WONDER CON 2013: THE WEEKEND IN REVIEW
The annual WonderCon show happened in Anaheim, California again this past weekend. The reports are still dribbling out as I write this, but so far I haven't seen any complaints about the parking madness we saw last year in the vicinity of the show. Let's hope that all worked out a little better this year. So far, I've seen a lot of positive reviews and hope for a big future for the convention, even if it never moves back to San Francisco.
Everyone says they want the show back in San Francisco, but it looks like Anaheim is the only way for the show to grow in the future. If growth is a goal for the con organizers -- the same people who give you the annual San Diego show -- then I have to imagine that Anaheim feels pretty good to them right now.
While the powers that be work on all that, let's look back at a few of the headlines and newsbits that came out of the show:
- The always entertaining John Layman hosted a Q&A panel, which prompted a few interesting stories and newsy tidbits. There's a "Smorgasbord Edition" of "Chew" in the works, for example, collecting the first 20 issues for $100 in something like the "Absolute Format." Future "Chew" publishing plans were also discussed. Hint: Lots of side stories.
- Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have plans for something like 50 issues' worth of "Batman." That wouldn't be a bad run. Capullo has proven, with "Spawn", that he can do a long run on a single character. So long as the series is so popular that DC Editorial doesn't decide to wrest control of it back completely from its creators, I don't see a problem with that happening.
- Dark Horse is doing a comic book adaptation of George Lucas' original "Star Wars" treatment, to be titled "The Star Wars." I want to say this is a cute and creative idea for a publishing project, but the rest of me just sees it as Dark Horse pulling every publishing idea it has out from the woodwork before they lose the "Star Wars" license to Disney/Marvel. In the end, the "Why" doesn't matter. It's just about getting entertaining comics, right?
Getting Mike Mayhew to draw it is a nifty thing, too. For the kind of tried-and-true "Star Wars" fan that buys comics, this has to be a dream publishing project. But will it sell to a broader "cross over" clientele? Will it break loose from the general sales figures that the other SW books get? Can it top the numbers that Brian Wood's series is doing right now? I kind of doubt it, but I'm prepared to be wrong. We'll have to come back to this in a few months to see.
- But the most exciting news of the weekend came from IDW on two fronts.
First, they're doing a Rocketeer/Spirit mini-series. Putting those two characters together makes perfect sense, as does keeping Mark Waid around to write it. The thing that makes the whole announcement sing, though, is that Paul Smith is handling the art duties. This could be very exciting, in that Smith is an awesome artist. It could also be a crash and burn type thing, as Paul Smith is an excellent artist who comes back to comics every now and then, sticks around for a couple of months, and then disappears from comics again for years at a time.
Paul Smith's last regular comics gig was for "X-Men Forever," for which he drew two issues in late 2009. Before that, he did covers for DC's "The Spirit" series in its post-Darwyn Cooke days. Before that, he did a couple of issues of Dan Slott's "Civil War"-era "She-Hulk" series in 2006. Before that, in 2005, he did a solid four issues of the great "Kitty Pryde: Shadow and Flame" mini-series. That came out in four consecutive months, which gives me some hope. In 2004, he did those two half-issues of "Fantastic Four" in the Mark Waid/Mike Wieringo era.
So that's, what, a dozen issues in the last decade, and never more than four issues at a time? "Rocketeer/Spirit" is a four-issue mini-series. I hope IDW is able to bank a lot of pages before soliciting the first issue.
The biggest news of the convention, though, is the biggest "Artist's Edition" book yet (*): Jeff Smith's "Bone," collecting "The Great Cow Race" storyline. When you think of "Bone," that's likely the first storyline that comes to mind, so it's the perfect selection for a standalone book. Editor/Archivist/Mad Oversized Format Creator Scott Dunbier has said he'd like to do more. Jeff Smith seems to be taking a wait and see approach. I'm not sure we need the whole series published in this format, but I know I'm ridiculously excited for this one. I'll be saving my pennies up for it. Heck, I'll use all proceeds from the sales from my own original art collection to fund the purchase of future "Artist's Edition" books. They're worth it. (The John Byrne "Fantastic Four" book is due out soon, too.)
In any case, the "Bone" release is very exciting. Jeff Smith is an artist's artist, and getting the raw work at the full size in this format will not only be beautiful to look at, but also instructive. How much blue pencil will remain on the pages, I wonder? How much White-Out will we see? How many perfectly crisp and well-weighted ink lines will look all new now? I have a feeling we'll be surprised at some of the extra work we see on those boards that never came across on the crisp clean final pages. I'm even excited just to see the work in black and white again, the way we all originally experienced it.
(*) This being an "Artist's Edition," I should point out that I don't mean the physical size of the book when I say "biggest." I mean that it will be the best-selling. Judging from the early reaction on the internet to this book, it should be huge. Who doesn't love Jeff Smith's "Bone" work?
