Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Comics Books: Our Own Worst Enemy?

Like most comic publishers I spend quite a bit of time thinking about the state of the industry and how to make it better - well, truthfully, how to make my little corner of it better. After spending a lot of time thinking it over and discussing what everyone perceives to be the main elements leading to the downfall of comics (the distributor monopoly, for example), I realized what the biggest problem and killer really is: the industry.

I believe most of the problems that we encounter "in the industry" come from the industry itself. First off, comic companies tend to publish only for those who are already in the industry. Comic publishers usually target their marketing towards those who are already here and creators tend to create product only for those who are already well-versed in industry. Very rarely does the thought of bringing new readers in really ever pop up, which is insane. That would be like Hollywood only creating films for those who work in film and television. As wacky as it sounds, this seems to be the mentality of the industry at large.

Magazines like Cosmopolitan are fashion magazines, but their audience is the average woman (or girl) interested in fashion and not members of the industry itself. Their advertising stretches beyond fashion industry trade publications and into the mainstream itself, where its buyers reside. Why short sell your books only to the 50,000 or so members of the active comic community and not go for millions of people out there who enjoy action movies?

Comic publishers aren't the only ones to blame, either. Creators themselves are as big a deterrent to new readership as anything else. If you want to know why, take a look at a modern comic versus one from as late as even the mid eighties and you'll see one very big difference. No, I'm not talking about paper or printing processes. The art itself is the main problem with comics. Solid, clear storytelling has become a thing of the past. A new buyer will find most modern comics unreadable because the solid storytelling of days past (along with gutters - remember, full page bleeds on every page get confusing) is gone.

Do you know why a lot of new readers are picking up Manga titles? It's because they are easier to read than US ones. Even with the flipped format, most Manga has straight forward enough storytelling that even the most uninitiated reader can follow what is going on and which panel comes next. This can't be said about most US titles (indy or mainstream). The fact that the current trend in the US is for over rendered, poorly thought out computer coloring, doesn't help readability at all.

Comics and comic art have become so inbred the only ones who can stomach them are their sister-mothers. But it doesn't have to be that way.

The general public will read comics if you can get yourself out of the industry mindset and start creating comics for readers instead of for an industry more interested in John Byrne's latest social blunder than in buying your books.

Some places to consider for your books (depending on its target audience) are non-chain book stores, new age shops, record stores (Tower is starting to have a great selection of indy and small press 'zines), libraries, corner markets, magazines with a similar areas of interest, schools, local area mailer compilations (such as the little coupon books you get in the mail), area events (concerts are a great spot), swap meets, arcades or game stores. There is an endless list of places that might be willing to carry your work if you let them know it's out there. You might have to spend some money to advertise. Get used to it. The old adage, "you have to spend money to make money," is true for any business.

Here are some tips for making your books more accessible to general audiences:

1) Market your books outside of comic-specific areas. Figure out who might be interested in your book and pursue those outlets. There are tons of places out in the world that would be willing to sell your comic...but they have to know it exists first. I've had success at art festivals, flea markets, record stores, sci fi magazines and more. Get as creative with your marketing and sales as you do with actually producing your book. It's worth the extra effort.

2) Get rid of full page bleeds on every page. Don't be afraid of negative space around your pages. It will actually open up your pages and keep them from looking cramped.

3) Don't forget the gutters! Overlap panels are interesting from time to time, but gutters help to keep the art readable and from blending together. They're also great for pacing in your storytelling.

4) If you're going to color your books, don't go for the over-rendered look that most comics use. It's muddy and unclear. Look at animation or places like Disney Adventures for reference on coloring. Most "cartoony" books are well colored because they want to make sure the work is readily accessible to readers of all ages. Not every panel needs to be a fully digitally painted work of "art."

5) Think of storytelling. The most important thing in a comic is that you do not lose your audience. If at any point your readers get confused as to where to read next, then you've failed at your job as a storyteller. And, remember, "style" is no excuse for poor storytelling (or poor artwork in general, but that's a rant for another time)

6) Don't have large blocks of text or dialogue in each panel. There's an old unwritten rule in mainstream comics (and one that has been largely forgotten or ignored): never have more than 26 words in any balloon or caption box. Anything more than that and the words will run together, potentially causing readers to skip over sections of what is on the page.

