Blog Archives

New Comics for New Readers – May 8, 2013

Photo by Christopher Butcher

Photo by Christopher Butcher

Want to try reading comics? Don’t know where to start? Want to try something different?

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer spotlights up to three brand new releases worthy of your consideration. Sometimes we list more on really good weeks. All of these have been carefully selected as best bets for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before. They each highlight the variety and creativity being produced today. These are also great for those that haven’t read comics in awhile or regular readers looking to try something new.

While we can’t guarantee you’ll like what we’ve picked, we truly believe there’s a comic for everyone. If you like the images and descriptions below, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. You can often buy straight from the publishers or creators. If not, head over to your local comic book store, check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon, or download a copy at comiXology, or the comics and graphic novels sections of the Kindle Store or NOOK store. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology, ComicList.com and PREVIEWSworld.

(Please note these aren’t reviews. Recommendations are based on pre-release buzz, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)

BennyBreakiron1

Benny Breakiron in The Red Taxis by Peyo

Benny Breakiron Vol. 1: The Red Taxis
Written and illustrated by Peyo
Published by Papercutz
Genre: Humor, Adventure
Ages: 7+
64 pages
$11.99

Benny Breakiron is an honest, polite little boy with an an exceptional quality: he possesses superhuman strength, can leap over huge distances, and can run unbelievably fast! This little kid packs quite a punch, and he devotes his play time to stopping crime and injustice.

In this first volume, a new taxi service has moved into Benny’s town threatening to put Benny’s friend, taxi driver Mr. Dussiflard, out of business. The more Benny learns about the Red Taxi Company, the more he realizes something isn’t right. Who’s behind this mysterious enterprise, and just what are they up to? Benny aims to find out and put a stop to it once and for all, and hopefully keep the property damage to a minimum!

NothingCanPossiblyGoWrong

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Written by Prudence Shen
Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Published by First Second Books
Genre: Young Adult
Ages: 12+
288 pages
$16.99

You wouldn’t expect Nate and Charlie to be friends. Charlie’s the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. But they are friends, however unlikely—until Nate declares war on the cheerleaders. At stake is funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms—but not both.

It’s only going to get worse: after both parties are stripped of their funding on grounds of abominable misbehavior, Nate enrolls the club’s robot in a battlebot competition in a desperate bid for prize money. Bad sportsmanship? Sure. Chainsaws? Why not. Running away from home on Thanksgiving to illicitly enter a televised robot death match? Of course!

In Faith Erin Hicks’ and Prudence Shen’s world of high school class warfare and robot death matches, Nothing can possibly go wrong.

WillandWhit

Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge

Will & Whit
Written and illustrated by Laura Lee Gulledge
Published by Amulet Books
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Ages: 12+
192 pages
$12.95

Wilhelmina “Will” Huxstep is a creative soul struggling to come to terms with a family tragedy. She crafts whimsical lamps, in part to deal with her fear of the dark. As she wraps up another summer in her mountain town, she longs for unplugged adventures with her fellow creative friends, Autumn, Noel, and Reese. Little does she know that she will get her wish in the form of an arts carnival and a blackout, courtesy of a hurricane named Whitney, which forces Will to face her fear of darkness.

Laura Lee Gulledge’s signature visual metaphors will be on full display in this all-new graphic novel, a moving look at shedding light on the dark corners of life.

RedHanded

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes
Written and illustrated by Matt Kindt
Published by First Second Books
Genre: Crime
Ages: 14+
272 pages

Welcome to the city of Red Wheelbarrow, where the world’s greatest detective has yet to meet the crime he can’t solve—every criminal in Red Wheelbarrow is caught and convicted thanks to Detective Gould’s brilliant mind and cutting-edge spy technology.

But lately there has been a rash of crimes so eccentric and random that even Detective Gould is stumped. Will he discover the connection between the compulsive chair thief, the novelist who uses purloined street signs to write her magnum opus, and the photographer who secretly documents peoples’ most anguished personal moments? Or will Detective Gould finally meet his match?

Matt Kindt operates with wit and perception in the genre of hard-boiled crime fiction. Red Handed owes as much to Paul Auster as Dashiell Hammett, and raises some genuinely sticky questions about human nature.

