Saturday, February 21, 2009

Things are Tough All Over

A recent post at Heidi MacDonald's The Beat provided recent sales figures for DC Comics that are incredibly sobering and eye-opening. (The Beat is a blog that broadly covers comics and provides a wonderful central resource for trends and breaking news.)

It's ironic that at a time when comics-based properties and geek culture have entered the mainstream and now drive a lot of entertainment media, overall sales of comics continue to decline, offset only by the higher price of comics. (When I began reading comics in the early 1970s, they were 20 cents. These same comics now sport cover prices of the $2.99 to $3.50 range, though the quality of the coloring and paper stock is generally better.)

This circulation decline is not simply due to the current economic meltdown (and the jury is still out as to how much comics will be affected by the present crisis), but rather has been a slow attrition over time. Sure there have been periodic busts, booms and spikes, but the overall sales trend since the founding of the industry in the 1930s has generally been downward.

A good overview of this can be found at a site called the Nostalgia Zone which provides a straightforward overview and history of the comic-book industry and sales figures from 1934-1960 here and from 1960-2005 here. Generally, sales of the highest selling comics in the '40s regularly topped 1 or 2 million; today, a hot-selling comic-book generally is in the 100,000—150,000 range. I often like to note that the current sales figures of some iconic comic-book characters like Batman and Superman would have been cause for cancellation back in the 1970s and '80s.

Part of this, of course, can be explained by changing tastes and the competing demands on young people (and the population as a whole) such as television, movies, computers, etc. But it does seem amazing that while comics properties have become more mainstream and popular, the genre itself has remained a surprisingly small niche market. And, not putting too fine a point on it, small publishers like me continue to fight for the scraps at the bottom.

I am not suggesting at all that comics themselves will be disappearing anytime soon. As licensed properties, comics remain incredibly lucrative for their publishers/owners. Plus, the comics industry has always shown itself to be incredibly resilient: the collapse of the newsstand market in the 1980s led to the direct-sales comic-book store market; the market has successfully found ways to reinvent itself through the rise of alternative, independent comics and the re-imaginings of major franchises like Batman; and the current sag in sales has been more than offset by the rise of trade paperback comics which offer a higher profit margin and lend themselves to new distribution outlets like bookstores.

Nevertheless, the comics industry is struggling to find a new model and place in today's digital world: declining overall sales have caused the industry's sole major distributor, Diamond, to more stringently restrict access to the market by publishers; some see a trending towards the trade paperback format since sales in that area have exploded; on the other hand, sales appear to be flattening and simply eating into the same pie taken up by the single issue comic-book format.

The Web—both for publishing and for alternative means of distribution—clearly is the main focus. But so far, not at a scale to compete with or replace the current model.

As always I remain optimistic: comics remain a popular and affordable form of expression, and the Web has created a relatively flat playing field that provides opportunities for creators' work to be seen that simply did not exist a decade or so ago. But the competition and fragmentation will continue to be a challenge for many publishers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rob Hanes Adventures Goes Live at Kidjutsu.com

As part of my plan to give the series as broad exposure as possible, Rob Hanes Adventures can now be found at Kidjutsu, a new comics website where the featured comics are presented in a family-friendly, age-appropriate manner.

Go here to see the main page for the series at the site.

To start, issues 9 and 10 from the series have been published at the site, with more to come. (The cover to Kidjutsu special edition issue 9 is shown below.)

Show your support for the series by checking out the series at the site!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Birthday, David Naughton!

I'd be remiss if I were not to note that today is David Naughton's birthday, known for An American Werewolf in London, the Dr. Pepper commercials and, of course, the TV show, "Makin' It."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

SHOP TALK: My New Graphics Tablet!

As mentioned in a previous post, I recently upgraded my home computer system from a 10-year-old Win98 PC to a new 20" iMac. The transition has been amazingly easy, especially when one considers that I have Windows XP running within the Mac operating system so that I could continue using some old Windows software and hardware on the new computer that either don't exist for the Mac or would be a waste of money to re-purchase a Mac version.

The only piece of equipment I had to replace as a result of this transition was a graphics tablet—replacing a 4"x5" Aiptek HyperPen 5000 drawing tablet that I've also had for about 10 years but which featured an obsolete PC serial connection. Being the model of thrift I am, I initially had planned to purchase a small Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet, priced under $100 (Wacom is the gold standard for computer graphics tablets).

