Author: Ed Catto

Ed Catto: The Batman Nobody Knows… Yours

batezpip008-w370 One of the marketing trends today is for consumers to take a brand and make it their own. An example is the phenomenon of customizing phones. I’m sure that just about everyone you know has selected a cellphone case so that their phone has really become their phone. And a few years ago, I had a role in a Kia Soul marketing campaign. The big idea was that you, as a car owner, could customize the Soul in whatever way worked best for you. And there’s more of this brand customization in the future. Centennials, the group that comes after Millennials, are even more passionate about personalizing brands.

Geek Culture’s passionate fans already have their own personalized visions of popular entertainment brands and characters. They are a finicky bunch, especially when it comes to change. Long gone are the days when they blindly accepted reboots or revisions to a character without a critical eye or, at the very least, a thorough internet analysis. Just think about the extreme level of scrutinization for the recent Star Wars trailer. And didn’t the Internet just about break when Ben Affleck was announced as the latest cinematic Batman or when Wonder Woman’s movie outfit was revealed?

Now, I’ve enjoyed a few Batman stories over the years. But I admit that when I do, I am also guilty of personalizing this entertainment mega-brand. And my version of the character is “The Batman Nobody Knows”.

But first, a quick digression. The marketing folks behind today’s comic series typically use anniversary issues – the “significantly” sequentially numbered comics – as mini-celebrations. Today, the 50th or 100th issue of a comic may include an important event or special story and that screams “Buy Me Now!” But that wasn’t the case back in 1973 when DC published Batman #250. Although we consider the creators “giants” today (Dick Giordano, Frank Robbins, Irv Novick) the cover and the stories within seemed to be pretty standard fare. There was no “call to action” cover blurb urging fans not to miss this “250th Anniversary Smash Issue”.

But you know what? There should have been. The third story in this comic is outstanding. “The Batman Nobody Knows”, written by Frank Robbins and penciled and inked by Dick Giordano, is a clever tale about the different interpretations of Batman. A bunch of kids gather around a summer campfire as each explains his or her own notion of what Batman is really like. And as you can guess, each kid’s version is wildly different from that of the others.

Olan SouleMy Batman, my tweaking of this brand, is a little different from yours, I’ll bet. Even though I was introduced to the character via the Adam West Batman ’66 TV show, whenever I read Batman’s dialog I naturally hear the voice of Olan Soule in my head.

Who’s that, you ask? You probably know Adam West and Christian Bale. You probably know Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and everybody knows George Clooney. And for Batman’s voice, perhaps you imagine the vocal talents of Kevin Conroy, Peter Weller, Troy Baker, Roger Craig Smith or Diedrich Bader. I’m pretty sure none of you think of the three Batman voices from the golden age of radio: Matt Crowley, Stacy Harris or Gary Merrill.

Olan Soule was a character actor who appeared in thousands of roles in old radio shows. He was the lead in Mr. First Nighter, a kind of Broadway/showbiz weekly comedy-drama. He also appeared in many TV shows – everything from The Twilight Zone to The Love Boat to ..the Adam West Batman ’66 show. Soule was also on the Silver Screen, in movies as diverse as Hitchcock’s North by Northwest to Disney’s The Apple Dumpling Gang. Trust me – you’ve seen him so many times.

Filmation BatmanSoule’s turn at Batman was, in retrospect, unique. His Batman wasn’t the brooding vengeful avenger. It wasn’t even really the campy, silly superhero. In the Filmation The Batman/Superman Hour cartoon, and later in Hanna Barbara’s Super Friends series, he brought a quiet, focused heroism to the role. And then he infused it with confidence, urgency and a sense of purpose. His Batman was cool under pressure and always seems to know that with a little hard work, everything would be all right in the end.

Every now and again, I’ll hear Olan Soule in some show. He’s instantly recognizable. A few Saturdays ago I was watching an episode of The Monkees with one eye. But when I heard one character’s lines, I perked right up and knew it was Olan Soule. He had a meek, bespectacled look, but his voice was full of timbre and gravitas. And that’s how I like to personalize one of my favorite heroes. To me, Batman is not a vengeful, driven-over-the-edge clenched teeth kind of guy. He’s not a goofy, parody of a hero, either. He’s just a driven, focused guy trying to make a difference and taking what comes with a smile.   That’s not so bad, right?

But, enough about me. How do you personalize your brand of Batman? And it’s okay if it’s just via your cellphone case.

Ed Catto: Look Who’s Talking … or Who Should Be

It can be a pretty disappointing world out there. So often, our real word heroes stumble and reveal they are less than what they appeared to be. We see it all the time with politicians in whom we had once believed, celebrities we had once admired and even with high profile people who may have not even been on our radar until their fall from grace. “He really tweeted that?” “I can’t believe she said that to a parking attendant!” “Didn’t she know there was a camera recording it all?” These are just a few sentences we’ve recently uttered in exasperation around our household.

On the other hand, one of the cool things about fictional characters is that it’s unlikely that they’ll misbehave. It’s no secret in advertising that using a fictional spokesperson relieves a marketer of the fears of using a real-life spokesperson. When was the last time Tony the Tiger was caught in a compromising position by the paparazzi? I can’t imagine the Lone Ranger getting into drunken brawls. Of course, one of the actors who played him did. But another actor, Clayton Moore, took the role so seriously that in public he always made efforts to present his best self, understanding that he was representing the heroic ideals of honesty, kindness and selflessness exemplified by the Lone Ranger.

