Author: Ed Catto

Ed Catto: Culture & Commerce – Bob Chapman’s Graphitti Designs

trio of Graphitti Tshirts

Bob ChapmanOver the past 47 years the SDCC has grown to become a pop culture behemoth. More than just a grand celebration of fan passion, it’s a driver of serious commerce. SDCC’s impact now makes waves on a national and international economic scale, far beyond the initial fan-centric puddles of the early days.

Bob “Chappy” Chapman is a fan and business owner who was part of the early days and is still actively involved today. He’s an energetic entrepreneur who’s built his business Graphitti Designs, catering to Geek Culture. Graphitti Designs has been creates fan focused merchandise like T-shirts, statues, action figures, prints, books and more. And Bob has found a way to survive – and thrive – throughout the many iterations of SDCC over the years.

Bob is likeable, charming, infectiously enthusiastic, and effortlessly employs an extensive vocabulary. You just know he’s a big reader! He’s nostalgic, but always looking forward. As we prepare for the annual nerd prom that world calls SDCC, I was eager to learn how the convention got his business started and how it’s changed over the years.

Graphitti Bettie Page Wow StatueThe Secret Origin

All great superheroes have a great origin story, and Bob Chapman is no exception.

Bob and his brother were rabid Silver Age comic fans and had accumulated an impressive comic collection. By the late 70s they had become disillusioned with collecting and decided to sell their comics. They dutifully trotted their overflowing comic boxes to a myriad of dealers, but were shocked at how little money was offered.

In what would become a life changing decision, they decided that they could do better selling the comics directly to fans directly. They signed up for dealer’s table at SDCC.

Hard to believe it was once that easy to secure exhibition space at SDCC.

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” confessed Bob. But despite that, the brothers managed to walk away with several thousand dollars. And they made this profit by selling off only 10% of their collection.

More important, they loved the comic convention culture. And they were in the thick of it with all their peers and favorite creators. For example, their dealer’s table was situated right next to comics legend Wally Wood.

bobsculpThis would be the initial catalyst that led to the creation Graphitti Designs.

“In the early days, there was a lot of camaraderie,” said Bob. He explained that they were all on a learning curve and there were no official guidelines. “We all helped each other, learned from each other. It wasn’t contrived and was never articulated.”

When he started in 1982, there was no merchandise or specialty marketing. There wasn’t even a place for distributors. The direct sales market was evolving, but the marketplace was, at that time, still focused on the monthly sales cycle of periodicals. Evergreen products and licensed merchandised was rare and usually dismissed.

But in 1981, Bob developed a straightforward idea. He knew the screen-printing process and he knew comics. He approached SDCC’s management team with an idea that was radical at the time, although it has become startlingly commonplace now: to make and sell official comic convention T-Shirts!

Graphitti Team BettyOn the Frontier

In planning for this first T-shirt project, Bob told me how he was hopeful to work with one of his favorite artists, like Jack Kirby, or to use an iconic hero, like Batman or Spider-Man, in order to design a powerful shirt and logo.

Instead, he was disappointed when the convention management team asked him to work with an up-coming-artist he hadn’t heard of an old comics character that hadn’t been published in years.

Crestfallen, he was determined to make it work.

The character was Sheena, an iconic super heroine (pre-dating Wonder Woman) and the artist was Dave Stevens.

1984 Rocketeer SDCC SHIRT GraphittiBob soon met Dave and they hit it off. And Bob, like the rest of world, would soon find out that Dave Stevens was a phenomenal artist. Together, they would create many gorgeous items for Bob’s fledgling company.

In fact many of Graphitti’s “firsts” involved Dave Stevens. The first book Graphitti published was a Dave Stevens Book. The first cloisonné pin featured Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer character. The first statue Graphitti created was based on Dave Stevens’ artwork.

“He was our unofficial art director for all those years,” said Bob.

The Spirit of Entrepreneurship

As Bob talked about the business, he reiterated that he owes much of his success to all the kind people who wanted to see him succeed.

One particularly influential person was Will Eisner. The legendary storyteller and creator of The Spirit approached Graphitti to make Spirit T-shirts. “He allowed us to make Spirit T-shirts,” recalls Bob. “It had never been done before.”

Looking back, this was especially important, as Eisner was also known as a very focused businessman.

Batman Kelly Jones Book GraphittiBusiness Grows as Comic Cons Grow

Graphitti was, in many ways, the first specialty company to create statues and comics-focused hard cover books for the collector’s market. The entire collectible statue market can easily trace its parentage back to Bob Chapman’s efforts at Graphitti.

As a merchandising company, Graphitti blazed new trails and usually enjoyed first mover advantages.

“Now there’s a plethora of merchandise. I spawned some of that,” said Bob.

He’s practically a founding father of merchandising in the comic book industry.

“Not so sure how proud I am of that…it’s so saturated <now>,’ he muses.

Bob explains that they were “…a product of the times. On one hand… the timing was extremely fortunate. But at the same time, the timing was bad – as there was no guideline or framework. In hindsight, ignorance persevered.”

Graphitti was focused on being a champion for artists and comic artwork. “Being a facilitator to the vision is other is part of what gave us this look,” reasoned Bob.

“And now, we’re fortunate to be evolving back into creating books,” said Bob. He’s very pleased about that.

And Graphitti was purposefully small and was able to be malleable. They weren’t shackled to preconceived ideas.

