in deciding to stay the course after years of growing dissatisfaction from the new fans of their characters, disenfranchised older fans of their comics, retailers who say that the product has stopped selling, and the people doing the work to try and illuminate issues around sensitivity and inclusion… well, honestly, I hope no one gets hurt, no one’s store closes, no one becomes disenfranchised by comics as a whole because the medium outside of Marvel is truly awesome. Heck, it’s even awesome AT Marvel every once in a while.

And if not, if Marvel means too much to you and you’re gonna hang in there regardless? I hope you can take solace in the fact that, at some point soon thanks to the movies and the cartoons and the merch, there are more people that wanna read the smooching-adventures of Steve and Bucky than want to see them on opposite sides of a dumb nazi brain-washing scheme, and I bet the folks at Disney will have no problem finding someone else to make that happen, because Marvel may be Marvel, but Money is Money.

– Christopher
*: Marvel Publishing, i.e.: Marvel Comics.

25 Days of Christmas

Here are some things I like about Christmas, and Christmas things from this year mostly. Pictures and Comics and Songs and things. I’ll keep them all on one post so I don’t push everything else off the front page. I might not update every day, but I’ll have something for every day from the 1st to the 25th. Merry Christmas. 🙂

December 19th: Christmas Lights

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Jon Klassen posted this picture of one of his neighbours’ houses Christmas setups and it’s so, so good. I’m looking forward to getting in the car and driving through the fancy neighbourhoods to look at the lights. 🙂

Also, back when I had cable I was a sucker for those “Most Extreme Christmas Lights Ever!” shows.

Click for a larger version.

December 18th: Office Christmas Party (Kids in the Hall)

Actually now all I can think about are various Kids in the Hall Christmas skits.

December 17th: Did you know Dave Foley from Kids In The Hall did a Christmas Special? Called “The True Meaning of Christmas Specials?”

I DIDN’T KNOW THAT.  I love the straight-up KITH Christmas Special (The Queen and Buddy Cole, I mean honestly), and I had no idea this existed until Dave Foley himself tweeted it, so I don’t feel that terrible about linking it on Youtube.

December 16th: How Many Of These Ways Have You Ruined Christmas?

Have you Hung Stockings By The Chimney Half-Assedly? Donated Blood to Toys for Tots? Or worse? Take this quiz to find out all of the ways you have royally fucked up Christmas over at Clickhole.

December 15th:  Happy Snowflake Day! It’s The Clone High Holiday Special

My favourite contemporary Christmas television special is The Clone High Holiday Special, in which the characters celebrate the just-invented Snowflake Day, casting aside all of the “exclusionary” holiday celebrations that have preceded it.  Today is the day of the first viewing of this contemporary classic, and it gets better every single time I see it.

December 14th: Christmas Cheer

We had a great event at Page & Panel on the 14th, with Jon Klassen, Matt Forsythe, Kyo Maclear, and John Martz at the shop talking about their new picture books. It was fantastically successful, but the best part was getting to hang out and have a drink and a bite to eat with some great folks afterwards. Andrew and I aren’t doing a Christmas Party this year cuz we’re just too busy to organize anything, so getting to socialize and raise a cup of cheer is just that much nicer, that much more important.

The evening before I got to have a very rare drink with Mark Askwith and Jim Zub, shooting the shit and ‘solving comics’ as Jim described, and while I had a few too many, it was just too good of a conversation to leave.

A couple of nice nights.

December 13th: Overwatch Winter Wonderland!

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It’s really, really good you guys. 🙂 I’m playing on PS4 as Comics212 if you want to add me.

December 12th: It’s Andrew’s Birthday!

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My husband Andrew was born today! Hooray! He is literally the first person I’ve encountered with a December birthday whose birthday didn’t get lumped in with Christmas. He is very well adjusted about this, actually. Still, shout out to all the December babies who got a ‘combination Christmas & Birthday gift’, that’s rough.

December 11th: Mariah Carey Wrote The Last Great Christmas Song: Deal With It.

