Wednesday, March 30, 2016

New Baron of Prospect Ave. page is up.

Pittsburgh this Saturday!

I'll be one of the featured guests at the PIX comic fest in downtown Pittsburgh this Saturday. From 11-6, I'll be selling my usual array of books and original art. Then in the evening--- time still to be determined-- i'll be giving a presentation on my work.

PIX is another fast-growing comics fest, a welcome alternative to the noisy mainstream cons where cosplay and autograph lines for the guy who played Droid #5 in the latest Star Wars is the norm. And what a line-up this year! Bill Griffith, Grace Ellis, Kaz, Noah Van Sciver, etc! Admission is free.

Always fun to visit Pittsburgh, where I spent a brief, but life-changing, period at the art school. Didn't much care for the school or the curriculum, but the experience of living in the center of a big city turned this smalltown rube into an urban animal. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Down with Comic Strip Polls!

If you're looking for the root cause of the demise of newspaper comics, here it is. The dreaded comics poll. I ran across this one in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a few weeks ago. Today the local rag here in Cleveland announced it will be conducting one over the next few weeks, too.  Note the Pittsburgh paper here publicized their poll with the above art from Peanuts, a strip that ended 16 fucking years ago. That tells you all you need to know about the state of the daily comic strip and the attitude of the newspapers that run them.

I hate these goddam things. I first ran into one of these comics polls at my first newspaper job out of college in the early Eighties. Surveys and focus groups were fairly new then, but spreading like a cancer, as old school newsfolk, in their black horn-rim glasses and BO-stained white shirts, were being replaced by younger corporate toadies who worshipped at the idol of marketing research. When I protested that comics polls were the dumbest idea I'd ever heard, the execs stared at me like I was a heretic.

What a demeaning concept a comics poll is! Did newspapers ever run a columnist survey? Hey, readers! tell us which columnists we should dump! Of course not. Such a thing would be unthinkable.

Besides, readers are idiots, to be blunt, much like tv viewers or media consumers of any kind. They don't know what they want. Invariably when asked, back when it mattered, what the daily newspaper should be like, readers responded they wanted more "positive news" and more features about local people. So editors, under orders from the marketing execs, changed their newspapers to comply, and guess what? Readers were bored stiff! They said they want "positive" news, but what they really want is sleaze, crime and lurid sex, as they have throughout history. It's likely they just can't admit that, even to themselves.

As for comics polls, the ones who have always filled out the surveys are retired geezers, the daily newspapers' bedrock readership since the Seventies. Newspapers longed for a younger demographic.... but then let grandpa select the content. What could go wrong? Besides, nothing good ever came from asking readers to select the lowest common denominator. Here's a thought: hire comics editors who know what they're doing and have them make thoughtful, creative decisions. Usually, this task is foisted off on a features editor. Most, in my experience, haven't a clue what good comics are. SO they rely on the comics poll.

That's why the comics page, selected by geezer readers, is a combination of corpse strips and re-runs, and has been for nigh on 40 years. Only on the comics page would a newspaper re-run content! How come they're not re-running old Erma Bombeck and Mike Royco columns? Man, people used to LOVE Walter Wichell! On a typical comics page now, over half of the minuscule strips are by dead guys.

Doonesbury, for example, was wildly popular when it debuted in the Seventies. By all logic, it should have opened the door to dozens of new, edgy strips. Instead, that door slammed shut! The geezers loathed Doonesbury. In every comics poll, which were first being introduced then and spread from paper to paper like a virus, it was always one of the most popular and least popular comic strips. That gave the editors an out, especially since many of them grumbled about all the nasty letters and phone calls the strip generated. Add more strips that did the same? No thanks! We have one Doonesbury. That's enough. So that was that. A groundbreaking strip that should have been one of the most influential of all time instead was one of the least influential. College papers in the late Seventies were full of Doonesbury-like strips. Many were better than the unfunny dreck the syndicates offered. The ONLY one of these that was signed was Bloom County, and that was only because Trudeau switched syndicates and his old one wanted a replacement Doonesbury. That Bloom County evolved into something else and became wildly popular, was apparently lost on both syndicate and newspaper executives.

So when the comic strip revolution unfolded in the Eighties, it happened in the upstart weekly press. Dailies should have fought for Life in Hell and Lynda Barry and all the rest. Run those strips and run them big and younger readers would have followed. Instead they flocked to the weeklies. It was the comics that first put those rags on the map.

For their part, the dailies ran the same old strips and started shrinking them, first to small, then to the minuscule size they now appear. "Space restrictions" and the "hard realities" of modern newspapers are the excuse. But waitasec. In those beloved reader marketing tests, comics always rate near the top. So why ignore the readers here, but give them total power in whether to keep Wizard of Id? If comics are so popular, as your readers indicate, shouldn't they get primo play instead of shrunk and stuffed in the back of the paper?