Dream Girl Graphitti Bombshell T ShirtIn the beginning, Graphitti was the only game in the geek merchandise town. But things changed quickly. Bob had to learn how to juggle his money and still produce items.

“I had numerous opportunities to go out of business, and had to learn how to juggle air financially,” said Bob.

The Romantic Entrepreneur

Bob is a unique mix of the classic nuts-and-bolts businessman and the idealist romantic entrepreneur.

That’s evident in his love for the medium, and comics in general. But’s also evident in his staffing.

You see, Bob’s lovely wife Gina often works with him at the Graphitti Convention Booth. So much so, in fact, that she too has become a staple of the SDCC.

“I work more than I should,” lamented Bob. And to that end, he’s grateful that his wife often joins him on the convention circuit and at SDCC in particular.

Graphitti Booth“Sometimes it’s an asset to have such fresh eyes,” said Bob. “She’s not star struck and she’s a good sounding board. She makes the shows more enjoyable. It’s nice that she’s there with me.”

Standing Tall at San Diego Comic Con 2016

Bob makes it very clear about his relationship with SDCC. “I wouldn’t be here without it,” he said.

And he’s contemplative about the state of the industry. “We got what we wanted,” concludes Chappy. “The stink of comics from the fifties has dissipated.” But with the growth comes issues, and it’s a “double-edged sword.”

“I built Graphitti, but I didn’t do it property,” Bob admitted. “I don’t want to be the poster child for doing it properly.”

As an entrepreneur myself, I just scratch my head and think that Graphitti’s amazing success, innovation and longevity all seem pretty proper to me!

Ed Catto: The Mark Gruenwald Tribute

Gruenwald Party Cake Boss with Cake

Catherine SchullerEven though it’s Independence Day today, I am going to talk about Flag Day. It was a couple of weeks ago, and on that day Geek Culture paused to remember the passing of a favorite son. It was a day to celebrate the legacy of Mark Gruenwald, taken away too early twenty years ago. And for a guy who loved Captain America, it was fitting that his birthday was on Flag Day.

Catherine Schuller organized a wonderful tribute to her late husband celebrating the passion and humor with which he lived his life. By just looking at the crowd in the funky New York City club where it was held, you could tell his passion was infectious and long lasting.

My first exposure to Mark Gruenwald came from his visionary fanzine. Omniverse was published long before the Internet provided an infinite number of virtual spots for fans to gather together to deeply discuss various aspects of their fandoms. The fanzine explored comic continuity (i.e., the internal mythology) in a detailed way that so many fanboys, myself included, had only wished existed. It was exciting and fun and thoughtful and invigorating!

Mark’s work on fanzines would lead to a long career at Marvel. He loved creating, writing, and editing stories. He got the chance to do those very things while at Marvel. After debuting on Spider-Woman, he enjoyed a long, groundbreaking run on Captain America, explored group dynamics with The Squadron Supreme mini-series and shepherded Quasar’s series from start to finish.

Tom BrevoortI attended this tribute event with my local friends Scott Kearny (Hero Cam) and Patrick Riley (The Adventures of Electrolyte), but there really was an impressive assembly of comic creators including Denny O’Neil, Tom Palmer, Fabian Nicieza, Danny Fingeroth and more.

Highlights of the event included a Captain America shield cake courtesy of the Cake Boss, DJ’s, dancers, photographers, an art exhibit and a unique type of autographed mini-posters. Limited quantities of these mini-posters are still available for sale and proceeds go to the scholarship fund. (Fans can contact Catherine here.)

One of the high points was when Mark’s daughter, cosplaying as Dazzler, took the stage with her stepmother Catherine Schuller.

Tom DeFalcoSeveral comic luminaries spoke, each with their own take on this creator.

Tom Brevoort, currently Marvel’s executive editor, spoke with great humility. Even though he is a man of great accomplishments within the industry, he let it be known that he felt honored to be speaking amongst the other professionals at this tribute. Tom went on to provide great insights into the authenticity of Mark Gruenwald’s professional career.
Tom DeFalco talked about Gruenwald’s famous practical jokes, while Bob Budiansky and Elliot Brown talked about the extreme measures that Gruenwald would take to deal with corporate deadlines. Brown painted a picture of Mark as a cross between M*A*S*H’s Hawkeye Pierce and Groucho Marx. With great affection, Carl Potts also shared a few stories about all the practical jokes.

Denny ONeil 2In his tribute, Denny O’ Neil explored what makes a legacy. In a very moving remembrance, the noted writer talked about the enjoyment of blazing new creative paths with Gruenwald and the respect he had for the Gruenwald’s “big shoulders”, i.e. the responsibility he would assume, even when it was unpleasant.

O’Neil revealed that one creative endeavor they were pursuing was actually experiencing strong negative criticism within the company. Interestingly, Gruenwald had protected O’Neil from it in order that “Denny could do his job,” unencumbered by these slings and arrows. Denny O’Neil also revealed that if the roles were reversed, he wasn’t sure he’d have the fortitude to protect Gruenwald in the same way.

Dancer 2Brevoort had an excellent observation. He pointed out that in old Bullpen Bulletins editorial pages Stan Lee was able to paint a picture of a fictional reality where a bunch of zany creators collaborated in a bullpen, making Marvel Comics with madcap fun. In reality, that was not the way it was in most cases.

But during his tenure at Marvel, Mark Gruenwald was an example of that fiction come to life. He was zany and madcap and mischievous. Despite the fact that this is an industry filled with so many introverts, folks loved this fiction and loved being a part of the culture that Gruenwald was bringing to life.