But I’m not going to simply go on about how most superheroes are depictions of good people and provide good role models. Like Geico always tells us, everyone knows that. Superman is a good fella and we should all strive to be honest like him. But there’s a bigger idea here.

Now that we’re in graduation season, when many of us will be listening to impressive graduation speeches (I just heard General Major Charles F. Bolden, Jr. of NASA speak at Gettysburg), a wry thought came to mind.

I’m realizing that one of the greatest strengths of 21st century heroic fiction found in so many comics and geek-focused movies is that not only do the heroes do the right things, but that they do things. They are doers. They are purposeful. I’m thinking of so many of protagonists (and antagonists) and realizing they have a baked-in entrepreneurial spirit and a clear sense of purpose. Nobody tells a superhero to create a brand, sew a costume and go on nightly patrol, but they do. There’s no corporation telling the Avengers they have to avenge, the Defenders they have to defend or the Teen Titans that they have to ..umm..Titan. But they do.

Looking beyond the traditional superhero formula from the big companies, we can see similar themes. Mark Millar’s Chrononauts are self-motivated and ambitious. Ed Brubaker and Steven Epting’s character Velvet is smart, canny and self-directed with an urgent sense of purpose. Valiant’s Kay McHenry is a courageous woman who’s ready to step into a bigger job.

And taking it a step further, what about the creative folks behind it all? Fast Company voted Kelly Sue DeConnick of Ms. Marvel and Bitch Planet as one of the most creative people in business. Mike Pellerito, the president of Archie Comics, seems to be always looing at the toys in his toy box and asking, “What if we did something different?” A guy like IDW’s Dirk Wood brings an off-the-chart level of personal passion and impish mischievousness to his publisher’s efforts and to the industry in general. CBLDF’s super-intelligent Alex Cox educates while fighting for the right of creative expression. Retailer Marc Hammond, of Skokie’s Aw Yeah Comics, puts it all on the line every day by creating an immensely enjoyable retail experience for hard-core fans, casual first timers and kids of all ages. And these folks are just the tip of the iceberg.

These great characters, both the real ones and the fictional ones, all have a personal passion. And more than that – they all share the very best qualities of entrepreneurship: persistence, adaptability, strong work ethic and the abilities to communicate and inspire. As I’m thinking about what kind of stuff to fill my head with, I’d argue that comic heroes and their creators’ messages are the healthiest “foods for your mind” in all of pop culture. Better than politicians. Better than celebrities. Better than movie stars. There’s innovative creativity to be sure, but it’s wrapped in the classic can-do attitude that’s at the heart of it and is at the heart of American business.

You know, the luminaries of geek culture can provide great ideas to next year’s graduation planners about the very best types of role models…and doers.


Ed Catto: iCreator, Chris Roberson

It’s amazing to see the many ways comics, and by extension geek culture, have so thoroughly infiltrated the entertainment and marketing landscape. Comics-based movies and TV shows continue to be fruitful and multiply, while brands try to keep up and in an effort to engage fans in authentic conversations.

Amidst the continuing and exciting expansion of comics-based entertainment, I thought it might be interesting to try to understand this growth from a creator’s point of view. Anyone who has ever let a friend drive their new car, or sent a child off to school knows what it’s like to let go of something you cherish. And more than that, you fully recognize the cringe-worthy reality that the thing you cherish might come back changed. There’s always that worry that your car might be returned with a dent, or your child might come home from school with a vocabulary sprinkled with a few new #$@% words.

izombie-recap_612x380Sadly, comics do have a long history of creators not being rewarded fairly or sharing in the ultimate success of their creations. So I was especially curious how the newer breed of creator feels about letting others take charge of their creations. How do creators approach it and plan for it in 2015?

I reached out to Chris Roberson, a brilliant comics writer who’s created adventures for a wide range of characters (everyone from Superman to The Shadow), has created his own characters and leads the charge for creator-owned comics, along with Allison Baker, at Monkeybrain Comics. At DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint, Chris and artist Michael Allred created the iZombie series, which is now enjoying a new life, resurrected as a hit series on the CW network.
iZombie Female LeadEd Catto: Can you tell me a little bit about what you were trying to create with your iZombie comic series and provide some background?

Chris Roberson: I’ve always liked the zombie genre, but had begun to feel like it was unnecessarily locked into a post-apocalyptic setting. I wanted to try setting a zombie story in the modern day, with society still up and running, but with strange things happening in the shadows. And to take it one step further, to have the zombie be the point-of-view character. Everything else kind of followed from there!

EC: Were you happy with how the comic series turned out? And what would you have done differently if you could go back do it over again?

izombie_red-860x280CR: Oh, definitely! I’m really proud of the work that Mike and Laura Allred and I did with the series. My only regret was that we never got a chance to get a giant kaiju monster on stage. That would have completed the set!

EC: What was it like when you found out that your iZombie concept was going to be a series? How long did it take to reach network television and can you tell us some of your reactions and thoughts along the way?

