Ultraist Studios Blog Journal thoughts, musings and other rambling…

June 22, 2007

Ripped From The Comics Journal

Filed under: Ramblings — M Kitchen @ 2:48 pm

Ultraist friend Stanley Lieber pointed out this article a few posts back. While reading it, I jotted down my thoughts and posted it on The Comics Journal message boards. It appears below in it’s entirety for your reading pleasure.

The statement “the direct market network of mostly superhero-oriented comic book stores is headed for extinction” is a gross exaggeration in my opinion. I understand the sentiment, however looking at hard numbers, superheroes (as far as I can tell) still are the lifeblood of the north American comic book industry. “Extinction” is a big word. Superman is an icon. Spider-man is an icon. Batman is an icon. They aren’t going away. Not in our lifetime. My hunch is that the comic book stores that peddle these icon’s comic book adventures are going to stick around for a good while longer. Which is a good thing for the medium. Yes, there has been a swell of reprints and imports of newspaper strips and manga, as well as “art” comics that have been penetrating the mainstream. THAT more than anything at the moment seems to be where the balance of power is shifting, which is ALSO a very good thing for the medium.

The point about “excludes new readers and embraces only an existing “fan base,”” is a good one. The comics that are generally available to children these days don’t seem good enough to catch their attention. The comics I see aren’t accessible. The ones you can find on racks in convenience stores and magazine racks and in toy stores just aren’t good enough. They don’t capture the imagination. They don’t tell a complete story. They aren’t worth a child’s 3 dollars. That money would be better spent on a pack of cards, or a little plastic vending machine figure, or candy. They’ve already seen the movie and played the video game, and most of the comics on the shelves just don’t compete. They don’t add anything of value. They don’t mesmerize their audience. If the big two companies (not to mention the little ones) hope to attract new fans, this is one of the big areas they need to focus their attention on. Not company wide cross-over events (which are great at milking the current middle age fan base wallets) but rather getting appealing books into the hands of the kids who would love them. Amazing Spider-man #232 is the comic that hooked me. It came in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS pack if I remember correctly. I don’t see comics on the shelves these days that have that same effect on kids. The ones that should unfortunately don’t. For the most part. As far as I can tell.

In regards to the question of, “will the truly full-service comic book stores that point the way to the future serve as an example to the majority of stores currently dependent on Diamond’s weekly shipments of superhero titles? Or will the backward, pro-superhero (but ultimately anti-comics) policies of such stores destroy the direct market before a transition can be made to a viable graphic novel-dominant marketplace that serves all comics readers?“…

This is the way I see the market evolving from my niche perspective: The elite of the current comic book stores will remain the pillars of the comic book community for the foreseeable future. Each with their own unique specialty interest and focus. I picture these stores as hobby shops, like stores that sell model trains etc. The comic book stores who are not part of the elite are the ones I see as facing potential extinction, as their size and lack of focus and failure to adapt will be the primary reasons for their potential demise. Online comics and digital media I see as being the new fanzine. The place where the fans and new artists can hone their skills and shape the future of the industry. Big bookstores I see as being the new newsstand. Only instead of pamphlets, they are selling books (graphic novels and reprint collections). The closest thing I see as being the new 1970s direct market are the new stores popping up like Stuart Ng and The Labyrinth (book dealers that sell sketchbooks, and rare art books). The modern equivalent to Elfquest, Cerebus and Love and Rockets are most likely going to appear in these shops.

I see Diamond as being fought on two fronts in the next distribution war. The bookstores on the mainstream front, and these new indy bookstores on the indy front. Who’s side are you on? Will Diamond tear itself apart trying to compete in both markets? Will it implode as it gets squeezed from both sides? Or will it hold it’s strategic position as a service stuck somewhere in between those two extremes?

Meanwhile corporate superhero comics have marginalized themselves through editor-driven, continuity-dependent, poorly-crafted “events”” While this is true to a certain extent, the fact that they still dominate the direct comic book market is still saying something… saying a lot actually.

The prime reason people were buying comics before the ‘90s collapse had more to do with issues of collectability and “investment.”” True. It’s what they call a correction in the stock and housing market.

a comic book is worth nothing if it doesn’t contain a story that is well-written and well-drawn, and more importantly draws the reader into its world. And a comic that is worth nothing ultimately will drive its buyers away, however gratifying its short-term thrill of mere possession might be. ” Very true.

