I’m kind of having a tough time finding stuff that I want to blog about, or having the time to do it. Sorry readers! Hopefully I’ll be back on the ball this weekend.
Never Safe For Work
I’m kind of having a tough time finding stuff that I want to blog about, or having the time to do it. Sorry readers! Hopefully I’ll be back on the ball this weekend.
I don’t know why everyone keeps going on about this “Archaia Studios Press” being bought out… I had thought it was the publisher of Publisher of Mouse Guard being bought out… Or at the least, The Publisher of Mouse Guard and they’ve got some good French licenses as well. I mean sure, The Publisher of Mouse Guard is publishing other books, and they’re all produced by nice-enough folks and there’s a general level of quality to the line which speaks well of managing editor Mark Smylie. But The Publisher of Mouse Guard publishes Mouse Guard, which is a phenomenally successful indy publishing story, possibly the best-selling indy comic of the past few years. It’s sold tons and tons in hardcover, and the soft cover edition was published and distributed by an imprint of Random House, Villard Books, which is a pretty big deal. So why hasn’t anyone mentioned Mouse Guard in all of these proceedings, then?
Let’s just throw some actual facts out there:
- ASP apparently had a great, great creator ownership contract. (Except for a strange non-compete clause).
- Mouse Guard sold a fuck-tonne of books, which would mean ASP would either have paid or would owe Mouse Guard creator David Petersen a fuck-tonne of money, because again, that contract was pretty good.
- David Petersen hasn’t updated his blog since July 30th, wherein he won two Eisner Awards. I haven’t seen any public comment from him anywhere throughout this whole ordeal or since that time.
-Â Despite books continuing to dribble out from ASP over the past few months, despite the restructuring, we haven’t seen a new issue of Mouse Guard, with the second series stalled at 3 issues (of a projected six) since February 26th, 2008.
- Mouse Guard is ASP’s best selling book.
- If they’re in a situation of financial uncertainty, and they are publishing books occasionally, why aren’t they publishing their best selling book?
- Everyone, everyone, wants that second Mouse Guard collection. Diamond Book Distributors devoted more of their Book Expo America booth to Mouse Guard as a property than any of the other publishers). You know Diamond wants it. I bet ASP wants that second book. Villard too, probably. Booksellers want it (I want it).
So where is it? I can only imagine that whoever acquires ASP will want that book, that money, and the rights to make toys and cartoons based on the series too, and if I had to hazard a guess, that would be a big part of why we aren’t seeing it… Of course, that brings up the fact that no issues of the series have shipped since the end of February, and the “media rights” contract is a fairly recent development. Something else is going on.
I guess what I’m getting at here is that it’s fascinating that the crown jewel of the ASP line hasn’t been mentioned in any of these discussions; it’s the elephant in the room with an army of tiny adorable mice riding its back. If someone told me all 9 issues of Mouse Guard published to date sold more than every other comic book ASP has published combined, I wouldn’t even blink–I certainly know that’s true for us at the store, in our limited experience. I’d go so far as to say that the vast majority of the reason one would want ASP, and demand partial ownership of all of their properties, is solely to get a hold of Mouse Guard.
So let’s move from statements of fact to a line of questiong:
- What if you were the guy that owned the most successful indy book in years?
- What if your publisher went from a “fair” or even “generous” contract, to one that met the “industry standard” in an industry where that standard wallows in a sewer, rights-wise, most of the time?
- Where you were now expected to give up all of your media rights without so much as a bidding war, despite the fact one is very-much called for?
- Would you sign that contract?
- What if that “Industry Standard Contract” was a lie, in an industry with Image, or First Second Books, or even Villard (with whom you’re already working)? Where not every publisher demands those rights from you? In fact, factoring mainstream book publishers, most pubs don’t make those requests of you.
- What if almost anyone in the industry would publish your book on your terms, just because it would make them so much money on the publishing alone?
- What if not signing the new ASP contract meant that you couldn’t put out your series again for a year, or more, because of a “non-compete” clause in your original contract?