YoureAllJustJealousOfMyJetback

You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld

You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack
Written and illustrated by Tom Gauld
Published by Drawn and Quarterly
Genre: Humor
Ages: 14+
160 pages
$19.95

A new collection from The Guardian and New York Times Magazine cartoonist

New York Times Magazine cartoonist Tom Gauld follows up his widely praised graphic novel Goliath with You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, a collection of cartoons made for The Guardian. Over the past eight years, Gauld has produced a weekly cartoon for the Saturday Review section of Britain’s most well regarded newspaper. Only a handful of comics from this huge and hilarious body of work have ever been printed in North America – exclusively within the pages of the prestigious Believer magazine.

You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack distils perfectly Gauld’s dark humor, impeccable timing, and distinctive style. Arrests by the fiction police and fictional towns designed by Tom Waits intermingle hilariously with piercing observations about human behavior and whimsical imaginings of the future. Again and again, Tom Gauld reaffirms his position as a first rank cartoonist, creating work infused with a deep understanding of both literary and cartoon history.

GoodRiddance

Good Riddance by Cynthia Copeland

Good Riddance
Written and illustrated by Cynthia Copeland
Published by Abrams ComicArts
Genre: Memoir
Ages: 16+
224 pages
$17.95

When you think you live in a Norman Rockwell painting—married 18 years, three kids, beautiful old house in the country, successful career as a writer—you don’t expect there’s another side to the canvas. Until you read a lovesick e-mail to your husband… that didn’t come from you!

Good Riddance is an honest and funny graphic memoir about suffering through and surviving divorce. Cynthia Copeland chronicles the deep pain, confusion, awkwardness, and breakthroughs she experiences in the “new normal” as a wife who’s been deceived, a mom who’s now single, a divorcée who’s dating, and a woman who’s on her own figuring out what she truly wants from her life. Copeland tells her story with an emotional candor and spot-on humor that makes Good Riddance poignant, painful, and hilarious all at once.

New Comics for New Readers – April 24, 2013

Photo by Christopher Butcher

Photo by Christopher Butcher

Want to try reading comics? Don’t know where to start? Want to try something different?

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer spotlights up to three (sometimes a little more on really good weeks) brand new releases worthy of your consideration. All of these have been carefully selected as best bets for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before. They each highlight the variety and creativity being produced today. These are also great for those that haven’t read comics in awhile or regular readers looking to try something new.

While we can’t guarantee you’ll like what we’ve picked, we truly believe there’s a comic for everyone. If you like the images and descriptions below, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. You can often buy straight from the publishers or creators. If not, head over to your local comic book store, check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon, or download a copy at comiXology, or the comics and graphic novels sections of the Kindle Store or NOOK store. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology, ComicList.com and PREVIEWSworld.

(Please note these aren’t reviews. Recommendations are based on pre-release buzz, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)

MarbleSeason

Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez

Marble Season
Written and illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Genre: Autobiography; Coming-of-Age
Ages: 12+
128 pages
$21.95

The untold coming-of-age story from a contemporary comics master

Marble Season is the all-new semiautobiographical novel by acclaimed cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez, author of the epic masterpiece Palomar, and co-creator of the groundbreaking Love and Rockets comic book series, along with his brothers Jaime and Mario. Marble Season is his first book with Drawn & Quarterly and one of the most anticipated books of 2013. It tells the untold stories from the American comics legends’ youth, but also portrays the reality of life in a large family in suburban 1960s California. Pop-culture references—TV shows, comic books, and music—saturate this evocative story of a young family navigating cultural and neighborhood norms set against the golden age of the American dream and the silver age of comics.

Middle child Huey stages Captain America plays and treasures his older brother’s comic book collection almost as much as his approval. Marble Season subtly and deftly details how the innocent, joyfully creative play children engage in (shooting marbles, staging backyard plays, and organizing treasure hunts) changes as they grow older and encounter name-calling naysayers, abusive bullies, and the value judgments of other kids. An all ages story, Marble Season masterfully explores the redemptive and timeless power of storytelling and role play in childhood, making it a coming-of-age story that is as resonant with the children of today as the children of the ’60s.

WhoIsAC

Who is AC? by Hope Larson and Tintin Pantoja

Who is AC?
Written by Hope Larson
Illustrated by Tintin Pantoja
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster
Genre: Fantasy; Superhero; Action/Adventure
Ages: 12+
176 pages
$21.99 (hardcover); $14.99 (paperback)

In this breakthrough graphic novel from the award-winning author of Mercury, there’s a new superhero in town—and she’s got kick-butt cyberpowers.