I think it’s clear that the only comic shops that are sustainable and viable in the long term are those that cater to readers of all ages, genders and interests.” I disagree. I think the only comic shops that are sustainable and viable in the long term are those with a unique specialty interest and focus. If that unique specialty interest and focus happens to be an “all-ages bookstore” then the above would hold true. If that unique specialty interest and focus is “male power fantasy superstore” then trying to attract females would be counter productive. Like a goth store trying to attract Christian seniors… counter productive. Each of the comic book stores that I consider to be the BEST, each has it’s own unique flavour. Something that sets it apart from all the others, even the BEST ones. That more than anything makes the store viable.

Interesting points regarding the Top 300 (which I always heard rumblings about, and had a hunch the rumblings were true). “It pays little to no attention to the wider market for comics in mainstream bookstores and other outlets” makes me think that there is an opening available to someone who wants to get their foot in to some REAL comics journalism to tackle this exact topic. I would pay for an analysis that DOES pay attention to the wider market for comics in mainstream bookstores and other outlets. I’m guessing others would too. Does this exist somewhere?

And if the lifelong comic book reader in me has learned to tolerate such deficiencies, getting married and raising two children has educated me mightily in what is or isn’t a welcoming retail environment. In my 20s, I may have been amused by my wife’s distaste for entering the average comic book store. Here in my early 40s, I not only understand it, I share it.” Ditto that here, in my early 30s, married with children. Interesting that you mention Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man, Teen Titans Go, Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts because those are the exact comics I gravitated to with my own children. Why aren’t these books made more accessible? There is a market for this. Anyone who wants to nurture the next generation of comic readers should be pushing this sort of material. Especially to the young audience. And the push needs to be made in an appropriate venue. I don’t take my children into comic book stores, due to the amount of inappropriate material. So these books should be made available in places like supermarkets, toy stores, book stores, schools, libraries, and other appropriate venues.

I also take issue with “the readership’s clear preference for comics with a spine and a complete story” as I clearly enjoy single issues over collected trades.

Before this Ideal comic shop could really thrive in the United States,
Diamond would have to evolve in it’s attitudes about what they are willing
to make available, and how they report the numbers.

Either that, or the rest of the market would need to find a way to circumvent it.

June 21, 2007

Thought Of The Day…

Filed under: Ramblings,Video — M Kitchen @ 8:41 am

Turns out Job #1 is in crunch time, Job #2 got a new batch of shots for me, Job #3 needs some additional work done to complete their project, and in the meantime all I want to do is work on SPY GUY #1 (Job #4).

June 19, 2007

Letter To Ewart Cameron

Filed under: Mail — M Kitchen @ 9:17 am

Hi Ewart.

Thanks for writing. I had always wondered if those convention flyers had made any sort of impact. The fact that you are here writing almost a year later (without having yet read any of the actual comics) makes me think that the flyers have accomplished exactly what I had intended them to, namely to get people who haven’t yet read the comic to remember SPY GUY. So that is a useful reassuring thing to learn. I plan on making a new convention flyer this summer, possibly even a mini-sampler book, so your letter came at a very opportune time.

Bits of the SPY GUY comics have been posted online, however website maintenance is always one of the first things to get bumped off my priority list of “things to do” so there is no easy web access to them (which sort of defeats the purpose).

Here are links to take you to some online comic stuff for your reading pleasure.

SPY GUY: Bootleg

SPY GUY: Minis pg14 pg19 pg23


SPY GUY: Webcomic

As for your questions on publishing: For SPY GUY: Minis and SPUD & HARRY #1 I used Lebonfon for the printing, with print runs of 5000 and 8000 respectively. Patrick Jodoin is the Sales manager at Lebonfon, and is most likely the person to talk with. You can contact him at 1-866-970-4100 ext. 25 to give them your specs, and receive a quote as to the cost of printing your book.

I’m a big fan of traditional print, especially if you don’t mind boxes of comics kicking around your place of residence. It costs a lot more up front, but you can also make more from each sale. Black and white is obviously much cheaper to print than colour. My intent at the moment is getting my stuff out there, so I figure the more comics I have printed and out there in circulation, the more exposure I get, and the better chances I have of turning this into a full time job at some point in the future.

As for offsetting costs. I don’t. I just suck it up. Charge it to my credit card. Pay that off with my line of credit. Then take some extra animation work to try and break even. If you think you can manage that sort of cash flow, go for it. Other comic artists have come up with all sorts of great schemes to help offset their printing costs (which I fortunately haven’t needed to use). If you haven’t yet, you should read the Cerebus Guide To Self-Publishing, which has all sorts of good information in it. Some of it may be out of date, but most of it is still relevant. I posted a Dick Dale interview from YouTube a while back, where I think he nailed the philosophy we should have when starting out as indy artists.

