Sporadic Sequential
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Stealing A Page From The Mark Millar Playbook

OK, this will be my final post on Tokyopop's online exclusives, I promise.*

Given the way this is playing out, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that at least one title currently being offered exclusively through Tokyopop's website will never see print. When the low pre-orders come in, Tokyopop will quietly remove that title from its site and pretend the whole thing never happened. (If Tokyopop is contractually obligated to publish the work in some format, it will then become a true online exclusive, available for viewing on the Tokyopop site as a webcomic.)

So here's the current list of online exclusives in case it changes at some later date:

November 2006
Atomic King Daidogan, volume 1
One, volume 10
Neck and Neck, volume 6

December 2006
Heaven Above Heaven, volume 6

February 2007
Heaven!!, volume 1
Sorcerer Hunters Authentic Relaunch, volume 8

March 2007
Arm of Kannon, volume 9
Rure, volume 1
Soul to Seoul, volume 5

April 2007
King City, volume 1
Dragon Head, volume 6
Dragon Voice, volume 8
Short Sunzen, volume 1

May 2007
The Knockout Makers, volume 1
St. Lunatic School (Yoru nimo Makezu! St. Lunatic School), volume 1

July 2007
Atelier Marie and Elie-Zarlburge Alchemist, volume 1
Monochrome Factor, volume 1

August 2007
Hiyoko ya Shoten, volume 1

* For this week, at least.

** If I'm wrong about this, I'll not only buy and read a Mark Millar comic but also post a positive review of it, no matter what I really think of it.
Moon Knight: The Mel Gibson of the MU

Even though Marvel has supposedly abandoned its reactionary GAY=MAX policy, that doesn't mean that Marvel has suddenly become a friendlier place for gay characters, especially since Marvel refuses to reprimand characters who engage in homophobic behavior.

From Marvel Spotlight #29, reprinted in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1

Apparently Moon Knight never got over the time Ben Grimm teased him about the cute little shawl he used to wear as part of his original costume. Talk about overcompensating.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Cut One Head Off and Two More Sprout Forth

Something I meant to mention in yesterday's entry but forgot to include: How will existing readers of an existing series like Dragon Head know that they won't be able to buy subsequent volumes from their preferred vendor? I'm sure Tokyopop will have some sort of blurb or ad in the back of the books, but I'm wondering how effective that will be. Many times I skip those pages because I figure they're nothing but annoying ads. So if a customer is simply used to stopping in at his local bookstore every couple months and scanning the shelves for his favorite manga series, what then? Say he's fairly motivated and even goes to the customer service counter to inquire about the series' status. Will the bookstores know that these titles are only available through Tokyopop's website? Even if they do know that, will they want to send customers to a competitor's site? Will bookstores be able to special order the books directly through Tokyopop? (It seems doubtful given what Tokyopop has said about the initiative so far, but it seems like something Tokyopop would want to consider, especially for bookstores that pride themselves in being able to fill any customer request.)

Again, going by what Tokyopop said in the ICv2 interview, it seems as though Tokyopop will be promoting their online exclusives...exclusively online. Which seems a bit self-defeating. I'm assuming that most fans who are active participants in Tokyopop's new online community are already aware of most of Tokyopop's catalog. If they haven't previously expressed interest in any of the now online-only titles, I'm not sure why they would now, especially since Tokyopop isn't offering any special deal to entice customers to try out these titles they can't even preview before they buy.

(An aside: Tokyopop's new site continues to frustrate me the more I attempt to navigate it. For example, the page for Dragon Head doesn't even have any info to indicate that the series will only be available through Tokyopop's site starting with volume six. The pages for other online-only series similarly lack such info. Sure, there are "BUY NOW" links for online-only volumes, but volumes available in bookstores have the same link, so there's no distinction to let customers know they'd better pre-order the "exclusive" books if they want them. Granted, Tokyopop isn't the only site that suffers from a lack of coordination and follow-through, but this is a case of sloppy execution that could cripple the initiative and lead Tokyopop to conclude, "Well, we tried, but there was simply no audience for these books on- or off-line.")

Perhaps Tokyopop has plans and promotions in place that will deal with these problems. At the moment, however, it seems like Tokyopop is too busy patting itself on the back for overcoming previous obstacles to acknowledge the potential pitfalls of its latest brilliant initiative.