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“In 1994, I wrote the last good Christmas song. Deal with it, world.

“It’s called “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” I wrote it with a man named Walter Afanasieff, who went by the nickname “Baby Love” in the 80s. We won’t speak of him again.

“Back to the song. Not only was I on top of the damn world when I released it, but give it a listen. It’s got bell chimes. I do that “ooooohh hooooo oooooh baby” thing. There are so many octaves. The message that love matters more than gifts connects with everyone in a “nah, not really, but I’m not gonna disagree publicly with it” way.”

Read the whole thing, it’s great: http://www.secondcity.com/mariah-carey-last-good-christmas-song

December 10th: Community Christmas

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I love the Christmas episodes of Community. They’re always the right mix of incredibly heavy and blissfully light. This one struck a chord because I was bullied in school and the school bullies sort of brought that back, but I did love that the characters had each others’ backs. My favourite though is probably the GLEE send-up, though the best is obviously the Claymation one.

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December 9th: Santas by Chris Schweizer!

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Chris Schweizer, the creator of the “Crogan’s” series of graphic novels from Oni Press, came up with this cool idea for a bunch of the historically-informed real and mythical characters that informed our idea of the contemporary Santa Claus. You can buy some of the original art, as well as papercraft versions, at his online store: http://crogan.bigcartel.com/

You can also see his (better) explanation of the project on his Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chris.schweizer.comics/posts/10101571439405027?pnref=story

December 8th: Christmas Eve, 3am

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I made my first Christmas mix CD back in 2003. It was themed around always having to work when I went home for Christmas, because deadlines. Some things never change.

I made an online version for people to download (PIRACY!) and I mailed out burned CDs to some of my friends too. I really massaged the hell out of it too, using a mixing software that had songs smoothly fading into one another, big volume changes to have songs start with a bang (the fanfare at the beginning of Baby It’s Cold Outside was particularly nice next to the jazzy fade on Ella’s Have Yourself…). I was so proud of this, and I think it still holds up.

I actually don’t have a copy of this anymore, James Lucas Jones might have the last copy in existence and was nice enough to send me this photo of it so I could see the track listing. I made a Spotify playlist of it too, so you could listen if you like: https://open.spotify.com/user/christopher.butcher/playlist/2zM1LeB1Vo0YRdXGyjCbqp . Sadly due to the music industry being weird and fucked, a bunch of songs on the list there aren’t on Spotify (although I get that Spotify itself is a sort of shitty service for musicians), so you’ll have to to pause the playlist and insert your own copies of Slade’s MERRY CHRISTMAS to kick things off, and the lovely tension of Bing and Bowie on Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy. It’s not the right version of Anne Murray’s Winter Wonderland either, I need the one from my youth, from the late 70s or early 80s. Ah well. Ah well.

I made maybe 3 or 4 of these mixes over the years, and I always think I’ll make another, and then I never get a chance to because Christmas has gotten too busy to even write these little blog updates, let alone actually spend 4 or 5 hours making the perfect Christmas mix. Maybe one day I’ll get to make another. 🙂

December 7th: Happy Holidays from Overwatch…?

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I’ve been playing a lot of Overwatch on PS4 lately. It’s a nice easy way to get out of my own head for a while. I was delighted when I saw this posted, that there’ll be a special holiday event for the game, presumably with Christmas/Holiday-themed outfits for the characters and more. 🙂

December 6th: Michael DeForge and Jillian Tamaki’s Holiday Illustration

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Released on Twitter and apparently printed and posted around the city. Love it. 🙂

December 5th: Krampusnacht

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December 5th is Krampusnacht, or the night of the Krampus, when Santa’s dark twin comes to whip the bad children with a switch, or steal them away. So, you know. This particular Krampus illustration hangs on my wall at home, and it’s by Matt Forsythe. I got it from a Krampus art show in 2010, I think that’s where I maybe met Anne Koyama for real, for the first time? Anyway, she’s great, and Matt’s great, and this illustration is great too.

