Category Archives: Culture

I’m giving a talk on manga censorship next week

Censoring Manga for Fun and Profit
Featuring Christopher Butcher from The Beguiling
Wed Feb 23, 2011, 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
@ Lillian H. Smith Library, 239 College Street (just east of Spadina)
FREE, Registration required

There are the changes you know about, when Japanese manga (comics and graphic novels) make their way across the Pacific to North America–translation, localization, touch-ups–and the changes you might not. Beguiling Bookstore manager Christopher Butcher talks about the many surprising and unfortunate ways manga are censored in North America, as artistic integrity is sacrificed out of fear and a desire to maximize profit–and what you can do about it! The presentation includes ideas and images intended for a mature audience. Register in person or call 416-393-7746. A Freedom to Read week event.

Hi everybody! Chris here. As you can see above, I’m going to be doing a talk on manga censorship, why it’s done, and what you as readers can do about it (hint: the answer isn’t scanlations). I actually gave a short interview about the talk to Vit Wagner at The Toronto Star yesterday, and you can see it online (and theoretically in the paper–though I missed my chance to grab a copy) at thestar.com.

I just wanted to point out (as I will in the talk) that this event owes a huge debt to Jason Thompson, who has really pioneered this discussion and whose presentation I’m using as a springboard for my own. Jason has very kindly allowed me use of his research and images, and I’m extremely grateful. I highly recommend that you check out what he’s had to say on the matter of censorship at these links:

http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/editorial/2008-12-11/christopher-handley/jason-thompson
http://www.tcj.com/manga/sakura-con-2010-censorship-in-manga/
http://khyungbird.livejournal.com/ – His Livejournal

…and to check out his weekly column House Of 1000 Manga every week at:

http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/house-of-1000-manga/

As for my talk, it’s going to go after particularly heinous examples of censorship, get into some of the reasons behind the changes, and into a larger discussion about censorship and manga in regards to the new laws in Tokyo and with our own beloved Canada Customs. It should be a lively discussion. Oh, and there will be adult images shown, so get parental permission before coming out kids!

– Chris

A Short Appreciation of Manga-ka Usamaru Furuya

Hi there! My name is Christopher Butcher and in addition to running this fine blog, I’m also the Director of the 2011 Toronto Comic Arts Festival, or TCAF as we call it. TCAF is an annual comics event held in Toronto, Canada, inside the massive Toronto Reference Library. It attracts about 12,000 people over two days, and features readings, panel discussions, interviews, gallery exhibitions, and a massive exhibition of talented cartoonists from around the world, selling and displaying their wares. The next Festival is May 7th and 8th, 2011, and you can find out more about it at http://www.torontocomics.com.

Earlier this week, it was my great pleasure to announce that TCAF will be welcoming acclaimed Japanese manga creator Usamaru Furuya to the 2011 Festival. Furuya-san will be on hand to support his brand new English-language manga Lychee Light Club, published by Vertical Inc. and which will be debuting at TCAF. Furuya-san’s series for VIZ Media‘s Shonen Jump Advanced line, Genkaku Picasso, will also be finishing its three-volume serialization in May with the third volume possibly making an early appearance at the show. We appreciate the support of Vertical Inc., VIZ Media, and Japanese publisher Ohta Books in making this appearance happen–it’s a rare and unique thing to have one manga creator at a North American event–last week we announced the fabulous Natsume Ono as a Featured Guest–but to have two such talented and Japanese cartoonists is frankly unprecedented.

I want to talk a little bit about Furuya-san’s work. First and foremost, he’s one of my personal favourite cartoonists. He’s a unique, compelling, and incredibly talented creator with a vivid back-catalogue of work. His manga is incredibly varied, first appearing in North America in the cutting edge manga magazine Pulp with the series Short Cuts, published by VIZ Media. This humourous exploration of Japanese youth culture, and where it intersects with the ‘adult’ world, moved rapidly between strips, and sometimes in the same strip, from outré to shocking to laugh-out-loud funny to bizarrely touching, and is fondly remembered amongst alt-manga fans… myself included. Quite honestly much of the deeper appreciation for Japanese culture that I’ve developed came out of Short Cuts and its serialization in Pulp, a fact which is doubtlessly horrifying several of the people who read this. It shouldn’t be so surprising though–Short Cuts engaged an emerging Japanese youth culture and also explained it to a larger Japanese audience, and to have something like that translated for a North American audience was about as ‘inside’ and ‘authentic’ as you could get. Floppy-socked Japanese school girls, taking paid dates and listening to the hottest visual rock bands, all of this is taken for granted as a staple of Japanese culture from a North American vantage point here in 2011; in 2000 it was revelatory for me. The serialization in Pulp and the two-volume collection published by VIZ Media were enormously affecting; I’ve read and lent the series out many times.

An excerpt from Short Cuts. © Usamaru Furuya

A page from Palepoli. © Usamaru Furuya. Click for full size.