- One footnote to that is another interesting story: Jeff Smith announced that he's working on a free webcomic. It'll be followed by print collections. It remains to be seen if retailers will effectively try to squash this format in the same way they did RASL's oversized format. (Yes, I'm still bitter.)
CATCHING UP WITH IMAGE
In addition to Pipeline, I'm also a contributing writer to the CBR Reviews section right here at ComicBookResources.com. I gave up the Editor's mantle a while back, but I still stick around to fill in some gaps here and there, mostly from the Image catalog. This month, for example, I've reviewed "Invincible" #101, "Comeback" #5, "The Manhattan Projects" #10, and "Glory" #33.
I was going to review Jimmie Robinson's "Five Weapons" #5 last week, but ran short on time to do so. So let me fill in that gap here this week.
"Five Weapons" is a smart and downright clever comic book from the creator of "Bomb Queen." It's also completely different and more accessible to readers of all ages. This book is built around a boy sent away to a school for assassins. Needless to say, it's a dangerous place to be for a new kid looking to fit in. It's doubly dangerous for a new kid who refuses to use a weapon, but must choose to join one of the school's classes centered around a specific fighting style -- from arrows to kung fu and everything inbetween. It's triply dangerous when the boy isn't exactly who everyone thinks he is.
Robinson takes a concept that could easily be played for laughs or some sort of satirical purpose (maybe riffing off "Hunger Games" or "Battle Royale") and instead turns it into some classic high school drama and adolescent angst mixed with a dry wit and a sharp tongue. The most interesting part of the book is the way Robinson sets up little mysteries, quickly solving them later on with a callback to the panel that shows what the reader saw earlier in a whole new light. The big clues in the second issue are obvious now that you have the set-up and the pattern, but the trick will be in how the clue is used to solve the boy's problems next issue. I can't wait to see it, because Robinson hasn't disappointed me yet with the first two issues. I'm sure it'll be just as crazy and tricky as everything else.
Robinson's art in the series is shot directly from his tight pencils and then knocked out with a lighter color. (All credit to Paul Little for the coloring in the book, keeping things simple yet interesting.) It gives the book a softer look, but not at all a looser or sketchier look. The real giveaway is in the shaded sections, where you can see the obvious pencil liness. A trained eye might notice the lack of line weight volatility as well. This book looks nothing like what an ink brush might create. You'd need to be looking for that before you notice it, though, most likely.
The entire series is made up of wide panels, stacked four to seven high on a page. After you're done reading an issue, it's worth going back to see how Robinson fit in all the storytelling in a format that can be very restrictive. Those wide panels often mean more close-up shots, or more dramatically distant shots, to show all of the staging in a scene. It's mostly done with close-ups, but Robinson varies his angles enough to change the point of view of the shot. He also adds layers to the panels, with items in the extreme foreground helping to frame a panel within a panel.
The only thing in the series that bothers me a little is the lettering. The biggest problem is the number of balloon tails that point to characters' foreheads, eyes, and necks instead of their mouths. The font, itself, is a little annoying to me, though that's strictly a personal opinion and not a technical one. (It's not like he's using the crossbar-I or that the font is easily mistaken for Comic Sans.) And with all of the dialogue in the issue, the balloons occasionally look a little crowded or are linked together in funny ways. Sometimes, they float in the middle of the panel, while other times they butt up against and knock out the panel border. (Worse, sometimes they just barely overlap.) It's never consistent.
That all said, I absolutely love Robinson's decision on linking the balloons together on the first panel of the first page. It keeps the words out of the way of the art, but it also adds a rhythm to the language that you otherwise wouldn't get if the balloons were butted up against each other. You can feel the movement of the knives even more this way. It's a pattern repeated in the second panel for Tyler's response. That works because of the parallels. Nicely done.
Both issues of the series so far should be available to you still. The first issue has a second printing scheduled for release this week, and this second one just came out less than a week ago. There's always the digital option, as well. It's worth a read.
In other Image news, the grand finale to Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell's "Glory" series hits shelves this week. Someone else will be handling the official CBR review of it, but I have read it and do think they stuck the landing nicely. It's a proper ending for the series that treats its outlandish characters as real people, the kind you're going to miss for all sorts of reasons. It takes a set-up that could quickly go off the rails into the cliche and absurd and turns it into an entertaining and, at times, heart-warming story. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to read it all over again. Congrats to Keatinge/Campbell/Gieni/Brisson and friends for an excellent run.
IMAGE COMICS SELLS OUT
You might remember the hubbub back in December when Image announced plans to stop some second printings. At the time, I made some predictions on which books would sell out and need second printings in March, the next available solicitations. Let's see how I did.
"East of West" #1 is the new one from Jonathan Hickman. His books always sell out.
