Category Archives: Comics

Fanboy Moment: Stan Lee at CES

When we walked into CES on day one and saw a guy dressed as Spider-Man handing out fliers, we had to ask what it was all about… turns out Stan the Man himself was going to be appearing at the Marvell Semiconductor booth signing autographs for the first 300 lucky folks. This was my big chance to thank the big guy himself for creating Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and so many of the characters that put the Marvel into Marvel Comics.

Comics Come to the Kindle

Given my previous blog about the future of comics, it was great to see Mik Pascal bring his popular (and very un-PC) comic “Bru-Hed’s Guide to Gettin’ Girls NOW!” to the Kindle. If you’ve got an e-reading device (or even just an Amazon account), you can download this out-of-print funnybook for the bargain price of $0.99 right now. Who knew old Bru-Hed would prove a leader in technology?

Here’s the press release:

December 1, 2009

Amazon offers first traditional comic books on Kindle format

Alternative publishers beat out giants Marvel and DC for milestone

(Modesto, CA) Traditional comic books have finally joined the many thousands of books available on Amazon’s popular Kindle e-reader. However, the largest players, Marvel and DC (publishers of Spider-Man and Batman, respectively), are so far nowhere to be found. Instead, readers can find a small selection of alternative publisher fare, a few even produced by a single individual rather than the usual “assembly line” of mainstream comics.

One such comic that just became available is BRU-HED’S GUIDE TO GETTIN’ GIRLS NOW! by Mike Pascale and his Schism Comics imprint, celebrating its 10th anniversary of last publication. The comedic black-and-white, 28-page (including covers) comic books, first published in paper form in 1997 (volume 1) and 1999 (volume 2), are now uploadable to the Kindle for a fraction of their original $2.50 cover price. At just 99 cents each, it may well be the format of the future for the over 75-year-old American comic book format.

“This was a no-brainer,” explains writer-artist Mike Pascale. “I was alerted to the possibility by Pete Bickford of the dominant online comic-book marketplace, who educated me about the format and inherent opportunity. Since the big mainstream publishers’ titles are in color, they’re probably waiting for a color version of the Kindle. But for independent black-and-white comic creators like myself, this is an ideal way to get my characters and comics to the masses on a level playing field at an affordable price. Since my first published book, the ‘Test-Market Ashcan Edition’ of BRU-HED back in 1993 was the first US comic book with a fully digitally-painted cover, being ‘first’ in another digital domain seemed natural. I hope to entertain as many folks as possible with this new format in the future, and that my fellow creators will follow suit with this innovative and popular device. I’m very, very grateful to Amazon for giving us ‘little guys’ the same opportunity as the majors.”

The “e-comic” features various single- and multi-page gags showing the big-headed, beer-drinking, sexist-but-laughable Bru-Hed offering “advice” on picking up women, which often lands him in various stages of trouble. The character has also appeared briefly on MTV, the Sci-Fi channel, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. BRU-HED’S GUIDE TO GETTIN’ GIRLS NOW! volumes 1 and 2 are available from’s Kindle Store for .99 each, and will play on any Kindle, PC, or supported wireless device such as Apple’s iPhone.

Press Contact:

Mike Pascale
Schism Comics
3013 Da Vinci Ct
Modesto, CA 95355

The Future of Comics: Coming Faster Than Even I Thought!


From TechCrunch:

Now don’t get me wrong: reading comics on your iPhone right now is a stunt. It’s nothing you’d really want to do unless there was just no other way to read them.

But very soon, the same ecosystem that brings you $0.99 comics on your iPhone will bring you $0.99 comics on something that’ll be a lot more attractive to read them on.

Also worth noting: Amazon has confirmed that they’ll soon be releasing both Macintosh and Windows versions of their Kindle reader, and Barnes and Noble’s e-Reading software for Mac and  Windows is already real. Adobe is also well underway with their own initiative to bring forth a universal ePub content format for eBooks, which looks to be gaining some traction.

Frankly, the world of e-reading content looks like it’s about to explode. And as far as comics are concerned, the porting of Marvel’s content to the iPhone is likely to be remembered as just the first wave of before the floodgates came fully open and washed away much of what we know about the comics market.

Hold on, folks–this is going to be a helluva ride.

The Apple Tablet and The Future of Comic Books


Noted comics writer James Hudnall writes in his blog that the rumored Apple Tablet (concept art shown below) could wind up saving the comic book industry. I agree that the Apple Tablet is going to be hugely disruptive to the print media world, for many of the reasons listed in another blog.


