Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Mixed signals from Marvel... 

Courtesy of the latest PULSE:

Of the most interest, naturally, was Gui Karyo's publishing presentation. According to Karyo, Marvel's new initiatives will focus on getting more mainstream penetration in Wal-Marts and Targets, exposure at school book fairs, more books aimed at the kiddlies, more prose books following on the success of the YA (that's "young adult" in pub speak) Mary Jane novel, and rolling out yet more of those 4,700 characters in the Marvel library.

Geeze, am I the only one getting somewhat mixed signals here? They say they want to get more mainstream penetration, yet they still can't seem to decide if they want to publish the Tsunami GNs, which were originally created for this purpose. They want more titles aiming at kids, but are canceling titles like Sentinel. Maybe they'll do the digest Tsunami volumes after all, but are working on some sort of exclusive deal at Wal-Mart or Target? Either way, I just hope they actually have a decent plan worked up for this new market penetration. If they just try to shovel a bunch of their current content into the market, I doubt it'll do all that well, and may actually cause problems for these stores taking chances on more GNs in the future...

The Mary Jane prose comment makes me a little hopeful as far as titles for girls, but I'm still not convinced they really know how to do or market these yet. With females just about driving the GN market in bookstores these days, it seems like a section of the population that can't be ignored anymore...

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Sentinal going bye bye... 

Read this the other day, and sad to hear it is ending. It is interesting to see the different reactions. A lot of people seem to think that it is simple business and it wouldn't have sold to manga fans or the bookstore crowd anyway. Personally, I would have liked to have seen the results for myself, as that was supposedly the whole point. With this ending and Rich saying that the digest listings are gone from Amazon, it really isn't looking so good. Seems we'll never know if there could have been a breakout hit among the Tsunami titles...

Of episodic stories and continuity... 

Ok, there's been some talk lately on serializing versus continuity, open endings versus closed endings, and singles versus graphic novels. Dave Fiore has some thoughts here (but check out the comments for a bunch of different responses). John Jakala as always has some good thoughts here as well.

Someone in the comments to Dave brought up Batman: the Animated Series, and that really got me thinking, because I also loved that show. I guess what my opinion is, is that I can enjoy both episodic stories and those with a continuing storyline, but it is something has has to be carefully done, and it is pretty dangerous to start mixing those two things together.

A lot of comedic comic strips in newspapers are very episodic and lack continuity. By its very nature, the characters in Peanuts can't change very much. That is part of the appeal, by exploring these singular characters in a lot of different ways. It also has fairly stylized looking characters and a limited scope (most of the time). For TV, the original Star Trek was pretty episodic. You get to meet some new aliens each episode, a misc. crewmember will probably die, Bones tells Kirk of his death, Kirk is after the ladies, etc...

On the other hand, you may have something like Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, which is a pretty epic comic, but always has a sense of time, characters die, and the series ends. It is very much like a novel. For TV, you have something like Babylon 5, where it was very tightly scripted (mostly by one person). Even in the occational episodic stories, there tended to be other threads going on in the background. Personalities evolved, people died or moved on, lots of foreshadowing and threads tying together, and even looks into the past or future were possible due to knowing what lied ahead. It eventually did get cancelled, but was able to wrap things up pretty well due to being able to jump ahead to the end...

I think my issue with a lot of the superhero comics is the effort to try to have things both ways. Especially in the shared worlds, where there is a certain degree of realism (relatively speaking) and long arcs, how does that fit in with keeping characters the same and things episodic? It means we keep having characters brought back from the dead, retcons, etc. It is like "Now we'll do something really involving and interesting that changes everything! Whoops.. now we're too far afield. Let's change things back to how they were before so that that other thing is meaningless." You also have all these different stories sharing the same world. If you're going to have a crossover, you need the stories to have the same stuff going on, but how does that fit in with the standalone stories? I know someone mentioned a while back about a situation where you might have a character in his own story, but also on a team, but it doesn't make sense because the character wouldn't have time or the personality was different. They must actually be in some different continuity, but it isn't something explicit, and that team might meet a character who has also met the character from the standalone books. So this other person how been involved with two continuities of the character in his own memories, etc. It just gets to be a big mess...

Creators and fans want it both ways... they want episodic stories with characters that don't change, but also heavy in continuity and a shared world, all at the same time. If one of the worlds really acted like a world, with characters having a consistant history, I could probably get into it more, or if more of the stories were really self-contained and episodic.

I think another thing is that certain concepts just work better at being episodic. Johnny Quest or TinTin has a couple of characters going around the world to different locations. Batman is a loner in his own city. The Herculoids are a family of people and creatures mostly alone with dangers on their own planet. Star Trek involved moving though space. Samurai Jack moves through his world with one main goal in mind, etc. By putting certain limitations in place, it makes the episodic process a lot easier and smoother.

If Samurai Jack added a companion, suddenly something has really changed. If he keeps them around, there there is now a time before and after that person. If you're careful about it, you could have them take someone around for a while and then that person decides to stay in a village putting Jack alone again. Of course that then limits that character's influence. If meeting that person leaves the main character changed, then there is still a distinct continuity of before and after. You can do something like wipe out the main character's memory of that person, but stuff like that can get annoying and silly pretty quickly.

Taking it from the other side, what if you have a story that is mostly about continuity, but has an episodic element as a hook? Say the character changes and evolves, but tends to have a battle with someone in each chapter. Like say it is a martial artist who competes against others for sport, and he learns new techniques and becomes stronger over time. That can work, but you still need to be careful. One possible problem is that of "inflation". If the hero is always getting stronger, than the bad guys also have to in order to remain a challenge. If a story like this continues on for too long, you get a situation where everyone can pretty much destroy the world at any time. This is what happened when DBZ ran on for too long. You get people with "power level 10million!" or something.

This combo of continuity and episodic elements happens a lot in manga and I think it usually works because it is a self-contained story and that it tends to end before things get out of control. The funny parody of How To Draw Manga books called Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga actually brings up some lucid commentary on occation, such as mocking those series that don't end before villian inflation becomes a problem. ;)

So, I think that to a certain degree episodic elements tend to interfere with continuity and vice versa. It is easy to back yourself into a corner from which extracting yourself becomes a detriment to the story. Of course something can tell continuity in an episodic way, like when I read the Luba TPB. It takes a fairly tight continuity but just picks little sections of the daily life of the characters to show to the viewer. However, I do make a bit of a distinction here. The sections of the story are broken up into bitesized chunks, but isn't being totally divorced from history or and isn't having a constant repetitive situation for the purpose of a hook. Of course hooks can exist in stories even set in the real world which seem to have continuity. I haven't read Strangers in Paradise, but I've heard that constant relationship breakups and getogethers proved too repetitive for some people, and that sort of thing can happen in many romance manga. At some point you need to either keep having new interesting variations (but can still hurt continuity realism) or just stop the whole thing. The repetitive nature of the hook can be of detriment to the reality of the continuity after a while...

So, while I really do like continuity in most cases, an episodic story that is done right, can still be a lot of fun. The aforementioned Batman cartoon was nice in that was mostly episodic without getting caught up in too much continuity, and it didn't have a lot of external character showing up, which lent to a certain consistancy in feel. In a TV show where you might get repeats at any time, having a show you can jump right into can be a nice asset. I think for the industry lately, there's been a lot of wanting to grow up and be more realistic and appeal to older sensibilities. One way to do that is to add more arcs and continuity, but to me it clashes with a lot of the pre-established episodic conventions (and other conventions like spandex). It is like 3D.. the more you get away from stylization and into realism, the more that things diverging from reality stick out and scream to be noticed.

If something like Batman is going to be heavily episodic and eschew continuity, then I'd like it to really be that way. He is a loner in his city, he has strange bad guys he fights. Those guys get locked up and new ones crop up for him to fight. Some jailbreaks on occation are ok, but the more you do that, the more continuity creeps up. Or at least don't have new schemes rely too much on old ones, so that after the first time you meet a bad guy, who knows if this time is before or after the last time? But there is always this temptation to make it more real. We want it all to fit on timeline. We want to complicate it by refering to all the stuff in the past. But that is perhaps turning it into something else entirely. There is a certain freedom in a stylized episodic world and as soon as you start to pin things down, you might increase freedom of storyline complexity, but you also restrict the more stylized freedoms. And since a lot of that freedom comes from not having to be entirely consistant or realistic, building strict continuity on top of it is problematic to begin with. If you're careful, you may be able to have a continuity-heavy beginning and (perhaps) end to an episodic series, but it is probably be to plan that from the start so that the parts don't interfere with each other. If you want to add a lot of continuity or "remake" a character just use a very distinct alternate reality (like Batman Year One or the Dark Knight Returns) instead of doing it inside the "real" timeline.

