Tag Archives: Dark Horse Comics

Orion’s Exclusive ECCC Pics (part 1 of 2)!

26 Mar

by Orion Tippens

(Mike here: Orion KILLED it with these sweet pics from the 2013 Emerald City Comic Con. I’m just going to post these in random order: together, these photos really capture the essence of walking a convention floor. Click on each photo to make it superbig. How many of the brilliant creators in these photos can you name? And yeah, I probably should’ve tried to post these a couple weeks ago: I’m polishing up the final draft of a script that’s being drawn for Comic-Con. More in a bit…)

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The 1st Spider-Man Fantastic Four appearances – never to be touched again by human hands.

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Poison Ivy vs. Batgirl

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hint: webcomics genius.

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Fauhawk Superman vs. old school Lex Luthor!

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Writer of great DC comics of the past, now a voice for creator-owned books and digital publishing.

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REPRESENT!!

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Wil Wheaton surrounds himself with love.

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If you don’t own all of his comics work, you really should. REALLY

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Did anyone actually PAY $1000 for a year-old Walking Dead comic?!

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Extermination has never been so colorful, and huggable.

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Looked at this and I thought, what would be the worst thing you could bring home to show the wife and kids after a day at a comic con?

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artist on one of the better-selling New 52 DC series.

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hint: you may have a tattoo of his artwork.

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Just letting you all know, Invincible is the greatest superhero epic story ever!

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hint: Okay, this one’s a freebie.

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Only at a comic or related convention is this considered normal.

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Emerald City con life.

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hint: Really nice Image artist…

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…doing what he does best.

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hint: one of Image’s best-selling artists.

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It’s not a comic con without some huge tower of geek apparel for sale.

I’ll post the creators list after this break:

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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

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.

A tribute to Karen Berger and Vertigo

4 Dec

by Mike Hansen

Even though this news was expected for a while, it’s still a gut-punch now that it’s happened.

From today’s DC press release:

Karen Berger, Executive Editor & Senior Vice President of DC Entertainment’s Vertigo brand, has announced she is stepping down from her post after nearly 20 years at the helm of the award-winning literary imprint. She will remain on through March 2013 where she will be assisting in the transition to a new leadership team which includes veteran staffers whom she has mentored over the years.

First off: congratulations to Ms. Berger for her decades of amazing work in comics. She remains one of the best working comics editors (along with Bob Schreck, Diana Schutz, and a very short list of others). Few editors in comics history have had such a range of success or depth of influence. I’m eager to learn where she lands and what she does next: the sky truly is the limit.

I owe a lot of my evolution as a comics reader to Berger and the Vertigo line. For most of the 1980s, I was a Marvel zombie. The only reason I branched out of superhero comics was thanks to Archie Goodwin’s Epic Comics line at Marvel, with Groo the Wanderer and Elfquest first getting my money only because of the Marvel name on the cover. Those titles led me to search out other non-superhero material, and by the end of the ’80s I was a dedicated reader of titles like Usagi Yojimbo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Aliens, and more.

But as wonderful as those titles were, at that point there were still few comics titles that had the literary aspirations that I was unknowingly missing. There were plenty of other terrific comics out there, but many of them were still seen as “underground” at that point (like most of Fantagraphics’ amazing output), and I was still a few years away from finally discovering essential material like Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Matt Wagner’s Grendel. But the Vertigo line arrived at the perfect time, as an antidote to the Image Comics revolution that led to often poorly written and edited Image titles, and several years’ worth of even worse Image ripoffs from Marvel and DC.

Thanks to a well-marketed launch effort, I gave Vertigo a shot for the same reason that I’d given Epic a shot years earlier: this was a major effort at non-superhero comics from one of America’s biggest comics publishers (though DC, like Marvel, was and is focused almost exclusively on superhero properties). I tried almost all of those initial Vertigo books (Sandman, Death: The High Cost of Living, Shade the Changing Man, Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Enigma, Sandman Mystery Theatre, Hellblazer), and after that first month of eye-opening work I never looked back. (It probably helped that Vertigo debuted right as I was transitioning from high school to college!)

The sophistication and quality of the Vertigo launch led me to try many other publishers’ non-superhero comics in a way that Marvel’s Epic never had (probably in part because of my age and the era): Bone, Strangers in Paradise, Madman, Sin City, Cerebus, Beanworld, The Crow, Flaming Carrot, The Dirty Pair, Milk and Cheese, Martha Washington… it was a whole new Golden Age of comics, and Vertigo opened my eyes to it. (I was lucky to live near a comics shop that carried virtually every comic published every month – it was a great time to be a comics reader.)