December 4th: Illumination in Japan

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(Various Tokyo Illumination installations)

I’m not able to go to Japan this Christmas or New Years as I have for the past few years, although I did get a record three trips there this year and I realize how lucky I am for that. I still really miss it though, there’s something about Christmas there that’s very deeply different than here in Canada… but in this instance, I really like their Christmas Lights displays. They call them “illuminations” and they’re all over Tokyo and the biggest cities in Japan. Usually there’ll be 10-15 really high end, remarkable illuminations in Tokyo, with smaller ones dotted throughout the city at department stores and what not. It’s really beautiful, simultaneously over the top without being too gaudy. I used to stare at the lights on our Christmas tree for hours, back when I was a kid (and a teen), and this is like that but writ large across my favourite city.

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The reason I thought of this today was because I bumped into my friend Robin Nishio, who IS planning a trip through Japan for the last half of December. I told him that the best thing I saw at Christmas time in Japan was probably “Lumiere”, the Kobe illumination display. It was and is a marvelous installation of lights, up and down the main streets of Kobe, nearly a kilometre long and ending in a giant part with huge structures seemingly comprised of nothing but light. It was a tradition begun following the great Kobe earthquake, an attempt to show the rest of Japan that Kobe was resilient, was rebuilding, and that they should come and support the city. Citizens and government banded together to create this and it added an amazing, poignant air to the already beautiful and affecting display. I was grinning ear to ear until it finally overwhelmed me and I teared up. It’s one of my favourite experiences and memories of Japan. I’m grateful to Emi and Graeme for showing it to me.

December 3rd: Christmas at Retail

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Despite working in retail for most of my adult life, I actually really love how all-out retail establishments will go to celebrate Christmas and the holidays. Sure, it’s in the service of consumerism and capitalism, but if we can get stunning, beautiful things like this because people are encouraged to spend more, I’m personally willing to take that trade-off. This also marked a rare instance for Andrew and I to go and take in a little holiday spirit together, and that was lovely too.

December 2nd: Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time

On her Facebook, my friend Liz Clayton is holding here annual(?) Wonderful Christmastime Challenge. The rules for the challenge are simple, as Liz explains: “You enter by simply existing and lose by hearing this terrible song while just trying to go about your peaceable business. Covers count. Humming or someone singing it to knock you out does not count. Your goal is to survive unscathed for as long as you can: contest begins at 12:01am EST Thursday, November 17, one week before Thanksgiving.”

Andrew and I were both knocked out of the running on December 1st, basically the first real day of Christmas music. Me, earlier in the day, when I put on a spotify playlist that I was _sure_ didn’t include the song, and then him, later, as we stood in line at Shopper’s Drug Mart after an otherwise lovely evening out.

I used to truly hate this song, and it’s repetitive, droning nature. I’ve softened on it a lot of over the years though, as its early-days synthesizer noises are actually kind of incredible, and it doesn’t sound much like any other piece of Christmas pop that there is. It also doesn’t implore or demand anything of its listener (other than ‘Don’t Look Down’ at one point). It’s not telling you to deck anything, to carol, or warning you to watch out. It’s just Paul and the crew sitting around singing about how much fun they’re having, and that’s not so bad, is it?

I mean, it’s still a little bad.

December 1st: The STYLE Christmas Comic

Style Webcomic #2 - © Bryan Lee O'Malley

Once upon a time I lived with Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim, and this other guy, and we used one of the rooms in the house for our office. It housed all of our computers. I was kind of poor, so I had a pair of hand-me-down speakers for my computer and no headphones, wheras Bryan and Other Guy both had pretty bitch’n headphones. So it made sense to me that I could just play the music I wanted because they couldn’t hear it anyway. About the time Christmas rolled around and I started listening to Christmas music 24 hours a day, I was informed that my music could in fact be heard, and was in fact intolerable.

That did not deter me. So Bryan made me a comic strip.

I still consider it a tribute, rather than a threat.