Here's my suggestion, admittedly biased. You want new, younger readers? Run new, interesting strips and run them BIG. Half page comics.... full page comics. And they don't have to be daily strips. Why is that etched in stone? It worked before. When newspapers ruled the media world, they plastered comics all over their pages. It's no accident that The Yellow Kid, the first hit comic, ran on the front page! We're in a golden era of comics right now, with 20something creators and readers coming to comics in numbers I've never seen before. but good luck finding any evidence of that in a daily newspaper. At this point, Jesus, what do daily papers have to lose?

I can only chalk it up to 50 years of editorial animosity toward comic strips. The comics page has always been a pain in the ass for editors. Change one strip, even some vile excrement like Andy Capp, which somehow once appeared in 2,000 papers, and you'll be answering angry phonecalls (and now emails) for days from those outraged geezers. Better just to leave the page as is, so editors can get on with their quiet morning and two-hour lunch. And frankly, I think it pissed off word people that comics were the most popular thing in their papers, so they set about undermining them. Maybe this was subconsciously, but I've little doubt this was the case. Make them duller and duller, make them smaller and smaller. It was even more extreme in the weekly press. It's the only explanation.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

More signed copies, with title page drawings!

These have been selling like hotcakes, through my bookstore HQ here in Cleveland.  I've just re-supplied them with a box of Trashed and My Friend Dahmer, hardback and softback. There is no additional charge for these. Cover price.

Each one has a title page drawing. All the drawings are different. Mac's Backs cheerfully does mail order. You can order them HERE. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

True Stories: Volume 2 coming in July!

At last! The second volume of my True Stories series will be released in July by the fine folks at Alternative Comics. A fat 48-page floppy. $5.99 cover price.

Volume 2 is comprised of stories from 2009 to 2014. These were, of course, the heart and soul of my long-running comic strip, The City. I often am asked if there will be a complete collection of all 24 years of The City. The answer is.... no. A lot of those strips simply don't hold up. Too topical, too of their time. But the True Stories are timeless. That's why I'm collecting these. A lot of my old work make me wince, but not my true stories. I read these, even the ones that aren't very well drawn, and I remember the moment I observed them, and what I was doing in my life and career. I'm very fond of these things.

Volume 1 contained stories from 2002 to 2008. I wanted to start with some of my strongest work, but not too stylistically removed from my books. Volume 2 covers the last five years of The City. Then I'll work my backwards in subsequent volumes from 2002 to the strip's beginning in 1990. Yeah, yeah, it's all whacked up chronologically, but who cares?

Those next volumes will come out more rapidly. The year-long gap between Volumes 1 and 2 is due to the Fall release of Trashed. Couldn't have anything else on the shelves.

I'm planning a trip down to the Ohio State Cartoon Museum, where most of my City originals are housed, to scan all the early True Stories I don't have copies of.

When it's all over, we'll collect all the volumes in one big trade.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Interesting analysis by Heidi. 

"Comics +18.6%: This figure is rather misleading. Most of that increase was before the ongoing collapse of DC and Marvel’s rather mundane relaunch." 

"Graphic Novels +38.1%: Graphic Novels have exploded. I believe it is due to the treasure trove of creator owned properties. That, coupled with the unprecedented amount of new readers of all types and genders, makes 2016 look really exciting! Most of these new readers are not that interested in single issues."

That's exactly what I've been saying for a couple years now and have been called a fool by certain parties. 

But these numbers have also been my observation from the ground, at the festivals and cons, and talking to fans. The Millennials, ESPECIALLY women, who are reading and making comics in numbers I've never seen before, want something new. The superdude stuff still has its audience, it's not going anywhere, certainly not with those billions in corporate marketing behind it, but there are simply too many superdude floppies on the market for a stagnant, largely male readership. The superdude books are a lot better than they were 25 years ago, but I think they're simply played out. How many times can you regurgitate the same 10 storylines? It’s all about movies and tv for the Big Two now anyways, and rumors abound that both publishing entitities lose money. But, of course, their film studios make billion, even if they’re simply adapting old material. And that’s all they’re doing. Deadpool is 25 years old. Capt. America: Civil War is a decade old. I quickly lost interest in Netflix’s lauded Daredevil because it’s straight out of Frank Miller’s run of 36 years ago! 

And Marvel and DC right now simply have NO clue how attract this vast new female readership (hint: pretty much the opposite of what you're doing). Both companies seem hellbent on pissing off their loyal readership with lame cross-title events that either flop or simply peter out, and the variant cover nonsense. The latter especially drives the poor shop owners crazy. More importantly, if your business model is convincing your customers to buy multiple copies of the same damn comic book, I don’t think that’s sustainable.

