THAT TOKYOPOP THING
Last week, TokyoPop fulfilled the promise of every major modern day comics publisher.
The one time manga giant officially closed up its publishing business, folding in the face of declining sales, a bookstore market implosion and a lack of exciting licenses. In their press release, they declared victory. Of course they did -- they're the ultimate comics publisher now. They operate only in the "entertainment" industry, using the licenses/intellectual property they have to drum up Hollywood money.
Really, TokyoPop is transforming into what we all thought Marvel or DC would turn into a decade ago. Actually, Marvel and DC are pretty close to it already. While maintaining a large publishing budget, all the profit comes from multimedia properties, not comics publishing. It's cute that Disney and Time Warner still want to publish comic books, but they'd probably save a ton of money by just hiring half of their exclusive artists and writers to be employees in the research and development department, brainstorming and sketching up things to be used in movies, TV shows, video games, etc. Who needs things like expensive New York City office space, assistant editors, production departments, retailer reps, publishers, copy machines, etc? Comic book conventions aren't cheap. Printer bills are high. Shipping costs are through the roof. What's the point?
I don't want it to happen, but it's something that is almost certainly on the table if economic push came to shove. Today's prose publishers are learning the power of digital publishing, now that a majority of book sales are digital. Comic books are nowhere near that. Not even close. And with the moves publishers are making, I wonder sometimes if there's any hope for them to learn before they perish. They're not moving fast enough.
Wow, that was a tangent.
So, TokyoPop. I'm happy for all the new comics readers that manga (and TokyoPop) have brought into the fold. I just wish so many comics would stop trying to look like manga. Do The Hardy Boys need to look like that, for example? In their most recent book, the brothers start off hanging upside down, with their hair sticking straight out. I wondered aloud if that was a meta-textual joke about just how close to some manga characters that the boys look now -- even their hair sticks straight up! I fear that's giving the book too much credit, though.
It's funny how Art Adams and Jim Lee could be so heavily influenced by anime and manga without looking like clones of popular manga-ka. Today, the distinction isn't nearly so great.
TokyoPop, tangent. Tangent, TokyoPop. Back to the topic:
As for the OEL creators getting the publishing rights to their books back? What reason does TokyoPop have for surrendering them? They might make an excellent bonus to a licensing contract in Hollywood, for example. At the very least, TokyoPop can skim off the top a bit by sub-licensing. TokyoPop didn't declare bankruptcy. They just shut down the publishing arm of the business. They don't have to do anything with those licenses outside of what is written in the contract.
For now, we consign TokyoPop to the same ash heap of history as Raijin, CMX, Central Park Media, ComicsOne, and Nick Simmons' comics career.
Dave Kellett released his Eisner-nominated book as a free PDF and instantly got himself more attention from the comics press in one week than he has in the entire history of "Sheldon." What can I say? The kids like The Free.
The good news is, it's a good read. I've been slow about adding "Sheldon" to my list of daily reads. I'm not sure why that is. I like Kellett's cartooning style and I usually enjoy the strips and the sense of humor. This book, I think, highlights the best parts (or most memorable, at least) of the work, usually, when it directly references cultural things. Kellett has a good sense of humor and a pen line that is deceptively simple and highly energetic. He gets triple bonus points for hand-lettering the strip, too.
I haven't read the other nominees in this Eisner category, but I'd have no problem with this one winning.
Kellett is helped in this PDF endeavor by Wil Shipley of "Delicious Library" fame. Let me double the recommendation for that find piece of Mac software. I track my DVDs with it -- and even used it to help sell a few of them -- but you can also track books on it, as well. I've toyed with adding my hardcover comics collection to it, but have yet to put forth the effort.
Yes, Norman Rockwell used photo reference for his single still images. If he had tried to make a sequential narrative out of 120 photo references paintings, I bet it would have looked awful. Such repetition and stilted posing combined with a lack of action in the work would have doomed it. One of the great powers cartoonists have over illustrators is the ability to craft sequences utilizing any number of tools to sell the action that the reader mostly creates in his own mind. Whether it's the borrowed-from-animation squash and stretch (to a minor degree) to photography's motion blur to the inherent conventions of the medium such as gutter space.
It's the difference between having a drum machine versus a real life drummer. The imperfection is key to the believability, if not the technical proficiency. I much prefer my cartoonists create believable and entertaining work, not technically proficient.
Or, put another way, a technically on-note pitch perfect singer can often be the one American Idol fans don't get worked up enough over to vote for. Remember Pia Toscano?
On that subject, I find Kyle Baker's more modern photorealistic work, drawn with tons of reference, to be technically sound but utterly boring in comparison to his work on strips like "The Bakers" or "I Die At Midnight" or even "Cowboy Wally."
And not that I begrudge a man the right to earn a living at his art, but Baker's website is a mess of Google tower ads, toolbars and banner ads. If you're lucky, you'll land on the page where the music turns on automatically with no way to shut it off.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
In 1978, I was Batman for Halloween:
In case there was any doubt, the costume says "BATMAN" across the chest.
I was two and a half years old at the time. I have no memory of that whatsoever. My older sister dressed up as Wonder Woman in one of the nearby years. I presume that was during the TV series' popularity.
TWO QUICK THOUGHTS
- IDW is publishing a "Duke Nukem" comic, and the jokes just write themselves, don't they? I tweeted, "It'll ship 8 years from now after being redrawn in a better, hotter style each year." If the comic had been developed in tandem with the oft-delayed game, the development of "Duke Nukem Forever" would likely have started drawn by Bryan Hitch, then some random manga illustrator, then Steve McNiven/Greg Land, and maybe Stuart Immonen.
- I also decided I was tired of reading "Neil 'Sandman' Gaiman," and that I was going to refer to him from here on out as "Neil '1601' Gaiman." Following in those footsteps, I'll be discussing "Alan 'Spawn/Violator' Moore," "Stan 'Striperella' Lee," "Todd 'Infinity Inc.' McFarlane," and "Jim 'Night Cat' Lee." I bet you all just Googled for that last one, didn't you?
TRADE SALES GOING ON-LINE?
Bad news broke last week that trade sales in the Direct Market were down from month to month and year over year. Is anyone really surprised by that? Trade prices aren't decreasing, and on-line retailer discounts outside of the Direct Market aren't a secret. We rely far too much on Diamond's sales figures to estimate the health of our industry. There are more sales than just what's on those charts. Ask a creator getting royalty statements about the discrepancies between on-line sales charts based strictly on Diamond's North American sales, and the realities shown on their statements. I'm betting a good chunk of those lost sales in the Direct Market are still purchases outside the DM, where discounts, no taxes and free shipping are available.
And I know this will inspire the usual spate of hate email about how I want to destroy the local brick and mortar stores, but that's not at all what I'm saying. I'm just pointing out the reality of the situation that we're all mature enough to realize. I'm not telling you any secrets here. I bet there are a lot of people who buy their trades and expensive hardcovers on-line and never tell their retailers about it, or the other people they talk to on-line.
One trade paperback aside:
Poor Roger Langridge. He's likely not getting royalties when Marvel reprints his Muppets work. Heck, I bet he doesn't even get the courtesy of a phone call when the reprint is happening, or a free copy. Fans will be outraged.
Too bad they didn't start this outrage when Don Rosa was so vocally complaining about it a decade or two ago. Maybe something might have changed by now. It's The Disney Way.