February 4, 2006 / More →
Super-Spy and Pistolwhip cartoonist Matt Kindt attended Angouleme this year, and has graciously blessed us with a full report, complete with pics. Angoueme (the name of the festival AND the city that hosts it, in the south of France) is the largest and most important comics festival of any sort, in the western world. (I've heard tales of conventions in Japan where the exhibitors alone number in the hundreds of thousands, so i don't think even Angouleme holds a candle to this.) Many thanks to Matt for letting us run his report here at Hey, Bartender.
First, just so y'all know, i have been officially forbidden from writing about politics on this blog. C'est la vie. I'll refrain from rambling on about my loathing at the loss of civic duty in our country, and instead i'll provide a few links to some excellent news-sites and policy-wonk blogs. All i can say is this; stay informed people, contact your congress-person, and vote…it's The People and our very country at stake here.
Oh, and for a little insight into the pre-meditated War in Iraq (going back to the mid-nineties), check out the actual website of the neo-con think tank that created it.
And now on with the show.
Fun in Angouleme. By Matt Kindt.
It was a 2 hour train ride form Paris to Angouleme. A very cozy small medieval town on a hilltop (untouched by World War II ”“ I checked the history before we left in case there were any Super Spy ideas waiting to be discovered).
Already, the festival was unlike anything in the US. There wasn’t a super-hero t-shirt to be seen and you couldn’t tell the comic book fan from the normal citizen. Instead of one big convention hall or center, the publisher and exhibits were spread out in large temporary tents throughout the town. This helped to disperse the crowds a little bit and made it more interesting to walk from tent to tent instead of being stuck in a big smelly convention center all day.
Still a little groggy from the travel and time change I woke up at noon (after dinner till 3am and several episodes of the Indy Spinner Rack podcast to pass the time as I laid there trying to get to sleep).
The first thing on the itinerary for the day was a TV interview with the French art channel. The publisher warned me of this ahead of time and I thought, ”˜okay, there will be whatever version of a public access channel over there doing interviews’. But is was a legitimate TV station ”“ Channel 5 which had been on at the hotel earlier and covers all the arts. The journalist (thankfully) spoke English (which isn’t always a given) and told me she’d just come from an interview with Jim Lee. This is the first inkling i got that I’d stepped into a bizarro world where comics (and Indy comics) were actually somewhat respected as an art form and of general interest to the public. Strange. The journalist from Channel 5 wasn’t just covering a story. She’d been reading (and liked) most of the books she was covering at the festival. She wasn’t covering a story about comics “not being just for kids anymore”. She was covering adult graphic novels that just happened to be in comics form. After the interview the journalist asked for a sketch (another first). They supplied me with a nice piece of watercolor paper and I sat to draw and the cameraman filmed the entire thing. It was starting to become clear that they loved their comics here.
After the interview it was off to a press conference, which was in a big room in the old historical Hotel DeVille building at the center of town. It was a large ballroom area with tables and chairs. The creators would sit down with their publisher and then wait for interested journalists to sit down as well. Four journalists and a photographer ended up sitting at my table and firing questions at me (in French). Luckily my publisher was there and fielded the questions and translated them for me and then my answers back to them. They sat around the table chain smoking and writing everything down in little dime notepads just like in the old days. They weren’t interested in my age or my background or how I got published. They wanted to know my influences. Why was I telling espionage stories? Why were my stories disjointed and told out of sequence. Why weren’t there any captions? I mentioned Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 as a major influence and I could hear the crickets. Mentioning Tin Tin seemed to make them happy though and I was suddenly happy to have put a few homages to Herge in the Pistolwhip books.
Everyone I talked to and was questioned by really knew comics and what made them work and what didn’t. I’d have taken this any day over sitting at a booth across from the Toxic Avenger shouting into a microphone with a crowd gathering around him.
Once I got some free time I started walking around the festival to see what was there. What there wasn’t was super-heroes. Anywhere. The large mainstream booths were all the large oversized hardcover full color albums with talking cats, pirates, mysteries, Agatha Christie adaptations, World War II adventure and fantasy. No super-heroes. I guess I knew that going in but seeing a giant booth with thousands of these books made it reality. My publisher would explain to me later that most of those books were crap (like most of everything) but in French you just couldn’t tell. All of the artwork and color looked fantastic.
