Friday, September 21, 2007

News Bits, In Brief

Via Bookforum, by way of BoingBoing: Revealed at last: Jack Kerouac's proposed design for the front cover of the paperback edition of On the Road. If it only took Kerouac three months to write the entire book, it couldn't have taken him more than three minutes to draw this.

Via More competition! "Goodwill is diverting many of its best books to new book-only stores, where they'll be sold for about $3 to $8 apiece." If Goodwill was smart, they'd create an online store and sell them there. Everyone knows that that's where all of the book money is these days.

The New York Times examines the various methods publishers use to successfully roll out their newest books, and how today's news-in-an-instant internet culture is forcing a drastic restructuring of this.

Via Newsarama: DC Comics has announced the lineup for their newest condescending approach to kids' comic books, Johnny DC. Some the titles that will be appearing in 2008 are Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam, Tiny Titans, and Super Friends. What the good-intentioned folks over at DC seem to be forgetting is that kids don't want to know that they're reading 'kids' comics.' They want to think that they're reading something aimed at teens. Hell, if DC would just make their regular line of comic books a little more accessible to the new reader -- child or adult -- I'm sure they'd find these silly, ill-fated experiments unnecessary. (Doesn't anyone else remember the quick crash and burn of Marvel's 'manga inspired' Tsunami line?)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ode to Independents
by Cristin Cali

I was driving down Rt. 149 the other afternoon and noticed that there was a pizza delivery car in front of me. I was amused by the colorful decals plastered all over the car, advertising an adorable, eager-to-please restaurant. For some reason, I started to draw parallels between the pizza business and the independent book-selling industry.

We’re all aware that the big pizza chains are Dominos, Papa Gino’s and Pizza Hut. As a little kid in the late 80s, I remember those three restaurants being the King, Queen and Prince of the pizza world. On a cold or miserable rainy night at the end of a long day my parents would sometimes resort to take out or the occasional delivery. When we ordered from the chains, each pizza would taste exactly the same every time, without the slightest variation.While there may be something comforting about the predictability of a franchise, there’s nothing particularly memorable or special about it either. On the other hand, while growing up in West Barnstable, I would frequently make a pilgrimage (one exclusive to children under the age of fifteen) to the Old Village Store. Whenever I would round the corner (after stopping at the library, of course) I would eagerly anticipate the sight of the maroon building and the dusty scent of its old wooden floor.

Next to the Village Store was the most unassuming pizza parlor, appropriately named Old Village Restaurant and Pizza. I remember it being extremely small, with an Old World atmosphere. In the summer, a batch of strong, tall sunflowers would flourish in front of the quaint little porch where people would sit and devour their massive, piping hot slices.

I attribute my fond memories of Old Village Pizza to the gruff, wrinkled woman who barked orders behind the counter, the romantic ethnicity of the place, and its perfectly sparse decorations. That one restaurant evokes more charm and memories than all of my experiences with the large franchises combined.

So, in thinking about all of this while I was stuck behind the delivery car, I concluded that independent bookstores and humble, locally owned pizza places are quite similar.

I’ve been in the large chain bookstores and they are all the same, no matter where I go. Such homogenized businesses send a shiver down my spine, because they lack warmth and feeling. However, there are still (thank goodness!) plenty of unusual, charming, independent bookstores out there for adventurous book lovers to discover and celebrate.

It takes more time and effort to go to the unique places where we’ll be most likely to have a memorable, truly enjoyable experience. If you are able to spend time finding such precious gems, you will be rewarded with the creativity, quirks, passion and most importantly, the humanity that’s exclusive to independent shops around the world.

Author Du Jour: Jim Woodring

Jim Woodring (born October 11, 1952) is a comic book author and artist. He was born in Los Angeles, USA, and lives in Seattle. As a child he suffered from hallucinations of floating, gibbering faces over his bed (among other visions), and his work still has a very surreal and often nightmarish quality. Woodring once told The Comics Journal that under the right circumstances he is still capable of "hallucinating like mad." The desire to draw something that "wasn't there" was always of "paramount importance" to Woodring.

A self-taught artist, Woodring dropped out of college when he hallucinated a cartoon-like frog in the middle of an art history course. (Frogs feature prominently in Woodring's comics, and their symbolism seems to change from story to story. Often they are spiritually-minded but rather pompous creatures, but at other times they are more sinister and alien, at at still other times they are "average joes" struggling to protect their homes or their families from predators.) He spent a few years working as a garbageman and developed a serious drinking problem; he eventually quit drinking because he felt it was interfering with his growth as an artist. He then landed a job with the animation studio Ruby-Spears in the 1970s. He worked designing characters and doing layouts for cartoon shows about Mr. T and Rubik's Cube, and he has often said that these were the worst cartoons ever produced. During this time he formed friendships with and was somewhat mentored by celebrated comic book artists Gil Kane and Jack Kirby, who were both disgruntled with the comics business and were working in animation at the time.

In 1980, he began self-publishing Jim, an anthology of comics, dream art, and free-form writing which he described as an "autojournal". Jim was published as a regular series by Fantagraphics Books starting in 1986, to critical acclaim if less than spectacular sales, and Woodring became a full-time cartoonist. Frank, a wordless surrealist series which began as an occasional feature within Jim, became his best-known work.

Other Woodring characters include Pulque - a perpetually drunken, man-sized, Spanish-speaking frog-creature who inexplicably hangs around with a group of American, suburban children despite the fact that they cannot understand each other and are drawn in markedly different styles - and Big Red, a large street cat who hunts and kills with an appropriately cat-like gusto made chilling by the fact that we can understand his dialogues with his prey ("I'll kill you," shrieks a terrified possum, "I killed the old owl!" "That's nice," is Red's amused response, as he moves in for the kill.)

