Turn on the news or check online news sites, and you’re bound to see coverage of Occupy Wall Street, a series of demonstrations protesting corporate influence over our culture’s systems of government and finance. It’s essentially a reaction to what is perceived as class warfare perpetuated by a significant minority of powerful individuals and institutions (referred to as the 1%). (So much media coverage is focused on protracted confusion at the movement’s purpose, so in case you’d like to know more, Rolling Stone has an editorial by Matt Taibbi that gets into it deeper, and of course there’s always never-wrong Wikipedia.)
Whether you think the movement is just a bunch of lazy hippies or a crusade against big banks, it’s got people’s attention. Over 100 cities in the US have local versions of Occupy Wall Street, and more than 1500 have popped up in cities around the world. This has not gone unnoticed by the world of comics.
Occupy Comics is an anthology currently raising funds for the movement through a Kickstarter campaign. Coordinated by writer/director Matt Pizzolo (Godkiller), the comics will first be released as digital comics and individual comic book issues, and then collected and reprinted as a hard cover graphic novel. All creators and production staff have agreed to donate their salary to Occupy Wall Street to help pay for supplies during the winter months. An impressive line-up of comics creators have already committed to contribute, such as The Walking Dead‘s Charlie Adlard, 30 Days of Night‘s Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joshua Hale Fialkov (Tumor, I, Vampire), and Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School founder Molly Crabapple. From the Kickstarter page:
This book is intended to be a time capsule of the passions and emotions driving the movement. We are comic book & graphic novel artists and writers who’ve been inspired by the movement and hope to tell the stories of the people who are out there putting themselves at risk for an idea. What is that idea? Most of the media will tell you the idea is a vague and befuddled mess, but movements don’t coalesce around vague, befuddled messes. We hope that through the medium of comics we can share some of the ideas and experiences driving this movement.
All of the writers, artists, business executives, and the publisher are being paid to produce this book… and they ALL are donating 100% of their revenue (not profits, but ALL monies they receive) to the occupiers. They want to support the movement through the winter by providing warm clothes, heaters and bathrooms if possible, and other amenities.
One of the anthology’s contributors is Susie Cagle, a comics journalist who has provided non-fiction comics for McSweeney’s, Alternet, Truthout and other publications. She has been attending one of the west coast versions, Occupy Oakland. As a member of the press, she has a bright orange press badge visibly hanging from her neck. Despite this, she has twice been swept up in aggressive police action, once getting hit with tear gas, and once getting arrested along with other press and legal observers. Occupy Oakland has been one of the more unstable Occupy sites, perhaps most notably when Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, a former Marine and member of Veterans for Peace, suffered a fractured skull when he was hit by a projectile apparently fired by the Oakland police. During Susie Cagle’s 15-hour detainment at two different jails, she witnessed mistreatment of arrested protesters by the Oakland police. She was charged with failure to leave the scene of a riot and was instructed not to return to the demonstrations until her December 5th hearing or she will be charged with a felony. She plans on returning to continue work on an illustrated history of Occupy Oakland.
Of course, not everyone is supportive of Occupy Wall Street. Frank Miller, once a vocal supporter of creator rights (he was among the first to join in an attempt by comics artists and writers to unionize in 1978) and unafraid to call out corporations on their greed and poor treatment of comics creators (Miller was a vocal supporter of Jack Kirby’s efforts to regain his original artwork from Marvel Comics). But after 9/11, he was was seemingly reborn as a devout supporter of the War on Terror above all other concerns. His most recent release, Holy Terror, is a wish-fulfillment of a Batman-esque superhero crushing the terrorist organization Al Qaeda and it has been met with criticisms of anti-Islamism. In response, Miller admitted that he knows “squat about Islam”, but this hasn’t stopped him from criticizing the entire religion and populace of the Middle East on terrorist extremism. So it isn’t entirely surprising that he posted to his website last week a rant against the Occupy Wall Street movement, stating that participants should instead enlist to help the War of Terror.
“Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.
Speaking of nostalgia, that “harm America” argument is the same one used to discourage Vietnam War protesters and other Woodstock-era demonstrations, including the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
For a response to Miller’s statement in comics form, see this special edition of Ty Templeton’s Bun Toons web-comic, which observes that “it was an oddly out-of-touch moment to tie the ‘War on Terror’ to a clichéd list of old school anti-hippie slurs” to a rather pointed caricature of Miller.
It’s been a rough first month of 2011 for comics in general, with good and not-so-good news turning heads throughout the industry as the times continue to change. There’s been some adjusting locally too.
