Digital and creator-owner comics owned most of the headlines at this year's Comic-Con International: San Diego. The annual nerd-fest, held July 12-16 at the San Diego Convention Center, attracted upwards of 130,000 pop culture addicts—attendance has been capped the last few years— to soak in everything from the Avengers to zombies.
Although the big media headlines were drawn by movie presentations such as The Hobbit and Iron Man 3, there was plenty of comics news at the show. In fact, this seemed to be a bellwether moment for some of the recent trends in the graphic novel industry.
Image Comics definitely stole some thunder from Marvel and DC with both a gigantic presence for The Walking Dead, the Robert Kirkman-written zombie sensation, and a panel that announced a slew of mainstream creators joining the publisher with their own projects, among them Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin (Satellite Sam), Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly), Joe Casey (The Bounce), Darick Robertson (Oliver with Gary Whitta), Chris Roberson (Rain, with Paul Maybury), James Robinson (the Saviors) and Greg Rucka (Lazarus).
Kirkman’s Walking Dead periodical series celebrated its 100th issue with a huge first printing—upwards of 383,000 copies, the biggest in 17 years—and a massive party at PetCo Park that saw cast members of the hit AMC show and Image creators mingling in a zombie apocalypse landscape while munching on squirrel skewers (actually chicken.)
Of course, Marvel and DC were not without their own big guns. DC made the biggest splash by announcing Neil Gaiman's return to the Sandman, the comic that first put his name in front of a fantasy-loving audience. Early next year artist JH Williams (Batwoman) will join Gaiman on the original tale of how the Dream King came to be imprisoned as shown in the first issue of the seminal Vertigo title.
Elsewhere, film director Quentin Tarantino announced he was finally scratching his comics itch with a five-part mini-series based on his upcoming Django Unchained film. The director literally jumped into the middle of a Before Watchmen panel to announce the comic, to be published by DC's Vertigo imprint, which will include the entire original script, including many background elements of what he calls an "epic" film, which is a Western dealing with themes of slavery.
Marvel was a bit quieter with their announcements, despite have just revealed the new Marvel NOW! event which will see them relaunch about 20 superhero titles starting in October. They did announce one new Marvel Now! title, A+X, a team-up anthology, and a new mini-series for the Punisher. Marvel was much more active on the film front, confirming upcoming slots for movies based on the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man—more obscure members of the Marvel universe. Marketing these will definitely test Marvel's highly efficient team, but it would be hard to bet against the studio after their recent string of successes.
While Image's announcements were seen as a huge blow for creators looking to own their own material, elsewhere it was digital all the way. Comixology announced new e-book distribution deals with Bongo Comics, publisher of Simpsons Comics, mainstream book publisher Abrams ComicsArts, and perhaps most significantly, Fantagraphics, which had been a staunch hold out on the digital front. The Fantagraphics partnership will kick-off with the jewel in the crown: the much-loved work of the Hernandez Brothers starting with Love and Rockets New Stories #1-4. Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds still considers the company to be in the print business, but is aware of digital possibilities. "At this point, I have very little interest in doing any kind of R&D here that tries to parse the future of comics as it applies to the infinite canvas of the web. We're no Scott McCloud," he said in an interview. "But…there are opportunities there, for things like out-of-print books that we can't afford to reprint."
Elsewhere, new digital imprints were all the rage. Artists Dave Gibbons and Liam Sharp were there to promote Madefire, a new graphic app for the iPad that presents comics in what they hope will eventually be weekly installments. Presented in an intuitive interface that includes limited motion and carefully chosen digital effects, the app has attracted much interest.
The new Monkeybrain digital imprint, launched just last week in a deal with Comixology by writer/publisher Chris Roberson and his wife Allison Baker, also garnered much attention with a packed panel. Finally, Mark Waid's Thrillbent digital comics site announced a partnership with Top Cow that will see them publish Top Cow's Pilot Season try-out series.
The digital deals weren’t done: First Second has now joined the digital generation and has released a digital edition of Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese via the iBookstore and plans to release 10 more titles simultaneously in print and digital beginning this fall, though for now only on the Apple platform. Viz Media expanded its manga app to Android OS phones and JManga, the online portal for digital comics from 39 Japanese manga publishers, will release iOS apps for the iPhone and iPad in October.
