Tagged: Paper Girls

Ed Catto: Baby Got Back

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but in comics we do. That’s what sells it. Oftentimes, comics retailers need to make pre-ordering decisions based largely on just a comic’s cover.

Comics, like people, should be enjoyed for what’s on the inside. Corny but true. But like the B-side of a vinyl record, sometimes there’s glory on the flipside, like with comic book back covers.

Emil Novak, Sr. runs a great store in Buffalo called Queen City Bookstore. It’s overflowing with comics and lost treasures, most reflecting Emil’s ravenous appetite for great comics. During my last visit there, I stumbled across The Spirit: The First 93 Dailies reprint comic from 1977. The front cover sported a heroic Eisner Spirit image, but the back cover, showing an exhausted Spirit collapsed in the snow was the cool part. And the courageous use of negative space really stood out. I really liked that back cover, and that sparked today’s topic.

We need not only reach back into the past for examples. There are so many clever back covers on comics today. Two, in particular, come to mind:

  • Cliff Chiang’s creating some gorgeous wrap-around covers for his Image Paper Girls series, written by Brian Wood. Essentially the back cover is part of the front cover, but with Cliff’s strong sense of design and deliberate use of color, the back covers have a life of their own,
  • Greg Rucka and Michael Lark swing the pendulum far in the opposite direction for their brilliant Lazarus This is a series set in the near future that provides a stark look at the impact of wealth concentrated amongst the few. The creators provide faux back cover advertisements each issue. The back cover adds to the story as if one of the storyline’s companies or ‘governments’ has created an ad. World-building via the back cover, if you will.

Back Cover Advertising

Advertisements can also create memorable back covers. I have fond memories of Silver Age back covers selling Aurora superhero model kits. The best ones leverage Curt Swan or Murphy Anderson art for on-the-nose authenticity.

And while Land of the Giants, Rat Patrol or The Invaders weren’t TV shows I was watching back then, I sure was fascinated by their back-cover model kit ads. The Aurora monster model kits back cover ads probably deserve an entire column devoted to the creepy thrill and chills they inspired a generation of readers.

Toys ads could be hit or miss. I never warmed up to – or even understood – Skittle Bowl, despite ads illustrated by Murphy Anderson or featuring Don (Get Smart) Adams, I really loved the back-cover ads for Mattel’s Hot Birds and rrRUmblers. They must have worked. All the kids on my block collected these toys for about half a minute.

Professional Backstory

Over the years, my fascination with back covers has spilled over to my professional career. I’ve helped develop a few back covers of which I’m proud. A few examples:

  • Pagemaster was the movie that had everything going for it – a great message, hot movie stars, and a top pop music performer. It was a “can’t miss.” I was excited to lead Nabisco’s promotional program with the picture. But then, the hot movie star got weird (Macaulay Culkin) and the pop music performer (Michael Jackson) got weirder. The picture fizzled, but not before we created a great comic ad for the program. We used one of the young actors from the TV ad and we ran on the back covers of Marvel Comics for a couple of months in 1994.
  • At Bonfire Agency, our geek-focused marketing firm, and GeekRiot Media, we ran quite a few ads on the back covers of comics from lots of different publishers: IDW, Boom! Studios, Archie, Dynamite, Aspen and more. It was invigorating, and personally fulfilling, to get big brands partnering with publishers beyond the “big two”.

Coming Next Issue

I think there’s something special about advertising the “next issue” on the back cover. I could go on and on about how we live in an anticipatory culture, always looking ahead to what’s next. Have we lost the ability to live in the moment? I don’t know. That’s a whole ‘nuther topic.

No matter: I still like using the back covers for next issues, or other comics by the same publisher. Recently, publishers like Titan and Black Mask started embracing this tactic.

Some of the best “coming next issue” back issues were on the flip side of Pacific Comic’s Somerset Holmes. It was a gorgeous comic with a gorgeous female lead, based on a gorgeous real-life female creator. (There’s an epic tale behind it all that I’d like to get into one day.) Somerset Holmes’ back covers were creative and memorable – some of my favorites.

Advertising experts used to say that the back cover of any magazine is valuable real estate, as there’s a 50% change that a magazine will be put on a table with the back side up, I’m not sure if anyone ever truly believed that, but there’s no denying the charm of the oft-neglected comic book back cover.

