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IN THE DIGITAL AGE, PRINT COMICS THRIVE

The digital revolution has wreaked havoc in nearly every corner in the print publishing game — except, surprisingly, comic books. According to Tom DiChristopher at cnbc.com, print sales in comics are thriving alongside the rise of their digital counterparts.

“Print comic book revenues have been on the rise in recent years,” DiChrisopher says, “even as digital comics' sales boom. Print receipts have held up at a time when publishers have introduced all-you-can-download subscriptions that offer thousands of comics for a flat monthly or annual fee.”

UnderstandingComics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2014, digital comics revenues excluding unlimited subscriptions reached $100 million, according to ICv2— up from just $1 million seven years ago, when ICv2 started collecting data. Meanwhile, the North American market for print comics grew from an estimated range of $650 to $700 million in 2009 to $835 million in 2014, according to ICv2 and the Comics Chronicle. That includes sales of single issues at comic shops and newsstands as well as book channel sales of trade paperbacks, or collected volumes of comics.

There are signs digital comics are butting up against the law of large numbers. Sales growth slowed in 2014 to 11 percent, down from 29 percent in 2013 and 180 percent in 2012. In the coming years, it could be more difficult to keep growing the readership.

Weekly circulation of newspapers is down 17 percent over the last decade, and advertising sales have plummeted more than 50 percent, according to Pew Research Center. Magazine ad revenue is forecast to see only minimal growth through 2019 on the strength of digital sales after five years of decline, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“To be sure,” DiChrisopher continues, “comics are relatively new to the digital domain [and as time passes, the situation for comics may change and parallel the fates of music and print media]. Creators have been uploading web comics since the rise of the commercial internet in the '90s. However, mainstream comics didn't migrate online in any significant numbers until smartphones and tablets became commonplace.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FIRST ISSUE: MOCKINGBIRD

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

Mockingbird 1 CoverMOCKINGBIRD No.1 isn’t really a first issue. We know the character: an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Barbara “Bobbi” Morse has been around for a while, both before and after she was brought back from the dead by Fury. Besides, this is a one-shot “50th anniversary” issue. So the usual criteria for a first issue don’t apply. The issue opens with her awakening in bed with her current lover, Lance Hunter, but she mutters the name of a former lover, “Clint” — as in Clint Barton, Hawkeye. Lance doesn’t seem to mind, though.

Barbara arises, gets dressed, reads in the morning paper that her mentor, Wilma Calvin, has been murdered, and goes to the morgue where Wilma’s corpse is residing. Joined by Wilma’s son Percy, Barbara conducts an autopsy and decides Percy killed his own mother. Percy, however, has drugged Barbara by lining her plastic gloves with neurotoxin, which knocks her out. When she recovers, she’s bound to an examining table, but she breaks free and takes Percy out. At the end of the issue, she’s back in bed with Lance, and as she turns out the light, she says, “Goodnight, Clint.” And Lance says: “You did that on purpose, right?”

A nicely circular storyline, but I don’t know why writer Chelsea Cain wants Barbara to object to Lance’s “cuddling her.” Probably because cuddling is intimate, and Barbara is trying not to be too intimate with Lance. But that’s just a guess.

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The book is drawn by Joelle Jones in her usual hard-edged bold linear manner. But Cain doesn’t take full advantage of Jones’ talent in rendering action sequences. As you can see in the accompanying illustrations, the narrative on many of the book’s pages is carried by multiple tiny panels that permit a focus on only parts of the person depicted. This kind of pacing is skillfully managed, creating and sustaining mood for dramatic emphasis, and Cain/Joelle make it work here.

But they also contrive a huge two-page illustration of Barbara performing the autopsy under a massive ceiling light to no dramatic purpose. A conspicuous waste of space. Ditto the single page given to showing Percy hovering over Barbara’s body as she wakes up, chained to the examining table. The space would be better used in showing Barbara taking Percy down after she’s broken free of the shackles.

Given the over-all success of the book, this quibble is perhaps excessive. In any event, it’s nice to see Jones at work again in a pleasingly complex tale.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

A VISIT TO ABE MARTIN LODGE

I was in Indiana last year, visiting relatives, but I encountered a charming scrap of cartooning lore while there, thanks to my nephew, who recommended that we dine one evening at the Abe Martin Lodge, a resort atop Kin Hubbard Ridge in Brown County State Park just down the road a piece from Nashville, Indiana, a small town with artist colony aspirations and numerous souvenir shops, tourist traps, and parking problems.

Dedicated and named in 1932, Abe Martin Lodge now boasts 84 sleeping rooms (two beds and a bathroom each), meeting and conference rooms, a dining room/restaurant, an indoor water park and, scattered around the immediate vicinity, numerous cabins for rent. The Lodge claims to be “only one of a few resorts in the world named after a cartoon character.” “Only one of a few” is a curious statement, hedged with qualifiers that handily undermine disputation — if any. (Well, there’s Disneyland, but Disney wasn’t a cartoon character; and the defunct Dogpatch U.S.A. in northwest Arkansas, but Dogpatch, although individual enough to be a virtual character in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner, was the locale, not a personage. So unless anyone can think of a resort named after a cartoon character, Abe Martin Lodge stands undisputed—despite the qualifiers.)

And who, you ask, was Abe Martin?

Glad you asked. He was the comical concoction of Kin Hubbard, an Indiana cartoonist and humorist renowned for three decades, 1900-1930.

