Sporadic Sequential
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Dear Comic Book Publishers: A List of My Digital Demands

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but when are comic publishers going to get their act together and allow their books to be easily purchased for digital download on a site like Amazon.com?

Yes, individual publishers have made small moves toward digitizing their comics. Marvel has their online digital comics reader (which is currently offering a 10% discount on the annual subscription through 12/1, making the total cost $53.89), but you're locked into using their clumsy online reader. Plus, it's based on a subscription model (either monthly or annually) with no option of just buying an individual comic you're interested in checking out. Other publishers such as SLG offer comics for download in PDF format, which, at least in my experience, isn't an optimal comics reader. (SLG's digital offerings are also slim, with only six series listed on their site. I was unable to connect directly to Eyemelt to see if there were more comics available there.)

While it's great that publishers are making incremental moves to provide their works in other formats, I don't think digital comics will ever really take off until they're as easy and hassle-free to purchase as an MP3 from a site like Amazon.com. Others have probably already made these very same suggestions before, but here are the points I would like to see in a digital comics offering:

1. All publishers must agree on the same digital format. I don't want to have to sign up with individual subscription plans with different formats, and I don't want to have to use different readers for comics from different publishers. Preferably all companies could come around to using the .cbr format, which is a simple but convenient way to read comics. Using viewers such as CDisplay, readers can easily page through the comic and determine how to size the display options. (I know it's ironic that this format grew out of illegal scans, but it's still the best option for viewing comics that I've seen so far, so publishers would be smart to adopt it.)

2. Publishers must allow other sites to sell their digital comics.
I know publishers want to lock down their content and keep it on their site, but it's simply not convenient from the customer's perspective to visit other sites to purchase or view comics.

3. Get over the DRM worries. Look, people are going to copy your comics and distribute them illegally no matter what you do. It's not fair, but what are you going to do at this point? By attempting to insert content protection into your digital files, you're just going to frustrate users who would legitimately purchase your comics but don't want to deal with the potential DRM headaches.

4. Allow the flexibility to purchase individual issues or complete collections. Someone may just want to sample a particular issue that they've heard so much about online, while others will want to get the whole story. Make sure that both options are available and convenient.

5. Come up with a pricing model that makes sense. Whatever pricing structure publishers come up with, the prices have to reflect a substantial discount over the physical comics. Since individual comics are reaching the $3-$4 price point, publishers could probably get away with charging 99 cents per issue. (It'd be great if they could price the individual comics even cheaper, say 25 or 50 cents, but the 99 cents price would nicely align with what's become the standard price for a single MP3.) The "album" collections should not only be cheaper than the physical books but also cheaper than buying the individual CBR issues.

6. Release the digital comics at the same time as the hardcopy comics. I know this will piss off some retailers, but I think a big part of the traffic for individual digital comics would come from casual superhero fans who are really only interested in checking out a particular issue because they've read so much about it online. Obviously, that "impulse" interest is going to diminish as the buzz fades, so publishers would maximize their digital sales by synchronizing the digital and paper comic release schedules. Digital collections could come out when the physical collections are published or even later.

I never really got into buying MP3s until Amazon's MP3 store launched, so obviously that's the model I'm following here. I know a lot of people like the iTunes shop, but I didn't like the idea of having my music restricted by DRM protections. With Amazon's DRM-free MP3s, I can easily transfer my MP3s to my MP3 player or burn the files to CD. I'd like similar flexibility with digital comics. I don't want to be locked into a proprietary format, and I want to be able to easily buy an individual issue or complete collection from the same site where I buy my dead-tree TPB and HC comics.

As an example of how I think this would ideally work, consider one of my recent MP3 purchases from Amazon. My wife and I were lucky enough to be invited to a Coldplay concert at the last minute by some friends who had extra tickets. I knew who Coldpay was, but I couldn't name any of their actual songs. At the concert, I recognized several of the songs that I'd heard before but never realized were by Coldplay. When I got home, I looked up Coldplay on Amazon to find some of the songs I particularly liked. In the end, I decided to buy an entire digital album.