One interesting way of dealing with the problem of balancing continuity and episodic stuff is to expand the complexity of each episodic element in such a way that it still doesn't change the main character or effect other situations too much. I'm thinking partly of a manga/anime called Eat-Man. It involves a mysterious bounty hunter named Bolt Crank who eats metal and can create weapons with it. He travels around to different lands taking various jobs. Each of the stories might be short or might be a pretty long arc. In a lot of them, Bolt isn't really the focus so much as the wildcard element which resolves the plot of the main story in the end. It can build up the situation and characters as much as necessary until it gets resolved, but then Bolt leaves and finds another place and bounty. That is able to work because the main character is willing to just drop everything and move on. If he decided to stay somewhere, the dynamic of the series would suddenly change a lot.

Anyway, I don't think the singles versus graphic novel argument always has to tie into all of this. Obviously, having an episodic element can work well for a serialized method of distribution, as the particular hook is present in each single you buy and it is easier to jump into a story that has already started. However, there is nothing stopping someone from doing a very continuity heavy story in a serialized form, if they can have enough happen each time to keep reader interest going and if they either have good recaps or take for granted new users will just by a GN or back issues of earlier stuff. If it is a relatively self-contained story, finding that older information may be easier...

And to switch gears for just a moment, to talk about endings. If you really have an episodic story which relies little on continuity, you can pretty much go on for however long you want until the concept gets stale. It can be fun, but different viewers will have different tolarances for repetition. When continuity gets introduced, I generally do like some sort of ending, even if it is open ended. I find a lot of times, the stories I most want to see more of, are usually the ones were maybe things are well enough as they are and more might hurt things. I've read a lot of long fantasy series that span many novels before, and sometimes you'll have stuff where new books jump to the past to explain the legends. Sometimes it works, but a lot of times it just spoils the mystery. The same goes for open-ended things like what John says about the Matrix. A lot of people just really like having a finite story, something which was somewhat lacking for a while in the industry. Now, with so many manga and OGNs providing endings (or at least stopping areas), a lot of people are happy. Still, I do think there is a place for endless episodic elements or even endless continuity if done well...

Perhaps what is missing these days are the stories that really lack continuity in designed and disciplined way. In the effort to make things more mature and fit into big shared worlds, it seems to have been either lost or subverted over time into weird mishmashes of contradictory continuities. Plenty of great continuity-heavy titles are coming out from manga or independants, but where is the TinTin for this generation?

Cyborg 009 on Pulse 

Pulse has a review of Cyborg 009 up, one of the more classic series in Japan to be licensed for the US. I wrote about getting the first volume last month and plan on getting some more eventually. This is one of the few manga that is very much like a traditional superhero team (though with its own style), with some similarities to something like X-Men (team of people who didn't choose to have powers, from different backgrounds, a father type figure involved, etc.).

This is the kind of thing we need more of to be licensed. Now, where's Rose of Versailles?

Monday, November 24, 2003

Real instruments not necessary... 

Just to give something of pure fun for once, AoDVD had a thread related to air instruments lately. This lead to links to the US Air Guitar Championships and the Air Guitar World Championships. On the Worlds page, they have a video of the winner, David "C-Diddy" Jung. Pretty funny stuff. :)

Friday, November 21, 2003

Sean's reality check... 

Hahaha... this is one of the funniest things I've read in a while. I guess everyone will have to stick with the fanfiction for now.. ;)

Another music service grows like a Weed.. 

On the heels of discovering Magnatune, I've just run into another one called Weed. While I'm not as into the implementation of Weed (uses MS's DRM instead of totally open formats), the concept is amazing and totally subverts how a DRM system would usually work. Some variation on the system could really be a killer app...

Ok, so basically you can download the music files from anyone, whether it is from a website or files on a cdrom. You can play a song 3 times free any given computer before it stops working, at which point you can buy it using their program (which uses paypal). When you buy it, it puts you account info. into the file, which does two things. First of all, it gives you access similar to iTunes in that you can play it on three registered computers, use on portable devices or burn to CD. However, if you then give that file to someone else, they can also play it three times free and then have to buy it, adding their info. to the file. This adding of info. is important not just for playing the file but for keeping a record of the last couple of people in the chain who bought it.

So royalties on files work like this. An artist sets a price for the song. When you buy a song, it gives 50% of the money to the artist and 15% to the Weed company. The other 35% gets split up to the people in the chain. 20% to the person you got it from, %10 from the person they got it from, and %5 from who they got it from.

It is almost like a controlled pyramid scheme that encourages people to distribute music themselves using the system instead of stealing (as they get some money out of it), while still getting a lot of money toward the artist. 15% to the company is less than usual, but makes sense since they are just providing the registration and payment infrastructure instead of providing bandwith.

Forget about the new Napster 2.0... Weed feels like much more of a successor to the spirit of the original Napster while still getting artists money. Think about it.. instead of having a huge record label, listeners are actually getting payed to promote music for their favorite artists.

As I said at the beginning, I still have issues with this particular implementation. Specifically that you currently need to have windows to use it, uses WMA files as the file format, etc. Still, I think it is a brilliant idea and hopefully will take off. Doesn't hurt to try listen to some music the three times for free, and when you join you get $5 in your account to start off. Enough to try to buy a couple of songs and experiment a bit. I haven't done much experimenting as of yet, but I'll fiddle with it more later. So, Magnatune is still the thing that I think I'll actually use, but Weed is definitely cool...

Magnatune has stats... 

Well, seems that I spoke too soon when I said yesterday that Magnatune didn't have any charts. It could stand to be a bit more prominant, but there are stats here. It seems like there are 75 artists and 145 albums total. Besides things you'd expect like best-selling by various categories and time-tables, they have a cool stat which shows which albums have sold for the highest average price. As people can choose their rate, that is pretty helpful. Maybe a kind of music like the harpsicord has less fans, but if each of them think the album is worth $13 as opposed to $5, then it is probably of good quality.

From hanging around their forums, it looks like they are adding new stuff all the time, which is pretty nice. Another new thing is that each artist page gives recommendations to other artists that the same people tended to buy. They are also putting up pdf files of album covers for downloading and printing.

Lastly, in regards to CDs on demand that mp3.com did, they say they have no interest in that at all. I can't say as I blame them, really. It seems like that whole process could be expensive and fraught with problems. With the current setup, it seems like most of their overhead is bandwith, which should hopefully be taken care of by the 50% of sales they are getting. It seems like a solid model to me..

BTW, check out Shive in Exile. Some really interesting mixes of electronica with Indian/middle eastern/even Japanese sounds. Lots of interesting tunes on the album...

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Manga and superheros go "pop"... 

John responds to Intermittent about if manga is getting a free ride on its quality just because kids are reading it.

I pretty much agree with what John has to say. A lot of the manga out there for kids is just fun self-contained works that are easy to get into and have a lot of qualities that kids (and to a degree adults) can enjoy. Just because something is aimed at kids and isn't high art doesn't mean it is "crap" either.

John mentions repetition, but when you're a kid, a certain amount of repetition can actually be comforting. I think of the transformation sequences in Voltron "...and I'll form the HEAD!" or He-Man "I have the POWER!" that happens every episode. It is the kind of thing you might find annoying as an adult but are waiting for as a kid..heh

I think most of the manga I've seen has at least been pretty solid for what it is trying to be (probably due in no small part to truly horrible stuff being weeded out before getting to the US). And while manga is one of the factors people blame for making comics more decompressed and having less self-contained stories, if you look at stuff aimed at younger views like in Jump, they generally do a good job at having something specific happen in each installment and have readers be able to jump in after missing a couple of issues and not be totally lost.

A lot of the superhero stuff suffers from being adult in tone, having a long convoluted back story, and having different stories with similar trappings (see my entry from yesterday). You could argue that the spandex and such is a form of consistant repetition that can work, but I think consistancy is the sort of thing that tends to work better internally in one story, or in terms of basic underlying kinds of stories. Giving a spin on top then gives some variety to stave off boredom..

A lot of people give superhero stuff a hard time, and I do it a lot myself, but I think there is a good amount of it which which not amazing, is at least competent or status quo. I guess my main issue is that if your status quo isn't appealing to anyone but a narrow audience, then maybe you need to try some other formulas to find something that sticks.

I think a lot of the issues come from our perspective because of the past of the industry. The superheros from the big companies for a long time have been the "mainstream", while everything else is "other". Everyone bought into the notion that that was what sold to the most people and that is that. The fact that kids and girls weren't into comics was just that they were too busy with video games or just didn't like to read. Now something else has come along and bam! Kids and girls are eating the stuff up and the traditional superheros are looking more like a stale niche instead of a driving industry force (yes that's orderstating the case, but bear with me in rant mode..heh).