His debut manga Palepoli ran in the seminal underground manga magazine Garo, and has been lightly excerpted in North America in the sadly out of print works Secret Comics Japan (an amazing anthology of alternative Japanese comcis featuring the likes of Junko Mizuno and others) and Tokyo Edge (a mostly-text guide to Japanese underground culture written by the Editors of Pulp). Furuya’s mix of surrealism, superior craft, and an unwillingness to be bound by social mores in Palepoli was instantly appealing to me, and repeated rereadings of those precious few pages have revealed even greater depth, meaning, and humour. I wish, one day, that the series would be translated into English.

And that was it for a while.

Pulp sadly folded, taking with it the majority of alt- and underground manga releases for a little while, and seriously stalled manga-for-grownups for a little while, and the industry became very focused on boys adventure comics and girls romance comics for a little while. Not a bad thing, but not generally where my interests lie. Luckily Furuya’s career continued unabated in Japan, and surprisingly, in France. Owing to our bilingual heritage we stock French comics (including manga) at The Beguiling where I work, and new works from Furuya would appear from time to time. His manga are championed by Nouvelle Manga movement originator Frederic Boilet (whose own comics have been published in English by Fanfare/Ponent-Mon), and consequently where anglophones had a 9 year gap between Furuya projects, popular series like La Musique de Marie, Le Cercle du Suicide, and the recent Tokyo Magnitude 8 have continued to impress French audiences. His work is also very popular amongst scanlators and the grey market, it must be said, though I feel like popularizing that fact will hinder future releases of his work.

On that note, it was on my trips to Japan starting in 2007 that I started picking up Japanese editions of Furuya’s manga. By Japanese language skill is still almost non-existent, but anyone who’s looked at one of Furuya’s manga will agree that you can get a lot out of the drawings. I own 10 or 11 of his works in Japanese, and I’d love for them all to be replaced one day with English editions. His 51 Ways To Save Her was one of the announced but unreleased works from the doomed CMX manga line. Will we see it one day?

Recently, surprisingly… almost bizarrely, Furuya showed up again at VIZ with Genkaku Picasso, a gloriously demented short manga series about the inner lives of teenagers, and a boy tasked by God with helping the lives of those around him using his profound artistic talent. One element of Furuya’s work I haven’t touched on is his incredible draftsmanship. His work has a clarity and skill that is above average even in Japan, and he’s an expert at the human figure (especially cute girls…). He’s also incredibly creative, drawing objects and situations that most people couldn’t conceive of… and when you’re drawing the dreamish, nightmarish inner worlds of teenagers, that is a skill that will serve you very well. The series looks great, and is hilarious and disturbing and entertaining… of much more interest to an older audience than the “Shonen Jump Advanced” tag might imply.

Which brings us to Lychee Light Club, debuting at TCAF from Vertical Inc. I’ve got the Japanese version, and while gorgeous it’s certainly bizarre–learning that the series is actually a comedy (a dark comedy), set against the beautifully rendered violence and gore of the original? Well that’s going to add a lot I feel. But really, let me say again, the book is gorgeous. I’m really looking forward to reading it in English.

It was also just announced that Vertical has picked up another 3 volume series from Furuya, debuting this September and being released every two months, so I have that to look forward to too! And quite honestly, so do you. I feel incredibly lucky to share the work of one of my favourite manga-ka with all of you, and for those of us who’ll be in Toronto this May getting to meet him will be an additional thrill. Even if you can’t come, make sure to check out Genkaku Picasso, track down the two trade paperbacks of Short Cuts, and pick up Lychee Light Club when it appears in stores this spring.

And learn French. Musique de Marie and Suicide Circle are highly unlikely to be released in English.

For more on Furuya, check out:

– Unofficial Website: http://www4.airnet.ne.jp/mikami/UsamaruFuruya/en/index.html

– Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Usamaru-Furuya/204452936604

– Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usamaru_Furuya

– Lambiek (Short Cuts era): http://lambiek.net/artists/f/furuya_u.htm

– Anime News Network: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/people.php?id=7174

– Future Shipwreck’s Appreciation: http://futureshipwreck.com/2010/07/usamaru-furuya/

– Christopher

The tone and tactics of arguing about the comics industry, on the internet.

“We have a difficult time talking about things in comics. This is weird in that any reasonably large Twitter feed will tell you that people in comics talk all the damn time. So it’s not lack of practice, obviously.

“A lot of what was specifically distressing about the reaction to the video was how many old, corny, early Internet argument constructions still hold sway, ways of arguing that that should have been dragged into the light and staked a long time ago.

“That people shouldn’t be allowed to complain unless they solve the problem they’re complaining about is a ludicrous notion given two seconds thought.

“That a huge subset of superhero comics fans chose to regard this video as they’ve processed every argument since 1974 with a critical component — as some sort of full-bore assault on themselves and their tastes — is just sort of pathetic at this point.

“That comics people tend to cede to corporations some “right” to do whatever the hell they want as long as they don’t get put in jail, without criticism, because that’s the obligation these companies have to their stockholders remains stunning to me. It’s alarming partly because it’s a repugnant view, or at least I feel that way, but also because the history of comics is full of examples of companies and businesses acting humanely rather than inhumanely, making a choice of one thing over another on the basis of something other than ruthless self-interest.

