How to win friends or influence people

August 31, 2006

Retailers seem to be lining up at ICv2 to voice their displeasure with Tokyopop’s on-line exclusives:

Ed Sherman of Rising Sun Creations:

“It doesn’t make sense to pursue promoting poorer-selling titles online when there are so many hot Tokyopop titles that have been out of print for so long. I cannot get copies of Kingdom Hearts #1-3, Loveless #1, or Battle Club #1, just to name a few. These are all strong selling books that have been out of stock for months.”

(David Taylor offers his thoughts on Sherman’s comments at Love Manga.)

J. Carmody of Serenity Studios:

“Tokyopop was my first choice for the manga lines, however with their recent news, I will continue to promote and sell Tokyopop product but I will be selecting a different publisher to use as the flagship publisher in my advertising decisions for manga-related product from now on.”

Any volunteers?

Robert Brown of The Anime Corner:

“Holding titles hostage from the retail channel to force manga readers to come to their Website will resonate with fans as a form of coercion, and will not be well received.”

Brown also mentioned the difficulty in restocking popular titles, which seems to be coming up fairly often in reaction to this initiative. I don’t know if bookstore chains are having the same problem, but it seems… I don’t know… anecdotally common among Direct Market retailers.

Recovering retailer and veteran blogger Dorian looks at it from the perspective of someone who helps a shop fill out their monthly manga order:

“My first impulse, honestly, is to simply stop ordering any Tokyopop titles outside of what we need to fill pull-lists. Why should I take a chance on ordering a new series from Tokyopop if, two or three volumes later, they might decide that it isn’t selling what they think it should be and make it an online exclusive item? Why should I attempt to build an audience for a title in the store if Tokyopop could decide that they’d rather cut out the middle-man and sell the title direct themselves? And what do I tell customers already buying a title when Tokyopop decides to take it exclusive?”

Good questions, I think.

And of course, there are the comments on this post at Chris Butcher’s blog, which include more reaction from Chris and this one from Jim Cosmicki:

“Unless these are print to order, they could EASILY still solicit these through Diamond as well as being online. Just don’t send them through the bookstore distribution chain. But Tokyopop has a badly designed new webpage to justify, so they go for the cliched ‘web exclusive’ tag instead.”

Update: Dirk Deppy rounds up all this stuff and more and offers his own commentary in today’s entry at ¡journalista!.

Update 2: Brigid at MangaBlog takes a trip around the blogsplosion and provides commentary as well.


Chaucer… Rabelais… Balzac!

August 31, 2006

There are a couple of interesting pieces on comics in libraries, a topic that obviously interests me a whole lot.

The first is a local overview in a letter to The Comics Reporter. Mason Adams uses the occasion of the Roanoke (Virginia) Valley Bookfest to check out the holdings of some local book lenders. Adams is a comics fan and writer for the Roanoke Times.

Steven Grant tackles the topic in this week’s Permanent Damage column at Comic Book Resources. Grant takes a somewhat spandex-centric look at the growing place of graphic novels on library shelves, but it’s an interesting read. And as usual, there are some gems of bluntness:

“Of major concern to many librarians are excesses we could easily get by, if we abandoned the notion that the medium and the art of comics are somehow improved by being a boys’ club of unfettered pandering to our own basest instincts. Mainly characterized by triple-E cups and degrading male-dominated sexual content. Strange as it may sound, apparently girls, a large portion of the library comics audience, don’t like things like that. Which might be grounds for schism right there, since, apparently, many artists seem to be attracted to comics not to tell stories but to indulge those particular fantasies.”


You spin me right round, baby

August 30, 2006

It’s not fair, as the timing couldn’t have been planned, but I have to chuckle at the simultaneous arrival of the uproar over Tokyopop’s on-line exclusives initiative and the gushy profile of Stuart Levy in yesterday’s PWCW. (David Taylor has a balanced run-down of the piece at Love Manga. At Dangerous Beauty, Lea Hernandez takes a skeptical view of the warm fuzzies.)

And yes, I bitch probably to excess over the mutual love between Publishers Weekly and Tokyopop, but look at some of these excerpts:

  • “So you’re the prophet.”
  • “Tokyopop and manga have changed the bookstore environment completely.”
  • “Is Tokyopop still growing?”
  • “One thing about manga, and the American book market in general, is that people love to say something is impossible to do, until someone does it.”