JManga got a lot of love from the fans at its panel for lowering the initial pricing of its manga from about $9 to $5 and adding a pay as you go option to its subscription service. The site has nearly 400 titles available now and is adding “about 10 new titles a week,” according to JManga business manager Robert Newman. And NBM inked a digital distribution deal for its line of explicit erotic comics with Averotix.com and publisher Terry Nantier told PW he was in talks for a “bigger” digital deal for his non-erotic comics list with an as yet unnamed digital vendor.
Oni Press, Yen Press, D&Q, Fantagraphics
And in a kind of reverse digital initiative, Oni Press announced plans to publish print editions of two popular Web comics series, Scott Campbell’s Double Fine Action Comics and R. Steven’s popular Diegel Sweeties. Oni sales and marketing director Tom Shimmin said the house will publish the out-of-print volume one of Campbell’s Double Fine Action Comics (originally published by a different house) as well as volume two and three in 2013 collecting the web comics series in print. And beginning next summer look for a series of print collections of Steven’s Diesel Sweeties, organized around theme and content rather than chronology. Shimmin also said the company was launching two Web comics series: Jame S. Rich & Natalie Nourigat’s A Boy & A Girl and Anath Panagqariya and Tessa Stone’s Buzz.
Yen Press publishing director Kurt Hassler was all smiles with a new non-manga and non-YA James Patterson adaptation in the works from Andy MacDonald called Zoo. Over at the First Second booth, FS editorial director Mark Sigel’s own new work, Sailor Twain, is their big book for the fall. First Second has been having a "milestone" year, Siegel said, with seven New York Times bestsellers, a new book by Paul Pope (Battling Boy) supposedly almost done and the aforementioned release of its titles in e-book editions.
When indie house Fantagraphics found it couldn’t add another panel to announce new titles, it teamed Drawn & Quarterly for a tag-team panel to debut about six new titles each. D&Q’s Tom Devlin debuted a list headed by Adrian Tomine’s New York Drawings, a collection of comics and sketches and illustrations Tomine has done for the New Yorker magazine, and comics by Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren, adapted from her Pippi Longstocking character in the 1950s and never seen before in the U.S. And D&Q will publish a new book called Letting It Go by Miriam Katin, holocaust survivor and author of the 2006 memoir We Are On Are Own, a full color graphic memoir about her son’s decision to move to Berlin—and her own panicked and emotional response to his decision. Burden is a new book from D&Q by Joe Ollman (author of the hilarious 2011 Mid-Life), a book about a middle aged man who comes to believe he has suppressed memories of being abducted by aliens
To mark the 30 year anniversary of the Hernadez Brothers’ Love & Rockets, Fantagraphics is releasing at least three Los Bros titles and will continue to release titles in its ongoing series of reprint editions of the EC Comics library, the classic comics published through the 1950s by EC publisher William Gaines. The house will also release Black Lung by Chris Wright, the story of shanghaied sailor and a demented ship’s captain; Heads or Tails: Stories by Lilli Carre and The Hypo: Melancholic Young Lincoln by Noah Van Sciver, a book they were showing at BookExpo in New York that looks at a period Abraham Lincoln’s life where historians have determined he was very likely dealing with clinical depression.
Most of the publishers PW encountered said they were pleased with the show—traffic was overwhelming as usual, though some artists suggested Sunday sales were a bit more robust than on Saturday. And citing what seems to be an upswing in consumer spending, Kyu-yu Liang, v-p, sales and marketing at Diamond Book Distributors, said, “People are spending money.”. Liang said he noticed that there were more “first-time” retailors attending Comic-co and pointed to Fry Electronics (a 34 store West Coast chain), Follet Library Services, Baker & Taylor Marketing Services (which supplies price clubs), Denver’s Tattered Cover, Portland’s Powell’s Books and Third Place Books, among others. “All the things we look for in a show: consumer spending, meeting retailers and meeting publishers and movie studios, are all here,” said Liang, also pointing out that Diamond also hosted a dinner for librarians during the convention.
Titan Books publisher Tim Whale was in agreement. U.K. based Titan Book specializes in U.S. pop culture, graphic novels and comics-related titles, very often high production pop culture art books or reference works. Whale said he was “very pleased” with the show, including selling out all copies of The Hole of Tank Girl: The Complete Hewlett and Martin Tank Girl and Prometheus: The Art of The Film, respectively priced at $100 and $40. “There was good traffic, good spirit and a strong interest in high priced books,” Whale said, “if they’re new and unavailable elsewhere. We love coming to Comic-con, we meet such wonderful people.”