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1. Microbes matter

By John Archibald


We humans have a love-hate relationship with bugs. I’m not talking about insects — although many of us cringe at the thought of them too — but rather the bugs we can’t see, the ones that make us sick.

Sure, microorganisms give us beer, wine, cheese, and yoghurt; hardly a day goes by without most people consuming food or drink produced by microbial fermentation. And we put microbes to good use in the laboratory, as vehicles for the production of insulin and other life-saving drugs, for example.

But microbes are also responsible for much of what ails us, from annoying stomach ‘bugs’ to deadly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and plague. Bacteria and viruses are even linked to certain cancers. Bugs are bad; antibiotics and antivirals are good. We spend billions annually trying to rid ourselves of microorganisms, and if they were to all disappear, well, all the better, right?

This is, of course, nonsense. Even the most ardent germaphobe would take a deep breath and accept the fact that we could no more survive without microbes than we could without oxygen. No matter how clean we strive to be, there are 100 trillion bacterial cells living on and within our bodies, 10 times the number of human cells that comprise ‘us’. Hundreds of different bacterial species live within our intestines, hundreds more thrive in our mouths and on our skin. Add in the resident viruses, fungi, and small animals such as worms and mites, and the human body becomes a full-blown ecosystem, a microcosm of the world around us. And like any ecosystem, if thrown off-balance bad things can happen. For example, many of our ‘good’ bacteria help us metabolize food and fight off illness. But after a prolonged course of antibiotics such bacteria can be knocked flat, and normally benign species such as ‘Clostridium difficile’ can grow out of control and cause disease.

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Given the complexity of our body jungle, some researchers go as far as to propose that there is no such thing as a ‘human being’. Each of us should instead be thought of as a human-microbe symbiosis, a complex biological relationship in which neither partner can survive without the other. As disturbing a notion as this may be, one thing is indisputable: we depend on our microbiome and it depends on us.

And there is an even more fundamental way in which the survival of Homo sapiens is intimately tied to the hidden microbial majority of life. Each and every one of our 10 trillion cells betrays its microbial ancestry in harboring mitochondria, tiny subcellular factories that use oxygen to convert our food into ATP, the energy currency of all living cells. Our mitochondria are, in essence, domesticated bacteria — oxygen-consuming bacteria that took up residence inside another bacterium more than a billion years ago and never left. We know this because mitochondria possess tiny remnants of bacterium-like DNA inside them, distinct from the DNA housed in the cell nucleus. Modern genetic investigations have revealed that mitochondria are a throwback to a time before complex animals, plants, or fungi had arisen, a time when life was exclusively microbial.

As we ponder the bacterial nature of our mitochondria, it is also instructive to consider where the oxygen they so depend on actually comes from. The answer is photosynthesis. Within the cells of plants and algae are the all-important chloroplasts, green-tinged, DNA-containing factories that absorb sunlight, fix carbon dioxide, and pump oxygen into the atmosphere by the truckload. Most of the oxygen we breathe comes from the photosynthetic activities of these plants and algae—and like mitochondria, chloroplasts are derived from bacteria by symbiosis. The genetic signature written within chloroplast DNA links them to the myriad of free-living cyanobacteria drifting in the world’s oceans. Photosynthesis and respiration are the biochemical yin and yang of life on Earth. The energy that flows through chloroplasts and mitochondria connects life in the furthest corners of the biosphere.

For all our biological sophistication and intelligence, one could argue that we humans are little more than the sum of the individual cells from which we are built. And as is the case for all other complex multicellular organisms, our existence is inexorably linked to the sea of microbes that share our physical space. It is a reality we come by honestly. As we struggle to tame and exploit the microbial world, we would do well to remember that symbiosis—the living together of distinct organisms—explains both what we are and how we got here.

John Archibald is Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Dalhousie University and a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Program in Integrated Microbial Biodiversity. He is an Associate Editor for Genome Biology & Evolution and an Editorial Board Member of various scientific journals, including Current Biology, Eukaryotic Cell, and BMC Biology. He is the author of One Plus One Equals One: Symbiosis and the Evolution of Complex Life.

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Image credit: Virus Microbiology. Public domain via Pixabay

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2. Occupational epidemiology: a truly global discipline

By Katherine M. Venables


Occupational epidemiology is one of those fascinating areas which spans important areas of human life: health, disease, work, law, public policy, the economy. Work is fundamental to any society and the importance society attaches to the health of its workers varies over time and between countries. Because of the lessons to be learned by looking at other countries as well as one’s own, occupational epidemiology is a truly global discipline. Emerging economies often prioritize productivity over other issues, but also can learn from the long history of improvement in working conditions which has taken place in developed countries. Looking the other way, the West can learn from fresh insights gained in studies set in low and middle-income countries.

Exposures are usually higher in emerging economies and epidemiological methods are an important tool in detecting and quantifying outbreaks of occupational disease which may have been controlled in the West. A recent study of digestive cancer in a Chinese asbestos mining and milling cohort provides additional evidence that stomach cancer may be associated with high levels of exposure to chrostile asbestos, for example. This was a collaborative study between researchers in China, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States, and illustrates the way that studying an “old” disease in a new context can provide results which are of global benefit.

Issues in occupational epidemiology are never static. Work exposures change along with materials and processes. The ubiquitous printing industry, for example, is always developing new inks, cleaning agents, and processes. A cluster of cases of the rare liver cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, was noted in Japanese printers and this finding was replicated in the Nordic printing industry by using one of the large Nordic population-based databases. This replication is important because it shows that the association is unlikely to be due to a lifestyle factor specific to Japan.

Woman smoking a cigarette“Big data” sharpens statistical power and there are now specific data pooling projects in occupational epidemiology, to supplement the use of existing large databases. The SYNERGY study, for example, pools lung cancer case-control studies with the aim of teasing out occupational effects from behind the masking effect of smoking, which remains by far the most important driver for lung cancer. A recent analysis with around 20,000 cases and controls was able to show that bakers are not at increased risk of lung cancer, whereas the many previous smaller studies had given inconsistent results.

The addition of systematic reviews to the toolkit has strengthened the evidence base in occupational epidemiology, allowing policy about occupational risks and their prevention to be made with confidence. Health economics, also, can be applied to findings from occupational epidemiology to clarify policy issues.

Development brings its own issues to which occupational epidemiology can be applied. We now live longer in the West, and we will have to work into old age, often while carrying chronic diseases. Despite frequently-expressed concerns about an ageing workforce, a recent study in an Australian smelter confirmed others in that the older workers maintained their ability to work safely and the highest injury rates were in young workers. Patients with previously fatal diseases survive into adult life and, potentially, the workforce; a survey of patients with cystic fibrosis, for example, found that disease severity was less important as a predictor of employment than social factors such as educational attainment and locality. A loss of heavy industry in the West, combined with cheap transport, means that many of us spend most of our waking hours sitting down, promoting obesity and its complications. A sample of UK office workers spent 65% of their work time sitting and did not compensate for this by being more active outside work. The economic downturn is a major political and social preoccupation, bringing uncertainty about future employment, which may fuel dysfunctional behaviour such as ‘presenteeism’. A Swedish study suggested that this may be associated with poor mental wellbeing.