7) This one is going to cause any comic collector to cringe: get rid of issue numbers. Or, if you just have to have them, place them in the indicia only. Issue numbers are one of the big obstacles for new readers, especially in periodical product like comic books. A reader needs to be able to come in on any issue and not have to worry about having to read 10 back issues to know what's going on. Sure you can let them know there are other stories they can read (and, which will be available in trade paperback), but don't make those stories required reading. Follow Cosmo's lead (or Playboy's) and just have the month and year on each cover. Comics should be entertainment first and foremost. Get out of the collectible mindset.

8) Forget the mantra, "comics aren't just for kids anymore." It's old, played out and is part of the death sentence of the industry. Creators have spent so much time trying to prove that comics can be for adults that they've forgotten to build the next generation of fans by only making comics for older fans who are already in comics. Without young readers there is no future in the industry. As a second part of this thought, just because your comic has adult language, nudity and graphic violence doesn't automatically make the book for adults. Vertigo and "Ultimate" writers take note.

9) Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some work. Publishing is a business and, at first, you may find yourself putting in as much time marketing as you do creating. That's not a bad thing.

My heresy will end with this statement: the only way to save comics may be to let the comic industry, as it exists right now, shrivel up and die. It's on the road as it is, with everyone racing to tear whatever pieces they can get from its still (barely) living corpse. The industry isn't the heart of comics and didn't make them, so dare to be different. Put down the latest issue of the comic industry death watch, Wizard. Ignore the party line that an indy book will sell less than 250 copies - there is a world outside of the Geppi chokehold.

A bit of inspiration for you: Nifty's main title, the Cadre, sells over 5000 copies per issue and 90% of that is outside of the comic industry. Not bad for a black and white, mainstream style super hero comic.

The world is a big, beautiful place full of potential new readers. You just have to venture out and find them.

Mat Nastos has been a professional comic book creator and publisher since the early 1990s and has worked for Marvel, DC, Elfquest and many others in addition to his own Nifty Comics. During the day he works for the film/television industry and has worked on over 100 films and more than 300 television episodes. Nifty Comics can be found at: http://www.niftycomics.com

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Comic Books - Justice League

The Justice League comic books consist of all the all time great DC comic book super heroes. These super heroes decided that if they use their powers and work together theycan stop more crime. The Justice League has many members, each bringing something unique to the team.

Superman, the man of steel, uses his super strength to smash objects and his flying ability to scout the area. He acts as the leader of the team and tries to keep everyone together.

Batman, acts as the lone wolf, meaning that of all the heroes at the Justice League Tower, he spends the least time there. Batmen spends most of his time in the Batcave, and he finds danger using his Batcomputer. He is the only one of the team that has no super powers, but he still is a valued member. He is a great detective and solves many of the crimes that occur. He is also a great fighter, and has more gadgets and vehicles than any of the other Justice League members. His vehicles are the Batmobile, Batboat, and the Batplane.

The Flash is very fast, in fact he is faster than Superman. The brings his super speed to the team, so when they needs to have someone get someplace very fast, they call on The Flash.

Wonder Woman is strong like Superman, and can fly like him too. She uses her lasso to tie up criminals. She also has an invisible plane, that she can somehow see, but no one else can and she also has some wrist bands that can repel bullets fired at her by criminals' guns.

The Green Lantern gets his power from a ring he wears on his finger. He can fly like Superman, but he fights crime with his ring. It gives off a green beam that can smash though objects. It also can provide a force field to protect people and it also lifts people and allow them to fly with him though space.

Hawkgirl looks just like a hawk, she has hawk wings and can fly. Most of the time she fight with her mace. She smashes walls and vehicles with her mace and leaves nothing but particles.

Every member of the team has different ways to help fight crime. They also fight super villains who are from other planets. Sometime they don't get along and have to settle their differences just to get the job done.

If you like any of the DC comics that are members of the Justice League, then you should see how they use their powers together to fight crime. Sometimes the comic may have other heroes from the DC comics come to help the Justice League. With action and adventure in every comic this should be a great read.

Michael Russell

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Fantastic Four Comics

The Fantastic Four comics are about four superheroes who got their superhero powers from a space mission.