And those are from the questions. Now, I’ve lobbed softballs in my time, but wow.

I was talking to a friend about the whole on-line exclusives deal, and we were wondering if (when?) Tokyopop might add a title that’s actually selling into this sales category. We couldn’t really think of any negative reaction that might prevent it, because they’re certainly getting plenty of negative reaction now, so why not try a book that might be more likely to turn a profit?

Kevin Melrose at Blog@Newsarama does a fine job collecting links to reaction to the initiative.


From the stack: KLEZMER

August 30, 2006

There are certain comics that carry tremendous nostalgia for me. The squeaky teens of the Archie books and the adorable deformities of the Harvey roster take me back to long childhood hours in the station wagon headed from Cincinnati to Massachusetts or Missouri. When I think of super-heroes, images by Johns Buscema, Romita, and Byrne and George Pérez illustrate those thoughts.

In spite of relatively limited exposure to his work (The Rabbi’s Cat, Vampire Loves, a short in Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators), Joann Sfar has managed to make his way onto the list of creators whose work I feel like I’ve been happily reading forever. There are plenty of cartoonists whose work I admire and will happily seek out, but there’s something special about Sfar.

The imminent arrival of Klezmer (First Second) provides another opportunity to figure out exactly what that special quality is. It’s the first installment of a story of a ragtag group of musicians who find their way together through a shared focus on traditional Jewish songs. In it, Sfar covers familiar territory – faith, the intersection of cultures, love, death, and art.

As with his other works, there’s no apparent precision to Sfar’s storytelling. He has a tendency to wander off point and riff on subjects seemingly as they strike him. The tendency can manifest itself as a surprisingly tender and romantic look at the history of Odessa or a who’s-on-first exchange about life after the Yeshiva. But the wanderings end up contributing to the whole. In a Sfar book, you can learn as much or more about the characters when they aren’t talking about themselves as when they are.

And the cast is linked in their shared flight. The band leader saw his companions murdered. The singer is avoiding the inevitability of an arranged marriage. Two have been thrown out of their respective yeshivas. The guitarist almost died at the end of a rope.

Each is ambivalent about the world around them and the sudden arrival of companions as they travel through it. For some, klezmer is a recent discovery. It’s a useful way to make some money or simply the thing that they’ve decided to do next after their original plans fell apart. But the music and the act of performing it has the power to sneak up on them. It’s something they and their audiences can share, even if it isn’t the product of their culture or if it holds no particular nostalgia for them.

It all unfolds in a lovely way that’s both casual and powerful. More than just about any other comic creator I can think of, Sfar folds in big ideas without ever turning them into Big Ideas. His observations can be absolutely scathing, but they don’t curdle things; the tone of Klezmer is ultimately expansive, even if individual moments can be bleak.

His illustrations, done in watercolors, are perfectly in synch with the story he’s telling. Sfar’s visual style is distinct but incredibly versatile. It can be simplistic, even crude, and wonderfully expressive at the same moment.

I’m still not precisely sure how Sfar has managed to make such an impression on me so quickly. It’s enough that he always creates inviting, imaginative worlds to visit, places that are both warmly familiar and surprising.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)


The revolution will be downloadable

August 29, 2006

Bill Flanagan has some thoughts on just why Tokyopop might be offering on-line exclusives over at Sensei’s Ramblings. It’s an interesting look at the costs and perils of getting a book onto the shelves, and Flanagan ends it on an optimistic note:

“If a publisher can sell weird and off-beat manga from their site and still make a profit, it means that there is a viable avenue for things like more Josei manga, more quirky seinen manga, more older manga, and more of any other genre that doesn’t do well in retail by giving them a way of succeeding on fewer units sold.”

Flangan’s piece does make me wonder if the possibility of a sleeper manga hit – a title that builds an audience slowly but surely over time – really exists in manga publishing. How many titles are on the shelves at all because they’re being subsidized by their publisher’s hit books?

Speaking of Tokyopop, there’s an interview with CEO Stuart Levy in this week’s Publishers Weekly Comics Week. It’s pretty much what you’d expect, only more so. Like… cubed.


The shop around the corner

August 29, 2006

Brigid at MangaBlog, Kevin Melrose at Blog@Newsarama, and David Taylor at Love Manga have already covered ICv2’s interview with Tokyopop’s Mike Kiley, so I’ll limit myself to just one reaction: I have to go to their web site to buy Dragon Head?