Katherine M. Venables is a Reader in the Department of Public Health at the University of Oxford. Her research has always focused on aetiological epidemiology. At Oxford, she has worked on a cohort study of mortality and cancer incidence in military veterans exposed to low levels of chemical warfare agents, and also on the provision of occupational health services to university staff. She is editor of Current Topics in Occupational Epidemiology.

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Image: Woman smoking a cigarette by Oxfordian Kissuth. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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3. SDCC ’14: Jeff Lemire talks the return of The Legion of Super-Heroes and the end of his Green Arrow run

JLU_Cv4_selfie_varBy Kyle Pinion

While Jeff Lemire has recently been making waves with the announcements of his upcoming The Black Hammer at Dark Horse and Descender at Image, his DC work continues to be amongst the premiere offerings of the publisher. I had a chance to sit down with Lemire to discuss what’s coming from him in The New 52.

Kyle: Congratulations on another well-deserved Eisner nomination for Trillium. It’s kind of funny to think about this – Trillium is sort of an opening shot in this line up of sci-fi titles that have started to release from other creators. Where do you see Trillium sitting in this “new sci-fi revolution” we’re seeing in comics?

Jeff: Yeah, well I think Saga was the first shot. It was so inspiring to see a sci-fi book do so well. I think every nerd has a sci-fi story they want to tell eventually, and this is the time. Where does Trillium sit? I don’t know – it just came out so you kind of have to look back in maybe 5 years from now to see where it stands and if people are still talking about it. I tried to experiment a lot and tried to tell an emotionally affecting story set in a big, cosmic setting. It’s hard to analyze your own work when it’s so fresh still.

Kyle: And I know you have a special attachment to the stuff you draw yourself. Do you have plans to do more of that soon?

Jeff: Yeah, I’m working on a graphic novel right now for Simon & Schuster that I’m drawing that’ll come out next fall. Then I’ll probably do another ongoing monthly thing that I’ll draw after that.

Kyle: Justice League United is one of my favorite titles coming out of DC right now. It’s very exciting and a lot of fun, the origins of that title though – it changed at one point from Justice League Canada when it was announced initially to Justice League United. Is there a background story as to why that changed?

Jeff: No, it’s pretty simple. I was really just taking over Justice League America and I wanted to move the team to Canada, which they were totally cool with, so we changed the title to Canada and then as we got closer to publication, I think they realized having Canada in the title might be a little bit too specific for international readers and American readers. So it just made sense. We want to get as many people reading the book as we can, and it didn’t affect the content of the story at all, so it was cool with me. No drama.

Kyle: The tone of Justice League United is very DC animated universe-esque. Was there an outward attempt to aim for a more fun tone?

Jeff: Yeah, very much. I feel like there are so many super hero comics that are very serious and take themselves very seriously. Green Arrow, for example, is very much that, I write some of that stuff too. But I think there needs to be more balance, and I think sometimes we forget that these are super hero comics. They should be fun, and the characters should be having fun. And I really tried to bring that back. A lot of the stuff that I read when I was younger, that I gravitated towards, had a sense of humor to it, and a sense of fun and wonder.

Kyle: It’s kind of opening up a lot of the cosmic stuff of the New 52 as well. Was that one of your long term goals with the series?

Jeff: Absolutely, yeah, that’s some of my favorite stuff in DC history is all the cosmic stuff. It was one big corner of the universe that hadn’t really been exploited too much aside from the Green Lantern titles, you know, so I felt there was a lot of potential there. I’m really getting into Raan and Thanagar and the politics there and seeing other alien races and the Legion of Super Heroes coming, which blows everything wide open.

Kyle: So what can you tell us about the Infinitus Saga?

Jeff: Ultra the Multi-alien, the child that they found in the first arc was a big part of that moving forward, and what Ultra is destined to become is something that has a huge impact in the 31st century. So we see a few Legionnaires come back to deal with Ultra, and that kind of spirals from there into a massive cosmic saga. I grew up reading Legion and the great darkness saga so this is my attempt to throw down the gauntlet and do one of those big sprawling space opera stories with like 40 super heroes running around the galaxy. It’s been a blast.

Kyle: Can we expect to see your Legion further beyond this story, possibly?

Jeff: I don’t know. I would love to. That’s definitely a property I have a lot of ideas and opinions on. I think there’s a lot of untapped potential right now. So that would be something I would definitely be interested in. Who knows?

Kyle: I hope so. Do you have a favorite Legionnaire, Jeff?

Jeff: I do. And it’s Ultraboy. Or Brainiac 5. Or Mon-El. Those 3.

Kyle: You get one choice sir!

Jeff: I always dug him (Ultra Boy) more as a kid, I love that idea that he was as powerful as Superman but he could only use one at a time, that’s so fun. It kind of limits him. Superman can be too powerful sometimes to write plausible threats for him, whereas Ultra Boy had that power but it was limited in a really fun and interesting way. He was very charismatic as well.

Kyle: The storytelling potential of that is pretty strong. I always liked the fact that his powers comes via a whale, being named Jo Nah.

Jeff: Those costumes are so cool, and for some reason his costume always got me. I just liked drawing it as a kid.

Kyle: So we can expect some good Ultra Boy scenes perhaps?

Jeff: Yeah I haven’t really had a really good one yet. I’m on the fourth script of a six issue story so I’ve got to really find a good moment. You’ve got to find one moment for everyone, because there’s so many of them. I’ll find his.

Kyle: And that’s going to run through the next, what, 5 issues of JLU?

Jeff: Yeah, it starts in the Annual. Then it goes for 5 issues after that. So 6 issues total.

Kyle: Is Mike McKone going to be penciling?

Jeff: No, Mike’s done on Justice League United. He’s moved on. Mike, he’s awesome to work with, I love him, but he always knew he was only going to do the first arc because I think he has some other projects he wanted to get done. So we’re bringing in an artist named Neil Edwards from the U.K. I think Neil worked with the same studio as Bryan Hitch, so they have a common thread in their style, and he’s great. He’s been great so far.

Kyle: Equinox is going to have her profile increase over the next few issues as well. Are you excited to have your own character that you created taking the forefront of the story?

Jeff: Very much so, there are a couple of cool things; like the Futures End issues where we jump 5 years into the future. I got to play with her and where she is 5 years from now, so she’s much more confident and much more entrenched in the larger DC universe, playing a bigger role, so that was fun. And in the Legion story, she’s someone who’s lived in a small isolated community, and all of a sudden she’s in space with 40 other alien super heroes, and her reaction to that is a lot of fun to play with, and her being an aboriginal woman and meeting Dawnstar who is an aboriginal woman from the future, and learning that she’s a huge inspiration for the next thousand years, is this really great moment that I’m really proud of.

Kyle: have you heard much from the basis of the character, Shannen Koostachin’s family?

Jeff: Yeah, it was kind of misreported. The character wasn’t really based on Shannen. Shannen – that story is very inspiring – she was a young activist who was killed, and I wouldn’t presume to try to tell her story in a super hero that without her family’s blessing or anything. The idea of creating a teenage character who was based in the same area, she is certainly one of the inspirations for her, but the character wasn’t really based on her.

Kyle: It’s good to have that clarification! So, with the little bit of time we have left I’d like to talk to you about Green Arrow. It’s a fabulous run, probably one of my favorite DC comics coming out right behind JLU, it’s coming to an end sadly. Was it always planned it would end at issue 35?