And oh, man – the titles that Vertigo published over the years: The Invisibles, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, We3, Fables, The Unwritten, 100 Bullets, Y: The Last Man, Stardust, Kill Your Boyfriend, Seekers: Into the Mystery, The Filth, Goddess, reprints of Moonshadow and Blood: A Tale, and so many more blew my mind over and over. I am absolutely filled with gratitude for Berger, her impeccable taste in comics, and her talent at mentoring other editors to maintain the line’s quality.

DC tried creating Continue reading

In honor of today’s big Disney/Star Wars news

30 Oct

by Mike Hansen

If you haven’t heard the BIG NEWS, read this first.

Here’s a feature from 1990’s Marvel Age Preview #1, a preview of Star Wars: Dark Empire, the Star Wars project that (even before the Timothy Zahn novels) brought the property back to life. Unfortunately for Marvel, Dark Horse ended up with the Star Wars license and published Dark Empire, creating one of 1991’s biggest hits in comics and Dark Horse’s biggest license scoop since the Aliens/Predator/Terminator trifecta.

(click to embiggen)Marvel Age Preview #1 p 21 Star Wars Dark Empire preview

Back when I worked at Dark Horse, I was Assistant Editor on several Star Wars titles for a couple years. I got my first professional writing credit on a Star Wars Handbook, too, giving me my first taste of creative freedom (I got to invent a lot of material for the project) – and POWER… I still get shivers thinking about the many days I was stuck at the color photocopier, making confidential reference copies for all of the Episode I creators.

The videos that shook the comics world, Part 1: Q&A with Comics Fan-lebrity, Kris Shaw!

26 May

by Mike Hansen

Kris Shaw photo

Kris Shaw

A lot of comics publishers say they listen their fans, but sometimes it takes extra effort for fan input to be addressed. Frustrated by the quality of recent books published by DC Comics, Kris Shaw didn’t just complain in comment threads on comics sites and message boards (though he did that, too): He decided to make a series of YouTube videos to show the comics world his concerns. The first video got publicized by the megapopular comics rumor site Bleeding Cool, then another, and another. Even DC Comics head honcho Dan DiDio was forced to respond online to the videos’ popularity. (All five videos are embedded below.)

Comics needs more fans like Kris. Not only does he put his money where his mouth is by refusing to continue buying books that don’t live up to his standards, but he spreads the word and sticks to his guns in his self-described “crusade.”

I emailed Kris and his fellow comics fan and partner in video-making, John “Ferjo” Ferrier, a few weeks ago to ask about the videos. What followed was a great, wide-ranging discussion about being a comics reader, the role of comics fans and how they can influence the publishing process, and the responsibilities of publishers to their readership. Kris doesn’t hold back: he was happy to let me know how his input has improved not just DC’s books, but Marvel‘s as well!

Here’s my conversation with Kris; my interview with John will be up shortly.

So, to start with, Kris, tell me about how you became a comics fan.

I guess I started out being a comic fan the same way everyone else in my generation did: by having a comic book given to me. My Aunt bought me Amazing Spider-Man #165. I was 3(?). I have no recollection of the story, only the cover. The first comic books that I remember actively flipping through were Star Wars #4-6, the Whitman 3-pack reprints. But it wasn’t until 1983 that I began my collection in earnest. Like many other trips to Farmer Jack (a defunct Michigan supermarket chain), my Mom would buy me one of those Whitman Marvel 3-packs. This one had Amazing Spider-Man #239, Thor #330, and Daredevil #196. I read all of those issues repeatedly that day, over and over. It was at this point that I decided that I wanted to collect comic books, that day.

How did you become a fan of collected editions? Any particular examples that hooked you (of comics and/or collected editions)? Was it a more gradual evolutionary process?

This is easier to answer. I obsessively gobbled up Marvel and some independents all through the ’80s, although I was like 98% Marvel. I started becoming disillusioned with comic books in 1989. Crossovers and the influx of the new regime of artists didn’t sit well with me. I began dropping titles as 1989 wore on, until I was only making one trip to the comic shop per month. I was buying ASM still, and maybe Spectacular Spider-Man and one or two other things by this point. As the ’80s gave way 1990, I was essentially all but done. I remember getting excited about a new Spider-Man title that summer, and did pick up Spider-Man #1 by Todd McFarlane, but that was it. I was done.

Spider-Man #1, later renamed "Peter Parke...