Catherine Schuller is an entertaining woman who clearly still has deep affection and love for her deceased husband. She was able to create an event that was respectful and outrageously loopy at the same time. And it all reminded us how lucky we were to have known Mark Gruenwald, or at least his work.

Mark was a visionary, and his quote from an old issue of Amazing Heroes magazine about a John Walker (a Marvel Character first called The Super-Patriot and later U.S. Agent) could easily apply today’s politics:

“He believes the American Dream is to make a mint and then retire. He says, “Yeah, I’m looking after number one. Why is my country so good? Because it’s given me the opportunity to make a lot of money. That is it’s [the American Dream’s] corrupted essence.”

Ed Catto: A Guy and His Lion – Tarzan’s New Logo

ERB logo lo rezMosaic LogoHollywood embraces certain heroic brands time and time again. I think Dumas’ Three Musketeers (spoiler alert: there’s really four of them!) holds the record for movies most frequently adapted from a story. But another property has been capturing fans’ imaginations for over 100 years, and he’ll be swinging into theatres again this summer.

The Legend of Tarzan debuts July 1st. This movie stars Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgard. Fans are hopeful. Of note, this movie opens with a “civilized” Tarzan in the city London. But the hardcore Tarzan and Edgar Rice Burroughs fans know there’s always something rumbling in the jungle.

In fact, I recently wrote about Tarzan: The Beckoning. Dark Horse is re-issuing the 80s miniseries by master artist Thomas Yeates. You can read my column here. But right now, I’d like to put on my metaphorical jungle pith helmet and explore a fascinating little story about iconography and corporate branding.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) created many memorable characters, but Tarzan is the most well-known. In fact, when ERB purchased land in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles from a former LA Times publisher, he named it Tarzana. I’m sure you will agree it’s a much cooler name than Sherman Oaks.

Margot-Robbie-as Jane Legend-Tarzan-Movie-2016Way back when, the famous illustrator J. Allen St. John created an iconic image of Tarzan and the Golden Lion (ERB fans know the feline better as Jad-bal-ja) that became an icon, essentially offering up a visual shorthand to the sprawling adventure stories.

Years later, in the 60s, ERB commissioned Roy Krenkel to re-create the image as a corporate logo. It was used as a logo for years and years.

But there was one problem. In many instances, especially when used on letterhead and the like, it looked like Tarzan was riding the lion!

This just wouldn’t do for Jim Sullos, the President of ERB, Inc. During Tarzan’s centennial celebration in 2013, he enlisted longtime Tarzan artist Thomas Yeates to create another version of this classic pose. But this time, Tarzan would be standing in front of the Golden Lion – as he did in the original St. John version – so there would be no confusion.

And beyond letterhead, email signatures and corporate reports, it’s only fitting that this logo will live on in Tarzana. ERB, Inc., working very closely with the Tarzana Community and Cultural Center, has announced the creation of a mosaic logo based on Thomas Yeates’ illustration.

The new logo is from a California based company called Vita Luxury Mosaics, and the mosaic artist is Gail Rotstein.
It’s nice to see comics artist like Thomas Yeates have his work honored with such an enduring corporate image. And the updated logo is a beauty.

“It’s wonderful to see my art turned into a mosaic,” said Yeates. “Hats off to Roy Krenkel and J.P. Monahan for their earlier versions of this image. Now I wonder how else Burroughs Inc. will use the new logo?”

And you thought the Nike or Apple logos were iconic.

Oh, one more thing – Roy Thomas and Tom Grindberg are doing great work on the online Tarzan strip at the official Edgar Rice Burroughs site. Stop by and check ‘em out!

Zorro Comes To Your Home!

Zorro strip 1

Zorro z LogoLast week we told you about two upcoming collections of Don McGregor and Thomas Yeates’ Zorro newspaper strips as part of a broader profile of Tom’s recent work. As it happens, this week will see the rerelease of Zorro – The Dailies and Sundays (The Second Year) Collector’s Edition, reprinting all the daily and Sunday strips from the 1999 newspaper comic strips’ second year… and, through the website below, autographed by Tom Yeates.

Also for the first time, the entire two years of their Zorro newspaper strip are collected in Zorro – The Complete Dailies and Sundays. This latter hardcover edition will be limited to only 50 copies and will be signed by all Don McGregor, Tod Smith and Thomas Yeates.

Zorro was introduced as a revolutionary character for old California in pulp adventures by Johnston McCulley. Following a critically acclaimed comic series from Topps, the Zorro newspaper strip debuted in 1999 and was written by Don McGregor and drawn by Tod Smith, Thomas Yeates and Rick Magyar. The strip appeared in major newspapers across North America. The series was clearly a labor of love for these creators, all the while paying homage to past creators while still offering fresh and exciting new adventures.

Both editions will be published July 25, 2016. Fans can preorder before that date at or

Ed Catto: More Valiant Than Ever

Faith Comics

A few weeks ago I wrote about the fantastic experiences I had years ago working with the first iteration of the company that we know today as Valiant. I was in brand management in Nabisco on OREO cookies and was introduced to the company (on a professional basis) through a wonderful guy named Seymour Miles. He was responsible for Ad Sales and Custom Comics. Of course, as a lifelong fan and comics enthusiast, I knew all about Valiant and was enjoying their innovative comic line.

I was also being pitched by Marvel, DC and Malibu comics, but those are stories for future columns.