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Oh, and in the spirit of “coming next time”: my next column builds off my recent Back Issue article on the 80s comic Thriller! I’ve finally caught up with author Robert Loren Fleming and we’ve got some long-lost secrets to reveal!


Ed Catto: Will Eisner Week Ramp-Up

Will Eisner Week is almost upon us. It’s become a fantastic time for libraries, schools, colleges and bookstores to promote graphic novels. And this year will be all the more memorable as we’ll also be celebrating the centennial of Will Eisner’s birth.

(It’s the centennial of Jack Kirby’s birth as well, but we’ll save that for another column.)

As you probably know, Will Eisner was one of comics’ visionaries. While he may not have actually created the first graphic novel (I tend to side with Jim Steranko on that landmark), he is clearly one of the most important people in promoting graphic novels and comics to the general public.

He was an innovative artist and an impressive entrepreneur. Looking through the lens of today, I think his most enduring legacy is as a champion of creativity.

With that in mind, I want to talk about three comic series that are fun, creative and imbedded with bit of Will Eisner’s enduring spirit (no pun intended) whispering to every reader.

And because we all live in the real world, let’s take note that there’s even a little more that’s impressive. While creatively inspired, each of these series is well packaged but still, comparatively, affordable.

There’s been a lot of frustration lately with the prices of the big two publisher’s comics. On one hand, Marvel is still charging $3.99 for comics but discontinuing the inclusion of digital versions. They will instead be offering snippets of longer stories that they hope fans will be interested in buying. Thus far, reaction to being served what essentially are ‘promo ads’ instead of content has not been positive.

On the other hand, DC Comics, despite a recent public declaration to hold their line at $2.99, is more frequently charging $3.99 a comic. And the comics that are still $2.99 are published twice month, so that’s really setting back fans $5.98 to keep up.

One can argue that these monthly prices are less important as fans migrate to enjoying trade paperback collections and digital versions. But it is all the more impressive when “smaller” publishers can offer great comics on better paper and charge only $2.99. And that’s exactly the case with these three series:

Television’s Riverdale has been generating a lot of buzz on the CW. The various Archie titles are lot of fun too. I just gave the new Jughead title a try for the first time and I’m glad I did.
This gorgeous pink cover caught my eye, but the story inside was fun and fresh and made me hungry for more. This comic, like many of the new Archie titles, offers fans a main story and a reprint back-up story, complete with an introduction to the classic tale from the series’ writer.

Also of note, and this is where we get to the Eisner part, writer Ryan North employs a clever new technique. Jughead, as narrator, provides a little extra narration at the bottom of each page. It’s snarky and surprising. This innovation is just like eating potato chips, once you start you just want more.

I’ve talked about Brian K. Vaughn’s and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls here before. But I what I really love most about the latest issue is the cover. It is striking, clever and courageous. The image is intriguing and the colors stand out from everything else on the racks. Special bonus points to the creators for having the conviction to wrap the cover design around to the back cover.

It’s this boldness and creativity that, to me, is the embodiment of Will Eisner’s vision.

Moonshine is a fantastic Image series that’s a mash-up of horror stories and Bonnie and Clyde. I wasn’t clamoring for such a mash up, but I’m so glad that Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso created it. These two are masters of their crafts at the peak of their games. And together, they have that Lennon/McCartney vibe that to which, as a reader, you’re just elated to have a ringside seat. I missed the first few issues so I started with issue #4. But you know what? That didn’t diminish my enjoyment one bit. I just snagged issues 2, 3 and 5 at Comics For Collectors in Ithaca last weekend (we were in town for the fabulous Chili Cook-Off) and I’m so glad I did.

My planned March efforts won’t be as creative as these three series, but they will be fun. I’ll be celebrating Will Eisner Week locally and leading a presentation at the local library followed by a screening the next night of the Eisner documentary. If you’re in the Finger Lakes region, stop by!

And during Will Eisner Week – and beyond – treat yourself to some creative and contemporary comics.