Jeff: No, I didn’t really know when it would end whe? I started it. I knew there was the big Outsiders story I wanted to tell and the Richard Dragon story, so I just kind of let it happen at its own pace. There were a couple of things that Andrea (Sorrentino) wanted to tackle project-wise and I think he was really a collaborator in every sense on this book, a real co-story teller, and I didn’t want to do the book without him. I feel like we had created something special together. I know he was anxious after 20 issues to move onto something else, move on to a new character and keep things fresh for him, so I knew that was coming. And the Futures End thing provided us with a unique opportunity to literally tell the end of Green Arrow’s story. Because he dies in Futures End, I could literally tell the story from my last issue to his death, the last 5 years of his life, and finish his story essentially. So that’s kind of a unique thing, because usually you just pass the character on so they can tell the rest of his life in one big issue.

Kyle: You are actually going to be able to hang on to Green Arrow and Animal Man and JLU, and you’ve got Frankenstein in Futures End. Isn’t it funny that you seem to have the same characters following you throughout the New 52?

Jeff: You fall in love with them, you invest in them, and you put a lot of yourself into them. You spend months and months and sometimes years writing the characters and it’s hard to let them go, you know? So whenever you can keep them and keep evolving them as characters, I always grab those opportunities.

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4. Hannah-Arendt-Prize

       They've announced that the €10,000 2014 Hannah-Arendt-Prize for Political Thought, awarded by the City of Bremen and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, will be shared by Pussy Riot-ers Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, and -- as they spell it -- Jury Andruchowytsch (Юрій Андрухович, usually -- so also elsewhere in this press release ... transliterated in English as 'Yuri Andrukhovych'), five of whose works are under review at the complete review, see e.g. Perverzion).
       "The Prize is awarded to people who in their thought and deeds courageously accept the challenge of public intervention" ... well, you get the idea, right ?
       And, this being a German prize (i.e. winners announced way in advance), the prize ceremony will only be held on 5 December.

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5. Spring issue of list

       The Spring, 2014 issue of list - Books from Korea is finally out online, with a special section on 'Children's Picture Books' as well as the usual reviews and information-pieces.
       Also of interest: Suh Heewon has a Q & A with The Man Who Loved Moebius Novelist Choi Jae-hoon.

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6. Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist

       They've announced the thirteen-title strong longlist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize -- open to UK-published novels by writers from anywhere (previously: only from the UK, Commonwealth, plus Zimbabwe and the Republic of Ireland) -- i.e. for the first time also by American writers.
       The longlisted titles are:

  • The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • The Dog by Joseph O'Neill
  • History of the Rain by Niall Williams
  • How to be Both by Ali Smith
  • J by Howard Jacobson
  • The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
  • Orfeo by Richard Powers
  • To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
  • The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth
  • Us by David Nicholls
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
       Several of these haven't even been published in the UK yet, much less in the US; I haven't seen a one of these, save the Ferris, which happened to be available at the library yesterday, so I picked it up. I expect to read/cover several of these when/if I do get copies: the Mitchell, Smith, Jacobson, and -- if it gets a US publisher -- the Mukherjee.
       Notable titles that didn't make the cut: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (suggesting the judging panel has at least a modicum of sense/taste), as well as works by Ian McEwan, Philip Hensher, Nicola Barker, Martin Amis, and Will Self. As usual, however, the Man Booker folks don't even reveal what titles were in the running -- some of these may not even have been submitted by their publishers (though quite a few get automatic byes due to their author's books' past performance) [Judge Sarah Churchwell even tweeted that we should: "bear in mind that what we longlist is defined by what publishers submit to us" -- a valid point, which however does nothing to explain why the Man Booker folk won't let on what books were actually in the running .....]
       Apparently 154 titles were submitted/considered [as I suspected, judge Sarah Churchwell's claim of considering/reading 160 submissions was incorrect and inflated] -- not a terrible increase from last year's 151 -- with entries from the Commonwealth (excluding the UK) down to 31 (versus 43 last year), while: "44 titles were by authors who are now eligible under the new rule changes" (presumably all of whom are US authors). So, yes, as feared US authors 'took' some places from UK and Commonwealth authors -- and quite a few places on the longlist -- but things didn't turn out quite as bad as some feared. Books LIVE has a useful look at the country-of-origin of longlisted authors (debatable though some of these are) since 2001, suggesting the inclusion of American authors has indeed come at the cost of Commonwealth and African authors.
       Among the other observations/criticisms: the gender disparity -- as noted, for example, by Tina Jordan at Entertainment Weekly's Shelf Life weblog, in Really, Man Booker Prize ? 10 male authors, 3 female ? (Again -- and as she also notes --: part of the problem may be what the publishers are submitting. Which is kept secret, for no good reason .....)
       In the UK they're taking bets, of course -- Ladbrokes have Mukherjee as 3/1 favorite, ahead of Mitchell and Smith (6/1) -- and offer 2/1 that an American author wil take the prize. (But remember to compare odds at various betting shops before placing your bets !)

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7. Translation from the ... Japanese

       In The Japan Times Reiji Yoshida reports that ¥80 million earmarked to translate Japanese books into English to aid PR drive.
       Having learnt nothing from the catastrophe that was the Japanese Literature Publishing Project -- an incredible amount of money that did help get a lot of books translated (see those under review at the complete review) but to stunningly little effect (it still seems to me the ultimate case-study in how not to foster your literature abroad) -- they have decided:

A panel of seven Japanese intellectuals, including university professors and former government officials, will select candidate books over the next month. The government will then subsidize the translation work and publication costs, the officials said.
       I.e. they'll do exactly what the JLPP did (except they'll apparently only be translating into English -- another big mistake). No doubt these will be worthy 'intellectuals' (hey, "university professors and former government officials" -- what could go wrong ?), but sorry, this is just not the way to go about it. As is already clear from the observation: "Books will be selected to call attention to positive aspects of Japan" -- pretty much a death-knell for them choosing anything that might really work abroad.
       It's real money, however -- almost US$800,000. That's a lot of subsidy. May it not go entirely to waste ..... Read the rest of this post

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8. NZ Post Book Awards finalists

       Not fearing competition from that Man Booker Prize, they also announced the finalists for the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards.
       Okay, they take things at their own pace down there -- last year's Man Booker winner is a fiction finalist -- but what really struck me is that five of the eight fiction and poetry finalists are published by Victoria University Press. Sounds like a pretty interesting/unusual book market there if that's possible ..... (VUP describes itself as: "New Zealand's leading publisher of new fiction and poetry" -- but also notes that it publishes (only): "on average 25 new titles every year" (which is ... not that much).

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9. Lost for Words review

       Appropriately timed with the announcement of the Man Booker Prize longlist (see above), the most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Edward St. Aubyn's Lost for Words -- about which Stuart Kelly wrote (in his review in the Times Literary Supplement, 21 May):

To call this a thinly veiled attack on the Man Booker Prize [...] would be a disservice to veils and how diaphanous they might be.
       This has already/soon will appear in French and German translation, but turns out to be a rather disappointing prize-satire; among the few who really, really seemed to enjoy it was the Kakutani.

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10. SDCC ’14: Image Comics Goes to Infinity Recap

by Zachary Clemente

Image Comics’ all-around rad panel host (among other talents) David Brothers hosted the first of many of the “I is for…” panels scheduled this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Following in line with their new branding which spins their lineup with succinct descriptive words that being with “I”. “Innovative”, “Irreverent”, “Interplanetary” have been banded about with this new means of breaking the bonds of genre definitions – but today’s panel (“Infinite” for those keeping score at home) was all about introspection.