If I'd had to wait to buy the CD in the store the following day, or even wait a couple days to receive the CD after ordering it online, I probably never would have followed through with the purchase. I'm sure something would have come up that distracted me or I would have just forgotten about it. But because I could log in and download the music immediately after the concert, I bought the entire album. I think a similar dynamic would come into play with digital comics. I know a couple weeks ago I was morbidly curious about Kevin Smith's new Batman comic because it was getting so roundly panned everywhere. I've also been interested in the latest Spider-Man comic since the sample art I've seen by Marcos Martin is simply stunning. These are two examples of individual comics that I have a fleeting interest in -- nothing strong enough to actively track down, but something I might download if I could do it easily and immediately. (I also wouldn't want to bother with the hassle of storing any more physical floppy comics. I have enough long boxes of comics that I have to figure out how to get rid of someday.)

Yes, I'm being completely selfish in my demands, but I'm just trying to be honest about what I want as a consumer. Comic book publishers have an opportunity to make some money off me, but it will only happen under very specific circumstances. (Of course, publishers are free to ignore my preferences, but perhaps someday we'll be able to meet halfway.)

So how about you? What would you like to see in a digital comics delivery system? Would you read digital comics if they were as easy to buy as MP3s?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I Can Hardly Wait Until Marvel Rolls Out Their Die-Cut Foil Embossed Limited Edition Hardcover Collections

Here's something that's bugging me: What's the deal with Marvel's "Premiere Edition" hardcover format? Yeah, they're nicely-packaged and sturdy, but is there really a big market for upscale collections of five to six issues of very recent comic books? Are there lots of people who are passing up monthly comics in favor of hardcover collections? Are there actually people who are buying both the floppies and the hardcovers?

Looking over Marvel's recent solicitations, it looks like they're cranking out about ten of these Premiere hardcovers a month, which is just...wow. Again, is there really a market for all of these hardcovers, or is Marvel just flooding the market? I'd have trouble thinking of ten Marvel story arcs from all of Marvel's publishing history that I'd want to own in hardcover, yet Marvel is churning out hardcovers for practically every series out there, including She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel, titles I can hardly imagine are even selling much as singles.

Assuming a reader was planning on buying all the singles anyway, the hardcovers aren't that bad of a deal: Six comics at $3 a pop would run you $18, so two bucks more isn't bad for hardcover binding. But there's still the delay waiting for the hardcover to come out, and I'm assuming most superhero fans would prefer to read the stories when everyone else is talking about them. So again I'm wondering who these are for? If there really has been a significant switch to "waiting for the trade" I guess it makes sense from Marvel's perspective to make the collected edition a hardcover and charge an extra five bucks for it. That way they might make a little more money off the customer who was waiting for the trade but can't wait another six months for the softcover version to hit shelves.

Or maybe the primary audience for these slim hardcovers is libraries? That would actually make sense to me, since the hardcovers would hold up better than the softcover editions of such slender books. And at least at my local library, the Marvel "Premiere Edition" hardcovers seems to be the favored format for Marvel comics. (Most of the DC comics are softcover, but I'm not sure if DC is even putting out as many hardcovers each month as Marvel is.)

So what do you think? Do you like hardcover collections of fleeting, disposable storylines? Are you waiting for the hardcovers, or do you go the extra distance and hold out for the cheaper hardcovers? Do you know anyone who ever bought two versions of the same hardcover comic just because it had different covers? (Multiple covers for reprint collections, Marvel? Really??)

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Greek Gods Gone Wild!

Today's entry: Marvel's Premiere Edition of Incredible Hercules: Against The World, which collects Incredible Hercules issues #112-115 and the one-shot Hulk vs. Hercules: When Titans Collide.

