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ComicKick: Secret Origin

Guest columnist Joe Kontor of ComicKick reveals the ever-growing world of crowd funded comics, financed by the people and made for the people.

ComicKick

ComicKick

In the last few years crowd funding sites have become a popular outlet for comic creators, both neophytes and industry veterans, to raise funds for all kinds of original projects. So how does crowd funding work? Rather than pitching a project to a major publisher, the creators are pitching directly to the public. In exchange for money upfront the creators promise to deliver rewards based on how much money the person pitches in. The idea is rather than getting money from one source, which then controls rights of the published material, the creator retains complete control of their own creation. Once the expensive costs of completing the comic and publishing are covered, the creators are then free to either self distribute or take the finished book to a publisher.

Pitch in a dollar and you get a shout out on Twitter. Ten bucks and you can get a hard copy of the completed graphic novel. Ad space in the book, original art, even get drawn into the book itself as a background or lead character. The only limit to the kinds of perks offered is the project runner’s imagination. Dollar by dollar, little by little the project becomes a reality. In a way it’s democratizing art far more than just picking up a book off a shelf.

Cthulhu Sketch

This original pencil sketch of Cthulhu by artist Juan Navarro was part of a $12 rewards package from Creature Entertainment Studios

Last year Kickstarter, the most popular of these kinds of sites, raised $9,242,233 for 592 successfully funded projects. Despite it’s popularity, launching a project on Kickstarter is no guarantee of success. Only 48% of the projects in the “Comics” category met their target goal. When a project fails to meet their goal, no money is collected from those who pledged, no rewards are given, and the artist goes back to the drawing board.

Looking at the list of active projects on these sites, you really don’t have to look long for a name you recognize. Jimmy Palmiotti, Gail Simone, Chuck Dixon, and Mike Ploog are just a handful of established industry veterans who have had projects on one crowd funding site or another. Creators aren’t the only ones to go the crowd funding route, publishers are getting into the act. Last year Top Cow Productions was able to give away the first five issues of their Cyber Force relaunch through a Kickstarter fundraiser. They raised over $117K to ensure that any person could walk into a comic shop and pick up these issues for free.

Sensory Distortion

Horror graphic novel Sensory Distortion, funded April 2012 though the support of 88 backers

However most of the projects you’ll find are from unknown talent who if they fail to raise the necessary funds will never see their passion projects see the light of day. In the last year Jesse Grillo successfully funded four different comic book projects through Kickstarter for his company Bleeding Ink Productions. “There is no way Bleeding Ink Productions would be around if it wasn’t for Kickstarter and the people that support our work,” he says. “I really feel like crowd funding sites like Kickstarter are going to create a serious change in the way the independent creator funds and markets their projects. Kickstarter is the platform that is helping to turn people’s dreams into reality and without it, the creation of Bleeding Ink Productions and the comics it produces would never be possible.” One of the projects Jesse funded last year was his horror graphic novel Sensory Distortion. In December it was announced that Sensory Distortion was picked up for distribution and retitled The Trip by Action Lab Entertainment for it’s new mature reader line called Action Lab: Danger Zone.

One of the more interesting projects on Kickstarter right now is an attempt to revive a long lost but still beloved title called The Justice Machine. From 1981 to 1992 The Justice Machine was published in a handful of mini and ongoing series across five different publishers. Writer Mark Ellis, who started writing the series with Innovation Comics’ 1989 miniseries The New Justice Machine, is looking to launch a new original graphic novel called The Justice Machine: Object of Power.

Justice Machine

1980s heroes The Justice Machine are looking to make a comeback through Kickstarter

Object of Power was initially conceived as a miniseries but was delayed multiple times due to financial issues with the publisher. Ellis decided to take his completed artwork for the series and raise the funds himself to finish the lettering and get it ready for the printer and publish it as a complete graphic novel. He has to raise $12,000 by March 17th or else the project doesn’t go forward. We’ve all read epic stories of superheroes escaping the grave through magic or time travel but rarely can we see heroes of old return through the real life magic of fan generosity.