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As we see from the above visuals, Abe Martin was probably the inspiration for the expression “cracker barrel philosopher”: he stood around mostly, uttering utterances both profound and comical. With every daily appearance, he usually uttered two such utterances, but they were not connected or related to a common theme. They were, each, entirely free-standing.

Both Hubbard and Abe were famous enough to enjoy the admiration of none other than Will Rogers, who considered Hubbard an equal in the humorist racket. Rogers is still remembered even today, amid the rampant wholesale absent-mindedness that distinguishes our times, rendering both Hubbard and Abe among the forgotten famous. If you want the whole story of Hubbard’s career and Abe’s creation, you can find it at RCHarvey.com in Harv’s Hindsight for March 2013. Or in a chapter of my book, Insider Histories of Cartooning: Rediscovering Forgotten Famous Comics and Their Creations (which is shameless offered for sale at the aforementioned RCHarvey.com).

We conclude with a short photographic essay depicting Abe Martin as he now appears in the lobby of the Abe Martin Lodge. AbeMartinLodge2

 

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Abe Martin, incidentally, is still being published—in reprint, I suspect, in the newspaper that Hubbard’s father published in Ohio, the Bellafontaine Examiner. The publisher nowadays is Kin Hubbard’s grandson.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FREE SPEECH IN THE WAKE OF THE DANISH DOZEN

Jacob MchangamaLast fall, September 30, 2015, marked the 10th anniversary of the publication of twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in Danish Newspaper Jyllands-Posten, an editorial decision that would ignite a global battle of values over the relationship between free speech and religion that is still ongoing, reported Jacob Mchangama in Copenhagen in early October. Said he:

"On one side of this conflict are those who insist that free speech includes the right to offend any idea, religious or secular, and that tolerance means putting up with those expressions that you most despise. On the other side are those who believe that religion, and in particular Islam, must be protected from scorn and mockery, a small minority of whom are willing to use violence to enforce a “jihadist’s veto.” In between are the many members of what Salman Rushdie has called the “but-brigade,” people who are formally committed to free speech, but for whom a commitment to tolerance and social peace means imposing society-wide norms of self-censorship on ideas that may offend or hurt members of religious or ethnic groups.

In a world where, according to Freedom House, only 14 percent of the population live in states with free speech, and where respect for press freedom is at its lowest point in more than 10 years, the stakes of this battle are very high indeed. Will the hard won freedoms of conscience and expression prevail, or will even liberal democracies internalize a sugar-coated version of the red lines of the “jihadist veto?”

Mchangama concluded: “There can be little doubt that the past 10 years have proven Flemming Rose right when on September 30, 2005, he wrote that ‘the public debate is being intimidated,’ and warned that ‘we’re on a slippery slope, where no one can predict what the result of self-censorship will be.’ Fortunately, the prescience of Rose’s prophecy has had a salutary effect on public opinion. But whether it will be enough to conquer the fear that has paralyzed editors and newsrooms is yet to be seen.”

Jacob Mchangama is the executive director of Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank focusing on human rights and the rule of law.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THE SECRET OF COMIC-CONS

Denver hosted the 10th annual Zombie Crawl on the downtown 16th Street Mall last fall, October 17. Thousands lurched along the street in bloodied clothing and decayed facial make-up in what was billed as the largest event of its kind. That so many took part helps explain the success of comic-cons: these days, people apparently love dressing up to assume the role of their favorite character, and comic-cons give them all the excuse they need so they attend in droves, converting what once were venues for collecting comic books into costume parades.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THREE GRAPHIC NOVELS ON BANNED LIST

Drama cover

Last fall during Banned Books Week, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom produced its annual “Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books” list. Three graphic novels are on the list: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (its offense: gambling, bad language, political viewpoint), Raina Telgemeier’s Drama (candid depiction of homosexuality, “a very chaste scene of two boys kissing”), and This One Summer by Marilko and JilllianTamaki (miscarriage, teen pregnancy, profanity) — all books “marked by both high quality and high popularity,” said Michael Cavna at ComicRiffs, “the latter certainly a function in drawing fire.” While it is alarming to notice how frequently graphic novels that are popular with young readers are making the ALA list, this year’s roster is based upon only 311 complaints “made formally in writing.” That’s not a big number, 311, out of the millions of books being read by millions of young people. Still, it’s sad to realize how active and dedicated some would-be censors are.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

GRAPHIC NOVEL SALES UP

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Despite a slight summer slump last year, graphic novel sales are still on the rise, according to the annual ICv2 report, summarizing “the biggest year ever in 2014 with an estimated $460 million in sales, via both comics shops and traditional retailers,” said Heidi MacDonald at publishersweekly.com. “Bookstore sales hit an all-time high at $285 million, surpassing even the manga boom of the mid-Aughts,” she added. “Female readership also continues to grow: Comixology reported that the percentage of their new customers that was female had doubled over the last two years, up to 30% of new customers, from 20% in l2013.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

WIMPY KID ON TOUR

Jeff Kinney embarked on a global tour last fall to promote the 10th book in his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School was released November 3 in the U.S. by Abrams’s Amulet Books imprint, triggering a tour with stops in 15 cities on five continents, including New York, N.Y.; Boston, Mass.; Tokyo, Japan; Beijing, China; Sydney, Australia; Madrid, Spain; London, U.K.; Lisbon, Portugal; Frankfurt, Germany; Athens, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; Bucharest, Romania; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Riga, Latvia; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Said Kinney: “One of the biggest surprises of my life is that kids from all over the world seem to relate to Greg Heffley and his comic struggles. What I’ve learned is that childhood itself is a universal condition that transcends culture and language.”

Wimpy Kid Old School drawing

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com