I actually don't have much to say about this one. I didn't have as strong of a reaction to it as the previous two entries, either positively or negatively. It was just kind of... OK. Which is fine, but I guess I was expecting to be wowed by the book more since it's been garnering such positive praise online. I did like that writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente delve back into Hercules' history to show more of the events that have shaped him. I've always enjoyed the Greek myths, so it was nice to them referenced here and used as back story to deepen Herc's character and help explain why he would be sympathetic to the Hulk's actions in World War Hulk. I've always liked the Marvel version of Hercules, who has played the role of a rough-and-tumble lovable lout, but if he's going to sustain a series it's probably a good idea to flesh out the character so he's a bit more complex.

I didn't care much for the art. It was too scratchy and murky, but perhaps that was the look they were going for given the book's subject matter of war, devastation, and depression. I did wonder what the book would have read like if it had followed an art style more in line with Art Adams' bold, action-packed covers. It probably would have given the book more of an old school straight superhero vibe.

I did have a question related to current Marvel continuity. I still remember when Ares was a villain that teams like the Avengers and the Champions (referenced in this volume) went up against. I've read the Wikipedia summary for Ares, but I still find it hard to understand why he was recruited to be an Avenger. In this volume Ares is shown actively working against his teammates (even knocking out Wonder Man from behind) and the Black Widow is shown having reservations dealing with Ares. Is this something that is dealt with in The Mighty Avengers, or is it something that's just glossed over in order to have a cool "Thor and Wolverine in one" character on the team?

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Monday, November 24, 2008
The Hypothetical Reviewer

Unlike yesterday's entry, JLA: The Hypothetical Woman is a tight, satisfying superhero read. The TPB collects issues 16-21 of the rotating creative teams title JLA Classified. This arc is by writer Gail Simone and artist José Luís García-López, and it provides a good example of how to handle a large team book in a short number of issues. Rather than trying to cram in everything, Simone starts with a central concept and builds outwards, layering on details to create an engaging story.

The concept that Simone starts with could have easily gone off the rails: What if the JLA were tasked with removing a despotic dictator from power? I can hear the groaning from here, and I had similar concerns: Was this just an attempt to "Authority-ize" the JLA, perhaps written back when The Authority was actually still popular? (And wasn't that result already published as Justice League Elite?) Thankfully, Simone doesn't appear to be attempting to make the JLA "hip" or "relevant" — she's just starting with a topical premise and telling a good story.

The conflict in the book starts small —the League is called in by the UN to depose a dictator, but he thwarts them by negotiating asylum — but builds gradually and convincingly until the situation the JLA faces feels like a genuine threat (something that's not that easy to come up with in sprawling superhero comics, as other jaded readers have noted). I always enjoy it when superheroes have to go up against bad guys whose only power is their twisted intellect (well, that and unlimited access to weapons of speculative function). Here, General Tuzik, in a nice bit of irony, gathers up the discarded remnants of various superhuman battles to use against the League. (So if only the League had done a better job at recycling this could have all been avoided? And does this mean the DC Universe doesn't have the equivalent of a Damage Control? There's a good proposal for a universe-spanning series.) Simone has fun coming up with nasty twists on old JLA villains and gadgets being weaponized by the military, such as Starro as a biological weapon and multiple Chemo constructs.

Simone's characterization is also great — fun and familiar yet with plenty of fresh touches. I especially liked her handle on Batman. He's still the tough, über-competent tactician, but he also seems more grounded. (Seriously, when Batman's the one lecturing the bad guys on the virtues of being part of something "larger than oneself," you know you've come a long way from the grumpy lone wolf characterization.) One great scene has Batman pitted against a new opponent, Jin Si, a martial arts expert who is thought to be virtually unbeatable. As she pummels Batman, we're shown that he's not only fighting her but he's also working out the larger strategy of defeating General Tuzik in his head. (Holy multitasking, Batman!) Noticing that he seems preoccupied, Jin Si taunts him that he seems distracted as she kicks him to the ground, which leads Batman to reply:

Other characters get their share of nice moments as well. Superman is shown putting extreme political pressure on a government official in order to get what he wants, a welcome change from the nice-to-a-fault bland boy scout portrayal. John Stewart reveals the worst job he ever had while recruiting someone whose participation will prove to be crucial. And Wonder Woman is depicted as an actual warrior... and as a teammate thoughtful enough to bake treats when her beaten and battered team needs a pick-me-up. (Based on this story, I'm thinking that I'll probably be checking out Simone's run on Wonder Woman sometime soon.)