And remember: If you like Dragon Head, pre-order volume 6 from Amazon in an effort to keep it from going Tokyopop.com-exclusive!
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
The Dragon Rears Its Ugly Head

Like David Welsh, Christopher Butcher, and Dave Lartigue, I'm annoyed to learn that Dragon Head is one of the series that Tokyopop is making an online exclusive (meaning that you can only buy the book through Tokyopop's site). I'd just started following Dragon Head again on David's recommendation, and by the end of volume 3, I was definitely hooked.

For me the issue boils down to cost and convenience. I can generally find manga for cheaper than cover price, but Tokyopop is charging full cover price for their "online exclusives" (with a note that these books are "Not Eligible For Additional Discounts" if you click the "Buy Now" link). And the shipping charges (the cheapest option is economy at $3 for the first item + $1 each additional item) are off-putting for someone who's used to getting free shipping from other online sites.

I'm also used to the convenience of being able to run down to the nearest bookstore to buy my favorite manga as soon as they come out; or the convenience of adding a book to a larger online order if it's not a series where I need to read the latest volume right away. This also makes me wonder about how well "online exclusive" manga will sell, especially for newer series. Without a way for fans to browse through the books in the stores, are many fans going to be willing to pre-order these manga sight-unseen?

I'm sure it all comes down to profitability: Tokyopop wasn't making (or didn't expect to make) enough on these books to justify printing them and shipping them out to multiple bookstores, only to have to deal with returns later on. So I can see how trying to offer the books online is preferable to cancelling them outright. But it would have been nice if Tokyopop had tried leveraging its online community to pump up sales as a supplement to (rather than a replacement of) the bookstore model before pulling the rug out from under the current audience who was comfortable getting these books through existing means.

Anyway, I noticed that Amazon still has Dragon Head Volume 6 available for pre-order. I wonder what Tokyopop would do if a whole bunch of people pre-ordered this book from another source? If the orders are large enough, do you think Tokyopop would reconsider making Dragon Head available only through their site?*

* Yeah, after what happened with Snakes on a Plane, I'm not really feeling all that optimistic about the power of the blogosphere either, but it's worth a try at least. I've placed my order! How about you?
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Tokyopop Sincerely Flatters Marvel Big-Time

I wish I could put my finger on what it is that seems so familiar about the logo for Tokyopop's Utopia's Avenger book*...

It just seems really familiar somehow.

* (The image here of Utopia's Avenger's cover is from Tokyopop's free Manga Magazine **, and to be fair, I should note that it does say "ART NOT FINAL." Plus, on Tokyopop's website, the cover and logo are completely different. Personally, I think it's too bad Tokyopop isn't following through with the sample cover; after all, turnabout is fair play.)

** [I tried to find a link for the magazine on Tokyopop's redesigned website and gave up after several minutes. Googling brought up a bunch of dead links -- nice going, Tokyopop -- so I had to go with Wikipedia's entry, which also contains a dead link because Tokyopop has never heard of redirects.]
Saturday, August 26, 2006
EW on Joann and Jason

(And Graphic Novels In General)
In the "Listen To This" supplement of the latest Entertainment Weekly (#894, cover dated September 1, 2006), First Second's Kelzmer gets a short but glowing write-up. (EW.com doesn't seem to archive content from "Listen To This," so I've scanned the full review on the left.) Based on Joann Sfar's other works (particularly The Rabbi's Cat and Vampire Loves), I'm really looking forward to Klezmer. (And the Hardcover Deluxe Collector's Edition is available from Amazon for only $16.50!)

Back in the regular magazine, Jason's The Left Bank Gang is listed under the books section of September's "The A List" (works that received a grade of A- or better in the month of August). The full review (from 8/11/06) is available here.

And digging around on EW's site, I realized you can search for comic book / graphic novel news and reviews by publisher, so here are links to EW's comic coverage broken out by publisher:

ADV Manga Dark Horse DC
Drawn & Quarterly Fantagraphics First Second
IDW Image Marvel
Oni PressPantheonViz

There are also a number of comic book reviews that don't have a publisher listed for whatever reason (for example, the Battle Royale manga is reviewed, but it's categorized under "ADAPTATION - Battle Royale (Movies) (2000)"; and searching for "Tokyopop" turns up no results), so be sure to browse through the general graphic novels category to see if there are any other comics reviews that might interest you.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Unfair Comparison Reviews: Zombie Powder

Zombie Powder Vol. 1
By: Tite Kubo
Length: 208 pages
Price: $7.99
Publisher: Viz

The Bottom Line: Well, it's no Bleach, that much is for sure.