Spider-Man #1 (2nd printing) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I heard rumblings now and then about comics, but I was repulsed by how popular they had become. I sat out the entire Image boom. It was akin to the disgust that I would feel after Metallica sold out for the black album…a total betrayal, and the people that once made fun of me for liking something were now the first in line for it. I should have felt vindicated, but I didn’t. I wanted as far away from it as possible.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself missing comic books. I was early for a doctor’s appointment (this would be 1997, maybe 1998?) and there was a comic shop a couple of blocks over so I went there and looked around. I stumbled upon Marvel Masterworks Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1. I bought it, and I loved it. Comic books were for nerds, see, but this was a book…with comic books inside of it! I was still in the closet about my love of comic books. I am sure that you remember, Mike, that long before the mainstream acceptance that we see today, the hobby was like a leper colony. “Cool” people wanted nothing to do with it in the ’80s. I was in my mid-20s and pursuing a pretty active social life and really couldn’t be bothered with this sort of thing, so I guess that I forgot about that Masterwork. Until…

I got married in October of 2003. When we bought our house, I was moving all of my junk in, and was going through boxes of books, and there it was. That Marvel Masterwork. I pulled it out and re-read it, only this time it was like a junkie relapsing. I was in. If this was wrong, then I no longer wanted to be right. I was online by this point, so it was much easier to find answers about these books. I quickly scooped up ASM vols. 2 and 3, and Uncanny X-Men Vols. 1-3. I then discovered that Marvel was rolling out reissues. I picked up ASM vol. 5 the day it was (re)released in March of 2004, etc. Then I started buying Essentials. Then collections of modern Spider-Man, X-Men…then older collections…then out-of-print collections…Avengers…crossovers…G.I. Joe…Dark Horse’s Marvel Star Wars reprints, Titan UK’s Marvel Transformers TPBs…it was really a downhill snowball, until I arrived where I am at today.

So, exactly how hardcore a comics collector are you? I get the impression that you buy a LOT of collected editions.

Yes, I am a pretty hardcore comic collector, at least in my opinion. I buy 10-15+ collected editions a month. It’s all relative, though. Some folks by one or two a month and their jaws would drop at that statement, while I know of other people who buy every single title that Marvel puts out every month plus back issues, so it’s all relative. I know that my wife thinks that I buy enough these days!

How many collected editions do you have? (I think I’m at around 2000, not enough of which I’ve read in full!)

I have exactly 866 as of this moment, 6:33 PM, Friday, April 27, 2012. Ha! I prune my collection several times a year. I would have an additional 300 or so books if I didn’t do that. I get rid of books that disappoint me, and sometimes even ones that I read and enjoyed but know that I will never want to read them again. This is done because of space. I have a small house.

How did your wife feel about your rediscovery of a rather expensive habit right after you got married? Did the “allowance” have to kick in right away?

This is a funny story. When I got back in, it was just those few Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men Masterworks. There were only 6 more that I needed, a fact which I am reminded of every so often. She had no idea that it would mushroom into this, and honestly, neither did I. Who could have foreseen this glorious golden age of collected editions that we have been fortunate enough to experience in the last decade? Not I, said the fly!

The allowance system kicked in almost immediately. I came home with a stack of books, and my wife was like, “I want a dishwasher and you are spending money on books??” We had a sit-down talk, and came up with a mutually beneficial, equitable allowance. There are special exceptions, i.e. birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Father’s Day, Flag Day…OK, I made that last one up. In all seriousness, it headed off a lot of arguments, and we never argue about money. She is concerned about space and if I’m ever going to actually read these things, but that’s another matter entirely. My backlog is over 200 books.

You’ve mentioned to me in the past how you helped influence some changes in Marvel collected editions. How did this happen? (Was it your regular posts on the Marvel Masterworks fan site?) What was it about the books that concerned you? What changes did you suggest, and how did Marvel react to your ideas, in your opinion?

Well, it wasn’t just me, there were a few of us complaining. Yes, the Marvel Masterworks fan site, and its message boards, were largely responsible for the improvements that the Masterworks have experienced over the last few years. If you remember, those 2002-2004 “ReMasterworks” pretty much sucked. Sure, they had sewn binding, but the super-glossy paper, gradient shaded coloring, and obliterated linework marred the experience for many of us. Even though Cory Sedlmeier was at the helm at the relaunch, he was still honing his craft. The guy has taken the program and made it what it is today, and his restoration has such a reputation for purism that he’s practically a brand name. People now want books that have “the Cory treatment.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Marvel continued the relaunch with the first new volume, Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 6, in the spring of 2004. It had dropped lines, but the color palette was pretty faithful. It still had the super-glossy paper. Cory, Mark Beazely, and David Gabriel all used to post pretty often at the boards, so we fans had the ear of Marvel at the time. Many of the projects that we have enjoyed from Marvel (Complete Onslaught, Complete Age of Apocalypse, Power Pack Classic, etc.) were wishes granted to us during David Gabriel’s now-defunct Q&A threads. Those were the days! Imagine, being laughed at for suggesting a Morbius Omnibus. It happened to me. I did suggest those three books listed above. Whether or not those were already in the pipeline or if they thought it was a good idea and went with it, I can’t say.