As for the art, well, it's by José Luís García-López, who truly is legendary as the back cover blurb puts it. His layouts and compositions are so classic and clean that he makes the story a joy to read. His figures are strong and striking, and he stages events so everything makes sense when you visualize it in your own head. Here García-López is aided by two inkers, Klaus Janson for the first half and Sean Phillips for the second. Both inkers do a good job of enhancing García-López's pencils, letting his style show through without burying his work beneath their inks.

All in all, this was an enjoyable little superhero yarn. It reminded me of Grant Morrison's run on JLA, more in broad spirit than in anything specific. Like Morrison, Simone was able to use fun little bits of DC lore to enhance the story without getting bogged down in minute continuity. In fact, I really only had two nitpicks about the whole story: (1) The titular Hypothetical Woman was nothing more than a cipher, a plot device to create capable counterparts for the JLA. (2) There were a couple of empty word balloons at the very end of the story:

I'm assuming this was an error and that those word balloons were supposed to be filled with some of the General's psychotic sidespeak. Does anyone know what the word balloons originally said?

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Sunday, November 23, 2008
The World's Gimmickiest Comic Magazine!

OK, let's try and get this reading diary going. First up, Marvel's Premiere Edition of Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four, which collects issues 544-550 of the monthly series. The seven issues collected deal with a temporary roster change, and the Black Panther and Storm replace Reed and Sue Richards, who are going on a second honeymoon to work on their marriage in light of events that transpired during Civil War. (I'm not sure exactly what those events were. According to Wikipedia's Civil War entry, Mister Fantastic was a primary architect of the pro-registration side, constructing the Negative Zone prison and cloning a murderous version of Thor; while the Invisible Woman was a member of the Secret Avengers, the anti-registration forces. So kind of like the marriage of James Carville and Mary Matalin, then?)

It's also a temporary roster change in terms of the creative line-up, as writer Dwayne McDuffie (along with artist Paul Pelletier) was only on the book for a short period in between J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Millar. Even given the temporary, impermanent nature of creative teams on corporate comics, the brief tenure results in a run that feels inconsequential. Which is a strange thing to say when the threats McDuffie throws against our heroes are so cosmic in scope. Not only do the new (and old) FF face off against Epoch, Galactus, and the Silver Surfer but they must also deal with the unraveling of the very universe. Perhaps it's because McDuffie attempts to cram too much in that nothing has much impact in the end. Things move at a ridiculously breakneck speed with heroes popping from one end of the galaxy to the next with little or no effort at all. (Remember when navigating the Watcher's home was a venture that threatened a hero's sanity or well-being? Here, retrieving vital information from the Watcher's infinte library just require the Thing to concentrate a little. And the less said about the Black Panther's ridiculous frog MacGuffin the better).

One casualty in the effort to cram everything in is characterization. Not only don't we get to see the new team members interact much (no sooner have Black Panther and Storm finished unpacking when they're leaving again) but the characterization we are given feels off somehow. Everyone's voice seems wrong and everyone's voice seems the same, which makes the dialogue seem indistinct and interchangeable. At two separate points the Thing utters the exact same threat to two different opponents and I couldn't tell if this was a production glitch or a purposeful stylistic choice.
"Youse guys ain't even worth the effort to come up with unique putdowns for!"

Another element that mars the book's characterization is everyone's penchant for unthinking violence. I know this is superhero comics and there has never been any conflict or conversation that couldn't be settled with clobbering, but on a team that includes the strategic genius Black Panther and the serene goddess Storm (who if I'm not mistaken used to chastise Wolverine for his tendency to attack unprovoked back when she led the team), it's disappointing to see our heroes so willing to throw the first blow. This is especially true when their opponent is a former friend as in the case of the Silver Surfer, but this is the post-Civil War era, so perhaps preemptive punching is par the course in the new world order.

