Some good writing in my feed this morning, as three different folks (in two different articles) took time out of their days to talk about some comics that I really enjoy. All three are different in tone and style and execution, but all three are very much worth your time and money.

First up, at Manga Bookshelf, Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith have a nice conversation about Taiyo Matsumoto’s SUNNY and Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s LONE WOLF & CUBSunny recently debuted at The Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and I was quite fortunate to be involved in that debut and welcoming author Taiyo Matsumoto to North America for its premiere. The book is phenomenal, quite possibly the strongest of his long career, and its surprising strength has pushed both Beasi and Smith to immediately want to go and read his other work, while they wait for volume 2. That’s high praise indeed, and Sunny is an extraordinary comic that is worth of the praise.

Smith and Beasi follow-up their discussion of Sunny with the impending re-release of Lone Wolf & Cub, now in an omnibus edition with a larger size and page count (volume 1 is 5″x7″ and 712 pages). I have a funny relationship with Lone Wolf & Cub, in that I absolutely love it but I haven’t yet finished the series. I stopped about 3 or 4 volumes from the end, despite being utterly consumed with the story and the world, because I wasn’t prepared for the series to end, and for the inevitable conclusion. I will probably finish it one day, and this re-release from Dark Horse may give me the impetus to do so… but I’m not there yet.

Finally, over at The Comics Journal, Craig Fischer writes an extended appreciation of the “Paul” series of books by Michel Rabagliati. The piece is very good at explaining what’s great about Rabagliati’s comics, and even better at explaining why it’s important to give his work a second or third look if you felt slightly unimpressed by it the first time around. I’m still working on my grand unified theory of why it’s so hard to develop a North American audience for French cartoonists, but Rabagliati is definitely on the list of folks whose work is extraordinarily popular and well-regarded in its native land (in Rabagliati’s instance that’s Quebec, rather than France) but has had difficulty finding an audience in English. I’m so happy to see articles like Fischer’s pushing for a reappraisal of Rabagliati’s work while it is still being published, still incredibly vital, and better-still, still in print. Go and track down Rabagliati’s catalogue at your earliest opportunity.

- Chris


Happy to hear Comics Alliance is back this morning. It’s a website that went away in the midst of a weird corporate reshuffle, and while I’m always happy to see an opportunity to remind people in the comics industry to own what they create so this sort of thing can’t happen, I think the site was more valuable than that.

Essentially, Comics Alliance’s greatest strength was the way it trained its readers to care about a wider medium.

All websites train their readership to expect things, and with enough time influence the way its readership views and understands things. Most comics related websites pull hard (HARD) for Marvel and DC, announcing literally every single piece of promotion from either company with equal or greater weight to legitimate news stories from the rest of the medium or industry. Marvel releasing a pictureless image with a piece of text on it for a second- or third-tier book is given the same ‘news’ weight as cartoonist imprisonment in Egypt, as a feature-length interview with a comics master, as a Hollywood casting rumour (when they bother to cover the middle two). This isn’t a direct criticism, just an observation. Today it’s “Villain Month” at DC, as if the other 11 months of the year were somehow “Villainless,” but that’s the game and that’s how sites choose to play it, all the luck in the world to them.

In running their content this way, sites have trained their readerships over time to treat all news this way, that what Marvel and DC are doing at any given time is equally as important as literally anything else happening in the industry or medium. And, very much for the better I think, Comics Alliance got in there and changed the focus significantly towards a much wider view of the medium and industry, and was very successful at it. It tackled gender and sexuality in a way that most sites did not, it tackled webcomics & tumblr comics culture (Adventure Time & pin-up art in particular) in a way that most sites did not. It was generally a fun site to visit, and the tone was consistent. Granted, it wasn’t perfect by any stretch–on the day the site went dark, only 1 of the 12 articles posted was actually about an actual comic book–a pretty poor send off for the site and an unfortunate billboard to leave up for critics happy to see it go. But generally half to three-quarters of the content on the site on any given day is about comics and their creators, which is a pretty good mix when you want those general-interest geek-culture eyeballs powering your ad dollars. Marvel and DC promo stuff gets a nod, but generally only when it is something largeish (reboot, multi-month marketing event), and apparently literally anything at all that Chris Sims wants to write about is given equal weight to that. It basically put forth a vision of “comics” that didn’t really exist beforehand, one that included young people and queers and webcomickers and ladies and POC, and that’s very much to its credit. That is a good thing.