- What if that derailed the intense momentum of your series? Made it so that you couldn’t meet the deadlines of your other contracts with Random House? Severly disrupted your cashflow, your work schedule?
- Would you sign it then?
- How would you feel being put in that position?
It’s very easy to forget the human face behind words like “Strongarm Tactics” and “Industry Standard Contracts”. It’s easy to forget that PR spin is just that: spin. It’s easy to forget that just because someone describes something as “Industry Standard” doesn’t make it true… That just because one creator is willing to sign a bad contract (see: Platinum, Tokyopop, etc.) doesn’t mean that every creator is obligated to. That silence does not mean consent.
So how would I answer my own questions up there? Simply, I’d just go ahead and start publishing again, that second collection through Villard, and let Random House’s massive team of lawyers take all comers… If there were any contention at all of course. Sometimes legal posturing is just posturing. I think that would be the way to go, and it would minimize the interuption to my creativity, my cashflow, and my life. Because it’s coming up on February 26th again soon.
But then I guess we won’t know until The Author of Mouse Guard speaks up. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.
All art from Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by David Petersen. Theoretically Copyright 2008 David Petersen.
Mike Sterling over at Progressive Ruin sat down and watched arguably the worst movie of all time, Batman & Robin, in order to liveblog it. That poor bastard.
Watching some the clips he linked to (because I’m never, ever going to watch that movie) reminded me of the single best thing ever to come of it: Mr. Cheese. From the pages of Greg Hyland’s Lethargic Lad comes this fantastic mockery that has a legacy far deeper than the movie ever will.
According to his biography: “While trying to find a cure for his wife’s rare cheese disease, Dr. Arnold Cheese fell into a giant vat of liquid cheese, which turned him into a supervillain. Mr. Cheese… also has an encyclopeadic knowledge of cheeses, which he uses within his speech; either as puns, or just as a sign of insanity.”
The character is responsible for dozens of awful cheese puns. Seriously, every appearance is Cheese pun after Cheese pun, and instead of freezing people, he has guns that shoot liquid cheese. It’s even better than it sounds.
So to finish up this post I was going to go recommend you check out Lethargic Lad Online, creator Greg Hyland’s regularly updated webcomic featuring Lethargic Lad, Mr. Cheese, and all of the superhero parody characters you love! But… Dude, Greg, if you’re reading this (hey, it’s Chris! Long time…) your webcomic has the single worst interface I have ever tried to use. All you need is a “NEXT COMIC” button and a “PREVIOUS COMIC” button and we’re good. But your current system makes me reconsider wanting to read your funny comic because each comic takes 2 clicks and two mouse moves to go from strip to strip. It’s the opposite of intuitive design. I recommend: ComicPress, a plugin for WordPress.
Anyway, Mr. Cheese! Ask for him by name, in better back-issue bins everywhere. It’ll be gouda for you to meet him!
Urgh: So, I forgot when I started writing this review that I said I’d only recommend stuff that would actually be in stores for you to buy… And I think this is still a couple of weeks away. So, uh, sorry. I’ll probably re-run this review when the book comes out. Hope you don’t mind? I’ll try and come up with a little something that you actually CAN pick up in stores this Wednesday.
By Dirk Schwieger
$15.95, 176 pages (with foldout), Paperback
Published by NBM Publishing
Reviewed by Christopher Butcher
I was lucky enough to grab an advance-advance copy of Dirk Schwiegerâ€™s Moresukine at this summerâ€™s Comic Con International in San Diego, direct from the artist himself. I paid full price, and itâ€™s the only book I got signed while I was there. That should tell you that I liked it. Even though I was already a fan of the work from its serialization online in 2006, I have to admit a little bit of disappointment at the print edition, which saw many of the pages suffer unfortunate cropping and printing problems. Many of the densely-packed pages of art and text were bleeding right off the edges of the page, more-or-less legible but incredibly distracting. But itâ€™s with great joy that I can announce that the review copy that arrived today is free of those problems, which may account for the bookâ€™s exceptional lateness (it was originally due in July). It looks like NBM might have gone back to press on this title, to provide a better edition. If so? Bravo for them, for their commitment to quality! Andâ€¦ maybe sometimes itâ€™s better not to get one of the first copies off of the press.
