Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fanboy Trailblazers & Online Art Avartars

We spotted two newspaper articles that may be of interest to you. The first is "Triumph of the Fanboys" by Lynden Barber in the Weekend Australian (27-28/12/08) which examines the influence of comic book fans on popular culture, especially the movies. Here's the intro:
WHEN Hollywood studio Warner Bros announced recently it was planning to make fewer movies, it added an all-important proviso: of those it did make, a bigger proportion would be based on comic book characters. Which raises the question among those not yet won over to the essentially teenage appeal of superheroes: What exactly is it about movies about men in facemasks and tight underpants that has Hollywood salivating?
Hmmph. All the long-time comics and graphic novels aficionados out there have known the answer for years – engaging characters and fabulous storytelling we can relate to and get emotionally involved in. We've been defending comics for years and now we feel absolved from the 'supposed' crime of having worked in such a medium of disrepute as judged by the literary set. We've both faced the scorn and derision from several of our contemporaries in publishing circles who just did not get it. We're glad the general populace is embracing these movies and also discovering the original source material. Do we have a slight chip on our shoulders? Yep! But it's rapidly turning to splinters and sawdust in the wake of this new acceptance of comics and subsidiary product.

The other article talked about the new business of online art galleries and even avatar buyers – does eBay count? Here is a link to "Online Galleries Are Go", which featured in The Sun-Herald (28/12/08).

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!
See you on the morrow.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Post-Xmas Post 2


Thought you might want a look at our Xmas tree (it's plastic). It may not be as romantic as having a real tree but we don't cut them down here for environmental reasons. The ornaments are gorgeous though, although I don't have a closeup of them. It was and still is tradition for my sister and I to buy them for our grandmother, even though she died nearly three years ago. The view outside the window shows green grass and no snow unlike our friends in the northern hemisphere. In fact it was hot and humid on the day in question. The second pic is our Xmas table flower arrangement – red and yellow orchids (don't ask me to tell you which ones they are!) and holly. The table runner was bought in Turkey last year.

Bruce Love (ex Black Mermaid™ Classic business partner) popped in on Boxing Day with his partner for a visit and to drop off four of my books that he had had at home on his book shelf for about seven years. I had forgotten them actually but it was good to get them back – William Goldman's Which Lie Did I Tell?, Peter Biskind's Easy Riders Raging Bulls, Barbara Sher's I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was, and Martha Beck's Finding Your Own North Star. Before you jump to conclusions and think it is outrageous to keep somebody's books for such a long time, I in turn returned Bruce's hardback copy of Stephen King's Insomnia which I had kept under my bed for about the same length of time. We have all been spring cleaning and thought it best to return the books to their rightful owners. This is about the longest I have kept a copy and visa versa but both Bruce and I trust each other with our books. I just want the person who pinched my personalised signed copy of Robert McKee's Story to get off his or her butt and send it home to me!

I also finally managed to watch The Notebook, which I thought was a glorious romance. It starts in a contemporary setting and flashes back to South Carolina just prior to World War II and tells the story of Noah and Allie played by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams who both did a stellar job. I am now officially in love with the two actors. I'd heard that this film has even brought tough Ausssie men to tears (you know the rugby player type!) and my sources weren't wrong. I thought it was terrific. I watched the special features and took note that there was an extended sex scene that had been cut for the theatrical version to get a PG Rating. The editor and the director Nick Cassavetes (who by the way is Gena Rowlands son – Ms Rowlands also stars in the movie along with the ever wonderfully warm James Garner) lamented that the film was lesser for it and that the sanitised scene distilled the pent up sexual tension and the erotic charge the characters had maintained between them after having to wait seven years to consumate their relationship. We promise faithfully that we will do no such thing with Hyfus and Tilaweed! We're waiting for the day when we and you can see them together in their penultimate love scene! 