Reed Richards is a scientist who was researching cosmic rays in space. Reed wanted to go to space and he needed an astronaut to fly the spaceship so he asked one of his friends, Ben Grimm to help him. Sue Storm, one of Reed's scientist friends and former girlfriend, agreed to go too. She asked Johnny Storm, her brother to go too and they all boarded the spaceship and headed off to space.

Reed Richards started his research once in space, and Ben Grimm got in his space suit and left the space ship to collect particles. Suddenly, the cosmic rays caused an explosion and everyone helped pull Ben back into the spaceship so they could head away. They managed to get Ben back into the spaceship, but the effects of the explosion still reached them and changed them all in different ways.

Reed Richard gained the power to move his body like a rubber band, so he uses the name Mr. Fantastic and he was appointed the leader of the group.

Sue Storm acquired the power to make herself disappear, then reappear. She also has the ability to make a force field around herself, her team, and civilians to protect them. She calls herself The Invisible Women but using force fields for a very long time causes her to become weak.

Johnny Storm's new power makes his body turn into flames, so he calls himself The Human Torch and turn himself into flames by yelling out "flame on".

Ben Grimm turned into a walking pebble like creature called The Thing, and he stays this way all the time. He is known for his catch phase "it's clobbering time" which he says when he gets ready to punch an enemy.

The team of superhero heroes do not get along all the time. For example, Johnny Storm likes to make fun of The Thing and plays jokes on him. The Thing does not like this, so he destroys Johnny's car, which in turn, makes Johnny turn into The Torch and throw a fireball at The Thing's head. Since he is made of pebbles it rarely affects him which makes the two of them fight all the more. As a result, Sue Storm has to put a force field between them in an attempt to stop them. Reed Richard does is part by tying himself around The Thing's arm to restrain him from throwing punches.

What also makes this comic different from others is that these superheroes are always superheroes. Unlike Spiderman, who hides the fact that he is Peter Parker, the Fantastic Four do not have another identity to hide behind when they want a rest. This comic contains great adventure stories and you should check it out.

Michael Russell

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Comic Books - Japanese Manga vs American Comics

What are the primary differences between Japanese Manga (Comics) and American Comics?

There is a big difference in art styles between Manga, which is more stylized (exaggerated) and American comics, which tend to be more "realistic". There are also quite a few serious differences between the two types of comics. Some of the differences, just to mention a few of them are the cost, creation, diverse audience and genres, presentation and even size.

The creation of Manga as well as its presentation is quite different than American Comics. Manga is printed in black-and-white format while American comics are the majority of the time in full color. Also, when you look at a graphic novel or Manga you will notice a difference in the size. Manga is frequently smaller than traditional American comic books, usually digest-size and roughly half to one-third the size of American comics. But where the American comics are generally thin like a small magazine, running about 32 pages, Manga comic books are thick and can be hundreds of pages in length!

In page count, Manga is quite similar to graphic novels, which are often just collections of the ongoing American comics. But unlike American graphic novels, which are usually just a collection of monthly comics in a single unified story or story arc, Manga books are often apart of an even bigger story and a complete Manga storyline can run thousands of pages.

Another difference between traditional American comics is that mainstream American comics are often created in a sort of assembly-line fashion. They have a writer (story), a penciler (initial sketch), inker (uses a pen to ink over the sketch), letterer (adds dialog) and a colorist (colors the inked sketch). Most Manga books are done by a single creator, who combines all those chores (except coloring).

Also Manga story lines usually move at a much quicker pace. Due to the high page count, one reads a Manga book at an accelerated pace. Manga books almost always have fewer panels and less dialogue (rambling) per page than American comic books. The price for Manga is also more than the average comic book and a bit more than a standard paperback novel, the small size of Manga and black-and-white printing rather than full color keeps the cost down. The lack color is made up when you consider the story development that it'll have with the amount of pages it has.

In Japan, Manga is not viewed as just for kids unlike the American stereotype. There pretty much is a Manga for everyone. With that being stated there are three main genres in Japanese Manga: Shonen Manga (boy's comics), Shojo Manga (girl's comics) and Hentai (adult comics).

