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Quote of the Day

6 Nov

“I didn’t even know that my health insurance has a $75,000 limit. If I got my legs cut off by a train or if my wife had her head chopped off by a helicopter and needed a head transplant, we would be screwed. Those operations are expensive. So my insurance is getting canceled and we’re getting a cheaper policy with no limit. I can now be eaten by a giant army of ants and I will be covered. So there.”

– Tony Millionaire (Maakies, Sock Monkey, Billy Hazelnuts, etc.)

Toren Smith

7 Mar

by Mike Hansen

Toren Smith (drawn by Tomoko Saito)Yesterday I learned that my friend and mentor Toren Smith died on March 4th.

Toren was the founder of Studio Proteus and the godfather of English-language manga in America. I only had the opportunity to hang out with Toren a couple of times, at different conventions, but during my two years as Dark Horse’s Manga Editor we spoke almost daily. He was classy, warm, funny, and very generous with his time – even though his voice often sounded all-business or just grumpy, he was always willing to listen and offer support, wisdom, and advice; and he was always cheerful and charming in person.

Appleseed Book One #5Toren shared with me several stories of his incredible career in comics. Most of the highlights are already on Wikipedia (under entries for both Toren Smith and Studio Proteus), but here’s what everyone should know: More than anyone else, he was the reason for manga’s success in America. He was the first American (well, Canadian) to try to convince U.S. publishers to release translated manga, and sold everything to move to Japan to make that dream a reality. He was a critical part of the formation of Viz Media (impressing Hayao Miyazaki so much with his talent and passion that Miyazaki insisted on Toren’s people producing Nausicaa for America, despite Toren being cut out of Viz behind his back: I asked him why he didn’t sue the pants off them, and he replied that he’d done alright for himself without them). He was present at the start of animation powerhouse GAINAX’s success (and did voice work and had a character named after him in one of their first commercial releases). He helped start AnimeCon (later Anime Expo), the first of now dozens of annual anime/manga conventions in North America. Despite Viz locking down manga licenses at the giant Japanese publisher Shogakukan, Toren wisely used his connections and unparalleled taste to gain dozens of manga licenses from other large publishers and independent artists like Masamune Shirow and Johji Manabe. When the comics industry went through busts in the late ’80s and mid-’90s, Toren was able to keep his main business afloat by publishing popular (and often reprinted) adult manga through Fantagraphics’ Eros Comix.

Appleseed Book One #5Toren had a sharp mind for business and a sharp eye for quality. Studio Proteus was set up so it would share in the profits and English-language license rights of all of its manga. It included the best talent in U.S. manga, including brilliant author/manga expert Frederik Schodt, legendary letterer Tom Orzechowski, incredible artist (and Toren’s then-wife) Tomoko Saito, and several others. They were paid the best page rates in the industry for their seamless work.

At the time, U.S. manga titles were still being produced first as monthly issues before being collected later into book form. Monthly comics production for manga was pretty similar to regular American comics: even though the comics had already been produced in Japan, “flopped” (left-to-right reading) art sheets had to be printed, the script had to be translated, and the art and sound effects had to be touched up and re-lettered.

The Dirty Pair Biohazards TPB 2nd editionBy the time I became Manga Editor in 1999, Studio Proteus had consolidated all of its non-adult manga titles with Dark Horse (after Eclipse and Innovation couldn’t pay their bills). Along with others, I was asked by the previous Manga Editor, Rachel Penn, to help develop a new monthly manga anthology for Dark Horse: the end result was Super Manga Blast!, a 128-page title with 4-5 stories per month: Toren’s strategy was to have one “headliner” series (the first was Oh My Goddess!, one of the first manga to develop a strong female readership in America) and several lesser-known but high-quality series.

While SMB! was being developed, I took over as Manga Editor and helped oversee 4-5 titles a month. But Toren made my job easy: he personally obtained every license, oversaw every translation, and looked over every page before publication. Having the best second set of eyes in manga made my transition very easy and made each day working in comics a pleasure.

Super Manga Blast! #6Things got more difficult pretty quickly, though. SMB!’s launch suddenly doubled our workload. As Toren worked his crew harder to produce more pages, he quickly figured out that he had to bring in more talent. But working with more people had its own drawbacks, and juggling what was essentially 10 projects a month soon led to a lot of missed deadlines. Toren and I worked long hours to make the printers’ deadlines, and his instinct for knowing when to make improvements and when to let things go ensured that the books were still published on time.

A year later, Dark Horse began publishing Lone Wolf and Cub, a monthly series of 300-page volumes that doubled our workload again. It was Dark Horse’s most profitable and best-selling manga ever, so the pressure was on to get the work out on time. I was assigned an assistant (first Philip Simon, then Tim Ervin) that helped keep things moving on the Dark Horse end, but Toren was exasperated trying to find other talent that could match his high standards. Some compromises were made to keep costs down: lettering on SMB! and LW&C was done by computer, and LW&C pages were digitally scanned from printed comics.

