Comics Lowdown: RIP Alfonso Azpiri

Also: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Gabe Soria, comics for Costa Rican kids, Shigeru Mizuki, ComiXology, Rocket and Groot prints

Alfonso Azpiri’s Lorna

Passings: Spanish artist Alfonso Azpiri, a frequent contributor to Heavy Metal magazine, died on August 18 at the age of 70. (The headline of the linked article gives an incorrect birth year.) From the obit:

Azpiri’s most famous creation was Lorna, a sexually insatiable space adventurer (often compared to Barbarella), accompanied on her travels around the galaxy by a pair of artoo-threepio-ish robots named ADL and Arnold. Azpiri will also be remembered for Mot, a more family-friendly series about a boy who has adventures with his huge monster companion.

His work was first published in Heavy Metal in 1984, and three issues of the magazine were devoted almost entirely to Lorna stories.

The Corbyn Comic Book (SelfMadeHero)

Corbyn Comix: When UK publisher SelfMadeHero announced they were accepting submissions for short stories about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, they got a “tsunami” of responses, according to publisher Emma Hayley. With his garden, his cat (named El Gato), and his hobby (jam-making), Corbyn offers all sorts of narrative possibilities, and the publisher is collecting the stories in an anthology titled The Corbyn Comic Book, which will be released during the Labour Party conference in September. The prime minister’s response to being re-created as a superhero: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Interviews and Profiles

Dark Blues: Gabe Soria, who has written several Batman comics, talks about his new graphic novel, Murder Ballads, a bloody tale about the music industry. The graphic novel is accompanied by an original soundtrack produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and featuring blues singer Robert Finley.

Mizuki’s Misgivings: In a recently discovered essay, written in 1967, the late manga creator Shigeru Mizuki complained that he had to write and draw stories about Japanese victories in order to sell his work:

“The stories I wanted to tell were of losing battles, but that was not possible,” Mizuki wrote. “Boys are only interested in reading about spectacles – up until the battle of Guadalcanal, or so.

“To make sure that a book sells, the content needs to be affirmative of war,” he wrote, according to the Asahi newspaper. “Drawing out your own thoughts and making money – the manga business does not work like that.”

At the time, Mizuki was churning out stories like “Kaiten, the human torpedo” for boys’ magazines, but the essay may mark a turning point, because around the same time he shifted to different subject matter, focusing on manga about yokai, Japanese spirits. Later he would write and draw Onward Toward Our Noble Deaths, which told the story of Japanese troops living in appalling conditions, and ultimately being sent off on a suicide mission, during World War II.

Reviews, Roundups, and Commentary

Hey Kids, Comics! Katie Quirk writes about spending a year in Costa Rica with two kids who are avid readers; her parents sent a bundle of graphic novels every month to keep them busy.

The Biz

Digital Dilemmas: ComiXology CEO David Steinberger discusses how the company managed to keep its own identity after being acquired by Amazon three years ago—and had to give up one of its signature features, the ability to purchase comics in-app:

“That was the hardest thing we ever did,” says Steinberger of ComiXology’s attempts to win back customers’ trust after the switch. “We spent the first eight months with Amazon making it as easy as possible to go from a ComiXology website purchase to reading it on the app. But there’s no question it adds a click or two. We tried to respond with understanding, acknowledging when it’s harder for customers, and how to make it easier for them.”

Shopping and Merchandising

Groot, Baby Groot and Rocker prints by Mike Mitchell (image: Mondo)

Time limited Trash Panda: Mondo is offering gorgeous limited edition Guardians of the Galaxy prints of Rocket, Groot, and Baby Groot. But here is the catch: these giclee prints, by artist Mike Mitchell, are only on sale until Friday, August 25, 12 pm CST. Potential buyers will have to act fast before the death button is pushed.

Comics Lowdown: Legal woes for political cartoonists Ted Rall and Zunar

Plus: Hell’s Kitchen is trendy, fun and socially progressive comics, Alex Simmons and Erica Henderson celebrated, industry of immigrants

Legal: Political cartoonist Ted Rall has lost another round in his lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times. Rall, a former freelancer for the Times sued the paper for defamation and wrongful termination last year, after the editors determined a blog post he had written about his treatment by the Los Angeles Police Department was inaccurate. The Times dropped Rall as a freelancer and published an editor’s note stating that the blog post was incorrect. Last week, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin ruled that because Rall was a public figure, the editor’s note and any other articles about him are protected by the First Amendment. Consequently, Kalin granted the motion by the Times’s parent company, Tribune Media, to strike the complaint.