I posted this on Twitter on December 1st, at like 12:30am, and I was susprised how many people had never seen it, despite posting it here annually for a few years. A good reminder that if I ever start writing here regularly again, it’ll be to a bunch of new people. And I’ll be able to reuse a lot of old material. 😉

…more to come.

I’ll be at the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2016 this weekend!

Hey there folks! I’m just sitting in the airport getting ready for my flight to London, where upon landing I will hop on a train northward, past Manchester, to the beautiful town of Kendal, gateway to the Lakes District, and home of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

I’ve actually been fortunate enough to attend LICAF every year since its inception, and I’m really impressed with its growth and ambition as an event. As someone who puts on a Festival in the shadow of giant hulking comic book cities like Chicago and New York (Metropolis and Gotham, respectively) I know that it can be difficult to get people to make the extra trip Northward for a comics event, and for that reason, and many others it, has a place in my heart. Of course, they also work their butts off every year to have incredible comics guests, and this year’s first-time attendees include Edmond Baudoin (who attended the very first TCAF in 2003!), Jordi Bernet(!), Canadians Bryan Lee O’Malley and John Martz, Benoit Peeters, and more besides. Their programme is really something, I recommend checking it out.

Speaking of which, I’m kind of a guest of the Festival myself this year, and will be moderating a few events including an on-stage interview with my pal Bryan Lee O’Malley, and hosting a Ghibli-themed live-drawing event with O’Malley, Jonath Edwards (UK), Ken Niimura (Japan/Spain), Miki Yamamoto (Japan), and Emma Viceli (UK) which should be a lot of fun too.

Tickets for all events are available now at https://www.breweryarts.co.uk/events-and-festivals/category/the-lakes-international-comic-art-festival-2016

And if I don’t see you at the events, please do track me down at the pub, it’ll be great to say hello to some of the people I don’t get to see very often.

Cheers!

  • Christopher

The End of Big Comic Book Journalism?

Hey there, worth noting that Augie De Blieck Jr., someone who’s been writing about comics for as long as I have and certainly more consistently, has written a column that proclaims big comic book journalism dead. You can, and should read it. Mostly because he’s right.

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(That image is my favourite from the column. Augie colour-codes the new front-page of CBR. Red for Hollywood articles, Blue for Comics, Purple for a comic that’s just a hollywood shill).

Augie makes a strong case in the body of that article for both his pedigree in making such a bold claim and the essential problem of contemporary comics journalism–it’s more lucrative (in that it is lucrative at all) to write about the things around comics and inspired by comics than by the comics themselves, by a factor of 10 on comics’ absolutely best day and Hollywood’s worst.  It’s why the criticisms of contemporary comics websites for their lack of coverage of comics have always seemed necessary to me, but also terribly naive. If you want to make a living writing about comics, you have to write about the TV and the movies and the merch because that’s what will draw in actual audiences. Criticizing how someone makes their living because it’s not what YOU want is kind of shitty of you, actually! If that criticism were reversed comics creators would be appalled that someone in comics had the gaul to question their life, business, or art choices, but if it’s about comic book web sites, it’s apparently fair game. Which isn’t to say I don’t understand looking at the current state of writing-about-comics and despairing; I do. I just think it’s sort of shitty to decide someone making a maximum of $10 for a 500 word article is a reasonable target for your ire. Even the editors of these sites largely have no say, as they’re owned by media conglomerates and people you’ll never get to see.

Sidebar: That’s why it’s also shitty to be shitty to Marvel Comics writers/editors because Marvel Comics CEO Ike Perlmuter donates to Donald Trump’s campaign for president. Yeah, that’s disgusting, but it’s not like they can do fuck all about it. Just don’t support Marvel if you feel that strongly about it, without being shitty to people with nothing to do with it. And while I’m ranting here, being shitty to a Marvel editor or creator doesn’t absolve you of your guilt for financially supporting the company (including promoting them) when they do something shitty, either. Own your actions, don’t try and bully your way to absolution.