“After 15 years working in comics and 14 and a half months on the comics Internet, I never need to see the word “hypocrite” again.

“Ditto the idea that anyone that criticizes anything does so from a cross-armed position of moral superiority and it’s that assumed smug state, rather than the argument or issue itself, that needs to be brought down.

“We have a lot of hang-ups, the comics community, and it will be much easier to move forward if we’re honest about when those come into play. We might at least try to find new ways of saying these things, so that we know something is being said instead of clichés being brandished. This wasn’t our finest discussion.”

That’s a quote from Tom Spurgeon’s rather lengthy reaction to Eric Powell’s video trumpeting creator rights. I’ve broken it up because Tom tends to write very densely and in a way that isn’t particularly friendly to the people that most need to hear his message (140 characters, Tom), and this is the internet, and I can do that. Go read the whole article, http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/index/a_brief_reaction_to_a_video_thats_already_been_taken_down/.

– Christopher

Is DC dropping the Comics Code just another cost-cutting measure?

The big news of the week appears to be DC Comics dropping their participation in The Comics Code Authority, after nearly 60 years.  Good fucking riddance to that awful, reductive, and incredibly harmful group. I fall very much into what I call the Frank Miller* camp–books should not have age warnings on them. At most they should have suggestions, and they certainly shouldn’t have some sort of archaic, overly-secretive group of busy-bodies setting up a rule of ‘standards’ for art to adhere to. Age recommendations should come from booksellers.

But I don’t doubt for a minute that dropping the code had nothing to do with Art and everything to do with The Bottom Line.  Much like during the time period where Marvel dropped the comics code, DC is in a period of intense financial and creative adjustment. Marvel spun their move as edgy and creator-driven, DC’s spinning theirs as a move towards ‘accuracy’ in ratings by having different age criteria, but ultimately what it comes down to is: it costs money to be participate in the comics code authority. How much money, I’ve got no idea, they don’t publish those figures and last I heard it was next-to-impossible to join the CCA. But regardless of how much it costs, any amount of money is more than just coming up with your own system and not paying membership dues.

I might not have immediately thought of this as a cost-cutting maneuverer if it hadn’t been for some of their other recent, penny-ante cost-cutting behaviour; they’ve stopped shrink-wrapping their dust-jacketed hardcovers for one. In a move that is probably saving them about 25 cents per book, DC has decided to send all of its dust-jacketed hardcovers to market sans the shrinkwrap that has protected them for lo, these many years, in a move that will almost certainly see more damaged books. We had a damaged dust jacket on the Starman Omnibus Volume 6 this week actually, that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It’s frustrating as a retailer to have that happen, for a dust-jacket, but many collectors are particular enough that a ding in a dust-jacket is unacceptable, and so the whole book is either more difficult to sell, or unsellable. Why did this happen? Well someone did the math and figured that the increase in damages would cost less than shrinkwrapping everything, and so a very nice thing that DC did went out the window, a tiny cost-cutting exercise on books that range in price from $30 to $60.

It’s a bummer.

I don’t really have much to say about their most loudly-touted cost-cutting manouver, reducing the price of their line to $2.99 a book (but with 20 pages of story content instead of 22), I think it’s a win-some/lose-some sort of decision that will attract certain customers while putting off others, who might already feel like the comic book format isn’t the best deal going.

Oh, and here’s a thing that hasn’t got much attention: They’re cancelling trade paperbacks. Here are a few recent ones:

**********

DC COMICS CANCELS ORDERS ON AZRAEL: KILLER OF SAINTS TP
DC Comics has cancelled all orders on the AZRAEL: KILLER OF SAINTS TP (DEC100247). This title will not be published.

**********

DC COMICS CANCELS ORDERS ON THE AUTHORITY: THE LOST YEAR BOOK TWO TP
DC Comics has cancelled all orders on THE AUTHORITY: THE LOST YEAR BOOK TWOTP (NOV100254). This title will not be published.

**********

Which, I mean lets face it, those are two VERY low selling books, but time was DC would publish both of those books, despite the low sales, just because they solicited them and were following through on a promise to the customer. Now, they’re not publishing books that don’t sell well, it’s one of those things that’s both amazing and obvious at the same time.**

I’ve also heard rumblings that I cannot really talk about that DC is going back to press on fewer titles than ever right now. Basically if it’s not making a certain sales target, it doesn’t get reprinted, regardless of whether or not it’s volume 1 of a series of trades that are still coming out. So DC fans, if you want a trade paperback, I humbly suggest that you buy that trade paperback when you see it–those books might not be in print more-or-less indefinitely anymore.***

Which all puts into perspective a quote I read from either Alonso, Quesada, or Brevoort a few weeks back, just after the editorial shake-ups at Marvel that had people promoted all over the place. One of them, and I wish I could find that interview for you, basically repeated the truism that DC doesn’t have to make money at comics, they get all that big licensing money and so they don’t have to worry about sales and things and that’s why things are different at Marvel. Before the last few months I’d be inclined to believe that, but it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that the bottom line is starting to really matter at DC, as they pinch pennies, opt-out of membership dues, and decide to stop killing trees for books no one seems to want.