Fast forward to today. Valiant jumpstarts with the 2.0 version of the company and continues to innovate and provide great storytelling for fans.
The new organization is a “perfect storm” creatively driven by a fan-turned- entertainment entrepreneur, Dinesh Shamdasani. He has boundless energy, and projects a vision that pulls and impressive team into his orbit.

Dr Mirage ValiantOver coffee, I talked with part of the team, including Publisher Fred Pierce, PR Expert Hunter Gorinson and Gavin Cuneo, Valiant’s Chief Operating Officer & CFO.

Fred is a long-time comics guy, having worked at a myriad of positions over the years, including the previous incarnation of Valiant. Hunter is the type of guy who embraces his professional mission and explains his tasks and goals with the mischievous glint of a dedicated comics fan. Gavin is newer to comics but has great respect and understanding of the industry and for fans.

My first meeting with Gavin was a crazy start to our relationship. It was on a train during my regular commute from New York City to Ridgewood, NJ. It was crowded, as it often is. We were all standing shoulder to shoulder. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder to see who that the guy was reading a preliminary script for Bloodshot #1.

We struck up a conversation and I explained who I was and my background with Valiant. He introduced himself as Gavin Cuneo, part of the new Valiant team, and then we were surprised to find that we were both Ridgewood residents.

And today, he’s more engaged than ever. “As we approach the fifth anniversary of Valiant’s return to publishing in 2017, we’re accruing more new interest with each passing month,” said Gavin. “First-rate story content has always been at front of mind for Valiant, and that principle continues to resonate across the entire company – from sales to marketing to licensing to social media.”

“To my mind,” he added, “we’ve built the most knowledgeable, passionate, and effective management team in comics. Their dedication to keeping Valiant vital for fans and retailers worldwide continues to make us a formidable presence in the marketplace, even as Valiant expands into other media forms.”

It’s all about the comics

It’s easy to tell that this company is all about comics because the offices are packed with comics. There are boxes and shelves of comic everywhere. And despite the entrepreneurial frothiness of it all, everyone there knows just where each comic is.

Someone will shout out, “Can you get me that last issue of Bloodshot and the hardcover collection of The Valiant?”

And then there’s a rapid response: “Sure – here they are!”’

Valiant and BloodshotWearing Out Shoes at All Those Conventions

Valiant genuinely supports comic conventions. Not just the huge ones like San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con, but a wide range of conventions.

Late last year, at the inaugural New Jersey Comic Expo, you could tell the Valiant booth team loved being there, meeting fans and spreading the word. And just recently at Awesome Con in Washington, DC, Valiant was one of three publishers beating the drum on the convention floor.

Their love for conventions seems so legitimate – it’s not just about packing and unpacking an exhibition booth. You get the sense that this company loves their fans and wants to be at the right places to meet both existing and potential fans.

Retailer Focused

Gavin and Fred take a lot of pride their retailer efforts. Led by Atom! Freeman, Valiant is an organization that takes their sales channel, the comic shops, seriously. They court the stores, sell hard and work to provide retailers with what they need to sell their books.

And these folks don’t just sit in their ivory tower. They put their money where their mouths are.

Atom! Freeman is part of this comics retail team. He’s a guy who knows his stuff and loves the industry. In his former life, he was an Eisner-Award winning retailer. Now he’s leading a team of folks who are all about interfacing with the retail community on behalf of Valiant.

While the bigger publishers cut back on their interaction with comic shops, Valiant seems to be going the extra mile. And I mean that literally as well as figuratively.

Atom! explained to me that they rotate the staff so someone’s always on the road visiting comic shops on Wednesdays (news comics day) and weekends. And more often than not, they’re driving their Valiant-wrapped Chevy.

Archer and ArmstrongThe Real Deal

Russ Brown leads their licensing and partnership efforts. He’s a long-time industry and licensing guy, with a contagious enthusiasm focused on business that makes it seem like he’s fresh out of Wharton.

Russ took me through several of the recent licensing deals that Valiant has struck, and in much the same way a coach of a winning team is proud of each student, he’s excited about each business relationship.

“Each and every month, Valiant is forging new opportunities with an impressive and wide-ranging slate of partners,” said Russ. “We currently have nearly 100 active licensees, which is practically unheard of for a company of our size and relative footprint. At the end of the day, you can credit that to one thing – the strength and diversity of the Valiant library and still-insatiable interest that these characters inspire in fans around the world.”

All the deals are put together with the ultimate goal of pleasing fans, but that doesn’t mean the Valiant folks aren’t very pleased too. And there are a lot of deals. The sheer quantity is very impressive. But they are aimed at building the Valiant brand.

“From longtime icons like X-O Manowar and Bloodshot to relative newcomers like Faith and Divinity, the library is richer and in higher demand than at nearly any other point in Valiant’s 25-year history,” added Russ.

Valiant Times Ahead

Valiant is on a tear with a busy summer of announcements, solid comics and a big hit with the recent comics series Faith.

I enjoy reading the comics. But as I get to know the entrepreneurial vision and stories behind the stories, I respect Valiant as an enterprise all the more.

“From the runaway success of Faith to the massive plans outlined for the 4001 A.D. event this summer, Valiant has never been stronger,” said Publisher Fred Pierce. “2016 has truly shaped into a banner year for our publishing line, as we continue to influence the industry with our innovative ideas and compelling stories. We’re excited for what the future holds as we continue to grow and introduce Valiant’s story-first approach to comics to an even larger audience.”


Ed Catto: Strip Tease – Thomas Yeates, Prince Valiant & Co.