Lone Wolf and Cub vol 1Despite the relatively small manga output, Studio Proteus got more awards and nominations than any other manga publisher. Twice I got to accept the Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material (for Blade of the Immortal, and for Lone Wolf and Cub). It should have been Toren on the stage, shaking Will Eisner’s hand: it was he who deserved to be recognized for his manga’s greatness and success; but Toren preferred to avoid public events, and the undeserving honor fell to me. I once shared a panel at Comic-Con with Toren and others (while nursing a massive hangover), and watching him smoothly handle questions with far more dignity than they often deserved served me well when I attended a couple of anime conventions as a solo panelist.

This work overload exacerbated Toren’s chronic health problems. He never shared all the details with me, and I won’t go into them here, but 2001 was a tough year. I missed several days as well due to exhaustion from the overwork, and the guilt of making Toren’s job harder on top of my own anxiety issues at the time made each day a struggle. Despite our best efforts, some of the books came out late and needed skip months to get back on schedule.

Blade of the Immortal #43It ended up being too much for me, and I left Dark Horse on September 10, 2001. Toren emailed me a thoughtful and wise note advising me to stay on positive terms with everyone, and even went out of his way to type up a letter of recommendation that opened up some doors for me. We occasionally stayed in touch, and several times Toren expressed bewilderment and fascination with manga’s explosion in popularity despite other publishers’ much lower quality standards (lower-quality art scans, amateurish computer lettering, no translated sound effects, etc.). Especially annoying was Tokyopop’s successful marketing of “unflopped” (right-to-left reading) manga as “authentic” manga, undercutting Toren’s years of necessary effort producing Americanized manga to gain a wider readership.

Oh My Goddess! Part VIII #3Despite his retirement in 2004 (after selling Studio Proteus’s publishing rights to Dark Horse) Toren’s health problems continued, and we communicated pretty rarely. He’d invited me to lunch the next time I visited San Francisco, but our schedules never quite lined up. For the most part, until last year I’d stayed out of comics in a professional capacity, and I was looking forward to sharing my progress on my own comics with Toren in a few weeks once I had some art to show off. I wanted to tell him how much his example has meant to me, as a writer and a professional, and now I won’t have the chance. There are not enough words to express my gratitude for his presence in my life and career.

Manga has had a massive impact on the modern American comics industry, and has been a huge inspiration for American creators in every field. Much of that can be credited to Toren Smith and his enthusiastic passion for an artform that, thanks to his efforts, now belongs to the world.

Studio Proteus logo

R.I.P. Robin (Again)

1 Mar

by Orion Tippens

Robin death news

I heard the news today, oh boy…

I think the comics industry took a step back this week.

Batman Incorporated Volume 2, issue #8 happened.

Not so much the story, but the sudden PR blitz behind it, hitting the mass media. Also, the knee-jerk reaction by comic investment speculators. As to the subject, you probably already know. But just in case, spoilers ahead.

Robin is dead…again.

So if you are into comics as much as I am, and actual readers following current Batman comics, then you’ll know him as Damian Wayne. Damian is the son of Batman and Talia al Ghul. If you know Grant Morrison (he is a very famous comic book writer!), than understand he has a lot of power over the DC universe (that’s where Superman and Wonder Woman live), because of his earned trust on writing interesting stories. He created Damian Wayne for the current Batman comics to perhaps add interesting, complex dimension to the familiar mythos. Success, I think. Damian Wayne is an awesome character, and became part of some fantastic stories. Most notably among them, Batman and Robin volume 2, written by Peter Tomasi.

Batman Inc #8 cover detail

Batman Inc #8 cover detail

But never mind that: apparently the mass media informed the greater public masses (probably resulting from a rushed press release) that ROBIN is DEAD! Of course, the “geek” culture has earned enough cred through movies, TV, and video games to be considered this relevant to entertainment reporting. But, wow that is kind of insulting, to just throw it out there like that. I mean, to publicize a development to the story, without the story itself kind of degrades the literature as a whole.

Mainly because: it’s all bad marketing. First off, we are marketing a small point in a far larger story that has spanned YEARS. The Grant Morrison Batman epic is a good story. Hey, CNN, CBS, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly (all show up first in Google News on this): could you tell us why it’s called Batman Incorporated? Could you tell us who or what killed him, or how he died? Could you tell us that Jason Todd is still all alive (his past death and relevance is to the Robin legacy is apparent, but don’t worry: I’m confused, too)? How about not reminding us who played Talia in Dark Knight Rises (also noticed in some write-ups by the mass media).  Has it occurred to the mass media what big suckers they are for shit like this. Remember when Captain America, Spider-Man, and Superman all died – only to be brought back, and reported to a lesser extent?