So yeah, Marvel interacted with us on the board. First, Marvel upgraded the paper stock. They referred to it as the “Marvelmatic” paper, and it was a dull matte-finish coated stock. I loved it. The 2004 Masterworks had glued binding, but they laid flat, so most people didn’t care at the time. The “Marvelmatic” paper books (see X-Men Vol. 6, Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 8, Fantastic Four Vol. 10, etc. for examples) had terrible, glued “mousetrap” binding [that would snap the books shut like a mousetrap, instead of lay flat]. It was at this point that the natives on the boards became restless.

People started demanding sewn binding. There was a poll on the board to see if people would support a $5 increase for sewn binding, and of course it won by a landslide. So we waited…and finally, the first book with sewn binding arrived: Atlas Era Heroes Vol. 1. It was stiff and didn’t lay flat. I was devastated. $5 extra for this? We stormed the board with pitchforks and torches. Then we started getting glue clumps. It was horrible, like the printer glued the book binding, and then ran threads through it. Then came the “glued-on” dustjacket era, when the dustjackets were literally glued to the cover. You had to peel them off, and then clean off the residue. If you’re lucky, you can find one still sealed and experience the “joy” for yourself. (Atlas Era Heroes Vol. 2 has one for sure.)

It was at this point that I wrote a letter to Marvel. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I addressed all of the points mentioned above. I also griped about the glued binding in the Omnibus books. Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol. 2 had perforated glued binding and was awful. The book wouldn’t lay flat, and at that price point [$99.99] I felt that it should. The first printing of Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 also sucks, and should be avoided at all costs. I was very concerned that these large 800-1088 page books would fall apart without sewn binding. The very first Omnibus books, Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 and Fantastic Four Vol. 1, had glued binding, but for some reason lay perfectly flat. Also, they have the greatest collected-edition paper ever. It was a dull matte finish coated stock, with a creamy, off-white color similar to mint condition late ’70s pulp paper. Godlike. Unfortunately, the printer discontinued the stock, according to Mark Beazely back when he posted on the boards.

I believe that I sent out a second letter to Marvel, but am not 100% sure. In any case, myself and a few other super-anal-retentive board members were griping about the quality problems, and finally, finally, Marvel responded: production was moving to China. While I was sad because production was moving out of America, the uptick in quality was undeniable. It was at this point that the Marvel Masterworks surpassed the DC Archives in terms of quality production, restoration, etc. The binding was the final piece of the puzzle. This was Fall 2008. The Omnibus books’ production also moved to China. So while it was not just me who griped, I was probably among the squeakier wheels. I can’t take credit for the changes made to these books, as I don’t work at Marvel or anything. I was just a fan with a big mouth who wrote a letter or two and spent too much time on a message board.

What specifically led you to taking the time and effort (and money – those books aren’t cheap!) to produce your Marvel/DC comparison videos?

Well, that’s the thing that started me on that road. They are expensive books, you know? As you know, I voice my opinions about the quality of these books on the Masterworks Message Board. I was getting a perplexing amount of static from people whenever I would comment about DC’s decontented products, be it the lack of shrinkwrap, the toilet paper used in those Kirby Omnibus books, or the mousetrap binding found in most of their hardcovers these days. People would argue, in my opinion, for the sake of argument, and my guess is that many of them had never even seen a Marvel Omnibus in person. It is painfully obvious to anyone that owns both how inferior the DC ones were. Why wouldn’t more people gripe about them?

One board member, FiveYearsLater, really got the ball rolling. He took the pictures of DC’s New 52 Omnibus, and its obvious shortcomings. Folks were still defending these inferior products. I had reached my point. I was tired of telling people what could be better about these books…it was time to show them.

I did that first Marvel vs. DC Omnibus video in a pretty bitter frame of mind, as you can tell. I had started a Facebook page for the cause, and I posted the video. It was very, very grassroots, maybe two dozen or so supporters. On a whim, I emailed my video to Bleeding Cool. I must give huge, huge props to Rich Johnston for running with this story. If not for his doing that, this would still be a very grassroots, underground campaign and wouldn’t have had the teeth or the traction to get as far as it did. I seriously can’t thank him enough, you know?