Good on them.

– Christopher

* I’m sure I’ll grow out of it.

** I’m all for publishing Art that doesn’t sell well but is of quality, literary or artistic. Sales are not the only barometer of quality, and I applaud those who believe in a work so strongly who decide  that despite apathy of hostility from the marketplace that a piece of art must be seen: bravo. But publishing Azrael trades that no one wants makes the Lorax cry.

*** As an aside that doesn’t directly tie-into this essay, I will note that there are positive changes in DC’s Collected Editions dept. as well, including the fact that much-demanded-by-retailers graphic novels of SUGAR & SPIKE and FLEX MENTALLO have finally, finally been added to the publication schedule. Shake-ups all over, it seems.

A Small Comics Journalism Request

There will always be “news”, which is to say information that, by virtue of it’s newness and importance, can be stated directly with a only a minimum of information. For example, “Creator X has signed exclusive with DC! He’ll be working on Comic X!” That’s news, I get that. It’s important to site statistics, to the bottom line, to get that out there first.

But I would submit even 2 hours after that ‘news story’ has been posted, any other ‘news site/blog’ talking about that story has a responsibility to bring more to the story than “Here is the news that another site posted! I’m including all of the news they posted, but I’m not adding anything, thereby ensuring that you don’t need to visit their site.” It’s doubly problematic because, while you are linking them you’re creating no reason for your readership to follow that link back to where the news originated, so that’s kinda cheap, AND you’re also adding nothing, because as you yourself have pointed out: the news is already out there, what you’ve done is entirely superfluous. Entirely.

So if you feel like you need to have the information contained within the news item reposted to your site, in part or (sigh) in full, it would be nice if you could add something. An opinion, either yours or that of a colleague of the subject. Or Erik Larsen, he has something to say about everything. Further, if you’re reposting the content of someone else’s news item but it is no longer “new”, but you are doing things like saying “…and no one knows how signing this contract with DC will affect Creator X’s creator-owned work,” then you’re not just superfluous–you’re LAZY. Because let’s face it, if I (me) can call up DC Comics or the Creator in question and get an answer to the question you’re raising, and do it in under 5 minutes, then YOU could’ve done the same thing. You just didn’t want to. You decided the post was good enough, and really it wasn’t. It was weak and lame and you should’ve worked harder.

And here’s the kicker, rather than just reposting the content of someone else’s news, you could’ve generated content! You could’ve had exclusive information–NEWS–of your own, if you could’ve answered how this would affect Creator X’s creator-owned work, which means that everyone would link to You AND the site that broke the news. Cool beans!

Linkblogging is linkblogging, yes, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of pulling what is essentially a link out into its own post at LEAST make sure the 5 Ws of basic journalism are covered before you hit publish. It would ensure a much-better informed readership, and better site statistics for you. Win-Win.

Thanks,

– Chris

The Comics Journalism Conundrum

I have strong feelings on Comics Journalism.

Those strong feelings are part of the reason why I rarely participate in comics journalism or the discussion thereof anymore. The other part is that I have moved, with the creation of TCAF and my general… being-around-ness… from a commentator to a content producer. Tearing into a comics journalist or journalism site, while often necessary and frankly personally rewarding now has the added bonus of blowing back onto creators, stores, and organizations I work with. Big picture, there’s not much to be gained. So it was probably ill-advised that today, when creator Jess Fink started complaining about the superhero-centric focus of most comics websites (at the expense of every other kind of comic being created), I offered my 2 cents.

My thesis? The reason “comic” sites write more about superheroes is that those stories get more views. Most of the bigger comic websites are advertising driven, and there’s just not a ton of money out there in mid-sized ad-driven websites. Every unique visitor counts. Every pageview counts. And, flat-out, there are more people interested in superheroes, on average, than there are literary comics, or even non-superhero genre work. I personally believe that there is a possibility for a greater segment of the population to enjoy literary and general fiction than genre fiction, but the numbers right now say otherwise. Simple economics, most literary comics are stand-alone graphic novels that print what, 4k-10k for the midlist to moderate hits? That’s respectable, that’ll make the publisher and the creator money. But an average superhero book from DC or Marvel is doing 20k-30k, which is already 2x to 6x more, and it’s doing that every month. To say nothing of the filthy pirates who don’t pay for comics. It’s just more eyeballs.

And when you add superhero movies to the mix, or the possibility of superhero movies, that draws in an even bigger section of the general public–“people who see movies.” It’s a bit like what Patton Oswald was talking about, the mainstreaming of nerd culture. It’s the steady mainstreaming of nerd websites to make them palatable and interesting to general audiences–for the huge pageviews, and the advertising dollar that goes with them.

How much hype did Scott Pilgrim get for that last book? How much did it get for the first 2 or 3 books? Did the media attention for volumes 5 and 6, the attendant interviews with O’Malley, profiles, background articles, all of that, did it numerically outweigh all of the press that every other Oni book combined got in the year 2008? Or 2007 and 2008 combined maybe? That’s the game. Sure it sucks to be Cory Casoni at Oni Press fielding 450 press requests in 8 months for one book when you’ve got 65 other releases to promote and media cannot even hear you when you pitch them unless “that guy, you know, Scott Pilgrim, unless we can get him to talk about the other books that you publish and he says which ones would also make good movies.” Sucks but that’s the game.