The 6 Deadliest Creatures (That Can Fit in Your Shoe)

Cracked.com has one of the funniest articles I have ever read in years about poisonous creatures around the world – most of which come from Australia. It is the commentaries that actually cracked me up, especially the mention (Ogenbite 12/14/2008) that the Brazillian Wandering Spider is the "Rasputin of spiders". And I agree with Davo (12/14/2008) "Australia isn't for pussies...". This article probably just undid everything the $40 million dollar Baz Luhrmann Australia Tourism advertising campaign set out to achieve!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

CIA's Viagra Politics [UPDATE ADDED]

Caught a fabulous story in today's weekend edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. Does this opening not want to make you read further?
The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw a chance, and reached in his bag for a small gift.
Four blue pills. Viagra.
"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.
The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes – followed by a request for more pills.
Brilliant! Wish I had thought of it myself for a fiction story. Check out the Sydney Morning Herald website to keep reading or the Weekend Australian for more information.

Post-Xmas Post 1

Just waddled the 100 metres or so from my house to my studio after a 1 1/2 hour siesta. I'm sure my blood sugar is completely out of whack from all the Xmas treats I've been consuming. One more brunch to go before I go on a three-day salt water fast to detox and hit the gym to get my system ready for 2009 Black Mermaid™ activities. My energy level drops away during December but miraculously shoots up from the 1 January of every year – it's psychological I know – but it's nevertheless very real for me. 

My Xmas calendar has been full during the last week. We have a bunch of Austrians staying at the moment so it's a delight to witness an Australian Xmas through their eyes – the father in the family remarked that this is the first time he has every mowed the lawn at Xmas time (their place is usually snowed in about now!) They watched Carols in the Domain where the two children were stunned to see Santa arriving over the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a sparkly Harley rather than a reindeer led sleigh, and the slightly more sophisticated and classical Melbourne-based Carols by Candlelight. In the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry I am sorry to say, this is one event where Melbourne consistently wins out!

It is tradition in my family for me to do all the cooking on Xmas day and on Boxing Day so I've been in the kitchen for nigh on three days. I kept the menus simple this year but simple for someone who loves cooking and entertaining still translates into swollen ankles and a vampire-white complexion from not venturing out of doors into the sunlight during those three days. Thankfully I had help and I also paced it. I cooked for 10 people at Xmas and 14 for Boxing Day. Here are my menus:

Xmas Menu
Breakfast
Cherry & ricotta pancake with cherry almond syrup

Lunch
Terrine with cranberries & pistachios
Tomato tarte tatin with caramelised garlic (vegetarian option)
Ravioli salad with summer greens
Lime & chilli seafood sausages on green papaya salad
BBQ Chinese duck with fruit dipping sauce
Soft fruit & crushed meringue ice cream gateau

Drinks
Lime passionfruit crush (non alcoholic)
Wine

Boxing Day Dinner Menu
Entré
Smoked salmon and caviar pasta

Main
Chicken with rye bread, prune and chestnut stuffing
Eggplant timbale (vegetarian option)
Drunken potatoes
Spiced pumpkin chutney
Mixed leaf salad with cranberry dressing

Dessert
Xmas pudding & custard

Drinks
Ruby grapefruit & lemon sorbet fizz (non-alocholic)
Wine

For any Americans who are reading this, please note that your use of the word "entré" is different to the Australian use – here an "entré" is your version of an appetizer.

The surprising hit of the entire two days menu turned out to be a drink which scored a resounding 5/5 on the family rating scale, so I've decided to publish the recipe for those of you who are interested.

Ruby Grapefruit & Lemon Sorbet Fizz
Pour 2 cups (500 ml/16 fl oz) chilled grapefruit juice and 1 cup (250 ml/8 fl oz) chilled soda water into a jug. Stir in 1 tablespoon of caster sugar, then pour into chilled glasses. Top with a scoop of lemon sorbet. Mix the sorbet in or serve with a parfait spoon. Serves 4.
(Source: Wendy Stephen [Series Editor], The Essential Christmas Cookbook, Murdoch Books, 2000)



Outside of that, I didn't know that this blog would serve as a default Xmas list for my friends. I happen to mention in a previous post that I had never seen the last season of Dawson's Creek and then, low and behold, it turned up in my Xmas stocking courtesy of my friend Phil and his wonderful daughter Meredith, who reads our blogspot. Thanks guys! Now all I have to mention is that I'd like a cruise on the Sea Princess, a home theatre system, tickets to the Moonlight Cinema in Sydney ... (oh, I got that last one too – thanks, Meredith!). Now can you arrange a publishing and feature film deal for Elf~Fin? Nope, okay ... we'll have to arrange that one ourselves.