Top Cow Productions, a partner studio of Image Comics, announced during my week of computer meltdown that a reorganization has taken place. The LA-based publisher will consolidate its resources to more closely rely and coordinate with Image’s central office in Berkeley. From the press release: “Image Central will work more closely with Top Cow to coordinate production, marketing and sales efforts in much the same way it already does for the other Image partners.” Publisher Filip Sablik stressed that Top Cow would retain their editorial freedom. Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat looked into this further here and here.
While the hope is that Top Cow will be able to benefit from some of the successes Image has seen recently, such as The Walking Dead‘s continual rise in popularity thanks to the AMC TV show and new hits like Chew and Morning Glories, it doesn’t mean good times for everyone. Unfortunately some people from Top Cow were let go to eliminate new redundancies from the closer partnership, such as PR and Marketing Coordinator Christine Dinh, Director of Sales and Marketing Atom Freeman and Editor/Designer Phil Smith. Freeman, an award-winning retailer who co-owns the comics shop Brave New World Comics in Newhall, was hired as Direct Market Liason last summer and promoted to Director of Sales and Marketing this past October. No word yet on what’s next for Dinh and Smith, although at least Smith is helping with the transition. Sablik has stated that now other layoffs are planned. At Image Comics, PR and Marketing Coordinator Betsy Gomez has been replaced by Sarah deLaine.
Top Cow President Matt Hawkins bluntly told The Beat, “There’s going to be more consolidation (like Image and Top Cow) and some people won’t be around in a couple years”.
Just prior to that news, Top Cow announced they had signed artist Jeremy Haun (Detective Comics) to an exclusive contract. Haun, who has worked on Top Cow’s Alibi and Berserker, has been assigned to The Darkness with writer Phil Hester, one of Top Cow’s biggest properties. The book was a massive seller in the ’90s where it had a record-selling 11 variant covers for a single issue. Haun will also have the ability to develop new original properties. On his site, he explained that the contract goes into effect February 2011 (so, tomorrow). In explaining the reasons for his decision, after being a freelance artist for years, he said, “The major ones where working as a regular artist on a continuing series and almost more importantly, being able to develop my own concepts.” As he points out, Haun has written Narcoleptic Sunday for Oni Press and a story in Image’s award-winning Comic Book Tattoo anthology based on the music of Tori Amos, so he does have some writer chops. And more original creator-owned comics is always a good thing in my book.
Top Cow Productions started in 1992 as the studio for Image Comics co-founder and partner Marc Silvestri. Throughout the decade, they grew a line of successful fantasy comics like The Darkness, Witchblade and others guided by Silvestri’s distinct art style that defined the look of the publisher for many readers. The publisher has struggled to shake that perception over the last ten years, and have been pushing their attention to more creator-owned books such as the new thriller Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal, and the upcoming supernatural noir Netherworld by co-writers Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin, and artist Tony Shasteen. Hill and Levin have both worked for Top Cow in the past, last collaborating together on Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box. MTV’s Geek News has a preview of Netherworlds.
Today, we look at comics publisher Archaia Comics. Originally set up as a banner for the self-publishing efforts of writer/artist Mark Smylie and his high fantasy series Artesia, it expanded into a full on publisher in the middle of this past decade, launching the anthropomorphic fantasy series Mouse Guard by David Petersen to much acclaim. More comics were announced until the young publisher seemed to become overwhelmed by its own plans, almost completely grinding production to a halt. It appeared as if Archaia was going to be another in a long line of comics publishers who have abruptly vanished. Then came news of the acquisition of Archaia by Chicago-based media company Kunoichi. For a time this didn’t seem to change anything, but then Archaia came back. In the past year, they have firmly landed on solid ground and proved themselves to be a dependable publisher of quality comics and graphic novels, with an eye to innovation in the digital comics space. Read the rest of this entry
My post on Monday about innovative experiments with digital comics doesn’t mean I don’t love me some dead tree comics. Print still has a lot to offer but digital means that the physical version has to step it up and offer more. Fortunately there are some good examples out there.
As a counter-point to the Johnny Cash digital graphic novel with soundtrack, there is BB Wolf and the Three L.P.’s by JD Arnold and Richard Koslowski from Top Shelf Productions. It can be purchased with a 7-song CD, BB Wolf and the Howlers: The Lost Recordings. The graphic novel spins 1920s race tension with the Three Little Pigs fairy tale. The CD brings the music of the titular blues singing main character to life, which is a very cool way to eliminate the guess work of what the music of a fictional character from a silent medium sounds like. You can also get the limited edition BB Wolf Box Set, which includes the graphic novel, the CD and a wooden box with laser engraved art on the cover and 2 shot glasses for that authentic hard-drinking blues effect.
Creating such an experience that goes beyond the pages is a compelling way to make it still matter to have print and physical product. But it doesn’t have to be about creating ancillary material. Savvy creators and publishers can find ways to have their published material be an aesthetic extension of the world they have created.