The Details: Zombie Powder was creator Tite Kubo's debut work, serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump starting in 1999. Apparently it wasn't well received in Japan, lasting only four volumes. (By comparison, Bleach, Kubo's follow-up work, is still running in Japan and has already reached 23 volumes there, with 14 of those currently available here in the U.S.) The book is a quasi-Western revolving around Gamma Akutabi, a rogue in search of the legendary "Rings of the Dead." Collect a dozen of the Rings and you'll find yourself in possession of "Zombie Powder," a substance with the power to grant immortality or return the dead to life.

It's the latter property of the Zombie Powder that most interests Elwood, a young boy who decides to join Gamma's quest after his sister is brutally murdered before his very eyes. Gamma, taking pity on Elwood, agrees to let the boy tag along with him, but Elwood keeps getting into spots that Gamma has to get him out of. How long will Gamma be able to put up with this burden, especially since he wants the Zombie Powder for his own purposes?

Zombie Powder is classified by Viz as a Shonen Jump Manga, and it's very reminiscent of the titles serialized in the Shonen Jump anthology magazine. Elwood's heartfelt promise to his dead sister as he stands before her grave ("I'll bring you back to life no matter what!") sounds much like Hikaru's declaration that he will be the top Go player in all of Japan, or Naruto's insistence that he'll someday become the most powerful ninja in the world. These are boys with a mission and they're not going to let anything get in their way. Even the search for the Rings is similar to Luffy's quest for the titular "One Piece." (Speaking of One Piece, Kubo's art in Zombie Powder reminded me a lot of Eiichiro Oda's style. I swear this guy could be a villain straight out of One Piece.)

Overall this first volume was a bit of a disappointment. As a big Bleach fan, I was hoping for more of Kubo's trademark blend of stylized designs and kinetic action. The good news is I was getting more of a sense of that energy by the end of the book, but the first half of the book just didn't click. It felt rushed, perhaps because Kubo was hurriedly trying to introduce his characters and concepts so he could move on. (Thinking back on it, I remember not being that impressed with Bleach until the second volume, so maybe Kubo's works take time to grow on the reader.) Things really start to take off once Gamma confronts a sadistic villain in a battle that allows Kubo to let loose with his imaginative and playful variations on traditional fight scenes. Here's the bit that finally sold me on the book:

Behold the brilliance that is...

(Click for larger image)

That alone is almost enough to convince me to check out volume two. Actually, I know I'll be coming back for the next installment, but a big part of that is due to an interest in seeing how one of my favorite manga creators developed as an artist. Those of you who aren't already Tite Kubo fans probably won't get as much out of Zombie Powder as I did. But if you are a Bleach fan, or if the idea of crazy-ass sword fights involving rocket-powered weapons appeals to you, I encourage you to check out this book.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Not Gay But Willing To Learn

If ever there were a debate I should stay out of, it's this one: As a straight male who didn't care for the one yaoi title he tried (Fake Vol. 1), I have absolutely no personal stake in this issue. But I did want to comment that it's odd to see female comic fans attempting to tell another group (here, gay men who read yaoi (or "Boy's Love" or "ChangePurse" or whatever the correct term is) manga but have concerns with the way gay characters are depicted or the books are marketed) to shut up with their complaints about the work because it's not intended for them. The general tone of hostility from some of the female fans in this situation reminds me of how some male fans grow very, very upset whenever female readers bring up complaints about sexism in superhero comics. In both cases, the response to the complaints basically amounts to "Go away and leave us alone! This was never meant for you in the first place!!" rather than an effort to understand why the complaints came about.

All of which I find very strange. Granted, this is probably hopelessly naive and idealistic on my part, but I don't get why fans don't welcome the opportunity to learn how others with different experiences and perspectives view their favorite works. Why try to shut out another viewpoint from being expressed? If you disagree with it, there's nothing that says you have to change your opinion, so you're free to continue enjoying the work as you always did. As far as I can tell, the defensiveness stems from fear that there might be some truth to the criticism being expressed, and that if one comes to agree with such criticism, one's original enjoyment of the work will be diminished. But if the complaints are valid, perhaps the work in question doesn't deserve as much esteem as it once enjoyed.

