This week: The latest on the Fantastic Four cancellation rumors, Graphicly’s closure and non-payment of comics creators, the Nielsen Bookscan rankings for May, and more.
On those Fantastic Four cancellation rumors
One story we chose not to include in last week’s News Round-up was the one originating at Rich Johnston’s Bleeding Cool, about Marvel allegedly planning to cancel Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four-related titles due to a directive handed down directly by Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter, who does not want 20th Century Fox (which holds the live-action film rights to the Fantastic Four and related properties) to benefit from any promotion the Fantastic Four comics might provide for its upcoming films.
We thought it was ridiculous, even Rich Johnston thought it was ridiculous, and when senior Marvel editor and Senior VP of Publishing Tom Brevoort went on Tumblr to deny, in no uncertain terms, the rumors, we decided to exercise a little restraint and hold off on linking to the story until it had time to mature a little bit, as we’ve been burned by circulating “news rumors” before and looked like idiots for our trouble.
Well, over the past weekend, more information has started to leak out about this alleged anti-Fantastic Four directive, with two artists (speaking on the condition of anonymity, naturally), claiming to Johnston that they have received explicit instructions not to include any Fantastic Four-related characters in the sketch cards they are illustrating for the Upper Deck and Rittenhouse-branded Marvel 75th Anniversary cards. One of the artists even included a scan of the instruction sheet sent by Marvel to artists, which specifically name nine characters (including all members of the classic Fantastic Four roster as well as the Silver Surfer, Galactus, Dr. Doom, and Skrulls) that are restricted from being included in sketch cards.
What makes this all the more intriguing is that it isn’t just Bleeding Cool reporting on this. Comic Book Resources has reached out to a number of industry professionals (again, speaking anonymously) and they have confirmed that a “hiatus” for the Fantastic Four property in comics is in the offing. Responding in his regular Axel-in-Charge column on CBR, Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso gave a classic “non-answer answer” when pressed to elaborate on the publisher’s future plans for the Fantastic Four:
Part of Marvel’s success hinges on the fact that we aren’t afraid to exercise massive flexibility with our catalog of characters. Sometimes, the way we move the pieces around on the board — the death and/or replacement of a character, the dissolution and/or reconstitution of a team — or our choice of characters to spotlight — Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, Inhumans — causes controversy, but that doesn’t inhibit us from taking chances and doing what we think is right for our universe and the characters within it. Wolverine and Spider-Man joining the Avengers was a hugely controversial move that ultimately contributed to the revitalization of that franchise and to the Marvel Universe as a whole. The death of Ultimate Peter Parker got a lot of fans screaming, but it resulted in the birth of the now-beloved Miles Morales. No guts, no glory.
Now, if these rumors of cancellation or hiatus or whatever you want to call it are true, it’s a little disheartening to learn about as a comics fan. It’s not exactly a case of the tail wagging the dog—in the grand scheme of things, Marvel Entertainment’s print division isn’t so much the metaphorical dog or even the tail as it is a dewclaw compared to its film and merchandising divisions—but the gut reaction from most comics fans will probably be that this is yet another example of comics’ diminished status in the popular entertainment sphere and how, more than ever, cross-media marketing priorities trump almost everything else in the world of the Big Two.
At the same time, it’s difficult for us to get all that worked up in a lather over this. This isn’t the first time that marketing/licensing concerns or even corporate pettiness has dictated the creative direction of a Marvel title, or any work-for-hire comic for that matter. This is all part of the cost of being invested in an IP that is as commodified as the Fantastic Four.
The latest “indie” and bookstore sales news
Chris Rice, writing for the Beat, has the latest in the month-to-month direct market sales of “indie” (i.e., non-Marvel/DC) comics. The indies were led by Image Comics’ The Walking Dead ongoing series, with Dark Horse’s Serenity: Leaves in the Wind and The Star Wars limited series also posting great numbers. Jason Aaron and Jason Latour’s Southern Bastards (which we reviewed here) is also notable for having a very strong debut for an indie title, just breaking into the top 50.