Shonen Manga is pretty much comics that are primarily action and/or adventure geared. If you'd like to view some examples of that genre, I'd recommend "Bleach" and/or "Full Metal Alchemist". Shojo Manga is for the opposite sex; they are often about relationships and/or love interests. Please note that even though a particular genre is geared towards a certain audience it's not limited to just that audience (unless otherwise stated). Finally Hentai Manga, I won't delve much into this since it is primarily for adults and NOT suitable for children (just to be safe in case a child is reading this). Anyways, Hentai Manga is sometimes sexually explicit and/or adult-themed. In other words, do not purchase this for your child.

Next time someone asks you what the difference is between Manga and [American] comics, you can surprise them with your knowledge.

Michael Russell

Your Independent guide to Comic Books

Friday, May 19, 2006

Collecting and Caring for Comics

Comic books are a big part of popular culture as it combines art and writing. A comic book, also known as a comic strip or comic, is defined as a booklet of words and pictures that are integrated into a printed format. It is both a unique art form and a literary standard that originated in the United States in the late 1800s. The most basic definition is that a comic is a series of words and pictures presented in a sequence and forms a narrative. In comic books, the author uses everyday language placed in dialogue boxes and with a series of pictures portrays a thought quickly and directly. Unlike novels or short stories, the comic books' pictures control the reader's interpretation of the words and they are forced to see the writer's point of view. Comic books allow the reader to examine the minds of the characters through dialogue balloons thus inviting the reader into the make believe world of the writer. These visual sequences of art are mass-produced inexpensively.

Being an immensely influential part of popular culture, comic books are very good collectible items. Collecting comic books is a fun hobby and, if done right, can be very lucrative. The majority of comic book titles center on superhero characters but there are also comic books on comedy, drama, horror, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, for adults, for children, in foreign languages and adaptations. So as you can see, there is a wide variety to choose from, which can result in a huge comic book collection. All well kept comic books will either maintain or grow in value over time. The trick is to choose titles with the highest growth potential.

The very first step in collecting comic books is to buy them. The first step in purchasing a good comic book is to choose a good local comic or specialty store. Most stores have a saver programs or subscriptions that allow you to have the comics of your preferred title set aside for you. Most of the titles are either under Marvel Comics, DC Comics or Image Comics. The minority are under independent titles. Browse the store of choice and look for comic books with solid story lines and excellent illustrations. It will be to your advantage if you can get the earliest release of the issue. Also, because this is primarily a hobby, buy those that interest you and maybe these will increase in value.

For a collector's item to increase in value over the years, it should be in crisp condition. This is true of all collections, but comics call for special treatment. To keep them in mint condition, they must be carefully flipped through while reading. Please refrain from dog-earing and folding the pages. Afterwards place in a Mylar Sleeve. This is like a clear envelope with a pressed-board backing. This sleeve prevents moisture from damping the comic and the board ensures that the comic isn't folded or crumpled. Slide the comic into the sleeve against the treated side (the white side) and the comic cover facing front. If you plan on storing the comic books for more than five years, make sure to use premium quality acid-free backing board and paper. After this, the comics should be stored in a long or short comic box with the comics standing up. Make sure the box has the right fit and it is always helpful to include a list of the comic books stored inside the box in an organized manner according to title, date of release and issue number, to avoid unnecessary skimming and flipping through the comics. These supplies are common in specialty shops because they are really a necessity in comic storage.

Michael Russell

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Choosing and Collecting Comics with Potential

There are thousands of comic book titles. They may be from the big dogs of the comic industry or from the small-time independent labels. Either way, all comic book collectors are biased when it comes to the title they accumulate. As a collector, you may be gathering issues of a specific title for your own personal pleasure or because it could be profitable someday. It is one thing to find the titles you like, but it is another to find titles that have good potential. With a lot of luck, you can kill two birds with one stone.

To complete your collection, there are a few steps to follow. For the first and most important, you must be updated and well informed. Read up on the subject from titles like the "Overstreet Price Guide" or the "Wizard Magazine". By doing this, you will be informed of the release dates of the issues to help you get the early releases and will also inform you of the cost and maybe even future values. When you find the title that you are interested in, do a rough estimate of the cost then go out and buy from a specialty shop, a catalog, online, or at a comic book convention. One can also buy from another collector. Good collectors prefer to sell their comics to another individual rather than to a comic shop because they get a better price. Before closing the deal, examine the comic and check its condition because in retailing, mistakes are inevitable. After carefully reading it, store properly in a safe place.