Moresukine is how you pronounce â€œMoleskin,â€ as in the notebook, in a Japanese accent. The book is named after the diary that German-in-Japan Dirk Schwieger used to chronicle his adventures in the city of Tokyo, comics-style. But he took the casual observation of his temporary home a step further, offering his comicsâ€™ online readers a chance to shape the comic and his coverage in the most direct way possible: tell him what to do, and he will do it, and draw a comic about it. And people did just that from January to June 2006, each week with a new installment and a glimpse into life in Tokyo. We get to see first hand almost as it happened what Harajuku fashion is really like, the terrifying truth about Japanese toilets, and discover the deadly fugu fish in a way heretofore only afforded by The Simpsons.
Itâ€™s funny, when I first start to tell people how much I enjoy this strip and this new collection, they do a little politically correct-minded wince at the stripâ€™s title, worried that it might be drawing humour from an uncomfortable place. I understand those concerns, but I canâ€™t really see anything in Schwiegerâ€™s stories that are mocking or denigrating Japanese culture; Dirk takes great pains to engage Japanese culture on its merits, whether serene or seemy, and to present his experiences as honestly as possible. Itâ€™s really not until the end of the book when the reader is exposed to moreâ€¦ uncomfortable attitudes towards â€œforeignersâ€ (and letâ€™s not forget: Dirk is the â€˜foreignerâ€™ in this book) that you realize the careful way in which Schwieger has presented his experiences in this culture. More on that a little later, though.
At first flip Moresukine is a bit of a mixed bagâ€¦Schwiegerâ€™s thick line impressively diagrams the food and architecture that make Japan so alluring, but it seems uneasy and occasionally awkward depicting the human form. Each entry (â€œassignmentâ€) starts off with a singularly unflattering and perhaps even ugly profile portrait of Schwieger, and considering that both North America and Japan love their clean, attractive human forms when it comes to comics, I can see how it might turn off potential readers. The ugliness of those portraits belies how accomplished Schwiegerâ€™s cartooning really is, as Schwieger is called upon to chronicle a startling array of objects, and situations. He displays a high level of craft in his depictions of the intricate folds of origami, or in the heavily-rendered and detailed (and photo-referenced) can of coffee that sits at the center of one assignment. His depictions of his human characters tighten up noticeably when working from photos, and his drawings of a friend taking him to his first okonomiyaki restaurant, or of the trance-music pioneers Sam & Valley are miles away from his cartoonish self-portraits thanks to the photography. In fact, itâ€™s in Schwiegerâ€™s illustration of popular Japanese slang that you get a peek at where I feel his true passion may lie; expressions like â€œWorking with your ass on fireâ€ or â€œAll of America weptâ€ are illustrated in a broad, cartoony style more at home in satire rather than reportage. A few stories in, though, and I feel that these competing styles coalesce into a whole. Itâ€™s a bit like Tintin or other clear-line art styles, with intense and detailed backgrounds and objects and cartoonish characters laid over topâ€¦ give it a few stories and youâ€™ll grow to love it.
Schwiegerâ€™s a real formalist too, which serves the reportage aspects of the stories well. In one assignment he spends the night in an infamous Capsule Hotel, a cramped outing for the 6â€™4â€ Schwieger told through a similarly cramped 12-panel grid, each panel in the shape of the coffin-like capsule rooms. In another assignment he attempts to diagram the relationships of gender and sexuality in modern Japan, and the book folds open and out: A 4-page map trying to connect masculinity and femininity and male and female genders in a series of overlapping, crossing, and messy lines; as fluid, confusing, and wonderful as the real thing. His depiction of the lofty bliss of eating great sushi is matched side-by-side, panel-for-panel with the creeping horror of ingesting natto, and is particularly effective. Schwiegerâ€™s narrative experimentation gets the better of him a couple of times: A tier of panels randomly reading from right to left to fit design rather than function is distracting, the cacophony of imparted cultural knowledge occasionally overwhelming the reader, but these are minor complaints. Ultimately, Schwieger takes great pains to match the interest of the experiences with a similarly interesting visual narrative; another success.