Here’s how I see the whole thing playing out: Sometime in January or February, Steve Jobs will get up on stage and announce the Apple Tablet. Essentially, it’ll looks like a big iPhone, complete with touch screen, glossy plastics, and impeccable industrial design. Wi-Fi is also a given, along with some sort of interface (Bluetooth?) which lets you set it in an equally impeccable cradle for charging, keyboard, and mouse access.

But the real win is going to be as a portable media “slate”–think HD movies, full-screen video conferencing, and the like…and then imagine reading a book on it.

This is where Jobs turns the demo over to little Johnny from Public School 323 somewhere. Johnny’s class will have been road-testing the Apple Tablet for their science textbooks, and he’ll hold up the tablet to the camera where it shows an elegant textbook cover which “opens” through the use of a gesture. Pages will be “riffled” similarly until Johnny arrives at some science diagram, perhaps showing the way an LED emits photons. Johnny will then tap the diagram with his finger, and it  will come to life showing an animation depicting the whole process. Next will come history books showing famous speeches next to the picture of the speakers involved, recipe books showing video instruction for the dishes being cooked, etc.

And then–if I were Steve Jobs–I’d have Amazon’s Jeff Bezos come out on stage and announce that all those jillions of Kindle books which can already be read on your iPhone will also work on the Apple Tablet. Ditto for the Barnes and Noble book inventory.

So what about comics? Well, for a start it’s easy to imagine Marvel…err.. I mean Disney (of which Jobs is a board member and single largest stockholder) doing comics either specifically for the platform (a la Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.) or simply making sure that the already-strong Marvel digital offerings include making it possible to buy any current (and possibly older) Marvel comic directly through the device at a fraction of the cost of buying it in paper form.

Although motion comics are expensive to produce, and still in their infancy in terms of technique, all modern comics are likely to pass through a digital “final” form (e.g. PDF) on the way to the printer anyway. Running it through a batch process to whip out the digital reader version is simplicity itself for the publishers.And if they sold the digital copy in a way which clears them a single dollar per copy, they’d already be more profitable to publish than the paper versions.

In this digital future, you’d lose the feel of paper and some of the other qualities (not least of all resalability) of the physical comic, but readers would also have them in pristine, archival format for an eternity without needing filing, comic boxes, or bags. And they’d cost a lot less–probably no more than $1 to $1.50 per issue.

Not everyone will go for it–at least not at first–but expect a larger and larger percentage of the comic buying audience to switch to digital in the same way that newspaper readers have. (And the month that an Australian reader can get their Marvels in this format for $0.99 instead of the $7.50 or more they currently pay, it’s all over on the newsstand).

At first, expect the readers–especially Apple’s–to be expensive enough that they appeal mostly to early adopters and those with fair amounts of spending money. But that’s not such a dissimilar demographic from the comic buying audience as a whole right now (comprised mostly of post-college males with higher than average family incomes). I think the digital future will be one us far faster than most would dream now.

To steal a surfing metaphor, a big wave is coming for the world of comics. You either gotta get on your board and ride it, or get prepared to go under.

[polldaddy poll=2151816]

Australia Road Tripping: Comics and The Candy Bar Conundrum

(edited somewhat after the initial posting to play up brand preference–I had time to sleep on the original article)

As I write this, the Australian dollar is trading for about 93 cents against the US dollar, making my dream vacation in Australia a bit more expensive than it might have been otherwise. Since it’s a family vacation, we’ve been trying to use grocery stores instead of restaurants whenever possible. It leads to a lot of ham sandwich lunches, but it helps to keep the daily food bill out of the triple digits.

Australian food prices are a bit higher than American prices, as you might expect from an island country, but two things in particular have absolutely shocked me: $2.50 candy bars and $3.00 bottles of Coke  ($2.50 for cans).  And those are the big grocery store prices–convenience store prices for a simple Kit Kat bar can run as high as $3.69!

Now, anyone that knows me will testify that getting my daily supply of caffeine trumps all other nutritional values. Give me a couple of gallons of Diet Coke or coffee and I can survive anything, but take away my Diet Cokes and I practically break out in hives. So the idea of paying San Diego Comic-Con prices for Diet Cokes really got me wondering what the story was. And for that matter, what’s the cause for the the triple-price chocolate bars?