Fortunately, before I made the purchase, after doing a little research and scrutinizing more closely the tablet's specs, I realized the tablet, while within my price range (under $100) was, with its 5.8"x3.7" active drawing space, smaller than even my old tablet and probably way too small for my needs, especially given the fact that I now have a wider-screen monitor. I then looked at the medium-sized Wacom Bamboo, which with a 8.5"x5.3" live area seemed a bit more suitable. But priced at $199, I must admit it was a bit steep.

I conducted additional research (thank goodness for Google!), and began to focus on the Genius G-Pen F610 tablet. Not only did the tablet feature a much roomier 6"x10" live drawing area, it was also priced just under $100 on Amazon! There were some negative user reviews of the tablet, but fortunately I've learned to sometimes take such comments with a grain of salt, especially when taken as a whole with other comments and reviews. What also finally drove my decision was the realization that the Wacom tablet that actually was more comparable to the F610 wasn't the medium-sized Wacom Bamboo, but the Wacom Intuos3, which sold for $299! Given this, I thought it worth it to take the risk with the G-Pen.

I've been delighted by the results—the tablet works perfectly with both my Mac and Windows graphics programs. Admittedly, I've never needed to use a drawing tablet to its fullest capability. I primarily have used the tablet for coloring, which does not require the kind of finesse that drawing does. (For a good example of what can be accomplished with a drawing pad, check out the work of Benton Jew, who did the cover of issue 12 of Rob Hanes Adventures. Benton now works exclusively on a tablet, no more pen and ink for him!)

However, now that I'm using it, I cancertainly see that the larger tablet is much more conducive to drawing. Up until now, I primarily limited my tablet "drawing" with minor digital touch ups on my art after it had been scanned in. With the larger, roomier drawing space, I can project myself using the drawing function a little more, though at this point not exclusively.

Initially, when I first connected the tablet, I did experience a "lag" with the pen, which some user reviews had complained about. In fact, the pen dragged quite significantly, usually causing a very ragged line very different than what I had drawn. The instruction manual also was very minimal and useless, which others had noted. You can imagine I was aghast at this development.

Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to do some research and though the company that makes the tablet surprisingly doesn't have the most visible website, I eventually tracked down a version of the tablet's driver that was more recent than what shipped with the tablet, and that immediately solved the problem! (I ended up posting a review of the product at the Amazon website, partly to let Mac users know about the newer driver.)

So my new system is now fully decked out for me to do post work on my comics pages!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hooray for Bollywood

I wrote this awhile ago waiting for an opportune time between posts to publish it, but given the recent success of Slumdog Millionaire (which I saw a few weekends ago) and the attention it's brought to the world's largest democracy as well as to its vibrant film industry, I thought now was a good a time as any to post this....

Though I haven't delved deeply into the genre, I know there are many cinefiles who are connoisseurs of Bollywood films—Hindi musicals from India. They are usually quite big spectacles featuring catchy Hindi pop songs, over-the-top and elaborate dance numbers, and quite beautiful actors and actresses. Because of their energy and exuberance, as well as their reputation of being wonderful examples of pure, innocent escapism, they've been often compared to classic Hollywood musicals, reminiscent of Busby Berkeley musicals.

While I was aware of them, what seriously piqued my interest in the genre was a number from the 1966 Bollywood movie Gumnaam that was featured in the 2001 film Ghost World, an adaptation of cartoonist Dan Clowes' respected graphic novel of the same name. The DVD release featured the number in its entirety, which I have linked to below. It's a great time capsule for the worldwide go-go '60s phenomenon.



The second clip is from a film called Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham that came to my attention during, of all places, a comedy bit on the Colbert Report television show, where they featured a brief excerpt from the number linked below. The brief bit they showed wowed me, but understandably I didn't catch the title. A few weeks later, however, out of sheer dumb luck, I stumbled across the DVD of the film n my local public library!!

After watching all the numbers several times (and playing them for my family), I did try to follow the story—but I must admit it was a bit inpenetrable and didn't hold my interest much. But the musical numbers are worth the price of admission on their own.

In recent years, due to the growing respect and attention that Bollywood stars and their films have received internationally (partly the result of the growing influence of expatriate Indian populations in the U.S. and Britain, and other places around the world), some of these stars have been performing in concerts in Southern California.

Note: For a better quality clip of the video below, or if it's no longer available, go here. Some of the better quality clips of this number have been taken down or are not allowed to be embedded.