LUCKY LUKE: THE OKLAHOMA LAND RUSH
Cinebook publishes three dozen different series now, with 153 books in print. The series with the most volumes is "Lucky Luke," a classic Franco-Belgian comic created by Morris, i.e. Maurice De Bevere, who lived in America for a few years in the 60s and worked for "MAD Magazine." While "Lucky Luke" featured art by Morris for nearly 60 volumes (until his death in 2001), there are 40 volumes during that run which were written by Rene Goscinny, the man who co-created and wrote all the best "Asterix" volumes, until his death in the 1970s. Those appear to be the books Cinebook is focused on reprinting, and has done so to the tune of two dozen volumes so far with plenty more on the way.
Lucky Luke is a cowboy who, as the back cover always says, can shoot faster than his shadow. As a character with as storied and legendary a career as "Asterix" and "Tintin," I've always wanted to read the series, but never got around to it. Until now.
I started with "Lucky Luke: The Oklahoma Land Rush" for no particular reason. It sounded like an interesting historical setting for a comic, so I grabbed for it. Immediately after reading it, I loaded up Amazon.com and ordered three more volumes to read next. It's just that good.
And, as a side note, I do not hesitate in recommending Amazon as a distributor for this book. Diamond cut Cinebook from "Previews," so you're out of luck at your local shop. Baker and Taylor does carry Cinebooks, so if your local comic shop uses them as a secondary distributor, then there's still a small chance you can buy locally. Cinebooks don't sell well in the Direct Market, I guess. But they sell for a discounted price on Amazon, so that works for me. Back to the book:
I can't swear to what the series is, as a whole, just yet. I have a lot of reading to do before I get there. But judging from this book and what I've read about it, "Lucky Luke" is a sit-com set in the old American West. Using historical settings and characters, Morris and Goscinny tell humor-filled stories of a cowboy getting caught up in extraordinary situations. In this volume, for example, Luke is assigned to Oklahoma, first to clear out all the people in the state, and then to run the land rush peacefully. Hundreds of people lined up at the state border waiting for the rush to begin, and then ran into the state to stake their claim to land. (Those who tried to sneak across the line early were called "Sooners." I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but I never knew where that term came from before reading this book. Looking things up afterwards, I learned a lot about the real Oklahoma land rush, and just how much of the book is based on actual events and people.)
The activities surrounding this general plot are a series of escalating gags, from little one-off laughs to recurring characters whose importance in the plot quietly grows as the pages add up. It's a lot of black-out gags, to put it in Road Runner terms, before the plot really begins. It's the second half of the book where all the characters we were introduced to become characters in a drama about the boom and bust of a boomtown in new Oklahoma. Surprisingly, a simple gag-a-page book becomes a funny book with political themes, but only if you wish to read into it.
But don't read too deeply into it, though. "Lucky Luke" works best as a fun comedic story. It's a comic book sit-com with simple characters doing funny things. And once you warm up to that, it's a lot of fun to read and a quick diversion for the page count.
Morris' art is up to the challenge of the script. It's well cartooned, with a strong sense of design and the ability to draw what's necessary. Need to draw a western boom town filled with people, or a long line waiting for a lawyer's representation or to vote? He can handle it. Not every panel is packed with such detail, but Morris can turn it on when necessary, and doesn't take shortcuts. Like so many of the ligne claire type of comics, he most often draws panels with full body characters acting out across the stage. No dramatic close-ups or convenient silhouettes. The book looks like it was drawn in the 60s, though. I'm not sure I can explain it, but there's a definite vibe about cartooning in that period that I always pick up on. Things got flatter and less dimensional. Characters were designed slightly more angularly. You can even see it in the latter period of Carl Barks' work on the Disney Duck books. It's definitely here.