Your mileage may vary.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about doing more writing-about-comics, or comics journalism if you like, every few months since I ‘took a break’ from PopImage in 2000 (sorry, Ed). Realistically, I think it’s more important to do the things I used to talk about, to put good and important things into the world than simply to talk about doing that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss talking about it, or thinking about talking about it. But as I sneak-up on middle age, the idea of loudly being right about comics on the internet has lost its lustre, partly because the lengths that people will go to to prove themselves and their beliefs correct (doxing, hacking, threats of violence, starting a ‘receipts’ blog to try and bully people into suicide) make the fight unappealing, and partly because being quietly right and seeing the good work you do ripple through the industry is much more satisfying.

It does mean that I try to support good writing more, where I can, though. For example, I linked to Augie’s new site above, and pretty much any time he’s expressed an aesthetic opinion I’ve disagreed with it, but I think he does know how to break an idea down in an interesting way, and looks at things other people don’t. I also really like Brigid Alverson’s hard journalistic approach to comics, and I was worried earlier this week when I thought she was done at CBR. I liked her COMICS A.M. posts for Robot 6 a great deal, and I’m happy to hear they’ll be continuing.  She, along with Deb Aoki, is also doing a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to ‘giving a shit about Japanese comics within the larger comics industry,’ and that alone is worth buying both of them a dinner.

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Probably one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most, comics journalism-wise, over the last little while has been the launch of IMAGE PLUS magazine from David Brothers, himself a former recovering comics journalist, working at Image, doing a house magazine, in print, focusing on what the company is putting out, and why it’s good and important. I’m sure that sounds suspect as hell to some of you out there, but it’s good stuff, honestly. And when you’re fighting over the ever-shrinking  amount of blue boxes on Augie’s graphic up there, maybe it makes the absolute most sense in the world to be covering your own stuff, writing about your own stuff, promoting your own stuff, and getting smart writers to do it. Most of you reading here might not know that Marvel and DC both have staff writers for their websites, creating and running the sorts of content that online comics news sites used to. I’m actually happy to see Image doing the same, happier still to see it in print, which lends itself to better long-form work, and the whole thing is like $2 which is a steal.

Anyway, no grand statement here, I just think Augie’s right and we’re probably done on the whole, or at least very near the end of the line until something major changes. I think there’ll always be smart people running sites that pay almost nothing just on their sheer force of will, even as some of the more notable ones around us shut down. I think that, like this blog, many of us former recovering comics writers will keep spaces for the thoughts about comics that coalesce into something longer than a series of tweets. Hell, I’m supposed to write a couple of articles for ComicsAlliance that are a month late right now, so I don’t think it’s possible to shake it off entirely. And if you’re one of the folks running one of those sprawling comics news websites that might just be impossible these days–keep up the good fight. 🙂

– Christopher

 

Introducing Shintaro Kago

Every year I try to write a little bit about an artist whose work I particularly enjoy that is attending TCAF as one of our guests. As Festival Director, I realize that it’s a bit treacherous to play favourites with the attending artists, and I generally don’t. If anything, I try to write about an artist whose work I love, but who might not be that well known to the general public, and who could use the ‘boost’ in notoriety before they get to the festival itself.

This year I was going to write about Shintaro Kago, Japanese gag cartoonist, pornographer, and comics formalist–a really interesting guy with really interesting work. I’d been thinking about the blog post I would make, here, on the blog, and maybe I’d also remind whatever readership I have left about TCAF coming up and all that, and it woulda been a nice post. A funny thing happened though, as I was composing that article in my head (I compose a lot of articles in my head that never make it here), I was approached by Kago’s Italian Publisher, Hollow Press, to write the introduction to TRACT, an original graphic novella of Kago’s work that would be debuting at TCAF 2016. I thought to myself that writing the introduction to that book would be just like writing an introduction to the cartoonist on my blog, more or less, so I happily accepted their offer and wrote my (short) introduction to the work of Shintaro Kago. It appeared in the new graphic novel TRACT, which as far as I can tell will not be distributed to North America through normal channels (The Beguiling has it, though, and it sold out at TCAF!).