Having something that isn't formulatic and really original is a great thing, but really I don't have a problem with something being formulatic if it is done in a decently solid or at least appealing and fun way. It isn't so much that the manga for kids is in and of itself superior. It is more that now that these new (and greater variety of) formulas are really finding a big varied audience, so some of the flaws that have been in the "mainstream" comics are more obvious now that we realize they aren't necessarily what "people want" as previously thought.

If you think of pop music, sure most of it is not high art, but it is usually at least catchy and well made in a formulatic way. When something hits big, you usually have popular bands and then a lot of knockoffs. Like grunge with Nirvana and Pearl Jam and then a million imitators. Eventually people get tired of it and move on, the generic bands fall off the map, while people still buy Nirvana albums today. But tastes do change in the popular realm.

The manga companies in Japan aren't dummies and have popular titles keep up with times. Obviously individual stories have some of their own style and stories, but you can see definite trends over time. And if someone does a super-amazing basketball story, there'll probably be a bunch of knockoffs for a while. The best stuff gets collected to GN and people buy it as classics and it gets exported to other countries.

The comics industry seems more like how horror was for a while. You had some popular films which pretty much defined the slasher genre. There were many sequels and knockoffs and for a while there it was pretty hard to horror film that varied from it. Jason and Freddy were icons that couldn't stay dead, etc. It seems like it took until recently for there finally be a lot of variety on a regular basis like Blair Witch, The Ring, Sixth Sense, various zombie movies, etc. There are still trends and copycats, but there's more variety and more moving targets.

The superheros went from popular entertainment to a very insular niche over time, and now we're finally getting a lot of "new blood" which is expanding in scope and changing the comics world. The to be "pop" culture, you need to actually be popular and definitions of popular can vary significantly on your perspective, which itself can change quickly.

Obviously traditional superheros aren't dead. The movies wouldn't be working otherwise. There is also something to be said for iconic characters, just as there are iconic movie stars. There's also aspects of format and price and distribution which certainly affect sales. Still, I can't help thinking that the manga companies just have a better idea of what actually appeals to kids, and when you're talking about fun pop art, the pop really matters...

More subbed Godzilla... 

Woo, more Godzilla in Japanese is coming on DVD. Unfortunately, the one I'm still most wanting to see, (the original Gojira) is still nowhere to be found. I like the version with Raymond Burr, but I am really really curious to see the differences in the original that lacks him...

Space Ghost is back... 

Here is a review from several different people on the first new episode of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast in a while, it sounds like it has returned to classic form, along with William Shatner as the guest. For anyone that hasn't seen the show, it really is an amazingly random and witty comedy. When someone compares it to Monty Python, I think that comparison works on a lot of levels. I still need to pick up the first DVD, but I look forward to catching new episodes eventually (once I get cartoon network again). (link courtesy of Franklin)

A junior high club... 

A little quip I found interesting on a thread about Dark Horse's manga:

It's not market research in any way shape or form, but the brandy new shiny anime/manga club at the local junior high is almost all girls (and starting to look like a serious cat fight, as you might expect from 12 year olds). When I go down to the local bookstore, the adults walk up to the graphic novels, grab what they want and checkout. It's the kids that are flipping through every single title trying to find something new to read and again it's heavily tilted towards girls.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Is manga better or just different? 

Today Mr. Bacardi talked about Shonen Jump. The question of the Jump's title is answered in his comments section, but I want to expand a bit further on a responce to this:

I look and see a host of stories with subject matter such as transformer-style robots, samurai warriors, teenage soap operas, big hyperexaggerated gladiatorial arena-fight style sagas, sometimes all at once, and I wonder- is this the model to which Western comics should aspire? Leaving aside the actual cost-effectiveness argument (John Jakala's already-classic comparison can't be disputed) is it really all that much better than what we're generally being served up by America and the rest of the world? Or is it just different, and therefore somehow better by inference?

The following is something of a realization that I came to a while back. Keep in mind that this is all broad strokes with plenty of exceptions on either side. I'm going to primarily limit myself to the "popular" stuff on each side. The kind of manga that'd be in anthologies like Shonen Jump, and superheros in the US.

My thinking is that in a certain way, these stories are being approached from opposite angles in the two countries. What do I mean by this? Basically that for manga, there are certain story structures and formulas tha are known to work, but which have all of their "trappings" changed from story to story. The situations, worlds, and surface details change, but in other ways they have a lot of similarities. On the other side, I feel like the big US companies want to hold onto a particular set of trappings while changing the story. They have superheros who wear spandex and share a universe, but create fighting, mystery, and romance within that.

What are some things that a lot of boys like? They like exploring and adventure, fighting, big robots, friendship, competing, and they often want to be the "greatest!" at something (they also like weird hair, but that's another story altogether). So you see these themes again and again in manga for boys, but the stories could take place anywhere, fights could involve superpowers or just martial arts, etc. Competing to be the greatest could involve fighting monsters or other people, but it could also be competing at a sport. And that could be any kind of sport-like thing, whether it is basketball, a board game, or even cooking.

Many of these will share similar traits like a main character that starts off pretty weak and has to do a lot of training. As this happens they encounter greater obsticles. Probably will have a master at some point that might get killed off, leaving them looking for vengeance. A sports title may go similarly, or perhaps take a different cliche like a misfit team that is thrown together with a misfit coach and can they somehow win against all odds?

There is all sorts of romance stories. Whether it is a soap-operatic love-quadrangle or a forbidden love. Even taking something like forbidden love, it could be a poor guy and rich girl in highschool. It could be two male cops. It coul be a rebel leader lady and a sworn enemy king who don't realize each other's true identity in a medieval fantasy world. You're going to cover a lot of the same ground, but the different situations and settings can count for a lot.

So, I guess my main point is that sure, manga has its fair share of cliches in it. In fact, many of those cliches are common to other countries and mediums. For instance the misfit sports team has been done in many US movies before. The success will have to do more with the exact execution or if the cliche has been turned on its ear a bit. Also, even if you've seen something done a million times before, it may be new to someone else, and if it is a solid story, the cliches can be more easily overlooked.

So, I think the manga side tends to be more in tune with what themes the kids are really interested in reading about and then making enough variations (each pretty much self-contained) that it is easy for someone to find something they like. If you like competition-based stories but hate aliens or superpowers, maybe a straight basketball story is for you, even if the underlying themes are very similar.

On the US side, I think too many of the companies have gotten too narrow of a focus. Even if we limit the discussion to stories involving people with superpowers fighting villains, the manga seems like it has more variety. The infamous DBZ has quite a long history, morphing in theme as it went along. Characters grow old and have kids, etc. It is a particular world with certain rules (certain aliens, dragon balls, etc.) and a particular visual style. One guy wrote the whole story, and despite the the holes Toriyama backed himself into for doing it way longer than he indended, it is still unique enough to be very recognizable. YuYu Hakusho is a totally different setup. Tough kid gets killed but has a chance to come back because of the unexpected good deed he did to get himself killed. Ends up becoming a spirit detective, teaming up with some good demons, and fighting a host of various bad guys. A somewhat different visual style and world and also self-contained.

If you then go to the superhero universes, almost everyone wears spandex as the costume for no real reason. They are all in the same world so that it becomes more of a weird hodgepoge world. I think it is especially detrimental for stories where you'd usually assume it was the real world. I know I got yanked out of the story when I read Books of Magic when they mentioned Superman, because it reminded me that all this magical stuff under the surface of the world was really under the DC world and not the real world. There's already so much weird stuff going on that I'm surprised that anyone would think magic didn't exist... ;)

You also have the constant new artists and writers coming to titles. This tends to keep any character from having a consistant visual style or even target audience. Wolverine can be in a super-violent story on one hand, or on a coloring book on the other hand. This sort of thing can be confusing. Say someone sees the Spiderman movie and wants to see where it came from. They pick up some TPB that looks good. Then they go and pick up another one. Now the artist and writer are totally different and they don't like this one nearly as much. What now? How do they know what is good or bad without extensive research? It isn't just the title but the exact run that matters, but the run still probably relies on past issues. Even if you follow a favorite writer along to different titles, unless you're following those other titles to begin with, you might be confused on what's going on. That's without getting into retcons or alternate universes. Can get really confusing really fast...

I think a lot of people are used to the book mentality. If an authors writes a series, it is usually theirs and if you like one book by them, you have a decent chance of liking others. There may be a shared universe in terms of the single author exploring different parts of it with different books, but it is a lot rarer to farm it off to other writers all the time. For a lot of manga, you can pretty much glance at the cover, recognize who the artist is (who is usually also the writer), and probably have some idea on if it is for you already...