* I'm wondering if some of the disconnect in the case of the yaoi controversy comes from the Japanese practice of categorizing work according to the intended audience (shojo, shonen, etc.) whereas in the West work is more likely grouped by subject matter. So, from the Western perspective, yaoi is "gay porn" (subject matter) but from the Japanese perspective it's "porn for women" (the original intended audience).
Friday, August 18, 2006
A Personality Quiz You'll Never See in Cosmo

David Welsh has a great post today about how a publisher's corporate personality can impact a consumer's perception of their product. Logically, I know that the former shouldn't necessarily affect the latter (except in extreme cases where corporate philosophy is very top-down, as in the Bill Jemas era) -- that the work should be able to stand on its own merits, independent of the attitudes and atmosphere surrounding the creation and promotion of said work -- but I also know that a publisher's antics do influence how I view their books. With that in mind, I decided to attempt to uncover my feelings about various publishers and catalog them as honestly as I could. Here's what I came up with:

Comic Book Publishers: A Field Guide to Understanding Their Quirks and Complications
Publisher Typical Behavior Overall Impression Created
DC - Is it Monday? Time for a new creative team and/or reboot/relaunch of our entire superhero universe!
- We just know this beloved character who has never been able to attract an audience will finally succeed this time
- But we also have Vertigo, CMX, and Wildstorm
Strangely ambivalent about own rich history: sometimes proud of quirky characters, embracing their inherent goofiness; sometimes attempt to cover up embarrassment over silly characters by changing everything about them except name (bipolar / manic-depressive?) Compartmentalizes.
Marvel - Endless announcements of upcoming and/or delayed projects, always involving excessive, near-delusional hype
- Announcements of exclusive creator contracts
- Subtle digs at their main competitor, followed by some insincere praise for same competitor
- Underlying tone of hostility toward fanbase
Arrogant; narcissistic; possessive; bully
Dark Horse - Very little in the way of hype
- Also very little in the way of updates: Cancellations or delays only discovered when online retailers inform me that my order will be delayed
Uncommunicative; aloof; mysterious; unreliable
Tokyopop - Barrage of press announcements bragging about latest innovation that will transform the industry that week
- Redesigned website hoping to catch some of that MySpace buzz
Insecure: needs to exaggerate own accomplishments while also copying what it sees as "hot trends"
Viz - Dominates Bookscan charts
- Lets others report on the fact that they dominate sales charts
Quiet performer secure in own abilities
Drawn & Quarterly - Announces intriguing-sounding projects that are neither too artsy nor too low-brow, but work never materializes; consumer wonders, "Did I just imagine that project?"; finally, work does show up years later (but looking beautiful) after audience has forgotten about it Perfectionist
Fantagraphics - Experiments with formats and content
- Occasionally rages against stupidity of rest of industry
Unpredictable; challenging
First Second - Sends out dozens (hundreds?) of comp copies to blogosphere to promote initial launch
- Works in small, manageable bursts
Confident and generous; professional

Granted, this is just a first pass based on my current impressions. Perhaps with more thought and additional refinement (not to mention input from others), this "Publisher Personality Profile" chart could become the basis for a new Internet fad: Which Comic Book Publisher Are You? (I'd say I'm some sort of mix between DC and Drawn & Quarterly, but that might just be my inner Tokyopop talking.)
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Civil Solution

If I were an editor at Marvel, here's how I would have handled the delays in the Civil War schedule:

As soon as it was evident that McNiven wouldn't be able to complete Civil War #4 on time, I would have begun working on putting together a fill-in issue. But not just any fill-in issue -- a super-special, jam-packed, all-star artist issue!! Rather than bringing in one unlucky sap to rush out the book, I would have divvied out the pages to multiple artists (all popular ones, natch). By spreading out the workload to multiple artists, you should be able to get the book out on time still, even allowing for issues of coordination and bringing the new artists up to speed. Then Marvel could bill the fill-in as a "jam" issue with all of the fans' favorite artists and even work in some bullshit spin like: "Civil War has been so hot that all of these artists wanted a piece of the action, and who were we to disappoint the likes of John Cassaday, Frank Cho, and Leinil Yu? Plus, nearly a dozen more top talents lend their artistic abilities to the most popular series of the century!! Truly, this is the Mighty Marvel age of Sharing The Wealth! Excelsior!!" Suddenly the change in artist becomes a positive, not a negative.