I found four new feral kittens three days before Xmas, living in a drain on our property. I'll be covering their story on my TameFeralCats blog. My sister (bless her!) gave me a new HP PhotoSmart Fax/Printer/Scanner for my office. There's nothing wrong with my old printer, it's just that it costs $229 for a new toner cartridge which is simply outrageous – I had commented that you could buy a new printer for that price. My sister took notice and did. I was lost for words when I opened the big fat present. 

My parents renewed my gym membership for me, which is brilliant – I will be making good use of it from Monday to shed the Xmas kilos (can't make it today or tomorrow although I have already done my stretching and toning exercises and have swum a kilometre. The only thing stopping me from going on a 40 minute walk now is the thunderstorm raging overhead). I also treated myself to two pieces of clothing I'd been eyeing off for months at QueensPark – a white blazer and a hot pink Indian style tunic top with creme embroidery down the middle (bought them both at 50% off prior to the big post-Xmas sales). I also received a gorgeous hanging mermaid figurine, a pair of gum boots with a holly design (the rest of the world calls them Wellington boots), some much sought-after music (Seal, Soul and Dido, Safe Trip Home), cook books, and several gift vouchers. 

I'll post some pics in the next couple of days so you can eye off the gorgeous Christmas flower arrangement on the table and get a look at our tree. In the meantime, take it easy ... 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Xmas Everyone!

It's five days before Christmas and Jozef and I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a fabulous 2009!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Art of Comic Book Lettering Part II

Following on from our previous post on comics lettering, I wanted to discuss the process we went through to find appropriate typefaces for our Elf~Fin proposal. We set about searching for fonts in the following three categories – logotype (for the Elf~Fin title), dialogue/thoughts (generic rather than character based), and sound effect. At this point of time, the lettering in the proposal was for placement only as some publishers reserve the right to have a say in what type of fonts you use in your project. They also prefer to choose the logotype for themselves so we didn't want to lock anything in. 

I LOVE looking at fonts – always have. I might even be developing an addiction towards them – simply because they inspire my imagination. I think both Jozef and I have a well trained eye and pretty good instincts when it comes to font-spotting and project-matching. Beyond that we have the highest regard for letterers and graphic designers who understand their craft and bring that added creative flair and dimension to their design choices that exceeds anything we have to offer. The best title logotype I have seen for a while comes from and Gestalt Publishing's The Eldritch Kid which establishes the mood, the time period and the genre of the title in question in just one glance.

The criteria we established in making our font selection was in fact – the genre (fantasy), the pictorial environment (underwater), the characters (mer-elves), and the feel (fairy tale or storybook). Each level of font also needed to be in sympathy with the others. For example,  a pointy or drippy gothic horror font would not work well as sound effects when used in conjunction with a children's style font used for dialogue unless it was done ironically. 

We used several excellent resources for our quest for the right font – the first being the Comic Life software, which is great for beginners. It lets you create comics on your computer and offers a variety of panel set-ups, speech balloons, sound effects and comic book fonts. I sorted the fonts according to whether they were plain (non comic book) fonts or whether they were comic book fonts. The other resources were the ComicCraft, 1001 FreeFonts and Fonts.com, the latter of which has an extraordinary selection and a great "waterfall" feature that allows you to check out your font in different sizes. I typed in bits of dialogue from the book, printed it up then cut out the different examples and popped them on top of Jozef's artwork to see if, firstly, the font resonated with the story and characters and, secondly, to check the appropriate size so that it could be easily read. 

The other important aspect to consider is that comic book dialogue in general is set in upper case rather than in lower case – the exception is when you use calligraphy style typefaces for effect or to set a mood. We found that in the end it was indeed the comic book fonts that were more appropriate for the internal panel to panel text – they were easy to read and in general fit the comic book lettering conventions far more readily than the normal (non comic book) fonts. 

The other most excellent font we were pointed to by the talented Barb Jacobs who uses it for her gorgeous webcomic Xylia is WhizBang, which is one of those industry standard fonts used by DC artists. 

I ended up with anywhere between half a dozen to 15 fonts plain AND comic book fonts per category. Jozef and I then sat down for an hour or two and culled that list down to our three preferred fonts. We ended up choosing, buying and downloading Holier Than Thou. Since we only had one sound effect for the opening five pages we decided to defer on both that and the title font and purchase the appropriate ones later down the track. 