IMG_1207A good mix of writers and illustrators joined the panel to talk their work in respect to genre definitions, their experiences at Image, the next stages of their projects, and field a good amount of questions from the audience. Since the publisher has a whole mess of creators working with them, an interesting mix is available. On the panel was Ryan Burton (Dark Engine), Nick Dragotta (East of West), Jason Latour (Southern Bastards), Richard Starkins (Elephantmen), Declan Shalvey (Injection), Tom Neely (The Humans), Stuart Moore (EGOs), and Rick Remender (Deadly Class).

The two most noticeable things about the panel was that it all of the creators on it were white and male. Considering Eric Stephenson’s points of the necessity of diversity in their creators at yesterday’s Image Expo, the panelist lineup does seem to strike an odd chord. Granted, the following Image panels scheduled throughout the rest of the week due feature non-white creators and female creators – so let’s chalk it up to scheduling.

I have to say, often panels like this can hit low points where the people participating weren’t sure where to go from the previous discussion, but give it up for Brothers – this one moved smoothly between talks; allowing all the panelists good time to talk about their own experiences and share their own stories, while the rest were able to interject casually. It felt more like watching a conversation than attending a press event, which is what I look for in a good panel.

Going up and down the table, each creator touched on the influences that shape their books and their relationships with genres such as sci-fi and western and how that informs their books. Burton commented on how he doesn’t feel that Dark Engine could be done elsewhere as he’s allowed to push the concept further – creating an intensely powerful female character in the vein of Conan or Beowulf, going as far as give her a sword made from a T-Rex’s rib.

One interesting topic broached was the age gap for most Image readers. There really isn’t much along the lines of all-ages or kid-friendly currently being published by Image – and Nick Dragotta was happy to discuss the strange interplay he has as an artist recollecting the for-kids DIY educational HowToons book and his raucous and bloody work in East of West. We also found out that East of West is set at about 60 issues, with each 15-issue installment representing approximately a year in the story’s timeline.

Jason Latour, half of the Jason-based team creating Southern Bastards talked about how the book, while not from exact experiences, is ingrained with impressions of spending childhood weekends in rural North Carolina. Otherwise, he jokingly suggested that “it’s about watching dogs poop.” When pressed about his working relationship with Jason Aaron and their southern roots, Latour explained their occasional disagreements with the example of  “I’ve tried to convince him that farm animals are off-limits for sexual proclivities,” which received quite a hoot n’ holler from the audience.

Notably, many questions were directed to Remender, which isn’t too surprising considering he now has 4 titles with Image (Black ScienceThe LowDeadly Class, and the recently announced Tokyo Ghost). As he had in the back of the trade release of Deadly Class, Remender delved into his past, much unpleasant, that influenced the world and emotional core of the teenage assassins book. When queried about engaging the controversy over a certain scene involving Marvel character Sam Wilson and how fan reaction plays a part in their work, Remender was quick to explain that there wasn’t a true controversy in play and that as the outrage built, he “removed himself and spent 3 days hugging his kids, while eating toast and crying.”

As the rest of the panel attempted to field the question, Latour piped in, saying that “some of the rednecks who would have a problem with Southern Bastards can’t read.” Problem solved.

Overall, it was a well-organized panel that come from a lot more thought about their lineup of talent and book on the part of the publisher that I expect of most, though perhaps a slightly more diverse cast would have played well. I’m looking forward to the rest of the Image panels, featuring different guests to discuss different topics.

 

 

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11. The vote for women bishops

vsi bannerBy Linda Woodhead


There are two kinds of churches.  The ‘church type’, as the great sociologist Ernst Troeltsch called it, has fuzzy boundaries and embraces the whole of society. The ‘sect type’ has hard boundaries and tries to keep its distance. Until recently, the Church of England has been the former – a church ‘by law established’ for the whole nation. Since the 1980s, however, the Church has veered towards sectarianism. It’s within this context that we have to understand the significance of the recent vote for women bishops.

Robert Runcie (Archbishop of Canterbury 1980 to 1991) was the last leader to have no doubts about the Church’s role as a pillar of society. That didn’t mean he was a flunky of the social establishment. When he prayed for the dead on both sides of the Falklands War, or commissioned the Faith in the City report which criticised the Thatcher government, he did so from a confident position at the centre of things rather than as critic standing on the margins.

A shift away from this stance began under Runcie’s successor, George Carey (Archbishop from 1991-2002). Carey was part of the modern evangelical wing of the Church, some of whose members were already pushing for the Church to keep its distance from ‘secular’ society, but it was under Archbishop Rowan Williams (2002-2012) that the really decisive shift took place.

The background was a British society whose values were changing rapidly. My recent surveys of British beliefs and values reveal a remarkably swift liberalisation of attitudes. In this context, liberalism is the conviction that all adults should be equally free to make up their minds about choices which affect them directly. Its opposite is not conservatism but paternalism – the view that one should defer to higher authorities.

In the 1960s and ‘70s the Church of England was travelling with society in a broadly liberal direction, with prominent Anglicans supporting the liberalisation of laws relating to abortion, homosexuality, and divorce. But after Runcie, Anglican leaders made a U-turn. The extension of equal rights to women and gay people proved hardest for them to swallow. At stake for evangelicals was God-ordained male headship, and for Anglo-Catholics, an exclusively male priesthood extending back to Christ himself, and good relations with Rome.

Under the leadership of Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, the Church of England campaigned successfully to be exempted from provisions of the new equality legislation, took a hard line against homosexual practice and gay marriage, and made continuing concessions to the opponents of women’s progress in the Church (women had first been ordained priests in 1994, expecting that the office of bishop would be opened to them soon after).

Williams often behaved like an outsider to mainstream English society. He was a fierce critic of liberal ‘individualism’, and thought that religious people should huddle together against the chilly winds of secularism (hence his support for sharia law). He favoured the moral conservatism of African church leaders over the liberalism of American ones, and made disastrous compromises with illiberal factions in the Church. It was the latter which led to the failure of the last vote for women bishops in 2012 – shortly before Williams stepped down.

Williams’ supporters can say that he maintained Anglican unity, both at home and abroad. But the cost has been enormous. Church of England numbers have collapsed,  and it has become more marginal to society and most people’s lives than ever before.

So the vote to allow women bishops is a turning-point which may see the Church re-engage the moral sentiments of the majority of its members and the country as a whole. But the sectarian tendency remains strong. Although Archbishop Welby supports women bishops, he remains opposed to same-sex marriage and assisted dying, and takes very seriously the relationship with African churches and their leaders. The sectarian fringes of the Church remain influential, and the bishops remain isolated from the views of ordinary Anglicans. The Church as a whole creaks under the weight of historic buildings, unimaginative mangerialism, and sub-democratic structures.

Over the last few decades the Church of England has missed a great opportunity to reinvent itself as a genuinely liberal form of religion in a world suffering from an excess of sectarian religion of illiberal and paternalistic kinds. It lost its nerve at the crucial moment, forgetting that liberalism has Christian as well as secular roots, and reading Britain’s drive towards greater freedom and toleration as permissive rather than moral.

