Monthly Archives: May 2007

Humanoids, Nous Vous Avons à Peine Connu

A few years ago, DC did a very brave thing. Figuring that there was a market in North America for comics from abroad, they partnered up with both the UK’s 2000 AD/Rebellion and the French publisher Les Humanoïdes Associés, or Humanoids Publishing. It was a decision, I imagine, that was based partly on the massive flood of manga titles that was coming from Japan, and selling like hotcakes. So, seeing dollar signs (translated from pounds and euros), they began publishing some of the best comics Europe has to offer.

I, for one, loved it. I had always heard whispers about these comics. They were fabled, forbidden literature, spoken of wistfully in the darkest corners of the comic shop. While living in Montreal I managed to find English copies of Bilal and Christin’s The Hunting Party and The Black Order Brigade. These were great comics, wonderfully illustrated, and while the translated dialogue sometimes sounded a bit awkward, it never hurt the story. Now I had the whole Bilal Library to look forward to, along with the Metabarons, the Incal epic, Garth Ennis’ Judge Dredd books, and that was just the stuff I had heard of.

Time plodded on, and I merrily bought and enjoyed the aforementioned titles. The Bilal stories did not disappoint. The Incal was insane but oddly fascinating, with wonderful comic (ie., humourous) touches. The first Ennis Dredd book was an enjoyable, if unevenly illustrated, zombie-killing bloodfest. I picked up Sanctum, which was an interesting idea marred by a large and mostly indistinguishable cast (note to artist: do not give so many of your main characters identical facial hair next time). Son of the Gun was a grotesque, violent, dirty little tale of sin and redemption. And then came Deicide.

I loved Deicide. By Carlos Portela and Das Pastoras, was a sort of heroic fantasy, a sword-and-sorcery epic that felt like a synthesis of myths from every corner of the world. The story was compelling and the characters well-realized, and the art was beautiful. Oh, how I long for an original-sized volume of this, even in French (Humanoids publishes their comics at 24 x 32 cm, but DC published them at a more bookshelf-friendly 19 cm x 26 cm). The first volume drew me in and had me waiting anxiously for future volumes, ending as it did on a tense cliff-hanger.
And then, suddenly, it all came crashing down. DC announced the end of the partnership. There would be no second volume of Deicide, nor any future volumes of any of the series. I was crushed, and shocked. I had done my part, buying plenty of the European volumes! Why were they being cancelled, now, just when I was really looking forward to the future releases.

Perhaps if I had paid more attention to sales figures it wouldn’t have come as such a surprise. DC, it seems, had intended these books to sell well in the big bookstores. Instead, they put up dismal numbers. Their best selling bookstore volumes sold meagre numbers, and were outsold in the direct market (but not by any staggering amount, sadly). The Eurocomics simply were not selling.

Why did they fail? Well, that’s up for debate. I’ve heard some people say that North America wasn’t ready for these types of comics. I don’t buy that argument, myself. I’ll grant that ours is a market dominated by a single genre, and virtually everything put out under the 2000 AD & Humanoids partnerships fell outside of that genre, but I think there is still a strong demand for non-superhero titles in North America. The success of the Vertigo line is a testament to that. I believe that, by and large, the quality of these imprints was more than enough to justify higher sales, so that wasn’t a problem. So if there was a market for these goods, and the goods were of high quality, why didn’t the goods sell?

One problem, I suppose, could have been the marketing. If the people who buy these sorts of sci-fi/fantasy comics didn’t know they were coming out, DC was more or less screwed. What follows is almost entirely speculation, since we’re over three years removed from the events, but I don’t remember any sort of big marketing push on behalf of DC. I was reading DC and Vertigo titles at the time, and don’t remember seeing any house ads touting a partnership between the biggest publishers of North America and Europe, which, you would think, would be a big deal. There were no posters in my local shop, but that could be a function of the manager’s choice rather than availability. As I say, this is all speculation.

In the end, the comics didn’t sell, the partnerships ended, and North American readers lost their best chance to be reading some of the best comics created in the last few decades. Hopefully, as manga continues to sell well, another publisher will grow the balls to team up with their European counterparts, and maybe, maybe, I’ll get a chance to read the next volume of Deicide.

One can dream.

