Welcome to Best of 7, our new weekly wrap-up post here at Robot 6. Each Sunday we’ll talk about, as it says above, “The best in comics from the last seven days” — which could be anything from an exciting piece of news to a cool publisher’s announcement to an awesome comic that came out on Wednesday.
So without further ado, let’s get to it …
Fantagraphics Kickstarts its spring season
Fanatgraphics’ Spring Season will happen, thanks to the almost 3,000 backers of its recent Kickstarter campaign. Offering rewards from Daniel Clowes, the Hernandez Bros., Jim Woodring and many more, the campaign ended this week at $222,327 — well over the $150,000 the publisher was looking for. Among the awards were many of the books that will be released in the spring, including Joe Sacco’s Bumf, Simon Hanselmann’s MegaHex and The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez. They also offered several rarities and some unique experiences, including a “shooting party” with publisher Gary Groth.
The extra money above and beyond what they were looking for means the publisher can continue publishing some of the European books that co-publisher Kim Thompson was working on. A $200,000 “stretch goal,” which they obviously hit, equals funds to hire translators to help produce books that were previously scheduled and create an infrastructure “to continue Kim Thompson’s legacy of publishing the best bande dessinee.”
So congrats to Fantagraphics on the success of their fund-raising effort, and I look forward to receiving my copies of Sock Monkey: Into the Deep Woods, Bumf and The Love Bunglers. (JK Parkin)
Time for more mature-readers comics?
It’s interesting to note the appearance of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals as the No. 1 item in Time’s Top 10 Comics and Graphic Novels of 2013. The list’s writer Douglas Wolk is “one of us,” but the fact that he’s speaking for the world’s largest weekly news magazine is something, both for the book chosen and the list itself. Time has done Top 10 lists for several years, but 2013 is the first year in which sequential art was given its own list; previously there was no category for comics besides “best fiction” and “best non-fiction.” The closest thing was 2008’s Top 10 Editorial cartoons, done during the heady Presidential campaign season but retired after that.
But besides that, the fact it chose a racy “mature readers” comic series for such a mainstream venue is emboldening for fans and creators wanting to create material talking about adult issues. After flirting with it for decades, Sex Criminals publisher Image has had a continued open door policy to more racy material; Fraction and Howard Chaykin’s Satellite Sam, launched several months before this, explores the sexual indiscretions of a 1960s TV show host, and the reprinting of Chaykin’s Black Kiss (and then an original sequel) shows some bold moves by Image to push into new territory for a mainstream direct market publisher.
It’s also worth noting that Time’s Top 10 Comics & Graphic Novel of 2013 is among the first crop of a cornucopia of “Best of” lists that’ll soon be flooding comics blogs and news sites, even CBR itself. A personal word of advice, however: wait for all the books of 2013 to come out before you plan your “Best of” list. I know journalism prides itself on getting the story first, but wait until the final score before you proclaim the results. (Chris Arrant)
Silver lining of the week: PictureBox 50 percent off sale
I hesitated about including this one on this list — Dan Nadel deciding to close down PictureBox at the end of the year is more suited for a “worst comics news of the week” list, not a “best of.” But maybe the silver lining here is two-fold.
First, as Nadel points out in a statement on his website, “I’ve been publishing since 2000, and without such an astounding array of loyal and talented people PictureBox would be nothing.” That’s 13 years of books like Powr Mastrs by C.F., School Spirits by Anya Davidson, 1-800 Mice by Matthew Thurber, Pompeii by Frank Santoro, Osamu Tezuka’s The Mysterious Undergound Men and more from Ben Jones, Lauren Weinstein, Brian Chippendale, Renee French, James Jarvis, Sammy Harkham, Julie Doucet, Blutch, Brandon Graham and Jonny Negron, among others.
“PictureBox consistently published books that turned heads,” ROBOT 6’s Corey Blake wrote this week. “I can still remember seeing the cover of Renée French’s H Day in person for the first time. For some reason, her artwork really settles into my eyeballs in person, as opposed to looking at it online. It’s beautiful, haunting, and a little bit terrifying in the way a dream can feel unsettling and tense as it shifts into a nightmare. The wordless graphic novel is partly autobiographical, as she explores her struggles with migraines, and is paired with a concurrent narrative of an invading swarm of black ants. The work in this book earned her a nomination for Outstanding Artist at the 2011 Ignatz Awards.”
Second, if you aren’t familiar with these names and titles, or you’ve been meaning to pick them but haven’t had the chance, now’s a good time to do it: Nadel has put everything on the PictureBox site on sale, so you can pick any of them up for 50 percent off the cover price. The sale continues through Jan. 2.