Meet Lin, a formerly average teenage girl whose cell phone zaps her with magical powers. But just as superpowers can travel through the ether, so can evil. As Lin starts to get a handle on her new abilities (while still observing her curfew!), she realizes she has to go head-to-head with a nefarious villain who spreads his influence through binary code. And as if that weren’t enough, a teen blogger has dubbed her an “anonymous coward!” Can Lin detect the cyber-criminal’s vulnerability, save the day, and restore her reputation?

With ingenious scripting from graphic novel phenom Hope Larson and striking art from manga illustrator Tintin Pantoja, this action-packed story brims with magical realism and girl-power goodness.

HowToFakeAMoonLanding

How to Fake a Moon Landing by Darryl Cunningham

How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial
Written and illustrated by Darryl Cunningham
Published by Abrams ComicArts
Genre: Non-Fiction
Ages: 12+
176 pages
$16.95

Is hydro-fracking safe? Is climate change real? Did the moon landing actually happen? How about evolution: fact or fiction? Author-illustrator Darryl Cunningham looks at these and other hot-button science topics and presents a fact-based, visual assessment of current thinking and research on eight different issues everybody’s arguing about. His lively storytelling approach incorporates comics, photographs, and diagrams to create substantive but easily accessible reportage. Cunningham’s distinctive illustrative style shows how information is manipulated by all sides; his easy-to-follow narratives allow readers to draw their own fact-based conclusions. A graphic milestone of investigative journalism!

Praise for How to Fake a Moon Landing:

“Cartoonist Darryl Cunningham… is a welcome voice, shedding some much needed light on the darker areas of science and culture… Cunningham does a remarkable job with difficult material and for high school students, just opening their eyes to the world around them, this is a terrific primer.” — ComicMix

Jerusalem

Jerusalem by Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi

Jerusalem: A Family Portrait
Written by Boaz Yakin
Illustrated by Nick Bertozzi
Published by First Second Books/Macmillan
Genre: Historical Fiction
Ages: 12+
400 pages
$24.99

Jerusalem is a sweeping, epic work that follows a single family—three generations and fifteen very different people—as they are swept up in chaos, war, and nation-making from 1940-1948. Faith, family, and politics are the heady mix that fuel this ambitious, cinematic graphic novel.

With Jerusalem, author-filmmaker Boaz Yakin turns his finely-honed storytelling skills to a topic near to his heart: Yakin’s family lived in Palestine during this period and was caught up in the turmoil of war just as his characters are. This is a personal work, but it is not a book with a political ax to grind. Rather, this comic seeks to tell the stories of a huge cast of memorable characters as they wrestle with a time when nothing was clear and no path was smooth.

New Comics for New Readers – April 10, 2013

Photo by Christopher Butcher

Photo by Christopher Butcher

Want to try reading comics? Don’t know where to start? Want to try something different?

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer spotlights up to three brand new releases worthy of your consideration. All of these have been carefully selected as best bets for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before. They each highlight the variety and creativity being produced today. These are also great for those that haven’t read comics in awhile or regular readers looking to try something new.

While we can’t guarantee you’ll like what we’ve picked, we truly believe there’s a comic for everyone. If you like the images and descriptions below, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. You can often buy straight from the publishers or creators. If not, head over to your local comic book store, check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon, or download a copy at comiXology, or the comics and graphic novels sections of the Kindle Store or NOOK store. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology, ComicList.com and PREVIEWSworld.

(Please note these aren’t reviews. Recommendations are based on pre-release buzz, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)

Unico

Unico by Osamu Tezuka

Unico
Written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka
Published by Digital Manga Publishing
Genre: Fantasy
Ages: 6+
410 pages
$34.95

With love, anything’s possible

A little unicorn named Unico lives with his mistress Psyche, bringing her happiness and good fortune in return for her unconditional love. The goddess Venus, however, grows jealous of Psyche’s legions of admirers and flings Unico across time and space! When he awakens, he’s facing down mean buffalo in the American West, with no memory of Psyche or his past life.