CR: I think the first we heard about the series being in development was late summer or early fall of 2013, and by early 2014 we’d been sent a copy of the pilot script to read. We visited the set last spring, met the producers and some of the cast, and in general were really impressed with everyone involved. Over this past winter we were sent rough cuts of the first four episodes, and were just blown away by how fantastic they were!

iZombie- Allred illoEC: What’s your involvement in the TV series now? What’s your reaction to what they’ve done and what they’re doing?

CR: I like to say that we are “informed but not involved.” They have kept us in the loop at each stage of the process, and are happy that we’re pleased with the way the series has turned out. But otherwise, I’m just a member of the audience! (Though one with a proprietary financial stake in the show…)

EC: Comics have a sad history of many creators not fully partaking of the economic success of their literary creations. Fans are well versed on everything from the tragic story of Siegel & Shuster to Gerry Conway’s recent posting about being excluded from creator credits of certain DC characters. Here’s the question – do you think today’s creators are better prepared to protect their own rights, or is it still the same old story?

CR: I think it depends on the creator. Sure, many of us know to walk away from a bad deal, but there are always going to be hungry young creators who are more than willing to sign away all their rights in return for far too little. But I think that there’s a difference, too, between work-for-hire and creator owned stuff. When I do a work-for-hire project, it’s usually because I want to work with those characters or concepts, and will happily surrender rights that I would never dream of giving up for an original property of my creation.

EC: As a follow-up question, can you tell us a little bit about how you’ve organized your publishing endeavor, Monkeybrain Books & Comics?

CR: It’s pretty simple, really. We only license the digital rights, and only for a period of five years. All the other rights are retained by the creators. Which is why you see print editions of Monkeybrain titles coming out from IDW, or Dark Horse, or Image, or what-have-you. The creative teams are free to make whatever deal suits them best.

EC: What’s coming up next for you?

CR: I am doing some amazingly cool work-for-hire stuff for Dark Horse that hasn’t been announced yet, but which is keeping me VERY busy. My bucket list is getting very short!

EC: Thanks for the insights and the time, Chris.


Ed Catto: On the Road, On Free Comic Book Day

You’ve doubtlessly heard of Dante’s Inferno and his seven circles of hell. But did you know he had a couple of sequels, including Paradiso (i.e., Paradise)? I touch upon this I think that for so many geeks across the world, Free Comic Book Day is a uniquely shared day of celebration. This year, for this mini-paradise, I embarked on what was a sort of Circle of Free Comic Book Day: a seven store marathon FCBD pilgrimage to learn how it’s changed and why it’s a bigger deal each and every year.

1 Erika and Quincy FCBD momI live just outside of New York City in New Jersey, so I mapped out a plan of action to visit several stores for the 14th Annual Free Comic Book Day. Created by entrepreneur, retailer, visionary and all-around-great-guy, Joe Fields, this holiday has now grown to a worldwide event, distributing an estimated 5.3 million comics, engaging national sponsors and rivaling Black Friday as a geek-centric retail blockbuster.

By its very nature, reading is a solitary event. On the other hand, comics, graphic novels and geek culture are inherently social. Free Comic Book Day offers a bridge across this divide. One of the magical transformations of FCBD is that it turns the experiences of reading/collecting, and typical one-on-one experience between the retailer and the customer, into a shared, event-like experience.
Based on my own very geocentric observations, here’s a few emerging trends I saw in my day long pilgrimage:

4 Mom & Daughter CosplayMore Women, and more Moms. There’s been a lot written about the very healthy explosion of women participating in geek culture, and I saw so much evidence to support this. There many women – on their own, with kids, with other women and with significant others. Of particular note were the moms with whom I spoke. They are a new breed. They are fans that keep up with it along with their kids. The first mom I spoke with, Erika, brought her son Quincy and his friend. She revealed they’ve been buying comics since last free comics day, and was a lapsed Elfquest reader. The boys liked Spider-Man and Batman, but she showed her true colors when she explained she was going to pick up the last two issues of Saga because she was a month behind.

Lauren, another mom, kept here two adorable daughters from getting unruly as she explained she loves Vertigo’s Fables, the Avengers and Saga. Gladys, a mother of two making a mid-day FCBD stop with her family (and another young family), explained that he loves Harley Quinn and was ravenous to read anything with this breakout character.

5 Dad and Son CosplayTwenty-something fan girls were out in force as well. One woman, waiting in line at 4:30 during my final visit of the day, explained she’s a regular buyer, but had to miss last year’s FCBD as she was scheduled to work. She had just finished her shift and headed straight the The Joker’s Child comic store. At Funny Books, cosplay was encouraged and one woman was cosplaying Harley Quinn while another young woman proudly showed off the skirt she had made – and the fabric was adorned with female-empowerment magic items.

Sales Stronger than Ever. Dan Veltre of Dewey’s Comic City said that this year’s FCBD looked to eclipse last year’s event, and that “Free Comic Book Day is now bigger than Black Friday, bigger than Midnight Madness.” But FCBD is more than just a big one-day party. Every retailer realized it’s either the start of a new relationship or a way to strengthen existing ones, and then plans accordingly. Some offer coupons, some provided extra free comic books and one retailer, A&S Comics, encouraged customers at checkout to join their Belly loyalty program.