The Indy books were in another long tent that was just packed. On Saturday (the busiest day) you could barely walk through the Indy section. As I walked around there were huge lines as creators sat at tables signing and sketching for fans. I stopped to watch Blutch, a French artist that a friend had recommended. He was doing sketches but these weren’t quick doodles and a signature. He had broken out his pastels and his watercolors and his brushes and was doing full-blown illustrations in the front page of his book for everyone in line. We watched for a few minutes and came back at the end of the day and he was still working. Now I understood why my publisher had asked if I minded doing sketches during my signing. I had said ”˜sure’ since I usually do a little doodle and sign the books anyway, no problem. What they expect from creators in France was a little different.
I went out to the art store and bought some nice water color paper and at the signing I did in Paris (a store ironically called Super Heros which carried nothing but Indy books) I spent three hours doing full blown inked and water colored illustrations for the people that came up with books to sign. I was drawing and inking and water coloring faster than I ever had before and I was having a great time. The people expected it but they were just so excited to stand there and watch you draw that it didn’t matter. There weren’t excited about the toys or movies. They were excited about the comics.
We ended our trip in Angouleme with a trip to the Comic Book Art Museum. It alone is worth a trip to the city. In addition to the rotating exhibits they had a huge archive of original art from the 1800’s to the present day. It was amazing. To see the line and brushwork of Charles Burns and Hugo Pratt in person makes all the difference.
And then walking up to a Hal Foster original Prince Valiant which you’ve seen forever taking up a few inches of space in the paper since you were a kid. You see page framed on the wall and realize that the original art for those few inches is over three feet long.
February 2, 2006 / More →
Lot's going on in comics right now. First, my condolences to the family of exquisite cartoonist Seth Fisher. This guy's work was simply astounding; a cross between Moebius and Geof Darrow. Besides the tragic loss for his loved ones, his work will be sorely missed in comics. Read more at Comics Reporter.
One of my very favorite comics columnists is Steven Grant over at Comic Book Resources. I've mentioned him before already, but i don't mind... the good stuff is worth repeating. I'm not sure what else Steven does for a living, but his Permanent Damage columns are so lengthy, and more importantly, well considered, they are what i would call vital and indispensable comics blogging, and make my blog look like so much luke warm dishwater in comparison. He covers comics, television, film AND politics, all with equal aplomb.
At any rate, this week he talks at length about economic models for comics companies, and comes to a unique conclusion … that growth per se (in the publicly-owned scale, adding gobs of employees sense) is secondary to maintaining a stable sustainability in the long term, especially as it pertains to a unique economic environment like the comics industry. Recommended reading if this sort of business stuff interests you.
Would that Top Shelf had this problem. As i mentioned in a soon-to-be posted interview at the Pulse, for the first several years of Top Shelf, we DOUBLED our gross income every year. This is incredible. Now however, almost ten years later, it seems that we've somewhat grown into what the market can return for us, given our own limitations, and this is where Steven's "long-haul" theory more closely mirrors our own state.
Barring a minor miracle (on par with another Blankets or From Hell, the type of books that come along once in a decade), we're at the point where we've established relationships with the 100-200 stores that reliably stock not just Top Shelf, but a solid range of products in general, and are now making the store-by-store relationships with the rest of the retail market. Those 2,000 - 3,000 rest of the stores, who don't generally buy non-spandex comics, but will if and when we get to know them. Yes, this is crucial, but it's not what you would call a real growth market.
All of which is to say, that perhaps Steven is putting the cart before the horse. Before you can even think about real growth, just surviving in the market is a son-of-a-bitch endeavor that any new publisher needs to consider, before dropping their life's savings into it.
As for the Hollywood dream... i won't lie … we certainly dream about getting a piece of this pie as much as anybody else. (But ALWAYS we think of the comics as an entity unto themselves, as the first priority.) But unless someone has a very large trust fund, and/or other fat stashes of cash in the bank, i'd hardly hold out for movie money as a way to fund your start-up publishing company. The dream would otherwise become a nightmare. Hollywood is a bitch. Ask anyone who's been there.
On a different note, a lot of talk is being made about a venture by some pals of mine, called ACT-I-VATE. A new online comics site by some of the best talent in the biz, including my buddies Dino Hapiel, Josh Neufeld, Nick Bertozzi, and Leland Purvis. I'm not generally a big comics-on-the-web guy (i really MUCH prefer reading a comic in my hands), but this is great stuff.
Lastly, from The Washington Post, here's some news that will certainly further endear Herr Bush to The People. Headline says it all. Budget Cuts Pass By a Slim Margin: Poor, Elderly and Students to Feel Pinch. (God knows that a gazillion dollar defense budget is more important that the health and welfare of the citizens.)