Dan DiDio video FB response

Dan DiDio, co-publisher of DC Comics, responds.

I was floored when the video actually reached Dan DiDio and when he responded that they were looking into it, beginning with the New Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 2 in April.

(The second video, comparing DC to two more publishers’ high-end hardcovers.)

Remember, this was back in January. I was completely unprepared for some of the feedback that I received from people, both on the Bleeding Cool forums and on YouTube’s user comments. I was accused of rigging the video by breaking the binding in the Marvel book to make it lay that flat, to being a company shill for Marvel, to using trick photography to make the Green Lantern book snap shut like that. That’s what made me do the second Marvel vs. DC Omnibus video, which shows me unwrapping The Avengers Omnibus. Of course, I compared it to the same Green Lantern Omnibus Vol. 2, so that didn’t go over too well with some folks.

I was prepared when doing the third one. I learned my mistakes from the first two, from the presentation, to language used, to having my good friend Ferjo Byroy (a.k.a. John Ferrier) doing the unwrapping. Everyone was pretty pleased with that one.

Again, major, major thanks to Rich and Bleeding Cool. DC actually made strides to improve their books. They switched from glued to sewn binding, and while it is still quite a bit stiffer than the Marvel books, I believe that if DC continues working with their vendors that they will get it right. Marvel had some growing pains when they switched to sewn binding, so we’ll have to be patient as they work the bugs out. I hope that it doesn’t take too long. I applaud their efforts to make things right. I will continue offering constructive criticism and praise the improvements as they happen. I feel like I fought the good fight for the benefit of everyone.

(the latest video: Victory?)

In your last video (of the Spirit World hardcover), you seem pretty pleased with DC’s work. What do you think about DC’s recent improvements in its collected editions? Are these isolated incidents, or are you seeing a general change in approach?

Well, the NTT Omnibus Vol. 2 was a step in the right direction, but Spirit World blew me away. It could be an isolated incident, as it is technically a new format for DC. I don’t know if you noticed from the video, but it had a screen-printed image on the cover with no dustjacket. I can’t recall DC ever doing that before, but I could be wrong. The paper grade is also new for DC. The dimensions of the book are different, too. All of these are changes for the better, in my opinion.

I feel that we may be seeing a change in their approach. DC might be realizing that they are losing out on the goodwill that they had for years just to save a few pennies on a book. Penny-wise, pound-foolish. In these economic times, people are selective about what they spend their discretionary income on. DC was likely thinking about ways to keep MSRPs low, but at the end of the day, someone who is spending $50-100 on a book is less likely to do so if that product is shoddier than the earlier releases at that price point.

In my experience, DC isn’t nearly as communicative with its fans than other publishers. Marvel has Q&As on various comics websites, and (as you’ve said) people who work on Marvel collected editions post on message boards; IDW and Dark Horse have staff members posting on their sites’ boards; many Image creators and most self-publishers tend to be pretty open and direct with fans – while DC seems to only issue any statements about its releases to retailers, often at the last minute (for example, the notice that a solicited issue of New Teen Titans was omitted from the second Omnibus for inclusion in a later volume). Do you have any opinion about this?

(DC’s notice to retailers, after the book was solicited and put on sale:)

CONTENT UPDATE FOR THE NEW TEEN TITANS OMNIBUS VOL. 2 HC

Please note that THE NEW TEEN TITANS #38, originally solicited to appear in THE NEW TEEN TITANS OMNIBUS VOL. 2 HC (DEC110292), instead will appear in THE NEW TEEN TITANS OMNIBUS VOL. 3, along with other issues in the same storyline.

DC’s gag order policy needs to go, if for no other reason than to give the fans a sense of mattering to the company. DC does refer to their Direct-Market partners all the time. Well, who shops at the direct market? The fans! I do believe that DC has moles on message boards, though, even in an unofficial capacity.

The New Teen Titans product update was a joke. You do those before you go to press on a product, not after it is released, people have bought it, and are screaming bloody murder about it. It’s just another example at how out of touch DC is with the 21st century fanbase.

Although direct-market retailers are technically the publishers’ customers, the readers are the ones who have the most influence on what retailers are preordering. As an outspoken fan and heavy-duty comics spender, how do you see your role in all this going forward?

Cropped version of image, Dan DiDio at San Die...