It’s the first of many exciting adventures that will bring Unico face to face with high society in Imperial Russia, characters from fairy tales and Shakespeare, and even an automated factory intent on blotting out the sun.

Straight from the mind of Osamu Tezuka, internationally beloved creator of Astro Boy and Buddha, the entire three volume series of Unico has been collected into one astounding 400 page omnibus edition. Presented in its original full color format, Unico is a magical series of adorable and thought-provoking adventures that’s the perfect first manga to read with the little ones, as well as an absolute necessity for any manga enthusiast.

Relish

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
Written and illustrated by Lucy Knisley
Published by First Second Books/Macmillan
Genre: Memoir, Cookbook
Ages: 14+
192 pages
$17.99

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy’s original inventions.

A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a graphic novel for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.

PointOfImpact

Point of Impact by Jay Faerber and Koray Kuranel

Point of Impact
Written by Jay Faerber
Illustrated by Koray Kuranel
Published by Image Comics
Genre: Mystery, Crime
Ages: 16+
pages
$14.99

A gripping, provocative murder mystery from acclaimed writer Jay Faerber and stunning artist Koray Kuranel begins with one woman’s murder and branches out to follow the investigation by three people with personal connections to her: her husband, an investigative reporter; her lover, an ex-soldier; and her friend, a homicide detective. Her death will change all of their lives.

Dig Comics: Underwater

Columnist Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, looks at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

With so many great artists taking me in so many directions to new worlds and places, often so far from the mundane scenarios which can readily make it seem to the casual outsider that there is but one reason comics are made, I find myself bumping into unintended genres. In recent months and years, I have unwittingly been subject to a variety of stories by very different and distinct artists who have led me into universes beneath the oceans and rivers of the world. And while fantasy is key in these tales, the tenor of these works are anything but children’s tales. They navigate from the deeply self-reflective, to dangerous psychedelic tides and onto the very abyss of desire. Yet I will group these comics here today, and others too, as perhaps examples of Subaquatic Sequentials.

Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel

Most recently, I doused myself in Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson, which I believe is the first major comics work by artist Mark Siegel. When not serving as editorial director of the graphic novel publisher First Second Books, he has worked largely illustrating and writing children’s books. But don’t let your kids read this one! An absolutely charming tale of a late 19th century river boat captain who runs pleasure steamboats up and down the Hudson River from New York City to Albany, and his entanglement with a mermaid. Far from a Little Mermaid princess piece, this book is about desire, lust, selfishness and the mermaid involved is a scary monster straight from the original mythology. Illicit affairs, intrigue, mysterious figures, feverish lust, and restless drowned souls are interwoven in this lurid tale with more twists and turns than a school of guppies running from trout. Siegel’s art blends atmospheric brooding expressionism with the simple lines and chalky finish of some antiquated children’s book, giving the protagonist outlandishly round eyes almost spinning with emotional emphasis. A real page-turner, Sailor Twain is equal parts horror, thriller, mystery and soap opera. See for yourself, you can read preview chapters at the Sailor Twain website.

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

The next seahorse in this trio of tub-dunkers comes from the far more established Jeff Lemire, an award-winning cartoonist known for the graphic novel Essex County and the graphic novel series Sweet Tooth. The Underwater Welder continues wading in Lemire’s preferred theme, that of human isolation. Ostensibly a ghost story with Twilight Zone type features, the heart of the tale is that of a man who actively seeks separation from his history and obligations, expressed graphically in his drive to dive, dive deep, and stay down there. It’s the perfect motif for those trying to escape the frightening responsibilities adulthood bestow upon people, albeit under the massive pressure of one’s own conscience. As always, Lemire’s moody lines populate landscapes, faces and even sea life with reflections of despair and world-weariness. While this keeps the whole tale painfully human, it is seamlessly blended with supernatural elements which sometimes make the parallel narratives purposefully blurred, like life as seen beneath the waves. A little on the bleak side, like most of Lemire’s work, any serious lover of serious drama will not be left wanting.

