One of my favorite regular columns is the monthly Comics College by Chris Mautner at Robot 6, hosted by Comic Book Resources. Each entry is a great introductory overview of what’s best to read from the great comic book masters and why they are so good, making this a fantastic source for newcomers or people who’ve always wanted to expand their reading. It also covers their lesser known work and stuff that maybe should be avoided.
The great part of the column is that it is looking at masters from all over the art form of comics. It’s not just superhero creators, or just alternative comics creators. It’s both those, as well as manga, newspaper strips, underground comics, euro-comics, comics journalism and more.
This month’s subject is the Norwegian cartoonist simply known as Jason. This prolific creator tells funny genre mash-ups with a deadpan economy of dialogue and understated emotion with characters struggling over love and guilt. Next month, George Herriman will be featured. His classic comic strip Krazy Kat is among the most highly regarded in the history of comics.
The Comics College column debuted in August 2009 and has covered the following comics masters past and present (click on the link to be taken to the column):
- Los Bros. Hernandez (Love and Rockets)
- Jack Kirby (The Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World)
- Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Phoenix)
- R. Crumb (Zap Comix, Book of Genesis)
- Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Mr. Punch)
- Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Acme Novelty Library)
- Lewis Trondheim (Dungeon, Little Nothings)
- Harvey Kurtzman (Mad Magazine, Frontline Combat)
- art spiegelman (Maus, In the Shadow of No Towers)
- Eddie Campbell (Alec: The Years Have Pants, The Fate of the Artist)
- Harvey Pekar (American Splendor, Our Cancer Year)
- Kim Deitch (The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Shadowland)
- Kevin Huizenga (Ganges, Curses)
- Hergé (Tintin)
- Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts)
- John Stanley (Little Lulu, Melvin Monster)
- Seth (George Sprott: 1894-1975, Wimbledon Green, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken)
- Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City)
- Joe Sacco (Safe Area Gorazde, Palestine)
- Jason (I Killed Adolf Hitler, Hey Wait…)
- George Herriman (Krazy Kat)
- Jack Cole (Plastic Man, Betsy and Me)
- Adrian Tomine (Summer Blonde, Scenes from an Impending Marriage)
- Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman, We3)
- Jessica Abel (La Perdida, Artbabe)
- Gabrielle Bell (Cecil and Jordan in New York, Lucky)
- Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, Zot!)
- Charles Burns (Black Hole, Big Baby, X’ed Out)
- Jacques Tardi (It Was the War of the Trenches, West Coast Blues)
- Phoebe Gloeckner (A Child’s Life, The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
- Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums)
- David B (Epileptic, Babel)
UPDATE: I’ll keep updating the list as new entries get posted.
Los Angeles comics publisher Boom! Studios has been releasing info on their re-branded Boom! Kids imprint this and last week, and the big news is the March release of the first Peanuts original graphic novel Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown as the debut title of kaboom! (formerly teased as Boom! Kids 2.0). (Click on the image to the right for a preview, which immediately sold me on the previously unthinkable idea of buying something Peanuts-related that wasn’t directly written and illustrated by the late Charles Schulz.)
Not to be confused with the Mexican comic book studio ¡Ka-Boom! Estudio or the short-lived 1990s comic book series by Jeph Loeb and Jeff Matsuda called Kaboom or the Texas comic book store KABOOM Comics or the Virginia Beach comic book store Kaboom Collectibles or the Australian comic book store Kaboom! Comics, Boom’s kaboom! will also include Snarked! by Roger Langridge, who recently wrapped up an excellent run creating The Muppet Show Comic Book, as well as a licensed comic based on the PBS Kids animated series Word Girl, and a French Star Wars parody imported as Space Warped. The line will also retain their classic Disney comics Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Mickey Mouse and Friends, Donald Duck and Friends, and Uncle Scrooge as well as the Disney Afternoon comics DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, and Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers. (Disney has decided to pull the comics based on Pixar movies such as The Incredibles, Cars and Toy Story in-house where Marvel Comics will publish Disney•Pixar Presents, a magazine currently slated to reprint the Boom!-produced stories.)
Boom! publisher Ross Richie spoke with Comic Book Resources about kaboom! and the Peanuts graphic novel, and I was struck by his explanation for why the re-named Boom! Kids. From that interview:
“We had theorized for a while that we need to change it up for two reasons: one, we were seeing adults apologizing at conventions for buying the kids’ comics for themselves, and we wanted to remove this barrier. Seeing women in their 20s at Emerald City Comicon say, ‘I know the Incredibles comic book is made for kids, but it looks awesome and I love the art and I’m buying it anyway’ — that ain’t right. Let’s remove the perceived barrier,” Richie explained.
“We also knew on the other end that kids that can buy with their own dollars — let’s say 8 year olds for instance — didn’t consider themselves kids, so they were not sparking to the name,” he continued. “A lot of our content is great for this age group, so let’s get rid of that barrier.
“And through the process, what we ended up seeing was that our organic desire as a publisher hewed more towards being ‘all ages’ than a strict ‘kids’ publisher. So why not reflect that? Why not show everyone that our focus is shifting and changing?
I think that realization and change is significant, and it’s smart of them to listen to this and act on it. Many of the strongest material for young readers is in fact enjoyable for a wider cross section of people. It’s why Pixar movies are so successful. It’s why many of the classic Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes cartoons are so timeless. They don’t just speak to a narrow demographic. (As an aside, DC Comics has been publishing Looney Tunes comics for years.)
It kind of ties in with part of a new interview conducted by colorist Chris Sotomayor (Captain America, Hulk) with comics writer Kurt Busiek (JLA/Avengers, Astro City) (via The Beat). In talking about what’s lacking in the comics industry, Busiek said, “What we’re doing wrong is that we’re putting so much of our energy trying to make comics that will keep the existing audience on board, by concentrating the thrills, the hype and the excitement in ways that make the work forbidding to newcomers. And at the same time, not doing enough outreach to new audiences.” He goes on to break down how to bring in new audiences:
The four-part mantra of how to reach a new target audience remains true: 1. Publish material they will like. 2. Publish it in a form they’ll be willing to pick up. 3. Distribute it to places they will see it. 4. Tell them it exists.
When we reach out to new audiences, we often do only one of the four — and sometimes none, and then complain that it’s not possible.
Fortunately Boom! is doing it differently (and there are others too). They get that speaking to the same narrow audience is death in the long term. There’s nothing wrong with being a cult hit or making a product for a very specific audience, but when the majority of a publishing line is developed with that approach, there can only be finite interest.
Those four steps should be plastered on every comics publishers walls.
Today in 1922, Charles Monroe Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He would grow up to create the comic strips “Li’l Folks” (1947-1949), “Peanuts” (1950-2000) and “It’s Only A Game” (1957-1959). “Peanuts” is what he’s widely remembered for, and what has influenced hundreds of artists. The popularity and international appeal of the strip’s characters was nearly without equal during its run. Out of respect for Schulz and his family’s wishes, United Feature Syndicate did not hire a replacement following Schulz’s retirement and subsequent death. For the last six years, the strip has been re-run in newspapers, still remaining one of the most popular and widely syndicated strips today. (Sources: Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, Wikipedia)
(Photo by Brian Lanker, from the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California.)