Monthly Archives: June 2011

Comics Alliance asks: “Why aren’t Marvel and DC making webcomics?”

In the wake of a month were no print comic cracked the 100K mark and where graphic novel sales have fallen 6.2% over the previous year, Chris Sims poses a question on Comics Alliance: with sales falling across the board at Marvel and DC, why aren’t they making webcomics?

While the super-heroes of the printed page are suffering, there are millions of people in the world reading, loving and supporting comics on the web every day, while the #1 monthly superhero comic barely cracks 100,000 — if it’s lucky. So with that in mind, why aren’t DC and Marvel producing webcomics? And the more I think about it, the more it seems like it could be a pretty easy experiment to test out, with almost no risk and the potential for a huge payoff.

As for why it hasn’t happened before, I’m not sure, but I’ve got a pretty good guess. I think a lot of it has to do with people making comic books still regarding the Internet as a market that’s completely secondary to — and completely separate from — printed comics. That may very well have been true at one time, and even fairly recently [Editor’s note: yup] but it certainly isn’t anymore. Just look at the numbers.

According to ICV2’s sales charts, the top-selling comic for May (Fear Itself #1) sold just under 130,000 copies, which, for today’s monthly singles market, is an unqualified success. Meanwhile, Penny Arcade is getting two million hits per day.

Obviously, those are two hugely different comics. They’re in different formats and they appeal to different audiences, with Penny Arcade aimed at the video game market rather than the super-hero market (such as it is). But the most crucial difference is that Penny Arcade is free. You can click that link above and go peruse the entire thing from beginning to end and it won’t cost you a cent. But while it costs you nothing to read that comic, it’s turned out to be a pretty profitable enterprise for its creators, to the point where it’s allowed them to not only make it their full-time job, but create a sprawling media empire involving the creation of charities and huge conventions.

Of course, Penny Arcade is a complete and utter anomaly that’s a thousand times better than any best-case scenario for the premise of “two guys make jokes about how long load times are for PC games.” But for our purposes today, none of that really matters.

What matters is the number: two million people — almost 20 times the number of people who bought the highest-selling super-hero comic on the stands — and while it might just be a three-panel gag strip, they’re already reading comics. This is Point One.

In fact, if there’s any indication to be found in the number of times a Penny Arcade strip (or a Shortpacked strip, or a Dinosaur Comics strip) about mainstream super-heroes (okay, let’s be honest, about Batman) gets spread around, posted on forums or emailed to your friendly neighborhood Batmanologist, I think it’s also pretty safe to say that a large number of these readers are already aware of and like reading stories about mainstream super-heroes.

You can even take it a step further: There are entire comics out there, like our pals at Let’s Be Friends Again, that are doing quite well that are based on awareness and affection for those characters. Again, there’s an obvious difference between these strips and the “official” comics in that the web versions are parodies that often involve a quick punchline, but the fact remains that they only exist and succeed because there are people — most of whom are not reading mainstream super-hero books — that are reading comics with these characters. This is Point Two.

So why hasn’t there been an attempt to bring these two points together and lead that massive audience to super-hero comics?

… most importantly, so what if it doesn’t make any money? After all, the idea here isnt to make something new that’s going to be profitable, but to make the existing books more profitable by increasing readership, drawing them in with the webcomic to foster a love of and direct them to the main line titles. In essence, it’s all marketing for the other titles, with the potential of reaching millions of new readers. And if even ten thousand — a fraction of what comics like Dr. McNinja, Shortpacked and others get — follow from the web to the existing comics, that’s a pretty significant change.

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One Punch Reviews #47: Spy6teen

The James Bond movies have given the paying public a very glamorous portrayal of the spy life. When we think spies, we think about wearing awesome tuxedoes, driving half-a-million dollar cars, tossing off puns without people rolling their eyes… unless they’re rolling their eyes because of the .32 caliber bullet placed neatly between ‘em.

“Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.” A dud on the comedic circuit, but genius from the mouth of a superspy.

We never dwell told much about the more sordid side of espionage, though, and indignities that spies must suffer every day … like missing the prom, for example. Fortunately, we get such glimpses with Tim Simmons’ Spy6teen.

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The Webcomic Overlook #169: Otherworld

Female action heroes have had a difficult road to travel in comics. Beyond societal gender politics of eras past, female comic heroes have fairly lascivious origins. Take Wonder Woman, for instance, one of the first female superheroes. She is a very heroic character, no doubt, but her reputation will always be tainted because her creator was Dr. William Marston, the feminist psychologist who was way into bondage and polyamorous relationships.

Superhero comics have traditionally been bought by pre-adolescent males, which means that female heroes often cater to the “boys rule/girls have cooties” and “girls are hot” extremes. Even when comic publishers try to update their female superheroes to modern times, they fall into the same problems. Sue Storm, for example, begun her career in the 1960’s with the weakest power (turns invisible) and was pretty much the damsel in distress. Then Marvel was all, “That sort of ignorant 60’s characterization doesn’t fly in the modern day!” So, to keep up with the changing audiences… marvel introduced a “sexy” Sue Storm with a boob window in the shape of the number 4.

Oh, the 90’s.

We’re still recovering from that, by the way, with DC recently passed an edict that, in their new rebooted universe, the superheroines gotta wear pants. OK, a good step in the right direction … but one that might be taken too far the wrong way, too, since all of the sudden we’re passing standards where the ladies have to cover up.

I see webcomics as something of a fresh start. A way to break away from all this madness. It’s a relative new medium unsaddled by the sometimes misogynistic origins of the past. So, to highlight the hard-hitting, high-flying, ass-kicking ladies of action in webcomics, I’m resurrecting the “Girl Power Week” concept.

First up is Otherworld, created by Toby Gard. This comic is rated 16+, borderline NSFW, for scenes of graphic disembowelments and naked boobs.

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Random Quickies: Battlepug

Woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof arf woof woof woof woof arf arf woof Battlepug. Woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof grrrrrr. Grrrrrrr. Grrrrrrrrrr. Woof woof arf woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof. Woof woof. Woofwoofwoof?

(Translation for human readers:

The introductory image of a warrior riding a pug is pretty much all there needs to be drawn for me to be sold on Mike Norton’s Battlepug. Fair warning: the site may be NSFW — while there’s no full frontal nudity, there is the framing device of a naked woman telling a story to two small dogs. Just be clear on your company’s policy on naked butts.

Battlepug is an epic fantasy about a muscly sword-and-sorcery barbarian raised in slavery who fights fearsome monsters and was raised by a society of elves. Norton’s art is top-notch. His got a great grasp at drawing action-packed scenes. The story is just starting, so we haven’t even got to the part where there guy rides the pug yet. The best part is that all these adventures are completely true! Not that you can expect humans to buy into real history that’s so canine-centric. Humans. Amirite?)

Brian Clevinger speaks

The Firestorm Fan blog sat down with Brian Clevinger recently. Among things talked about were Clevinger’s webcomic that put him on the map…

FF: One of your best known creations is the webcomic 8-Bit Theater. What spawned your humorous take on Final Fantasy, and how did the popularity of 8-Bit Theater shape your career?

BC: I never played the original Final Fantasy until something like 1998. So, it was this weird and dated experience with characters who never spoke on a world-spanning quest that is hardly defined but appears to involve saving the world and maybe time travel.

So, y’know, as I’m playing the game I’ve got this on-going narrative about it in my head. Y’know, the faceless characters with no lines of dialog that you play, you can’t help but project personalities on them based on their performances, abilities, etc. It was just this weird personal story that stuck with me.

Then in 2001 I took an independent study course at the University of Florida. The basic idea was to make a comic book to test a variety of academic analyses of comics pages. The basic idea being: what was the thought process behind different elements of the page. Was it for “art” or was it to meet the practical realities of the page? Was it both? That kind of thing.