According to The Comics Reporter, Nadel’s decision to shut down PictureBox was “personal rather than professional, and that the idea of closing the company was instigated by him for reasons related to the course of his life rather than forced by business concerns.” CR also reports that Nadel is working with the cartoonists he’s published to find new homes for some books that were in the planning stages at other publishers. So while PictureBox may be going away, the legacy of what Nadel brought to alt.comix publishing will hopefully continue. (JK Parkin)
eBay and comiXology partner up for digital
While little more than a redirecting portal in its current beta test form, eBay Digital Comics is indicative of a lot of potential. For eBay, it’s the first step into offering digital products to its millions of auction browsers. While currently a U.S.-only product, it’s supposed to expand to Europe next year. Digital comics, and specifically comiXology, have been one of the big success stories in the mobile app world, and there’s still a lot of action in the comics category of eBay auctions, so it’s a smart move.
For comiXology, it’s a sign of truly wanting to reach every possible comics reader out there, whether they be people who’ve lapsed into back issue hunters or simply like The Walking Dead TV show. If digital comics are truly to act like the modern day newsstand where people buy an eye-catching comic out of curiosity and become lifelong fans, they need to show up in as many places as possible. Might other high profile partnerships be in the future? It’s unclear who initiated this arrangement, but even if it’s not comiXology specifically appearing in other venues, it’s good news for comics’ increasing visibility, which doesn’t seem to have peaked yet. (Corey Blake)
Out of the (Manga) Box thinking
Coming hard on the heels of Crunchyroll Manga is another new digital manga service, Manga Box, from the game publisher DeNA. Manga Box is a free iOS and Android app that serves up free chapters of manga that have not been published previously in English. The company has struck deals with two of Japan’s largest publishers, Kodansha and Shogakukan, and the quality of the works and the translations looks good (not always the case with free manga apps–some are bootleg, some are just amateurish). The initial lineup of 28 titles, includes a gag-comic spinoff of Attack on Titan, one of top selling manga in both the U.S. and Japan. (Brigid Alverson)
University of Oregon’s generous saint of comics
A private donor is giving $50,000 over the course of four years, for a total of $200,000, to the University of Oregon’s Comics and Cartoon Studies program. Unlike many other educational institutes, the UO Comics Studies program doesn’t focus on teaching artists how to make comics, but instead on studying and analyzing comics and their place in culture, just as is done with film, music and fine art. Students study how comics can help children express and process themselves, the sociological implications of superhero fantasy, a class on war in French comics taught entirely in French, and more. This is an important distinction, as it reflects the evolution of acceptance that comics have been enjoying. When educational institutions acknowledge the complexity, artistry and relevance of an art form, it gains further legitimacy in subsequent generations. It’s an important part of the process of moving comics out of the ghetto.
As program director and English Professor Ben Saunders said in the announcement, “It’s a sign of faith in the cultural value of the comics form itself,” he said. “Comics constitute a remarkably successful mode of communication, with a history that is at least as old as print culture, and a global reach that includes most of the nations of the world.” The program only started last year. Currently, only a comics minor is available. Hopefully in time, the University of Oregon will make comics available as a major as well. (Corey Blake)
New heroes, new tricks
Last week’s Young Avengers #13 can be enjoyed on several levels; some reviewers focus on the plot and the directions of the teenage and young adult characters with their nuanced dialogue and development, and that’s well and good and all, but for me the draw of this issue was the spectacle of Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen’s depiction of the Young Avengers story as a comic series living in a distinctly comic universe. The duo go full on into their “page-twisting comic play,” as Rich Johnston calls it, showing Wiccan use the full extent of his powers not only to walk between panels but to walk through moments in Young Avengers literally as walking on a sea of comic pages from the book. Ferris Bueller meets Chris Ware? I’d rather meet Gillen and McKelvie in a pub to get the “director’s commentary” on this piece of magic. (Chris Arrant)
Isabel Greenberg dazzles with her all-new history of the world
The delightful The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, by Isabel Greenberg, looks like a book of folklore, but it’s entirely original. The “Early Earth” of the title contains a number of different lands and traditions that are familiar and yet different at the same time. Greenberg blends allusions to scripture and folk tales with her own imaginative creations to make something entirely new. The art is done in a style reminiscent of woodcuts or primitive art, and Greenberg has a sure hand and a sophisticated sense of design that makes the book as beautiful as it is intriguing. (Brigid Alverson)
To Heaven and Hell and back again, with the Amazing X-Men
Although I’m still a little depressed about Jason Aaron’s run on Wolverine and the X-Men coming to an end (sniff), I am thrilled that he’ll continue to tell the adventures of the merry mutants, along with artist Ed McGuinness, in the pages of Amazing X-Men. The second issue hit this week, telling a story that combines the afterlife, demon pirates, surprise guest stars, the return of Nightcrawler and, of course, the X-Men. Aaron keeps the same irreverent, fun approach he’s had to the X-Men in its (sniff sniff) sister title, but the smaller cast and different setting really let him cut loose with a fast-paced adventure story. McGuinness, meanwhile, takes the ball and runs with it, bringing a lot of energy to the battle scenes and style to everything else. Seriously, how can you not love a book that draws comparisons between Northstar and Peter Pan? (JK Parkin)