Of course, Iâ€™m coming at all of this from the point-of-view of being an avowed Japanophile, and itâ€™s small wonder I feel that the experiences of a Westerner discovering Japan are fascinatingâ€¦Schwiegerâ€™s experience inspired parts of my own trip to Japan last year. But youâ€™d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to share in the humour and joy of discovery that Moresukine offersâ€¦ particularly if you got that Simpsons reference that I made up top. Moresukine is a prism, refracting equal parts fuzzy pop-culture impressions and learned Japanese cultural knowledge into a first-person man-on-the-street travelogue that anyone could enjoy.
A last note to those groaning at the thought of adding another book to their already-stuffed shelves when the content is available freely online; the print edition of Moresukine features Dirk Schwieger making a challenge to his fellow cartoonists, to discover the Japanese culture around them: â€œMeet a Japanese person in the city you are living in and have a conversation with him or her. Document whatever you deem noteworthy.â€ A range of poplar webcomics answer his call, and 10 comics responses from Dinosaur Comics, Pokey The Penguin, and American Elf amongst others are reprinted in this book. It makes for a fascinating corollary to Schwiegerâ€™s experiments, particularly an extended and â€œun-politically correctâ€ story from Monsieur Le Chien that makes you realize just how far afield Schwiegerâ€™s own presentation of Japanese life could have gone.
Hey there, sorry I missed the Tuesday Review last week. It was a stupid couple of days. I feel pretty good now though. I was weighing a bunch of options for stuff to review for tomorrow, but? NBM just dropped off a copy of Moresukine for me to review, and that’s awesome. I both enjoyed this one and have a bunch to say about it… and NBM have been sending me review copies of stuff for years, so far, for naught. So once I’m done work for the day I’ll get right on it, and with any luck I can introduce all of you to a great book, and maybe appease the nice folks at NBM?
So I had decided not to post about this, but the irony was too delicious.
According to Deb Aoki’s interview with DMP’s Michelle Mauk at About.com, Rachel Livingston, PR flack for Digital Manga Productions has left the company amidst an overall company belt-tightening and downsizing.
Does that name sound familiar to any of you? Because it did for me. You see, I got a nasty, threatening letter from Ms. Livingston back in May of 2006. Dripping with fanboy entitlement, it demanded I stop spoiling DMP’s good name by telling their customers what was actually in their books. My response was no mere go fuck yourself, although that was tempting, but instead I, in the parlance of 2006, served her. She “got served.” It was pretty fantastic, actually. (If you click those links and they don’t work, try: http://tinyurl.com/464wnkÂ and scroll down to the May 15th & 16th entries.) The internet even gave the company a little bit of a black eye for it, which was lovely and appreciated.
Maybe now I’ll get around to reviewing a DMP book some time… up ’til now every time I’d considered it my conscience reminded me of that company’s incredibly unprofessional behaviour, behaviour that they never apologized for incidentally, and I found another book from another company to talk about… It’s not like there’s any shortage of good books to review.
So, now Ms. Livingston is gone, and DMP is adveritisng on my site on the same day.
Coincidence I’m sure, but it brought a smile to my face.
So, I read Deb Aoki’s transcript of the panel The State of the Manga Industry from last weekend’s New York Anime Festival. Did you? You probably should, it’s very interesting in spots, particularly Kurt Hassler’s answers about Yen Press’s plans as they approach their first anniversary (Black God Volume 1 shipped through Diamond on October 10th, 2007). I certainly hope Haruhi hits for those guys…
Anyway, I bring it up here specifically because part of the panel has been bugging me for days now, the part about manga magazines. I’ve been following all of the manga magazines since their inception, I have a real interest in serialized manga anthologies going back to when I bought untranslated Shonen Jump volumes from a Japanese grocery store every month. I gotta say, Michael Gombos from Dark Horse’s comments on the nature of Shonen Jump… That really didn’t sit well with me. Here’s the relevant section from the Panel:
Is America Ready for More Manga Anthology Magazines?