Legal: The Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar (pictured above) has filed a lawsuit against the government and the police, including 16 individual police officers, for seizing his books and T-shirts at a fund-raising event last December. Zunar had organized a “Tea with Zunar” event at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur on December 17, but before it began, police arrested the cartoonist and an assistant who was in charge of sales, and they confiscated 1,187 books and 103 T-shirts. Zunar and his assistant were released, but the merchandise was not returned. In the suit, Zunar alleges that the arrest and seizure were illegal and that some booksellers will no longer carry his books because of the fear they will be confiscated.

Reality Check: Marvel uses Hell’s Kitchen as a setting for gritty urban storylines, but Neda Ulaby tours the neighborhood with writer Fred Van Lente and Marvel editor in chief Axel Alonso, and she finds it to be more trendy than trashy, a far cry from the crime-ridden neighborhood of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Interviews and Profiles

Lumberjanes (BOOM! Box)

Comics Can Be Fun After All: Comics scholar Aaron Kashtan looks at the BOOM! Box line of comics, which manage to be entertaining, funny, and socially progressive all at the same time.

Alex Simmons and his Inkpot award. (photo: Julius Constantine Motal)

Local Heroes I: The appropriately named Riverdale Press profiles veteran comics writer Alex Simmons,who was presented with the Inkpot Award for outstanding contributions to comics at Comic-Con International last month. Simmons has written for Archie and DC Comics, created his own character, Black Jack, and runs the Kids Comic Con in the Bronx as well as numerous other kids’ comics events.

Local Heros II: There are three Eisner Awards sitting on shelves in Somerville, Massachusetts: Writer Erica Henderson, who lives there, took home the awards for Best Humor Publication for Jughead and Best Publication for Teens (13-17) for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and local comic shop Comicazi won the Will Eisner Spirit of Retailing Award.

Commentary

Huddled Masses: Former DC president Paul Levitz reminds us that the comics industry was basically created by immigrants.

Comics Lowdown: Businessman wins against Marvel, DC Comics to use  the word ‘superhero’

Plus: assistant principal fired for Pepe the Frog book, new Madefire/DC Comics digital deal, and the hunt for H. G. Peter photos

When Graham Jules (pictured above) wrote his book, Business Zero to Superhero, he had no idea he would end up in a battle against the two largest comic publishers in the world. When his book was about to be published in 2014, he received a letter from Marvel and DC Comics claiming the word infringed on their jointly owned trademark since 1979. Jules, who also studies law, decided to represent himself in the case. A two-and-a-half year legal case ensued and this week, the two comic giants decided to drop the case for “commercial reasons.” The entrepreneur estimates that he spent a total of £200 and 200 hours in writing letters.

“This is an amazing result. It shows that even the little guy can achieve something with determination.”

It will not be surprising if his next book is about being a superhero of trademark cases.

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Comics Lowdown: The impact of ComiXology Unlimited

David Steinberger talks digital comics, Akira Himekawa discuss Legend of Zelda and a Pakistani creator makes the world’s longest comic strip

The Digital Picture: ICv2 posts an interview with comiXology CEO David Steinberger, who talks about the platform’s gradual shift from something resembling a comic shop selling single issues to a more comprehensive service; how the company’s acquisition by Amazon three years ago has changed things; and the impact of ComiXology Unlimited, their all-you-can-read service, in terms of bringing in new readers:

One of the figures we’ve been sharing is that publishers that have been with [ComiXology Unlimited] for the year have seen overall double-digit growth this year. That’s totally opposite to what’s going on in the Direct Market.

One of the keys to their success is “personalization,” letting users tailor the experience and focus on what they are interested in—and, a la Amazon, recommend more items based on what they are reading already.

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Comics Lowdown: All is revealed!

DC announces their Writers Workshop participants, First Second unveils their Spring 2018 books, Viz licenses some new media, and Mimi Pond talks about her new book—and getting dropped from ‘The Simpsons’ because she was a woman

The Big Reveal: DC announced the names of the six writers who will take part in this year’s DC Writers Workshop: Magdalene Visaggio (Kim & Kim, Quantum Teens Are Go), Sanya Anwar (1001), Joey Esposito (Pawn Shop, Captain Ultimate), Phillip Kennedy Johnson (Last Sons of America, Warlords of Appalachia), Robert Jeffrey (Route 3, Radio Free Amerika) and Ryan Cady (Big Moose). Batman writer Scott Snyder will lead the workshop.