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Filed under at the racks, DC, soap box

And now, a special guest rant by Chew

My buddy Chew is no fan of Newsarama Best Shots reviewer Steve Ekstrom’s prose, in particular his review of Criminal #6:

Sometimes these Newsarama reviewers piss me off.  Mostly because they either
misspell everything, or they misuse words with reckless abandon.  A
vocabulary only counts if you know what the words mean.  This is a
disturbing example.  It’s a crime against literacy that this was ever
allowed to be read by the public.  I’m actually kind of angry.

Examples from the most recent “best shots” review of “Criminal”:

“Tracy Lawless is the kind of antithesis that would make weaker men crumble
with the rasp of his voice before their cold bodies hit the ground.”
— Yes, he’s truly an antithetical, ANTITHETICAL man.

“Lawless would have already silently dispatched them, two or three ways to
Sunday even, and done so in such a fortuitous manner that people wouldn’t
notice that they were gone—like thinking you heard a whisper but then second
guessing yourself.”
— I guess he’s lucky to be dead.

“What makes Criminal that much more of a dazzling beast of a ‘crime book’ is
its combination of the economically savvy Brubaker with the sumptuous grime
of Sean Phillips’ artwork.”
— First off, let’s ignore the idiocy of the term ‘dazzling beast’ (as if
the comic was a Yeti in a sequin tutu), it’s still true: Brubaker spends
very little on his writing materials and has been playing the stock market
for years, which is why he can afford to write comics.  This review is so
metamorphically awesome, I’d like to shove some ‘sumptuous grime’ in the
writers mouth so he can taste it on his malapropistic palate.

“Rich colors by the talented Val Staples shifts the tone of the book from
being a trope in the background to a full fledged elephant in the room.”
— Oh!  Oh yes, yes, but of course!  I should have noticed earlier how the
tone was merely A LITERARY DEVICE IN THE BACKGROUND.

“Is this book saying more about us as humans—beyond its exposition into the
criminal underworld and the mind of any skulking, scuttling bastard?”
— Ah yes.  Maybe the comic will expound or explain into it later.  Or,
maybe if we’re lucky, explore unto it.

“Having enjoyed this series as much as I have thus far—I’m starting to not
only question Ed Brubaker’s categorical imperative but my own as well.”
— He has no idea what either “categorical” or “imperative” mean.  He
should be questioning his education.

Steve Ekstrom is a tool.

I would just like to point out that the comic in question is an excellent one, well worth your time and your hard-earned money, and that Steve Ekstrom is probably a very, very nice person. 

But when it comes to his purple prose, he is, indeed a tool.

 

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FYI: Kids do read comics, they just don’t buy them

Here’s a little tidbit that I think often gets forgotten in the Bottle City of Kandor that is comics fandom: kids read comics. And they love them. They read them for the excitement, the adventure, the melodrama that they don’t even know is melodrama, the pure joy of the genre. They read them without irony and without a critical, jaded eye. They read comics because comics are fun.

I know this because I work with kids in an out of school care program. Every month we get a new load of books from the library so the kids have something to peruse during silent reading. We get a variety of science books, kid’s novels, and comics. The boys, overwhelmingly, fight over the comics (That’s not to say that girls don’t read comics: we’ve got a few Archie comics, and some Powerpuff Girls and other DC Kids stuff, and the girls read those sometimes. It’s just that the boys are far more enthusiastic). They love the action and humour of Ultimate Spider-Man. They love the epic scale of Superman battling Imperiex. They blink in a sort of overjoyed haze at the madness of Morrison’s JLA.

And every week they pepper me with questions. They want to know about Venom, about Carnage, about Sandman. They want to know about Galactuc and Silver Surfer, about Thor and Iron Man. They want to know about Superman and Steel and Eradicator and Superboy. Often, I’m surprised by what they already know. One kid had a firm grasp of all the minutae of Civil War (his mom had taken him to the comic shop I recommended and he’d bought a bunch of issues). They endlessly debate the outcome of theoretical superhero battles (Silver Surfer is the acknowledged champ). They are nuts for superheroes, in any and all forms.