Yeates Prince ValiantA few years ago when I had the honor to moderate the Joe Kubert panel at New York Comic Con, I was pleasantly surprised by how many great stories one of the panelists shared.

These tales were spun by Thomas Yeates, one of the first graduates of the Kubert School. Yeates has enjoyed an extraordinary career, drawing iconic characters iconic from Tarzan to Swamp Thing, Conan to Captain Action and even Dracula. And there are so many more.

I still enjoy his brilliant work each weekend when I pick up the Sunday paper and read Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant.

Recently, I caught up with Thomas Yeates and chatted about his recent efforts.

Ed Catto: You’ve been illustrating the Prince Valiant weekly comic strip for some time now. How’s it all going?

Thomas Yeates: Basically it’s great; I’m very fortunate to have landed this job. Particularly working with writer Mark Schultz, who likes hearing my story ideas, which makes it a lot more fun.

EC: What are some the challenges you find as opposed to traditional comics or illustrations?

TY: The main problem is the reproduction. I’ve had to limit the line work to accommodate a weird registration problem that we see today. Comic books have much better printing. The format differs from paper to paper, but I’ve been able to deal with that.

Tarzan BeckoningEC: The longevity of Prince Valiant is astounding. Why do you think it endures?

TY: Well the main credit for that goes to Hal Foster who created, wrote and illustrated this Sunday only strip. And, of course, the hard work of those who followed Foster. He set the bar so incredibly high that all of us who’ve continued the strip have tried our best to maintain that level of quality. At least that’s what I think.

EC: Who’s your favorite character in the Prince Valiant cast?

TY: Val himself. His wife Aleta is wonderful too. It’s much better when there are women in action adventure stories. And of course Gawain is always a kick.

EC: I’ve heard rumors that your mini-series, Tarzan: The Beckoning, first published by Malibu in the 90s, is going to be reprinted. Can you tell me more about that?

TY: Yes. We just finished working on that for about nine months, Dark Horse, two assistants and myself. We fixed the coloring, I added a little new art and tweaked the story. There were production problems in the original version so the new collection will be much better, including pages put back in order that were out of order in the Malibu version. I think it will be out in the fall.

EC: One of the issues Tarzan: The Beckoning dealt with was the slaughter of elephants and the ivory trade. We see that countries and organizations are still struggling with this issue, as evidenced by the crushing and burning of ivory. Do you keep up with the issue and what insights might you have?

TY: That’s a terrible situation. “When will we ever learn?” as the song says. Yes, it’s ironic that just when The Beckoning is being reprinted with its fight against the ivory trade theme we find elephants being slaughtered for their tusks again, just like when I originally created the story some 24 years ago. Yes, I follow the issue and had input from various experts back when I wrote it. One of them, from the Environment Investigation Agency, came back and contributed an update on the situation for the new Dark Horse edition.

Prince ValiantEC: In The Beckoning, your version of Tarzan’s wife Jane was exceedingly lovely. Can you tell me a little bit about how you envision these characters?

TY: Well I was quite taken by Maureen O’Sullivan who played Jane in the Weissmuller films of the 1930s so she was my inspiration there. Plus Burroughs descriptions of Jane, and Russ Manning always gave her such beauty and dignity and I wanted to maintain that.

EC: I also seem to recall that you snuck a few of your other characters into that mini-series. Is that correct?

TY: Yes, I do that sometimes to keep myself amused. In the crowd scenes there are environmental activist friends I knew then and The Timespirits as well.

EC: Will you be at San Diego Comic-Con again this year?

TY: Yes.

EC: What keeps you coming back every year?

TY: Good question. Why the hell do I keep going? Recently because my daughter Olivia likes to go with me.

By the way I should mention there’s a new reprint of all the Zorro newspaper strips I did with Don McGregor and Tod Smith coming out from a German publisher <at that same time>, including an English language version.

EC: Yes, Uwe Weber filled me in. The German independent publisher “Classic Heroes” Is launching two exclusive Zorro-Dailies Editions in July 2016. The books will be available only thru direct orders at or . He also explained that fans can find the complete information on these two beautiful books, and all the various projects on the site.
EC: What keeps you going as an artist every day?

TY: What keeps me going as an artist every day is another good question, Ed. I have to make a living and this is what I know how to do. A great script is always inspiring too. I’m still trying to figure out how the great artists I love, like Foster, did it. Sometimes that challenge keeps me going.

EC: Ha! I think there’s a lot of us who to try figure out how you do it, Thomas! Thanks so much for your time and insights.

(Editor’s Note: Prince Valiant by Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates, is available online along with over 100 other current and vintage King Features comic strips – The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Popeye, Flash Gordon, Buz Sawyer, Johnny Hazard, Zippy The Pinhead and a slew of others at Tell ‘em ComicMix sent you, and then ask yourself why you’re talking to your computer.)

Ed Catto: Teaching The Teacher at the Bergen Arts Festival

Teen Arts Students in Class

Teen Arts Freida CryingKids these days… they’re all irreverent slackers, consumed in the little bubbles of social media and self-absorption, right? Not so fast! That’s not what I just experienced at all.

Each year, Bergen (County New Jersey) Community College is the site for the Bergen Teen Arts Festival. This impressive event invites outstanding high school students to participate in a daylong celebration of creativity, youth and the arts. It’s packed full of live performances – music, theater and more. An art exhibit showcases impressive drawing, painting and sculpting talent. The Festival offers more creative workshops than any student could ever attend in one day.