Here, now, is the Image press release from March 28:
EAST OF WEST #1, the premiere issue of the apocalyptic Western by Jonathan Hickman (THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS) and Nick Dragotta, has sold out the same day as its release on March 27. It will receive a second printing (Diamond Comics code FEB138443), going on shelves in stores on April 24, the same day as EAST OF WEST #2.
"Lost Vegas" #1 is a new four part miniseries from Jim McCann of "Mind the Gap" fame, and Janet Lee, who also did the art on McCann's script for "Return of the Dapper Man." That book won awards. I bet this one gets under-ordered.
No second printing. Perhaps the awards and the assumed popularity of the book meant the book was ordered higher to begin with? The system works!
"Sex" #1 is Joe Casey's subtle ploy for attention. How can a title like that not be sold out in record time?
Image press release from March 11:
This week, Image Comics demonstrated what everyone has suspected all along: SEX sells. Joe Casey's and Piotr Kowalski's comic book SEX, that is — a subversive take on superheroes that takes a former costumed crime-fighter into the underbelly of the city he'd formerly sworn to protect. The first issue, which made its debut with a limited edition exclusive cover at Emerald City Comicon and landed in stores on March 6, has sold out and will receive a second printing.
That one was almost too easy. The second issue is out this week. The cover features ridiculously perfectly strategically placed noir shadow stripes. (Ha! That's three adverbs in a row! Take that, Strunk! Take that, White!)
"Five Weapons" #2 will be under-ordered, because orders traditionally drop on a second issue. Can Jimmie Robinson sell the series enough with its first issue to keep the readership anxious enough for #2 to overcome that? He has a good chance with this one. If #1 goes to a second printing, I think this one will, as well.
The first issue did go to a second printing. That was announced on March 8th:
The Image Comics imprint Shadowline, helmed by Image co-founder Jim Valentino, has another hit on its hands with Jimmie Robinson's FIVE WEAPONS, as the first issue sold out in its first week of release, prompting an immediate reprint. The second printing of FIVE WEAPONS #1 will be in stores on April 3 and it can be pre-ordered now (Diamond Comics code JAN138340).
Doesn't look like the second issue will be, but you never know. Given how good the book is -- see my review above -- I'd argue that I was right about the book being "under-ordered," at least.
And then my predictions went completely off the cliff. No reprints for "Walking Dead: The Governor Special", "Walking Dead" #108, "Saga" #11, "Invincible" #101, "TriggerGirl 6", or "Chew" #33. (That issue of "Chew" won't be out until April now, but I wouldn't bet on it getting a second printing anymore.) Five out of those six are relatively long-running series at this point, so perhaps their audiences are locked in, at least? Maybe the "Walking Dead" bump from a new season has settled down and everyone is just waiting for the trade? Or maybe retailers took heed of Image's discussion of the matter in December and started upping their orders? (Looking around at some sales guesstimates on-line, it seems like only "Saga" had a big bump in sales from December to February, though, so I wouldn't bet on that.)
Also in March: "Nowhere Man" #1 got its fifth and final printing, while the series' fourth issue went to a second printing. "Peter Panzerfaust" #10 had a second printing announcement on March 18. Two days later, "Five Ghosts" #1 sold out on its day of release and had an immediate reprint announcement. Second printings are still happening.
So I hit up Image's newbie BizDev Guy, Ron Richards, to see what was up:
Basically, the approach to reprints is, for series that are still finding their audience, we will reprint to meet demand. It's been great to see the reaction to "East of West" and "Sex", those are by established creators...but with "Five Ghosts", "Peter Panzerfaust" and "Nowhere Men" - there continues to be interest and demand beyond our initial printing.
We're not doing second printings on series that are established and found their audience, like "The Walking Dead", "Saga" and "Chew". Retailers are adjusting their orders and for the most part, ordering to meet demand now on those, so the need for a reprint has become lessened.
Image has a unique sales problem. They have a large number of titles in their monthly listings with no sales histories. So much of Image's catalog is mini-series from a variety of creators, many of which haven't made their permanent mark in comics yet, or just in non-Marvel/DC comics. That makes ordering even trickier than usual. (All Joe Casey books will not sell alike, even if they area all oddball superhero books.) All of the traditional parameters for determining what a comic might sell -- characters, crossovers, creators -- are not guarantees with an Image book they way they are with a Marvel or DC title. Who can guess what fans will want? It wasn't too long ago that a Bryan Hitch-drawn book that drew sales under 20,000 copies in a month would be considered an epic failure and a shocking surprise. Yet, that's where we are with "America's Got Powers."
For now, maybe it's a combination of the best of both worlds. December brinksmanship, perhaps? A greater realization and awareness of deficient ordering practices? The natural evolution of the system that wants to make more money working out for both parties? A mad scramble to make my predictions look remarkably bad? Probably a little of each. Well, except that last one. My ego isn't that big. . .