My point is that these kids should not be ignored. Too often I hear people bemoaning how kids don’t read comics anymore, it’s a mature industry, etc. etc. Kids do read comics. They love them. Maybe they don’t buy as many as the kids of yesteryear, but the prices are ridiculous these days. Fantastic Four #1, for instance, sold for one thin dime. Based on this site, 10 cents in 1961 dollars has inflated to about 59 cents* in modern dollars (the site doesn’t do the past two years). But in the most recent issues of FF sell for US$ 2.99, or about 51 cents in 1961 dollars. So your average kid is paying ten times what their 1961 counter-part paid for a comic, inflation-adjusted. Even Marvel Adventures FF, the kid’s line, sold for US$2.50, which is 43 cents in 1961 dollars.

I recognize that there are a million-and-one factors that have contributed to the price increase. I’m not saying comics should cost 60 cents (although hot damn! How many would you buy if they did?), but the bottom line is that kids can’t afford as many comics as they could back in the day. And that’s a shame, considering how much the superhero genre appeals to them. I think it would be great if Marvel and DC heavily marketed their youth lines with very low price points, and accepted the low profit margins as a loss leader that would hook these readers, bringing future sales. This would, in my idealistic mind, attract more kids to read comics, leading to more young adults sticking with comics and reaching beyond the superhero genre, leading to more adults appreciating comics of all kinds and more adults making comics, leading to a better world for everyone.

That is my 20 year plan. What’s yours?
*I took the average of the CPI and the GDP Deflator results, those being the two best tools for determining commodity prices.

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For all you rich folks out there

If you have $4000 lying around, you can own a Todd McFarlane Spidey cover.

Shout out to Lawrence for the scoop.

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Filed under marvel, spider-man

ceebeegeebee at the racks, May 27 2007

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Annual #1: 😦 / 🙂 The big chunk of this book tells Sandman’s childhood backstory, and is almost entirely forgettable (As a kid, Flint Marko was obsessed with sand? Whodathunkit?). But at the back there’s a beautifully illustrated short story that Colleen Doran pencils. It’s almost worth the price of admission by itself.

newuniversal #6: 🙂 “Can someone tell me, in real simple words, exactly what is going on?” Not really, sorry. But I think I like it. I’m one of those who is somehow pre-disposed towards Warren Ellis’ style of writing. I enjoy most, though not all, of the comics he writes, and this one has me, despite itself. I don’t really have a firm grasp of the details, and the characters haven’t had time to really get developed, but I just get the feeling when I’m reading it that I’m reading Something Good.

I’m also enjoying the use of real-life models that Larocca has been employing for his characters. The most obvious ones are Bruce Willis as the cop, and James Cromwell as Voight, but wikipedia has a few guesses about the others, as well.

Fantastic Four #546: 🙂 I only know Dwayne McDuffie from the Justice League cartoon, but I love what he’s doing with Stan and Jack’s toybox. Black Panther has never been as cool as he is in this comic. And the frogs? My thoughts, summarized: Yes.

Hellblazer #232: 🙂 This is the first issue if Hellblazer I’ve read in a while, and I liked it.  Mike Carey’s Constantine never felt quite like the Constantine I know and love (Delano, Ennis) and I drifted away.  Diggle seems to have found the mark, though.  Leonardo Manco’s art is, as always, right on the money.  He always captures just the right mood.

Countdown #49: 😦 I’m not a huge fan of the down from 51 numbering, I gotta say.  As for the comic itself: mmmmeh.  Nothing’s happened yet to make me care about the rogues, nor Mary Marvel,  nor the Monitors…  So I basically have no interest in this comic.  I like Jimmy Olsen, but I don’t like the way that’s being handled, either.  It puzzles me a bit, because I enjoyed 52, and I enjoy Paul Dini, but this?

Maybe it would be better if they came right out and told us the Monitors were named Bob and Solomon.

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Rough Night Out

I came here, by way of here, by way of here, and found this:

  Plenty of other bizarre and wonderful things to be found.

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Why, John? Why?

At my local shop, perusing the trades, and I came across a Fantastic Four Visionaries volume by John Byrne. I’ve never really read anything by Byrne, but I’ve heard good things about his FF, so I flipped it open.

There is no God.

Sue Storm’s Mullet

Why would you give Sue Storm a mullet, John? Why would you do that? She’s a mother. She’s a role model. Why, for the love of all things, would you give her a &$%#ing mullet?

And his Johnny Storm had a pretty sh!tty haircut, too:

Johnny’s bad hair

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