Ed Catto: Delivering the Paper


Print sales for the debut issue of Paper Girls were 75,000. That’s impressive. This accomplishment is even more impressive when you realize this story includes no capes, superheroes or zombies and was not published by Marvel or DC. But the more you understand the discerning appetite of Geek Culture; the more it makes sense.

papergirls_2Although it’s one of the hottest comics right now, at first blush it’s an unlikely candidate for such strong sales. As a monthly comic that will soon be collected into a trade paperback, Paper Girls follows the exploits of four middle school girls in suburban Cleveland. Their part-time jobs are part of an old distribution model for an outdated form of mass media – delivery morning newspapers. The story is set in the wee hours after Halloween in 1988. But quickly it careens from the ordinary to a wildly intriguing thrill-ride.

Paper Girls is published by Image Comics, a publisher dedicated to helping creators bring their visions to life. Brian K. Vaughn is the writer and co-creator, and as his ongoing series Saga is such a huge hit, it makes sense that his fans would follow him to this new series.

But this series offers so much more – there’s 80s nostalgia, Matt Wilson’s brilliantly innovative coloring, unconventional protagonists (tough girls who smoke and swear) and this crazy, keep-the-reader-off-balance story. This is one of those stories where you kind of think you know where it’s going, but you quickly realize you have no idea. And then you think, “it’s ok not know what the hell is going on.” And maybe it’s even more fun that way too.

There’s something to that tried-and-true entrepreneurial idea of “offering value” too. The creators clearly are innovative small business people. The first issue had double the standard number of pages, but was still priced at $2.99, less than a standard Marvel or DC Comic.

But even beyond the moody story, the stark, deceivingly straightforward artwork from Cliff Chiang is a huge part of what makes this series enjoyable and masterful. Cliff’s a brilliant guy with an impressive background, but you need only enjoy his comics work – from Beware the Creeper to the more recent Wonder Woman – to know he’s a real pro at the peak of this game.

SO15_chiang_comics_2Even when he’s busy, Cliff is one of those guys who is affably professional – so much so that he almost seems like he’s a throwback to a more civilized age. As you have probably guessed, I recently caught up with Cliff Chiang to get his thoughts on the series.

Ed Catto: Paper Girls employs such a unique, fresh and clear voice, especially in contrast to not only other comics but other movies/books/TV Shows. Was that your intent and what are you, and writer Brian K. Vaughan, trying to accomplish?

Cliff Chiang: We wanted to tell a different kind of story, both personal and unpredictable (hopefully). The book definitely harkens to the ’80s adventure films we all loved as kids, but it’s not purely that. As the series progresses, we’ll show more of an adult perspective, too.

EC: It’s easy to tell that you push yourself with this book’s composition, characters and even jagged lifework. How do you approach new projects and did you approach this one differently?

CC: I try to imagine what the book needs visually and see what I can do to adapt to those needs. With Paper Girls, we’re seeing a lot of everyday life, which needs to be rendered in a style that’s a little looser and more evocative than usual. It needed a lot more personality, whereas in superhero books, you’re often just trying to make things look believable.

PaperGirls05_Cvr-593x800EC: There’s a real 80s nostalgia in this series. What was it like when you were growing up and what was your favorite part about the 80s?

CC: I think everyone’s somewhat nostalgic about his or her childhood, but I really wanted the book to feel authentic rather than a caricature of the ’80s. Being a latchkey kid, I remember having a lot of independence in those hours between the end of school and my mom coming home from work.

EC: What’s next for Paper Girls?

CC: We’ll get a glimpse of the larger conflict surrounding Stony Stream, and the girls wind up in some very strange places.

EC: Thanks, Cliff.

Paper Girls is available at your local comic shop and issue #3 will be on sale this Wednesday. Give it a try and I’d love to hear what you think.

Glenn Hauman: Today’s Gateway Drugs

bizarroOne of the things they’ve been doing during this World Series – and every one, really – is comparing them to series contenders of years past. This year, the references to the ’85 Royals and the ’86 Mets have come fast and furious, and while it’s great to talk about Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, and Dwight Gooden again, it’s not like anybody under the age of 30 saw them play in their prime. More to the point, no one is becoming a baseball fan today from watching those guys from back then.

Sadly, to me, I think it’s the same with superheroes.