To task Anglican clergywomen with putting all this right is to ask too much. But the vote for women bishops strikes a blow against sectarian ‘male’ Christianity. And if the Church is serious about drawing closer to the people it is meant to serve, then becoming representative of half the population and an even bigger proportion of Anglicans has to count as a significant step in the right direction.

Linda Woodhead is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University, UK. Her research interests lie in the entanglements of religion, politics, and economy, both historically and in the contemporary world. Between 2007 and 2013 she directed the Religion and Society Programme http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk, the UK’s largest ever research investment on religion. She is the author of Christianity: A Very Short Introduction, which comes out in its second edition in August. She tweets from @LindaWoodhead.

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12. SDCC ’14: Female Heroes, Then & Now Panel Recap

By Matthew Jent

To mark the 25th anniversary of Heartbreakers, an action/sci-fi serial originally serialized in Dark Horse Presents, co-creator Anina Bennett brought the conversation about Female Heroes, Then & Now to SDCC.

Allison Baker & Claire Hummel share their personal heroes with a full  room.

Allison Baker & Claire Hummel share their personal heroes with a full room.

Anina was joined by her husband and Heartbreakers co-creator Paul Guinan, Geek & Sundry’s Kiala Kazebee, comics/movie/video game writer Jimmy Palmiotti, Monkeybrain Co-Publisher and IDW Director of Operations Allison Baker, and former Xbox/current HBO Production Designer Claire Hummel.

The room was packed, and it was filled with men, women, and a fair share of cosplayers. There was a twi’lek wielding a lightsaber, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, a TARDIS, and a little Batgirl — also carrying a lightsaber, which was downright adorable.

Anina, who introduced herself as “a recovering comic book editor,” led off by thanking so many people for turning out for a positive discussion about female heroes. Her first question to the panel was about their real-life female heroes, and the panel name-checked a lot of the more popular and interesting female cartoonists in the industry today — Kate Beaton, Colleen Coover, Joelle Jones, Kate Leth, Erika Moen, and others. Claire Hummel specifically pointed out Sheilah Beckett, known for her work on the Little Golden Books, and 20th century artist Mary Blair. “Everyone’s trying to be Mary Blair,” Claire said.

Allison Baker mentioned comics writer & all-star Trina Robbins, Jimmy Palmiotti and Paul Guinan lauded their (respective) mothers and wives, and Kiala Kazebee said she looks up to her Geek & Sundry co-hosts Felicia Day, Veronica Belmont, and Bonnie Burton.

The panel moved on to discussing some of the everyday examples of sexism and fear of feminism in the comics, film, and video game industries, including Ubisoft’s recent declaration that female avatars were too difficult to add to the upcoming Far Cry 4, and David Finch’s assertion that his upcoming run on Wonder Woman will feature a strong, but not feminist, version of the Amazon.

In a time when more and more women are creating and enjoying media in comics, film, and video games, this backward assertion comes from, in the opinion of the panel, that fact that the editors, managers, and leaders of these companies are still men. Without that diversity of thought and opinion from the top, there will continue to be shortsighted missteps like Ubisoft’s.

Anina stressed to the panel attendees: don’t be afraid to call yourself a feminist.

“It means we want equal rights,” said Kiala. “That’s all it is. It’s very simple.”

“I think real men are feminists,” Allison added, and the audience agreed.

There was a brief discussion of the new Thor, but that was deemed not as good news as it might seem, since there are still so few freelancers working on Marvel titles.

“Representation is important, but also on the creators’ side,” Claire said.

Paul asked if Thor as a woman, and Captain America as an African-American, were just gimmicks. But the panel mostly shrugged it off.

“It’s more than DC is doing,” Kiala said.

So why aren’t there more female creators on the big-name books? Jimmy Palmiotti asserted that at DC it was matter of putting the right creators on the right books, but Allison said, “It’s the sign of a rut. The editors don’t go outside of their circles when assembling their creative team. If women see more women working in that field, more women will go into that field.

When asked if leaders had a responsibility to build more diverse teams, the panel’s answer was resoundingly yes. More diverse teams would mean more diverse outlooks, which would mean better books, movies, and games.

Nearing conclusion, Anina asked if the panelists had themselves been accused of sexism or bigotry. Claire talked about creating some Indian-influenced steampunk designs in her early Tumblr days, and being called out for still relying on primarily Western concepts. She said it was because, at the time, she thought, “Steampunk is Western.” Being called out made her realized it didn’t have to be. “I can say I’m sorry, and I can move forward, and I learned how to react reasonably and take advice,” she said.

(Although apparently some doofball approached her after the panel to add a particularly doofy addendum to this commendable and enlightened anecdote. But we’re patient and enlightened feminists around here, so we won’t let that ruin a perfectly good panel.)

A few other examples were given, including a recap of the Harley Quinn/art contest/bathtub snafu from a few months back, but Anina summarized them all with, “All examples involved taking a step back and changing your attitudes and your behavior.”

With a growing number of women in the industry (and fandom), these kinds of conversations are going to happen more often, and not just within the confines of the old school “Women in Comics” panels that used to permeate conventions of this size. Women Heroes was an engaging and (overall) positive discussion about how far this industry has come — and how far it still has to go.

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13. SDCC ’14: Fairy Tale Remix Panel Recap

By Matthew Jent

The Fairy Tale Remix panel, moderated by author Shannon Hale, brought together more than half a dozen authors of young adult and fantasy fiction in front of a packed panel room. Hale a confident and fun tone, promising a fight to first blood by the panelists if things got boring. Full disclosure? I took a seat in this panel to get a good spot for a later panel in the same room that I wanted to cover for the Beat — but Fairy Tale Remix has proven to be the highlight of my SDCC 2014 experience so far. It was a symposium on fairy tales, storytelling, writing and the search for magic in real life. No first-blood-fights were required, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the room. The audience included mostly women, from kids on up, with more than a few cosplayers. Before the panel began, there were a number of kids (and their accompanying grown-ups) having their pictures taken with some folks who cosplayed the Frozen sisters Elsa & Anna and if you weren’t yet caught up on this season of Once Upon a Time, it was a bad audience to eavesdrop on.

Shannon Hale holds court.

Shannon Hale holds court.

After introducing the panel members as Marissa “The Mauler” Meyer, Katherine “No Safe” Harbour, “The Hammer of Lore” John Peck, “The Baroness Schadenfreude” Cornelia Funke, Tony “The Terror” DiTerlizzi, Ben “The Equalizer” Tripp (dressed in a Georgian England costume, complete with white wig), and Danielle “Toto’s Bane” Paige, Hale began with a quote from Albert Einstein: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be moreintelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Asking how the panelists were introduced to fairy tales, it was across the board as children.

“It was the first time I realized, everything is a metaphor,” Tripp said, “These stories are all about something else.”

Funke, after explaining that she is German and so was naturally raised with the original, brutally violent versions of the tales, said she hated them as a child. They were full of death and dismemberment, and swans who had to knit sweaters for their brothers.

Meyer added that her first fairy tale love was Disney’s film version of The Little Mermaid, and upon subsequently reading the original version by Hans Christian Andersen, in which Ariel dies at the end, she wondered, “What else is Disney not telling us?”

That discomfort and that desire to know more was a strong motivator for the writers to tell their own versions of Rapunzel, Oz, or Puss N Boots. Meyer got her start as a writer with Sailor Moon fan fiction, and writing new versions of fairy tales was a logical progression. When Hale asked the panel if it was fair to call what they were doing fan fiction, everyone agreed.