Back Issues are comics that are not presently sold on the racks and are sold separately in conditions ranging from "new/mint" to "very poor". The price is determined by the condition the comic is in. Also, it is good to shop around. You will see that shops compete and will undercut each other. You can often purchase overstocks of regular issues for half the cover price or more.

If the goal of your collection is to profit from it after a few years, you should fill it with titles that will grow in value over time. To achieve this, there are a few tricks to master. Once again, the key is to be informed. For example, Wizard Magazine enlists the top 100 selling comic books every month. The books on this list are the top sellers which mean that their characters are popular in that particular time. These books may have big potential in the future. Also, it is always good if you are able to buy first releases of the issues. Sometimes, the book publishers print the issues in different covers to promote sales. It is good to buy issues in their different covers too. One excellent tip is to know the creative teams of the comic because sometimes it is not the title that matters. A valuable issue may be due to the writer or the illustrator. Having an eye out for new and interesting material is useful because although most non-superhero books don't sell well, the interesting ones may gain in value. Getting to know your retailer can work to your advantage because their predictions of the next big thing will help you.

Remember that the comic's value is connected to its popularity. So sell with the tide. Sale does not depend on the titles you sell but on the timing as well. If for example a Spiderman movie is out, the sales of the comic books skyrocket.

Rare books also sell well. This is because the new comics are too mass-produced and anyone can get them. This results in the decrease of their value. It is advisable to buy comics with a very good storyline and exceptional illustrations. Buy books that you like because of their story and the art. Buy old books that fascinate you and try to get to know if the prices of these have already increased slightly. Be ready to pay for the best quality/grade of each issue. In choosing titles, take your time and shop hard. Remember that mainstream superhero titles are always going to be popular and buy the best of the issue. Don't listen to comic book dealers because they are often dishonest people trying to make money from children. Also try subscribing to a Comics buyer guide to learn all about the past and present issues. Lastly, learn to store your comic books properly to enjoy them for longer.

Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Comic Books.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Comic Books - The Hulk Comics

The Hulk is a strong super hero. He is big and he is green, but he is not always The Hulk, he is Bruce Banner. Bruce is a scientist who works for the military. He is working on a machine dealing with gamma rays on a desert testing site when, one day, someone runs out onto the testing ground. Bruce notices the person running out there and he tries to stop the machine from powering up and firing a gamma shot out onto the testing ground. He can't stop the machine, so he throws his body onto the machine and absorbs all the gamma energy himself.

When Bruce wakes up he feels ok and thinks that nothing has happened to him due to jumping on the machine. He then discovers that whenever someone makes him angry, he turns into The Hulk. When he's angry, Bruce starts shaking, and then he starts growing in size and mass. This causes his shirt to rip off and he turns green. He always seems to keep his pants though, due to them tearing slightly, but not enough to tear them all the way.

The Hulk is a giant, about the size of a small house. It also is worth noting that The Hulk and Bruce Banner are not the same person. The Hulk thinks on his own and Bruce cannot control The Hulk once he becomes The Hulk. He is a powerful, strong, and dangerous hero due to his rage. The military knows this and they try to stop him with everything that they have. You will see tanks fired at The Hulk in the comic, but he smashes them with his super strength. They use helicopters, but The Hulk just takes a tank, grabs it by the gun, spins it around and throws it at the helicopter knocking it out the air.

The Hulk gets stronger based on how angry he becomes, so the more tanks, planes, or whatever else the Military aim at him, the more you can expect to see him tear through everything, which makes for a great comic.

The comic has super villains which The Hulk fights too, most of which have the same super strength he has, and this makes for some more high impact, action fighting with lots of objects being thrown around the environment.

The Hulk will turn back into Bruce when his anger calms down. This comic is not like Spiderman, a hero that can turn into a super hero whenever there is danger around. The Hulk is different because when he is around, he destroys things, and not many people can talk to him and tell him what he must do. He has limited vocabulary and says phrases like "Hulk Smash".