Even Dan DiDio had to respond to these videos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My role is simple: I buy quality products, and if any company doesn’t want to provide that, then my wallet and I will go elsewhere. There is no shortage of comic-book companies producing high-end hardcovers that meet the production values that I hold so dear. Where this comes in is in the preorder. I stopped preordering DC hardcovers outside of Archives a while back when it was clear that they were de-contenting their products. If the next few releases are following the path recently laid out (i.e. a renewed commitment to quality production values, binding), then I may once again start preordering. I take a wait-and-see approach with all of their books as of this moment. I did not preorder Spirit World; I only bought it after I read positive reviews online.

Preorder numbers are everything in this game. Look at what happened to the Night Force book: It was cancelled twice, first in hardcover, then in softcover. All because of low preorders. I did my part, I preordered it both times in the solicitation cycle, so all I can do is shrug my shoulders. If enough people get fed up with DC (or any publisher) making shoddy products, then they will stop preordering, and retailers will stop preordering, and before you know it, there will be no more books.

From the frequency of your comics reviews on your blog, I think it’s safe to say that you buy and read a LOT of comics. From a quality standpoint, what makes a good comic, in your opinion? How does the presentation of the material affect your enjoyment of it?

I buy too many books, but don’t read enough of them. I am constantly bouncing between five books at once. It’s just how I roll. The things that make a good comic, in my opinion, are good writing, artwork, and coloring. I imagine that that is what makes a good comic for everyone. It’s all subjective. People love [Brian] Bendis’ writing, for example, but I’d rather read something by Ed Brubaker or from Avatar Press. If it is Marvel, it better not piss on the core of the character’s essence. If people go through radical personality changes for the sake of a few story arcs, that serves neither the story nor the character; it serves the writer’s ego. I show no mercy for that type of crap in my blog.

Good material can transcend shoddy presentation, but if you slap it between two hardbacks and try to pass it off as a “deluxe” edition, then it better measure up. I am a total snob when it comes to this sort of thing. Nice paper stock, sewn binding, linework and colors authentic to the original issues…those are the sweet spots for me. Your mileage may vary, as I am admittedly on the extreme end on the anal-retentive scale. A well-made hardcover can elevate the reading experience for me. I enjoy counting the signature stitches as I read.

You’re clearly very passionate about collected editions – what factors go into your decision whether to buy a book or not?

I love comprehensive, completist-minded books like the Marvel Masterworks and Dark Horse Archives. I want it all. Throw in the kitchen sink! I love the stuff that Jeph York* has done with the Marvel books, with the extras in those X-Men Jim Lee Omnibus books being ridiculously awesome. The effort and personal expense he went to collect all of the bric-a-brac was crazy. Good crazy, I might add.

I have no problem preordering any Marvel hardcovers, like Omnibuses or OHCs. I know that they will have sewn binding and be good, quality products. I hope to be able to say that about DC in the near future, too. Their Archives are great, of course, but their other collections…I mean, I don’t get it. They leave covers out, omit issues. Stuff like that is infuriating to people like me who are, by and large, the target audience for the high-end books. No one who just saw the new Batman movie is going to walk into a Barnes and Noble, see a $50 hardcover on the shelf, and buy it. Not a chance. These books appeal to us OCD-suffering connoisseurs, so they should make them appeal to us.

That Marshall Rogers Batman hardcover is a great example. They left out the beginning of the arc because it had Walt Simonson artwork. So what? It was necessary to include it as part of the reading experience. Marvel will do that. By and large, those artist-centric collections don’t work, unless you have Frank Miller Daredevil or something like that, with a huge run of issues to go with.

For non-Big Two books, I will often buy the first issue, or Ferjo will, and we share them. I call this research, because dropping $15-20 on an unknown property can become painfully expensive. I used to do that, and then get 10 pages in and realize that the book sucks. I don’t have the time or money to do that anymore. Or another thing that I will do is if I see the collected edition’s solicitation, I will go to a comic shop and flip through the floppies. If the artwork looks decent, or if it has a writer whose work I consistently enjoy, those are the types of things that will get me to plunk down my cash.

I am also a major-league sucker for Golden Age material, particularly pre-Code horror. Those PS Artbooks are beautiful. I’ll buy almost anything ’30s-’50s if it is in color.

In your opinion, which publishers are doing the best job with their output? Which are doing the worst job?

Marvel and Dark Horse are consistently good, both in restoration and presentation. DC can be brilliant or awful, depending. Why they insist on doing things like omitting the * [footnote] boxes, letting Neal Adams redraw classic material, things like that, I’ll never understand. PS Artbooks are beautiful, Fantagraphics always does top-quality products. IDW can do good stuff, although their Marvel G.I. Joe trades have been pretty crappy. They would’ve been better off scanning the floppies. Image doesn’t do vintage collections, but I am usually happy with their hardcovers.