Only problem: I can’t draw. Like, you know how little kids can’t draw? I’m worse.

But then I remembered I just happened to have downloaded most of the images from Final Fantasy. I’d found them online somewhere or another over the years. So, what the hell, right? Just use those images. I only needed stand-ins so you’d know the difference between Character #1 and Character #2, etc.

… his current projects …

FF: Looking back at the work you’ve amassed, what are you most proud of? What do you consider a high point both personally and creatively?

BC: Atomic Robo, without question. It’s everything I love about comics and storytelling wrapped up into one package.

… and, of course, the Fire Storm.

FF: How did you get the Firestorm assignment?

BC: DC called me up one day and offered it to me! They said they were looking for “a voice from outside of DC” to launch “a fun and accessible Firestorm book.” If Atomic Robo is anything, it’s wall-to-wall fun and accessible. Lots of banter, lots of sci-fi, lots of action. Sounds like a pretty good mix for Firestorm!

FF: What aspects of Firestorm did you enjoy writing the most? What aspects did you find the most challenging to write?

BC: Even though I lobbied hard against it, I came to really enjoy the merging dynamic. It’s so weird and comic booky and it allowed for a lot fun interaction between the guys. The most challenging part has been giving it up. I got really attached to the guys and the idea of helping to bring them new fans.

FF: Can you tell us why you won’t be writing Firestorm?

BC: I honestly don’t know.

Despite Clevinger’s obvious disappointment at losing the Firestorm assignment, his spirits are high throughout. It’s a great interview that’s well worth reading.

(h/t Robot 6)

The Webcomic Overlook 2011 Eisner round-up

Another year, another Eisner award ceremony.

Last year, I commented that the nominees up for the Best Digital Comic Award were a pretty strong bunch. I’m very happy to say that this year’s selections continue the tradition. The nominees come from far flung fields, stretching from political commentary to kid-friendly shenanigans, from a big hairy monster to little hairy gangsters to a humble high fantasy hero straight out of the Campbellian tradition.

You know what I find incredibly surprising, by the way? Almost all of the nominees can be defined as a black-and-white comic. In fact, two of them show up in the Best Black and White nominations of the Webcomic List Awards. Yes, I am totally patting myself in the back for being of the judging panel for the category that — like the Original/Adapted Screenplay awards at the Oscars — may be one of the boldest predictors to this year’s Eisner winner.

But who wins the Eisner? It’s time to dust off the SugarShock-o-meter and find out. It’s running 66% now. It correctly predicted a win for Joss Whedon in 2008 and a win for Cameron Stewart in 2010. It flubbed the 2009 pick though, selecting Vs. by Joe Infurnari over Finder by Carla Speed MacNeil. The Webcomic Overlook blames poor maintenance and crossed wires for that one. Several staff of Webcomic Overlook Central had to endure hours of re-education and savage beatings to ensure such an egregious mistake would never happen again.

How will the SugarShock-o-meter fare this year against the democratic vote of “comics creators, editors, publishers, and retailers”? Who takes home the award this July?

The Bean (reviewed here)

The webcomic in brief: the Chosen One, as predicted by prophecy and legend, goes on an epic quest to save the world… without the help of chocobos.

Pros: The beasties are original, the character interactions are well written, and there’s a very good chance that voters might confuse this with Larry Marder’s Beanworld.

Cons: The art is the least polished of the five nominees, and there’s little indication that is going to be any different from the standard Tolkien template … which has been imitated a thousand times already.

Sugarshock-o-meter: 73/100. An uphill battle, to be sure. The Bean was the one title that people were shocked to see on the ballot in the first place. It’s not a bad comic, but it does lack that extra oomph that you envision for an award winner. It’s in the same spot that Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World was at the Academy Awards: it’s a decent enough genre piece, but there’s little chance it’s winning the award.