And the weather gods must support it, because it always seems to be held on a gorgeous, sunny day.

Evan Cooper, the Teen Arts Administrator is a focused and supportive guy with a great skill for setting the stage and then letting the students and teachers shine. Three years ago, Evan, along with creative writing expert Jim O’Rourke, recruited me to teach a class on creating graphic novels.

Teen Arts Superhero GuitarIt’s been a fantastic experience. For my part, I try to distill some of my best (art) life lessons, learned from the likes of everyone from Scott McCloud to Joe Kubert to all my own art teachers. My goal is to help spark an interest in kids for the art form of comics. We have a lot fun in these classes, and if you’ll allow me to brag, they are always SRO.

Newsflash – they don’t really need me. They already get it. They’ve already earned their pilots licenses, or are in the process. I’m just the airport runway.

So, in fact, as the teacher, I have the opportunity to learn a lot in these classes. Here are some of this year’s observations:

Teen Arts Student Manga SketchbookManga is a Second Language to Many – If you attended the Book Expo and talked with bookstore retailers, they might have told you that the Manga craze (i.e. Japanese Comics) is dead. That’s not what I saw at all. So many of today’s high school students, presumably having enjoyed manga in their formative years, love this style and love to express themselves in this style.

Today’s Cool Kids – Years ago, when I was in high school, I made the mistake of wearing Batman apparel and was mocked (by one of the school’s prettiest blondes, no less) for my absurd, immature pop culture tastes. Today it’s so much the opposite. This isn’t a newsflash to anyone who’s been paying attention, but it’s still just incredible to me.

In each of the three classes I taught that day, there were one or two kids who wore superhero shirts and they were instantly the experts. They’d talk about the recent Captain America: Civil War movie, or Steve Ditko or digital comics or AMC’s new Preacher series. They knew their stuff and everyone respected them.

Lots of Talent – These kids were good! One student had already had his work accepted onto ComiXology’s Submit program (click here for more details) there was such a wide range of imagination and creativity.

What a day! Can’t we just fast-forward to the near future when these kids are published and see what they have to say?

Ed Catto: Respect – for the Presidents and for Geek Culture

JSA All Star Wood 65 and 64

As a kid, I had book called Our Country’s Presidents by Frank Burt Freidal. It was an important looking book published by the National Geographic Society. This heavy tome devoted a few pages to each president along with a handful of gorgeous, colorful pictures. In retrospect, the model they used was a precursor to today’s magazines, complete with sidebars and sections-within-sections.

Freidals Presidents BookWay back when, the U.S. presidents were held in high regard.

I didn’t think I could ever read it all, but it was great fun to skim a few chapters now and then to get a perspective on all these great men and the times in which they lived.

During that same period, as you can imagine, I was also reading a fair amount of comic books. And in one comic series, The Justice League of America, each summer they’d have an adventure with their out-of-town “relatives,” the Justice Society of America.
This made all the sense in the world to me. As an Italian-American family, we were all about gathering the family together at wonderful events. One of the leading restaurants in my hometown was founded by a relative, so getting the invite to their enormous annual summer picnic was always such fun.

Our family would just eat a lot at these gatherings. But when the Justice League of America, essentially a super hero family, would meet annually with their older, wiser, mentor-ish counterparts, the Justice Society of America, there would always be a grand adventure. Oh, sure, they’d typically have one or two pages showing all the heroes enjoying hors d’oeuvres and chatting, but that wouldn’t be very interesting for the entire story.

To help readers identify and understand the visiting characters, the comic would typically devote a couple of pages to each Justice Society member and explain a little bit about their background. To me, it seemed exactly like that U.S. presidents book. The message I got was “These old heroes are important and you should really learn about them- just like you should learn about presidents.”

JSA All Star Staton 72I dutifully obeyed and complied with this imagined directive. Chalk it up to the power of Geek Culture. Whenever there was an adventure with these Justice Society heroes, it was a treat for me and I took it seriously.

So with this background, you’ll understand how I was thrilled to find out that these “out of town” characters, the Justice Society, would return to star in their own comic. All-Star Comics #58 was published in 1976 and starred the JSA heroes.

There they were – these fantastic characters doing amazing things, presumably in the times between those family get-togethers.

For some odd distribution reason, this wasn’t available at my regular newsstand, the fabled Pauline’s News in Auburn, NY. I had to make a special trip to a specific drug store on the other side of town to get this comic. The extra effort was worth it.

There was a new character introduced in this series too. She was kind of like Supergirl, but not as demure and sweet. She was aggressive and always displayed her assertive personality.

She was also very attractive. One artist on the series was the legendary Wally Wood, who could draw anything but had a particular aptitude for rendering pretty blondes. To a 13-year-old boy, this was of great interest to me.

I’m writing about this because I’m thrilled to announce that I was given a great honor. Gemstone’s vice-president of publishing, J.C. Vaughn, asked me to contribute an article about the Justice Society revival series to this year’s Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.
The Overstreet Guide is another of those grand summer traditions. It’s a detailed price guide to just about every comic book ever published, but it’s more than that. It’s an incredible reference detailing the history of American comics, and provides insightful historical articles and industry trends by the nation’s top comics experts.

OverstreetThe book also celebrates creators with the annual showcase of legendary talents providing special cover artwork. This year’s cover is really special, in fact, as J.C. has recruited Amanda Conner to create a two-part diptych cover, one of which features that “pretty blonde” from my youth – Power Girl.