The other option to traditional print is print on demand, which I plan to use for the SPY GUY: Webcomic when I finally get around to finishing it. There are a number of printers that offer this service, and while I haven’t decided which one to use yet, these are the ones that I am keeping in mind: Lulu, ComicXPress, and Ka-Blam. The good thing about print on demand (especially in your case if you decide to go colour) is that there isn’t a lot of upfront cost or added risk.

Hope some of that information helps.

As for setting up a cross-link… I was hesitant at first with the idea, because I really don’t want to turn my link list into a pay-for-play plugola type thing. I’d rather keep it a list of things I am genuinely interested in, and not just make it a list to barter my own comics plug elsewhere. But luckily none of that is an issue, because after clicking over to your site, I thought your comics were genuinely funny, so I’d be happy to give your site a link and endorsement.

Good luck with your comics.
Hope to see you this summer.

Mike Kitchen

June 18, 2007

Paradise ComiCon Pics

Filed under: Announcements,Conventions,Photos,Sketches — M Kitchen @ 8:59 pm

Here are a few pics of some happy customers from the con (complete with caricatures).

* Click the pic to see the sketch

Letter From Ewart Cameron

Filed under: Mail — M Kitchen @ 8:35 am

Taking a cue from the Blog and Mail, I’ve decided to occasionally post letters as blog journal fodder. Partially this is due to SPY GUY #1 (of the unlimited series) not having a letters column slated, and partially because the online letters forum hasn’t yet been constructed, and partially because of the lack of free time to do anything else. I figure if I’m going to be typing anyway, might as well get some mileage out of it. So below, a letter from Ewart Cameron.


I’d love to say I’m a big fan, but truth is, I’ve only seen you briefly at last year’s Fan Expo. I certainly admire your work and art… very reminicent of Bone, but has it’s own charm to it. The action you get across with the “cartoony” style is awesome!

Anyway, I hope you’re at this year’s Expo… I plan to pick up a few comics if you are… maybe order a few before then. I’ve been checking out your site and was a little disapointed that you didn’t have any onine previews… even a mini-story. But that’s cool… I still have the little pamphlets from last year.

So, I do have a question, if you don’t mind me asking. I have an on-line comic, myself and have been working on a story for a print-based comic. But the actual printing and publishing is where I hit a wall. What do you do for printing? Do you go to a professional printer? How expensive does that run? How do you off-set costs before you start selling? So maybe that was more than one question… sorry.

Also, I was wondering if you’d like to set up a cross-link. My link on your blog and vice-versa on my site. I don’t know if you have a Comicspace account, but shoot me a note if you do and I’ll freindicate you.

Thanks for the time… hope to see you (and Spy Guy) this August.

Ewart Cameron

Response Tomorrow (?)

Also: I’ve got the next webcomic waiting to be scanned, so that’s coming up soon, as well as some convention pics which still need to be photoshop-resized. You’d think that for someone who sits vegetative in front of a computer all day, finding time to scan and photoshop wouldn’t be a problem. If only the day job systems guys would hook me up… The reference I’ve ordered online is starting to trickle in. May make some posts on that as well, despite the possible spoilers. Transformers the movie is coming out soon, which also requires a good rant. All this and more, only at the Ultraist Studios Blog Journal!

June 11, 2007

Still Hard at Work

Filed under: Announcements,Conventions,Photos,Sketches — M Kitchen @ 10:10 pm

Yet another convention picture taken by a secret spy cam! This one comes from Danny Truong who was much quicker in posting his convention sketch than I ever will be…

But he’s not the only happy Ultraist / Possum customer smearing his con sketch all over the internet. Chris Miller (who also left a comment a few posts back) has Beta-Ray Bill vs. Spy Guy floating through cyber-space as well.

Click here for Sketch 1.

Click here for Sketch 2.

The Ultraist Writing Process

Filed under: Mail,Ramblings — M Kitchen @ 1:27 pm

Long time Spy Guy fan Thai Nguyen writes:

Hey Mike. Ive re-read Spud and Harry. Its excellent. The drawings are awesome…

Ive been starting to doodle more. I wanted to find out what your process of writing a story is? Do you outline the whole thing in thumbnail? do you know where you’re going with a story or just flow?

My writing process:

It all starts with an idea. It could be anything. In the case of Spud & Harry, it was thinking “what is the best way to introduce these characters?” and since they are career criminals, I figured the most iconic thing to do would be to rob a bank. Next is figuring out what I’m trying to say with the story. A lot of the time, I get this figured out when I’m already half way done the story. But with Spud & Harry it was easy. I’m taking a shot at banks. I’ve got years of pent up angst over the way banks do their business, and I’ve always had a hunch that something was wrong with financial institutions. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. The idea for the story was “two guys rob the same bank, get in each other’s way, and get caught” and I knew the conclusion had to be their first encounter in prison. The origin story.