The most interesting choice for the series' current printings is that they use the original colors. They're both wonderfully simple and maddeningly flat. The worst thing that pre-computer coloring did to art is to flatten it. Too many backgrounds were just flat blues. Extreme foreground characters were flat purple. It hid the artwork and created a dimensionality that by today's standards seems archaic. I have a hard time with it today, to be honest. I was flipping through the "Longshot" hardcover recently, and had difficulty enjoying Art Adams' work. Too many backgrounds were colored in with pale blue fills and no detail. I don't need busy work, but I do enjoy being spoiled by more precise color detail, the likes of which the technology and the printing processes of the 1960s couldn't capture.
That problem is offset by the best news of this book: It's printed at nearly full Eurocomic album size. Unlike the rest of the incredibly shrinking Cinebook library, "Lucky Luke" maintains a larger size, clocking in at 11.1 x 8.4 inches, noticeably larger than "Largo Winch," for example, which comes in at 9.8 x 7 inches in its most recent form. That inch-and-a-fraction makes a huge difference. Ironically, I think "Winch" is the book that would benefit more from the extra page space. It's far more detailed in its art, but I'll take larger formats anywhere I can get them.
Packaging aside, my initial sampling of "Lucky Luke" shows it to be a funny, breezy read that might accidentally even teach you a thing or two. The cartooning is attractive, the writing is witty (though not up to "Asterix's" standard), and the price (about ten bucks) is right. Like I said at the top, I've already ordered three more volumes and plan on ordering another three from earlier in the series. We'll see how the book progresses over time. I think that'll be interesting, as it was for "Asterix," which I read all out of order, too.
DIGITAL COMICS – MAKE YOUR OWN
SketchBook Express is one of the featured free offerings at the new Mac App Store that launched last week. It's interesting for two reasons: First, it's a terrific, highly-featured sketching application for the Mac platform. Second, it features art by Skottie Young on its app page.
If you have a Wacom tablet, it's an amazing little program. It responds to the pressure sensitivity built into the tablet that I'd known exists but never really taken advantage of. And it's very responsive to my every line. It's still a bit discombobulating to look at a screen while drawing on a tablet, but it's fun and I'm learning. The worst part is not being able to spin your tablet around to draw from a different angle. There IS an option to move the canvas around, instead. It just takes some getting used to.
It's also powerful, including multiple layers with transparency sliders for each, a variety of brushes, a full slate of colors to pick from, and some simple canvas editors. It's not Photoshop, but it does its job of letting you sketch digitally very well.
SALES FIGURES AND MANIC DEPRESSION
Reading monthly analyses of sales charts is a deeply depressing thing. You read the happy stories of independent creators having some level of success with their new book, then you see the guesstimated sales of their title don't reach 20,000 copies a month and you realize just how small your chosen industry is.
And, yes, I recognize that these sales charts aren't official and that they often undercount issues and that they're really only reliable for seeing trends. But unless they're off by a factor of two, they depress the hell out of me.
- Some comics are doing very well. Obviously, "The Walking Dead" still leads the way, with trades actually outselling single issues. It's nutty that the latest TPB sells 19,000 copies while the latest individual issue is about 18,000. Plus, as a black and white book, the comic's break-even point is much lower. There's money to be had there.
Still, it's selling less than 20,000 copies a month. (I don't think these sales charts include the UK sales, right? It definitely doesn't include digital day-and-date sales or internationally-licensed and translated editions. So it's safe to say that each issue has more than 20,000 readers. Still, in the single largest market for this format of comics in the word, it can't hit 20,000.)
Correction: I misread some numbers. Individual sales are close to 29,000, while the most recent trade is close to 19,000. It's an impressive sales total on the trade paperbacks, which will continue to sell briskly for months and years ahead. Over the course of time, I'm sure the trades ARE outselling the issues. But it's still amazing that the hottest non-Marvel/DC title is only selling at less than 30,000 a month and we're thrilled by that "runaway success."
- The other hits of the sales charts, like "Morning Glories" and "Chew" are selling in the 11,000 - 13,000 range. As color books, that's less profitable. And, scarier still, we consider them big successes. They're well below the sales level that DC and Marvel start swinging axes at. We're at a mere tenth of what the top selling book of the month probably sold. We're averaging 4 or 5 copies per Direct Market outlet. And we've deluded ourselves into thinking we have hits on our hands?