Oh, hell.

Between that and my somewhat belated realization that DMP has put Bambi and Her Pink Gun on hiatus, it looks like I’m going to have to find some new twisted and violent manga to fill that reading niche. At least I still have Eden and Anne Freaks, the latter of which releases a new volume this week.

Aside from that (and Anne Freaks doesn’t seem to be shipping to my shop of choice this week anyways), there isn’t really any reason for me to hit the LCS on Wednesday. That probably should depress me at least a little bit, but construction, traffic and parking are all so horrible in town at the moment that I’m really, really relieved.

I’ll head over to the bookstore instead and pick up some recommended titles. And I have a coupon!


Weekend update

August 28, 2006

We went to a canine agility show this weekend. I’ve seen them on television before, and I assumed this would be another collection of slightly crazed border collies and Australian shepherds.

In reality, there were tons of breeds competing, from huge to wee tiny. And the longhaired Dachshund and Pomeranian in particular rocked that obstacle course.

Of course, the ventilation in the arena was kind of poor, and there was some serious dog grooming product in the air. It was like a fog of puppy perm solution.

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I meant to link to this when I first saw it, because it’s hilarious. Better late than never, I guess. Dr. Scott at Polite Dissent answers frequently asked questions about the dos and don’ts of the Superhero Registration Act. Don’t skip the comments.

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John Jakala not only provides a handy guide to graphic novel content in Entertainment Weekly, he spots earth’s mightiest homage, courtesy of Tokyopop. (I find both sites virtually impossible to navigate, so extra points to John for stamina.)

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If I had known today was Joann Sfar’s birthday, I would have tried to get my Klezmer review done. I love the book, by the way.

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In this week’s Flipped, I basically stand out of the way while the delightful Robin Brenner talks about manga in libraries, graphic novels for young adults, collection controversies, and a bunch of other subjects.


From the stack: AMERICAN BORN CHINESE

August 27, 2006

In a lot of juvenile fiction, the moral is the same: “Be yourself.” Don’t compromise your beliefs or values for some artificial notion of success or popularity. The moral sounds good on paper and on film, and it’s good advice in general.

Of course, these fictions are often constructed in such a way that there really isn’t any other sensible choice. Being yourself may not be the easiest path, but it’s clearly the most rewarding one. You may not score the flashy outcomes, but the really important ones –true friends, romance, self-respect, the Mathalon trophy – are within your grasp.

Reality is much messier, obviously. No matter what your age, “be yourself” isn’t always intuitively useful advice. And there are always instances where others are all too happy to make assumptions on precisely who the real you is based on the flimsiest (or laziest) of pretexts.

There’s an undeniable thread of “Be yourself” running through Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese (First Second), but he frames it with so much wit and frankness that it never seems simplistic or cliché. It’s a bracingly funny look at racism (both blatant and internalized).

He breaks the book into three stories. In the first, the Monkey King thinks his stature and accomplishments rank him as an equal among the supernatural pantheon. (The pantheon disagrees.) In the second, Jin struggles with the burdens and assumptions of being “the Chinese kid” in an overwhelmingly white school. The third is a grotesque sitcom where bland young Danny’s every step towards popularity is undone by the annual visit of Cousin Chin-Kee, a horrific amalgamation of Chinese stereotypes.

Each of the concurrent stories has its own style, from revisionist fable to coming-of-age slice of life to nightmare with canned laughter. The styles support each other, as do the stories. They accumulate into a larger view of the ways cultural and individual influences intersect and conflict. Yang’s artistic style is appealingly simple and clear throughout.

The formal intersection of the three stories isn’t entirely effective, and the ending seems a bit rushed. It’s hard to see how it could have been otherwise, because Yang isn’t telling the kind of story that can really be concluded neatly, if at all.

There’s tough, challenging material here, and Yang doesn’t diminish it by delivering it with a general lightness of tone. If anything, the comic warmth of the book makes the sharper moments more effective. Should you really have laughed at that? Would you in a different context?

(This review was based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher. Yang has written a series of posts about American Born Chinese at First Second’s blog.)


Lyleblogging

August 26, 2006

Lyle at Crocodile Caucus has two great posts up. (Well, he always has a bunch of great posts up, but these two in particular caught my eye.)

