Best of 7 | The best in comics from the last seven days

Welcome to Best of 7, where we 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. So without further ado, let’s get to it …

Angouleme wraps up in France

The Angouleme International Comics Festival winds up today, ending four days of binging for professionals and fans alike.

Unlike an American comic con, which is limited to a single venue, comics takes over the entire medieval town of Angouleme, including the theater, the cathedral and the town hall. Visitors can read about the history of Mickey Mouse as they walk across the town square or stop at a newsstand for a comics-plus-snack special. Navigating the festival means winding your way around the school groups and the long lines for signings at the publishers' booths, both testaments to the health of the BD industry in France, where comics are much more of a mass-market phenomenon than in the U.S.

The festival combines the delights of France (beautiful views, good food, good wine, and the local specialty, cognac) with the pleasures of a good comics festival; in addition to the many French creators, internationally known writers and artists such as Alison Bechdel, Rutu Modan, Derf Backderf, Guy Delisle and Suehiro Maruo are here, doing signings and panels. The city is lit up at night and the streets are filled with crowds. At Le Chat Noir, the local bar, I finished the evening last night by wishing "bon soiree" to Willem, the Grand Prix winner of last year's festival and the president this year, who was holding court at a table in the back. Tonight I will go to the closing ceremony to see who is the winner of this year's Grand Prix—Bill Watterson, Katsuhiro Otomo or Alan Moore—before heading back to my chateau to prepare for my re-entry to the real world. (Brigid Alverson)

Make Marts Marvel

This week Marvel Comics announced that Mike Marts would return to the company as its newest Executive Editor. From 1996-2006, Marts was a senior X-Men editor, working with high-profile writers such as Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon. As Group Editor of the Batman titles, Marts and Morrison (and various superstar artists) then worked together at DC on the latter's seven-year Bat-epic, which began in Batman, spawned the ongoing series Batman and Robin and Batman Incorporated, and introduced Damian Wayne. In the middle of all that, Marts oversaw two overhauls of the Batman line, the first in the wake of Bruce Wayne's "death" and the second as part of the New 52. Whether your favorite Bat-team of the past eight years was Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Greg Rucka, J.H. Williams, and/or W. Haden Blackman on Batwoman, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason on Batman and Robin, or some other combination, odds are Marts made their efforts just a little better. With Steven Wacker leaving the Spider-Man books, it's not hard to see Marts going from one set of iconic characters to another.

While it's a huge hire for Marvel, the attention of many DC watchers now turns to the next Batman group editor. The eventual hire may well be scrutinized not just for his or her "fit" with those creative teams, but for what the move says about DC's larger publishing philosophy. (Tom Bondurant)

Dark Horse to produce benefit book for Sakai family

A quick glance of Twitter in the wake of Dark Horse's commitment to publish The Sakai Project, gives you all you need to know about how treasured a storyteller that Stan Sakai is. The consensus reaction may have been best summed up, however, by Oni Press: "This is really cool and Stan Sakai is a shining mascot for the good possible in the human race. Preorder if you can!"

The scope of the project, set for a July 23 release, will be more clearly defined in the next 18+ days--given that the deadline for art submissions is Feb. 20. The book will serve a dual purpose--to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo as well as help defray Sharon Sakai's medical expenses as she requires 24-hour care and medications that exceed the Sakai family's insurance coverage.

Now that news of a timeline for the book's release has been solidified, one expects the number of artists willing to participate will only continue to mushroom. That list as it already stands is impressive enough (and further proves how beloved the creator is). It includes Adam Hughes, Alex Maleev, Allison Sohn, Arthur Adams, Batton Lash, Bill Morrison, Brian Michael Bendis, Dave Gibbons, David Mack, Gabriel Hardman, Geof Darrow, Howard Chaykin, Jeff Smith, Joyce Chin, Matt Groening, Matt Wagner, Michael Allred, Mike Mignola, Sergio Aragonés, Stephanie Gladden, Tim Sale, Tom Mandrake and Walter Simonson—plus many many more.