February 1, 2006 / More →
• Yeah, State of the Union tonight!! Whoo hoo! Go Team America, Fuck Yeah! Uh... yeah. Well, i won't bore anyone with my thoughts, but if anyone wants a nice run-down of the bullshit contained therein, just check out the smack-downs at Think Progress. (Not sure how long these will stay up, though.)
•Â Meanwhile, Fanboy Alert!! "Indy-only" comics fans pass this up.
So what gives with the recent revelation that the mysterious Ronin character, in Brian Michael Bendis' New Avengers, turns out to be Echo … last seen slappin' around Matt Murdock in Bendis' Daredevil. Echo, the svelte, graceful deaf girl who can mimic any physical movement or fighting style, and had the body-type of a sleek but tough female dancer in that title. Now along comes Ronin, and all of a sudden, in costume she looks like a freaking NFL linebacker. On all of the covers and in the promotional pieces i've seen of Ronin, she/he has buff, Schwartzenegger quads, Shaq shoulders and Popeye forearms. Wha huh?! Isn't this somewhat unlikely?
Granted, i haven't read these "reveal" issues yet, but how could he possibly explain this? Fake shoulder pads in the costume, and muscle implants, just to throw people off? I'm a little disappointed.
Be that as it may though, i'm still a HUGE Bendis fan … i've read probably 3/4's of his career output … and i'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Avengers Disassembled was a full-on ass-kickin' super-hero yarn, and i really enjoyed his killer first tpb on New Avengers as well... don't let me down, Brian.
If there are any "indy" comics fans out there who like what's good, not what's just hip; who don't write off super-hero comics as evil by default, but haven't read his work, i highly recommend my two favorite books by Bendis. Read first Daredevil, his already-classic four-year run of which he is now wrapping up, and the ongoing Powers, both from Marvel. Bendis is a master of dialog, and his stories work even having had no familiarity with any company continuity. (They're even better, however, if you are or ever have been a Marvel Zombie.) He makes "spandex" comics human, and infuses all of his work with elements of crime pulp drama, attention to detail, tight characterization and naturalistic dialog.
If you get through those two books and want more, check out Alias, which has very little spandex at all. Excellent material.
(Here's hoping The Brube will be able to keep the flame going when he takes over for Bendis on Daredevil. Rock on, Ed!)
January 31, 2006 / More →
Alex Robinson's wife Kristen sent a link to me this morning, to an interview with Alex over at Legion of Doom. It's a fun interview, in which Alex tells that he is indeed at work on his next project. I'd yet to hear this yet myself, so i fired back to see what he was up to.
Alex wrote back, "... it's a diary strip about my life as a naive owl … or at least that's what my robot body looks like. I travel in a series of underground tubes with my talking animal friends as we try to discover if Elvis is still alive."
And now we know. Sounds, uhhh... interesting, Alex.
You read it here first.
January 28, 2006 / More →
I realize this isn't exactly breaking news, but in case you didn't hear, Dylan Horrocks been appointed a Literary Fellow at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand.
From the media release:
"Dylan Horrocks, award-winning graphic novelist and comic artist, has been appointed University of Auckland / Creative New Zealand Literary Fellow 2006.
"Mr Horrocks is the author of “Hicksville, an award-winning graphic novel, and many shorter works in comic form that have been published around the world. He has lectured on writing, art and the history of comics, has presented papers at academic conferences around the world, and has written extensively on graphic novels, comics, art and literature for magazines and journals in New Zealand the US."
What this means is that Dylan will be freed up financially to spend a year just drawing comics!! And in case you weren't aware, we've had an original graphic novel by Dylan, Venus: the Secret Comics of Arthur Holly, on the Top Shelf docket of future books in our publishing schedule for over five years.
If by chance you're not familiar with Dylan's work, i highly recommend you RUN out and buy his graphic novel, Hicksville. Originally published by Black Eye, and now with Drawn & Quarterly, this graphic novel is widely (and justifiably) regarded as one of the shining stars in the canon of graphic novel greats.
We suggest you support your local retailer and buy this there, but Hicksville is in fact available on this very website, in case said retailer doesn't stock it. http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?title=128
As a huge fan of Dylan's brilliant comics, i cannot tell you how fabulous this news is to hear. Welcome back to the fold, Mr. Horrocks. We've missed you.