Creative Cosplay. A few years ago, FCBD might be a time break out a comic-themed T-shirt. This year, it’s an opportunity for many fans and retailers to cosplay. What a fun day for so many kids to cosplay, or the parents who encouraged them. Lego and DK Publishing, two Free Comic Book Day Sponsors, held costume contests in select stores. (Full Disclosure: Bonfire/GeekRiotMedia developed and managed this sponsorship.)

And many retailers got into the act too. Paradox Comics had a bouncer Harley Quinn and a Captain Marvel, with a FCBD, enticing drivers to stop by. Funny Books’ Spider-Man and Black Widow posed with fans, and the storeowner joined the fun as Captain America.

Community Focused. As more and more traditional retailers become less connected to their community, comic book shops seem to be taking the opposite approach. East Side Mags’ owner Jeff Beck worked with the local library to create a banner that fans were invited to draw on during FCBD. This will be on display thorough the summer. Other retailers, like A&S comics, worked out deals to create special coupon offers with other local businesses.

Long Lines and Deep Passion. Every store, throughout the day, I visited had a line full of fans waiting to join the celebration. Zapp Comics explained they had fans camping out starting at 3:30 am Saturday Morning, and there was a long line when they opened their doors at 8:00 am. They ran out of their FCBD comics by 12:30, and by afternoon were offering select current titles they had pulled off the rack so as to not disappoint fans. Some stores, like Dewey’s Comic City used the line wisely, with tents and free sketching from up-and-coming artists from the nearby Kubert Art School. Funny Books hauled the back issues out onto the sidewalk for a 50% sale. “The Free Comic Book Day Weather Gods are smiling upon us once again, “ said Steve Conte. And at the Joker’s Child, there was still a 20-minute wait to get in at 4:30 n Saturday afternoon.

A Busy Day. And as usual, the comic shop retailers were ones that customers turned to for help and recommendations. And sometimes retailers were simply the person with whom they could share the joy of the day. For most of us, neighborhood grocers, pharmacists, barbers and bookstore owners are a thing of the past. I’m glad, as were all the folks in the communities I visited, that we still have local comic shop retailers.

Special thanks to these great retailers (listed in the order of my FCBD visits):

2 Circle of Free Comic Book DayA&S Comics – Teaneck, NJ

Paradox Comics, North Arlington, NJ

East Side Mags, Montclair, NJ

Dewey’s Comic City, Madison, NJ

Funny Books, Lake Hiawatha, NJ

Zapp Comics, Wayne NJ

The Joker’s Child, Fairlawn, NJ


Ed Catto: Whose Brand Is It, Anyway?

On a recent Saturday morning, I treated myself to yet another TV comic book show. But unlike Flash, or S.H.I.E.L.D., or iZombie or Arrow, this was an old one. TCM is showing episodes of the 1943 Batman movie serial. I’m sure you know about these serials. Long ago, kids would make weekly pilgrimages to the theater for cliffhanger style chapters of an adventure serial. Often it was shoehorned between a cartoon, a newsreel, and the main feature. During my recent TCM viewing, I was disappointed that the host didn’t offer any of his usual insightful perceptions.

BatmanSerial5This serial is important in “geek mythology” for all sorts of reasons, including the debut of the Bat Cave. But then a peculiar childhood memory was triggered. And I mused about how this peculiar incident was just a pale precursor to a big branding issue that seems to dominate today’s entertainment world: the struggle to understand who really owns a brand.

As a quick background, I was one of those kids who was influenced brainwashed by the 1966 Batman TV show. After just a few episodes, my brain exploded and my worldview was set forever. But when I become a teenager, a strange thing happened. At that time, I was reading those moody Batman comics of the seventies. It was at that point where I realized that the 66 Batman was ‘camp’, and it wasn’t the version of Batman that I was then enjoying. I wanted my version of Batman, or The Batman, to be serious, dark, and un-silly. I was essentially rejecting that horse I rode in on. I was cherry-picking from the different entertainment offerings what I felt was best for this brand called Batman.

Batman Serial 1943 ComicMixAnd, back then, there were no Chris Nolan or Tim Burton visions of Batman for the world at large to see. Everyone who wasn’t reading the comics equated Batman with the silly fun of POW/ZLONK/BOFF! My vision of the brand was in conflict with the brand understanding of the world at large.

And that’s about the time that my dad introduced me to the 1943 Batman serial. It was actually edited versions on Super 8 film. We’d show these on our home movie projector. Even though they didn’t have sound, they were glorious! Batman was purposeful and focused, whether he was slugging gangsters or flirting with the female lead. It was full of zombies and radium guns and cliffhangers. The bad guy even fed his enemies to crocodiles. (Who knew that the fella who was playing an evil Japanese stereotype would soon be a big hit during the golden age of radio playing a comedic Italian stereotype?)

batmanfortythree2Oh sure, Robin looked a little goofy, those pesky capes got in the way of brawling, and Batman’s ears made him look like the devil…but that was the all fine. He was foreboding and mysterious. The opening credits were somber and menacing. To me, as a teenager, this is what I wanted “my Batman” to be. I was creating my personal brand vision of Batman by combing the comics of the day with vintage movies. And it was in complete conflict with most of the country thought of as Batman.