Smart PR people at literary comics publishers, or independent genre publishers (Cory Casoni of Oni Press included) can and do place stories all the time though. When you’ve got a book with a good angle, or you’ve got a movie deal, or you’ve got the prospect of a movie deal, or you’re just really f’ing persistant, you can get the corporate comics sites to pay attention. It particularly helps if it’s a genre fiction book–zombies, crime, sci-fi, military, whatever happens to be most popular at the time. Those stories are great, but they generally get considerably less commentary, less attention, and fewer page views than say… speculating on the cast of the possible Ant-Man movie. That’s why (generally) you’re not going to see much at those sites that isn’t specifically designed for the big audience. It’s gotta be the favourite of an individual writer working there or something similar. Ultimately the people working at these sites get paid by ad revenue, and the articles that get the most views are the ones that generate that revenue, and those are generally superheroes, or superhero movies, or according to Bleeding Cool, superhero porn movies (Batporn #1 article 18 weeks running).

And I Mean This: Not that there’s anything wrong with that. At least, not specific to comics, the comics industry, or comics journalism.

Because lets face it: Corporate journalism on the whole is kind of sliding into the abyss, isn’t it? As above so below; ratings equal ad dollars equals a capitalist society, and so CNN runs stories on celebrity pets or whatever nonsense will keep them from sliding into total obscurity, while Fox News just out and out lies to people, every day, demonstrably filling them full of fear making them terrified to turn off the TV, and man, that’s how you score the big ad dollars! Make people afraid to turn the channel.

So who gives a fuck if corporate comic news site ‘a’ is mostly concerned with the recent developments of the green lantern or the wolverine? I don’t buy the argument that they’re ‘supposed’ to be concerned with anything in particular besides making sure the lights stay on. And really, there are so many much larger, much more pervasive, and more damaging problems facing comics as an industry than books I personally like getting less media attention than books I do not care for. Sure, it’s all tied together, distribution, fair contracts, and the attention a book or creator receives, but one of those things is the weak link in the importance chain.

No, corporate sites have a corporate responsibility to sell, and the masses seem to be most engaged by things I’m not that into, and so those sites pretty-much disappear off my radar. I actually feel good for not knowing how much people hated JMS’ Superman “grounded” stories until it popped up in the year-end-reviews on sites I do read. I feel like a good person for not having known that. I am glad that the few comics news sites in my feed reader–ComicsReporter.com, Robot 6, The Beat, PW Comics Week–do not generally bother me with the 3-5 press releases that Marvel send daily (seriously) that I get in my inbox anyway, informing me that NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME (got that one twice last year) and that THE ONLY PLACE TO GO FOR MARVEL COMICS IS MARVEL.COM TO DOWNLOAD THEM (that one was my favourite). Thanks, guys and gals.

And if you’re like, a douche, who wants to pull one sentence out of context in order to hammer me with some imaginary straw-man argument, let me save you the trouble: I know I’m biased, I know I’m not being particularly fair to people who want to earn a paycheck and/or parlay their interview with a creator into working at the same company as that creator. I’m not cut out for producing regular content day in and day out, I totally couldn’t hack the comics journalism game and pay my rent. BY ALL MEANS feel free to write me off. But I’ve been watching internet comics journalism since Newsarama was just a dude on Usenet, and I didn’t much like him, so I feel like I’ve got enough time and experience invested despite my biases (and failings). Hell, because of them.

Ultimately what it comes down to is, the content I find disappointing and weak and shallow is the stuff that attracts the biggest audience of crazy people in the comments section arguing about how shallow it is, and every comment is worth actual money to those sites. I’d like to do something about it, contribute more blogging, more reviews, more journalism, but I did 3 dozen interviews, thousands of blog posts, and wrote a book over the last 10 years, and I think for the time being I’d rather curate comic shows and sell good books and help out individual creators and publishers I like. Only so many hours in the day.

So, yeah, Comics Journalism isn’t what I want it to be, but luckily that is someone else’s problem. If that’s you: Good luck!

– Christopher
P.S.: The solution is for writers to find a balance not only between “what sells” and “what they love”, but in representing the entire medium in new ways. If everyone is covering every Marvel and DC press release, then no one is building a loyal audience. If you’re covering those press releases and sneaking an article about Moto Hagio’s revolutionary speculative fiction in shoujo comics of the 1960s or Jim Ottavianni’s new Richard Feynman biography from First Second onto IO9.com, then you’re going to hook someone at your site who’s going to stay for the long haul because you’ve offered content that no one else has. My 2 cents.

NYCC 2010

I came across Spurge’s thoughts on NYCC last night, and the thing that stuck out at me was that he thought despite giving out 2900 press passes, the show did not get 2900 press passes worth of coverage. Now, while I might suggest that NYCC organizers Reed being able to sell access to 2900 members of the press is worth it’s weight in gold (let alone free admissions to the Comic Con), I will admit that my own coverage was somewhat anemic and so I thought I’d follow-up with my thoughts on the show.