“It’s 13 weeks, and we meet for two, two-and-a-half hours online in a Brady Bunch-style box of windows. I teach it in such a way that it’s all superhero writing for DC. I try and make each week a lesson about a particular technique,” Snyder told Heat Vision. “My job is not to teach you how to write by formula for DC. It’s for you to come in and write the stuff you’re passionate about in your own way. I don’t care if that’s funny political, light-hearted, dark, whatever. Your job is to come in and have something to say. My job is to help you fit it into the rubric of superhero calculus and to help you maximize that story: look at where you should beef things up, slow it down, be aware of pacing. You need to come here and have something to say.”

At the end of the workshop, DC works with the writers to place them in writing slots for DC comics.

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Comics Lowdown: Hello Kitty!

Hello Kitty brings the cuteness to high-energy physics, ‘Korra’ creators talk about the new graphic novel and the ‘Gotham Academy’ team look back on their three-year long school year.

Hello Kitty shows up in a lot of unlikely places, from checkbooks to the sides of airplanes, but this is a first: She’s repping for the International Linear Collider, a proposed particle accelerator that was under discussion last week at the International Conference on High Energy Physics. (CERN, where the Higgs boson was first spotted, is a donut-shaped accelerator; the ILC would run in a straight line.) Japan is one of the possible sites for the ILC, so boosters drafted Hello Kitty to the cause and gave her a new outfit, complete with pocket protector and a fancy L (for Lagrangian) on her bow.

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Comics Lowdown: We’re all doomed! Or not!

A writer predicts the demise of Marvel comics, but the DC honchos are bullish on their medium. Plus: Sitting down with Los Bros Hernandez.

Let’s kick things off with some doom and gloom! At the Disney theme park fan site The Kingdom Insider, Thom Pratt asks “Will Disney Stop Publishing Marvel Comic Books?” Pratt makes some good points: The Marvel universe most people are familiar with comes from the movies, not the comics; the comics themselves are not really accessible to most people, both literally (because of the uneven distribution and quality of comic shops) and figuratively (because the storylines cross over and the continuity is complex); and the profits are low relative to what a large corporation like Disney expects. Of course, this is all unvarnished speculation, with no insider knowledge, but there’s food for thought here—and as Pratt points out, Marvel is already outsourcing its digests to Archie and its young-readers Star Wars comics to IDW.

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Comics Lowdown: Artist OK with defacement of Zunar mural

Also: Moto Hagio returns to the Poe saga, Tini Howard and Gilbert Hernandez talk ‘Assassinistas,’ and Annie Koyama looks back at her first decade as a comics publisher

Someone has defaced a mural of the Malaysian cartoonist Zunar—but the artist who created the mural is OK with that. “I don’t see it as ruined but as a response, and it does not matter to me who is responding,” said Bibichun, the artist. “It’s in the public domain and it’s for members of the public to consume in their own way.” The mural depicted Zunar with his mouth covered by the flag of UMNO, the dominant political party of Malaysia (and therefore a frequent target of Zunar’s cartoon). Recently, an unknown man painted the flag black. “The piece was a response to the suppression of Zunar’s exhibition at the Penang Literary Festival last year,” said Bibichun. “I’m surprised it took Umno supporters such a long time to respond.” Zunar recently canceled a planned exhibit of his work out of concern that it, too, would be attacked.

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Comics Lowdown: Mohammed Cartoons Conspirator Extradited

One more conspirator in the Lars Vilks case heads to court. Also: Comics about the news, Bruce Tinsley mollifies a fan, and the July BookScan numbers.

Ali Charaf Damache will be arraigned in Philadelphia on August 28 on conspiracy charges related to the attempt to kill a cartoonist who drew the Prophet Mohammed as a dog. Prosecutors allege that Damache conspired with two women (one of whom styled herself “Jihad Jane”) and a high school student to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks. Although the group never carried out their plans, the co-conspirators have already been sentenced to prison terms. Damache, who is 52, was indicted in 2011 but only recently extradited from Algeria to the U.S.

Monstress #7 (Image Comics)

Hot Books: ICv2 has the BookScan graphic novels chart for July, and it’s definitely eclectic. The number one book is Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book, and no, those aren’t typos; check out the @jomnysun Twitter account for more. The next four books are like a modern graphic novels bingo card: Monstress, vol. 2; March, Book One; The Ancient Magus’s Bride, vol. 7; and Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up. Viz has eight titles on the top 20; Marvel has one (a Star Wars title) and DC has the perennial best-sellers Watchmen and The Killing Joke.

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