And that’s exactly what’s happening in the passionate pocket universe of Geek Culture right now. Engaged fans each have their own vision of what a character or brand should be like. They then analyze, anguish and appraise the interpretations fed back to them. Fans want their brands the way they want them. Despite the fact that most comics are created by publishing professionals, and that most TV Shows/Movies are made by filmmaking professionals, Geek fans don’t trust these folks to handle their brands in the correct way. Instead, fans judge and speculate to see if the brand they are being offered fits with the brand they each think is the true brand. They don’t only judge a book by its cover; they judge the book by the preview of the cover.

Does this happen with other brands?

BATMAN-1943-Douglas-Croft-and-Lewis-WilsonCan you imagine years ago, readers making demands for, or clearly laying out their expectations, for Hemingway’s next book? Or could you imagine 1950s western fans outlining their expectations for the third season of Maverick? Can you imagine Ian Fleming monitoring fan buzz before writing the third or fourth James Bond novel? Of course not. He probably graciously nodded to friends’ cocktail party accolades, was amused that JFK was a fan, and then worked with his editor as he brought his vision of the character to life for the next adventure.

You could argue that fans grab onto the brand ownership in sports. That’s so much of what sports radio is all about. Fantasy Football is also a way to assume total ownership of the brands, and essentially cut out the corporate owners, albeit in parallel universe.

But it doesn’t really happen with traditional brands. Generally, Oreo fans don’t get indignant when the Oreo packaging and logo change. A small percentage do (trust me) but they are just that: a small percentage. The grocery store retailers don’t get mad because they can’t predict the correct quantities to order based on the new “rebooted” packaging for a particular cookie.

Recently, we’ve been teased by trailers for big entertainment movies like the new Star Wars, Mad Max and Batman vs. Superman. Closer in, in the comics world, fans have been offered glimpses of what the Marvel and DC universes will look like after their big summer events. These efforts seem to be the creators, or corporations, saying, “we have a plan, and this is what we’re going to do with your entertainment brand”. And then fans collectively ponder, predict, and prognosticate. Edicts are issued and judgments are rendered. Predictably, the folks in charge of the brand, at least legally and financially, reveal a little more and the cycle continues.

Of course, this all is just further evidence of the combatively symbiotic relationship of brand ownership for entertainment properties. The creators put forth their vision, and then the consumers render their judgment.

But who’s really in charge? Is it those who take the risks? Those who enter the arena of public opinion? Or are the people in charge really those who willingly offer their hard-earned dollars to support the brand? Those who give up their precious time to see what’s being served up?

I’m not sure if there’s an easy answer. I’m typically been on the side of the creators, but the entertainment world has changed since Ian Fleming was typing the James Bond thrillers. One thing I do know is that this all reinforces the notion of pop culture fans as important to branding conversations. Whether they are conversing about a recent reboot of DC’s Suicide Squad, or the new Dr. Pepper Avengers cans or upcoming shows on cable networks or the new Schick Hydro shaving cream, they have an opinion, have made themselves part of the conversation, and have a real ownership in all brands. And that makes it all more fun, doesn’t it


Ed Catto: Leading…by Getting Out of the Way

Back in business school I learned that there are many different styles of leadership. A good leader has several different styles at his or her fingertips and employs them based on the particular situations at hand. But this week I’d like to focus on two people who lead in a manner that’s generally not easily recognized. They lead, and in doing so contribute to their community and help build character by getting out of the way.

lcvExAKvtdNZSRZmjnAOKFD8Pq1Y2ClwBWLiaSJxrEEBrave New World Comics is a California based store run by two engaging and effervescent women named Portlyn Polston and Autumn Glading. Like most comic shop owners, they are energetic entrepreneurs who work hard to keep their customers happy, attract new shoppers and have a little fun along the way. One thing that sets them apart is their commitment to fanning the flames of geek-focusd interest in women and girls. But as you’ll see, it’s much more than that.

At their comic store, they don’t have a “Girl’s Section.” When I asked, they laughed at me and explained how absurd it would be to create some sort of cordoned off area, painted pink, with girly things for sale. In fact, they couldn’t even come up with specific product that would be ‘more appropriate for girls.’ Instead, their strategy is to create a clean, well-lit, open space were everyone feels comfortable. Then they just let consumers find what they want. Oh sure, they offer suggestions and guidance, but that’s based on the individual. In fact, they joke that their favorite thing to sell is the last thing they sold. “We don’t have an agenda,” says Portlyn. “Girls can read anything.”

JOC4XYEBO8TNv9wQWecMGjZuDvWXp42fBQil21afkPEIn addition to running the store, they plan some very creative activities. Geek Girls Night is a quarterly get-together designed to encourage women of all ages to fly their Geek Flag. And there aren’t a lot of rules or guidelines about what constitutes a geek passion. It can be comics or Doctor Who or steampunk or Alice-in-Wonderland. The explained that one girl attended who only liked Michael Jackson. But she was deep into it. The group chewed on that for a bit, nodded, and then agreed, “That’s fine.”

These events often include a trivia contest and a panel. And at the panels, given the spirit of the events, the questions are entirely freewheeling. Several groups attend, including, but not limited to, cosplay groups, writing groups and girls doing-live-action video games. I’m still not sure what that means. Furthermore, Autumn and Portlyn devilishly boast they are “really good” at getting vendors and publishers to contribute “good stuff.”