Okay, here are a couple of final “fannish” questions: As a hardcore consumer of high-end comics collected editions, tell me your all-time top 10 favorite comics to read.

The first 129 issues of Amazing Spider-Man are genius. Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Sr., and Gil Kane. ‘Nuff said.

The All-New, All-Different X-Men: Claremont and Cockrum, then Claremont and Byrne…those issues are great. I’ve read GS 1/ UXM 94-143 dozens of times over the years. They never get old.

EC Comics. These are possibly the best comic books ever made. Art for the sake of art, way better than it had to be for the era. Great, great stuff.

Golden Age Wonder Woman. I have only been into this for a year or so, having discovered first the Chronicles, then scooping up the Archives. Love it.

Bronze Age Marvel horror. Werewolf By Night, Morbius, Frankenstein Monster, Man-Thing, Tales of the Zombie…these are great. I will not rest until they are all made available in deluxe, high end hardcovers.

Y: The Last Man. What a great series this was. I love the ending, and how it ends with questions rather than answers.

Ex Machina- Another Brian K. Vaughn title, this was another awesome page-turner.

Alpha Flight. I loved this, even if Byrne and fandom at large did not.

Elfquest. I discovered this in ’85, when Marvel did it under their Epic imprint. Great stuff that doesn’t get enough props.

Power Pack. The original run by Louise Simonson and June Brigman was wonderful. Why hasn’t Disney retooled this as a Pixar film? Why? Why??

What about your all-time top 10 collected editions based on the total package?

Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1 (2nd printing)- The entire Stan Lee/ Steve Ditko run in one handy, 10-pound package.

The Harvey Horrors/ ACG books from PS Artbooks. Nice scans, and the issues are complete. I mean really complete, ads and all.

Creepy and Eerie Archives- I love these. The paper grade seems to change from time to time, with some volumes being shinier than others, but I love that they include the ads, too.

The softcover Marvel Masterworks- I have been picking up the stray titles, like Dr. Strange and Daredevil, and I love the paper used in these books. Plus, there seems to be some flex to them, so they rest in one hand like a giant periodical. Wonderful.

The EC Archives- There aren’t enough of these, in my opinion. They should be cranking these out quarterly at the very least.

Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 1- The first printing has the greatest paper that I have ever seen, a dull matte finish in a creamy, off white color reminiscent of high grade Bronze Age pulp paper.

DC Archives- While the restoration on the earl volumes was bit, er, rustic by today’s standards, they are still decent books. Nice paper, sewn binding…they make it all the more frustrating that their Omnibus books were so substandard.

Marvel Masterworks (2009-on)- I will never upgrade these. I have replaced many of my older ones with either Omnibus HCs or newer printings, but these are definitive.

Dark Horse Omnibus TPBs- I love these chunky little books. They have a generous page count at a good price point, and are in color. Love it!

Thanks to Kris for a great interview. Check out his blog, Junk Food for Thought, for maddeningly daily reviews of comics, graphic novels, and rock ‘n’ roll!

(Bonus: here are three online interviews with Marvel Masterworks editor Cory Sedlmeier, from 2003, 2005, and 2008 – enjoy!)

* A note to readers: I’ll be posting an interview with Marvel’s Jeph York in the next few days – keep your eyes peeled!

MUST-READ: massive Alan Moore interview on Before Watchmen and much more (with COMMENTARY)

13 Mar

by Mike Hansen

Cover art for the 1987 U.S. (right) and U.K. (...

One of the best books you'll ever read. (Image via Wikipedia)

DUDE. A few comics sites and fan boards are already quoting from this, but it really has to be read in full.

Drop everything and CLICK HERE NOW.

Alan Moore has the balls to stick to his guns and tell the truth as he sees it about comics. A lot of fanboys and professionals (who are mostly fanboys) are going to hate him for this, but I loooooove it. Personally, I agree with a lot of what he says. Not all, but so what? He’s got my respect for telling it like he sees it. (And even if he was batshit crazy and spitting nonsense, like some clueless folks try to suggest, his work changed EVERYTHING, and that speaks for itself. Respect is due)

A few important bits, to get you to click over if you haven’t already:

…Yes, I still get a little bit of the money that I consider myself to be owed for these things.  But, it’s not really the money that’s the principle.  It’s the fact that I was lied to.  It’s the fact that the reason they offered us Watchmen was that they’d seen what I could do with their regular comics.  They could see that I was capable of moving them to a new area that comics had not ventured into before.  So, they offered us Watchmen and it worked out very, very well for them.  They were able to suddenly claim that all of their comics were “graphic novels” now–that they were seriously committed to a progressive comics medium that could produce works of art and literature.  But, that is never what they were concerned with.  It was always purely to do with commerce.