Nobody is becoming a fan of superheroes today if their first exposures are comics from 30+ years ago. I’m not talking about the characters and concepts, I’m speaking only of the works themselves. There are a lot of young kids who fell in love with Supergirl this week, but if I handed them stories by Otto Binder and Jim Mooney as the first things they read, I’d turn them off to comics forever. I’d hand them a copy of Squirrel Girl or Ms. Marvel or Paper Girls or A-Force or Batgirl or even Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’s Archie.

This is not a knock on the old comics; they’re great after the initial infection has happened. Nor is this a knock on creators who have careers that span decades. And I’m certainly not denigrating fans who are getting on in years – aren’t we all? But there really has to be a feeling of currency, of contemporary creation, and attitudes have changed over the years. There’s no reason new readers today should be caught up by what got us as 10 year olds, whether that was in 1963, 1985, or 2000 AD.

Luckily, we also have one other gateway for people to get into superhero comics, and it’s our old frenemy television. From the days of The Adventures Of Superman in the 50s, more people got into comics from superhero TV over the years than any other medium. The Green Hornet, Super Friends, Shazam/Isis, Spider-Man (with or without his amazing friends), Plastic Man, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Electra Woman, and the more recent Swamp Thing, Batman and X-Men animated series, Lois & Clark, Smallville, Human Target, and Heroes. Yes, much as comic fans are loath to admit it, even the Batman series in ’66 brought in new readers.

And with the current explosion of TV shows based on comics (what is it now, twelve?) that are targeting whole swaths of audiences across demographic lines (to say nothing of the movies and webcomics) we might finally be able to say that we are getting new comics readers from anywhere and everywhere. Across all ages, races, and genders.

Yes, they aren’t sparking to the same things you latched onto when you started. Maybe an ex-boyfriend gave them Sandman, or they heard something about this Ra’s Al Ghul fellow. That’s cool. You get to show the world of comics to today’s 10,000. And that keeps you young.

But remember: with great power comes great responsibility.

Martha Thomases: New and Bright and Shiny

PaperGirlsMy knee is feeling much better. Thanks for asking.

More than a year ago, I shared my resolution to sample more new books. How’s that working out?

Two comics I bought last week show why trying new stuff is great.

Well, I mean, if trying a new series by two talents who have proven themselves over and over again can be called “new” stuff. Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang are at the top of their game in Paper Girls. The story of a group of four girls who deliver the morning newspaper in suburban Ohio, these two men manage to capture a lot of what it feels like to be pre-pubescent and female.

Of course, it’s much much more than that, with dreams and fights and scary creepy guys wrapped in mysterious robes. The creative team has a lot to play with, even if they limit themselves to the toys in the first issue.

americatown(In an odd bit of synchronicity, the New York Times had an article this past Sunday about the disappearance of the word “tomboy”. I’m not sure if the main characters in Paper Girls are tomboys or not. The series is set in the 1980s, so they wouldn’t refute the Times’ thesis, which is too bad, because it is the kind of petty inconsequential fluff that the paper likes to equate with feminism.)

I also bought the third issue of Americatown, by Bradford Winters, Larry Cohen and Daniel Irizarri. When I bought the first issue, I was really proud of myself because I’d never heard of any of those guys. It turns out that Winters and Cohen have careers in television and movies, and are probably much more well known to the general public than the comic book talent I follow. I mean, Winters created The Americans, which I’m sure has more viewers than any comic book out there.

Airboy 4The premise is what intrigued me. In the near-future, the United States is no longer the economic and political utopia we present ourselves to be today. Large numbers of American citizens emigrate to other countries in an attempt to find a better life. The series looks at a group of people who sneak into Buenos Aires, and their attempts to avoid the law, find work, and take care of their families.

There’s a lot of entertaining detail here. The “Americatown” of the title makes me reconsider the stereotypes and downright racism I bring to a visit to Chinatown or Little Italy. And speaking of racism, I found it much easier to identify with the plight of the undocumented immigrants in this story because they look a bit like me and they speak English. Maybe this reflects poorly on me, but it shows the good stuff that can happen if more people read this series.

Have I picked up any duds lately? Yeah, probably. I didn’t like Public Relations at all, thanks to creepy sexism and jokes that weren’t funny enough. If you’re reading it and you like it, perhaps you can tell me what I’m missing. Please continue to enjoy anything that makes you happy.

Now, if only issue four of Airboy would come out ….