Geek Girl Society Logo. pngTheir Geek Girls Society is kind of like the Girl Scouts for only the coolest and nerdiest girls. It’s an after school program designed for girls 8 to 16, and is meant to be a place where can girls can enjoy their own geeky pursuits and be exposed to the geeky passions of others. Respect is the watchword here. The organization’s mantra stresses that whatever you like is great, and whatever anybody else likes is great too.

The ‘mean girl’ phenomenon isn’t limited to girls in middle school. It often starts earlier and lasts way too long into adulthood. And one could argue that it’s not only about girls, either. At the Geek Girls Society, their foundational thinking is one of respect and non-judgmentalism. Is that a real word? If not, it should be soon, as it’s imbedded into the DNA of this outstanding group. Autumn explained, “We teach them that you don’t have to hate. Every event is about respecting.”

Autumn and PortlynPortlyn and Autumn talked about their personal passions, and how when they were younger, they were unaware that other young girls liked the geeky things they did. There was no internet when back then, so they struggled to like what they liked, and keep liking it. They wanted to combat the unfortunate natural way of things, as young girls grow up and then eschew the things they like for fear that their peers or society will label them or look down upon them. That’s where the Geek Girl Society comes in – a place where girls can enjoy their passions, and keep on enjoying them.

New York Times columnist Nickolas Kristof often talks about how the best way to end poverty, especially in regions of extreme economic distress, is to give a girl a book and teach a girl to read. In the local environs of Brave New World Comics, it’s not that dire, but they are applying many of the same principles to helping girls build positive self-esteem and contributing their community.

Brave New World StorefrontHow far comic shops have come. Back in the 70’s, so many of those early comic shops seemed to be just one-step above the local head shop in the retail pecking order, resolutely shaking a metaphorical fist at their local communities screaming, “Leave us alone! This is our thing and we don’t want anything to do with the establishment!” Now we have stores like this one, where two women make a living selling stuff, and satisfy a sense of purpose by not only contributing to the local community, but leading. They’re helping others fly by giving them a little bit of runway. More proof of the incredible influence of Geek Culture and the local comic shop.

For more on Brave New World and the Geek Girls Society, please visit their site.


Ed Catto: You’re Number One

BitchPlanet_01-1_300_462 I always thought that more you know about something, the better you are at evaluating it. For example, movie critics who understand films, filmmaking and film-history evaluate movies more effectively than the rest of us. But this isn’t always true. Whenever experts evaluate something, they are blind to that thrill of experiencing it without baggage. So often they can’t, by their very nature, genuinely relate to the experience of someone who’s less knowledgeable about it all. In the advertising and marketing business, professionals often try to put their own experiences aside and listen to what “real” people say. And that’s exactly what I tried to do for this mad little experiment.

As you may know, I’m a comic geek with entirely too much knowledge about comics and the industry. My new neighbor is just the opposite. He’s a Millennial with a wonderful wife and two young kids. In fact, every time I see him and his family it’s kind of like looking into a window of my own past. But this guy doesn’t have that life-long fanaticism of comics. He read a few comics as a kid, and now, sparked by the Arrow TV show and the Marvel movies, has wandered back into reading comics. He’s usually a digital reader. He finds that works best for his commute into the city and for late nights with his baby daughter, when the lights are off to encourage her trips into slumberland.

Lately I’ve been passing along some of the very best comics to him. Sometimes it’s new stuff that I think is outstanding (FadeOut, WinterWorld) and other times its older comics that he’s asked about (“Who is this guy, named Deadshot / Hawkeye / Mark Waid?”). And as part of the population who is used to binge watching TV shows and bundling episodes on the DVR, he usually prefers that I collect several issues in a row so he can read them all at once, trade-paperback style.

But this time I thought I’d try something a little different. Lately I’ve been so impressed by all the great new comics debuting. I’ve also been curious as to how someone with fresh eyes would evaluate and engage with these new comics. Even before I read the new Image comic Red One, I’m the type who runs through an elaborate mental checklist of all the stories I’ve read from the talented artists of this series – what I liked, what I didn’t like and what I expect in this new series. I wondered what the reaction would be of someone encountering the creators, characters and situations for the first time? So here’s what I did: I gave my neighbor, let’s call him Fan X for this experiment, a stack of recent debut issues. My only instruction was “tell me what you like and why.” His reactions were insightful, interesting and in many cases surprising. Here’s what he said:

Red One #1 by Xavier Dorison, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Image

This was a big winner for Fan X. He explained how he loves spy thrillers, and that’s typically the genre of prose fiction he enjoys the most. He liked the bright red cover with the attractive girl, but the series wasn’t anything like he expected. He did say he wished that it wasn’t’ a period piece at first, but then found himself enjoying the backward glance at that 70’s elements like the Walkman.

Would he buy issue #2? Yes, he can’t wait.

Ah-hah Moment: He also explained how he’s really enjoying another female-protagonist spy series, Velvet, by Brubaker and Epting. In fact, that’s the series that has spurred to him on to reading the floppy issues – he just can’t wait until it’s collected as a trade paperback anymore.