I will also intersperse those thoughts with photographs so you don’t get bored.

My first thought on NYCC, and this is brutally unfair I know, is that Reed has utterly and completely blown it with this show. What I mean by that is that they had a chance, a real chance, at doing a book- and comic-oriented event, that engaged people with the work. There’s a lot of room within that description to have famous people and spectacle, but the promise of NYCC–to me–was that this could be a book show, a comics show, a successful event that could be the antithesis of San Diego Comic Con’s Freak Parade.

Make no mistake, New York Comic Con is a Freak Parade.

And that is exactly what the organizers were hoping for.

Like I said, this is a profoundly unfair thought… It’s not kosher to judge the relative success or failure of an event based on what you hoped it might be. Sure, that first year was more modest, with (to my recollection) less of a focus on stardom and more of a focus on creators/authors/artists. Modest, publisher-oriented booths, programming that centered equally on the business-side and fandom-side of things. Maybe it was the then-presence of a reasonably vital Wizardworld: Chicago to take some of the burden off of NYCC needing to be the North-East version of SDCC, but that first year, it looked like NYCC could turn into anything.

And anything is what it seems to have turned into.

Walking in the main exhibition entrance, one was greeted by a giant booth which blared Michael Jackson songs all weekend. There was a stage with dancers–you could even get up and dance with them–trying their best to capture and replicate the late pop-singer’s moves as directed by a videogame (out this Christmas!). It’s hard not to smile when you come across a giant stage with a Michael Jackson impersonator and backup dancers aggressively “Beat-It”-ing; it was a genuinely fun moment.

It just also happened to be the death-knell for NYCC as a comics/book event.

Massive video-game booths taking up huge swaths of the floor, give-away masks/hats/swag bags, all that was missing was a giant golden throne. Maybe they needed it on set.

So yeah, NYCC has become SDCC-East, which is personally disappointing (because I already _go_ to SDCC), but I think we’ve covered that. How did it succeed as SDCC-East? Well, the part of me that wants to be invited next year is inclined to be more charitable than I otherwise might, so let me say first and foremost that a the show was  intensely marketed, and people showed up, and they had a good time. Those are, to my mind, the three most positive things I can say about the show.

Personally, I’d take issue with the way it was marketed, the number of people that showed up, and why people had a good time, but that’s because I’m kind of curmudgeonly.

Last one first: I had a great time in New York last weekend. Seriously, it was great, and the con was a good part of that, and I’m grateful for that experience. I met a lot of wonderful people and met people in person for the first time, it was valuable personally and professionally. That couldn’t have happened without NYCC being a big-enough draw to get all those folks, myself included, out to New York in the first place.

But has been pointed out online already, how much of an excuse does anyone really need to go to New York City in the first place? It’s AMAZING, I ? NY a great deal and would go every weekend, if I could afford it.

Not to discount NYCC’s good fortune at taking place in NYC , but I feel like that’s the starting point, the plateau: “Hey, this is New York City. People are gonna wanna come.” There are more people in NYC than in all of Canada; you’ve got a massive built-in audience, a massive talent-pool, it’s easy to get to, plenty of hotels, and an international tourist destination. Unless you don’t want people showing up to your event, it’s easy to get people to come to your event… or at least a hell of a lot easier than San Diego. Or Toronto for that matter. It’s easy to have a good time in New York, and hella-easy for nerds to have a good time if you throw a bunch of them in a big room together. That isn’t the best indicator of success, it might not even be a particularly good one.

Which brings us to the crowds: Thank Christ No One Died. I don’t say that lightly, I really don’t. The show was a zoo, particularly Saturday 12-4, wall-to-wall people. San Diego at its absolute worst. The aisles were too narrow in the main hall by at least 2 feet, and they were far narrower in the Small Press Pavilion on the south side of the convention centre. Worse still, the Small Press Pavilion was adjacent to artist alley, and the aisles didn’t match up creating HUGE human-traffic jams in the aisle that connected them.

Overstuffed.

This isn’t just bitching. I mean, it’s bitching, I’m not backing away from the tone of this as unnecessarily cranky, but Saturday at the show felt legitimately unsafe at points. I really felt like very little thought had gone into the layout of the hall from a safety/traffic point of view. Whether they had a layout that needed to be entirely trashed because of the construction or whether they came up with a bad design, the layout needs to be severely changed for 2011. Wide main aisles/throughfares to move people quickly from one end of the show to the other, fewer exhibitors crammed near essential services like escalators and washrooms(!), and what the hell was with the massive, empty space at the entrance to the south hall? Maybe we could’ve spaced out some of the Small Press booths into that space?

I will say that from an exhibitor POV, it was nice that the majority of medium-to-large publishers were clustered together making it easier to browse the stuff I was most-interested in. But honestly, it’s been like that since year one, and I feel like that’s more of a hold-over from previous shows than a conscious decision for 2010.