If you are a super hero fan or like action comics with lots of stuff smashed and thrown, then this one is a great one for you to check out. The Hulk is all about action adventure.

Michael Russell

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Batman Comics

The Batman comics are about action.

Bruce Wayne is a millionaire and has butler named Alfred. Bruce spends most of his day dealing with his companies. When he is finished with his day of work, he fights crime in the streets of the city during the night.

This superhero is different from others, due to the fact that he has no superpowers. He relies on his gadgets and bat suit to fight crime. The bat suit looks a bat, and it is bullet proof. It also has a cape that turns into a glider whenever he freefalls from multi-story buildings. This helps him land safely and makes him seem as though he is flying like a bat. This suit also has a belt but it is not a normal belt, it's a utility belt, and it carries all Batman's gadgets used for crime fighting.

One of the most used gadgets is called the grapping hook. This gadget is like a gun, but has a hook loaded in it that is attached to a rope. Batman uses the grappling hook when he needs to reach the top of a high building from the ground. He points the grappling hook at the building and pulls the trigger. The hook fires into the air and clamps onto the edge of the building. He then presses the trigger again and the rope launches him to the top of the building. This gadget also is use for swinging through the city.

Batman faces lots of criminals who have guns, and he has a gadget called a batarangs which takes care of them. He just throws the batarangs at the criminal and knocks the gun out of their hand. When he criminals are trying to run from him, he uses a similar gadget which incorporates a rope which emerges when thrown and ties up the criminal.

Batman also has gas capsules which he uses to escape. He just throws the capsule down on the ground and it creates a gas that fills the room and he disappears.

Batman's car, the Batmobile, is equipped with a high tech computer which can scan the area for crime. It also has a built in gun and smoke screens. This is a high powered car that has fire in the tail pipes. When the car is going at top speed and needs to make a narrow turn, Batman just uses the grappling hook that's built in to the Batmobile. The hook comes out of the door, connects to a lamp post and allows him to make the narrow turn.

The Batman comics are not all about the gadgets. Batman is a great detective and solves criminal cases. Using his detecting and crime fighting skills, he keeps the city free of crime.

This comic is not like other comics that have super heroes because this hero mostly fights during the night time and uses only his gadget and kung fu skills.

Michael Russell

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Superman Comics

Superman is a super hero from the planet Krypton. His parents found that their planet was going to be destroyed. Superman or Kel-el, as he is also known, was only a baby and did not know what was going on. Jor-el, Superman's father decided that it would be best for them to put their child on a spaceship, and get him off the planet. They chose to send him to the planet Earth, because the atmosphere there would give him super powers. They also loaded on the ship a crystal that would show who he is, where he is from, and other useful information about him.

Superman travels through space and lands on Earth, on a farm in Smallville owned by Johnathon and Martha Kent. They see the space ship crash and they go to find out what it is. They raise the spaceship door and find a baby. They decide to keep the child and name him Clark Kent.

While growing up, Clark discover that he has strange powers and abilities, but his parents decide that he shouldn't tell anyone. Clark finishes school and then finds the crystal that was stored in his spaceship and discovers who he is, how his powers work, his real name and more. He then realizes that his powers can be used to help people.

Clark moves to the city and gets a new look to hide his identity, including wearing glasses. He gets a job at the Daily Planet where he makes some friends. One of these is Lois Lane, a reporter, whom he often saves from danger, and the other is Jimmy Olson, the paper's photographer.

Clark spends most his day working, but when there is danger around, he finds a nearby phone booth, and turns into Superman. When he is Superman he flies high above the city in a red and blue outfit with a cape. He has steel-like bones and if someone tries to punch him or hit him with an object, it doesn't have any effect.

Superman's heat vision, makes a red beam of heat come from his eyes which can melt certain objects. He also has X-ray vision which allows him to see through all objects except lead.

Superman has Super Strength which lets him easily pick up objects which weigh tons. Super Speed allows him to move from one place to another lighting fast when he is on ground.

Despite all these super powers, Superman does have a weakness. When he goes near kryptonite it makes him weak so that the villains can easily punch him and knock him out. His only defence against kryptonite is a lead spacesuit.

Superman is a great comic to start reading if you're looking for a hero comic. Each comic has action and adventure.

Michael Russell

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