Fantagraphics Books has always excelled at this. C. Tyler‘s You’ll Never Know, both Book I: A Good and Decent Man and the new release Book II: Collateral Damage, are designed to look like scrap books or photo albums, inside and out. A visually powerful choice that is incredibly appropriate since the story centers on a woman trying to piece together her reticent father’s wartime past.
Last year, DC Comics published Wednesday Comics, an anthology of superhero and adventure stories printed on large broadsheet newsprint that folded out to 14″ x 20″ pages, approximately double the size of modern comic book pages. Reminiscent of the old Sunday comics pages from the first half of the 1900′s, it was a kick to see Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman and other characters in this retro format that pre-dated nearly all of them.
There are a lot of other good examples. Some publishers, like Archaia Entertainment and Drawn & Quarterly, just have consistently great design sense in their print publications. Tumor, by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon, started its life as a digital graphic novel on the Amazon Kindle, but has ended up being a great looking physical product. Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library books (and really any of his books) are always intricately stunning.
So sure, digital comics are the future. But that doesn’t automatically mean print comics have to be relegated to the past. There are still new and creative ways to make an appealing print comic book or graphic novel. As the ratio of print to digital finds its level ground, it will be up to creators and publishers to make products in both realms that are compelling and worth a reader’s investment.
Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?
Here’s some brand new stuff coming out this week that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.
Disclaimer: While it may seem like it, I do not live in the future. For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.
The talked-about hit Batman story by modern master Frank Miller (BATMAN: YEAR ONE, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS) and artists extraordinaire Jim Lee and Scott Williams (BATMAN, SUPERMAN) is now available in softcover format! Lee and Miller join forces to tell a new version of Dick Grayson’s origin in a high-octane tale that unfolds with guest appearances by Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Black Canary and more! This volume collects issues #1-9 of the explosive series! Plus a Jim Lee sketchbook and a variant cover gallery.
This is either a train wreck or a satire that actually got away with using the source material it is satirizing. Or it’s Frank Miller either completely losing it or giving Batman fans the biggest middle finger ever. Or some combination therein. Very tempting.
It’s not as if one decides to wake up one day, argue existentialism with livestock, and fly a spaceship to the center of the galaxy to meet, greet –and eat – God. It just sort of happens. At least it does in the world ofGoats, the cult-hit webcomic wherein a clutch of brave if baffled barflies (including humans, chickens, and a cyborg goldfish) hit the interdimensional bricks to save the multiverse from certain doom kicked off by a cosmic computer glitch. You can’t make this stuff up–unless you’re one of the monkeys tapping on infinite typewriters who controls all reality. You’ll see…
The acclaimed graphic novelist Jason returns with his most eagerly awaited book yet, thanks to the inclusion of the title story, the world’s first (and likely last) chess western, originally serialized in 2008 in the New York Times Sunday Magazine “Funny Pages” section.
This 216-page hardcover book features five yarns — all brand new with the exception of the aforementioned “Low Moon,” which is collected into book form for the first time.
The new stories lead off with “Emily Says Hello,” a typically deadpan Jason tale of murder, revenge and sexual domination. Then, the wordless “&” tells two tales at once: one about a skinny guy trying to steal enough money to save his ill mother, and the other about a fat guy murderously trying to woo his true love. The reason we follow these two parallel stories becomes obvious only on the very last page, in Jason’s inimitable genre-mashing style.
“Early Film Noir” can best be described as The Postman Always Rings Twice meets Groundhog Day. But starring cavemen. And finally, “You Are Here” features alien kidnappings, space travel, and the pain and confusion of family ties, culminating in an enigmatic finale that rivals Jason’s greatest twists.
Funny, poignant, and wry, Low Moon shows one of the world’s most acclaimed graphic novelists at the absolute peak of his powers.
Don’t let the use of anthropomorphics fool you into thinking this is some kind of funny animals goof for kiddies. Jason is sly and brilliant. Highly recommended.
Outlaw Territory is a collection of stories from a rougher and grittier time in America. Tales of the old west from some of the best and brightest writers in the industry, lavishly illustrated by amazing talent both new and experienced. This book is sure to appeal to fans of such television and film as Deadwood and 3:10 To Yuma, as well as the work of No Country For Old Men author Cormac McCarthy.
Western comics used to be very popular and there used to be a lot of them. Here’s are a bunch of modern takes by a whole host of talented creators: Greg Pak, Joe Kelly, Khoi Pham, Dean Motter, Joshua Ortega, Steven Grant, William Simpson, Ivan Brandon, Andy MacDonald, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Max Fiumara, Johnny Timmons and Michael Woods. And check out that cover by Greg Ruth. Here’s a 5-page preview.