On the bookstore sales front, it’s pretty much business as usual with ICv2’s Nielsen Bookscan figures for May, and by that we mean the top 20 is dominated yet again by Kodansha’s Attack on Titan (with six titles in the top 20, including the #1 spot) and Image Comics’ The Walking Dead and Saga (which placed three volumes each in the top 20). Other notable titles to make the top of the list: Legendary Comics’ Godzilla: Awakening, the tie-in hardcover graphic novel to this year’s blockbuster film cracked the top three, DC Comics made a rare appearance with the fourth trade paperback collection of Scott Snyder’s Batman, and two Marvel Comics-related character guides from DK Publishing making the top 20 further reinforces the impression that when it comes to bookstore customers, they’d rather be reading about Marvel Comics instead of actually reading Marvel Comics.
Legendary Comics signs distro deal with Random House
Speaking of Legendary Comics, Heidi McDonald, writing for The Beat, is reporting that the comics and graphic novel division of Legendary Pictures has signed a distribution deal with Penguin/Random House.
In addition, Legendary has announced three new titles, all tentatively set for release in 2015: A Town Called Dragon (by Judd Winick and Geoff Shaw), Epochalypse (by Jonathan Hennessey and Shane Davis), and The Harvester (by Brandon Seifert and Eric Battle). Among Legendary’s more popular graphic novels include Frank Miller’s controversial Holy Terror, the Pacific Rim prequel (reviewed by the Comixverse at this link), and the above-mentioned tie-in graphic novel to the recent Godzilla film.
Random House has slowly but steadily been growing its manga and graphic novel distribution partnerships in recent years. In addition to Legendary Comics, its distribution clients include Kodansha USA (which publishes the wildly successful Attack on Titan trades for the North American market), Archie Comics, and Dark Horse Books, which left Diamond Book Distributors last year to sign a multi-year deal with Random House.
More on Graphicly’s closure
Steve Morris, writing for the Beat, has more details regarding Graphicly’s closure and the comics creators who have yet to receive royalties from their Graphicly published/distributed work. Among those writers and artists still waiting for word on any royalties are Marc Ellerby (whose Ellerbisms peaked at #2 on the UK Kindle grahic novel chart last year), Dave Dellocese (Holidaze), and Mike Garley (Dead Roots).
And this isn’t just a case of missed payments here and there—many writers, artists, and publishers who have had their work distributed by Graphicly are reporting on various social media outlets that they’ve never received any payment from Graphicly and that their attempts to reach Graphicly prior to its closure led nowhere.
Rob Salkowitz, author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture and regular ICv2 contributor, writes about the issues surrounding Graphicly’s closure and raises many of the same points we’ve been stressing these past 18 months about the problems the digital comics medium is facing with DRM and cloud storage dependence.
Dave Sim: “Please feel COMPLETELY free—and GUILT-FREE—to [pirate Cerebus].”
In a fax reproduced over at Bleeding Cool, Dave Sim directed readers to cerebusdownloads.com, the “only completely legitimate way to acquire a digital edition of a Cerebus trade online.” Sim went on to thank everyone who has taken the time to readCerebus. To those who’ve downloaded Cerebus via illicit channels, Sim offered an interesting spin on the “pay-what-you-want” model growing in popularity in self-published and independent comics circles: “please feel COMPLETELY free—and GUILT-FREE—to [pirate Cerebus comics]. Donate what you COMFORTABLY can at cerebusdownloads.com when you are able to and pay for the books if your economic prospects unexpectedly (or expectedly) improve months, years, or decades later.”
There have been a lot of reasons over the years for why Sim, despite the Eisner Award-winning brilliance of his work on Cerebus, has found himself on the margins of the comics industry, but we have to say, this is a pretty cool gesture and a response to comics piracy that we think will end up profiting him more than the conventional approaches.
Shuster Award nominees revealed
The Joe Shuster Awards Committee has released the official list of nominees for the 2014 awards.
Among the names on the list are Best Writer nominees Ed Brisson and Kurtis Wiebe (click here to read our recent interview with Brisson, and click here and here for transcripts of recent panels involving both writers), Best Cover Artist nominee Mike Del Mundo (whom we also interviewed recently), and Faith Erin Hicks, whose The Adventures of Superhero Girl (which we reviewed here) is up for the Dragon Award for best comic for younger readers.
Winners will be announced at a yet-to-be-revealed date later in the year.
Odds and Sods
More news links from around the world of comics:
• Catherine Calderon, writing for The Republic, writes about how Phoenix Comicon 2014 opening day was disrupted by malfunctioning fire alarm, leading to an evacuation of the venue Thursday afternoon. A similar incident occurred at last year’s convention.