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier

Finally, a book that’s a little older, but I think sailed under too many people’s radars. The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier seems in the title to buck the genre I am peddling here. And while it is true that of the three, this story spends the least time underwater, this one probably does the best job of filling my head with wonder, having my eyeballs ponder what may lie beneath. Considered a children’s comic, I think the book is kinda scary and harsh. Walker Bean is basically a nerdy pirate wannabe, inhabiting a quasi-Victorian world not quite like ours, where seemingly anachronistic technologies cohabitate with a rich world of witches, magical creatures and bizarre machines. Hurled into a plot to save his grandfather’s soul, Renier offers a vision that feels like a French ’60s children’s adventure comic with rich images bordering on the hallucinogenic and arcane. This isn’t a cutesy-fuzzy kids fest. The book is filled with real danger. Monsters really eat people, souls can really be lost to endless torment, villains play for keeps and most adults are creepy, stupid and treacherous. And yet the color palate is like Christmas tree lights in a foggy bog. Something warm and alluring cuts through the dark waters and wicked skies. Walker Bean is marvelous good fun, which not only will satisfy the fantasy fan, but stir something deep in the strongest hearts – the revived belief that we really don’t know what’s down there. Except now we do.

I think all three authors are acutely aware of their overarching metaphor. Some say that when you dream of being underwater, that it’s symbolic of immersing yourself in your emotions. Whether the effect is the sensation of drowning, of being overwhelmed, or of freedom and exploration, the evocation trickles throughout literature and art. I might put all three of these books in the fantasy section, but not wholeheartedly, as each occupies its own space on the shelf. Unless you are ready to file all three under the shelf, under the floorboards, down until they are wet and enveloped. Together they swim through my mind and if you’re going to dip your toes, I wager you can easily sail from one to the other without feeling the slightest disruption – and never get bored.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read more of Miguel’s comic book recommendations.

3 New Comics for New Readers – April 11, 2012

A funny adventure for young readers starring a young giant-slayer with a lack of giants, a fascinating look at two sisters growing up in New York’s Lower East Side in the early 1900s, and a classic super-hero story from the ’70s – check out our picks for this week’s new releases.

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer picks three brand new releases worth checking out that should be suitable for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before.

If you like what you see here, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. Then head to your local comic book store, or check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado

Giants Beware!
Written by Jorge Aguirre
Illustrated by Rafael Rosado
Published by First Second Books / Macmillan
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
$14.99

Make way for Claudette the giant slayer in this delightful, fantastical adventure! Claudette’s fondest wish is to slay a giant. But her village is so safe and quiet! What’s a future giant slayer to do?

With her best friend Marie (an aspiring princess), and her brother Gaston (a pastry-chef-to-be), Claudette embarks on a super-secret quest to find a giant-without parental permission. Can they find and defeat the giant before their parents find them and drag them back home?

Giants Beware! offers up a wondrous, self-contained world in the tradition of the very best of Pixar. Claudette and her friends will have you laughing out loud from page one.

Unterzakhn by Leela Corman

Unterzakhn
Written and illustrated by Leela Corman
Published by Schoken Books / Random House
Genre: Historical Fiction / Jewish Studies
208 pages
$24.95

A mesmerizing, heartbreaking graphic novel of immigrant life on New York’s Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of twin sisters whose lives take radically and tragically different paths.

For six-year-old Esther and Fanya, the teeming streets of New York’s Lower East Side circa 1910 are both a fascinating playground and a place where life’s lessons are learned quickly and often cruelly. In drawings that capture both the tumult and the telling details of that street life, Unterzakhn (Yiddish for “Underthings”) tells the story of these sisters: as wide-eyed little girls absorbing the sights and sounds of a neighborhood of struggling immigrants; as teenagers taking their own tentative steps into the wider world (Esther working for a woman who runs both a burlesque theater and a whorehouse, Fanya for an obstetrician who also performs illegal abortions); and, finally, as adults battling for their own piece of the “golden land,” where the difference between just barely surviving and triumphantly succeeding involves, for each of them, painful decisions that will have unavoidably tragic repercussions.

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga
Written by Chris Claremont
Illustrated by John Byrne
Published by Marvel Comics
Genre: Superhero Fantasy
200 pages
$24.99

An epic tale of triumph and tragedy! When the Dark Phoenix rises, suns grow cold and universes die! The X-Men embark on an adventure that will span the cosmos as one of their own, Jean Grey, has unwittingly attained power beyond conception – and been corrupted, absolutely.

The X-Men must decide: Is the life of the woman they cherish worth the existence of an entire universe? This touching tale of ultimate power and the triumph of the human spirit has been a cornerstone of the X-Men mythos for more than three decades.