It's especially grim when you see how many Marvel & DC titles sell under 10,000 copies. Ouch. Why even bother? To saturate the newsstand, that's why. It's straight out of Martin Goodman's playbook back in the Atlas Comics heyday. Fill the racks with junk to keep competitors out. In the case of the Big Two, apparently they're mostly worried about Image, which is doing some very interesting books and of course, since it's creator owned, not work for hire, attracts the best talent with the best ideas. 

What we're seeing here is the death of the floppy. I think five years from now, the Big Two will be publishing half of their current titles, if that.

The big growth is in other forms of comics, outside of the Disney-Warner-Diamond stranglehold, and away from the floppy. Disney and Warner Bros. will thrive, of course, no matter how much their comic publishing wing falters. Diamond, I think, is on shaky ground. I know many will be pleased about that. 

It's an exciting time to be in the game. And to be a fan!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Home again

Didn't post as much from my grand 5-week-long tour through France and Belgium as I had planned. I didn't have a lot of down time, frankly. What a tour! Four days at the Angoulême International Comics festival, followed by a month traveling from bookstore to bookstore all over France (with three side trips to Brussels). Twenty-two signings in all! My only day off was Sunday.

Hanging with friends, old and new,  at the Angoulême Comics Fest.Gregory Benton leers his approval.

The Green Party of France pick Trashed as their book of the year!
The ceremony was great fun. They gave me a flag and
several rounds of shots! Now THAT'S an award!

The tradition in France and Belgium is to give fans a "dedicace," a drawing on the title page. Including the long lines at Angoulême, I estimate I did over 1,200 of these things on the tour! That's a LOT of drawing. 

It wasn't as grueling as it sounds. I have four standard poses I used for Trashed dedicaces, and I could swap in the different characters. Got pretty tired of drawing garbagemen, to be honest. For My Friend Dahmer I have two poses. The Punk Rock & Trailer Parks ones are more wide open. I usually ask for a request. Joe Strummer is the most popular, followed by Joey Ramone. A typical signing usually last three hours and around 35 dedicaces. Once in awhile, I'd get a weird request. "Draw me as a garbageman. Draw Joey Ramone as a garbageman." Those were fun. One guy, a classics prof, wanted the Greek philosopher Dionysius as a punk rocker! 

A typical dedicace in an English edition of PR&TP. In the States, I'd charge for a
drawing like this and no one would complain. In France and Belgium, it's expected and it's free. The price I pay for all those fabulous free meals!

Window display at Au Grande Nulle Part  comic shop in Rouen.

Everywhere I went the fans were great. Big smiles and warm greetings. I was amazed at how many had boned up on my career and biography. At times, I just shook my head and wondered "how the hell did this happen?"

My French publisher couldn't be happier, of course. "Your sales are right up there with Clowes and Burns and Ware, he told me." Again, I shook my head and laughed. Heck, all of us dream of being an A-lister. Here in the US, I've managed to claw my way up to B-minus-lister, but in Europe, I'm living large. That dipshit smile plastered on my face in these photos isn't fake. I'm well aware how fate has smiled on me here.

Hanging with the mighty Jen Vaughn!

If this turns out to be my career highlight, yeah, I can live with that. I've had a new book come out every year in French since 2013. It'll be a while before I have a one, so maybe I'll fade from view. If that's the case, man, it's been a helluva ride.

So what's up for the rest of 2016? Well, I have my little side project, The Baron of Prospect Avenue webcomic. I'll be posting new pages throughout the year. I wrote the rest of it, mostly on trains. It needs a little tightening, and maybe some rewrites, but I know where it's going. Originally I started it without having it plotted out, as a storytelling experiment. I scrapped that. Just wasn't comfortable working that way. So now it's another three-act plot. But it's a labor of love and I plan to have fun with it. Eventually, this will be a book, probably sooner than later. Trashed started as a webcomic side project, too, remember, and I only got 50 pages in before Abrams snatched it up. The Baron, however, is too bawdy for them, I think. And I want to keep it bawdy. 

Next up is a new project for Abrams. Don't know what yet, but I'll be devoting some serious reflection this Spring to this. I have some ideas.


As for cons and fests, I plan to limit the travel this year so I can concentrate on work. Here's the list so far. Subject to change, of course:

Comicon: San Diego, July 20 to 24.

The American Book Festival: Paris, September 8 to 11.

SPX: Betheda, MD, September 17 & 18.

CXC: Columbus, OH, October 13 to 16.

Genghis Con, Cleveland, Sunday November 27.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Some new Baron of Prospect Avenue pages

I've been posting these from the road while crisscrossing France, if you haven't noticed. I'm up to page 17. I'm weeding out the bugs today. Didn't have Dreamweaver on the MacAir I travel with. Read it all HERE