I carry a mini-sketchbook around with me everywhere I go. Whenever I get an idea, I jot it down. Just like Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm, or Chuck Palahniuk with Fight Club. That’s where all the seeds for the story get planted. I can also mine these mini-sketchbooks later whenever I need an additional idea to add to a story.

Once things get going for the comic stuff, I do two things simultaneously. I fold and staple together some 8.5×11 paper and make a comic where I draw out the story in thumbnails, to see how much story I can cram in there, and to get the pacing right. I also start working on the script, which I print out, re-write in pencil corrections, type it back in, and repeat…

For SPY GUY: First Strike (#1) I am spending even more time trying to figure out the dialog than I have in previous comics, making sure each character has a unique voice, and spending more time editing the beats between the panels.

As for knowing where I’m going. So far, I have always had an ending in mind. Minis and the Webcomic don’t count, because they are a stream of consciousness comic. I had no idea where I was going with those. However even when I know the ending, there have been surprises. Like in Bootleg, Hunter was supposed to screw up Spy Guy’s case. He was supposed to arrive on the scene, and blow Spy Guy’s cover. But it didn’t happen that way. Hunter is too good a cop. Instead, Hunter showed up and saved Spy Guy’s life, and helped battle the ninjas. I wasn’t expecting that.

Also, once I recognize the theme, or what I’m trying to say, I then try to layer on different sorts of meaning and symbolism. In Bootleg, it was the intro to Spy Guy. Things not being what they seem. For Spud & Harry, it was the idea of rebelling against the system, like striking a hornets nest with a stick. For SPY GUY: First Strike, the themes are conflicting ideologies, and beginnings. That’s what I am trying to deconstruct and recreate with the story.

June 10, 2007

Hard at Work

Filed under: Conventions,Photos — M Kitchen @ 12:35 am

Picture taken by a fan’s secret spy cam!

June 8, 2007

Ripped From the Blog and Mail

Filed under: Ramblings — M Kitchen @ 1:32 pm

Continuing with the free exchange of ideas about comics and the digital future which had started here and here, Dave Sim had this to say in today’s Blog and Mail:

I’m optimistic about the medium’s chances in the long term. For one thing, I don’t think it can be successfully devoured by the Internet, unlike anything that can be digitized like movies or music or pure text. When Matt Dow mentioned getting a headache when he tried to read a McFarlane issue of Spider-man on his computer screen (having gotten a CD-Rom of the complete Spider-man), I think it points out the extent to which we barely grasp how intricate and idiosyncratic the process of reading a comic book is. I’m convinced that everyone reads comic books differently. Some people look at the overall page first and then focus on the first panel. Some people focus on the first panel’s image and digest that and then read the word balloon or caption. Some people read the word balloons or captions first and then look at the image. Some people read all of the word balloons or captions and then look at the pictures or are barely aware of the pictures while they’re reading. Some people look at the overall page, then the overall panel, then various details in the panel. To put it simply, the computer can’t come close to aligning itself with any of these ways of reading sufficiently to duplicate our impression that reading a comic book is a passive experience like watching television or reading a book. To even come close to imitating how the human eye and mind engage in reading comics you would need a very complicated joystick and a lot of practice with it before you could make the comics-on-computers reading experience comparable to the real world comics reading experience. And it would still be limited. When you ZOOM IN on a panel in the real world, you can still see the rest of the page in the periphery of your vision. When you ZOOM IN on the computer, everything else disappears except what you’ve zoomed in on. When you PULL BACK you have to completely reorient yourself. It’s like reading with blinders on.

I think in the next hundred years or so, we’ll find that computer immunity of the sort that comic books have is an irreplaceable quality as a medium. We will, as a result, become more prominent but not because of any personal preference on the part of the general population, rather just because we will be in the select number of survivors that the computer couldn’t eat.

I tend to agree.

Paradise Toronto ComiCon 2007

Filed under: Announcements,Conventions — M Kitchen @ 9:15 am

The 5TH ANNUAL PARADISE TORONTO COMICON is today! Once again, Ultraist Studios has teamed up with the fine folks at Possum Press.
The show is happening at the Direct Energy Centre @ Exhibition Place, Hall C.

This is roughly my schedule:

FRIDAY – 06:00-8:00
SATURDAY – 10:00-04:30
SUNDAY – 11:00-05:00

Drop by our booth in artist alley and say hello.
Mention “Mr. Nishitani” and I’ll give you a free Apocalypse 5 / Knight Hawk.

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