I don't want to get too too much on a shared world tangent, since I have some pretty strong thoughts on that, but I do think that it tends to create a kind of fanfiction environment which is more fun the more you know about it, but can be pretty daunting at first. There's also no real way of keeping complexity from rising over time. It also tends to lead to certain iconic characters constantly being re-invented instead of creating new characters from scratch. It is true that they stick around because they are good archetypes. Manga tends to have certain kinds of characters that re-appear a lot, just with different names faces and situations. Personally, I think I favor the variations on a kind of character versus variations on one particular character, but I know many would disagree.

So, pretty much I agree that for all the variety people talk about in manga, there are quite a few cliches that happen over and over again, as well as general kinds of stories that are the basis of most stories out there in any form. I think this is part of why John wasn't as amazed by Iron Wok Jan as many others. If you've read a lot of sports titles or others involving competition, despite how well the comic is done, the cooking aspect is mostly window dressing. But for others, it isn't just the cooking, but the the whole "I will be the best and do it through practice!" theme which is new, as opposed to the somewhat different heroism theme in superheros where a person has powers whether they want them or not and has defend against people causing problems in the world or attacking them (more like DBZ).

But the combination of even the mainstream manga tackling a variety of basic themes, and putting different spins on each of these in terms of setting, clothing, and situation, I think helps to draw a lot of people in and keep them excited.

I do think it can help that even most mundane manga stories take place in another country, so that it has a different flavor to it, but I still think a lot of the same things can work in american comics if creators can find their own voice. Some of the stories for the second Rising Stars of Manga seem to fit that, IMO, with a girl and her pet ferret, or a romance while rafting in the Rocky Mountains. These are pretty american themes, but sound like something I'd be interested in reading... In that way, I do think a lot of comics can benefit from copying manga. It isn't so much about an art style or a country, but light entertainment that people can enjoy reading.

Any thoughts?

Magnatune is not evil! 

Profiled on the Screensavers yesterday was a new music service: Magnatune. It just goes to show the sad state of the music industry that an upstart can have the catchphrase "We are not evil", but this site really does look good so far.

So, what is it that makes this service so interesting? The first thing is that they refuse to work with record labels at all (hence the lack of evil). Magnatune only will work with artists personally. While many of the artists are thus unsigned, there are also a couple who have gotten rights back from a label (aparantly many classical musicians, for instance, do 5-year contracts with labels at which point the rights revert back to them). You can also find side projects from people that might usually release things under a label.

A lot of people are referring to the site as musical shareware, due to how it works. Basically you can stream or download 128bit mp3s songs or radio stations for free, as long as you aren't using the music for profit. If you decide that you like the music, you can pay a fee for an album. You get an album at a time, but you actually choose how much you feel like paying. From $5 to $18. After that you get your own download page where you can download songs or the whole album in various formats like mp3, ogg, or even a zipped wav file which is totally lossless. Also (and perhaps most importantly), no matter how much you choose to spend, the artist will get a full %50 directly to them. You buy an album for $8 and the artist gets $4 in their pocket just like that. Very cool!

They also have options where you can license music for your projects. They have many predefined options of anything from a non-looping 30 second clip of one song on your website for one month, to a full song as theme music for a feature-length film, scaling the price accordingly. And just like in paying for personal use, the artist gets %50 of this price as well.

With mp3.com going kaput, this looks like a pretty nice alternative. However, there are some pretty big differences. Besides the pricing aspects, there is no download chart to track popular artists, or buying of premade cds. They also have some sort of commitee that which evaluates the quality of the music before they will put it up. So, if you have two songs you made in a day in your basement, you're still out in the cold compared to mp3.com. Also, they are still in the growth phase, so there is no country or rap music yet for instance, but I've been pretty impressed by the quality of a lot of stuff I've tried so far.

I have to say that I really like this site so far... Just the psychology of it is so nice. When listening to something, I know in the back of my head that I can easily buy it at any time and not worry about a DRM scheme. When I actually go to buy I know that I can pay what I want and that it goes to the service and the artist. This actually makes me feel more charitable. Instead of just going with the best deal, it makes me feel like I should pay more if I really like the music, and if I only like it a little, the fact that I can pay less makes me more likely to pay anything at all.

One thing I've thought of for a while now, is that even if you are pirating music of popular artists, the record labels are still winning in a way. You're still getting the music that they are promoting, what they say you should be listening to. With services like these, you can find quality music just by wandering around or putting on one of the radio stations. If you really want to rebel against the system, instead of stealing the system's music, how about finding music outside the system and paying for it? That way we'll actually have a system that works when the old one burns down... ;)

Monday, November 17, 2003

New instructional comic... 

This article profiles the authors of Gray Matters: The Workplace Survival Guide, a guide using sequential art to give advice (from Dirk).

I personally think this is a really untapped thing. Illustrations in general are a great way of imparting information, and going all the way to a comic format can work really well. Gonick's History of the World books are a good example (I read these as I grew up and learned a lot), and it is the sort of thing that is done quite a lot in Japan (one of these, Japan Inc., a fictional story that teaches economics at the same time has been translated to English). Something like Clan Apis plays a bit looser, but is also a good learning experience. The McCloud books, while being uniquely suitable to the subject (being about comics themselves), still stand up to me as one of the most lucid instruction texts I've seen for any subject.

I really hope this new book does well and inspires more people to try to use comics in an instructional way. I think there is quite a lot of potential in the medium...

CrossGen keeps falling.. 

I came across THIS this morning, and all I can say is yikes! CrossGen sold off a convention, non-employees can't even enter the lobby, freelancers still haven't been payed, etc. Sad stuff all-around...

Girls bolster Borders... 

TIME has a new article up about GNs (thanks Dirk). It is a well done article, mostly about various GNs out there. However, there is a really interesting paragraph near the end:

Something seems to be working because graphic novels have finally reached a point of critical mass in both popular consciousness and sales. Jim King, VP of Sales and Service at Nielsen Bookscan, a book sales monitoring service, says that, based on preliminary research, sales for graphic novels have increased "exponentially." Micha Hershman at Borders confirms the trend, saying, "over the last four years graphic novels have shown the largest percentage of growth in sales over any other book category." English-translated Japanese comics, or manga, are chiefly responsible for this growth, according to Hershman. More specifically, manga aimed at girls, called shojo, have exploded. "Superheroes are up a little," says Hershman, " Alternative comics are up a little. But 60% of all Border's graphic novel sales are shojo."

Look at that last line again. Borders says that 60% of all the GNs they sell is manga targetted at girls! Talk about girl power...

Dave of Intermittent, posted a few days ago about Shonen Jump, getting responses from Dirk and John. I had been meaning to reply myself, but now Dave has a new post up clarifying his thoughts.

I am mostly in agreement with this. I think the Big 2 will have a rough time in the future unless they can really figure out how to cope with the changing market, and most of the art comics probably won't do amazingly better in the future than they are doing right now.

However, I think the people most helped will be the amorpheous "third group". These guys (and gals) always get left out of discussions but are slowly gaining a foothold in the market. These are the stuff that cover various genres and might appeal to a mass audience. They were nearly shut out in the past, but I think are in a very good position right now.

Oni Press is probably the best example. Titles like Courtney Crumrin and Blue Monday have been doing well in bookstores. They have a lot of other titles that I think could do well in bookstores, and they've said they have plans to release new titles out there.

Elfquest is being released in digest form by DC (the Pinis decided they needed more time for creating instead of publishing), but I think it'll probably do well no matter who puts it out.

The most striking example to me of the change in the marketplace is Vogelein. It is a title that has done pretty well in the DM for being self-published, but now Waldenbooks has picked it up. Irwin said that the initial order from WB was larger than all sales to date in the DM. There is no possible way that a self-published B&W GN about a clockwork fairy would have gotten picked up by a national chain a couple of years ago.

While the big companies are still scrambling around trying to figure out how to tap into the new market, a lot of the smaller people are already starting to do it. I've always been more of a fan of these kinds of works then strict superhero and artistic endeavors, so I'll be happy if they benefit from the manga explosion...

Sunday, November 16, 2003

MP3.com to be put to death... 

Well, this thread alerted me to this article at the Register. Basically what it comes down to is that CNet bought mp3.com at some point, and have no decided to drop all the mp3s and artists (probably to do some DRM system of their own).

For those that don't know, the site has been around for a couple of years now, being a place where artists could upload mp3s as a way of getting the word out on their band or releasing things like unreleased remixes. The site also had a CafePress-ish system where an artist could upload sound files and cover art to make a cd for sale. MP3.com would then set up the store and set a base price, over which the artist could charge whatever they wanted. They even threw in a data track with mp3 versions of all the songs on the CD.

One of the early bands that hit my fancy was Electrostatic, whose sound I just really enjoy. I finally got to buying their original CD around 6 months ago (lots of songs for just $10), but I guess this will also be my last mp3.com CD unforunately. Electrostatic has now gotten big enough to have their own website now and a CD through an indy label. If you listen to the documentaries for Matrix Reloaded and the Animatrix, you'll hear some of their tunes.