And by the way, the wonderful piece of Ms Helvetica Neue font artwork you see here is by Philadelphia artist Matt Suter from his Typewoman series. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mermaid Treasures 11


I took the day off on Tuesday with my mum to avoid the crowds and to finish the last of my Christmas shopping, and drove down to Berrima, a small country town about 150km south of Sydney. In the first gift store I entered my eyes swept to a lovely stack of greeting cards on the front counter – amongst them – a mermaid. I was quite captivated with the illustrations and instantly bought the two you see alongside for my collection (call me selfish but they are just too gorgeous to give away unless, of course, I buy doubles). They are designed by a Melbourne artist Judith Howell. I checked out Judith's website and actually rang her up to have a chat and to ask permission to use the artwork. "No worries," was the reply in what turned out to be a long and engaging phone discussion about all kinds of things. At this point of time she is only selling them wholesale to retailers, but it is my understanding that she is rethinking her position. If you're after them, then either get a retailer in your area to order them in bulk OR add your name to her mailing list and she will inform you if there are any changes in distribution policy. 

Tim Pilcher History of Erotic Comics Interview

We spotted a great interview between Bob Greenberger and Tim Pilcher, author of Erotic Comics Volumes 1 & 2. He weighs in on the issue of sticker censorship in Australia which we covered in a previous post. Here's Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More Uncanny Lookalikes


I absolutely LOVE the Totally Looks Like website. I will never look at a Lindt Lindor ball in the same way again!

Simpsons Internet Cartoon Parody Judged to be Child Porn [UPDATED & LINKS ADDED]

We don't know whether the legal ruling you are about to read about sets a troubling precedent, or whether it is a legitimate means of protecting our children. We picked up this story up from Neil Gaiman's LiveJournal and website, courtesy of James A Owen, who put us in the know. (It's slightly embarrassing that we had to find out about this from our American and English compatriots but it does demonstrate the power of the Internet and the fact that we perhaps need to follow the local news more closely!) 

Anyway, as the story goes – one of Neil Gaiman's Australian fans posted a link to a Melbourne Age article, which tells us that:
A NSW Supreme Court judge has ruled an internet cartoon in which lookalike child characters from The Simpsons engage in sexual acts in child pornography.

In a landmark finding Justice Michael Adams today upheld a decision convicting a man of possessing child pornography after the cartoons, depicting characters modelled on Bart, Lisa and Maggie engaging in sex acts were found on his computer.

"If the persons were real, such depictions could never be permitted," Justice Adams said in his judgement. "Their creation would constitute crimes at the very highest end of the criminal calendar."
We investigated further and pulled pieces from other articles to give you/us a more broader picture. ABC News, says:
The magistrate had rejected a submission that cartoon depictions or representations of fiction characters such as The Simpsons were not of "persons".

Justice Adams said the legislation's main purpose was to combat the direct sexual exploitation and abuse of children that occurs when offensive images of real children are made.

But, he said, it was also calculated to deter production of other material, including cartoons, which "can fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children".
And the Parramatta Sun reported that: 
The barrister Greg Barns, a specialist in criminal and human rights law, said the decision showed that the laws surounding child pornographer were too broad if cartoons could be classified as child pornography.

"These sort of parodies, offensive as they might be, are widely distributed and I think it would be very unfair to characterise those who are viewing the images as ... viewing child porn," he said.
In his post, the Neil Gaiman fan quite rightly asks what the implications will be for him as a reader/collector of graphic novels such as Alan Moore's and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls, which is sold here not only in comics shops but we must add, also in well known book stores like Borders. And what about yaoi, where the key word is "boy love"? Are the teenage fictional "boys" depicted in these stories under the age of consent and thus do they fall within the definition of child pornography? 