It, understandably, doesn’t do much for people who have a deeply contrasting view of comics. Tucker and Abhay over at TCJ ripped Comics Alliance a new asshole last week on news that it would be returning, in the grand style of TCJ ripping new assholes out of things that it doesn’t particularly appreciate. With all due respect to Tucker and Abhay, I don’t think they get what’s important about what CA did, and will apparently continue to do. I mean, I don’t care about 75% of what Comics Alliance posts about either (gasp!). I don’t ever want to read a story about a Batman car seat, it’s a waste of where an intelligent article could go. But the industry and the medium needs that readership and the comics that Comics Alliance caters too–and most other sites ignore outright, TCJ included–just as much as it needs a regular column for people to be snotty about things that aren’t to their taste. Insert smiley-face.

So! Comics Alliance is now back online at http://www.comicsalliance.com. They’re currently undermining this entire post by running a review of a 2006 titty-movie based on a video game as their top post. Comics!

- Christopher


A few months ago, I had the opportunity to letter a very cool short story by acclaimed experimental mangaka Akino Kondoh. The story is written and illustrated by Kondoh, translated by my good friend Jocelyne Allen, and it was published online for free at WordsWithoutBorders.org. Words Without Borders is a unique organization that “promotes cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature.” Filled with short stories, comics, interviews, and more, the site is fascinating and filled to the brim with great content.

You can read Ladybird’s Requiem at http://wordswithoutborders.org/graphic-lit/ladybirds-requiem.

Stick around the site and you can read more comics (and read non-comics stuff too, if you want) by some of my favourites, including Étienne DavodeauFrançois Ayroles, and Killoffer, amongst others.

Thanks to Words Without Borders and Jocelyne for the opportunity!

- Chris

 


Hey readers (if any of you are still out there)! I wanted to let you know I wrote a comic strip for the webcomics portal SHIFTYLOOK that is nearing the end of its run this week. It’s called SKY KID, illustrated by the amazing Jeffrey “Chamba” Cruz and lettered by top-notch letterer Marshall Dillon, and I’m really pleased with it. :)

You can start reading my contribution to the series at http://www.shiftylook.com/comics/skykid/war-zeppelin-air-fortress-quatro-z, which will introduce you pretty clearly to What’s Happening. Then click the little >> in the upper right hand corner to see the next strip.

My run on the story is 15 episodes long, and is a capper to the story begun by my very good friend Jim Zub (1, 2) who handed the reins over to me for a while. You can also read the whole kit’n'kaboodle starting at the very beginning at http://www.shiftylook.com/comics/skykid/skykid-001. Thanks to Jim and the ShiftyLook team for allowing me the opportunity to play in their sandbox awhile… :)

Best,

- Chris

 


Hey guys,

I probably shouldn’t write this, propriety being what it is and all, but I certainly shouldn’t write it on any sort of TCAF website, so blog update.

I wanna talk about two quick things that I’ve seen come up about TCAF, in an unofficial capcity. That’s anxiety about the event, and ‘cosplay’.

Anxiety: It’s perfectly normal to be nervous and excited about meeting people at an event, any event. Meeting someone whose work means a lot to you can be scary, meeting possibly dozens of those people in a two day period can be overwhelming. And, make no mistake, TCAF will totally be busy. There will be a lot of people. But, and here’s the thing you should remember: Toronto Reference Library is 6 floors (5+ a basement), and has a huge and lovely outdoor area, and could probably acommodate crowds 3 times as big as TCAF comfortably. There are all kinds of spaces in the library which, all through the weekend, remain quiet, and cool, and basically empty except for a few people reading quietly. Seclusion and a place to relax and center yourself is never more than a 60 second walk away when you’re in the library.