And the comic itself, arrrrgh! I am happy I obtained this through the legal digital market. I would have been horrified in my lateness to buy this latest issue because of some damn media blitz. I enjoyed the hell out of the Batman Inc. storyline and enjoyed following the Grant Morrison story progression since R.I.P. (that’s where Batman died, or was it Final Crisis, sigh…well, he DIED, the media said so!!!). Anyway, I have been enjoying this story as a whole, BatCow and all!

So, here is the story in brief and its tremendous buildup: Batman is outclassed and fighting for his life inside a locked safe while Talia and her sinister Leviathan organization overpower Gotham City. Talia is on the edge of total victory and global ruin, and it’s up to Damian Wayne to save the day. As the Boy Wonder, he must eventually face his greatest enemy: his clone brother, a.k.a. The Fatherless. The fight is incredibly badass and violent. In the end, there is tragedy. Not the best Batman comic, but certainly riveting.

But, I guess for the comics industry, the death of a prepubescent boy holding iconic relevance means cha-ching! Look at the prices on eBay: WTF? I’ve read reports from fellow Redditors on some immediate comic book-store markups. Really?!

Robin on eBay

Price = scarcity (nope) x demand (maybe)…

There is a positive side, as the comics medium could use the attention and struggling small comics stores will likely appreciate the push. Increased drama from tragedy can be a wonderfully needed shake for comics readers. Let the writers and pencillers do their thing, and leave opinion to the readers. Spoiling that early through news feeds and media marketing, as they make a rushed big deal, seems absurd.

So to any comics retailer who did not mark up these particular Batman comics, cheers to you. If you didn’t order enough and regret it, than too bad; you should place more trust in really good comics. That is an investment enough, I think. Just ask anyone who bought and held on to those early Walking Dead comics.

Hot Bendy Brokeback Girls: The Modern Artist’s Reference Tool

8 Feb

by Mike Hansen

Apologies for being away for a bit, folks. I’ve had a few back-to-back deadlines for paying (and potentially paying) comics-related work lately (a few Marvel books I got to research, and a script for my first original comics project). More on that soon…

Over the last few months, there’s been renewed controversy over some superhero artists drawing completely unrealistic poses for heroes impossibly bending in midair, from Catwoman to Wolverine. I think I’ve finally found the source for their crazy-ass drawings:

female contortionist 1

“Of course I can maintain this pose in mid-air! Meow!”

female contortionist 2

“Take THAT, office furniture of evil!”

More posts real soon. Stay tuned!

A few good links

5 Jan

by Mike Hansen

Superior Spider-Man 2 cover

Spidey’s gettin’ grabby.

Several websites have reported on a Connecticut group’s plan to hold a public burning of videogames, CDs, and DVDs in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Here’s the best writeup: the CBLDF’s take on the situation.

For many others, however, the impending destruction recalls the past incineration of all kinds of creative works, from Beatles records to — of course — comic books, that some adults thought had a negative influence on youth. In reality, there is no proven link between gun violence and video games, but that has not stopped lawmakers and media commentators from trying to blame them for virtually every mass shooting by a young male since the Columbine massacre in 1999. Of course, this requires ignoring the fact that millions of people around the world, of all sexes and ages, play and enjoy a wide spectrum of video games that some would consider violent without embarking on real-world killing sprees.

Remember when Harry Potter books all went away after a few loonies burned them? Yeah, me neither.

The Hollywood Reporter talks about the settlement of one lawsuit between the producers of the TV show Smallville and Warner Brothers, after the judge ruled that the case had enough merits to warrant a jury trial:

The case touched upon a sensitive issue in Hollywood: so-called “vertical integration.” The producers contended they were deprived of significant profits when WBTV allegedly undersold the series to affiliates the WB Network and then The CW instead of licensing the series to outside companies.

This reminds me of the problems reported by several Vertigo series creators, who complained that DC cockblocked media offers that would have made them good money because Warner Brothers wanted to give the media rights to its own production companies (which never produced anything). Not cool.

And finally, a verdict in a California rape case involving an outdated law and impersonation to trick a partner into sex:

“A man enters the dark bedroom of an unmarried woman after seeing her boyfriend leave late at night, and has sexual intercourse with the woman while pretending to be the boyfriend,” the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal said in Wednesday’s ruling. “Has the man committed rape? Because of historical anomalies in the law and the statutory definition of rape, the answer is no, even though, if the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband, the answer would be yes.”

So now that Doctor Octopus’s mind is in Peter Parker’s body, does that mean every time he has sex it’s rape? I hope Marvel clarifies this, and soon…

Get well soon, Peter David

30 Dec

by Mike Hansen

I can’t access his website right now, but Google has given me the following:

We were on vacation in Florida when I lost control of the right side of my body. I cannot see properly and I cannot move my right arm or leg. We are currently getting the extent of the damage sorted out and will report as further details become clarified.