Well, let’s start with what it’s apparently not: It’s not a (huge) difference in taxes–everyone I’ve talked to denies the existence of some special tax on Milky Bars that doesn’t equally apply to (relatively cheap) potato chips. It’s also apparently not related to the cost of manufacture: big blocks of high quality Cadbury chocolate are available for about $4, but single-serving Bounty  bars cost only a few cents less.

Finally, there’s not been a vast recent change of the exchange rate, and having looked in every candy store, convenience store, gas station, and grocery store between Brisbane and Sydney, I’m fairly certain it’s not just a case of Pete not knowing where to shop. According to the few Australian friends I’ve got left after bugging them about the price difference this past week, it’s not even a recent phenomenon–it’s been that way as long as anyone can remember.

So what’s the deal? My best guess is partial cartelization of the candy and soft drink market, coupled with brand preference from consumers blunting competitive price pressure. Simply put, a couple of candy makers (M&M/Mars, Nestle, and Cadbury seem to control the Australian candy bar market. (Hersheys failed in its attempt to enter the market). Similarly, PepsiCo and Coca Cola own the soft drink market down under. Other brands do actually exist (and, it turns out, at a tiny fraction of the cost) but they’re little known, little seen, and near-impossible to find in single-serving sizes at convenience stores.

The obvious question in any monopolistic scenario is, “If that’s true, how do they get away with it?”  Not in the sense that Australia needs a National Snack Food Investigative Commission (although my small experience with Australia’s politics suggests that the current Labour government would be only too happy to convene one). No, the real question is why doesn’t some sharp young lad at the competing company simply undercut the overpriced leader and steal their market share?

A bit of that does seem to go on, but only around the edges–the occasional promo involving lesser-ranked brands such as “Buy a Coke for $4 and get any Cadbury bar for just $1!” The highest-ranked brands seem to be largely spared deep, permanent discounting.

This is similar to what Marvel and DC do with their comic prices. Comic books have undergone incredible inflation since the 1970s, and the current $3.99 cover price is more than triple the rate of inflation of those years. (A 35 cent comic book in 1977 should cost about $1.23 today if it kept pace with the overall rate of inflation).

Periodically, Marvel and DC have tried out cut-price titles (such as The Adventures of Spider-Man) and usually discontinue them quickly, citing them as commercial failures. It doesn’t help that the titles in question are usually promoted as “kids versions”, feature second-tier writing or artistic talent, and are usually not even part of the characters’ established continuity.

The real problem comes in the cruel ratio of sales to Cost of Goods Sold. Simplifying a bit overmuch, let’s say you’ve got a comic book that you can print for about $0.50 each and sell to a distributor for about $1.40 (leading to a street price of about $3.99). In theory, 10,000 copies sold gives a gross of $9,000 from which all your fixed costs are paid (writers, artists, marketing, shiny office building, etc.). Note that all the actual figures here are speculative: it’s the proportions that count.

Now let’s say you want to do a special comic line which you’ll sell for less in order to attract more readers. You drop the suggested retail price by a buck, and sell it to the distributor for $1.04 so it can be sold on the street for $2.99. In order to make the same gross, you now need to sell 66% more copies (16,667) in order to break even. Any less, and those extra readers came at a net loss.

A quick look around the net shows that the US price of Snickers
is about $30 for a 48-count box, so let’s guess that M&M/Mars manufactures them for something like 15 cents a bar, and sells them to distribution for twice that: 30 cents. (I’d welcome input from anyone with access to the actual figures). This leads to an individual U.S. candy bar sale price of around a dollar at retail.

Now, historically, the Australian market has proven it’s willing to tolerate retail prices of around $2.50-$3.50 for a single bar of Snickers. It seems that either M&M/Mars or the regional distributor (the candy is apparently made locally, not shipped from offshore) is able to realize relatively fat profit margins of more than double that of the U.S. market. But whether they’re taking the money to the bank, or paying it out in some expense I haven’t tumbled to in this incredibly superficial analysis, it would clearly be a monumental sacrifice to significantly cut the wholesale price in order to drive a markedly lower price at the checkout stand.

If your Cost of Goods Sold is 50%, cutting your end price by 25% means you have to sell twice as many units in order to make the same gross. And this is where brand preference becomes critical. A 1 cent reduction in the cost of some undifferentiated commodity like gasoline or hamburger meat would probably lead me to switch to the competing brand. When I’ve established an actual brand preference for a particular type of good, however, I require far greater incentives to make the switch. For instance, I like both Time Out and Nestle Crunch bars, but I like Nestle Crunch bars a bit more. It’d take a pretty good drop (10 cents? 25 cent? more?) for me to enter a store with a Crunch bar on my mind and walk out with a Time Out instead.