It’s easy to see the concept and spirit of crowd funding sites take a permanent place in comic culture. We’re passionate and vocal about this medium and spread the word about what we love and hate on Facebook and Twitter as quickly as we read the books. But now we have the chance to truly decide what kinds of books get published in the future. Not by recommending what we’ve read but through discovering and encouraging new creators with unique voices.

If you have never perused the Comics section of a crowd funding page please do so immediately. You never know when you might discover your next favorite book that might never be published without your help.

Joe Kontor has been reading comics since before he could technically read. In April 2012 he started the Facebook page ComicKick as a place to spread the word and get people excited about comic book related projects on crowd funding sites. He also runs HorrorKick, a similar page for horror projects. He currently resides in Lincoln, NE where he reads comics, watches horror movies, and drinks coffee.

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3 New Comics for New Readers – July 18, 2012

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer picks brand new releases worth checking out that should be suitable for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before.

These are out today! If you like what you see here, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. Then head to your local comic book store, or check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology and ComicList.com.

The Hammer and the Anvil by Dwight Jon Zimmerman and Wayne Vansant

The Hammer and the Anvil: Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the End of Slavery in America
Written by Dwight Jon Zimmerman
Illustrated by Wayne Vansant
Published by Hill and Wang
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Ages: 13+
160 pages
$24.95

The period leading up to the Civil War was one of great change. Congress divided itself between Northerners and Southerners, citizens on the frontier took up arms against one another, and movements for secession and abolition were more urgent than ever.

In The Hammer and the Anvil, the award-winning author Dwight Jon Zimmerman and the renowned artist Wayne Vansant vividly depict the tumultuous time through the lives of two men who defined it: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

With a foreword by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson, The Hammer and the Anvil reveals that its protagonists each wrestled with the question of slavery from a young age. Douglass, a slave who was spared no brutality, once fought an especially cruel master and eventually escaped north to freedom. Lincoln, who was hired out by his father to do manual labor on neighbors’ farms, found this harsh life intolerable. As a senator, Lincoln sought ways to end the westward spread of slavery, believing that adding free states to the Union would diminish the power of the Southern states and lead to the gradual disappearance of the “peculiar institution.” Douglass was less patient. He had become a skilled orator and an influential editor of Northern abolitionist journals, and called on white Americans to honor their nation’s founding commitment to liberty.

When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, Douglass hoped that the conflict would mean the end of slavery. But Lincoln delayed emancipation, and Douglass despaired—until he met the president face-to-face and recognized that their causes were one and the same. Featuring evocative and dramatic scenes of this seminal time, The Hammer and the Anvil will engage both Civil War buffs and young people new to the study of American history.

Sunset by Christos Gage and Jorge Lucas

Sunset
Written by Christos Gage
Illustrated by Jorge Lucas
Published by Image Comics/Top Cow Productions/Minotaur Press
Genre: Action/Adventure
Ages: 16+
160 pages
$19.99

Imagine a noir badass out of Chandler or Spillane – a two-fisted man of the post-war years venting his righteous wrath on our pansy-ass era of Priuses, Blackberries and organic whole-grain trans-fat-free diets. A man aged but still vital, who’s lost everything he cares about except for two things: revenge… and the chance to die with his guns blazing. Thirty years ago, Vegas legbreaker Nick Bellamy and his crew pulled off the fabled “One Last Heist,” ripping off a mob boss to set them up for life… and they got away with it.

But now the mobster, Gianelli, is out of jail and out for revenge. Nick had a longer run than he ever imagined. He knows his life is at an end. But he’ll be damned if he’s going to die without sending Gianelli to Hell first. He reassembles the survivors of his crew and they set out to take the battle to their enemy, in a Vegas very different from the one they left. Only one thing could throw a curve into Nick’s plan: falling in love.