The art in the book is serviceable but nothing terribly exciting. I've enjoyed Pelletier's work in other series (most memorably CrossGen's Negation) so I'm not sure why it's leaving me so nonplussed here. Perhaps part of the problem is the computer coloring: I found myself distracted by the efforts to model and shade characters (especially their faces) throughout the book. Looking at the sole extra in this hardcover, a single page sampling Pelletier's pencils for issue 550, I found his work much more subtle and striking in black and white. (Perhaps I've been conditioned or ruined by reading so much manga.) Still, things could have been worse: Cover artist Michael Turner could have provided interior art in addition to his atrocious covers.

Fun Feet Fact! Count the number of feet that Michael Turner drew on these seven covers!!

In short, The New Fantastic Four wasn't much fun, and that's a shame for a series that used to bill itself as "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine," a tagline that literally no longer seems to fit in this age of endless crossovers and earth-shattering events.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008
Reading & Reviewing Rigor Mortis

Lately I've been going through one of those cyclical comics malaise things where I can't seem to work up the energy to read many comics, much less review them. I've been trying to figure out why my enthusiasm for comics is waning at the moment, and here are some of the factors I've come up with:

1. A Simple Lack of Time & Energy.
Pretty obvious, but I hadn't realized it until I stopped to think about it. By the time I get home from work; get the kids fed, bathed, and put to bed; clean the kitchen and do whatever other chores need doing, I don't have much time or energy left to read or write about comics. Other than sending the kids to bed dirty and hungry, I'm not sure how to get around this issue. Perhaps I'll have to start reading comics to the kids for their bedtime stories. ("And then Hyakkimaru confronted the scary-looking demon and said, 'I'm not afraid of you and I'll fight you to get my spleen back!!'")

2. Does The Blogosphere Really Need An Infinite Number of Monkeys + 1? Perhaps this speaks to low self-esteem, but there's a part of me that's overwhelmed by the sheer number of comic book blogs out there. Do I really have anything new or unique to contribute to the conversation when everyone else has already reviewed the book I finally got around to reading months after it came out? In the past I tried not to read other reviews of books I was thinking of discussing, but now I read others' reviews and check off all the points I was thinking of making until I reach the point where there's nothing left that I would add. (I was once thinking of writing a review of a particular comic with hyperlinks to all the other reviews that had already made the points I wanted to bring up, but I was too lazy to do all the linking.)

3. I'm Deeply Embedded in the Comfort Zone. I've noticed that lately I've been reluctant to try out new things. I've been sticking mainly with "comfort" books -- the series that I've following for years already (Bleach, Kekkaishi, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, etc.) or ones in a very similar vein. This is probably a corollary of #1 — since I have little free time, I want to spend it on "safe" series that I expect to entertain me. Which is great in the sense that I'm happy with where my comic-buying dollar is going, but it lessens my inspiration for blogging. How many interesting ways can I come up with to gush about the awesome fight scenes in Bleach or the creepy creature designs in Parasyte?

4. My Critical Faculties Are Failing Me. AKA, "The Positivity Problem." I find myself uncritically enjoying almost everything I'm reading. This probably follows from point #3 above — if I'm only reading things I expect to enjoy and which I've enjoyed in the past, I'm probably going to enjoy them now. But this has also happened to new series that I've read recently. For example, Gun Blaze West is a formulaic shonen series with cliched characters, but I still loved the energy of the series and got completely caught up in each new battle of escalating intensity. So it was a little embarrassing to go back and read the author's notes and find out that creator was much more critical of the book that I was. (I should watch a bad romantic comedy and see if this uncritical enjoyment extends into other media; usually I drive my wife crazy when we watch movies together because I nitpick every little detail or inconsistency.)