Which brings us to the marketing: Wow. Listed as Press for the event, I was put on the list fairly early and received at least one update a week from NYCC itself, and a hundred+ PR emails, almost exclusively from film and video game producers. I don’t know if the comics pubs just didn’t want to pony-up the dough to buy access to the press list, but the majority of comics promotion happened in the body of the NYCC emails, and again, felt paid-for or part of an in-kind promotion… and even then, they were exceptionally rare. No, both inwardly to subscribers and outwardly to the public, this was marketed as a POP CULTURE event, a freak parade by and for media-friendly Geeks, and a place to come and get your geek on. Come meet Stan Lee! Come see a J-Pop Band! Video Games! B-Movie Actors Film Guests! (There was comics content in almost all of the official NYCC emails I received, but it was always after other info, and other media.)

The marketing for the show, hell the whole website if you look at it, has a Carnival Barker vibe that’s… well, it’s successful as fuck. Seriously, it’s fucking amazing how many people showed up, talked about the show before it happened. It was happening. But this is starting to get into broken-record territory here–Reed STILL isn’t good at running consumer shows.

(Kind of telling that it took 20 paragraphs to get to the thesis…)

So Reed Exhibitions have integrated themselves with PAX, the Penny Arcade Expo, a video-game show that started as a grassroots effort that topped like 70k attendees this year. They’re wholesale-running PAX East, in Boston, in early 2011. PAX has always been a well-run show, nearly seamless and exceptionally enjoyable as an exhibtor, and as an attendee.

Reed has done everything in their power to figure out why PAX runs so well, and attempted to duplicate it to the best of their ability. For example, at PAX, the volunteers are called “Enforcers” and they will bend-over-backwards to help you. This year (and I believe this is the first year), NYCC branded all of their volunteers as “Heroes” and their yellow volunteer shirts had “Hero!” on the back. The staff shirts were red… and I don’t think they had anything on them.

The problem was, every volunteer I encountered was unempowered. They had the barest of instruction, and didn’t even feel confident in that.  There weren’t enough maps, and no one from one section knew anything about any other section, so no one could answer where anything was that wasn’t right in front of them. Any harder question was met with “ask my supervisor.” These weren’t random volunteers I asked either, these were people at the check-in desk. And this wasn’t just the first day, it was all weekend.

You can call your volunteer a ‘hero’ to thank them for helping out; I think that’s swell. But if you don’t give them any information, if you don’t empower them to basic questions, if you don’t even give them basic orientation, then you’ve done a poor job.

Which leaves you to rely on the convention centre security. I’ll say one thing about the Javitz Centre Security: They don’t give a FUCK. This was the antithesis of San Diego Comic Con in at least one way: there was almost no security, doing almost nothing, and by Sunday they’d given up entirely… which when you’ve got an overstuffed convention centre full of folks who’ve been invited in to stare at/be the freak show, creates more of those overcrowding problems I was talking about. A security “guard” at the south hall entrance couldn’t be bothered to tell people not to stop directly in the center of the narrow entrance way to talk. Literally looked over at them blocking the way, then looked away. I don’t like being the guy who shouts at comic book conventions, but “THERE ARE BETTER PLACES TO STAND” may have been uttered at one point. Loudly.

If one is going to be undiscerning about who one invites into their home, then it behooves one to make sure that one is prepared for what follows. I’d submit that NYCC was not, from a staff, volunteer, or security POV.

In Closing: I really felt like the show had a slapdash feel to it. Because Reed moved NYCC from February to October, they had more than 20 months between 2009 and 2010 to prepare the show, nearly two full years, and it felt considerably more poorly-organized than the 2009 show. I’m aware that as an event organizer (though on nowhere near this scale) I’m way more sensitive to organizational problems than the general public, and as such I try hard to pull back a little on criticism… and I did, honestly… (The programming, the integration of New York Anime Festival, the last-minuteness of their info going public). It’s tough because NYCC isn’t the show I’d run, but I can get over that to judge it in the context of the shows it’s decided it wants to be: SDCC and PAX. And honestly? It comes up short. Or at least this year it did.

So there are my thoughts on NYCC 2010. I had an amazing time, I got a bunch work done, and met some great people, but in the end I don’t think that’s going to be enough for me, for next year.

– Christopher
I’ll caption some of the photos later if I have time.

Where’s Chris? New York – Tokyo – Toronto

One of the things I wanted to do this year was bring all of the disparate events and speaking enagements and travels that I participate in together, into some sort of meaningful whole. It’s all an extension of what I’ve always done at the blog–mostly try to convince people that my ideas were best–and I’ve been doing a lot of work putting those ideas into action and preaching to new crowds. It’s hugely fun and rewarding, and hopefully I get to keep doing it for a long while.