Many years ago, Jozef and I also looked at an erotic comic adaption of the popular fairy tale The Little Mermaid – the characters were not prepubescent children around the ages of The Simpsons gang, but were supposedly about 16 or 17. In my library I also have a copy of Erotica Universalis by Gilles Neret, a compilation of erotic art through the ages from Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt to modern times. The book was published by the famous German art publisher Taschen in 1994. In the Erotica Moderna section, there are several etchings by  Martin Van Maele in "The Great Danse Macabre of the Quick (Prick) [c.1907]" series. (More art on the SxArt blog.) Some of these etchings depict post Victorian schoolgirls sexually interacting with their schoolboy counterparts (the image on the Wikipedia site would be of kids between 12 to 14 perhaps; some of the other plates in the series have younger kids showing each other their genitals). Do these images constitute child pornography and does this recent ruling mean that I can be arrested for possessing them in an anthology in my professional library? These are more on parr with the accurate depiction of the human figure than whatever naive artwork The Simpsons parody may offer. Oh, and by the way, from memory I bought this Taschen book from the NSW Art Gallery.

To read more about Child Pornography Laws, including definitions, go to the Parliament of NSW website.

We do not advocate child pornography in the slightest and absolutely understand the need for vigilance – the issue here is whether or not fictional matter in the form of cartoon characters can be defined as child pornography. As portfolio holders of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Comics/Graphic Novels Portfolio, we have brought this issue to the attention of the Executive Director and the Free Speech Portfolio Holder, so we will keep a close eye on this matter. We're also going to try and find the court transcripts and look at the "offending" images in question, as this blog report is entirely second hand and has been sourced from newspaper and online articles.

You can read more about this at PW The Beat.

In the meantime, we wonder what Matt Groening has to say on all this matter ...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

More Robin Jacques Surprises


Couldn't resist – I'm on a roll and want to spoil you with more Robin Jacques artwork – this time from the Ruth Manning Sanders' title A Book of Witches, which was originally published in 1965 (I have the 1979 edition). Here's the cover art and a plate from the Norwegian folk tale "Tatterhood".


























Even More Robin Jacques


Readers previously unfamiliar with Robin Jacques, the illustrator of the wonderful Ruth Manning Sanders' collections of fairy tales from around the world, have been captivated by the etchings we've posted from the Book of Mermaids and in a Robin Jacques-specific post. Here's an additional treat from a Book of Dragons – the cover and the title page. Please forgive the untidiness of the scans but this edition was published in 1965 and despite being currently kept in pristine archiving conditions at home, I did obtain the book second hand at the time in which I bought it from an antiquarian book dealer in the early 90s. Enjoy!







Contract Watch 1 – DC and Dave Sim

This is a great opportunity to read over a 2005 DC contract offered to Dave Sim of Cerebus fame for a contribution to an anthology. We strongly advocate that education on creator rights is fundamental if you want to be a working professional. The base of the matter – at least for us – is that if you are going to sign a contract such as this or any other, it is imperative that you understand the fine print and what the implications are in the near and distant future. Operate from the point of view of the informed, not the naive or lazy. Ultimately, it is about taking responsibility. And by the way, we think Dave Sim's requests and notes are quite reasonable. And while you are checking out this most excellent website, make an electronic pit stop at the original Creator's Bill of Rights page. We read about this in a comics press in the early 90s, well before the Internet became as big as it is now. We cut the article out and put it in our files. That article was shown to all the workshop participants we had in the interim – the ideas behind it are as relevant now as they were when the original team of comic book stalwarts put it together in 1988. Thanks to Colleen Doran for drawing our attention to the contract.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fabergé Fantastique

This is not a blog post about comics or mermaids or any of our usual themes; instead I want to share with you an experience I had that epitomised the ideal of exceptional customer service. 

Last week I took the day off work to escort my distant Austrian relative Sigrid around Sydney. We had started our day at Paddy's Market and a yum cha in Chinatown (love those steamed prawn dumplings!), walked up George Street to the mid-city centre then up through the Botanic Gardens to the Opera House and then walked back up to Martin Place through the chic and exclusive part of town where the Chanels, Tiffanys, and Bulgaris cluster. As we were passing the Fabergé shop, something caught my eye in the entrance – a gorgeous tutu. Being a long term classical ballet lover, being of Russian descent, and having a historical and artistic appreciation for Fabergé jewelled eggs, I decided to stop and have a look inside. Sigrid was quite bedazzled too and quite happy to follow. 

