Pipeline: San Diego Wrap-Up

Tue, July 17th, 2012 at 3:00pm PDT | Updated: July 17th, 2012 at 5:03pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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SAN DIEGO WRAP-UP

This is going to ramble. I apologize in advance. The good news is, all of CBR's editors are so tired from this past weekend, they'll never notice.

One brief disclaimer before I get going: Whatever changes the convention has gone through in recent years, it's always been a revitalizing force for comics for me. Coming out of the big show, there's a boost of energy for comics that you can feel across the internet. Things get more exciting again for a little while, and all of the news that broke over the span of four days is enough to give us plenty to talk about for the next four months. I'm also possessed of the urge to read everything piled up next to my computer that I've been putting off. And then I want to start a webcomic.

San Diego, man. It does funny things to a guy.

While some of this column may be me venting against things I didn't like, be assured that I'm more excited about comics and for comics right now than I have been in months. I want to see lots of new comics and I want them now.

  • Matt Hawkins did an interview at CBR and then a panel in San Diego that answered most of the questions I had about the Cyber Force Kickstarter project last week. It's good news. The new "Cyber Force" will be an on-going series, but the Kickstarter is just meant to fund the first few issues to get it off the ground. Retailer incentives are being made available to help cover costs,and incentives for people who fund the campaign are pretty strong, too. It's a clever operation and I can't wait to see how it works out.

  • I briefly considered doing a wrap-up of the convention with a Top Ten List of Projects Most Likely to Go Nowhere in the Next Six Months, but I got stuck coming up with ways not to make Shaq's comic be the entire list. Did Shaq learn nothing from Charles Barkley?

  • Who won San Diego this year? For the biggest single announcement, it's tough to beat Neil Gaiman returning to "Sandman," but at the eleventh hour Image Comics sent out a press release with the final sales numbers on "The Walking Dead" #100: 383,612 copies. That number is mind-blowing. I'm sure whatever deal Gaiman pulled out of DC is equally mind-blowing, but we'll likely never hear those details.

    While DC gave us some nice headlines in the post-Gaiman Announcement era of the convention (Quentin Tarantino pulled off the biggest surprise), Image Comics hit hard with its Saturday afternoon panel revealing a number of new books that will all be big releases at launch. In the long run, those announcements mean a lot more than anything DC announced post-Gaiman, so I'm giving this convention to Image.

    Marvel and DC bored me this year. Maybe it's me, maybe it's the state of the comics world today, or maybe it's bad marketing timing. I don't know. But nothing seemed new from the Big Two this year. We've seen it all before, and we'll see it all again. Nothing is ever the same, everything gets tossed up in the air, the decks get reshuffled, and who can keep track of it all? Things that are supposedly so well planned wind up seeming horribly scatter-shot by the time they're published, and the audience can only scratch its head and wonder if it all makes any sense.

    Meanwhile, Image announces more than a dozen new titles in one panel. They feature creators like Darick Robertson, Greg Rucka, Michael Clark, Matt Fraction, Howard Chaykin, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Emma Rios, James Robinson, J. Bone, and Joe Casey. Many of them are books we've never heard a hint about before, so they hit extra hard with their newness. They're by creators we already know and whose work we regularly enjoy. They're all different. They're not all going to be me to my taste, but I'm interesting in trying them all.

    Part of the weekly planning that goes on behind the scenes at CBR Reviews is picking out the most interesting books of the week. These are the ones that will attract the most eyeballs, or tie into big comic stories of the week, or that represent major milestones. We want to make sure those books get reviewed, and that those reviews go up quickly. (It doesn't always work out, but we do try for that.) Just about every one of those books Image announced on that panel will qualify for that ranking when they're released.

    It might not have been the most bombastic panel or the one that everyone thinks of first when they look back at the weekend, but I think it's the most important one. It's more than just a good program for a single publisher. It points to something larger going on in the world of comics today. Todd Allen nailed it at The Beat when he talked about the end of the age of creator exclusivity:

    Looking for a theme at Comicon isn't always the most sensible thing to do. It's a big show and there's a lot going on. I am, however, seeing some momentum being gathered — in force — from a trend that seemed to spin out of the Image convention this past spring. It's a little bit more than a movement back towards creator ownership, though that's certainly part of it. It's about the era of exclusive contracts dying and an age of, for lack of a better term, playing the field coming back.

    The larger thing to notice in all of this is the reversal of the old trend of creators working their way up through independent or self-publishers as a way of making samples of their work to hit the Big Leagues at Marvel/DC, and then stop. These days, creators are doing those first two steps as a way to get to the third step of going back to 'smaller' publishers with their creator-owned work to fund their future. It's only when working for themselves, after all, that they can profit from the spoilers of ownership, whether that's "just" a lifetime of reprints, or a revenue stream of licensing and rights options to Hollywood. Freelancers are learning to diversify their revenue streams in more ways than just doing more books for Marvel or DC.