“How is rewriting fairy tales different from fan fiction?” Hale asked.

They’re basically the same thing, the panel agreed, but “You can take fairy tales in more directions than fan fiction,” said Meyer. Tired of passive princess characters, Meyer wanted to get back to the older versions of very old tales — where Little Red Riding Hood rescued herself from the Big Bad Wolf, instead of waiting for the Woodsman to appear.

Fairy tales come to represent the times and the places in which they are written. Adding something new to those tales — characters, points of view, social agendas or social awareness that did not exist when they were first told — is part of a storytelling tradition that goes back to Shakespeare, and earlier. Peck added that no story was worth retelling without adding something new.

The panel ended with a Q&A from the audience, many of whom were writers and storytellers themselves. One audience member asked where the writers found magic in the modern world to write about.

“Where do you not find it?” Funke said. “Look at the people in this room, the hundred million stories in these chairs, in these costumes. There is so much in this room I would call magic. We are just the reporters of that. We are in pretty magical times.”

A parent asked how she could encourage her daughter, who wanted to be a writer.

“Forbid it,” said Tripp, whose own son was studying medicine and science.

“Don’t give too many instructions,” Funke said. “And give her beautiful, empty notebooks.”

It sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale.

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14. SDCC 14: Dark Horse’s ‘Aliens, Predator, Prometheus and Beyond’ Panel

imageBy Kyle Pinion

Dark Horse Editor in Chief Scott Allie has pulled together a wide array of young and up and coming talent for the upcoming four interlocking mini-series that revolve around the Aliens, Predator and Prometheus franchises entitled “Fire and Stone”. The majority of those creators joined him on stage for Dark Horse’s panel on the subject and included Paul Tobin (Prometheus), Chris Sebela (Aliens vs. Predator), Chris Roberson (Aliens), Joshua Williamson (Predator), Juan Ferrerya (Prometheus), and Ariel Olivetti (Aliens vs. Predator).

While the majority of the discussion held therein was for the most part news that has already been reported in the previous months leading up to the end of year release of this long-anticipated “mega-series”. There were a number of items worth noting:

- The collaborative process between the entire team has been a smooth one, despite a significant bump caused by notes given by Fox and Ridley Scott’s team regarding some of the content and the narrative direction of the series, causing much of each creative teams’ work to be scrapped. Though Tobin made note that the studio has now opened up “more of the tool-box” for their usage.

- This change of direction from Fox is one of the major factors that caused the eventual release delay of each series.

- Originally, Williamson was slated for an Aliens comic before the “Fire and Stone” concept came into place, and while he was sad to see the take that he and Allie had worked out not see the light of day, he believes this new effort is equally as exciting.

- Each team member stressed that the chemistry of their writers’ room approach was a big part of why this project came together as well as it did, despite significant rewrites being needed.

- Kelly Sue DeConnick, who is also writing the finale of the series in Prometheus Omega, was credited as the key driver of research regarding incorporating Prometheus into the Alien and Predator universe. According to Allie, she brought an entire pink binder full of Prometheus theories from the internet.

- Ferrerya was brought on board to the project because of his design skill, and that was an angle that the team wanted to make sure was highlighted. Roberson likened Ferrerya’s map-making abilities to being “one step away from a DnD campaign”.

- Paul Tobin was brought in for the Prometheus series because of his previous work with Ferrerya on Colder.

- Williamson discussed the eponymous Predator of his Predator series, named Ahab, who is indeed hunting for a “white whale” though the identity of said target had to remain a secret. He also was proud of the fact that Ahab already has an action figure, which could be found at the Dark Horse booth on the show floor.

- Williamson also discussed his protagonist, Galgo, who will be appearing in Prometheus first, followed by Aliens v Predator, eventually becoming the lead in Predator. The writer made sure to mention the morally grey nature of the character, and also his verbose nature.

- Sebela, regarding Aliens vs. Predator, stated that he spent his entire childhood trying to figure out a way for Xenomorphs and Predators to fight and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do the same in comics. Allie felt as though Sebela’s horror background was a particularly strong fit for the “monster-like” material in his series. Olivetti expressed excitement for the cinematic nature of the visuals he is producing, a first for him in comics.

- When asked if the stories connect, the team stressed that the books could be read independently of one another and readers could get a satisfying story that way, but they would see the larger picture form if they wanted to read the entire event.

- The chronology of “Fire and Stone” was also cleared up, as Aliens is a pseudo prequel to the other tales, and takes place between scenes of Aliens (the film), Predator takes place after the other minis and Prometheus Omega is the finale.

- In response to a question regarding previous usage of “The Space Jockey” and the mythos built around it in previous Dark Horse Aliens comics, Allie said those stories will not come into play with Fire and Stone.

- Bouncing off of that, Roberson made mention that the key directive was to “start from the films and go from there”, and the only films that team really concentrated on were: Prometheus, Alien, Aliens, and Predator. Sebela, when asked, said that the two Aliens vs. Predator films were not canon to his series.

- When the divisive nature of Prometheus amongst fandom was brought up, Paul was quick to point out that he wasn’t interested so much in leaving any elements of that film behind, so much as he wanted to highlight the parts of it that worked well, specifically the concept of scientists going on a mission and realizing that things are far bigger than they ever imagined. Ferrerya then joked that he was excited to bring back the biologist and cartographer characters that everyone “loved” from the film.

- Allie made sure to underline that theme was key driver in the storytelling of each mini-series, particularly the idea of the “stewardship of life”, which runs in the background of the Alien and Prometheus films particularly. Roberson also made mention that the parallels that run between the androids in Aliens and Prometheus was a major influence.

- And yes, there will be Black Goo! Which, according to Roberson’s read of the notes they received from Fox, is called “accelerant”. They declined to go into further detail regarding the role it will play in the stories themselves.

- Prometheus and Aliens will both be due out in September, Aliens vs Predator and Predator will see release in October. The Prometheus Omega one-shot is set to arrive in February. Each series will be a 4-issue mini respectively.

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15. SDCC 2014: Movie Poll!

And now… time for a reader poll!

Which actor would you most like to see on screen?
  
pollcode.com free polls 

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16. SDCC ’14: Avengers & X-Men: AXIS Panel Recap

by Alexander Jones

Marvel’s Avengers & X-Men: AXIS panel is officially getting underway here at San Diego Comic-Con International. Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso is hovering near the stage about to get ready. In the background there is a line of people getting ready for the show. Name placards for the panel are all lined up as follows; Senior Editor Nick Lowe, AXIS writer Rick Remender, and Executive Editor Mike Marts.

Senior Editor Nick Lowe is moderating the effort. Jordan D. White, the Editor of Deadpool made an appearance at the show as well. As soon as that was done the group jumped right into some of the new announcements from the show.Avengers_Rage_of_Ultron_Interior

All-New Captain America is given an official name and features the art of Stuart Immonen.

Remender stated that the new comic is going to have a completely different tone for this new series. He stated that having Steve and Sam working together is going to add some new dynamics to the title. A new Alex Ross cover for the book was also shown here at the show. Remender states that writing more lighthearted characters in the book adds a sense of fun to the storyline. Ian Rogers is also revealed as the new Nomad in the comic book series. It was also stated that Hydra is being built up again in a way that apparently we have not seen before. Marvel vaguely stated that they are doing something completely new with Marvel’s premiere terrorist organization.