Best wishes for a full and speedy recovery to Mr. David. His work on The Incredible Hulk and SpyBoy hold a special place in my heart, and I hope for many more wonderful stories from him.

DISASTERLAND, a Disney parody art show: opening tonight in L.A.

3 Aug

by Mike Hansen

DisasterlandFrom here:

Disasterland is Mexican artist Rodolfo Loaiza‘s tribute to pop culture, fashion, animation, horror films and the undeniable attraction of celebrity. The stage is set for fantasy to collapse and surrender to the inevitable apocalypse of 21st century Hollywood. Fairytale characters continue to dominate his latest project –this time caught in the headlines of our favorite tabloid stars.

Continuing his penchant for cleverly depicting the “uncouth” customs of our dichotomous society, Rodolfo explores what would happen to our fables if they were flesh and blood and confronted with the frenetic and excessive world of fame. Who among them would prove susceptible to the excesses of drugs, alcohol, harassment or vanity?

With his sharp and characteristic black humor Loaiza captures images once morbidly circulated by the media, and proposes a novel way of reviewing them. In Disasterland, heterosexual happy endings have been discarded; outdated. In this story, discriminated minorities will finally achieve the resolution they’ve yearned for, beyond any bias or phobia.

Behold an apple infused with truth; behold a mirror in which we can truly see our reflection. This is our magical world of disaster.
What are we waiting for? Let’s enjoy it!

Here are a few highlights – click here for the gallery info and more images.



This next one might be a tad NSFW:

Continue reading

Let’s all laugh at the horrible people on eBay

26 Jul

by Mike Hansen

Batman Incorporated #3 regular cover art

Batman Incorporated #3 regular cover art

So a couple of sites have mentioned that DC Comics asked retailers not to place Batman Incorporated #3 on store shelves for a few weeks, due to sensitivity issues surrounding the Aurora shootings. Many, though far from all, retailers have complied. So readers have to wait a few more weeks to read it; no big deal, right?

Well, enter the eBay Opportunists. A quick search of eBay finds every edition of this issue available – which is fine – with many copies being offered for over cover price – again, fine, it’s a free country; if someone’s a big enough sucker to spend too much money, that’s their business – but many sellers have listed the issue as recalled by DC Comics, which is a big fat lie. Out of 27 (!) listings for Batman Incorporated vol. 2 #3, 15 of them use the word “Recall” in the listing title.

Feel free to click here and let them know what you think of their deceptive sales practices…

A quick one about the Aurora tragedy

20 Jul

by Mike Hansen

Batman Colorado memorialUPDATE: The Huffington Post has a list of ways you can help the victims of this tragedy.

I didn’t learn about the shooting at the Aurora midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises until this afternoon. I’d just returned from my own day at the movies.

I don’t want to add much to all of the reporting and punditry, but I do want to mention a few quick things:

1. This had nothing to do with a Batman movie, and everything to do with a packed, darkened room with few escape routes.

2. This had nothing to do with comics, movies, videogames, or any other media that depict violence, and everything to do with a mentally deranged individual who had no business being allowed to have access to deadly weapons.

3. The news reporting on this tragedy MUST be handled differently to prevent future shooting incidents. Patton Oswalt posted this 3-year-old YouTube video that’s very relevant to today’s news – please watch it, especially after the 1:43 mark:

In other words, some of these are PREVENTABLE TRAGEDIES.

4. As Bloomberg has reported,

Colorado doesn’t require gun registration and there is no specific waiting period to buy a gun.

I have no problem with personal gun ownership for self-defense (don’t get me started on hunting), but guns are more than an issue of freedom; they’re a public-safety issue. There’s a reason why we have drivers-license laws. Not having a few basic rules to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of the wrong people is simply insane to me. Again: SOME OF THESE ARE PREVENTABLE TRAGEDIES.

There is no good reason for the lazy corporate news media to continue referring to this as a “Batman shooting.” We in comics must do everything in our power to prevent this poor train of thought from becoming fact in the minds of the uninformed. Otherwise, we will continue to see more attempts at unnecessary product labels, ratings systems, and censorship.

Finally, I received a mass email from Chuck Rozanski, owner of the Colorado-area Mile High Comics chain, in which he offers to contribute 10% of the net proceeds from his current 60%-off codeword sale to victims of the tragedy. While it’s admirable to create ways to help those affected, the fact that Rozanski is using his usual weekly 50-60%-off codeword email to drum up sales in the name of helping victims really rubs me the wrong way. The email even makes it clear that he is not losing money in any way from doing this.

Real charity involves personal sacrifice for the common good. I urge people to find what they believe in their hearts is the best way to provide immediate help and relief to the victims of this horrible incident.

UPDATE: The Huffington Post has a list of ways you can help the victims of this tragedy.

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