Dark Horse launched and then folded their anthology magazine Super Manga Blast years ago. Several others came and went like VIZ Media’s Pulp and Animerica Extra, Raijin Weekly from now defunct Raijin Comics and TokyoPop’s Mixxzine.
Fast forward to Summer 2008, when Yen Press launched their anthology magazine Yen Plus and Del Rey Manga published the first issue of their manga-lit anthology, Faust. So is America ready to read and buy more manga magazines?
Michael Gombos, Dark Horse: “(Dark Horse) did put one out, Super Manga Blast, which was canceled a few years back. You can put out an anthology, but I don’t think it’ll be profitable, or at least that’s been our experience. For VIZ’s Shonen Jump, they treat it like an advertising expense.“
“I can only speak from Dark Horse’s experiences, but it only made enough to pay for the translations for the paperback editions. There’s a burst of energy when something starts, but its hard to sustain over the long term.”
Italics emphasis mine.
Speaking as someone who really researches manga, I don’t think that’s actually true. The last circulation numbers that I was made aware of put Shonen Jump in the 200k/month sales bracket, possibly higher. Just working on available information like price, rough costs, and the amount of advertising in the magazine, there’s no way that Viz’s Shonen Jump isn’t turning a profit. Further, I’ve never, ever heard anyone from Viz ever refer to Shonen Jump as an advertising expense.
I also… and I’m sorry for seeming worked up here, but… how can you even begin to compare Super Manga Blast to Shonen Jump? They’re for audiences that differ in age and taste, one of them never got newsstand distribution, one of them never had nationally syndicated cartoons based on the properties it contains, one never came with Free Yu-Gi-Oh Cards. Where is Gombos getting this information from? Because this contradicts everything I know about Shonen Jump, and I think in the end it’s him, not me, that’s wrong about this stuff.
Particularly when, at the beginning of the next paragraph, he starts “I can only speak from Dark Horse’s experiences…”.
So, yeah. I would take that statement with a grain of salt.
I don’t imagine Viz will ever publically comment on an offhand remark like this, they don’t tend to, uh, engage their fellow publishers in public fora… But I’m super, super curious about where Gombos got his information now…
Tom Spurgeon created a list of The 50 Things That Every Comics Collection Truly Needs, and then it turned into a meme. I figured I’d participate.
Plain = Things I don’t have
Bold = Things I do have
1. Something From The ACME Novelty Library – Even for folks that’ve tracked down the collections that compile most of this material, many of the original issues are great fun (and some are unreprinted!).
2. A Complete Run Of Arcade
3. Any Number Of Mini-Comics – I was a fiend for mini-comics back in the day, and still have a box or two of them from the likes of Matt Feazel, Sean Bieri, and the rest of the Midwest/Motor City Comicon Crew.
4. At Least One Pogo Book From The 1950s
5. A Barnaby Collection
6. Binky Brown and the Holy Virgin Mary
7. As Many Issues of RAW as You Can Place Your Hands On – A great regret of mine.
8. A Little Stack of Archie Comics – I gave away 30 or 40 of these at one point, to family friends, and I tripped over another 3 dozen at my parents the other day. I swear these things reproduce…
9. A Suite of Modern Literary Graphic Novels - Heh.
10. Several Tintin Albums – A major oversight in my collection, I plan on picking up the forthcoming complete box set of Tintin in English from Little Brown in December.
11. A Smattering Of Treasury Editions Or Similarly Oversized Books – I don’t have a ton of oversized books, but I do love the ones I have.
12. Several Significant Runs of Alternative Comic Book Series – I like the issues of many of these better than the collections, but I’ve got a lot of collected material too.
13. A Few Early Comic Strip Collections To Your Taste- I’m not a big classic strips fan, but I do have a number of Windsor McKay books.