5. Mental Block Placed By Charles Xavier Interfering with Writing Abilities. I have actually sat down to write several reviews in the past few months, but for whatever reason, my brain locks up after a couple sentences. I have trouble organizing my thoughts or thinking of the right... whaddya call it... "words." Part of this may just be related to point #1: sleep deprivation may be interfering with the parts of my brain involved in writing in much the same way it's messing with my memory. (I can't count how many times I've been told by people, "Uh, you already mentioned that to me last week" when I think I'm telling them something new.)

I don't really have any grand plans on how to overcome these factors, nor so I have any burning desire to ramp up my reviewing schedule in the near future. But I would like to blog more frequently than I have been, so I may borrow a suggestion that Danielle Leigh threw out and start more of a reading diary — just blog more of my reactions and impressions to the things I read rather than trying to structure them into professional reviews or thoughtful criticism. Perhaps this will relieve some of the subconscious pressure that causes me to freeze up when I sit down to write a review. And I'm also planning on sampling more works outside of my regular reading list. The other day I stopped by the library to pick up an item my wife had on reserve and I swung by the graphic novel sections to grab a couple impulse selections (a couple random volumes of Golgo 13 and Beck, as well as a handful of superhero comics). No guarantees, but I hope to have some new posts up in the coming weeks.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008
A Jacket Quote I'd Like To See

From Timothy Callahan's review of Fantastic Four #561 at CBR:
Critics have complained that [Mark Millar's] recent stuff is too-high concept, too pandering, or too much flash and not enough substance. But I think that's when Millar is at his best.
Knowing Marvel, I can actually see them embracing those remarks in upcoming solicitations: "This is it, True Believers! Mark Millar's flashiest and most pandering storyline yet!!"

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Sorry, Kids -- Maybe I'll Buy You Those Disney Movies Next Year

I just noticed that Tower.com seems to be having a pretty big and fairly extensive sale on its site. I'm not sure when it started or how long it'll last, so head over and check to see if there's anything that you've been looking for that's on sale. I was actually looking for Disney DVDs as Christmas gifts for the kids when I decided to check on the items saved on my wish list. I'd just placed two items on the list yesterday, With The Light volumes two and three, because I'd requested the books via my library months ago and they still hadn't come in. Yesterday each volume was priced at $8.78, still a great deal, but today the price was reduced to $6.99 apiece! That's over half-off!! (You know how excited I get when the price of something falls below that magical 50% barrier.)

Some other great bargains I noticed (ones I bought in bold):
  • Solanin - $9.99
  • Aya of Yop City - $10.99
  • Vagabond VIZBIG Edition, Vol. 2 - $11.86 (vol 1 is even cheaper - only $10.99!!)
  • Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vols. 1-7 $5.99 each, with #5 even cheaper at $4.99!
  • Sgt. Frog - $4.99 - $5.99
  • Bleach - a couple volumes (21, 22, 24) for as low as $2.99
  • Bleach Box Set (collecting vols. 1-21) - $88.99, or a little over four bucks a book
  • Dororo vol. 1 - $6.99 (2 and 3 are $7.99)
  • Cat Eyed Boy 1 - $12.99 (vol.2 is $13.99)
  • Slam Dunk 1 - $2.99 (!!!! - buy this book!!!)
  • Real 1 - $5.99 (vol. 2 is $6.99)
  • Parasyte 1-5 - $6.99 each
  • Emma 1-6 - $4.99 (7 is $5.99 but the cover price was a dollar more)
  • Spider-Man J: Turning Japanese - $4.99
In my experience, Tower's prices fluctuate quite frequently, so if you see a great deal on something, snatch it up quickly before the price goes back up. And remember, shipping is free on order $25 and over. Any other great deals I missed? Point them out in the comments!

UPDATE 11/13: Looks like prices have drifted back up again. For example, With The Light 2 is now $9.86 and Slam Dunk 1 is 5.95, each almost three dollars more than on Tuesday.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008
Holy Cover Credit Controversy, Batman!

