Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jump to Digital

The remarkable leaps Japanese comics (manga) and animation (anime) made in popularity in the U.S. in the past decade is, depending on how you look at it, either waning or entering a new phase. Already several of the anime and manga U.S. licensors that dominated the market in the last few years have slid off the board. Now Viz, the licensor that has plugged away for longer than any other company (it started putting manga onto the U.S. market in the mid-eighties, with licensed anime following a few years after) has announced that next year its periodical publication, the U.S. edition of Shonen Jump, will cease print publication. It will continue life as a digital magazine.

This is a particularly surprising development considering that Viz has arguably the most popular licensed properties in the U.S. and Japan. Bleach and Naruto have been tremendously popular on both sides of the Pacific. And Viz has other titles that have followings, such as One Piece, Tiger & Bunny, Deathnote, Rosario Vampire, Blue Exorcist, etc.

For such a juggernaut to opt to discontinue its flagship publication showcases not only the burst of the manga/anime bubble, but the general decline of the magazine market in America.

The American Shonen Jump is not dead (for now), but the end of its life as a paper publication is likely a harbinger for larger changes in the print world as a whole.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

E-Book Follies

Unless we are in the throws of a fad, book retailing is gradually, but perhaps inexorably, moving away from physical books and toward e-books. I doubt paper books will ever stop being sold; but they may eventually become like vinyl records, still sold for major albums but found only in high-end shops and second-hand shops.

The movement toward e-books has already claimed retailer victims, most notably the Borders Chain. Borders' delay in entering the e-book market was not the only factor that doomed the chain, but it was a significant one.

Here are some of the odder developments in this emerging trend:

-- DC Comics is producing electronic versions of 100 of its graphic novels and comics series compilation paperbacks. But it is producing them exclusive for's upcoming tablet computer, the Kindle Fire. In response, Barnes & Noble -- the only major book retailer chain with physical locations left -- is pulling those DC graphic novels from its locations' shelves. ( Considering that in the 1980s DC pioneered placing comics trade paperbacks in chain bookstores -- and thus got titles such as WATCHMEN and SANDMAN into the hands of many readers who would never set foot in a comics store -- DC's exile from the last chain's bookshelves is particularly poignant.

-- E-book versions of older books are popping up in unusual places. For instance, Joe Haldeman's SF classic THE FOREVER WAR has been released in e-book format -- but only at the online bookstore for the Kobo, the e-reader developed for the now-defunct Borders chain. ( Fortunately, Kobo makes an app for the iPad, so one does not need to buy a Kobo e-reader to read the novel.

-- Barnes & Noble recently marked the price for its first-edition Nook e-reader down to $89. ( Shortly afterward, Amazon announced the newest models of its Kindle e-reader. Except for the Kindle Fire, the new Kindles all retail for under $100. (

Not necessarily odd, but interesting: Amazon, like Barnes & Noble, not only sells books, but publishes them -- putting it into competition with the publishers whose work it sells. Its newest imprint, 47North (, will sell science fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction. Its first project is THE DEAD MAN, the horror-action series created by my cousin Lee Goldberg and his writing partner Bill Rabkin. ( Amazon's move isn't surprising, since fantasy novels (mostly series) dominate best-seller lists. But it is a vote of confidence in the science fiction genre of publishing, which appears to have become much less popular than fantasy -- particularly fantasy featuring child wizards, zombies, or sparkling vampires.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Steel Gets Real

We saw REAL STEEL this morning at the El Capitan, Disney's Hollywood movie palace. As you might have heard, this movie is a reworking of Richard Matheson's 1950's short story "Steel," which was also turned into an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Which is fitting, because although this movie features modern special effects, clothing, hairstyles, and technology (since it is set only 14 years into the future, the creators can get away with pretending current fashions will change as little in that time as they have changed since 1997), this film is resolutely old-fashioned, in a quite pleasant way.

The film's story arc -- a ne'er-do-well fight promoter's journey to redemption through the stubborn-yet-loveable kid he abandoned -- could have been told in any decade. The history of cinema is full of loser fathers and plucky, never-say-die kids who worm their ways into the coldest of hearts. And the formula isn't hurt by beautiful cinematography that celebrates both the neon of the city and the sunsets of the heartland. Or the score by Danny Elfman, that swells appropriately when the score needs swelling. Or the montages and slow motion segments that deftly manipulate the viewer's emotions.