Man, the number of actual “graphic novels” that DC has published since Watchmen is probably less than 5% of its total output. It’s almost all serialized, unending bits of stories strung together. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if it’s done right.

But, I resolved that I didn’t want to work for DC Comics ever again–or their subsidiaries.  This worked fine for a number of years until Continue reading

Tracers need to watch their asses

9 Mar

by Mike Hansen

The Beat linked to this big-ass thread about Invincible Iron Man artist Salvador Larroca being the latest high-profile talent to be caught swiping.

Salvador Larroca swipe

Part of this is copyright Marvel, part is copyright the photographer, or AP, or somebody. None of this is used with permission. Uh-oh.

Is this stealing, or a fair re-interpretation of another’s work? Well…

After Mike Mayhew, David Mack, and Greg Land (among others) got caught swiping, Marvel updated its contracts to say that the artists assert that their work is wholly original (as a way to cover Marvel’s ass).

The Associated Press definitely does NOT have a sense of humor about this; it’s pursued legal action against news aggregator sites and blogs that quote from its articles.

And ALL comics artists need to be paying attention to what’s happening to Shepard Fairey, who might face JAIL TIME for Continue reading

Interview with AXE COP artist Ethan Nicolle!

7 Mar

UPDATE: Welcome, all of you Axe Cop fans! Since so many of you are new to this site, I just want to say Welcome, and if you like the site feel free to Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @AllDayComics – thanks for stopping by!

(Mike here – this interview was conducted WAY back on October 29 at the Long Beach Comic and Horror Convention. Due to various difficulties, it’s just getting posted now. We thought it was still worth posting because – it’s AXE COP, so it’s awesome! – and Volume 3 is coming out soon (click the preorder link below the interview). Hope you like…)

Axe Cop artist Ethan Nicolle at his booth (photo by Orion Tippens)

Axe Cop artist Ethan Nicolle at his booth (photo by Orion Tippens)

Interview by Orion Tippens

I love Axe Cop, so much, that I have considered naming my firstborn, Axe Cop. That is how much I love Axe Cop.

And if you have not, perhaps you should visit axecop.com and understand the joys of this brilliant webcomic. Or even better, check out the first trade paperback Axe Cop: Volume 1 collection published via Dark Horse Comics, all the early strips with Ethan’s fun commentary added on the side.

Axe Cop, in short, is the brilliant product of a five-year-old’s (now seven) imaginative mind (Malachai Nicolle), brought to life by the sequential art of his 29-year-old brother (Ethan Nicolle). We meet a superhero with powerful sock arms, a flying dinosaur with gatling arms, an optic blastic dog, ninjas on the moon, a man-baby, a uni-baby, and so much more.  We as readers who enjoy such work, and laugh, love this fresh and ever-changing world centered around our awesome protagonist. He, who is Axe Cop, the mustached, axe-wielding lawman of justice with secret attacks, and well defined (and often lethal) style of fighting evil.

So imagine my delight, when I had the chance to personally meet the artist of Axe Cop, Ethan Nicolle, at the Long Beach Comic Con in Los Angeles. Ethan was alone, promoting Axe Cop and his newest self-published work, Bearmageddon. Malachai was elsewhere, tending to a book signing. Here, from the show’s artist alley section, is a transcript of a wonderful yet brief interview:

ALL DAY COMICS: Hello, Ethan Nicolle.

ETHAN NICOLLE: Hello.

(During this point, there was a nearby live Star Wars live roleplaying event going on, so please if you will..imagine the Star Wars: Episode I Duel of the Fates music track playing in the background)

ADC: With Malachai’s schooling and state of adolescence, the creative process must be unconventional, perhaps challenging in the production of Axe Cop. In working with Malachai, where and how often do you meet in planning new material?

Continue reading

Comic Book Men

18 Feb

by Mike Hansen

Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith at somebody's else's comic book store. (Image via Wikipedia)

I liked this show.

I’d guess it’s mainly because I’m a Kevin Smith fan, and his recent Q&A/standup specials have been downright brilliant. Having worked in a comics shop, it seemed pretty accurate to me – with trying to find stupid stuff to do during the frequent downtime, the freaky customers who come in trying to make money off their junk, and the employees making fun of customers (and each other) when nobody else is around. Most comics shops are really unprofessional, and to me that’s part of their charm – I mean, who wants to hang out at, say, Walmart?

The “Pawn Stars” moments Continue reading

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