The limited edition cover is by a true master as well. Russ Heath is a phenomenal artist, whose life story is as fascinating and fun as is his art. Heath has created a moody, moving piece evocative of the old war comics covers. As usual, the Overstreet team has designed a unique alternative logo that always thrills evokes the original 60s war comics.

J.C. Vaughn treats the annual publication like one big party. As is the tradition, the book debuts at San Diego Comic-Con and then is on sale nationwide at comic shops and traditional bookstores.

Writing my article for The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide was such fun. I talked with creators of the series, young pups just starting out when the series was first published: Paul Levitz and Joe Staton. Each has gone on to establish incredible careers in the industry. I also spoke with Justice Society expert Roy Thomas. Although he wasn’t directly involved with this iteration of the JSA, he still had great insights and revealed a story or two I hadn’t heard.

David Spurlock is the wry, charming publisher of Vanguard Productions. You may enjoy Vanguard’s fantastic books spotlighting artists like Frank Frazetta, Paul Gulacy or Wally Wood. I sure do. On the other hand, my wife just likes talking to the guy because he’s charming and witty.

But he carries the torch for many artists, and Wallace (Wally) Wood is one of them. David pulled back the curtain and revealed some great stories (some of which I couldn’t publish) about Wood’s participation in this 70s Justice Society revival.

It was great fun to write and I think it will be great fun to read! Be on the lookout and don’t be shy about reserving your copy of The 46th Annual Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.

And if anyone has a copy of Freidel’s book on the presidents …. I’ll trade you an extra copy of the Overstreet Guide for it. I’ve got to finish reading that one!

Ed Catto: Branding The Phantom at 80 – in Dublin!

Phantom 80 Anniversary art

Geek Culture is both spontaneously youthful and historically well heeled. New brands emerge frequently, like BOOM! Studios Lumberjanes and The Backstagers, just written up in the New York Times. But brands like Batman and Captain America are more than 75 years old and provide a rich history for storytellers and collectors alike.

In this, my second of three articles exploring Geek Culture’s fascination with The Phantom, an 80 year old brand, I’m taking our conversation to Ireland.

Eoin McAuley is an ambitious professional who helped launch the Dublin Comic Con. And this year, there’s a charity overlay at this convention spotlighting The Phantom. Here’s my recent interview with Eoin.

Ed Catto: I’m anxious to hear about the Dublin Comic Con, Eoin. Can you please tell me about your convention?

Phantom 3Eoin McAuley: Dublin Comic Convention was first launched in 2013 by two friends, Karl Walsh and Derek Cosgrave, who wanted to bring a small bit of the New York Comic Con to Ireland. These friends had props and costumes from films and also made their own. They wanted to give the Irish a chance to see these props and sets and also to meet the stars of film, TV and comics. With a dedicated team behind them, Dublin Comic Con (DCC) was held in the National Show Centre in Swords in August 2013. Over the two days more than 7,000 members of the public came through the doors. We had sold out both days and had to close the doors to more people entering by lunchtime on both days.

The same was true for the second year. So last year, 2015, we moved to the Convention Centre in the IFSC. This, too, sold out with a capacity of over 15,000 people over the two days coming through the doors.

DCC is very much a family affair and is very family oriented. Our age group is from a week old baby to people in the late 60s early 70s. The majority of our guests would be people between the ages of 25 and 40. We also have a very even distribution between males and females. No longer is the comic world just the playground for boys. You will also find a lot of women in the comic world and quite a large female following.

This year (at our DCC) we will be hosting Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Jim Beaver (Supernatural), Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead) and Robert Maschio (Scrubs), and others yet to be announced.

DCC is a fun family event and is the biggest Irish owned Comic Con in Ireland. While it is may still seem a relatively young event it is well established as a corner stone for the growing interest in the Comic Con scene in Ireland.

While there are many smaller Cons throughout Ireland during the year, this is the only Irish Con to cater to families and be all-inclusive for attendees.

Phantom 2EC: That sounds fantastic. Congrats on your great success. And as I’m exploring the branding of an 80 year old property, can you tell me why The Phantom was a good fit for you?

EM: Last year DCC, in partnership with Lightning Strike Comics, produced a special one-shot comic featuring Sherlock Holmes with the kind permission and consent of the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate. The comic was produced to raise money for charity and this year the show’s organisers wanted to produce another special comic but this time use it to help promote unpublished talent and give local artists the opportunity to showcase their work.

This year marks the 80th Anniversary of The Phantom. The character’s rich history provided the perfect forum for creators to express their story telling capabilities while working on a licensed character. Also, the opportunity to work on such a character who served as the template for so many later costumed characters proved to be a chance of the lifetime.

The Phantom as a character (or should that be characters given his legacy tradition) is so rich featuring high pulp action, mysticism and at the centre of it all, the beating heart of a family. There’s a reason why the character has continued to have so many stories told through a multitude of different mediums for nearly a century, and everyone working on this project feels honoured to leave their contribution to the story.

EC: I’m impressed by your charity efforts. Can you tell me a little about the charity comic?

EM: In celebration of Lee Falk’s Phantom turning 80 this year, Dublin Comic Con have been granted special permission by King Features Syndicate to produce an exclusive comic of the character to celebrate his anniversary. The comic will be available for sale only at Dublin Comic Con, taking place in the Convention Centre in Dublin on August 6th and 7th.

All proceeds from sales of the comic will be donated in full to Tallaght Hospital’s Children Ward, Temple Street Children’s Hospital and Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin.

