Comics Lowdown: New player in town: Graphite digital comic subscription service

Plus: Steve Morrow passes away, New York Times stops editorial cartoons, and more!

The New York Times reports on a new digital comics service, Graphite, that operates on a subscription basis, like ComiXology Unlimited. Graphite will offer a free version with ads, and their premium ad-free version is priced at $4.99 a month, a buck cheaper than ComiXology Unlimited, but their real selling point is automated recommendations:

On other platforms, recommendations are typically offered by editors, said Tom Akel, Graphite’s chief content officer. “Ours takes into account your user behavior, what you’ve watched before, what the pool of people around you liked and cross references that the same way a Netflix algorithm will,” he said.

The real test of a digital comics service, of course, is content. Graphite’s lineup will include BOOM! Studios, Tokyopop, Dynamite, IDW and the children’s publisher Papercutz, but not Marvel or DC (both of whom have their own subscription services). This is a choice that seems to make sense for the smaller publishers; as BOOM!’s Filip Sablik commented, “We’ve had free content available for multiple years, and it hasn’t cut into our Comixology business. In fact, it has continued to grow.

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Comics Lowdown: Unearthing info on Golden Age comics artists

Plus: Matthew Inman, Seth, May sales and more.

Above: A panel from Dotty, by Jane Krom Grammer

Comics scholar Carol Tilley has unearthed new information about several Golden Age comics artists, and she presents the first fruits of her research on her blog: An account of the life and work of Jane Krom Grammer, who drew (and perhaps colored) the comic Dotty in Supersnipe Comics in the mid-1940s. Tilley has found Grammer’s pay stubs for comics that had previously been attributed to another artist, and in conversation with Grammer’s daughter, she fills out the rest of her biography.

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Comics Lowdown: Stan Lee’s former manager’s legal troubles grow

Plus: Stolen comics, cease and desist letters, Ted Talks, Jesus and more.

Legal woes for Stan Lee’s former caretaker and manager, Keya Morgan, continue to grow. He has been arrested and appeared in court in Arizona to face the charge of being a fugitive of justice. And he is also being sued by Joan Celia Lee, Stan Lee’s daughter.

In May, Morgan was charged with felony counts of false imprisonment of an elder adult, theft, embezzlement, and forgery or fraud against an elder adult, according to the Los Angeles Superior Court. The LAPD has revealed some of the details on why they brought charges against him.

“Morgan removed Lee from his Hollywood Hills residence to a secured Beverly Hills condominium during the late night hours of June 8, 2018,” the Los Angeles Police Department said in a statement. “Morgan was using this tactic to further deceive Lee into believing he was in danger and needed to be moved from his home to a more secured condominium where Morgan had more control over Lee.”

The LAPD will eventually extradite Morgan to L.A. to face the charges.

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Comics Lowdown: Who owns Atlas Comics?

Plus: Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award recipients, Paige Braddock, Frank Santoro, Dr. Gene Luen Yang and more!

Who exactly owns Atlas Comics? That seems to be the question raised in two articles from The Hollywood Reporter. Earlier this month Steven Paul, producer of the Ghost Rider film, announced via a press conference that he had bought the rights to the Atlas Comics and planned to work with Paramount to turn the properties into movies. Not so fast, said Dynamite Entertainment, who followed up by telling THR that they own the name “Atlas Comics.”

Many of you may be wondering “What the heck was Atlas Comics?” while others might be thinking, “Wait, wasn’t Atlas the company that eventually evolved into Marvel Comics in the 1960s?” And still others are wondering, “Didn’t he learn his lesson after Ghost Rider?”

But getting back to Atlas, yes, there was an Atlas Comics in the 1950s that grew out of Timely Comics and eventually became Marvel Comics. It was owned by publisher Martin Goodman, and it put out comics in a variety of genres like horror, crime, espionage and even a few superhero titles featuring characters like Captain America and the Human Torch, who had previously been published under the Timely banner. However, this isn’t that Atlas Comics.

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Comics Lowdown: Stan Lee’s former caretaker charged with elder abuse

Plus: Jonathan Hickman details his plans for the X-Men, comic sales in April and more.

Stan Lee’s former caretaker and manager, Keya Morgan, has been charged with felony elder abuse. The charges include felony counts of false imprisonment of an elder adult, theft, embezzlement, and forgery or fraud against an elder adult, according to the Los Angeles Superior Court.