Ei8ht by Raphael Albuquerque and Mike Johnson, Dark Horse

Fan X was drawn to the art and the simplified color scheme, but wasn’t a big fan of the time travel elements or the two interlocking storylines. He explained he’s not a fan of those types of stories and gets impatient waiting for parallel plotlines to converge.

Would he buy issue #2? Probably not.

Ah-hah Moment: Despite the guide in the inside front cover, he didn’t get that the color-coding denoted different times and places Divinity #1in the storyline.

Divinity #1 by Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine, Valiant

Like his complaints about Ei8ht, Fan X was not thrilled with the time travel aspects and two parallel storylines. He explained that he was muddling through this, mildly entertained, until page X, when it’s revealed that the straight-laced protagonist has a secret girlfriend. That’s when the story grabbed him in.

Would he buy issue #2? He most likely wouldn’t follow this one.

Ah-hah Moment: He loved the heavy cardstock cover!

Dream Thief: Escape #1 by Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood, Dark Horse

It took FanX a moment to remember Dream Thief, but when he did he said, “This one I liked.” He liked the rough lead characters and enjoyed Smallwood’s art, although his interviewer (ahem) may have prompted that observation.

Would he buy issue #2? Yes!

Ah-hah Moment: The fact that it was a four-issue mini-series, i.e. short with an end in sight, was something he liked.

Spider-Woman #5 by Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez, Marvel

(While this isn’t technically a #1, it’s a first issue as the previous issue were part of a crossover).

Fan X likes female spies and thus was pre-disposed to like Spider-Woman. He enjoyed the fact that she used energy blasts, but most enjoyed the non-superhero moments.

Would he buy issue #2? He would.

Ah-hah Moment: Surprisingly, he didn’t enjoy the simplified art of Rodriguez. He much prefers his superheroes comics to look more “superhero-y”.

The Valiant #1 by Jeff Lemier, Matt Kindt and Paolo Rivera, Valiant

Here the switching up of timelines didn’t bother him at all. He liked Paolo’s art. He enjoyed Bloodshot, as a Punisher-type hero, and found the new character, Kay McHenry to be intriguing and relatable. He especially was drawn into the two-page spread where Kay speaks directly to the camera. (I did too!)

Would he buy issue #2? Probably, and he knows nothing of the Valiant Universe.

Ah-hah Moment: Again, he loved the heavy cover stock of the cover. And this is coming from a ‘digital guy’.

Bitch Planet #1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, Image

He didn’t think he’d like this one. The cover wasn’t appealing to him. In particular, Fan X was put off by the logo and the pink color scheme. But when he read it, he found that he was hooked. He thought the character layers were fascinating and thought provoking.

Would he buy issue #2? Definitely, he would.

Ah-hah Moment: He said he also likes the TV Women-in-prison drama, Orange is the New Black.

Invisible Republic 1Invisible Republic by Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Bechko and Jordan Boyd, Image

Fan X procrastinated about reading this as he assumed he wouldn’t like it. But in fact- he loved it. He enjoyed the sketchy, loose artwork of Gabriel Hardman, and in this case, he wasn’t bothered by the parallel plotlines. In fact, he was fascinated by the characters and the hints of what they would become.

Would he buy issue #2? He’s looking forward to it.

Ah-hah Moment: I found it fascinating how he expected to like this one the least, and it ended up being his #1 or #2 favorite.

So.. there you have it. His reactions were certainly different from mine. But they really got me thinking. I was especially surprised how Valliant’s cardstock covers appealed to him, especially as he’s ‘mostly’ a digital comics reader. I’m not sure what lessons we learn from this sampling of one reader other than one I’m always learning – people like the stuff they like for the reasons they like. Simple, but true. But now the question is – what do you think?


Ed Catto: The Old Order Changeth

There’s a certain comfortable absurdity that an activity that is most likely enjoyed on a solitary basis – reading comics – kicks into high gear every day at comics shops and just about every weekend at comic conventions and every minute in social media. Recently at a comic convention, I was surrounded by some old friends who really like comics, and by a bunch of new faces who do too. And the new faces look so different from my familiar compatriots.

First a little background. I’m ComicMix’s newest columnist, and although a basic fanboy at heart, I come at it with a little different perspective. I’m an advertising and marketing guy. Yes, you could say I’m kind of like a character from Mad Men, but without the coolness, glamour and skinny ties. So when I worked at Nabisco I brought Marvel heroes to Oreo and ChipsAhoy! for a marketing team-up. I developed a “Spot Spidey” promotion for a candy company. At the world’s largest trade show company, I helped grow New York Comic Con in its sophomore year. And now at my own agency, we help brands connect with geek culture.  Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out how to have afternoon cocktails in the office like they did at Sterling Cooper.

It’s natural for me to try to understand who the audience is for a product, what type of people make up the most engaged consumers for an industry and how it’s changing and evolving. Call me crazy, but I find that fascinating.

So with the convention season upon us, I’m fascinated by the changing profile of convention attendees, and by extrapolation, how the comics industry is changing. How do the 87 million millennials fit into it all ? Last month, I didn’t go to Emerald City Comic Con, although I heard it was (another) great one, but instead was at a small local show in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. It’s part of a network of rotating comic shows that an energetic guy named Jon Paul runs and has been running for the past 24 years. And the most interesting thing is – there’s a new crop of attendees! They aren’t just all the same people who have always gone to these shows.