Now, at this stage, I must set the scene by mentioning that we were dressed like typical tourists in pants, comfortable shoes and big bags slung around our shoulders. We had walked about 10km by this time so we were a little rumpled and hot, and our fingers were slightly sticky from a gelato we had eaten on the Quay and from having shaken the hands and kissed the cheek of a flirty, blue-eyed bloke from Manchester. 

Inside the shop we examined the tutu and were soon approached by a smiling young man dressed impeccably in a stylish suit. He greeted us warmly and then started talking to us about the tutu, the new range of dainty eggs he had just received, which he prised open to show us their secret contents. All the while, he talked to us about the things we admired in the shop – whether they had a price tag attached to them or not. He told us about the opening to the shop in 2007 and gave us a promotional DVD (I have sourced an edited clip of this from the Internet to show you below). I am an observer of human behaviour and during the entire exchange, I saw no evidence of him judging us by our attire or our scruffiness. Instead, he treated us with great friendliness and with dignity and respect. He did not presuppose that our clothes reflected the size of our wallets and he was a sheer joy to engage with. 

Why does this kind of service stand out? Well, after I graduated high school and before going to university I worked as a company cadet for the Grace Brothers (which later was rebranded Myers) chain of department stores, in a fast-tracked management program. I was good at the job but emotionally and temperamentally unsuited for it because all I wanted to do was write, but I gained a lot of knowledge from the training, especially about customer service. One of the first lessons we were taught was never to judge people by their clothes, because clothes don't necessarily reflect affluence (remember the clothes shopping scene from Pretty Woman where Vivian is told to leave the store). A fellow I once knew went into a hi-fi shop with his wife and baby boy. They too were dressed casually. He had done his homework and had worked out exactly what sound and speaker system he wanted for his new home. The shop assistant sized him up and treated him with arrogance on the edge of contempt, and kept steering him towards lesser quality products. After a while, my friend left the shop confused and disgruntled. His wife then proceeded towards the manager and told him that because of her husband's treatment from the sales person, he had just lost a $20,000 sale – you see her husband was in fact a plastic surgeon.

Which brings me to the point I was wanting to make – when we finally said goodbye to the Fabergé salesperson and had inspected everything we wanted to see, we were approached by the manager of the store who in turn asked us politely and with great warmth whether he could help us in any way. I was also impressed by his sincerity and friendliness and the fact that both of them were attentive but not in our faces with the hard sell. I then spoke to him glowingly about the other young man and told him I was very impressed with the graciousness that his people had to offer.

Now, I may be not ready to buy a Fabergé piece, but I have a LONNNNNNNGGGG memory and you can bet your bottom dollar that I will give the sale to this Sydney store. I do so hope that both those gentlemen will be there to take my money because I will part with it gladly in recognition of their most excellent manners. They were a real credit to the Fabergé company.

If you want to check it out for yourselves go to: 19 Castlereigh st, Sydney NSW 2000 Australia. Phone: (02) 9232 8510.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Economics of Web Comics

Here at Black Mermaid Productions™ we've been debating another topic amongst ourselves – whether to release Elf~Fin digitally (which would get it to our readers quickly) or to bring it out in print (via a comics publisher or by doing it ourselves). There are merits for each and there is nothing to say we can't do both as well. The submission process is slow because we have to customise each proposal according to the criteria of each publisher – some want a lot, some are minimalist and some require additional work such as coming up with covers. We're going to be polling our readers in early 2009 on some very important questions but in the meantime, we have stumbled upon a very useful book, which we are going to buy for ourselves and which we recommend to comics creators wanting to post their comics properties online. It's called The Economics of Web Comics by Todd W Allen. The title is described on Amazon as:
The definitive book on web comics as a business and monetizing online content returns addressing hot topics like digital downloads and web-to-print crossover titles... The entire study is full of actual revenue numbers, offering a very detailed glimpse into the financial realities behind the comics industry.
This may also be the answer for people crossing over from traditional illustration who want to experiment with the comics medium and innovative storytelling and art, as well as build their audience. The possibilities are endless with web comics, and for the most part, web comics are infinitely cheaper to produce than their print version counterparts. 

And for the IP online security conscious amongst you, don't forget our blog post on eBookpro.