Phantom 1The comic itself will feature previously published comic strips, including The Phantom’s origin strip from May 1939, material on the history of The Phantom, his creator Lee Falk and an article on King Features Syndicate.

There will also be original comic strips created by local artists featuring the work of: Cian Tormey, Johnny McMonagle, Arif Iqbal, David McDonagh, Karl Orowe, Simon Hall, Roisin Young, Basil Lim, Vanessa Ronan, Ashwin Chacko, Derek Keogh, Sean Hill, John O’Reilly, Jerry Higgins, Sinead O’Neill, John Fitzwilliam and Dave Williams. The project will be edited by Lightning Strike Comics Publisher Eoin McAuley.

EC: How did you go about working with rights holders to develop this Phantom project?

EM: We initially approached King Features Syndicate in the US to discuss the possibility of working on such a project for charity. We felt that the character was very recognisable among comic book readers and would serve as a strong vehicle to raise money for the three designated Children’s hospitals at the Con.

We then engaged in negotiations with their UK representatives All Sorts Media and after serial months of negotiations arranged a contract providing us with permission to proceed with the project.

Throughout the development of the project both All Sorts Media and King Features Syndicate have been very accommodating and have provided us with great archival material.

EC: How can fans support the charity/get the comic if they can’t attend?

EM: At the moment The Phantom 80th Anniversary Comic is a Dublin Comic Con exclusive and can and will be only sold at the show in August. Attendees will be able to reserve collection of the book at the show by email, a system which will be put in place by the end of June. But if anything changes with regards to the release of the comic this news will be shared across all of DCC’s social media and website

But for those who wish to donate to the cause they can donate at the below links at any time:

EC: Are there any other things going on at the convention that feature The Phantom?

EM: We will hopefully be arranging a signing session at the show featuring all of the contributors to the comic to sign copies and there’s always the possibility of one or two cosplayers.

EC: Why do you think The Phantom is so endearing and enduring?

EM: I personally feel that the idea of there being a dynasty of Phantom’s really allows the character to grow and evolve over the years and keeps stories and the character fresh much in a similar way that the Doctor Who franchise is sustained by the process of regeneration.

Also the whole aesthetic of the character is just pitch perfect, it’s no wonder that later superheroes borrowed elements (skin tight costume and blank-eyed masks) from him. Truly Lee Falk created a timeless character.

EC: Where can fans, exhibitors and brands that wish to participate find more information?

EM: For More information on Dublin Comic Con please visit or find us on Facebook at and Twitter: @DublinComicCon

Thank you very much for taking the time to cover this story and this support, I will update you as the project progresses.

EC: Thanks for your time and continued success, Eoin!

And now, I think I need to call my Irish pals, like Kevin Patrick O’Connell and Sean McCooe, to plan a Dublin trip!

Dublin Comic Con logo

Ed Catto: Geek Culture Wins with an Intramural Pickup Game

Avengers Annual2justice-league-of-america-56It’s been a month of big wins for Geek Culture, both domestically and internationally. Last weekend, we celebrated the 15th Year of Free Comic Book Day. FCBD was sparked by Joe Field’s sweet tooth and love of Free Ice Cream Cone Day and has now grown into a worldwide phenomenon. In anticipation of it all, there were articles like this from the Guardian helping Brits find the best Free Comic Book Day Comic Shops in the UK. And you might have read my column last week. I covered the enthusiasm of thousands of FCBD fans in metro NYC.

The other big news was the astounding box office results for the new movie, Captain America: Civil War. This picture’s opening weekend was $181.8 million, making it the best debut of any movie this year, and ensuring it will be one of 2016’s biggest successes. Worldwide, it’s a similar story, and the international box office embraced the picture with an additional $496.6 million.

Much has been written about Warner’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The distinguished competition tried to steal a few pages from Marvel’s cinematic playbook and they enjoyed strong box office revenue. But they also suffered through fan backlash and critical analysis.  Many feel that like a car crash, there was an urge to slow down and check it out. Did fans begrudgingly see the movie? One critic nailed it with the phrase “The Cinema of Obligation.”

Avengers SSCMy Little Pony vs Adenture TimeThis third Captain America movie debuted as the U.S. is coming to grips with a contentious national election. So many voters complain that they don’t like either presidential candidate, and the negative ratings that pollsters report confirm that.

But Geek Culture has known a secret for a long time. You don’t have to hate the “other guy” during an argument. In comics, you can call it a Civil War or you can call it an unfortunate misunderstanding. In Geek Culture when the good guys fight, it’ s more likely there’s been some miscommunication that leads to a short-term conflict. But in the end, they patch up their differences and their friendships supersede their temporary conflict.

The visual of super heroes, who are usually friends, squaring off against one another was a central part of this movie’s marketing. These visuals have been around for a long time. I’ve peppered this article with a few favorites.

Avengers SSCOrdway JLA vs JSALast week, actor Bryan Cranston was educating Bill Maher (!) on how a generation ago, Washington’s social events would routinely include folks from both sides of the aisles. They’d duke it out all day on issues like segregation, then get together for cocktails (with their spouses) and exchange stories about their families. They became friendly off the battlefield of politics.

That’s kind of the way it has always worked in comics, and I wish people passionate about politics would learn a thing or two.

NY Times critic A.O. Scott observed that Captain America: Civil War was less of a civil war and more of an intramural basketball pickup game. He was right. And that’s what makes it so much fun and so successful.