But just in case there were fans who would prefer a common creative team throughout the whole series, I'd also announce that Marvel would be putting out a special "Original Artist" alternate version of Civil War #4 illustrated by Steve McNiven after the whole series was completed. (Hey, Marvel already does alternate covers, so why not entire alternate comics? Plus, they could still have alternate covers on the alternate version of #4, so they could squeeze even more money out of their fanbase.)

So McNiven would skip working on #4 and jump to #5 while others completed #4. McNiven would complete #5, #6, and #7 before going back to "remaster" #4. Then when the collected edition came out, you could include McNiven's version of #4 in the proper story flow and include the "fill-in" issue as a back-up feature, along with all the alternate covers, sketches, and other standard bonus material.

This way Marvel wouldn't have to delay their entire line to accommodate one late book. The important story beats from #4 could still be told in time; the books that followed up on events in #4 could still come out on schedule; and retailers wouldn't be left with a big gap in their sell cycle. (Granted, retailers would still have to figure out how to adjust orders on the "artist jam" fill-in issue, but perhaps Marvel could offer to accept unsold copies in a show of good faith. I would guess that such a fill-in issue would sell as well as (if not better than) the "regular" issue by McNiven would have.) And then, after the whole mini-series was completed, Marvel could release McNiven's version of #4 and potentially gain even more revenue from the series. (I'm guessing most completists would buy both versions of #4. Heck, I'm not buying Civil War and even I might be curious to see how different artists handled the same script.)

So, genius or sheer stupidity? Would fandom embrace this scenario, or would they condemn it as greedy corporate double-dipping? U-DECIDE!!!
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Old Men: Threat or Menace???

In his discussion of Marvel Team-Up #117, Chris Sims posted this odd panel of Wolverine facing down an old man wearing a suit of armor:

Seeing that panel reminded me I'd recently come across a similar image in yet another issue of Marvel Team-Up, this time from Marvel Team-Up #28 (reprinted in Essential Marvel Team-Up Volume 2):

Clearly there's a pattern here: Old men are now terrorizing the Marvel universe. The best part is that, when they're caught, the old men feign senility, stammering out a string of denials and pretending they don't know how they got there. "Are you my grandson? My grandson Timmy likes baseball. I used to play baseball. What time is it?" How could any hero hope to cope against such a pointless, rambling onslaught? After watching the old men fumble with their medication, most heroes feel too sorry for the aged villains to knock them out, so they just sneak away as soon as the geezers pretend to fall asleep.

Another bonus in using old men in exoskeletons as your henchmen is that they never lose the element of surprise. When a big, tough superhero finally brings down the armored bad guy who's been threatening to steal Manhattan Island, the last thing he expects to find inside is an elderly man, no matter how many times it's happened before. Even Hercules -- who has been around for thousands of years and presumably has seen just about everything -- is unprepared for finding out that the "major threat" he's been fighting is a 90-year-old man:

According to this site, all these old men (or at least the second one) were just pawns in the plans of even older old men called "They Who Wield Power." I gave up before I read the whole profile, but I gather that "They Who Wield Power" were the shadowy figures behind many of the nonsensical plots in early issues of Marvel Team-Up, a fact that was only revealed more than a half-decade later in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. Ah, the wonder of unresolved plotlines in a shared corporate universe!

And for Chris's birthday, here's a little belated face-smashin' KERORO-STYLE!!:

Happy birthday, old man!
Wednesday, August 09, 2006

That Alan Davis is a pretty funny guy:
Click the image for a larger version.

I love the next issue blurb: "Next Issue: Xavier & Wolverine!"

Frankly, I'm surprised Marvel hasn't exploited this idea yet. After all, it would allow Marvel to have their cake and eat it, too: They could announce they're finally comfortable featuring gay characters in their comics, and sales would skyrocket as fanboys lined up to buy multiple copies. Maybe if DC's lesbian Batwoman proves to be a big hit...