14. Several “Indy Comics” From Their Heyday – This one and 12 seem close, but sure, I’ve got these too.
15. At Least One Comic Book From When You First Started Reading Comic Books – Complete run of Transformers.
16. At Least One Comic That Failed to Finish The Way It Planned To - Rob Walton’s Ragmop.
17. Some Osamu Tezuka – Heh.
18. The Entire Run Of At Least One Manga Series - Also: heh. But if you’re reading this and need 5 in-print, short suggestions: Paradise Kiss (5 volumes), Offered (2 volumes), Dragonhead (10 Volumes), Antique Bakery (4 volumes), Tekkon Kinkreet (1 omnibus).
19. One Or Two 1970s Doonesbury Collections
20. At Least One Saul Steinberg Hardcover
21. One Run of A Comic Strip That You Yourself Have Clipped
22. A Selection of Comics That Interest You That You Can’t Explain To Anyone Else - Division Chief!
23. At Least One Woodcut Novel – I’ve got a great collection recently rleeased in Canada of 4 woodcut novels. Recommended.
24. As Much Peanuts As You Can Stand
25. Maus – My husband’s, actually.
26. A Significant Sample of R. Crumb’s Sketchbooks
27. The original edition of Sick, Sick, Sick.
28. The Smithsonian Collection Of Newspaper Comics
29. Several copies of MAD
30. A stack of Jack Kirby 1970s Comic Books
31. More than a few Stan Lee/Jack Kirby 1960s Marvel Comic Books
32. A You’re-Too-High-To-Tell Amount of Underground Comix
33. Some Calvin and Hobbes – I’d still like that ridiculous complete collection.
34. Some Love and Rockets – Luba and Palomar, though I might trade them in for the lovely new trade paperbacks.
35. The Marvel Benefit Issue Of Coober Skeber – This is awesome, check out the reprinted story in Ron Rege’s new release Against Pain.
36. A Few Comics Not In Your Native Tongue – 10 graphic albums en francais, 4 shelves of nihongo manga.
37. A Nice Stack of Jack Chick Comics
38. A Stack of Comics You Can Hand To Anybody’s Kid – Thank you, free comic book day.
39. At Least A Few Alan Moore Comics - Just a couple.
40. A Comic You Made Yourself – No, you can’t see it.
41. A Few Comics About Comics – The McCloud Ouevre is a good start…
42. A Run Of Yummy Fur
43. Some Frank Miller Comics – Probably too many.
44. Several Lee/Ditko/Romita Amazing Spider-Man Comic Books
45. A Few Great Comics Short Stories – Heh. Lots of anthologies in my house…
46. A Tijuana Bible – I wish the repro in the Fantagraphics Tijuana Bibles reprints wasn’t so poor, because I’ve seen some beautiful TB reproductions. Still, I do have a couple.
47. Some Weirdo
48. An Array Of Comics In Various Non-Superhero Genres – That’s actually mostly what I have?
49. An Editorial Cartoonist’s Collection or Two - Probably just 2, but I can’t recall.
50. A Few Collections From New Yorker Cartoonists
Notes: Working at The Beguiling, looking at this list there’s nothing I don’t have access too, nothing, which either speaks well of our store or to the barely-divergent venn diagram of Spurgeon’s tastes and our curatorial direction… Nevertheless, I don’t feel the need to grab runs of yummy fur, Arcade, Weirdo, or stacks of Lee/Kirby/Ditko books because they;re not going anywhere… But I’ve borrowed much of what’s above at one point or another, and some of the stuff I’m kind of embarassed about not having even a sample of (I really oughtta grab some Kurtzman Mad stuff…).
Part of Spurgeon’s list suggested people adapting it, removing and adding categories of their own. In that spirit, I’d like to recommend the following:
a. At least a few pre-Comics Code romance comics, or a collection of the same. This stuff is just amazing.
b. 5 different books about comics. I think it’s important to try and develop a deeper understanding of the medium and the material.
c. Own the same comic in two or more different languages. Compare! Contrast! Thrill to the better production values!
d. At least one sketchbook diary. Whether it’s Kochlka, Mo Willems, Jeff Brown, or someone you met at a con.
e. A good selection of wordless comics.