Similarly, a comic reader doesn’t want to read just any story about a super-powered dude in tights–they want Spider-Man or Batman or whatever their favorite character is (and given the number of Spider and Bat titles, they don’t want just any of those as wel)

As a practical matter, brand preferences on the part of consumers virtually guarantee that a price cutting move in order to gain profits through more customers will never be successful in the short term. The sharp young candy man who decides to cut the price of Snickers in the Australian division of M&M/Mars might succeed in taking over the market in time, but only if his boss doesn’t fire him in the intervening years–during which time the division’s profits will have certainly collapsed. Ditto the comic company executive that decides to start pricing flagship X-Men or Batman titles at $2 instead of $3.99. Consumers will buy more copies of their favorite heroes’ titles–but not so many more that it’ll come close to covering the revenue loss–or saving the job of the person who planned the move.

So if price cutting is so terrible for manufacturer’s profit margins, why does it ever happen? And instead of asking why Australian candy bars are so expensive, maybe we should be asking why American candy bars are so cheap?

No doubt there are economies at work in the U.S. market that aren’t available to the Australians, but in any market, the real reason is that competition leaves would-be-monopolists with no choice. One or two companies can make a (probably unspoken) agreement to not got at each other’s pricing too hard in order to protect the margins they’ve got, but if there’s a third (or fourth, fifth, or seventy third) rival in the marketplace, they may be quite willing to cut margins in exchange for a chance to break into the market.

And make no mistake-everyone‘s got competition. Even if there are only three major chocolate bar makers in Australia, and they’ve sort-of-agreed to price fix, they still have to compete against the things people eat in preference to their pricey chocolates. For instance, an Aussie which balks at $3.50 for a Time-Out bar might grab a package of Tim Tams or a bag of  Salt & Vinegar potato chips. Not surprisingly, I was able to determine that Australia ranks below the U.S. in its per capita consumption of chocolate (unknown what percentage is chocolate bars) and I theorize–although it would cost me thousands to look at the industry report which would tell me if I’m right–that they make up for it in their consumption of the relatively cheap salty snacks category. (Or, I suppose, they could just have better diets all round…)

So it just may be that the first major entrants into the Australian chocolate bar market thought that $2.50-$3.50 was a pretty good price for a serving of their product, nobody domestic can afford to kill their own margins by cutting prices enough to overcome brand preference, and those consumer preferences solidified in a way that makes it incredibly expensive to enter the market, distribute nationally, and try to win a piece of the pie for yourself. Even Hershey apparently has decided that’s the case (although the latest word is that they may make a play to buy Cadbury)

And if so, the best recourse for consumers is to cut down on Mars Bars while in Australia, switch over to chips for your junk food needs, and for me to get used to the taste of Regal Cola instead of good old Diet Coke.

Comic-Con: Now Bending Space and Time!

Everyone who’s experienced it knows that Comic-Con is a mind-bending extravaganza with the capability to tax every iota of your energy and endurance, both in preparation, execution, and in the long slog to and fro. And to top it all, this year it’s managed to seemingly tear the fabric of reality and reverse the flow of time itself.

To wit: ComicBase 14 was released into the wild at Comic-Con, but it won’t even officially exist until early next week. And since we were all working crazy hours struggling to get ComicBase 14 out the door in time for Comic-Con, that staff was so exhausted (and the office was thrown into such disarray) that we won’t have the extensive web site configuration and other materials ready to allow us to actually ship ComicBase 14 until next week. (I had hoped for earlier, but a round of flu has been knocking off Human Computing staffers members like Watchmen’s Mask Killer).

So there you have it: a product that doesn’t exist yet has been busy killing its creators, thus delaying its birth.

And the best part? In two week’s time, I’m actually going to be on a movie set  in Albuquerque…reenacting Comic-Con!

I swear, I couldn’t make stuff like this up…

Wall-E/Watchmen Trailer Mashup

Unbelievable, pure brilliance.


For the original, see:

(Trailer 1)

Watchmen Review


This movie is going to drive me crazy.

On one hand, it’s spectacular: everything I could have hoped for in an adaptation of one of the greatest graphic novels of all time. It had terrific casting, great acting, and an almost-entirely-faithful adaptation of the original material, albeit with some fairly nuanced changes. I even appreciate its multifaceted and deliberately murky handling of the politics and events of the era. In a lot of ways, this is a huge accomplishment as a film.