Now, relive the Dark Phoenix Saga with this deluxe collection, bursting at the seams with extra stories that illuminate new and different facets of the world of the Phoenix!

Dig Comics: Whither Inspiration?

Guest contributor Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, begins a new series of essays looking at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

I’ve spent most of my professional life working on the business side of things. There’s plenty of “conventional wisdom” you will find repeated. One of the biggest refrains you will hear is “stick to what works” along with the time-honored “go for the lowest hanging fruit” admonition, which in some ways seems kinda, I don’t know – dirty? When you look at the comic book market in the United States of America today, you can be sure these same sorts of creeds echo wildly within the vaunted halls of the two corporations which control 70% of the market. Marvel and DC surely have been practicing this sort of stalwart capitalism approach to their respective properties long before Time Warner or Disney entered the scene. It’s been known for a long time that using the go-to legacy characters to frontline your product armadas is the surest way to keep the lights on. But what’s funny is that were it not for risk and a trust of the artist rather than fallback to formula, neither Superman nor Spider-Man would even be with us right now.

The well-known back stories for many of the greatest superhero characters is often the same. You had a flailing company or a starving artist simply FORCED into innovation by intense need. You can see the creators of old gumshoeing their way from meeting to meeting in New York, overstuffed portfolios in hand (loose pages bursting out the sides), wondering if they’ll have to paint a barn next week just to make rent. Or you could take the legendary image of the furniture being repossessed from the publisher’s office as a handful of geniuses tap the inner depths of their creative spirit and issue forth entire mythologies to be as enduring as Aphrodite and Gilgamesh, saving the company from ruin in the same stroke. The bean-counters could never have made any of these true-life tales happen: a trust of the artist to really innovate was necessary.

Gilgamesh cries for comics

Sure, in the scenarios above, there’s this element of desperation, of necessity being the mother of inspiration. But funny enough, one of the most successful purveyors of modern mythology actually used success to fuel an ever-evolving artistry – and his most important role wasn’t as an artist. Walt Disney was far more the manager behind the scenes than an animator. And he had true vision. Rather than make every single movie after Steamboat Willie about Mickey Mouse and his little gang of friends, he always was sure to promote new properties, worked on by new artists who would take his company to the next level. That tradition has largely stayed alive to this day in the company. Of course, Mickey still makes the company a lot of money. But every couple of years, we have whole new worlds introduced to us, be it Peter Pan or Dumbo during Disney’s lifetime, or Beauty and the Beast or Toy Story in the more modern era. I doubt that Disney could have grown significantly had it stayed perched in one little pantheon of never-ending and continuous characters, relegated to one genre, targeting just one audience group. Such a business model would even contradict “conventional wisdom” – don’t ya think?

Lois Lane cries for comics

Well, by now you know my punch line – this is PRECISELY how Marvel and DC do most of their business. The scheme is simple: keep pimping the capes to the same aging comics fans and call that an industry. I guess it works in terms of market share. But it’s a losing game in the long term, as seen by the ever-declining readership much lamented these past 15 or so years. Not that they need to worry much. I mean, are Marvel and DC really comic book companies any more? One may not be blamed for pondering that perhaps now, they are more brand managers for licensing carefully crafted empires based on the iconic rosters of the beloved in their respective stables. All the continuity and/or reboots are meant to keep the base calm while experimenting with how to manage which character’s evolution to ensure the greatest market share possible. As such, we face another often-lamented paradox, Marvel and DC are what’s keeping the comics business alive, even while they sort of ensure a decline due to inbreeding. After all, Superman, Phoenix, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America and so on can really only “die” so many times before anybody even paying a little attention realizes, this industry has been reduced to running on transparent gimmickry, offering less and less as time goes on by way of a compelling story or revolutionary art. In the long run, this will turn into a huge net loss of readers, if not an overall decline of the industry itself.