Woodring created a short-lived comics series for children, Tantalizing Stories, with Mark Martin. He has also worked as a freelance illustrator and comics writer, writing comics based on Aliens and Star Wars for Dark Horse Comics and adapting the film Freaks with F. Solano Lopez. Additionally, Woodring illustrated Microsoft's Comic Chat program, an IRC client which is notably employed in the creation of the daily Internet comic Jerkcity. In recent years Woodring has also become a popular toy designer, with his strange creations sold in vending machines in Japan and available at hip comics shops in America. In a 2002 interview with The Comics Journal, Woodring said that he was gradually leaving comics behind because they simply weren't lucrative enough, and he was increasingly concentrating on individual paintings. Still, Woodring produced a new Frank book in 2005 (The Lute String) and is working on another.
(End of Wikipedia entry.)

For a more personal look at the man, check out Woodring's own blog, here, or read the Comics Journal interview here.

Too shy for such an intimate encounter? Then by all means, go the formal route and visit The Official Jim Woodring Website, which also happens to house The Official Jim Woodring Website's Official Art Gallery.

And lastly, for the lazy, Visions Of Frank, a series of short films by some of Japan's hippest animators, all based on the Frank comics by Woodring.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

News Bits, In Brief

Via "Starting September 23rd, The New York Times will have two separate paperback fiction lists: one for trade paperbacks, and one for mass market books. Each list will be expanded to include the top 20 bestsellers in each category, up from the present top 15 just for paperbacks."

Via "Up for auction on eBay is an original copy of the charter and by-laws for Timothy Leary's League of Spiritual Discovery, founded in Millbrook, New York in 1966. With four days left in the auction, the current bid is $250."
Caveat Emptor: Licking of said document may prove hazardous to your health. Or it might make colors taste better. You never know until you try.

Via The Pensacola News Journal: "Florida State Parks will offer free admission to anyone showing a library card or library book to celebrate Libraries and Literacy this month."
What's the point of this? To make book lovers feel guilty for all of the trees they've caused to be killed? I've got a sneaking suspicion that this is somehow tied into the great e-book push of 2007.

Hardcover, Trade Paperback, Mass-market

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal covering Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, really gets interesting when it veers off into the old hardcover vs. trade paperback vs. mass market debate, and how it effected Gilbert's book's huge success.
An excerpt:
Ms. Gilbert's experience shows what a big influence fancy trade paperbacks are having on an industry that prices its mass-market paperbacks at about $7.99. Back in the 1970s, those smaller, rack-sized paperbacks were the blockbusters of the business, led by such best sellers as William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist (11 million copies sold); Peter Benchley's Jaws (more than nine million copies), and Sidney Sheldon's The Other Side of Midnight (six million copies plus).

"One of the mantras of publishing economics of the 1970s and early 1980s was that mass-market paperbacks could achieve 10 times the sales of a hardcover," says Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Bertlesmann AG's Random House Inc. Then retailers started discounting hardcover titles, and the smaller, cheaper paperbacks lost ground.

Laurence Kirshbaum, a book agent who heads up LJK Literary Management in New York, estimates that the current ratio between hardcover and paperback sales is one to one -- mostly because so many hardcover books are so steeply discounted. "These days the bulk of the people who are interested in a book buy it in hardcover; that's what makes titles such as 'Eat, Pray, Love' so exceptional," says Mr. Kirshbaum. "They are throwbacks to the days when paperbacks sold huge multiples of the hardcover."

Monday, September 17, 2007

News Bits, In Brief

The Age of Turbulence finds Alan Greenspan writing erotic nonfiction about his lifelong love of money. It's page after page of hot, lusty prose, most of which involves Greenspan rolling around naked on a bed covered with money -- by himself. The New York Times chooses to ignore all of this in their review, though, focusing solely on the parts where Greenspan takes Bush to task for destroying the U.S. economy.

A Christian and a Jew walk into a prison library...
Two inmates at an upstate New York federal prison have filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that their rights to the free exercise of religion (as guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) have been violated by the Bureau of Prisons' systematic purging of religious books and materials from prison chapel libraries. This purging was prompted by (surprise, surprise) the terrorist attacks on 9-11, in hopes of curtailing any would-be recruiting for militant Islamic groups. The Sunday New York Times tells the whole damn story, possibly provoking an anti-Bureau of Prisons recruitment surge.

Diamond Comics (still basically the only distributor for most comic books/graphic novels/trade paperbacks/Batman bobbing head dolls) has just unveiled Comics Suite, a new computer program that Publishers Weekly is describing as "the biggest revolution in comics retailing since Marvel editor Carol Kalish helped subsidize comics shops buying cash registers back in the early ‘90s." And just as mind bogglingly well-it-was-about-god-damned-time as that high water mark in comics' history is Comics Suite's intended purpose: it "allows comics shops—many of which do not use computerized inventory systems and rely on paper and pencil cycle sheets—to use barcode scanning to automate inventory control, sales and reorder activity." Wow! What's next? The horseless carriage? Electric candles?

New York Times Best Sellers: Fiction
(now with excerpts!)

To read the first chapters (or, in the case of stingier authors and/or publishers, brief excerpts), simply click the titles.

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

2. The Wheel of Darkness by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

3. Bones To Ashes by Kathy Reichs

4. Dark Possession by Christine Feehan

5. The Elves of Cintra by Terry Brooks

6. Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

7. Play Dirty by Sandra Brown

8. Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

9. The Quickie by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

10. Songs Without Words by Ann Packer