And now I got a blog post out of it too:

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INTRODUCTION TO SHINTARO KAGO’S TRACT

I have liked the work of Shintaro Kago for a very long time.

Since seeing his beautiful, perverse, inventive story Punctures in the year 2000 anthology Secret Comics Japan, I’ve been fascinated by a creator seemingly obsessed with comics formalism, the kind of work that could only be made because of the strengths of the comics medium, while simultaneously being draped with eroticism and grotesquery. These things don’t really exist in the American comics market, and this story (and really that whole anthology) was a revelation. I scrounged to find other works by Kago, some illegally (to my great shame), and each time I’d be thrilled and awed by comics that would push at the boundaries of the storytelling medium, while simultaneously being very explicitly sexual, and often quite disturbingly so. Pages and panels would rotate, spin, and fold on themselves and back again, all while distended genitalia would skitter along the gutters, having grown tiny limbs and minds of their own. Incredible stuff, reinforcing my idea that Japan was a land of unfettered experimentation within their comics industry, that manga was willing to truly expand the language of the form.

When I began to travel to Japan and to interview manga-ka, meeting Shintaro Kago and asking him about his groundbreaking work was at the top of my list. I finally got my chance on one trip, interviewing him about his long career in manga. After expressing my admiration (with examples!) I asked him why his incredible, experimental comics were so pornographic?

“Because adult magazines are the only places I can get published,” he answered. “As long as a story has some kind of sex, or even sex and grotesqueness, I can do whatever experiments I like.”

It was not the answer I was expecting, both disheartening and inspiring. It seems that even in Japan, the innovators of the industry must take work where they can find it, creators struggling to find their audience however they can, to connect with people. Much of Kago’s recent career has become trying to make these connections outside of the manga industry, through original toys, commissioned personal and professional illustrations, whatever it takes. I admire his dedication, and thank those that have seen the value in his work and published him.

To that end, I’m very grateful to Hollow Press for commissioning and publishing this second original work by Shintaro Kago, free from the bonds of genre and manga magazines, so that he might communicate his ideas on formalism, on storytelling, on comics to the wider world.

  • Christopher Butcher, comics212.net & TCAF

TRACT is available for sale online from Hollow Press, and in-store at
The Beguiling and Page & Panel: The TCAF Shop. Shintaro Kago has a neat website you should check out. 

The Decade in Comics Publishing, 2005-2015

At the end of August, Heidi MacDonald and Calvin Reid from Publisher’s Weekly asked me to participate in a survey about the decade of growth in comics and graphic novels, and mine and my colleagues’ responses are in an article that just went live on the PW site.

As the introduction says, in 2005 there were no ebooks or iPads, we were firmly in the middle of the graphic novel (and manga) boom, and even then it was clear that things were changing rapidly. For me, I’d been at The Beguiling a few years, we were just holding the second TCAF in Honest Ed’s Parking Lot, and Scott Pilgrim Volume 2 was debuting (I went to the printer and picked up the TCAF copies myself). I also blogged a lot more back then, just making the transition from writing about the way the industry to be, to doing all the work that I felt needed to be done. It was an interesting time.

For my part, in August when I was asked to participate in this survey, I’d spent the summer penning a few essays and participating in some panels that resonated with a lot of folks working in the industry, and really got under the skin of others. Essays about how, essentially, the graphic novel & manga boom really occurred largely outside of the purview of the medium’s then-gatekeepers, in both the superhero and art comics camps. I really feel the growth was almost entirely from new audiences, from work that was either ignored or denegrated, and I still do, so, it helps maybe explain where my head was at in general when answering. I also thought, and still think, that with more money coming into the industry, and more opportunities, it behooves those of us with a voice and a say in how the playing field is shaped to try and address some of the imbalances in the industry.