    Speaking of Hollywood:

    Maybe you fine folks can talk me out of it.

    I think it's time to give up the fight about Hollywood ruining comics. Because without the deep pockets of Hollywood, there would be no comics industry today to support creators beyond just cute hobbies or desperate people who've conned their spouses into letting them stay home and draw all day.

    When JMS talks about 'developing IP,' he's not kidding. He's just being honest. He's starting a multimedia company (which is what all comics publishers today are) and talking to the Hollywood trade press in their language. He draws crap from other comic creators who, ironically, have literary and Hollywood representations plugging away on their own IP, but he's right. He's just more honest about it than others would like to be.

    There's no different between "creator-owed" and "IP." Zero. All "creator-owned" means is that the creator controls the IP. That's what JMS set up his company for: to be the ultimate creator-owned factory of his own ideas. He can diversify his revenue stream by setting up his own system to take money from as many angles as he can sell to. He's deeply entrenched in Hollywood enough with enough contacts and business sense from having worked in the industry for thirty years that he can set up his own shop and be taken seriously.

    It's great to love making comics and I'm glad so many creators today can make a full time living at it. But if we pulled Hollywood out of the equation, this entire industry would fall apart overnight. I'm not sure we know all the deals that go on behind the scenes, either, that help shore this industry up. There are creators who won't start their comic until they can afford it. And they can't afford it until Hollywood pays them for the rights, effectively fronting them the money to make their comics. I'm not arguing that these creators don't love comics and love working on them; I'm just being honest here that they couldn't afford the Ramen noodles necessary for survival without Hollywood buying the rights to their IP.

    Without Hollywood, Marvel and DC would go away, and they'd take the Direct Market with them. Without Hollywood, Image would suffer from creators who can't afford the relatively small advance they have to give Image to get their books on the stands to begin with. Without Hollywood, 90% of comic conventions would disappear overnight. Without Hollywood, you'd have no Dark Horse, no Valiant, at least half of IDW would be gone. Maybe Fantagraphics would survive. Without the potential of large earnings down the road, there's a disincentive to spend weeks of your life creating something for a relatively small population to see.

    Maybe digital comics disrupts this, but only a tiny bit. There are a few small- or self-publishers who've bucked the system and been at it long enough to create a popular enough back catalog to carry on in perpetuity. Terry Moore and Dave Sim come to mind first. Jeff Smith probably belongs in this category, but I'm not sure how much of his success is owed to the larger audience Scholastic brought to his work. They're the exceptions that prove the rule, and they're all exceptions from the early- to mid-1990s or earlier. How many people self-publish anymore?

    The spine of the comics industry today is Hollywood. All we can do is our best to ignore and/or lambaste the comics that are clearly just movie pitch pieces, and embrace those that tell interesting stories on their own terms (while still being bait for those who buy movie rights options). The Direct Market is too small to support a vibrant, growing, and thriving industry, the kind that comics deserves. It takes other revenue streams to keep this industry going. And Hollywood is the biggest cash cow out there.

    Milk the cow, or lose the comics.

  • And, yes, I'll include the video game industry as part of Hollywood because, well, Uwe Boll.

  • Comic-Con International: San Diego, when viewed in that light, is like a Tootsie Pop: the nougaty goodness of comics surrounded on all sides of a lickable shell of Hollywood. If you can get past that crunchiness on the outside, you can enjoy the good stuff in the middle.

  • That all said, look! The entire Firefly Tenth Anniversary panel is up on YouTube! Looking back: See my report of the Firefly panel from 2004. That seems like such a sedate affair today, by comparison. Things have progressed. My digital camera has a lot more megapixels now, for starters...

  • Make fun of it all we want, but there's some very pretty cartooning going on in that "My Little Pony" comic.

  • You know what question I haven't seen anyone ask yet this year? Which book was the "Herobear and the Kid" of 2012? Does anyone premiere their new comic book with a new character at San Diego anymore like that?

  • As it turns out, Vertigo Comics isn't dead. It was just waiting for Neil Gaiman and Quentin Tarantino.

  • The most entertainingly awkward moment of the weekend happened to be when DC got confronted at a panel -- again -- about the absence of Stephanie Brown. No, even better: DC pulled the character out of a comic to replace her with some last minute art corrections to turn her into Barbara Gordon. It's like they keep reloading the pistol that's pointed it at their big toe.

    I'm sure Marvel is preparing a new Stephanie Brown-starring comic book, based on the assumption that DC has abandoned the trademark.

  • I wonder what ever happened to that guy who would go to the Batman panel every year and ask when Staz Johnson would be drawing "Robin" again. He didn't wear the costume to the panel, but he was persistent.