The Stuff of Legend by Mike Raicht, Brian Smith and Charles Paul Wilson III

The Stuff of Legend: Omnibus One
Written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith
Illustrated by Charles Paul Wilson III
Published by Th3rd World Studios
Genre: Fantasy
Ages: 10+
260 pages
$29.99

As Allied forces fight the enemy on Europe’s war-torn beaches, another battle begins in a child’s bedroom in Brooklyn when the nightmarish Boogeyman snatches a boy and takes him to the realm of The Dark. The child’s playthings, led by the toy soldier known as the Colonel, band together to stage a daring rescue. On their perilous mission they will confront the boy’s bitter and forgotten toys, as well as betrayal in their own ranks. The Stuff of Legend is a haunting and ultimately redemptive tale of loyalty, camaraderie, and perseverance.

This hardcover collection brings together the first two volumes of the New York Times bestselling graphic novel The Stuff of Legend (The Dark and The Jungle) in one beautiful, 260-page edition. The book also contains never-before-printed character sketches and artwork by series artist and Russ Manning Award nominee, Charles Paul Wilson III.

Web and Digital Comics dominate Harvey Awards nominations

Gutters by Ryan Sohmer, Lar deSouza, et al.

The prestigious Harvey Awards have released their 2011 nominees for excellence in the comics industry. Named after the influential cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, founder of MAD Magazine, the Harvey Awards are the only comics industry award both nominated and selected by comic book creators, those who write, draw, ink, letter, color, design, edit and/or otherwise help create comics.

This year showed an unprecedented number of nominations from web comics and digital comics, with a total of eight different works getting recognized in multiple categories. Most significantly is the showing from Gutters, which is nominated for a startling six nominations, more than any other single creator or comics work whether in print or not. The web comic that satirizes the comics industry appears to have won a significant number of fans within the industry, as it has been nominated for Best New Series, Special Award for Humor in Comics, Best Online Comics Work, Best Writer (Ryan Sohmer), Best Artist (Ed Ryzowski), and Best Colorist (Ed Ryzowski).

The digital comic Box 13, originally released through ComiXology, also had a decent showing, with two nominations: Best Letterer (Scott Brown) and Best Inker (Steve Ellis). Comfort Love and Adam Withers also received two nominations, one for Most Promising New Talent for their web-comic Rainbow in the Dark, and one for Best Anthology for their Uniques Tales.

The remaining Best Online Comics Work category had the following nominations: Guns of Shadow Valley by David Wachter and James Andrew Clark; Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton; La Morté Sisters by Tony Trov, Johnny Zito and Christine Larsen; and PvP by Scott Kurtz, who will be the Master of Ceremonies at the award show at the Baltimore Comic-Con in August.

Last year’s Harvey Awards only saw 3 categories outside of the Best Online Comics Work category nominate digital and/or web comics. The Best Online Comics Work category was added to the Harvey Awards in 2006.

Harvey Awards (1988-present)

On the print side of thing, this year’s Harvey Awards gave five nominations to Darwyn Cooke and his adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov won four nominations for his work in Echoes with artist Rashan Ekedal and Tumor with artist Noel Tuazon. Tumor is nominated for Best Graphic Album Previously Published; it was originally published digitally on the Kindle in 2009. Artist Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets: New Stories) and Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee each had three nominations, with an additional nomination each for The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death, edited by Todd Hignite, and Langridge for his writing on The Muppet Show comic book series.

IDW Publishing raked in 16 nominations, more than any other publisher. Marvel Comics brought in 13, including 1 from their Icon imprint. DC Comics and Image Comics both obtained 11 nominations each with their respective Vertigo and Top Cow imprints bringing in more than half.

Complete list of Harvey Comics 2011 nominations.

Digital Comics Update: Dark Horse launches Digital, NBM goes interactive, Nook gets Graphicly app, Archie translates digital to Spanish

Comic books continue their evolution into digital comics, where the sequential art form is available on mobile devices like the iPad and Android, game systems like the PSP, and web browsers. Expanding in distribution, getting more competitive with prices, and experimenting with interactivity – these are all good signs that digital comics might be growing from infant to toddler.