It’s a pretty good survey article, and the folks participating are generally the folks I’ve seen gain the most out of the growing graphic novel industry. I think I would like to have seen a few answers from the superhero folks and the artcomics folks, but perhaps representatives were invited and declined to participate. Despite 7 different people all answering from their perspectives, I don’t think there’s much in there I disagree with (at least from the perspectives of those answering), and my friend Librarian Eva Volin in particular ends the article with a great mic-drop. If you have the opportunity, go check it out, let me know what you think in the comments.

  • Christopher

In Tokyo? Don’t miss this exhibit of originals by Jiro Taniguchi and Igort, ending December 19th.

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While in Japan this fall, I was fortunate enough to take in a lovely exhibition of original comics artwork by two modern masters, Igort and Jiro Taniguchi. While I’m super behind on my Japan blogging, I wanted to mention this one because it ends on December 19th, and if you can attend you absolutely should, it’s wonderful and free!

Here’s a link with all of the relevant location info: http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/event/2015/7F2A.en

My friend Jocelyne and I made the trek to Kudanshita, and then up the hill to the exhibition at The Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo. We arrived just as the building was closing for the day and we had the place all to ourselves. So: a few pictures!

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The exhibition featured lovely introductions for both artists, in Japanese and Italian, and the large printed materials really complimented the originals and helped fill the large, lovely space.

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The exhibition featured Igort on the right (orange), and Taniguchi on the left (blue), and was about men taking a walk. Igort’s work was pulled primarily from his new book “Les Cahiers Japonais: Un voyage dans l’empire des signes”, a travelogue of sorts. The art was lovely and was very much the perspective of an outsider looking into Japan, lots of Japonisme to the work. I’m interested to read it now, and I hope it gets an English translation.

Taniguchi’s work was drawn from one of his newest projects, a gorgeous fully watercolour-painted travelogue of Venice, commissioned by Louis Vuitton(!) and available more-or-less exclusively through them. It’s a gorgeous book and the artwork itself is similarly beautiful, the details and sense of place very impressive indeed.

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In addition to the originals from both books, the display cases also featured original artwork and books from different projects in the artists’ careers, going back almost to the beginning. It’s remarkable just how much Taniguchi’s style has changed, and how much it’s remained the same, over the years. The exhibition also featured 4 short films about the artists on a loop, and a selection of their graphic novels for visitors to browse (French, Italian, and Japanese).

The exhibition is free, and also features a small catalogue to go along with it. We got ours for free, which was a lovely treat! Unfortunately they’re still packed away, and I’ll see about uploading a photo or two of it when I unpack.

I wasn’t allowed to take close up pictures of the art, for obvious reasons, so I’ve included a few samples from both cartoonists below that I found on the web. Both books are lovely, and if you can track down that limited edition Taniguchi do so before it’s too late–it’ll set you back $80-$100.

Jiro Taniguchi, from Venice:

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Igort, from Les Cahiers Japonais:

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I went to New York and interviewed Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto.

So, I went to New York to interview Masashi Kishimoto, creator of Naruto, while he was there participating in New York Comic-Con. It was a really great experience–one of those once-in-a-lifetime things–and I found Kishimoto to be a really nice guy, and very passionate about manga. If you click above, you can see the highlights of the whole event, courtesy of VIZ.

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My trip began, more-or-less, with this interview at the Apple Store, SoHo, a live on-stage interview. For this one, the questions had been prepped already and weren’t strictly my own. It was interesting as, frankly, it’s not the direction I would’ve gone in, but it was still solid. Since the interview would be recorded and included in their “Meet The Author” series of podcasts, the prepared questions felt as though they was designed to be open to folks who might be curious but weren’t die-hard fans, with the die-hard stuff coming in through the Question & Answer section instead.  I’m happy to say that it was still an interesting discussion though, and I absolutely think it worked. You can judge for yourself and watch the video podcast on iTunes. I think you can access it at: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/naruto-naruto-kurietani-huiou/id266215977?i=355670682&mt=2.  (you can also search “meet the author” in podcasts on itunes)