MUST READ – Comics Independents vs Comics Corporate Giants

We consider this compulsory reading for comics creators. A debate has been raging in US comics circles about whether to go independent with your comic book/graphic novel title or whether to publish through large corporates such as DC and Marvel. The two people spearheading the discussion are Robert Kirkman (The Astounding Wolfman, The Walking Dead) who publishes through Image, and Brian Bendis (Jinx, Goldfish) who publishes through Marvel's Icon imprint. We're not going to weight in on the debate but this kind of information laid out on the table does help us (and other comics creators) make pivotal publishing and marketing decisions.  Check out: "Kirkman and Bendis battle for the very soul of comics" at PW The Beat and "The Kirkman/Bendis Debates: Let's Do the Maths" at Publishers Weekly which looks at facts AND figures by outlining production deals; presenting tables of print costs on black and white product as well as colour product; and by working out volume sales ranges for break even points, those earning "beer money", those starting to get paid, and the real money spinners.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Secret Society Scam

Seems like the scammers have come up with their version of a secret society that could inhabit Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. Just so you know what I'm talking about, a relative of mine just received a personalised letter from a PO Box in Las Vegas, Nevada with the following introduction:
Ms [NAME], please forgive us, but we have just taken a closer look at your profile. It turns out you're more special than any of us imagined! Ms [NAME], did you know that you possess some very rare, hidden traits? In fact, there is a famous person (someone you would instantly recognize, he's on TV every night) who possesses these same special, incredibly rare traits... It turns out that people who posses [sic] these same rare and often hidden traits that you do are some of the most famous and successful people on this planet! [NAME], you are indeed blessed! I know those around you don't know this yet,  but they will! Down deep, you sense it, too. Right? I'm so excited for you!"
The letter then goes on to tell its recipient that it is not a solicitation for money and that she must keep everything confidential. Furthermore:
There has existed for many years an exclusive association, a secret society, of the world's most famous and powerful people. These include renowned actors and musicians, leading scientists and intellectuals, self-made entrepreneurs and artists, even some of the rare genuine astrologers and psychics ...
Apparently, this association has uncovered some shockingly powerful secrets and not only have they taken the time to analyse my relative's profile from amongst billions of people in the world to offer her entry into this "exclusive" group, but they are also offering her a Free Report that will "share secrets that lead to prosperity, love happiness, total piece [sic] of mind". The writer – Tiffany – swears on the Bible that all she is saying is true.

I'm not an expert at scams but this one appears to have all the trademarks of a beauty. Firstly, I have no idea how these people obtain their mailing list but I have no doubt it would be a bulk mailout. Secondly, the language is that of cajoling and flattery that appeals to our ego – are we indeed special? we ask ourselves (and unfortunately for many of us logic will go out of the window at this point of time because we want to be a chosen one). Thirdly, there is a promise of exclusivity for us to gain entry into this special club. Fourthly, the stories Tiffany tells us appeals to the child in us that is fascinated with knights and journeys to capture the secret sword to awaken the sleeping parts of ourselves. Fifthly, it appeals to our greed with all the riches on offer. Sixthly, there is also a cut off date which fuels a sense of urgency and our fear that we will miss out – a powerful marketing tool that forces people to make a decision to accept the invitation. My relative must respond by this Friday but there is no actual date on the letter. Call me sceptical but I'm pretty sure if my relative responded they wouldn't care if it were Friday of this week or next month or a Friday next year. And lastly, we ask ourselves – a Free Report – what harm can that do? The problem is that if you respond then your private information will be captured forever rather like the secret soul names of Gods in ancient mythology. These unscrupulous scammers are not the kind to have opt-out and unsubscribe options for people on their mailing list or database. They will either hit you for the definitive book on their secrets or lifetime membership for a couple of hundred bucks, or they will keep hounding you with increasingly higher offers – you may be asked to pay $20 for the first one then $100 for the second, $250 for the third and so on. I mean, how can you resist the promise of the material when they even bring God into the equation – and that's just in the invitation letter! 

And finally, If my relative doesn't answer the invitation she will never hear from these people again!  Well er ... good! 