• The BBC’s Joe Miller reports that the release of Warner Bros.’ much-anticipated Batman: Arkham Knight video game has been pushed back to early 2015 to allow for more development time.
• Anime News Network is reporting that VIZ Media is set to launch Pokemon X & Y series in December under its Perfect Square imprint for younger readers.
• Oni Press has a new Vice-President of Business Development in Tim Wiesch(press release). Prior to moving to the Portland, OR-headquartered publisher of such popular and acclaimed titles as Queen & Country, Wasteland, The Sixth Gun, and Courtney Crumrin, Wiesch served as the Director of Foreign Licensing at Milwaukie, OR-based Dark Horse Comics.
• Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan has finally surpassed sales of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece in Japan, at least for the half-year, as reported by Anime News Network.
• Marc Jayson Cayabyab, writing for the Inquirer, spotlights Foreskin Man, a free comic created with the support of MGMbill.org, which is lobbying for the passage of the Male Genital Mutilation Bill which aims to make male circumcision illegal across the United States. The practice of male circumcision is most prevalent in Islamic countries and Israel, the United States, and parts of Southeast Asia and Africa. It is part of religious law in Judaism and is an established practice in Islam, Coptic Christianity, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
• Arvind Jayaram, writing for The Hindu Business Line, looks at the growth of the collectible market for classic Indian comics and the current difficulty in their valuation.
• Episode 2 of BOOM! Studios’ weekly news magazine series is up for viewing on YouTube. This week, Eric Powell (The Goon) and film director John Carpenter join host Stephanie Hocutt to promote BOOM!’s new Big Trouble in Little China comic, based on the cult-favorite 1986 film of the same name.
• Benjamin Rogers, writing for The Beat, has a round-up of this year’s Chicago Alternative Comics Expo.
• Barnes & Noble is filling the market gap for Hachette-affiliated manga and graphic novel titles as the dispute between Amazon.com and the Hachette Book Group continues to drag on. The Barnes & Noble website is offering many Yen Press manga titles with deep discounts on top of buy-one-get-one-free or buy-two-get-a-third-free promotions.
• Ren Aguila, writing for GMA News, has a round-up and videos from the recently concluded NexCon Manila gaming, comics, sci-fi, and cosplay convention.
• Anand Parthasarathy, writing for the Deccan Chronicle, reports on the launch of the Windows Phone-exclusive Graphic India app, which will offer titles such as the Stan Lee co-created Chakra the Invincible and film-to-comics spin-offs like Krrish: Menace of the Monkey Men and Shekhar Kapur’s DEVI.
• The Manila Standard‘s Carla Mortel is reporting that the two sequels to 2012’s live-action Rurouni Kenshin film will debut within two months of each other later this year in Japan and the Philippines. Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Taika-hen (Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno) will open on August 1 in Japan and August 20 in the Philippines while Rurouni Kenshin: Densetsu no Saigo-hen (Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends) opens September 13 in Japan and September 24 in the Philippines.
Actor Takeru Satoh reprises the role of the swordsman Kenshin Himura in both films, while Filipino-Japanese actress Maryjun Takahashi will play a major supporting role. Together, the three films adapt the long-running story arcs set in Kyoto in the original manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki. The first live-action Rurouni Kenshin film currently holds the record for the highest-grossing Japanese film to open in the Philippines, where the Rurouni Kenshin anime was popular TV viewing through the mid/late-1990s.
In case you missed them…
• Don’t forget that we regularly post new previews of trade paperbacks and hardcovers.
• The Comixverse has a double-shot of interviews this week. First, writer Ross May (Tales of the TMNT) and artist Brett Wood (The Silver Bullet) talk about their new graphic novel from Markosia Enterprises, Devil Dealers. Second, L.A.-based MC Nathan Haskill talks about comics and his new album You’ll Be Joining Us Soon, created in collaboration with dustmightz and released under the Cold Slither name.
• It took a while, but we finally got around to reading Boxers & Saints, from writer-artist Gene Luen Yang, colorist Lark Pien, and First Second Books. Click here to read our thoughts on the award-winning “double graphic novel.”
• In this week’s Leaving Proof, we take a look at the five most widely-read Leaving Proof articles of the past month and who’s reading them. There are a couple of big surprises on the list. ALSO: The Last Devil character design talk, Tokyo ESP news, the net neutrality issue, and more!