I don’t want to dig too much into the process and unravel the magic, but we did get to meet ahead of the talk, and I was grateful for the opportunity to see where he was at, mentally. Even though the Apple Store event was ‘small’, I was told there were a few hundred people there, and particularly for your first time in America, it can be a big thing to get up in front of people and talk for an hour to an audience who doesn’t speak your language. I think Kishimoto-sensei did an excellent job that night and all weekend though, which is really saying a lot considering just how in demand he was. On that note…

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That’s the photograph of the crowd for our Thursday panel, over 2200 people in a room to see him. And I was up on stage in front of all of them, leading the crowd in rousing choruses of screams.

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I had a lot of questions prepared, and even after we figured out what he’d be comfortable talking about and not talking about, I quickly realized that there was no way I was going to get through all of them. Also, while I’ve been on stage many times in the past and generally have that down, this was my first time in front of an audience this size (I think), and 2200 people is a lot of people! An audience that size has demands, and those demands tend to be questions that are fun, quick, and intimately about the series, rather than longer discussions on the nature of war and peace (for reals). As an interviewer, it was a really great experience to edit myself on the fly, keeping in mind not just the conversation with the creator, but also the conversation we were both having with the audience. It was a unique challenge, and I hope I get the opportunity to do so again one day.

If you want to watch the entire panel, VIZ recorded it (sadly no shots of the amazing, passionate, exceptionally loud crowd though) and you can just click the video below:

I have not watched it, because watching myself on video is profoundly uncomfortable, but yeah, it’s still worth watching because Kishimoto is honestly floored and humbled, and it’s charming, and he’s also a hell of an artist and draws a bunch in it.

Following the panel there was a short signing, and I have to admit to my one fanboy moment of the entire weekend, where I asked for his autograph. I’ve become quite a fan of the manga series since reading and re-reading it to properly prepare for the job of interviewing him, and it was nice to get a memento of the occasion–particularly while he was riding the adrenaline buzz of being on stage. 😉 I was probably annoying to the staff who were seeing to his event though, as me spending an additional 5 or 10 minutes hanging out with Kishimoto-sensei was not in the very metculous timetable, so I’d like to offer my apologies. Sorry folks! -___-;

I’ll share one more little thing. There was a private wrap-up party on October 10th for Kishimoto-sensei’s final New York event, and I was very lucky to be invited as it was rather intimate. I could tell he was a little tired from a very, very busy few days (not to mention the jetlag of coming here from Japan in the first place). So I quickly said my thank you’s to he and his editor Otsuki-san (nice guy, practical) and got out of the way, retreating to a corner to enjoy a drink with friends at VIZ. Then, a hush, and a call for attention, when Naruto’s Japanese voice actress Junko Takeuchi entered the space with a cake topped with lit candles. It was Naruto (the character)’s birthday! The assembled group sang Naruto Happy Birthday and closed out the weekend. It was a sweet moment, and a very nice ending to what must have been a very long week, month, quarter, etc. for Kishimoto and all of the VIZ and Shueisha folks who helped bring the event together. The people who make manga are real people, who pour enormous amounts of themselves into their work. It was a very human, very moving moment to see a creator thanked for their creation, a character who has touched and improved thousands of lives. I’m really glad I got to see it, and got to be a part of it.

So, again, my thanks to translator/interpreter Mari Morimoto who worked hard all weekend to help us all communicate, to Kishimoto-sensei for being so forthcoming, to Mr. Otsuki for his assistance and prudence, the staff at Shueisha, and especially the incredibly hard-working and talented staff at VIZ, including Jane, Ashlee, Hiromi, Yasue, Elizabeth, Anthony, Andy, and Leyla, for everything. Otsukaresamadeshita!

– Christopher

P.S.: If you’re more of a reader than a listener, Deb Aoki and ANime News Network have a transcript of the panel and a further interview with Kishimoto at http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interview/2015-10-14/masashi-kishimoto-at-new-york-comic-con/.94186