Remender talks about how Immonen takes the story to a nearly perfect level. He was wondering “what drugs were being put in Stuart Immonen’s water supply,” as the panel were shocked that the artist was able to give such detailed work and deliver it to the publisher on time. Captain America #25 is also going to have a bit of Stuart Immonen artwork towards the back half of the title featuring the brand new incarnation of Hydra. Unfortunately this also means that Stuart Immonen is departing fan-favorite title All-New X-Men

The Avengers: Rage Of Ultron Original Graphic Novel was then announced. Rick Remender is once again writing the storyline along with artist Jerome Opena and Dean White. The new story is an in-continuity original graphic novel that has an April 2015 release date. Alonso stated in a joking manner that Jerome “is so much better than Stuart Immonen.” This event takes place in a post-AXIS environment, which “leads to some very exciting things that are coming down the line.  The under-appreciated hero known as Starfox is heading back to the surface in the brand new graphic novel. The Red Skull is also going to tie into the big Avengers & X-Men: AXIS storyline with the March to AXIS titles including Uncanny Avengers #24 and Captain America #24 which sees the final fate of Jet Black and observe what has been happening with the Red Skull.

IMG_0812-1

The panel then revealed Avengers & X-Men: AXIS Issue #1, whose first is entitled The Red Supremacy. The title contains artwork from Adam Kubert. The group shared that the Vision is being toyed with once again. He is said to play a part towards a major moment in the upcoming AXIS and Graphic Novel storylines. We are also shown the debut of the brand new Jim Cheung cover for Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #2 pencilled by Kubert again. The third issue was revealed as well, which is being drawn by Leinil Yu.

The focus then shifted over towards the AXIS: Carnage mini-series from Rick Spears and the AXIS: Hobgoblin mini-series by Kevin Shinick and Javier Rodriguez. Where the group explained that there are exciting things to come from both series. AXIS: Revolutions features writing from Dennis Hopeless and Simon Spurrier with art from Ken Lashley.

There were even more small issues that were announced including Uncanny Avengers Issue #25 and Deadpool #36. Remender and artist Daniel Acuna are covering the final issue which is born out of the conflict with Scarlet Witch and the Red Skull.

Magneto #11, Loki: Agent of Asgard #7, All-New X-Factor #15 were all also announced to tie into the event.

When the floor turned over for Question and Answers from fans, a young man named Rory dressed up like Captain America asked a question about the Fantastic Four. Alonso stated that an upcoming event storyline is going to be more focused on the team. Another fan asked about certain X-Men characters joining the Avengers, and was wondering why there is less cross pollination happening with X-Men becoming Avengers

IMG_0813-1Lowe elaborated that the X-Men is categorized in that group based on their genetics. White noted the amount of cross-over and talked about books like Danger, Longshot, Mimics, and some of the other comics’ characters that have been featured on both teams. It was announced that Brevoort was really the one that had the idea of the Onslaught motif powered by Professor Charles Xavier. Remender said at first he sort of rejected the idea, but then started to re-think it towards the past few minutes, and it all came into a notebook for him.

Remender interjected that he is trying to mix both of these separate continuities to blend together shaking up the status quo for each hero. Another fan was curious about why there is a lack of X-Men material at the show, while there are many Avengers and X-Men panels that are featured here at the show. Nicke Lowed Jokingly stated to the group, “Put the hack Brian Michael Bendis on the book.” The panel explained that fans had nothing to worry about as AXIS is going to feature a heavy amount of X-Men material. On the topic of unworthy Thor, Remender stated that he had spent hours on the phone with Aaron talking about how they can tie the storyline into AXIS.

A comic book reader asked point blank whether Cyclops was going to be killed in Avengers vs. X-Men. The panelists explained that the idea might have been “floating around in the room, but never entertained for too long. “It was also announced that Jason Aaron was the one who had actually had the idea of the female Thor.

 

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17. SDCC ’14: Hall H shocker! No lines!

Whaaaaaaaaaat?

Was it just a slow day in Hall H? Or were we more right than we even knew about this being the year things didn’t get crazier? Did the new wristband system—and the ban on tents, forcing people to Rambo it—work? IS this just another world? Maybe everyone went to the PetCo Park experience?

Zillions of reports all day from Twitter about minimal lines for Hall H.

And Ballroom 20

Craziest Comic-Con EVAH this year.

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18. SDCC 14: #comicsbeat Kneel before your god(zilla)


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19. Comixology Goes DRM-Free On Selected Publishers

comics_by_comixology_logo_black_textIf you look at the history of digital music, the combination of a standardized format, moderate pricing (compared to CDs) and DRM-free files were what sparked sales.  Comics still doesn’t have a standardized format or a lower pricing tier for new issues, but DRM-free just turned up.  Comixology has announced they’re going to be having DRM-free “back-up” copies available for select publishers.

This new feature allows you to download and store local copies of books in PDF and CBZ format.

For our launch, participating publishers include Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Zenescope Entertainment, MonkeyBrain Comics, Thrillbent, and Top Shelf Productions. In addition, our Submit creators and small publishers are now able to choose to make their books available DRM-free.

Traditionally, Hollywood-based licenses have had DRM baked into the licensing agreements for comics.  It’s no surprise that DC (Warner), Marvel (Disney) and IDW (a lot of licensed books from places like Hasbro) aren’t on that list.  I’m also curious if Dynamite’s entire line is there or just part of the line, since they do a lot of licensed books.

SLG and Image started the DRM-free comics movement.  Comixology just picked up the ball in a big way.  Don’t be too surprised if ePub 3 gets added to the format list in the near future, too.

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20. SDCC ’14: Comixology announces DRM-free backups for Image, Top Shelf, Dynamite, Monkeybran, Thrillbent

With a line up of publishers yet unknown, Comixology has announced that from now on publishers will be able to choose a DRM-free option for their comics downloads. It’s both an acknowledgement of the reality of technology and a pretty forward facing move for a company that faces some skepticism since being acquired by Amazon. From now on when you download it, you own it. Simple as can be,

Not as simple. Whose on board? The original announcement included no names of publishers. Image, already DRM free would seem to be a natural, and perhaps other creator owned titles? Developing throughout the hour.

And the publishers have been announced:

“We’re excited to make this DRM-free backup option available to our customers and publishers today,” said comiXology co-founder and CEO David Steinberger. “Our customers can keep a copy locally and continue to do their reading on comiXology in our industry-changing Guided View.”

“For those out there who have not joined the comic reading community because of DRM – you have no excuse now,” said co-founder and Director of ComiXology Submit John D. Roberts. “We’re excited about the launch of DRM-free backups today and look forward to announcing more innovative features as we move ahead with our mission of making everyone on the face of the planet a comic book fan!”

To obtain the DRM-free backups of their books, customers can go to the “My Books” section of comixology.com on their desktop computers and click the button that appears next to their books. Books and series from participating publishers will be available for backup starting today. Backups are available in high definition PDF and CBZ.

Customers will continue to enjoy all of their purchases – whether available as a DRM-free backup or not – on the comiXology platform in comiXology’s exclusive cinematic Guided View reading experience, anytime and anywhere.