Rather than seem pessimistic about the future of American comics, I would make the simple suggestion that all of you who are either long-time comic book fans losing interest in the stuff coming out, or those of you interested in comics but can’t cut through the impenetrable pitfalls of pointless universe continuity, try to find comics ELSEWHERE. There are plenty of them. There are so many great creators out there working hard, I blush in the embarrassment of riches we have at hand. There is a whole world out there of fantastic stories and art just bursting to be noticed and superheroes are just the beginning. There is horror, drama, humor, history. There is high art, surrealism, crime thrillers, and political commentary. Comics are just like the movies and literature and TV and music – there’s ALL SORTS of different types of stuff out there. There are artists who belong on museum walls next to Van Gough, Picasso and Rembrandt. There are entire publishing companies dedicated to giving singular artists the opportunity to realize unique visions, banking on the creative drive, rather than simply handing out operating manuals for 70-year old characters. Innovation is not dead, and it doesn’t need to rely upon – nor be deterred by – economic considerations.

Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire

So what’s my point? Well, I wanted to expose a problem, the decline of comics readership in America, and towards fixing that problem, I have a set of requests.

First, I would ask all my fellow long-time comics fans to leave their comfort zones and support alternative comics companies, artists, writers, and especially GENRES. It’s so odd: a film buff is likely to see all sorts of movies, yet the comics fan by and large sticks to just one paradigm – guys in tights beating each other up. When you go to the movies, you are as likely to watch The Lord of the Rings, Harold and Kumar, and Inglorious Basterds as you are to see Thor, Green Lantern, and Iron Man. So start small – check out some other fantasy books, some humor comics, maybe even a war story. Move that loyal weekly dollar from demanding the same crap over and over to a fresh surprise every Wednesday. I’ve been doing it for years, and it’s been richly rewarding. And yes, I still buy superhero comics from time to time, so I am not saying go cold turkey, just cut back and try some spinach for once, humans cannot live on Twinkies alone.

Second, I would ask anyone remotely interested in giving comic books a try, but are turned off by the likes of Wolverine and The Dark Knight to seek out alternative comics. Where to find them? Well, that’s easy if you know where to look. Starting small, I would visit the websites of comics publishers that aren’t Marvel and DC. Don’t know any? Here’s a small sampler to start with: Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Top Shelf, First Second, NBM, Archaia, BOOM!, PictureBox and Gestalt all come immediately to mind. Just looking at the list now, I see human drama, history, vampires, alternate superheroes, kids comics, true crime and even licensed material from the worlds of TV, film and literature. You could also try your local comic book store – but try and find the largest, best serviced one in your area (most “regular” shops won’t even carry a lot of this stuff, just the supes). Also, if you like what you see on the publisher’s websites, you can use Amazon’s suggestion generator to find comics you may also like.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent by Brubaker & Phillips

My last request is to Marvel and DC. For god’s sake, would you just make comic books again? Would you let more new artists create more new worlds and use your considerable resources to reach out to more new readers? Would you please end the superhero fan regime? Yes, there are exceptions to your practices. DC’s Vertigo line has offered a plethora of non-superhero works by some terrific artists. And Marvel’s Icon line has allowed some established artists to really strut their stuff unconstrained by the machinations of the superhero continuity. But great works like Jeff Lamire’s Sweet Tooth and Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips’s Criminal aren’t exactly selling like hot cakes. Yet they should. Fostering works like these will manifest an image of a company to be trusted with the innovative choices it makes, just as a major studio can be a seal of quality come Oscar time. Take some chances, ladies and gentlemen of that world – act like the superheroes whose temple you worship upon. Cultivating an environment of inspiration is not just a great thing to do for the world of art, it will also turn out to be good business.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read Miguel’s comic book recommendations.

Comics Publishers Come Out in Support of Dangerous Online Piracy Bill

Happy Holidays, everyone. Now stop using the internet. That appears to be the message from a number of comics publishers, however unintentional.

On Thursday, December 22, the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, chaired by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), released a list of supporters of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). This bill is an attempt by lawmakers to address intellectual property security concerns on the internet. However, it has been flagged by various organizations and individuals for going too far, giving broad power without due process, limiting free speech and discouraging technical innovation. Graphic Policy has a great summary of the bill’s weaknesses and how it relates to the comic book industry. Some are claiming it could cripple social sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Tumblr, along with thousands of harmless fan-sites and any other sites sharing their IP addresses.

Among the corporations and organizations listed as supporters of SOPA are the following comic book and graphic novel publishers:

Also included is the Association of American Publishers, which counts DC Comics, Disney Publishing and more among their members.

As we come out of the holidays, many of these organizations might have to start responding to a vocal outpouring of concern among customers and partners, and in some cases, threats of organized boycotts.