The project will be developed in conjunction with the Comic Art Professional Society (CAPS). Go to CAPS Facebook page to see a gallery of the art donated for an upcoming auction (date to be determined) to also help raise funds for the Sakai family. (Tim O'Shea)

Marvel courts developers with open API

In an unprecedented move of open access, portions of Marvel Comics' data are being opened up to developers for use in non-commercial apps and websites. Online fan projects are now able to use Marvel's official data, including images and info from over 30,000 comics and 7,000 comic book series. The advantage is that the data will remain alive and dynamic, updating itself as Marvel releases new comics each week. In many ways, this appears to be one of the first manifestations of Peter Olson's presentation on graph theory to understand and create visual representations of the intricate relationships between Marvel's characters, creators and comics.

Being relatively lo-tech, I could not figure out how to use much of this, but the implications are exciting for those developers with the know-how. This Reddit thread shows there are plenty of bugs to work out but Olson looks to be very involved in the developer community page at Marvel.com. The beta version launched Jan. 31 and will likely see improvements as time goes on.

In many ways, this reminds me of Marvel's Authorized Fan Site Program circa 2001. In an attempt to show precedent for protecting their intellectual property without crushing the free marketing being done by fans, Marvel opened up access to their digital library of art and free promotion on Marvel.com in exchange for appropriate language being added to each fan site stressing their ownership. It eventually faded away, but it's a great way to encourage fans to get more involved. Hopefully this modern version stays and thrives. (Corey Blake)

Down Set Fight makes the grid iron safe for comics once more

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s comics flirted with football, and it was a relationship that seemed doomed from the start. Marvel's NFL SuperPro is a notorious licensed joke, while the New Universe's Kickers Inc. proved to be about as good as the other comics in the line that weren't written by Mark Gruenwald or drawn by John Romita Jr. In other words, "Kickers what now?" There aren't a lot of football-themed comics out there, but that changed a few weeks ago when Oni Press started releasing Down Set Fight digitally. The graphic novel by Chris Sims, Chad Bowers and Scott Kowalchuk isn't due out until Feb. 12, but Oni decided to break it up into chunks and serialize it on comiXology. And so far it has been great.

I will say the tagline is a bit of a misnomer: "One man versus every mascot in professional sports. THEY WILL ALL BE PUNCHED. It’s kick-off time for this year’s most action-packed and hilarious comic!" Honestly, based on that, I went in expecting something a bit goofy, but it's far from just a humor book. The story centers on Chuck Fairlane, a former football star who was banned from the game after beating up the team mascot. Year later, he's a high school football coach, and various other team mascots start showing up at the school, at the local bar and other places, trying to take him out. It seems that beating up team mascots became a "thing" after Chuck did it. The most interesting aspect to the whole thing, though, and what ultimately made me a superfan, is Chuck's relationship with his shady, manipulative dad. Since Chuck was born, his dad has prepared his son for success on the grid iron; there are some great, yet dark, scenes of his dad training his son that involve sprinting through bear traps and jumping rope in gasoline. His dad sees him as a meal ticket, whether because Chuck is that damn good or because maybe he convince his son to throw a game when he needs him to.

"A big part of it was coming up with these funny ideas for fight scenes, but the tough part is figuring out how to make you care about it," Sims told CBR. "We wanted to do more than just have a guy tackle a dude in a bear suit or whatever, because that makes a great image, but if you don't care about the characters, you're not going to be interested in seeing who wins. We did our best to make Chuck someone that you could really get behind -- that first fight is something that he gets into for pretty selfish reasons, but the next time you see Chuck throw a punch, he's got a really good reason for it."

So after watching the big game today, do yourself a favor and download some Down Set Fight. (JK Parkin)

Wonder Woman Gets New Invisible Jet for DC's Year of the Villain

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