And by the way, with all the spelling mistakes in the letter I wonder why no intellectual from this secret society has been asked to proof it!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Orphan Works Bill Update


We've been keeping tabs on the whole issue of the US Orphan Works Bill through the comics creator who has her finger permanently of the pulse – Ms Colleen Doran

Colleen reports in her Distant Soil blog that there is good news on the horizon – Congress is about to abolish the Intellectual Property (IP) Subcommittee on Judiciary Panel – but not to get too excited about it, as the Orphan Works Bill could become the scylla and charybdis of American politics. 
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Conyers will abolish the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property in the new Congress and instead keep intellectual property issues at the full committee level ... Hot topics like overhauling the U.S. patent system; ending a long-standing music royalty exemption for AM and FM radio and changing a portion of copyright law that deals with musical tracks, writings, images, videos or other content whose owners cannot be easily identified drew ample attention from the high-tech and entertainment industries.
The reason we've taken an interest in this is because of the potential spill-over to Australian artists if this Bill is passed. Here is a typical case study of the implications, affecting no other than Black Mermaid Productions™ artist himself, Jozef Szekeres.

A few months ago Jozef was commissioned to provide some artwork for Sleazeball 2008. The organisers wanted to release a 16-piece limited edition trading card set under the 'Villain's Lair" theme, which focused on the iconic artwork of Glen Hanson. Mr Hansen, who was the advertised and promoted celebrity artist for the event, was to provide five characters for the cards. Jozef was asked to provide 11 further characters and to render them according to Glen Hanson's distinct style. Jozef made it clear from the first meeting that the card set would need to be credited properly with the appropriate signatures and copyright information, so as not to cause confusion in the marketplace about who had painted what character. This was duly reflected in the contract.

After the card set was released, Jozef noticed that the identifying information was not on it for either artist. When he queried the organisers they claimed that the artwork had not been checked internally and the artists' credits had been forgotten. However, all the appropriate attributions had been made on the rogue's gallery poster of the entire cast of characters which had been released at the same time and therefore, at least from their point of view, it was not a problem. Jozef was given two tickets to an event as compensation. 

These trading cards are now in general circulation and Jozef's fears have become real. Firstly, when he has talked to people who had a card set and identified himself as the artist for his specific pieces, most of them asked him if he was Glenn Hanson. Secondly (and here we must project into the future a bit), long after the Sleaze Ball 2008 information is taken off the Mardi Gras website and long after the organisers have moved on, in all likelihood people will assume that Jozef's art is in fact Glenn Hanson's and will either attribute it incorrectly or will have nowhere to start tracking the identity of the real artist for those specific eleven character pieces. If these cards were to surface in the US some time down the track and somebody wanted to use the artwork under the Orphan Work Bill, then they could do some preliminary searches and then if unsuccessful in the first instance, use the artwork without permission. Furthermore, if it is published in any form where it is presumed to be Glenn Hanson's work (and Glen Hanson is not there to tell them otherwise) then the artwork could be credited to the wrong artist for years and years to come.

This is all speculative we know, but these are also very plausible scenarios. The cards are in print forever (or at least until the last set remains on earth) but the artist and the people or archives who/which would tell us otherwise, could be long gone. We don't think it is unreasonable for an artist – any artist (and we use this term to include musicians, writers, sculptors and so on) – to protect their artistic legacy.

It is our understanding that under the Orphan Work Bills if someone searches for the copyright holder (usually the artist) and cannot find them and they can prove that they actually did a basic search, then the artwork is up for grabs for them to use as they like when they like. In the case of these trading cards, because the art does not carry any identifying marks or signatures to point people in the direction of the artist (Jozef), this is quite a likely outcome.

So if you are an artist then use those signatures, watermarks, copyright and trademark information liberally so there are electronic and print published pointers and pathways to you now and in the future. And furthermore ... you may also want to embed a clause in any upcoming contracts that basically gets the commissioner to have an added interest in being responsible about complying about attribution so there are no accidental slip ups – if the artwork is released without proper credit then the commissioner will need to compensate you financially for their lack of attention to detail.

And if you are a commissioner and not an artist then try to look at it from an artists' point of view – they have a moral entitlement to be credited and paid for their art. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Resale Royalties for Visual Artists

We just asked Jeremy Fisher, Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors, whether this applies to comic book artists and he replied, "Not yet.  But if the original artwork was sold separately, as book illustrators do through galleries, yes it would". We'll keep you posted on this but in the meantime we recommend you support this initiative by signing the petition, or writing to the relevant ministers and government departments.