"Invincible," by the way, is averaging in the 14,000 - 16,000 range.
The Direct Market is a scary beast sometimes.
- 4 of the top 5 comics in the independent best seller list have Hollywood ties -- movies or TV shows. "Vampirella" is the exception.
- "Haunt" is selling nearly as much as "The Walking Dead," but has shed 40% of its sales since the first issue. McFarlane has already said he wants to concentrate on Hollywood this year. Kirkman wants to launch an all-ages title while working on season two of his television series and writing two other monthly series and managing his own line of comics. Will "Haunt" still be around in a year? My New Year's Prediction for 2011: "Haunt" is announced as being finished before 2012.
- "Savage Dragon" can't make 5,000 sales per month? That ticks me off.
- Ditto for "Usagi Yojimbo," another long-running one man comic series, but at least Stan Sakai has his trade paperback program operational. The recently-released "Special Edition" from Fantagraphics is supposed to be a terrific package, and one I hope to order soon.
- BOOM!'s Disney lineup isn't hitting 5,000 copies a book, but at least they have newsstand distribution. I hope that keeps things afloat.
Overall, it's painful to look at the non-Big Two sales figures. Maybe it's better to skip them.
PIPELINE PODCAST GOES SILENT
The next wave on the internet is do it yourself radio, called podcasting. At first glance, it's just an MP3 file. But with the help of a little RSS trigger file to alert listeners to new podcasts, it becomes something not unlike TiVo for the radio. And Pipeline jumps into the pool with the Pipeline Podcast, the first podcast devoted to comic books. This week, it starts with a look at comics arriving at comic shops this week."
That's from the column of January 5th, 2005. The Pipeline Podcast was the first exclusively comics-themed podcast by a few days, and so started the world of comics podcasting.
Today, six years later, I'm officially ending The Pipeline Podcast. The time has come. First, let's look back:
The initial idea actually had come a year and a half sooner. It was an idea I had for Pipeline Radio, which would have been a short, scripted one minute audio thing, I had it planned to be Andy Rooney Meets Comics. They'd have been pithy, potentially clever, singular ideas that were in and out in a minute. One of the big reasons for that brevity was technology. We didn't all have cable modems and 3G connections back in the day. Asking people to download a couple of megs worth of data wasn't a no-brainer, the way it is today when we complain that 5 Gigs a month on a cellular data plan isn't enough. There was no RSS-with-enclosures standard for audio yet, either, I don't think, to help automate the delivery of the audio, and there was certainly no podcasting section in iTunes. It would have been a link in the middle of the column, or as a column all its own alongside a text transcript.
For one reason or another, the actual show never got off the ground. But at the end of 2004, when podcasting came on the scene, I saw it as something I could do with comics. I settled quickly in on a weekly format of talking about the week's new releases, and it was off to the races. CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland, who has a radio background himself, gave it a green light when I pitched it to him earlier in December 2004, and I spent some time over the Christmas break roughing out the format, technical requirements and workflow.
And then, over the course of the next five years, things went fairly well. I settled in on a Top 10 format. I podcasted from some conventions. I did a second podcast every month to talk about Previews with Friend of Pipeline, Jamie Tarquini. Those were some marathon recording sessions that were still never ever long enough. I did a few interviews that I'm still proud of. Thanks to Erik Larsen, Chris Eliopoulos, Peter David, Todd Dezago, and Eric Wight (marathon three parter) for those. I was part of the inaugural Podcasting Panel in San Diego. I even had a spot in TwoMorrows' "Comic Book Podcast Companion" book, which was much appreciated.
A few things eventually slowed the podcast down to a crawl. The first was having a baby. It's hard to think back to that point, but when I started the podcast I hadn't even met the woman who would become my wife. (That would be the next month.) Then having a beautiful little girl who wants to hug daddy every night and then sit in his lap and read books led to a change of reading habits for me, to the point where I don't make it out to the comic shop every week anymore. And even with doing the weekly CBR Reviews editing, I still have a hard time keeping up with everything being released each week. It began to feel a little dishonest to talk about the week's releases when I wasn't going to a comic shop, myself. And then it just became work. When it became no fun, it wasn't worth doing.