Losing the site will still be a hit to them, but much more so for even smaller bands who are getting some good exposure through the site's capabilities and ranking system. I know several people personally who have music up on the site. I can see that the service is probably not profitable, but saying "oh BTW, you'd better get all your stuff in order because in a week all content will be deleted and CDs destroyed" is a pretty big deal and certainly leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I hope some other service can come around to fill the void somehow, but I rather doubt it. It is a pretty sad day for music, IMO.

The House of 12... 

Just a quite note that there is quite a lot of funny stuff both in this article and the various responses from other people. =)

Andi Watson and the industry... 

Well, Andi has some interesting things to say in an article about Namor's end, which sparks some interesting discussions.

One thing that someone suggests is that companies like Tokyopop should start to bring over more pre-established American creators and titles, as they have such a strong position in the bookstore market already. It is a pretty interesting statement, and something I've thought about myself. I write a bit more about this in the thread itself...

Space-Crime Continuum... 

Well, I had the chance to stop in Space-Crime Continuum the other day in Northampton. A couple of days ago Chris replied to one of my blog entries on bookstores to say that the store had increased the number of GNs lately, and that is certainly true!

I have to say that I was pretty happy with the selection of stuff they have. Four shelves of manga, including not just new titles but a couple of older ones like Joan (I remember they were the first shop I saw Joan at like a year ago). But where they are really shining is the good selection of American titles. There was a shelf of educational titles. Not only Gonick's History of the World books, but also his newer books on US history, genetics, and other topics. Also several other comics relating to science, and some of the journalistic titles involving the middle east, and semi-historial like Age of Bronze. I was also happy to see the new Little Lit hardcover displayed prominantly on top of the shelves.

The other 3 or 4 shelves of american titles had a nice selection, with a lot of things from Andi Watson (I really need to read Geisha one of these days), lots of Cerebus, Sandman, and various other titles.

The main focus of the store is sci-fi/fantasy books and gaming, and there's a lot of good books everywhere. I was kind of struck by looking around and seeing a shelf with like 30 Philip K. Dick books on it. They have a nice section of kids books with fantasy themes (even some picture books) and through in the back is the gaming section. I'm not a huge general game player, but they do have a bunch of Go stuff in there, with a $40 rollup board being pretty tempting. The atmosphere is very nice, certainly family friendly, and pretty vibrant actually...

Obviously a shop like this isn't going to have as big a comic selection as a dedicated comic store, or even some of the chain bookstores, but I think the key here is quality. Like 90% of what they have is stuff I really want to read or have already read. Modern Myths has a much larger selection, but frankly even I get kind of overwhelmed in there sometimes. ;) If you want a nice diversified store with good fantasy/scifi books, games, and a solid selction of GNs, you'll want to check out Space-Crime. Their website also has a blog in there.

Computers and games... 

So, a lot of talk lately about Gary Kasparov playing X3D Fritz and losing the second game. It does seem like humans are in trouble when it comes to chess. I suppose a prodigy may come along who is specifically good at fighting computers, but with computing power continuing to rise, it seems like a difficult prospect.

However, I do think that there is something interesting to take into consideration that most people don't bring up in discussions like this. Chess is a popular game in the west and the world in general and is known as a mind game. It is also a game where computers have always been pretty decent at. There is frequently a limitation on the number of good moves, you can generally assign points to certain pieces based on the value of their strength, etc. Obviously, things get more and more complicated at the higher levels, but there is still a lot of aspects that a computer can understand and use brute strength to conquer.

But this is chess. What about other stuff? Is it the same for every game? No, it definitely isn't. Another popular game would be Go. While less known in the west, it has been played for many years in the east, invented in China but with a long history in Japan (Go masters and schools were financially supported by the royalty for many years, allowing a lot of progress).

Go is based on a 19x19 grid that starts empty with pieces placed onto it which then cannot move (only one kind of piece). The goal of the game is to surround more territory than the enemy, and while it is possible to capture opposing pieces, that isn't the general aim. Because of the number of possible moves possible in most stages, the reliance of "shapes" of pieces, the less defined notion of when a game ends, etc., it makes the game more difficult for computers. It is very much a game of pattern matching, which humans excel at. Not as much work has been put toward computers that play Go as for Chess, but most seem to agree that even taking that into consideration, computers find Go a much harder game to play. Even the most powerful Go programs seem to be at an intermediate level of playing, a far cry from beating grandmasters.

What's my point by all this? Yes computers are getting more and more powerful, but just because they can win at chess doesn't mean that they are suddenly superior in every way. I think it is a good idea to try and keep in mind the relative strengths and limitations of both sides...

There is a brief intro to Go here.

Some information on computers playing Go here (a bit technical but still interesting).

And a very good Go tutorial here (with illustrations and some well done interactive java applets).

It is all interesting timing because the anniversery issue of Shonen Jump will start the run of Hikaru no Go, a popular manga involving the game of Go. A fun series that I recommend...

Friday, November 14, 2003

Gundam movies deal... 

Just a quick mention that Rightstuf has a nice deal on the box set of the original three Gundam movies. You may know tha Gundam is a big franchise of anime and model kits and you may have seen some of the later incarnations, but have you seen what started it all?

Gundam was originally a TV series that actually wasn't all that popular and ended a bit quicker than first intended. It had a similar phenomenon as Star Trek in that it became immensely popular during reruns. At some point, it was decided to condense the series into three movies, cutting out some of the repetitive filler, re-animating some scenes, and fleshing out the ending. Many people prefer the movies to the individual episodes, and as the episodes are currently only availible dubbed on DVD, while the movies also have the Japanese track, I definitely recommend these.

So, I really enjoyed these movies. They are real classics with characters and situations that have spawned many many copies and variations over time. It set out to take the giant robot concept and make it a more realistic epic war story with a reluctant hero, which was pretty revolutionary at the time. You can see how it influences many series later on including Evangelion. But I recommend these not just because Gundam is a classic, but because of the solid storytelling. If you can get past the somewhat dated animation, there is a lot to like here, IMO.

Also, if you are in more a comics mood, the Gundam the Origin manga also retells this story, by the character designer of the anime. I haven't read it myself yet, but I've heard several people say it is well done, and the artwork looks really nice.

Tokyopop goes gothic... 

It looks like Tokyopop has several new titles dealing with vampires coming out. I have to say that the Korean story MODEL has a really interesting premise. A struggling painter makes a deal with a vampire to let him drink her blood if he will pose for her, hoping that his supernatural beauty will be the thing to make her famous. A little bit more information on Tokyopop's site. I'll have to see about picking this up when it comes out...

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Peach Fuzz Conquers Rising Stars... 

Well, I just discovered Comic World News (I think from a poster on John's blog), and found this interview with Lindsay Cibos, the winner of the second round of Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga anthology.

Can you guess what the winning entry would be about? Giant robots? Angsty teen romance? Nope nope... It is about a little girl and her pet ferret! It turns out that Lindsay has owned ferrets for a while now, and has channeled the experiences into a cute funny little comic. You can check out the first 7 pages of the comic on here website here. It starts out simply, but I have to say I was sold by the end (cherry on top!). =)

I have to say that she and Jared Hodges have some really nice artwork on the site (the fashion images are pretty interesting too) and several pages from another comic about Aries. It seems like they are currently discussing the prospects of a full-length graphic novel of Peach Fuzz with Tokyopop (as the winner is able to do), which would be really cool if it works out. We need more stories like this for kids out there. Not everything has to be a big epic adventure...

For those that missed my earlier mention, the Journal News published this article a while back profiling one of the other winners, Tania del Rio. So far, we have a girl and a ferret and a girl on a rafting trip in the Rocky Mountains. I have to say I'm happy with the direction that volume 2 of RSoM seems to be going in.

From Japan... 

Thanks to Derek's blog, I just discovered From Japan, a nice blog about Japanese culture, movies, manga, anime, etc. Lots of cool stuff on there!

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Elfquest interview... 

