Things the Industry Is Doing Right

Posted by on January 15th, 2010 at 11:58 AM

This being The Comics Journal and all, we tend to focus on the thousands of things the comics industry does wrong.  But that gets to be such a downer.  Here, because lists are the ideal form of online discourse, are my top five things the industry is currently doing right.  For the purposes of this list, “doing right” is defined as “doing things that result in comics Shaenon wants to read, ” not necessarily “making a whole lot of money.”  You know how it is.

1. The Muppet Show Comic Book. There are many ways Disney and Boom! Studios could have screwed up a Muppet Show comic and depleted the world of light and joy.  They could have not published a Muppet Show comic.  They could have published a dull, forgettable Muppet Show comic.  They could have done Muppets from Space. (Instead they put out a “Pigs in Space” one-shot: excellent!)  But Boom! did right by the world, hiring Roger Langridge, one of those cartoonists who’s too good to get hired for most comics work, to write and draw the series.  Langridge knows cartooning and Muppets inside out, and he’s putting out one of the best all-ages comics available.  The most recent issue opens with a splash of all the Muppets crammed into a minibus with the Electric Mayhem playing on the roof, which I’m pretty sure is the moment Western art has been building to all these centuries.

2. Vertical’s Manga. Old manga is hard to sell.  That’s why American manga publishers are skittish about touching work even by established names like Osamu Tezuka, leaving real-book publisher Vertical to provide the bulk of classic manga translations.  Thanks to Vertical, we have Tezuka’s seminal series Buddha, Dororo, and Black Jack, plus one-volume editions of funky gekiga-influenced Tezuka works like Ode to Kirihito and MW.  Vertical has also given us To Terra and Andromeda Stories, the only translated work by 1970s shojo pioneer Keiko Takemiya.  Adding manga expert Ed Chavez, formerly a freelancer for CMX, Seven Seas, and Kodansha, to the staff in 2009 was another smart move.  Runner -up in this category: Drawn & Quarterly, for putting out all those Yoshihiro Tatsumi books.

3. Viz’s SigIkki Line. First off, building an entire line upon Japan’s Ikki magazine, home of kinda-alternative-but-basically-accessible creator-centric work that hews closer to the contemporary American concept of “indie comics” than most manga, is pretty thoroughly the opposite of a dick move.  But Viz knows from long experience that smart alt-manga tends to sink like a stone in the Naruto-obsessed manga market, so it’s using the SigIkki line to experiment with marketing.  The SigIkki titles run online before publication, thus acquiring an advance audience and beating the scanlators at their own game.  At least, that seems to be the theory.  I have no idea whether it’ll succeed, but in the meantime we’re getting great, offbeat manga like not simple, Children of the Sea, and Saturn Apartments for free, then in snazzy tricked-out paperback editions.

4. Comic Strips Love the Comics Curmudgeon.  Josh Fruhlinger’s The Comics Curmudgeon is one of those blogs that fills a massive gap in the public discourse no one realized existed.  Specifically, he picks on newspaper comic strips.  Fruhlinger’s sarcastic but knowledgeable snark (he actually remembers things that happened in Judge Parker) has had a surprising side effect: making the dying newspaper funny page relevant to the generation that doesn’t read newspapers.  Now you have to keep up on Family Circus and Mark Trail, if only to get the jokes about them.  Happily, the syndicated comics world seems more amused than offended, wisely adopting the policy that any press is good press, or, perhaps, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  Fruhlinger, for his part, seems genuinely thrilled when he gets fan art from, say, the artist of Slylock Fox.

Most recently, King Features sent the Comics Curmudgeon  a box of merchandise for Mary Worth, the comic with which the blog has the deepest love/hate relationship.  Fruhlinger excitedly informed his readers that “there is now officially licensed merchandise featuring our favorite meddling biddy,” then directed them to the relevant King Features CafePress pages.  Smart one, King Features.  At today’s syndicates, you’ve got to take your allies where you can find them.

5. There Are Moomin comics.  I don’t really care how this came to be.  I’m just happy.  Thank you, Drawn & Quarterly.

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