In the last four months, I think I've published one podcast. I've recorded two or three, but I wasn't happy enough with any of them to bother publishing. After recording for nearly 20 minutes last week and then throwing it out, I realized it was over.
The Pipeline Podcast was a success for what it was. I never had time to do enough with it. I always had ideas to do more, or ways to integrate it with other things more to build up more awareness or interest in it, but time was always an issue. This column comes first, and the podcast was an adjunct to it. It was a lot of fun, I'm glad I did it, and I'm glad there were some people out there who liked it enough every week not just to let iTunes automatically download it for them, but to also listen to them. I heard from a lot of people who listened to the show on their ride to the comic shop every week, and picked up things on my recommendation along the way. That's pretty cool.
For the sixth anniversary of the Pipeline Podcast, I'm putting it to rest. Will it be an Around Comics-style rest, where I vow never to return to it and then restart it twice? I doubt it, but you never know. Maybe if I get anxious to record something, I'll bug a podcasting friend to let me appear on their show so I can vent.
In the meantime, I'm very happy to see what's become of the Comics Podcasting universe over those years. If I inspired any small part of it, I'm happy. I've made many great friends through it, listened to countless interviews with countless creators, and loved the theater of doing vocal work instead of just typing all day. Though I don't have the time to listen to all of the comics podcasts out there anymore, I still enjoy dipping into the feeds of the likes of iFanboy, WordBalloon, Comic Geek Speak, Collected Comics Library, Around Comics, and a few more. I am constantly in awe of the communities and the volume of material they've all created, starting from nothing. Remember, I had a column on a highly-trafficked site when I started the podcast. It was a running start. All of the above podcasts started from scratch and through an insane amount of work and dedication have built up their own websites, communities, and show archives. I stand in the shadows of their dedication and perseverance.
The most interesting newer podcast to me is Splash Page, started by two of the CBR Review team, Chad Nevett and Tim Callahan. They're my generation of comic readers and, while I don't always agree with them, they do a good job in explaining themselves. If you have two or three hours a week to kill (did I mention "epic?"), there's no better comic-related way to do it than with those two, and their occasional guest stars.
That should keep you busy in my absence. I had a great time doing the podcast and am grateful to all of you who took the time out to listen and to champion the show around the internet. Thanks again, so much for all your support over the years. Don't worry, though, the column is still going strong and I have no plans to even take a break from it, let alone end it.
In the meantime, if you have any comments, criticisms, questions, or complaints, you can still reach me at Aye-Ewe-Gee-Eye-Eee at ComicBookResources.com
Thanks for listening!
OFF-TOPIC BLOGGING VENTURES
With the new year, I've given new starts to my two blogs that are, generally speaking, off-topic for this column. Since I've already rambled on for 3000 words, though, I'm indulging myself:
AugieShoots.com rebooted. I've ditched the original site entirely, replacing the pic-a-day format with a more general blog format. This will allow for more writing in one photographically-themed blog, rather than just posting a picture when I feel like it. I still have a little work to do in creating a proper logo for it and all, but I've had a pretty busy month with it already and like how it's coming out. It feels more now like my journal in photography the way Pipeline has always been my journal for comic books. So far this month, there's been suggestions for improving the iPhone's camera, thoughts on HDR, a possible Photoshop disaster, Follow Friday in blog form and 2011 resolutions.
VariousandSundry.com -- blogging since September 2002 -- finally got a new theme and a new commitment from me to get back to it more regularly. Blogging, I've found, is a muscle that needs exercising. The more I write for one, the more I find myself writing without thinking about it. So, for everything that's not comics or photography, look here. This year, so far, I've talked about new music I've discovered, my annoyingly slow wi-fi connection at home, the impending death of Borders, Hollywood's divorce rate and 2011 resolutions.
Please tell all your friends, tweet the good news, stop by to visit. Writing is a fun habit to have.