And if things get to be just too much? Walk out the front door. There are spaces all around the library that are nice and open. Go and get lunch, go for a walk and get some fresh air, go sit and read some of the comics you’ve bought. Relax. There’s no reason to force yourself to stay in a crowded area if you’re not feeling good about that, and there’s plenty to do off-site. If you get anxious or panicky or need to take a moment, there’s plenty of ways to do just that.

Cosplay: We don’t encourage cosplay at TCAF. It’s a ‘no cosplay’ event. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to be a jerk to anyone else whether they’re in costume or otherwise.

We don’t encourage cosplay for the safety of the cosplayers and the public. To make it as simple as possible, comic book conventions, regular comics events, are a ‘safe space’ for people to express themselves without fear of criticism or rejection. There’s a sort of mutally-agreed-upon pact between attendees, about “letting your freak flag fly” to use an olds expression. TCAF takes place in a public library, with a lot of people who don’t consider TCAF to be a comic convention (including me, including the public, including the thousand people there just to use the computers and check out books). There is no mutually agreed upon pact between attendees of TCAF and the members of the general public at the library that day, other than the general social contract that governs us all in our day to day… and that general social contract doesn’t make a lot of room for dressing as characters from comic books, which means the verbal gloves can come off, to mix a few metaphors there.

I don’t want anyone at all to be hurt by mean words or bad encounters at TCAF, and because we can’t guarantee a ‘safe space’, a non-agression pact by everyone who’s going to be there, it would be flat-out irresponsible of us to get on board with cosplay. But as always, we respect an indvidual’s right to express their identity, and like I said, no one should be a jerk to anyone else whether they’re wearing a costume or otherwise.

So, yeah, that’s the deal. None of this is ‘official tcaf policy’, this is words of wisdom from someone who has been going to comic book events for more than 20 years, and has used his experience to plan and program his own. I want you to have a happy, safe, easy time at TCAF. We make recommendations and not-quite-rules to facilitate that. In the end, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, and we’ll be there to deal with the consequences and fall-out from that. But, for the last 10 years or so, there hasn’t been any. :)

All the best,

- Christopher

 


The talk of the town, so far as manga publishing is concerned, is Brigid Alverson’s excellently-researched piece on manga publishing in 2012 and 2013, over at Publisher’s Weekly. [link]

“… ICv2 CEO and industry analyst Milton Griepp offered a grim take on the manga market: while sales of comics and graphic novels as a whole were up, … manga sales have declined for the past three years and were down 35% in the first half of 2012. The next day, as if in some alternate reality, fans dressed as anime and manga characters crowded the halls of the Javits Center, lined up to get autographs from Moyoco Anno, packed a large room to hear Yoshitaka Amano speak, and competed enthusiastically in trivia games to win swag featuring anime and manga characters. What’s going on here?” – Brigid Alverson, PW

I was interviewed for the article, but unfortunately, due to my own stupid schedule, I got my response to Brigid’s questions in too late for them to be included. Because I couldn’t be a part of the article, I asked Brigid if she would mind me posting my thoughts here (in a slightly edited format). She agreed, and you can feel free to read the following as a footnote to the PW article. :)

I was surprised to see in the ICv2 White Paper that the market had continued to decline because, for us at The Beguiling, sales had stopped falling and plateaued over the past 2 years. Manga remains as important a category for The Beguiling as its been in my decade as the Manager here–and it is the best and most effective category overall for outreach to young readers, and way up there for readership in general.

The demographics have changed and we’ve seemingly lost a generation of readers in their late teens and early 20s to piracy, but the midlist remains very strong in manga as a category and young readers and folks in their thirties and above are still buying books–though probably in conjunction with digital ‘sampling’. The smash hits are fewer and farther between though, and I wouldn’t mind one or two more of those per year.