Dirk linked to this interview with Richard and Wendy Pini on Broken Frontier. It is a nice interview and has some interesting things from my perspective:

From the creative standpoint, I feel the most significant change is the overwhelming artistic/storytelling influence from Asia which, when done well, is a very good thing. There's a touch of "manga" in almost every comic or graphic novel you pick up these days, be it independent or long-established title. This isn't surprising, since imported Japanese product now dominates children's programming. Japan is practically raising our kids on the likes of DragonBall Z, Shaman King, Ruroni Kenshin, etc. - and we can't seem to get enough. When I was a teen, we had Speed Racer and Astro Boy and manga was a delicacy you'd only encounter - maybe - in the Little Tokyos of big American cities. Now, Japanese stylization and cultural idioms, not to mention moral and spiritual values, permeate the airwaves, the Internet, electronic games, movies and, obviously, the comics industry. This gives me a giggle because Elfquest, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, has been called "the first American Manga" more than once. A quarter century ago I was part of a, then, very small fandom obsessed with how cool Japanimation and those big, fat, mimeographed romance manga looked. When it came time to design and lay out my first Elfquest pages back in '77, I didn't think twice. Elfquest was (and still is) a love letter to Japan and a very deep bow to Tezuka Sensei, who was my strongest Asian influence (Jack Kirby being my first American mentor). That so many of today's comics creators have plainly been bit by the manga bug means two things to me: that we're in for some very dynamic, offbeat reading in the next few years - AND - that Elfquest was cool before its time and is cooler than ever now!

I had thought recently that the style of storytelling and artwork could appeal to manga fans, but it is distinctive enough and been around long enough that it never struck me that it might have been directly influenced by manga from the very beginning. I think this is a good example of a comic that has taken some of the good aspects of manga while remaining distinctive in its own right.

There are two sorts of reprints that DC has planned. One involves their new manga publishing program. Manga is taking the US by storm, and DC wants to move Elfquest in that direction - a move we heartily agree with. So every two months there will be a new volume of reprinted material that will be reformatted to fit the smaller manga volumes. The first two volumes concern the life and death of Cutter's father Bearclaw, the tenth chief of the Wolfriders and a very colorful character! Following that will be the reformatted reprints of the original Quest, starting with the very first issue that we published back in 1978. The second reprint project is the Elfquest Archive series, which follows in the footsteps of the various other archive projects that DC has published over the years. These beautiful hardcover books will reprint the material that Warp Graphics produced starting in 1988 - full color compilations of the original black and white comics. The big difference is that Wendy is completely recoloring and relettering the artwork - in some cases repositioning word balloons or captions to better show the art - and between her vision and DC's quality control in printing, it is more gorgeous than anything anyone has ever seen.

I've finally seen the digest volumes in bookstores, and hopefully they'll do well. The hardcovers sound pretty nice as well. Interesting point on the recoloring and relettering...

Lots of other nice stuff in this interview, from a blasting of the collectable secondary market aspect of comics, how working with DC is freeing them to work more on the story, new hope for the movie being made, and info. on the new Elfquest comics being made (thankfully actually written and drawn by them again).

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Bookstore Watch... 

Well, yesterday I continued my search to find the first volume of Please Save My Earth, which led me into a couple of shops I haven't been to in a while. I finally found PSME at B&N, so I am one happy camper. :) Here is how things seem to be shaping up at the various stores in my neck of the woods.

Waldenbooks - Wow, I wouldn't have thought it possible, but they actually expanded their selection again! They now have 6 bookcases (30 shelves) devoted to digest-sized books. This was 90% manga, but I also saw other stuff. Oni Press titles (Blue Monday and Courtney Crumrin with Vol. 1-2 of each). They had the Kim Possible books, Jimmy Corrigan, and some other stuff I'm forgetting. Also, it seems like my fear of DC dropping the ball was unfounded. They had about five copies of the first Elfquest digest (Wolfriders). This pretty much constituted one whole side of an aisle.

Wait, there's more. They had one case for bigger graphic novels (4 shelves). They not only had the various Sandman hardcovers, but also the whole Sandman series (including the new version of #1). There was transformers and marvel and various other stuff, including Blankets, a volume of Queen and Country, and others. The large color Fist of the North Star manga was in here as well. This was on one of the ends of the row. There was also a spinner rack of floppy comics there, as well, with Archie, Tsunami stuff, etc.

Did you think that was it? On the other end, was another case (I think 4 shelves). This was How to Draw Manga books, anime and manga art books, and the large Quimby Mouse book. This also had some manga box sets stacked on top.

Wait for it... There was yet another bookcase. This one had more manga box sets (BTW, I recomment that Dragon Ball 1-7 set for $55. This is the early stuff back when DB was more about having fun). Not only that, but anime sound tracks, anime dvds, some action figures (including some fun Tim Burton characters), and two t-shirts. There was also some posters in boxes right next to this, and a metal rack with a couple more action figures and a bunch more of the Trigun manga.

Needless to say, I am very impressed. Outside of the Modern Myths comic shop, this is certainly the largest selection of manga in the area, and they aren't a total slouch in other areas either (they even had NewType USA in the magazine section). As an aside, it was actually kind of crowded because there was five teenage boys flipping through all the manga and discussing it. Several were latino and would occationally break into Spanish. =) It was pretty fun to see so many kids into the stuff and arguing over stuff like how Chobits is prounced..heh

Barnes & Noble - Unfortunately, about the only thing Waldenbooks didn't have was PSME, so off we went to B&N. I hadn't been there in a while and was in for a pleasant suprise. After getting up the escalator, and looking to the right, the first thing I saw was two big cardboard displays of manga (each with a 3x3 grid of books). One of them was decked out in flowers and such (and a tagline I can't remember) and was just comics for girls from Viz. Right in the center was PSME! Next to it was a stand from Tokyopop with a variety of different titles.

Next I looked at the section itself, and it has expanded since last time. It had two and a half bookcases of comics, but these are very very wide cases, so there was quite a lot of books there. One of the cases was basically devoted to manga, along with some runoff on one of the others. They had a decent selection of that, but even more of the non-manga titles, which was nice to see. Not only was there sandman and marvel/dc stuff, but Tin-Tin, Blankets, Bone, Jason and the Argobots, and all kinds of other stuff that my mind is blanking on right now. They also had several copies of the first Elfquest digest book. Basically B&N has the biggest selection of indy stuff outside of a comic shop (and maybe the best depending on your local shops).

As an aside, I also picked up a cool magazine while I was in there called Giant Robot, which is an Asian culture mag. It looks very cool, with such topics as a Rubik's Cube champ, giant flower sculptures in Japan, how to make mochi, a profile of the Lone Wolf & Cub Creator, manga and anime reviews, and lots of other fun stuff. I recommend checking this out if you like your reading a little bit off-beat. Seems like a decent deal at $5, considering how much magazines are these days. Also, Fantasy Worlds #3 was a magazine Mom got mostly for the LotR stuff in it, but also has stories on Frazetta, Dave McKean (of Sandman fame), David Eddings, Terry Pratchett, the new Peter Pan movie (thank goodness Pan looks like how he should look). A bit steep at $8, but a lot of interesting stuff in there.

Media Play - I won't go into too too much detail since I've talked about this before. Just to recap, they have an asian section with 4 cases of manga, dvds, vhs, posters, t-shirts, figures, and sound tracks. They also two cases of american stuff. I'd say the american selection is about on par or perhaps slightly weaker than Waldenbooks. MP has more space, but seems less full and more titles facing forward. MP also seems to be the only one of the three that carries Shonen Jump that I could see (unless they had already sold out). Oh, and they also tend to put manga volumes on the sides of bookcases in other areas, like some shoujo in the romance novel section, which is a good idea IMO.

So, there you have it. It seems like all three stores are still expanding their selections. Waldenbooks impressed me in terms of selection of manga and just how organized and clean everything was. I think when the shelves are full and spines face outward, things tend to get less messy. But still impressive for a store in a mall, and they also seem to be trying to get other media in there. B&N seems to treat the GNs as just another section for books and has a lot of literary titles. Media Play lives up to being a media store with having lots of other merchandise surrounding the GNs. Western Mass is certainly not hurting for GNs in chain stores...

Romance in the East and West... 

This is a pretty interesting thread which talks about how many guys enjoy reading manga that targets girls and how this might relate to "romance novels" in the US. Lots of interesting ideas brought up in here...

Epic troubles... 

Just in case you haven't heard yet, Epic is aparantly becoming an anthology! As I mention in my post in there, I like anthologies when done well, but this sounds to me like something thrown together at the last minute. The lack of confidence they themselves express in the notice is pretty telling. In the end, it'll all depend on price for me. For $4, I might give it a shot. For $12, no way I'm going near the thing.

The sad thing is that if this crashes and burns (as it probably will), it'll be one more excuse for people to say "anthologies don't sell". And the fact that at least one of the creative teams hasn't been payed yet and aparantly all truly open submissions won't see light of day (Norwood being canceled etc), it is all looking pretty grim. I really do feel bad for all the effort the creators have put into these titles if it all comes to nothing in the end...

DVD invasion from Ziiiiiiim! 