Regarding the controversy over Jiro Kuwata's name not appearing on the cover of Bat-Manga!:

First of all, I love the book. The comics contained in it are entertaining in their own right, beyond the obvious appeal of seeing Batman interpreted for a Japanese audience. I'm already clamoring for the hinted-at sequel. And like Laura Hudson, I'm definitely thinking it's a contender for best of 2008.


I do think putting Jiro Kuwata's name somewhere on the front (back) cover would have been a good move. It's something that seemed strange to me after finishing the book. It's not something that would cause me to discard the book or boycott future work by Kidd, but it's still something that makes me less than completely satisfied with the book. (Another point of dissatisfaction with the book: Given the aged presentation of the material, I would have preferred a rougher paper stock than the glossy material used — something like the paper used for Drawn & Quarterly's oversized anthology books.)

It's interesting to me how the rhetoric over this issue has escalated so quickly. I suppose since the issue touches on creators' rights, it was inevitable that feelings would quickly turn raw. Perhaps it was because my own response to the omission of Kuwata's name on the cover was more mild displeasure than seething outrage (mock or otherwise), but Chip Kidd's defensive response surprised me and, in my opinion, only made matters worse.

Kidd's opening paragraph succeeds in getting things off on exactly the wrong foot:
First of all, I’d like to say to all the relevant reviewers/bloggers/whomever: I am heartened that you all have such concern for Mr. Kuwata’s welfare. So here’s a question: where were YOU for the last thirty years, while he was languishing in obscurity both here and in his own country? I won’t bother waiting for an answer.
Of course, the appropriate response to Kidd's question is: What the heck does this have to do with the issue of giving Kuwata cover credit? Why do readers or reviewers have a responsibility to be well-versed in the personal and/or professional status of a creator in order to ask questions about how the creator was credited in a particular book that featured his work? If Kuwata is indeed "languishing in obscurity," you wouldn't learn that fact from reading Kidd's interview with Kuwata in the book. According to Kuwata's Wikipedia page, it sounds as though he's still an active artist, even if it's not in the medium of manga anymore, so I'm not sure what Kidd is getting at here. If he's asking if we're hip enough that we knew about Kuwata before Bat-Manga!, well, then color me guilty. I had never heard of him before this book, but now that I have experienced his work, I'd love to read more if it's ever made available in English. So I guess my answer is... All this time I was waiting to read Mr. Kuwata’s manga, even if I wasn't aware of it until I saw it?

Kidd goes on to make the point that
Bat-Manga is not just about the work of Mr. Kuwata, although that of course makes up the bulk of the book. Rather, it is about chronicling the phenomenon—however short-lived—of Batman in Japan in 1966.
This actually raises an interesting question about the book. What is the book really about? I'd argue that the book is about the manga created by Jiro Kuwata. Look, the title of the book is Bat-Manga. Yes, the book has a secondary title, "The Secret History of Batman in Japan," but I'd argue that the promise of this subtitle is never fulfilled. Kidd argues that the book is about "chronicling the phenomenon ... of Batman in Japan" but there's nothing to back up this asssertion. By my count, 90% of the book is devoted to the actual sequential art created by Kuwata. Yes, there are lovely photos of miscellaneous Batman memorabilia in between the manga chapters, but again they comprise at most 10% of the book, and there's no detail provided to explain the context of the merchandise. When were the toys produced? By whom? How much did they originally cost? How much did they sell for on eBay? How popular were the toys in Japan? By positing that Batman was a "phenomenon" in Japan, a whole host of questions are raised, questions that never get answered.