After some delays, Dark Horse Comics will launch their anticipated Dark Horse Digital program later today. The system was built in-house and uses a web-based system supplemented by apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. The comics will be priced starting at $1.49 $0.99 (versus competing apps that have comics starting at $1.99), and will be available in bundles as though you’re buying a full graphic novel collection. The app will be free and come loaded with the first issue of Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne. There will also be five free comics available: the first issues of Criminal Macabre by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joss Whedon‘s Fray, Mike Mignola’s Abe Sapien: The Drowning, Gerard Way‘s Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, and Mass Effect: Redemption. The app will have hundreds of other comics for download, including issues of Conan, Joss Whedon’s Serenity, Eric Powell‘s The Goon and more. An Android app will follow.

Meanwhile on the Nook Color, Barnes & Noble has launched a new app store which includes three graphic novel apps from Graphic.ly: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen, Mark Millar and JG JonesWanted, and Mark Waid‘s Irredeemable. All of the apps have been specially optimized for the Nook Color e-reader, which uses Google’s Android platform. Graphicly also has digital comics from major comics publishers available on the iPad, iPhone/iPad Touch and Android, on the web, Adobe Air, and Google’s Chrome browser app.

Dinosaurs Across America (iPad screenshot)

NBM Publishing and their all-ages Papercutz imprint has teamed up with TWP Interactive to produce what they are billing as the first interactive graphic novel, Dinosaurs Across America by Phil Yeh. (It’s not the first, but it’s still cool.) Dinosaurs Across America was first published as a traditional graphic novel in print in 2007. It was named one of the best 25 graphic novels of the year by School Library Journal and has won acclaim for its ability to teach geography to children. The new interactive edition allows the reader to zoom in on individual states, learn fun facts and play with puzzles. The interactive version is now available for $9.99 as an app for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), and for $4.99 as an e-book on Koobits.

And finally, Archie Comics continues its aggressive pursuit of digital, launching Spanish language versions of some of their digital comics Monday. The comics are available on Archie Digital, as well as their iOS app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch provided by iVerse, and the Sony PSP. An Android app is coming soon. Further translations into French and Hindi are planned as well.

Economy Catches Up with Comics – Is There Hope?

Comics losing money, as demonstrated by Richie Rich (image via CoverBrowser.com)

Last year, comics were arguably holding ground through one of the worst economic downturns this generation has ever seen, but it looks like ground is finally being lost. It became pretty clear from two recent news items: yesterday’s layoffs of 7 employees at Dark Horse Comics, one of the premiere American comic book publishers; and slipping sales for the first quarter of 2011.

By themselves, these two items are worrisome, but when you add in more recent history, it starts to paint a bad picture. Since the new year, the comics & pop culture publication Wizard Magazine folded, Image Comics studio Top Cow Productions faced layoffs, and Borders stores are closing, along with several of their distribution centers, without any promising signs of the book chain making its way out of reorganization. I was talking about the sales stagnation of comics over the past decade just last month. And before the new year, the largest comics distributor Diamond Comics closed their Los Angeles warehouse, and #2 publisher DC Comics had a lengthy process of reorganization and layoffs of over 80 employees, as well as their closing of several imprints. Despite some reports of comics retailers having better sales than in the recent past, there are also just as many, if not more, reports of comic stores closing. I’ve also been seeing anecdotal reports of comics creators being released from their contracts with big time book publishers that were dabbling in graphic novels over the few years. Newspaper comics continue to contract. Web-comics continue to flourish creatively but for most they don’t pay enough as a full-time job. The only growing sector of the industry is digital comics on mobile devices like the iPhone/iPad, Android and the web, but that’s still so young it’s but a fraction of print sales.

So is it time to jump out of your nearest window? Is it time to write off comics as over and done with? It depends what floor you’re on but I say no. In their most pure and basic sense, comics will never go anywhere, just as music will never go anywhere even if the big record companies fold. People will always create in the way that speaks to them the most, and there will always be people who will appreciate and enjoy it.

The real question, then, is whether a comics industry should be written off. Again, I say no. There are signs of the economy recovering, however sluggish. So I think a bounce back is possible, maybe even likely. I’m also optimistic that in these times of retraction, others will step up and bring innovation.