And yet, I can’t recommend it to a huge number of folks who otherwise would have really gotten something out of it, because it’s just far too graphic in ways it really didn’t need to be. In order for it to get a visceral reaction out of us jaded adults, it indulged in so much on-camera sex, nudity and violence that it put the movie completely off limits for a big part of its potential audience.

This is really weird thing for me to say, but for the first time in my life, I found myself sort of wishing I was watching the airplane-safe version of a movie in the theater, instead of what felt like the “unrated director’s cut” [actually, it’s ‘R’-rated–and a hard ‘R’ at that]. Had it been edited toward a PG-13 (or even a softer R), the director would have had to pull back the edit just a little, and I’d be hailing it to anybody who’d listen as a tremendous filmmaking achievement.
Instead, I’m oddly forced to make any recommendation contingent on my best guess at the sensibilities of the person doing the asking: How does the person asking feel about seeing more full-frontal male nudity than I saw in my high school locker room during swim season? Not many people have a problem with gunfights, but how do they feel about close-ups of exit wounds? Action-packed dust-ups with super-heroes are great, but how about cut-aways to the resulting protruding bone spurs? And what’s their position on entrails splattered on ceilings?

In the end, it comes down the infamous “blood in the gutters” — not the literal kind (as you see when the Comedian’s body splats onto the pavement”) but the comic book concept that most of the really tough imagery doesn’t actually happen “on-panel”. It’s usually implied, or shown briefly, and the reader’s imagination makes up the rest during the space between the panels–the “gutters”.

Let’s say a scene calls for a character to do something very nasty with a hatchet to another character. In most comics—including the Watchmen graphic novel—the usual way of dealing with it is to set up the situation, then do something like showing a silhouetted window view with one character raising the hatchet out, arm flexed, behind the unsuspecting person. To anyone paying attention, it’s crystal clear what’s happening, but the worst violence happens in your mind—not on the page.

After I got done watching Watchmen, I had to go back over a couple of the more visceral bits and compare them to the graphic novel’s treatment, because I couldn’t remember clearly whether I had just imagined certain of the most grisly or adult-oriented scenes. In almost every case, the situation was exactly the same, complete with all the terrible details. But the graphic novel tended not to show the hatchet crashing down repeatedly into the skull; or the bits of gore coming off of a wound. And it knew enough to crop the frame upward by 10% so we knew Dr. Manhattan couldn’t be bothered with clothes, but we weren’t actually forced to stare at his junk in every other one of his scenes.

I’m afraid that with Watchmen, a little less would have been a lot more: both in box office receipts and in my ability to recommend it to anyone other than jaded R-rated movie fiends like myself. I would have been happy to watch the version I saw as part of a special-edition DVD, but I really sort of wish the theatrical version had been edited with just a little more restraint.

A Bittersweet Eisner Awards Ceremony

Confession time: I rarely attend the Eisner Awards. As much as I love and respect my fellow industry types, it’s a hard slog to make it through a three or four hour ceremony at the end of a 14 hour day on the show floor. But this year, thanks to a tip, I made sure I showed up.

After almost all the awards had been given out, Maggie Thompson from Comics Buyer’s Guide ran a slide show saluting the great folks the comic industry had lost this year. And along with legends like Creig Flessel and Michael Turner, she showed a slide I’d taken from Wondercon a couple of years ago on a sunny day outside the Moscone convention center. My son Neil had been six at the time, but was cropped out of the photo to better show the man he’d been sitting next to: my friend John Simpson.

John Simpson

John passed away this past October due to mesothelioma, and this was the first Comic-Con I’d done in a long time without having him stop by, lend a hand, and spend time hanging out between panels. I especially remember laughing ourselves silly at the Simpsons movie, which debuted during last year’s show, and which the entire booth staff went out to see together along with John.

Near the end of his life, John gave me a letter that he requested I ask CBG to publish after his death. It was as touching a love letter to comics fandom as you’ll ever read, and it was even entitled “Ruminations on A Life Well Spent With Comics” — playing on the fictional Simpson’s own Comic Book Guy’s shared feelings about the hobby. Seeing John’s face up on the Eisner Award’s display screen was a moving reminder of his love for comics and comics fandom…and a fitting tribute from that same industry to a man who is very much missed.

Comic-Con will never be the same without you, John.

Haiku of the Day

Blisters on my feet
So tired. Too much blinky.
Best Comic-con yet!