Max Overacts (reviewed here)

The webcomic in brief: what happens if you cross Dennis the Menace with Niles Crane?

Pros: It’s a very sweet, very fun, and very cute comic. Having Max overact like a prissy theater major was pretty inspired.

Cons: Calvin & Hobbes did it!

Sugarshock-o-meter: 85/100. Caanan Grall is sort of not unknown among voters who follow the output of the print publishers only, as his Celadore did come out of DC’s Zuda imprint. But, then again, Bayou came from there too, and it failed to snag the big award last year. The obvious Academy Award comparison, by the way: Toy Story 3.

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Who Are You?: Shannon Wheeler (Too Much Coffee Man, I Thought You’d Be Funnier, Grandpa Won’t Wake Up)

When you encounter cartoons from the New Yorker, they sometimes seem stodgy. Unapproachable. Indecipherable. Not so with the works of Shannon Wheeler, whose cartoons never fail to hit the funnybone. A few of his cartoons have been published in that grand old magazine. And the ones that haven’t are still fantastic. How do I know this? Because they’re available in I Thought You’d Be Funnier, a collection of Wheeler’s rejected New Yorker cartoons. Maybe they’re not good enough for the New Yorker, but they’re good enough for the Eisner. The book was nominated for the Best Humor Publication Category.

The New Yorker isn’t the only place, though, where you can find Mr. Wheeler’s unique brand of humor. Through the magic of email, I got in touch with Mr. Wheeler to shoot the breeze about his various projects.

1.) Who would you say were the biggest influences to your sense of humor and cartooning style?

It really depends on which stage of life that we’re talking about. I loved Garfield (before I could read) but by 5th grade I was reading Edward Gorey and Mad Magazine. Sergio Aragones was one of my favorites. Somehow I got ahold of a bunch of Fabulous Furry Freak Brother comics around 7th grade. Kyle Baker’s Cowboy Wally is still one of my favorite books of all time.

2.) Where do you draw your inspiration for your comics?

My own life is the best inspiration. When I’m able to distort and refashion personal experience into a cartoon I think the work turns out the best. Of course, being on deadline, I still have to produce even when I’m not inspired. Then I turn to fear, exhaustion, and coffee for inspiration.

3.) Too Much Coffee Man comic, the “coffee-themed superhero parody with existential themes,” strikes me as being uniquely zen and surreal. Which, frankly, was kind of a pleasant surprise since I was expecting different things from a comic entitled Too Much Coffee Man. So it’s about a guy dressed up as a superhero (of sorts), a liberal sprinkling of coffee references, and existential humor. How did you end up with such an unlikely mish-mash of characteristics?

I was drawing a cartoon for the Daily Texan. It was pretty much a nondescript autobiographical strip with existential themes. I struggled to describe it to people. I was sitting in a coffee shop trying to come up with something that would be easier to describe. I thought I needed a character with some sort of hook or handle… a visual pun was born.

4.) Speaking of superheroes: you’ve been involved with quite a few superhero-related projects, including a short story in Strange Tales 2. Why choose Red Skull as a protagonist?

I love villains. They’re the true underdogs – even if they’re stronger you know they’re going to lose. I can’t help but root for the tragically flawed and tragically doomed. And there’s something about imagining the Red Skull living in South America (like old Nazis are want to do) that makes me laugh.

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Random Quickies: Comics, Everybody!

I’m gonna be catching X-Men: First Class in a couple of hours. That means that this is a good a time as any to pimp out Curt Franklin and Chris Haley’s Comics, Everybody! . The duo bring their finely honed humor — which mixes insider geek jokes with plain old goofiness — from Let’s Be Friends Again! (which I reviewed here) to Comics Alliance, where they take a look at comics’ most convoluted storylines. Witness in horror as they tell you about the convoluted history of Hawkman, the convoluted history of Rachel Summers, and the convoluted love life of Professor X.

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