Something like Four Star Studios and their original digital comic Double Feature, which has complete stories in a variety of genres with great bonus features for just $0.99. And these stories are created by experienced comics creators like Tim Seeley and Mike Norton, who have worked for major comics publishers. They have contributed to proven properties like Young Justice (DC Comics), GI Joe, and Voltron; and have created successful comics like Hack/Slash, The Waiting Place and Battlepug. It’s a very safe bet. The first issue is now available. You can download for keepsies as a PDF, or download it for your iPhone, iPad and other things with the letter ‘i’ in front. Is this going to save the industry? No. There’s no single solution. But that proves that the industry has some very creative, clever and industrious people ready to experiment and offer smart alternatives.

It’s not going to be easy but I’m excited to see what comes.

Top Cow reorganizes

Teaser for new Top Cow series Netherworld (click for preview)

It’s been a rough first month of 2011 for comics in general, with good and not-so-good news turning heads throughout the industry as the times continue to change. There’s been some adjusting locally too.

Top Cow Productions, a partner studio of Image Comics, announced during my week of computer meltdown that a reorganization has taken place. The LA-based publisher will consolidate its resources to more closely rely and coordinate with Image’s central office in Berkeley. From the press release: “Image Central will work more closely with Top Cow to coordinate production, marketing and sales efforts in much the same way it already does for the other Image partners.” Publisher Filip Sablik stressed that Top Cow would retain their editorial freedom. Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat looked into this further here and here.

While the hope is that Top Cow will be able to benefit from some of the successes Image has seen recently, such as The Walking Dead‘s continual rise in popularity thanks to the AMC TV show and new hits like Chew and Morning Glories, it doesn’t mean good times for everyone. Unfortunately some people from Top Cow were let go to eliminate new redundancies from the closer partnership, such as PR and Marketing Coordinator Christine Dinh, Director of Sales and Marketing Atom Freeman and Editor/Designer Phil Smith. Freeman, an award-winning retailer who co-owns the comics shop Brave New World Comics in Newhall, was hired as Direct Market Liason last summer and promoted to Director of Sales and Marketing this past October. No word yet on what’s next for Dinh and Smith, although at least Smith is helping with the transition. Sablik has stated that now other layoffs are planned. At Image Comics, PR and Marketing Coordinator Betsy Gomez has been replaced by Sarah deLaine.

Top Cow President Matt Hawkins bluntly told The Beat, “There’s going to be more consolidation (like Image and Top Cow) and some people won’t be around in a couple years”.

Just prior to that news, Top Cow announced they had signed artist Jeremy Haun (Detective Comics) to an exclusive contract. Haun, who has worked on Top Cow’s Alibi and Berserker, has been assigned to The Darkness with writer Phil Hester, one of Top Cow’s biggest properties. The book was a massive seller in the ’90s where it had a record-selling 11 variant covers for a single issue. Haun will also have the ability to develop new original properties. On his site, he explained that the contract goes into effect February 2011 (so, tomorrow). In explaining the reasons for his decision, after being a freelance artist for years, he said, “The major ones where working as a regular artist on a continuing series and almost more importantly, being able to develop my own concepts.” As he points out, Haun has written Narcoleptic Sunday for Oni Press and a story in Image’s award-winning Comic Book Tattoo anthology based on the music of Tori Amos, so he does have some writer chops. And more original creator-owned comics is always a good thing in my book.

Top Cow Productions started in 1992 as the studio for Image Comics co-founder and partner Marc Silvestri. Throughout the decade, they grew a line of successful fantasy comics like The Darkness, Witchblade and others guided by Silvestri’s distinct art style that defined the look of the publisher for many readers. The publisher has struggled to shake that perception over the last ten years, and have been pushing their attention to more creator-owned books such as the new thriller Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal, and the upcoming supernatural noir Netherworld by co-writers Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin, and artist Tony Shasteen. Hill and Levin have both worked for Top Cow in the past, last collaborating together on Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box. MTV’s Geek News has a preview of Netherworlds.