There has been considerable push back already, and from public pressure some organizations have dropped their support of SOPA. The Graphic Artists Guild has retracted their support, stating “We are concerned that the bill may have unintended consequences that may do more harm than good.” They also added that they “have not spent a dime on any lobbyist in Congress for this bill”. The largest domain name registrar GoDaddy faced massive threats of boycotts, and has also reversed their position. Time will tell if more will shift their support.

(via Graphic Policy)

Best Comics of 2011 – A List of Lists for the Listophiles

Whether published as comic books, graphic novels, manga, web comics, digital comics, or some other form of sequential art, comics published this year continues a fantastic renaissance in the art form that brings more creativity and innovation. Barely able to contain their excitement, several outlets have already released their lists for the year’s best. And since we’re now knee deep in the holiday shopping season, let’s see what has won the attention of critics and reviewers in 2011.

I’ll add to the list as more are released. Check out the artists own webpages and check out the publisher links for more info on each book. Select quotes are taken from the site/publication, visit each for more.

First, here are some Black Friday shopping guides that are still worth consulting and will no doubt influence those site’s final Best Of lists:

Also of note is the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs blog sending out an open call for nominations for this year’s Best Webcomics. Let me know if I’ve missed a Best Of list worth reading. OK, on with the lists!

Amazon.ca – Best Books of 2011: Comics & Graphic Novels (published November 28, 2011) [mostly the same as Amazon.com's list below except for 4 items]

Zahra's Paradise by Amir & Khalil

Publishers Weekly – Best Books 2011: Comics (published November 7, 2011)

“An Iranian blogger goes missing and his family enters a hellish twilight zone of obfuscation in a story that captures the uncertainty of living under religious dogma.”

Host of NPR’s On the Media, Gladstone uses a cartoon persona to take the reader on a thoughtful and entertaining excursion through the history of the media from ancient Rome to the rise of digital technology.

“In this epic work of science fiction, Rachel Grosvenor, an outcast in a world ruled by a complex network of clans, looks to find a place for herself by attempting to join a very exclusive clan.”

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Amazon.com – Best Books of 2011: Comics & Graphic Novels (published November 8, 2011)

Habibi, Craig Thompson’s intricate and moving fairy tale about familial and romantic love, one’s relationship to their environment, the shared roots of Christianity and Islam, and the effects of industrial modernization, tops our list of the best Comics & Graphic Novels of 2011.”

The New York Times – Holiday Gift Guide: 100 Notable Books of 2011 (published November 21, 2011)

“In this capacious, metaphysically inclined graphic novel, a flock of finches act out Nilsen’s unsettling comic vision about the food chain, fate and death.”

Read It: The War At Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

Private school is where to go for the best education, right? That’s what Juniper thinks. Her hard work has won her a scholarship to the prestigious Ellsmere Academy where she’ll finally be able to surround herself in studies and like-minded intellectuals that get along. Well… not quite.

The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks is a perfect graphic novel for pre-teen or teenage girls. The book has a fresh tone that doesn’t take itself too seriously but doesn’t shortchange the characters’ emotional states. There’s humor but it’s grounded in the story, which expertly captures childhood dynamics among girls. There’s also a little hint of fantasy but it’s used sparingly and imaginatively.

Jun is instantly likable. She has a tough, cool exterior but it’s clear she’s worried she’s made a mistake going to private school. The cast is kept small, and everyone retains a unique look and voice, instantly recognizable. From the cover, Hicks’ art initially appears to have a Scott Pilgrim vibe to it, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s doing her own thing and doing it so well because she’s always serving the story. You always know how Jun is feeling because of her strong command of portraying facial expressions and body language – clearly, honestly. Her environments are so consistent, you never drop out of the story. It’s all so effortless and charming.

If you like that, check out Hicks’ current webcomic Friends With Boys, a fascinating tale about a girl entering public school after being raised home schooled her whole life. Once the entire story gets serialized online, it’ll be published as a graphic novel by the excellent publisher First Second Books, likely sometime in February 2012. Judging from what’s up now, it may surpass The War At Ellsmere.

Faith also has a sillier webcomic called The Adventures of Superhero Girl that updates every Tuesday. It’s also published in the free alt-weekly newspaper The Coast, published out of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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