A warrant for Morgan’s arrest had been issued. The 43-year-old memorabilia collector was served with a restraining order by Lee’s family last summer, when they accused him of elder abuse. Lee passed away in November.

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Comics Lowdown: Oni Press, Lion Forge announce merger, restructuring, layoffs

Plus: Patrick Gleason, Emily Carroll, awards and more!

Oni Press and Lion Forge will merge in order to “strengthen their library of original comics and graphic novels and help them to leverage their characters on other media platforms, including animation and film,” according to a story in the New York Times. The new publishing company will fall under the Polarity umbrella, a media entertainment entity launched by Lion Forge co-founder Dave Steward II last year.

The new company’s combined publishing efforts will be overseen by Oni Press publisher James Lucas Jones, who will be president and publisher. “We’re going to take a look at efficiencies and identify a number of areas of growth as well,” said Steward. The Beat details several layoffs that have already occurred at both companies, including Andrea Colvin, Lion Forge’s editor in chief, and Oni’s Desiree Wilson. According to Publisher’s Weekly, Joe Nozemack, founder of Oni Press, will join the new entity’s board and serve in an advisory role.

As far as their publishing lines go, Lion Forge Senior Publicist Jeremy Atkins tweeted that Oni Press “will be the publisher of all creator-owned books going forward,” while company-owned IP, like the Catalyst Prime universe, will fall under the Lion Forge banner. This one is still developing, so no doubt more information on the new structure and publishing entity will be forthcoming.

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Comics Lowdown: 2018 sales, Michael Davis hacked

Plus: News on Mark Waid, Mary Fleener, Free Comic Book Day and more!

ICv2 and the Comichron held a special crossover event this week to share the news that “Comics and graphic novel sales hit a new high in 2018.”

“After a brief downturn in 2017, the market bounced back last year,” said Comichron‘s John Jackson Miller. “Popular releases helped right the ship in comics shops, even as other sales avenues made significant gains.”

Their report looks at three formats — comics, graphic novels and digital — across multiple channels, including crowdfunding, book fairs, mass merchants, newsstands and more.

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Comics Lowdown: RIP Monkey Punch, Kazuo Koike

Plus: Bill Mantlo in need, halfway through ‘Saga,’ awards and more.

The manga community has lost two legends in April, as both Lupin III creator Monkey Punch and Lone Wolf & Cub co-creator Kazuo Koike have passed away. Both men died from pneumonia six days apart, and were once considered rivals when their respective manga ran in Weekly Manga Action magazine. They also worked together on the Secretary Bird manga mini-series that ran in the magazine in 1970.

Monkey Punch, whose real name was Kazuhito Kato, was 81 when he passed away. His most famous creation, Lupin III, started as a manga and was later adapted into six animated television series, eight animated feature films, two live-action feature films, two musicals and several video games. He passed away April 11.

In addition to Lone Wolf & Cub, Koike is also known for such titles as Lady Snowblood, Crying Freeman, Samurai Executioner and many other popular series. His work influenced many American creators, including Frank Miller, who drew covers for First Comics’ publication of the series. Koike also worked on a few western series, including a Hulk manga and an issue of X-Men Unlimited. He passed away April 17 at the age of 82.

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Comics Lowdown: ‘Astro Hustle’ canceled after sexual misconduct allegations against Jai Nitz

Plus: Mark Alessi passes away; DiNKy award nominees and more.

Dark Horse Comics has canceled the final two issues of Astro Hustle after writer Jai Nitz was accused of sexual misconduct.

The allegations were first published on the Her Campus website by Hannah Strader, a University of Kansas student who met Nitz when he was a guest lecturer in one of her classes. Nitz, whose recent work also includes a Suicide Squad story for DC Comics, briefly deleted his Twitter account (which is now set to private) and bailed on his appearance at 2019 Planet Comicon last weekend.

“Dark Horse takes all allegations seriously. We have cancelled future issues of Astro Hustle,” the publisher said in a statement to CBR.com. “While we were unable to prevent our distributor’s shipping of Astro Hustle #2, we are also suspending our professional ties with Jai Nitz.”

Astro Hustle artist Tom Reilly addressed the cancellation on Twitter, saying it was “for the best” and showing support for the victim. And Nitz released a statement to Bleeding Cool, saying “I am stepping away from comics and public life. I am seeking counseling and trying to live a better life for my loved ones.”

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