In some of the better news I've heard in a while, Invader Zim is coming to DVD in the spring of 2004. Interestingly enough, it will be released by Media Blasters through their AnimeWorks label. It sounds like there will be three double-disc sets and also a LE boxset. This seems like further proof to me that the asian media companies are growing larger and also tend to be more in touch with popular opinion. John Sirabella has this to say:

"Zim has created quite a fan buzz in the anime community and we know that it will be a huge sensation"

It sounds like this will be a well-done release, so I'm really happy. I still haven't seen every episode of the series, so I'll definitely have to pick these up when they start to come out. =)

Retcon madness... 

Yikes... and you thought the mysteries of the real universe were hard to fathom.

The Eye... 

Bruce Baugh writes up the HK movie The Eye, and pretty much sums up exactly how I feel about it as well. I'd heard good things about the movie and decided to order the DVD (BTW, you can get it really cheap from here and it is a legit region 0 release). I have to say that I was happy with the purchase.

As Bruce mentions, what really impressed me was how it took her journey into being able to see seriously and would have been an interesting movie even without the supernatural elements. But combining the two makes for a pretty nice combination. While the movie does have creepy moments in it, I never felt like the movie was just an excuse to have those moments.

A lot of people seem to feel it is too dirivative or just not scary, but I have to say that I really enjoyed it, and despite being disturbed by some of the concepts, a lot of what I liked was the aspects other than the horror.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Very cool online flash game... 

Wow, thanks to Speen for pointing this game.

It is an interactive adventure-ish game with a little guy that needs to figure out how to advance through different landscapes. Generally you need to trigger a series of events or figure out a puzzle. Each screen has a lot of stuff to click on and it is very creative in general. It is done entirely in flash but unlike many flash games I've seen, it manages to have very smooth animation even on my slower computer. We need more games like this out there. It is amazing that this is free!

Manga Academy contest... 

Stumbled on this from Akadot's newsletter. It seems that Manga Academy is a free teaching site for drawing has teamed up with Pop Japan Travel to create this contest. People send in a short 10-20 comic and the winner will get the comic translated to Japanese and flown to Japan where they can show it off at the Comiket doujinshi (amateur) convention. An interesting idea...

As an aside, I'd so love to go on one of the Pop Japan tours. I don't have $1300, but these things are 7 days long visiting all kinds of places. Having one of the winter tours be to Comiket is a pretty nice idea. BTW, this page has some of the better pictures of the interior of Comiket that I've seen online (they usually don't allow pictures except for the Cosplay area on the roof).

I don't think bookstores will crash... 

There have been some interesting threads floating around lately regarding bookstores and comics. I think one of the best ones that has come up is on the Oni Press message board here.

I couldn't help putting in my two cents, which I'll repeat here:

Lots of good posts in here, but I do take issue with this a bit:

I'm more concerned for publishers making a hardcore push for the book market. There was a point in the late 80's/early 90's that there was the same attempt, although on a smaller scale. You could find Tank Girl next to the Dark Knight in a Waldensbooks. Then, after a few years they dumped out. Tokyopop easily has the largest riding on this. If 12 months from now, Borders decides 'Hey, only 15% of these titles actually sell regularly' and decide to return enmasse, poof! goodbye Tokyopop! I'd hate to see a company like SLG, Oni, Top Shelf(again!) get hurt from this.

I think some people are under the impression that bookstores went like this: "Hey.. you know that anime stuff seems popular. Let's stock a ton of manga and see if it sells."

But I've been following things for a while now and that just isn't how it has happened. Years back there were few manga titles around and they were carried sporadically. Those few titles were stuff like Dragonball Z that was very popular on TV at the time, and it is easy to assume that they'd disappear once the popularity waned. There was also some classic works like Nausicaa but these were even harder to find..

I think a lot of things have happened since that. First, to look at the anime market, the creation of DVDs really kickstarted the industry. You could now have dubs and original languages on the same DVD. You had companies that'd re-release titles that used to be on VHS at a cheaper price, etc. Combined with increased TV exposure, anime DVDs increased wildly in popularity. This increased experimentation and things like anime for girls started to come out and did pretty well.

Still, it was a gradual process. Media Play / Suncoast was one of the first to carry them (and DVDs of any kind). Eventually others came on board like Best Buy, first with a couple of shelves of anime, with eventual expansion to pretty much one side of an entire isle.

This anime popularity combined with Tokyopop trying to do budget releases at the same time was the right thing at the right time and proved popular. First there was a couple of popular titles based off of anime shows. Eventually they were selling enough to experiment more. More titles for girls came out, and various other stuff that "will never be licensed". They also discovered that most of the people buying were getting GNs, and the pamphlet releases were just slowing things down. Other companies followed and kind of standard started to be followed of size, price, and abandoning floppy monthlies.

The bookstores at first carried just some of the most popular stuff like Love Hina. Eventually they included more of Tokyopop's line and then more of the other companies' stuff.

I don't know how often returns are usually done, but I don't think there is much worry that most stuff isn't selling. I mean if only 15% of the titles were selling, then why have they steadily been increasing the number of titles they are carrying? Waldenbooks only used to have like a shelf of stuff. Now they have 21 shelves of manga as well as other GNs. Media Play used to have half a bookcase side with manga and american stuff. Then they had a whole side. Then multiple cases. Now they generally have about 4 bookcase sides for manga and 2 for american stuff.

Tokyopop recently commented they have a bout an 8% return rate in bookstores and would like to get it up to double digits eventally...

Personally, I'm not that worried. I think things hit critical mass some time ago. Will there be a glut eventually? Sure... Does that mean that the stores will suddenly drop everything? I don't think so. Some titles that don't sell well will get droped. Maybe a couple of people out of business, but I really doubt the kind of slaughter that many people predict.

I've seen an article compare the current state to when bookstores started to carry sci-fi books many years ago. I think that may be an apt comparison. Sure the book companies would run into trouble if Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks stopped carrying sci-fi books, but will that really happen? I don't see anime leaving Best Buy or GNs leaving Waldenbooks any time soon.

The sort of thing I'd worry about more is stuff like having a ton of Hulk books on the stand for the movie. If a movie bombs then they might be dead weight or even if it is successful, it doesn't garuntee people will read those books or continue after the hype has died down.

But most of the other activity seems more healthy IMO. Take Oni Press. They started off with like two GNs (Courtney and Blue Monday #1s) in bookstores. Bookstores bought maybe a couple for each store. If they sold, they bought more. Oni has said they've done well, so I take it they sold decently. Now they have #2s out for those and have plans for several other series to come out. If the stuff wasn't selling, I doubt they would have gotten this far already. It isn't like the bookstores bought 15 copies of Blue Monday #1-5 for all of their stores and waited to see if it'd sell. It has been a much more gradual process than that...

Companies like Tokyopop are now fairly large and can probably take a couple of hits. They have several big-selling series that sell a lot when they first come out and then get re-ordered a lot. They have other series that sell moderately well. If they get a series where the first copy doesn't sell anything and gets sent back to them, well I'm sure they'd just stop that series and go on to something else. I think they can survive hits like that, and frankly they use the higher selling series to experiment with more niche titles hoping to expand readership and get an unexpected breakout hit.

I already see quite a variety of genres of titles and age groups and target sexes. I think the big comic crash of the 90s was especially easy to have happen due to the narrowness of the fanbase. If all the 20-something superhero fans suddenly move on, you're dead in the water. But if you have guys and gals and kids and adults, you're a lot less likely to lose your whole readership at once. Plus if someone gets bored with action/adventures, they can try a romance or a sports title. That helps alleviate burnout a bit...

Anyway, the increases in sales can't keep happening forever. It'll either plateau or have some sort of correction, I'll put my neck out and say we aren't headed toward a crash either...

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Manga resources... 

Judging from the responses to one of my previous posts, a lot of people would like more info. on where to find manga reviews and other information. Here's a list of the main stuff I know about. I have tried to focus mostly on information that applies to US readers, as well as websites that are still being updated.


MangaBits - A relatively new site which has news, reviews and articles. They also have a list of release dates for upcoming titles. Most reviews show front cover, back cover, and an interior page as well as a pretty long review. If you're familiar with AnimeonDVD, this site is set up a lot like that one is. It seems like there are several reviewers and plans to have people able to submit alternate reviews. Stuff has been updated as recently as yesterday, so it seems alive and well. It also lists age recommendations right on the review listing, which is a plus.

Tankobon Tower - This column done by Allen Divers of ANN, giving short reviews of various manga as they are released. There is nothing for October yet, so I hope this is still active. BTW, Tankobon is the Japanese word for digest-sized manga releases.

Graphic Novel Comparison Chart - This is AnimeonDVD's listing of Japanese, Korean, and HK manga releases, telling you how many volumes were in the original release along with how many are planned in the US versions. It also lists the origin country, original publisher, the US publisher, and which direction the US version reads in. You can also sort by US publisher, direction, and origin country. I'd say this is the most definitive list of what US manga/manhwa/manhua is out or licensed.