  • One report I read claimed there was someone at the con dressed as a Snork on Thursday or Friday. Did anyone see that? I need a picture of that one.

  • If this Image book that James Robinson and J. Bone are doing together goes well, do you think Robinson would do a "Leave It To Chance" book with Bone next? Bone would be a perfect artist for that title, if Paul Smith isn't available.

  • Somewhere along the line, DC officially announced that Geoff Johns and Gary Frank would be doing a second volume of "Batman: Earth Two." I enjoyed Frank's art in the first book and look forward to the second, though it's too bad that it means Frank's art will be off the table for the next year or year and a half while he works on the book. That's the peril of the Original Graphic Novel movement: artists disappear from a long time while working on their next book. It can work. Albert Uderzo did OK by himself with just releasing one "Asterix" book a year, for example, but the modern American market is much more fickle.

    I think there's a middle ground to be reached here somehow, where artists can work on longer and complete stories, and still produce more than one book a year to a year and a half. Like "Asterix," maybe the 48 page graphic novel is the sweet spot. Maybe it's 64 pages. Surely, an artist could make two or three of those a year. Three 64 page books a year works out to about 10 issues of a monthly comic. That's about all most artists do these days, anyway. Separating out the books by four months or so would help raise anticipation for each new project, and give the creators a chance to try new and different things at will.

  • 383,612. Isn't that also the song from "Rent"?

  • Axel Alonso to Newsarama: "We have a great idea for something next summer that will be the culmination of a lot of things that will be building in the books."

    I'm sure if I dug up enough interviews in CBR's archives from the last ten years, we'd find that this is about the tenth time a Marvel Editor In Chief made that claim about the next major crossover event.

    "Civil War" was the culmination of what started in "Avengers Disassembled."

    "Secret Invasion" was the culmination of Brian Bendis' eight year Avengers plan.

    That, of course, was after "Dark Reign" culminated in "The List." That series "heralded the next major chapter of the Marvel Universe," which implies that it's also the culmination of the last chapter.

    "The Siege" was touted as the "culmination of five years of event comics."

    And, heck, the Marvel NOW! Initiative is the culmination of Marvel ReEvolution, which just started a couple of months ago.

    Really. I read all of that with a few Google searches. Some of that text comes straight off Marvel solicitations and press releases.

    Maybe it's just that the comics world is hooked on the word "culmination."

    I shall think about that after this column's culmination.

  • However, the existence of a project titled "A-Babies vs. X-Babies" may justify the existence of all of those previous crossovers. I wonder if it's too late to get an Art Adams alternate cover somewhere in there.

  • Marvel Studios premiered some test footage for an "Ant-Man" movie. My first reaction to it is that I hope it means a new printing of Robert Kirkman's great "Irredeemable Ant-Man" series from a few years back. That book deserved so much better than it got. A nice hardcover collection of the series would be a welcomed addition to my bookshelf. Since the movie likely won't be based on it, they likely won't, though. It would be smarter marketing, though, to base the movie on a book created by the guy who does "The Walking Dead" and to focus all the comic crossover tie-in back to one single book.

  • "The Guardians of the Galaxy" movie good news: Rocket Raccoon!!! Bad news: Not the Jim Valentino version. As you can tell, I'm conflicted. But isn't it crazy that we expect two movies a year from Marvel Studios? And then we usually get one or two more per year from the other studios with pre-existing deals that they rush movies through the pipeline to maintain their license for? We are truly cursed to live in such interesting times.

  • Kelly Sue Deconnick and Emma Rios' spaghetti western, "Pretty Deadly," looks like the best spaghetti western to hit comics since Scott Morse did "Spaghetti Western." (I reviewed that book eight years ago.)

  • The biggest loss of the weekend was suffered by the English language, which got butchered by everyone. The speed with which everyone worked to bring the latest news to the masses resulted in a sad degradation of editing skills. It came from news reporting as well as press releases. Nobody wasn't guilty of it.

    I'm not sure which was my favorite. It might have been NPR introducing their piece on the "Comic-Con in Los Angeles," which seems to be more of a Freudian slip than anything else. Or perhaps it was the frequent reference to Ann Curry cosplaying at Comic-Con, when it was really Adrianne Curry. There's a big difference there.

    I think next year I'll take screen shots and put up a Tumblr devoted to this stuff. I like making friends.

  • 383,612. According to Wolfram Alpha, its prime factorization is 2 squared times 29 times 3307. It cannot be written as the sum of three squares. And it's an awful lot of zombies. That last stat might not yet be on the computational knowledge engine, but give it time. . .

  • Next week: I have a feeling we'll still be talking about San Diego stuff. There's also a Batman movie I hope to see over the weekend. Stay tuned!
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