If this sounds like criticism or mocking, it isn't. REAL STEEL is populist entertainment, science fiction less concerned with making large points about humanity than simply telling a smaller story of humanity and technology, meeting at the junction of sports. And if it throws in a little of a kid teaching a robot to dance, and American heroes (one played by an Australian actor) vying against a Russian woman in a too-tight dress and an arrogant Japanese mecha designer, well, that's just part of the package.

REAL STEEL is the sort of movie that annoys movie critics and goes on to make a solid showing at the box office. Because REAL STEEL tells the type of story that American movies excel in showing. It's a good popcorn movie. And in the mid-autumn film market, that's enought.

A Video to Remember Steve Jobs By

I don't have much to add to the deluge of memories, tributes, slights, and commentary unleashed by the untimely passing of Steve Jobs this past week. But I did have opportunity last year to take part in one of those product-debut extravaganzes that Jobs excelled in arranging.

When Jobs announced the iPad, I was underwhelmed. Computer manufacturers had been trying to sell tablet computers since the early '80's, when Radio Shack sold its TRS-80 laptop as a tablet. Now Apple was going to be selling what appeared to be an iPod touch with an overactive pituitary gland. I had a laptop, a netbook, and an iPod Nano, not to mention a Nook ereader. I did not need an iPad.

Yet as I heard more about this device, I became convinced that it could help me in my work. I was most impressed by the prognostications of how the device could handle large pdf documents, such as the transcripts I often used in my legal work. I decided to use the honorarium from one of my legal writing projects to buy the base model of the iPad.

I therefore reserved one of the iPads for purchase. And although I could have had the device delivered to me at home, I decided to reserve it for pickup at the Apple Store in Century City. Why not take advantage of some hands-on assistance with the iPad, if I needed it.

And then I decided, since the launch was on a Saturday, why not bicycle over to Century City and be there when the store opened? I was not falling victim to marketing, I convinced myself. It was only practical. If I got there early, I could pick up my iPad and have the rest of the day to familiarize myself with it.

No, I told myself as I stood in line early one Saturday morning in April 2010, I was not getting swept up in the excitement of the product launch. This was simply the opportunity to get involved in a cultural event.

And then, the doors of the store opened. And I shot the scene on my cellphone (not an iPhone, thank you) video camera:

No, no excitement at all.

Since that day, I've used my iPad for business. And pleasure. And just about everyday.

Jobs excelled in revealing to the world that it absolutely had to have devices it had no idea it needed. Will his successors be able to pull that off? We'll see.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

It is almost inconceivable that a movie like "Paul" could have been made (at least as a major release) 20 or even 10 years ago. Ten years ago, the gold standard for a science fiction satire-comedy was "Galaxy Quest." Now, "Galaxy Quest" is a darn good movie, with some spot-on satire; but it represented the point of view of those outside SF fandom looking in -- less of an inside joke than a look-at-them joke. "Paul," on the other hand, is made by SF and comics fans, and is largely for such fans -- particularly since folks not familiar with the last 34 years of SF films won't get a lot of the jokes. (It takes a certain familiarity with the culture to appreciate the scene in which a Man in Black shoots his two-way radio with a pistol, then snarls, "Boring conversation anyway.")

"Paul" is a road movie -- usually a good subject for a film, because it combines character development with movement and scenery. Two science fiction fans, a novelist and an artist, travel from England to the U.S. to attend Comic-Con International: San Diego (shot on location, of course); then rent an RV so that they can tour UFO sites throughout the Southwest. En route, they encounter something they have fantasized about, but for which they are completely unprepared: An actual alien -- one who looks like the traditional Little Green Men of legend, but who is imbued with the smart-alecky slacker sensability of Seth Rogen (whom I like much more as a voice actor than as a there-on-screen actor). What follows is a mixture of thwarted expectations, slapstick, satire, and loads of in-jokes -- and, oh yes, a story.

Most of all, "Paul" shows that the science fiction and comics fans whom movie-makers used to denigrate are now often the folks in charge of putting out movies.