All of which makes Kidd's closing argument all the more strange. He compares Bat-Manga! to a documentary by Ken Burns, arguing that the accompanying Civil War book didn't list all the sources and historians cited. If Bat-Manga! truly were more expansive in scope, explaining how the Batman phenomenon swept Japan — what episodes of the Batman TV show were broadcast in Japan; who the voice actors were; what the ratings were; what toys were the best-selling; what reader response to the Batman manga was; analyzing the ways in which the Batman manga overlapped with and diverged from the American comics (such as Go-Go The Magician being a dead ringer for Flash villain the Weather Wizard)*; etc. — then I could probably come closer to seeing Kidd's point about leaving Kuwata's name off the cover. But the fact is that Bat-Manga! is almost entirely comprised of Jiro Kuwata's Batman manga. The pages with the Japanese Batman toys serve as chapter breaks and remind me more of the extras you'd find in an American trade paperback collection: Interesting and nice to have, but not essential. For me, this is actually a good thing. When the book was announced, I was worried it would be bogged down with photos of the Batman toys, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is devoted almost entirely to Kuwata's manga.

A more accurate analogy that came to my mind was: What if Viz, in their presentation of Takehiko Inoue's Slam Dunk, had called it "Slam Danku!: The Secret History of Basketball in Japan" and left Inoue's name off the cover? After all, Inoue's sports manga is widely credited with driving Japanese interest in basketball, so there's the whole "phenomenon" angle in common. And Viz's presentation of Slam Dunk does have additional material in it, such as descriptions of basketball terms and glossy color pin-ups of NBA stars. Wouldn't that have seemed... odd?

Kidd would probably reject this analogy as dissimilar (he rejects another good analogy in the comments here), perhaps because Viz works as diligently as possible to clean up their manga, whereas Kidd and his co-authors treated the manga as aged, imperfect artifacts, photographing the old manga pages directly rather than scanning and retouching them. The appoach does give the work a distinctive look and feel, but the end result as a reader is still that of reading a sequential narrative that engages the imagination. It's not as though Kidd presented the pages out of order or interrupted the narrative to comment on the pages presented. In the end, it still reads like a comic, so the production behind the book is interesting but inessential.

And, yes, Kuwata is mentioned several times inside the book and on the little wraparound banner that comes with the book. And it's clear that everyone involved with the book has nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for Kuwata (the term that is most frequently used to describe Kuwata is "Manga Master"). But it still would have nice to have seen his name listed on the front. (And if you don't think being mentioned on the actual cover matters, consider how bitterly credit and billing are fought over throughout all entertainment media.) Perhaps such a credit wasn't required, but it would have been great to see it there. (And wouldn't a cover credit or some statement to the effect of "based on manga by Jiro Kuwata" have given Kuwata even more recognition? Wouldn't that have been a good thing?)

So in closing: Love the Bat-Manga! book. But hate the arguments and invective being thrown at those who feel a cover credit for Kuwata would have been a nice touch.

* Perhaps I should do a book about similarities and differences between the two. I'm convinced that the "Professor Gorilla" story has an American comic counterpart, so perhaps I could track down the closest matches for each manga story. Then I could take photos of each page of the Bat-Manga! book, add in a couple pages of other material, and put my and Jiro Kuwata's names on the cover while thanking Chip Kidd for his work and inspiration inside the book.

Update: Over at io9, Graeme McMillan rounds up reaction and offers his own opinion:
I have to admit, I disagree; for the majority of people, Chip Kidd is the draw for this book - well, that or "Hey, look, it's funny old Batman comics from Japan". Kuwata doesn't have the audience or awareness in the US to be the selling point for the majority of people who'll be picking up this book, and while it would've been nice to see Kuwata's name on the front cover, the fact that he's not only credited for his work inside but also interviewed for the book makes me think that any outcry over usurping of authorship is slightly melodramatic... which, admittedly, seems kind of fitting for a book about Batman.
I've seen others make similar arguments and it strikes me as odd. Why do the options have to be mutually exclusive? I don't think anyone's asking for the removal of Kidd's credit, just the addition of Kuwata's. Would adding Kuwata's name to the cover somehow lessen the draw of Kidd's name? And why do concerns of marketability drown out questions of authorship, fairness, or just plain stand-up behavior? Plus, as Graeme points out, I think the real draw for most people who pick up this book will be "Ooo, crazy vintage Batman manga!!" Is Kidd's name really such a selling point for others?

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