With over 50,000 comics and graphic novels from more than 75 publishers, comiXology offers the widest selection of digital comics in the world. ComiXology’s immense catalog and cinematic Guided View reading experience makes it the best digital platform for comic and graphic novel fans worldwide.

Find your favorite comics and graphic novels at comixology.com and try the comiXology app available on all major mobile platforms.

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21. SDCC 14: #comicsbeat Really top-notch Bee and Puppycat cosplay by @microcake !


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22. SDCC 2014: Watchtower Thursday: Surfing the Tsunami Online

*  We’ve won!  Politicians officially open Comic-Con!

On Thursday, to mark the official opening of Comic-Con International 2014, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria harnessed their inner superheroes and flew through the air on a zip-line near the downtown Convention Center.

Gloria was the interim Mayor after the Filner scandal.  Faulconer won the special election.  Faulconer has strong ties to Comic-Con: he worked PR on the second convention center expansion before he ran for public office, and supports the expansion of the convention center.  His hobbies: yachting and biking.

* Google Glass banned from Comic-Con screenings.

 Not that surprising.

*For the wrestling fans out there… Sting appears at the WWE panel. [No, not the musician.]

Is this bigger than JR Jr. working for DC?

 * SYNERGY!

Well, yes; corporate synergy is another explanation—ESPN, like Marvel, is owned by Disney. The three spots feature former SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne introducing Marvel’s latest super team as new ESPN employees brought in to ensure the safety of the new SportsCenter set.

How soon before we see “ESPN: The Sports Comic Magazine”?  What?  Sports fans are geeks, too!  T-shirts, who-would-win fantasy leagues, arcane statistics and knowledge, objectified athletes and cheerleaders…

 * This year’s economic profile of Comic-Con.

 *  We discover Stan Lee’s one weakness…  Get well soon, Stan!   

*  OH NOES!  Girls are ruining Peanuts too!

“With their youthful, ingenious, and fashion-savvy sensibility, Snoopy and Belle are a perfect fit with the We Heart It community, and we’re looking forward to a terrifically successful partnership,” said Dave Williams, President of We Heart It. “Peanuts has always offered a fresh and original world view, which is exactly what We Heart It fans crave. This will provide an outstanding opportunity for our fans to find inspiration and engagement with this legendary brand.”

It’s like an electronic greeting card.  You can like and share pictures online.

* A Comic-Con Virgin, from Japan:

* The Boston Herald profiles how Wired used their “Wired Café” to best effect.

* Reed Elsevier, owner of NYCC, announces earnings.

 * Some Star Wars VII tidbits.

Movie Wars

DC wins on a quiet day (so far, as of 7 PM EDT/4 PM PDT), getting great publicity for their “All Hat, No Battle” Batsuit reveal. 

* MTV plots how DC can beat Marvel in Hall H.

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23. SDCC 14: #comicsbeat


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24. SDCC ’14: Fashion Shows on Trend

imageThis year there are several high-profile fashion-related events and product launches at Comic-Con, which at the very least reflects how much the comics industry’s awareness of fashion has grown since the days when Batgirl was baffled by hemlines.

As some of you may know, part of my work as an attorney involves assisting fashion businesses, from emerging designers to multinational companies, and I also work with the pioneering Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School. Cosplay and such branded merch as t-shirts have long been part of the Comic-Con scene, but in recent years we’ve seen intriguing growth in geek-and-nerd couture. With that, of course, comes a host of legal concerns, including copyright, trademark and depending on the garment or beauty product, even design and utility patents.

Tonight I’m looking forward to attending the first Her Universe Geek Couture Fashion Show, which starts at 6pm at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. The show, which is co-sponsored by Hot Topic and Nerdist Industries, will feature the work of 36 designers, two of whom will be selected to design a special Her Universe fashion collection. The founder of Her Universe, Ashley Eckstein, has brought on board an impressive array of licensed properties for her line, including Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead.

Tomorrow night brings another much anticipated show: the launch of the co-branded collection by GeekNation and COZDAY Clothing. COZDAY, by Leetal Platt Designs, features work inspired by pop culture, and GeekNation is the burgeoning media empire founded by actress Clare Kramer and producer Brian Keathley.

The Saturday-night Masquerade has been an established part of SDCC for years, and I’ll be covering that in more detail in a future post — for now, I’ll just note that one of the things that I’ve found particularly interesting about cosplay culture in San Diego is that for a number of cosplayers it as been a springboard for their careers, including movie makeup, film prosthetics and costume design.

The above list is hardly exhaustive. The Marge Simpsons MAC cosmetic line, the DC Comics x Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Fall 2014 line, roughly a bazillion TARDIS products: Comic Con is looking to be a productive platform for the fashion community — and, of course, its lawyers.

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25. Transformers are going to get “Angry”

I'm pretty sure these Transformers would like some noms too.

I’m pretty sure these Transformers would like some noms too.

“Mom, what’s for breakfast?”

“Well honey, we have pancakes, bacon, potatoes, Decepiticons…”

If you were a kid from the 80’s, 90’s, or still a kid at heart, then you’re most likely familiar with Transformers. You know, “Transformers: More than meets the eye.” In honor of the franchise’s 30th anniversary, Hasbro Toys treated some eager reporters and fans to a breakfast this morning at Southpaw in San Diego’s Downtown Gaslamp area. I’ve heard of character breakfasts, but never one that dealt with robots.

All throughout the bar/restaurant, we were treated to Transformer toy splendor. Arranged along the bar area was private transformers collection that included some originals from the 80’s, Beastwars, and even some rocker themed ones I’ve never seen before (all posed on a 1984 “Planet Cybertron” poster). On the outside dining tables was a selection of the larger ones that transformer as you spin their parts. And there was even a buffet style “Mashem’s” table. Transformers Mashem’s are figures that allow the appendages to be swapped with other robots, allowing for some pretty creative robot making.

What I was most excited about were the videogames that Hasbro has in store for the Transformers brand. A few things are in the works, one of which is an online MMO called Transformers Universe. The computer based game features opened world areas that you can explore either as Autobots or Decepticons that are unique to the game. You can go hunting for Energon, fight wild Terracons, or even participate in 4 versus 4 pvp in either a death match mode, or a modified capture the flag. But instead of capturing flags, you try to steal the opposite team’s Energon.

To add another layer to the game, players can use Energon to craft items, or collect items by defeating enemies. The items can do various things, like boost stats for a continuous duration of time. The game is free to play, but if you are feeling a little impatient and don’t want to wait out the time it takes for your items to be made, you can purchase relics. Relics are in game currencies that are available as pickup items, so you can go throughout the duration of it without having to spend a dime. But like I said, if you’ve got better things to wait on, then they are purchasable with real world money. Currently Transformers Universe is in open beta. There is no set date yet for the actual release. Visit www.transformersuniverse.com to check it out for yourself.

Even bigger for the video gaming market is the crossover in the works. Transformers will be pairing up with the widely popular, widely recognized Angry Birds franchise. Unlike other Angry Birds games, this won’t be the typical drag and launch game featuring different themes. Angry Birds: Transformers will be a side scrolling shooter where the transforming birds and pigs have to fight enemies along the way. Another interesting addition is the cars that will be available for purchase. These transforming vehicles can be photographed, and then downloaded for use in the video game. The toys themselves will also have physical tracks available for them, so there will be more for them than just as downloads for the game. No release date is yet set for Angry Birds: Transformers.

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