MangaManiacs - This is a very nice review site with long reviews that have a cover shot and one interior shot. Has several reviewers and occationally a title will have more than one review. I'd say this is the most US manga reviews in one place so far. It seems like the last review was in august, though, so I hope it isn't dead.

ListerX - This is a new web-based service to keep track of your manga (as well as anime/artbooks/soundtracks) and be able to link to your collection for others to see. It already has quite a lot of titles listed and works pretty well. It is also helpful to just use the search feature even if you aren't a member, as it shows all the covers, isbns, and release dates for a given series. It also lists some foreign imports of titles. My current list is here (still missing a couple of titles).

AnimeonDVD Forums - There are a lot of sites out there with manga forums, but in my opinion, the two on this site are the best. Several representatives from manga companies post on a regular basis, several members live in Japan and can give reviews and background on titles, several members work at places like Waldenbooks and can talk about what releases they've actually gotten in, and there's quite a few ladies that post on a regular basis. Even some (mostly) level-headed dialogue on topis. ;) Also the only place with a forum devoted just to asking for recommendations.

Usenet Manga Glossary (HTML + TXT) - These provide some very helpful information on terms like manga-ka, seinen, yaoi, etc. Both versions seem to have some encoding issues for the Japanese portions (or else my fonts are messed up), but the english text is fine, and the html version has a couple of pictures in it. If you find yourself confused by some terms that manga fans are throwing around, this will probably help.

Ultimate Manga Guide - This is a very big listing of manga titles, authors, and anthologies, focusing on the Japan side. I'd say this is most useful if you want to look up what other titles an author has done that hasn't made it to the US yet, or how many volumes/price a title was in Japan.

Amazon - Don't forget that Amazon lets people post reviews to anything. It is a bit hit-or-miss for manga, but frequently earlier volumes will have several reviews from people. It can also give you a decent idea of what manga is currently still in print.


Manga! Manga! - By Frederik L. Schodt, this was the first real book about manga in the US. It is a bit out-dated now, but it gives a lot of good introductary information (as well as history) and some decent-sized exerpts from several manga at the end. Very recommended.

Dreamland Japan - Also from Schodt, this picks up where the last book left off. It has a lot of good industry information for the 90s, as well a profiling many manga anthologies and authors. There is a ton of good information in this book despite being a couple of years old now. Necessary reading for any serious fan of manga.

Anime Network's marketing... 

You know, one thing I am usually pretty impressed with in regards to the anime and manga companies is efforts put toward marketing which actually tend to be well done. Here's another example, which is pretty interesting. ADV has a network devoted to anime that is set up in some areas but is still in the early stages of growth. A lot of channels tell you to go bug your local cable station, but they are doing something I've never seen before.

Check out this page. Basically you put in your zip code, choose your cable provider, and they generate a form letter and give you some options. They'll e-mail it for you, fax it for you, or you can print it out and mail it yourself. Not only that, but they actually have weekly prizes for people that do this.

Quite a lot of people are just lazy (I'm no exception), and something like this was certainly enough to get me to do the e-mail and fax options. It almost smacks of buying off people to help with their own marketing, but they do give an option to enter the contest while not contacting the cable company.

Between opt-in e-mail newsletters, ads in NewType USA, etc. ADV is certainly no slouch in the marketing department...

Big Trouble in Little China... 

Today Dirk mentioned this thread about the Snake Plissken series perhaps leaving CrossGen. I have to admit that I haven't seen Escape from New York yet. One of those movies on my To Watch list. However, the thread then becomes a Big Trouble in Little China appreciation thread. For anyone that likes quirky movies, I highly recommend this one. It is funny and off-beat without resorting to parody, and just seems to have some heart. It is also one of those movies with a ton of quotable lines. Nice to know I'm not the only one who loves this movie. =)

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Wasabi in English... 

I was flipping through the Encore channels yesterday and happened to see that Wasabi would be on. I only had a chance to look at it for about 15 minutes, but I just have to say that it was a very odd experience. It had been dubbed into english and seeing Jean Reno dubbing himself while talking to dubbed transvestites was just a very weird and surreal. Probably just as well that I couldn't watch more, as I'm sure it would have warped my mind in some way... ;)

Black Heaven DVDs cheap... 

Just a note for people on the lookout for interesting anime. Rightstuf is selling the four Black Heaven DVDs for $44 instead of $120. I haven't seen the whole series yet, but what I've seen so far has been pretty interesting. It involves a middle-aged man (having a bit of mid-life crisis actually) who used to be in a rock band when he was younger, which never did manage to achieve fame. But now some aliens show up out of the blue, saying that they need his help. His old music had a unique quality to it that can be amplified and used as a weapon against some other aliens that are attacking them.

It is nice to see a series involving an older main character for once, and the concept is pretty fun, if a bit out there. If you're looking for something that has slipped under the radar of most people, check this one out...

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Contracts for manga creators in Japan.. 

I've started this thread to ask about how most creators of manga in Japan are payed, and what freedoms they have. Not as much concrete info. as I'd like so far, but some stuff is in there. From what I gather from Andrew and Osaka, most have a page rate for the anthologies but then royalties on GNs. Sounds like they they probably own their characters etc. but probably have still have some limitations. I'll see if I can dig up some more info. on the subject eventually. There's a book that goes into the industry from Sharon Kinsellas, but reviews seem pretty mixed about her accuracy... Seems like the two Schodt books are still the way to go for manga information, despite starting to show their age...

Vogelein in Waldenbooks and bookstore categories... 

This thread on Sequential Tart started as a response to someone ranting about bookstores not being good for comics and brought up some interesting issues. First of all Jane Irwin said that the first order from Waldenbooks for her GN was greater than all sales from the DM. There is also some interesting discussion on how comics should be organized in a bookstore environment. Personally I like the idea of keeping comics together (not mixing with prose), but subdividing genres or at least age groups inside of it. I expand more on that in the thread itself.

There's also a thread devoted to Vogelein's bookstore push here, which also links to a new interview with her on Ninth Art, where one thing she mentions is that she'll forego pamphlets and go straight to GN for future volumes.

One of the best manga/anime resources 

Well, if you are like me and enjoy reading about some philisophical and cultural musings on things, then I have the site for you. You must check out Rei's Anime and Manga Page. There is just so much on here that is worth reading through. He did writing for EX magazine (which unfortunately seems inactive for over a year), and has many good insights. Some highlights?

A listing of some topics/genres in anime/manga

Stereotypes in the west

Romanticism in Japan

2001 Workshop

A couple of good reviews:

Rose of Versailles

Cyborg 009 (now coming out in the US)

Yokohama Shopping Trip Log manga and anime

As well as links to some good older articles by others:

Time magazine on two mangas

Christian Science Monitor (of all people)

Lots of other stuff on there including some new articles with an anime director and his thoughts. Well, that was quite a lot of links right after my other post, but I'd guess most people haven't run into this site yet. I'd like to address some of the points in his articles, but am not quite sure where to start... ;)

Thanks Dirk... 

Dirk has some kind words about my anime and manga knowledge, prompted by my Still Alive post... I just want to give a clarification, since reading back on it now, I wasn't all that clear (it was pretty late when I wrote it..heh). What Dirk is saying is actually what brought up the post in the first place. I was thinking of when people petitioned me to start a blog and why. I guess I just want to try to keep in mind that it is knowledge and opinions that people are probably going to look here for, and so I shouldn't get too caught up just pasting in 50 links with a little paragraph comment on it. I want to focus a little less on trying to stay current on news bites and do a bit more of editorial things. Dirk's long 3-part bookstore posts were really interesting, Sean's horror movie reviews were very informative, and John's Shonen Jump Stack Vs. The World was very cool.

I don't think things will really change all that much. I'll still post interesting links and comments. It is just that if posting a couple more links means I won't have enough time to type up something interesting, then maybe those links aren't that important when other people already have it covered.

A Modern Myth... 

Well, that Bob Layton article keeps on chugging along, and while I keep coming to defence of bookstores, I still really like comic shops when they are done well and couldn't help mentioning Modern Myths again.

Alan mentions that MM's owner Jim Crocker has a blog and it has just started to be updated again. Big props to Jim for mentioning Planetes, a very well-done realistic sci-fi manga (it is a weird sense of deja vu actually, because I bought the first volume from him and I remember him mentioning that it had looked good). It seems like he also listens to Shonen Knife, which is always a good thing.

BTW, Alan also reviewed the shop a while back and I agree 100%. The sheer volume of TPBs in this shop is overwhelming, the kid's section is great, it is laid out very well, etc. If I didn't live a half-hour away, I'd probably be in there every other day. As it is, the trek is always worth it. Keep up the good work Jim!

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