I continue to be baffled by the inability for the direct market and manga publishers to work together… I’m equally frustrated by Diamond’s reluctance to keep books in stock–or even to reorder them when retailers ask for them!–as I am with publishers’ not recognizing the need for greater education, canon-building, and the continued literary value of their own books. There are titles that remain continually unavailable to the Direct Market, that are part of comics’ literary canon (let alone their extremely prestigious place in manga publishing)… it’s a spectacular failure at every part of the system. As a retailer I regret not making as much noise as I should about the issues, and not fighting as hard as I can.

I’ve always thought that Direct Market stores could benefit significantly from manga as a category, as we have, with the proper investment of time, energy, and perhaps staff resources. Unfortunately those are three things that seem in short supply at most comic shops. In my experience it’s been hard to convince publishers to invest in the Direct Market as a whole when it’s a constant uphill battle. We’ve had great success on a one-to-one with publishers, and at The Beguiling we’re grateful for our strong publisher relationships… but the DM as a whole? Those non-returnable sales could be a huge boon to any publisher’s bottom line. But because the responses from other markets are generally friendlier, more immediately lucrative, and far, far easier, I imagine that’s where the attention will continue to go. I’d love to be proven wrong, though.

- Christopher Butcher, Manager, The Beguiling


Hey Toronto! Two great comics events worth your attention…!

BRIAN WOOD @ THE BEGUILING
Saturday, April 13, 2013, 3PM
The Beguiling, 601 Markham Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Free To Attend

https://www.facebook.com/events/323536931083133/

Brian Wood is the multiple-award-winning, critically acclaimed author of literally dozens of your favourite series, and he will be doing a very special signing at The Beguiling on Saturday, April 13th, at 3pm. Bring your comics along to get signed and meet Brian, and check out some of the very cool/rare comics we’ll have available for sale at the event. All attendees at the signing who make any purchase will receive one of two limited edition prints from THE MASSIVE absolutely free.

Brian Wood is the writer of: STAR WARS – THE MASSIVE – MARA – CONAN THE BARBARIAN – THE X-MEN – NORTHLANDERS – DMZ – CHANNEL ZERO – DEMO – ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN – COURIERS – FIGHT FOR TOMORROW – POUNDED – LOCAL – NEW YORK FOUR – NEW YORK FIVE – SUPERMARKET – TOURIST – WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN ALPHA & OMEGA – LORD OF THE RINGS: WAR OF THE NORTH

KEEP TORONTO READING: GRAPHICALLY SPEAKING – DIRTY COMICS
Tuesday April 16, 2013
North York Central Library Auditorium, 5120 Yonge Street
7:00 PM • FREE

https://www.facebook.com/events/584286594914813/

Once again, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival is proud to partner with the Toronto Public Library on Keep Toronto Reading to present lively and informative graphic novel programming.

This year’s program will feature Charles Brownstein, head of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, to discusses censorship in comics. His presentation will be Followed by a Q&A moderated by Christopher Butcher; manager, The Beguiling, and festival director of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.


Ah, well he’s finally done it.

My friend Andrew Wheeler has, for the past few months, been releasing free podcasts of his Victorian adventure novels entitled “Valentin & The Widow.” For these past few months, I’ve been meaning to post about them, but I’d been waiting until I had listened to them so I could give a more qualified recommendation than “My friend did these, and you should support him!”  Frankly, I think qualified recommendations, like “I really enjoyed this, and I can recommend it to fans of X because I also enjoyed X,” carry a lot of weight, and considering the wealth of material available on these internets, a personal recommendation carries a ton of weight.

Except I hadn’t listened to them, because I’m busy, and then I didn’t recommend them, and now he’s gone and released e-books. So there are two completed novels by a close friend, and at this point, I’ve failed for 3 months to mention that he’s been doing this wonderful thing, and, well, priorities, Christopher. 

So!

I humbly invite you to check out the website of Valentin & The Widow, where you can listen to recordings of wonderful books, and, if the mood should strike you, you can purchase e-book versions of said novel.

http://valentinandthewidow.tumblr.com/

I will work very hard to actually read and/or listen to them shortly, Wheeler. Please, readership, do me one better than that and go and check them out with all due haste.

Best,

- Christopher