Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BABYMOUSE e-books in Apple's iBookstore!

The day is finally here! You can now buy BABYMOUSE titles via Apple's iBooks app! I just downloaded BABYMOUSE: QUEEN OF THE WORLD! and it looks killer.

 Looking at it as a spread, the pages are almost as big as the real book, and super-sharp. (Of course, you can zoom in, too.)


A single page on the iPad is exactly the same size as on paper. Sweet!


These versions have no sound or animation or other weird add-ons—just a straight, true translation of the original. So if you're looking for something to hand to your kid on that next long car ride or plane flight, and you don't feel like toting a whole bunch of separate paper books ... you're covered!

 We should see versions for Kindle and Nook before summer. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Women and Children First: How to Save Comics

Came across a great interview (thanks to Blog@Newsarama) with Former DC Comics editor Janelle Asselin at the Tumblr site DC Women Kicking Ass. Janelle, in addition to being an editor at DC during the recent relaunch of the "New 52", also wrote her Master's thesis on women and comics. Some of her conclusions on how to reach the underserved half of America include (bolding added):

The primary conclusions I made from my research are that there are four different ways the comics industry can adjust to increase sales to an often excluded demographic that just happens - oh yeah - to make up over 50% of America. Those four ways are better marketing towards women, more inclusive content, more effective distribution, and changing the cultural preconceptions of comics. ...

The thing that surprised me the most was that the answers, as I saw them anyway, were not insane, drastic measures that companies would need to take. These are all within the grasp of comics publishers and retailers. Obviously the cultural preconceptions are difficult to change, but with the other three being adjusted, that would come eventually. It just takes actually considering women of any age a viable market for comics.
Blog@ pointed to the most salient section of the interview:
I cannot speak strongly enough about how interrelated I think women and children readers are and how both are extremely important to the future of comics. Women make 80% of the retail purchases in America. EIGHTY PERCENT. And that means that more often than not, if a kid is shopping, it’s with mom. So if the comic industry wants to have a future and hook readers young, they need to target both women and children. If a woman is reading comics, she’ll be more likely to let her kid read comics. And if a kid is raised in a house where one or both parents read comics, I think we all already know that he or she will be more likely to read comics. Kids who never know comics exist are going to have a hard time finding them when they’re at an age that most superhero comics are geared towards. And even better in all of this is the fact that if mom reads comics, she’ll have no problem with her daughters reading comics, which increases the future female readership of comics as well as just the future male readership of comics. There’s no loss here for the comics industry. It just takes foresight. Creating more comics for kids and women, making sure they know they exist, and making sure they’re accessible could genuinely change the future of the industry. Some publishers are already doing a great job making stuff for one or both (Top Shelf and Archaia both leap to mind). We just need a greater segment of the industry to take those demographics seriously.
Janelle says, quite compellingly, what so many people have been saying for so long. The Big Two need to change if they're going to survive. But for reasons unknown, they never do—and comics sales decline every year. I wonder if it's a parochialism, where they are simply not INTERESTED in catering to anyone who is not exactly like them, or if it's simply the fact that comic books have always been such a skin-of-your-teeth kind of enterprise (all the creators barely scraping by on pittances; everyone falling behind deadline; everyone just trying desperately to finish the book/page they're working on RIGHT NOW) that no one over there has made it a priority to take a break, breathe deep, stop working, and really THINK about the future, and how they can possibly sustain their business if they keep selling to the same 30-somethings (now becoming 40-somethings, and soon becoming 50-somethings...) without ever engaging new markets and new readers. Whatever the reason, things have gotta change—for good or ill.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Brief History of American Comics

Jim Shooter, former Marvel editor (and apparently an arch-villain to many in the comic-book field... I dunno--never heard about the controversy before; I was always more of a newspaper strip guy than a comic-book insider) has an amazing blog in which he gives his opinions on various things related to comics, but, more interestingly, gives the inside scoop on the daily drama and goings-on at Marvel in the ’70s and ’80s. (There is a Mad Men-type show in there somewhere, I'm telling you.)

But he just posted an entry called "The $10 million Comic Book" that includes, in my opinion, one of the best encapsulations of the history of American Comic Books. So here, in five paragraphs, is why American Comic Books are where they are today:

The American comic book industry started out as a way to reprint syndicated strips and milk extra cash out of existing material. That worked, but comic book publishers quickly used up all the strips available. To keep the ball rolling, publishers commissioned new material, but they didn't want to pay more than they did for reprint rights, so new material was made for low pay under confiscatory rights conditions. No artist or writer wanted to be a comic book creator -- everyone wanted a syndicated strip, where the big money was. Therefore, comic books wound up with second-rate creators who couldn't make it in the big leagues, hacks, the rare significant talent who passed through on his or her way to greater things (Jules Feiffer comes to mind) and the occasional solid craftsman or even genius who arrived in the comic book biz for whatever reason and stuck with it.

Back in the early, big circulation days, publishers got lucky a few times with great properties created despite the lousy compensation and working conditions, creations that struck a chord -- Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel and others. Mostly super heroes. Comic books had a great advantage with super heroes back when film special effects were limited, and low-res, limited budget TV was best suited to talking heads.

Later, a few more successes came along, also created under adverse conditions for the talent. Spider-Man, the Hulk, Wolverine...you know.

The comic book industry, by and large, from its beginnings has had a schlock mentality, a quick buck mentality. Most publishers thought comic books were a fad that would run its course (Martin Goodman comes to mind). Many were surprised to find themselves still in business years later.

The quickest, easiest way to make a buck in this business since the early days has pretty much always been to stick with the heaviest hitters of the past. But decades of schlock thinking at the top, decades of unguided, misguided or just plain bad creative work has desecrated and distorted some of those characters almost to the point that they are unrecognizable (the current Wonder Woman comes to mind. And did someone say the new Superboy is a robot? What?). Their equity has eroded.
It's amazing how the initial conditions affected things for decades to come, and explains some weird quirks of the industry—such as the insanely low pay and completely strange ownership/royalty setup (i.e., unlike traditional publishing, most comics creators don't get royalties if their works get reprinted; they get "bonuses" that are not in any way equal to traditional publishing royalties), which developed because the comic book publishers were used to getting content basically for free; also, the weird thing Stan Lee apparently had about caring far more about having a syndicated newspaper feature than creating all those comic books (because comic books were the shlock ghetto for creators, and people who "made it" were in the newspapers).
As I believe I’ve said earlier in this blog, Stan had a special reverence for syndicated strips. And “real” magazines. Not that he didn’t love the comic books, it’s just that when he was a kid, the strips were huge and prestigious while the comic book business was where one scratched out a living until his or her strip got picked up by a syndicate. Anyone who aspired to becoming a syndicated strip creator changed his or her name for work in lowly comic books, hence, Stanley Leiber became Stan Lee. Same logic applied if one hoped to publish a “real” magazine or write the Great American Novel. Never mind that comic books had made Stan a cultural icon, and he had brought comics to unprecedented status in the New Cultural Order. He never lost his veneration of syndicated strips.