To that end, I’ve been very fortunate to be asked to speak in a number of venues over the coming months, and so I put together a little “Where’s Chris?” box on the right there, which lists all of the panels, seminars, and presentations I’ll be participating in in the coming months. Also if I’m going out of town for more than a few days I’ll try to list that cool, in case anyone wants to meet up while I’m travelling. Feel free to contact me and say hello, I’m generally very amenable to being bought a drink 🙂 Here’s a quick outline of those upcoming engagements:

Oct 7-11 New York
Oct 7: ICv2 Digital Comics Conference (Press) – I’ll be covering ICv2’s Digital Comics Conference as ‘press’, which should be pretty interesting.
Oct 8-10: New York Comic-Con (Press) – Likewise, I’ll also be covering the whole New York Comic-Con as a member of the fourth estate, and I’m hoping to do some real blogging and coverage this year akin to some of my better coverage from years past.

I’ll also be participating in a panel discussion and giving a lecture at the show.

Saturday Oct 9:  Comic Events that Really Work Panel, 5pm-6pm, Room 1A17 (Speaker) – I’m going to be giving a lecture on how and why to run comics-related events, from micro to macro, book signings to Scott Pilgrim Parties to The Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and everything in between. I’m tailoring it to booksellers

Saturday Oct 9: Gay for You? Yaoi and Yuri Manga and GLBTQ Readers Panel, 7:30pm-8:30pm, Panel Room 2 (1E12) (Panelist) – A panel that will be not-at-all controversial! I’ll be joining a range of very cool ladies and gents from all aspects of the comics industry to talk about how yaoi and yuri intersect with actual Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Trans/Queer concerns.

Oct 25-Nov 8: Tokyo
I’m heading back to Tokyo for a buying trip for The Beguiling and, fingers crossed, for a touch of TCAF-related business. If you’re in the area and want to go for a drink, drop me a line.

Nov 14: Toronto: Gamercamp
I’ve been invited to lead a discussion on narrative and the intersection between comics and video games. Details tba, but will be announced soonish at http://www.gamercamp.ca/.

2011
Feb 23: Toronto: Freedom To Read Week
I’ll be a guest speaker for Toronto Public Library’s Freedom To Read Week. My Speech will be entitled “Censoring Manga For Fun And Profit”.

May 7-8: Toronto Comic Arts Festival (Festival Director)
Oh My God you guys. http://torontocomics.com/

– Christopher

Long Live Scott Pilgrim

Chris with Megaphone. Photo by Paul Hillier, http://www.flickr.com/photos/roadragebunny/

I swear, I was much happier than this last night.

Seriously, that was a pretty ridiculous night. We feel like there were over 2,000 people at the event, we did counts on the line and there were over 800 people lined up for Mal for the midnight signing (that went until about 3:45am). About that many in the “I just want my book” line, and people milling out, seeing bands, playing video games, listening to music, drinking, having a good time.

In short, it was the most successful event I’ve ever run. Thanks to everyone who helped out. Thanks to our sponsors. Thanks to Oni for helping us set it up. Thanks for coming out. Thanks for not calling the cops. Oh, and thanks to Mr. O’Malley, who basically killed himself in the service of comics… that’s all I really ask of anyone 🙂

– Christopher

What A Difference A Day Makes – Gay Graphic Novels Uncensored?

Timeline:

May 24th: Zan Christiensen posts a great article about possible censorship concerns against gay-centric graphic novels at Apple’s App Store, for the iPad and iPhone.
http://prismcomics.org/display.php?id=1858

June 13th: The New York Times covers the case of ULYSSES SEEN, a graphic novel adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses that had non-sexual nudity edited out after demands by the appstore people. Rage.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/technology/14ulysses.html

June 14th, 1:40am: I post a link to Zan’s article at Prism, add a little bit of commentary and additional thinking, call for comment. I feel bad for being behind the times…

June 14th, 10:40am: Tech blog Gizmodo picks up on the story of ULYSSES SEEN and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST censorship.
http://gizmodo.com/5562802/the-latest-examples-of-apples-stupid-editorial-censorship

June 14th, 12:30pm: Awesome Gay Blog JoeMyGod publishes a story on the same issue, based on a reader tip.
http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2010/06/apple-censors-gay-graphic-novels-but.html

June 14th, 4pm: Gizmodo updates that Apple has apparently reversed its decision and has asked the creators of both ULYSSES SEEN and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST to resubmit the unedited works for approval.

While it shouldn’t have taken a public, multi-site shaming to get Apple’s act together, I’m quite pleased that both sets of creators will get their work to be presented in the format they’d originally intended, and hopefully get a nice little sales boost from all of the attention. I’m glad that whatever small part I played in bringing the story to people’s attention helped resolve the situation, and kudos again to Zan for writing a great article and highlighting an obvious injustice. I hope the Yaoi Press people aren’t similarly left behind…

Which brings us to another issue, as mentioned by my friend Andrew Wheeler this morning:

@Wheeler: Given Apple’s censorship, shouldn’t intelligent liberals adamantly reject it as a publishing platform? Where’d our ethics go? I refer in part to the censorship of comic adaptations of Wilde http://tinyurl.com/37j3q3b and Joyce http://nyti.ms/9HzgFE

Where indeed? Are we really prepared to hand over the keys to the digital kingdom to a company that has to be aggressively shamed into behaving well?
Or should we count our blessings, because there are companies that don’t know the definition of shame who might be in the same position soon (rhymes with Amazon).
– Christopher