He takes a look at the current state of Shojo Beat and its roster of titles and ponders future directions for the anthology:

“Now, however, I’m wondering which title will get rotated out of the magazine next and how I’ll react. For the moment, it looks likely we’ll see titles rotated in and out of Shojo Beat every three months and a series I’m enjoying will get the boot.”

Suspenseful, no?

Lyle also takes a very constructive look at the possibilities of a social network as a marketing resource:

“Looking at it as a marketing geek, I’m mostly thinking of how one can make the product a social experience, intertwining the product and the bonds of friendship. Considering how manga fandom (which is largely made up of people who buy manga) is so social, that should be easier to accomplish than with other products.”

Lots of interesting thoughts there.

As someone who works in higher education marketing, one of the questions that is currently baffling me (and just about all of my colleagues) is how to effectively harness the power of an on-line social network (blogs, MySpace, what have you) for marketing communication. I don’t know if it’s really possible, as the appeal of the social network is that it’s wide open and driven by users, and that’s often at odds with the messages a college or university wants to send. Imposing those messages on the social network might very likely kill its appeal for users, which would seem to defeat the purpose entirely.

But it will definitely be interesting to see how Tokyopop’s efforts in that area evolve.


From the stack: JOURNEY INTO MOHAWK COUNTRY

August 26, 2006

There are times when a terrific idea for a graphic novel doesn’t result in a terrific comic. I think Journey into Mohawk Country (First Second Books) is one of those instances, though the book has a lot going for it.

George O’Connor has illustrated a journal written by Harmen Meyndertsz Van den Bogaert, a Dutch trader setting off from Fort Orange (now Albany, N.Y.) into Iroquois territory. Van den Bogaert and his two companions are on something of a goodwill mission, hoping to expand fur trade with the Iroquois and gather information on French expansion into the region.

I love the concept behind the book – translating a primary historical source into a contemporary visual format. Obviously it’s not the only current project to take this approach, and it certainly isn’t the one with the highest profile. But it is an intriguing addition to the roster of ways graphic novel creators are re-conceiving non-fiction content.

I’m a big fan of books in this category. I love the energy and goofy wit of the Action Philosophers books (Evil Twin). The morbid precision of Rick Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder series is always good, shivery company. Ande Parks and Chris Samnee were audacious with Capote in Kansas, their graphic novelization of the creation of a non-fiction novel. And Jim Ottaviani assembled a who’s who of creators for Dignifying Science to tell the stories of groundbreaking women scientists.

But with Journey into Mohawk Country, my interest in the concept outweighs my interest in the content. Van de Bogaert did not seem to be writing for posterity, providing instead a somewhat dry recounting of the events of his travels. Pieces like this – letters, legers, maps, journals – contribute to the tapestry of history, but the interest for me is their context, or what they say about a point in time.

O’Connor resists the urge to contextualize Van de Bogaert’s experiences, which is both admirable and problematic. He’s respecting his source material, contributing only slight embroideries to Van de Bogaert’s account in the form of little grace notes of feeling. But that respect also leaves the narrative shapeless. It’s odd to be levying criticisms at a writer who never intended for his words to be purposed in this particular way, but that’s the conundrum of the book.

I like O’Connor’s illustrations, which are generally lively and expressive. They’re not so exaggerated or stylized that they contradict the source material, nor are they so static that they seem like illustrations accompanying a text. They create a solid sense of place, and O’Connor doesn’t entirely resist the urge to indulge in some visual flights of fancy. (I did find myself distracted by one bit character design, though it could just be me. I think the illustrated Van de Bogaert bears an uncanny resemblance to Zonker Harris.)

Colors by Hilary Sycamore serve the book well. She captures the wintry palette of the countryside and the fireside glow of the Mohawk communities. It runs towards the monochromatic at times, but that might reflect the reluctance to embroider on the reality being portrayed. As with all First Second books, Journey into Mohawk Country is beautifully designed.

In the final analysis, I’m of two minds about the book. The narrative doesn’t really engage me, but I want to see more books in this vein based on more gripping source material. As an individual graphic novel, I think Journey into Mohawk Country has tremendous potential value as an educational tool. Not only does it provide a specific and personal window into a period of history, it’s an exciting example of imaginative ways to communicate history.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)