Oh, sure, there’s a certain band-of-brothers element amongst the dealers and faithful fans. They’re close-knit communities who have developed relationships over the years “one Sunday at a time”.  But thankfully, like all good hosts, they also are very welcoming to new faces and fans.

This time around, I think the “gods of comics marketing” arranged to send perfect examples of some the new fans to this show for me to meet. Without exaggeration, these folks could have all come directly from central casting.  I’m not sure if there are any big, new ah-hah moments though. It was more a validation, and a personification, of the recent trends that the geek press has been chewing on.

Promethea Girl

There’s been a lot of talk about women in comics, but one young woman this weekend summed it all up for me. She was enthralled by a Promethea action figure for sale. DC Direct had created this figure a few years ago, based on Alan Moore’s brilliant Promethea and Sophie characters. This young woman proudly displayed her Promethea Tattoo, as well as her depth of knowledge and passion for comics. When she introduced us to her boyfriend (who was quickly dubbed “Promethea Boy”) I curiously asked who collected comics first. He shamefacedly admitted that even though he read some comics as a kid, it was his girlfriend’s passion that re-ignited his interest in comics.

New Kid On the Block

carls-comix-newsOne of the coolest fans was also one of the most impressive. Carl is a man on a mission. Or should I say, a young man on a mission. He’s only 8, but Carl knows comics and has a keen eye for what’s cool and what he likes. And he blogs about it on his Carl’s Comix blog. A polite and energetic kid, Carl was refreshingly optimistic and upbeat. And he’s blessed with one of those super-supportive dads, the kind of guy who watches out for his boy, but provides support, encouragement and long leash. Or maybe I should say a “long runway”, because it’s obvious that Carl is going to take off to great heights.

A shuffling iZealot

Larry's ComicsAnd then there was that type of selfless fan who’s looking to bring more folks to the party.  One fan bought a dozen copies of Roberson & Allred’s recent iZombie comic series for his girlfriend. She had enjoyed the first episode of the new CW series. Years ago, when I was dating, I always dreaded that moment when I had to tell a girl my dark, horrible secret – that I bought comics every week.

That doesn’t seem like such a horrible secret any longer. Now, there are so many ways to enjoy this slice of pop culture (movies, TV, comics, apparel, merchandise) and there’s so many ways to share it with those we care about. And this type of fan is anxious to spread the word about comics, not to just keep it to himself.

As a side note, I saw a banner on a Larry’s Comics email that said, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Junk.”

So I left Sunday’s comic show with a positive sense of who’s enjoying all this stuff, and how they’re all enjoying it. There are more roads into it than ever, and more ways to enjoy it than ever, and that’s pretty cool. I just hope I can keep up with all these new fans.

One last note – I always associate the title of this week’s column “The Old Order Changeth” with shakeups to the line-up of heroes in the Avengers, but it goes way back and I think it’s from an old Tennyson King Arthur poem. Those classics always get in the way of my comic book trivia.

Ed Catto: Yoe’s Haunted Pop Culture

Every two months, I’m not ashamed to admit that IDW supplies one of the guiltiest pleasures in my stack of new comics. Craig Yoe’s Haunted Horror is a ghastly anthology of the horror stories from comics’ Golden Age. But beware: these aren’t those hackneyed horror stories you’ve read so often before. Each issue is a collection of seldom reprinted tales – filled with shock endings, grisly artwork and politically incorrect morality plays well calculated to make you recoil in shock, disgust and horror.

I caught up with the head horror-meister, Craig Yoe. As a fan who’s fascinated by this unique series, I wanted to better understand what sort of sick mind could be behind it all. It doesn’t take long before you realize that Craig mixes his love for the genre with a deep appreciation of the talented-yet-underrated artists who originally produced these stories, and then mixes it all up in a cauldron of mischief.

Craig explained it all started with the Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein hardcover collection that he developed for IDW Publishing. “That was the first one out of the tomb”, said Yoe. But it was as much about the stories as it was about the creators, and that’s why it made sense to start with that particular volume. “Briefer was able to mix a touch of horror into his humor, and humor into his horror.”

That was followed by two more collections: Bob Powell’s Terror and Zombie. And as he’s recounting the history, Craig can’t help and pause to muse about Bob Powell. He was an “amazing artist,” Craig reiterates.

Soon there was a notion of turning these creepy collections into an ongoing comic series. Craig first recollects that it was IDW Publisher Ted Adams who first came up with the idea. “Wait, wait – was it a good idea? Maybe it was mine,” Yoe joked. “I view comics as an endangered species,” said Yoe. “And I hope it never goes away. It’s the perfect package: it’s not too big, you can fold it up in your back pocket, you can hide it under your mattress and it won’t make a big lump there so you can hide it from Mom. And then you can read it under the covers.” Clearly Yoe is a supporter of traditional comics. “A comic is a wonderful thing,” he declares with conviction.

He also compares comics to a 45 RPM record: short and complete. On the other hand, the older comics he loves so much usually offered a number of complete stories in each issue.

Each issue of Haunted Horror is 44 full-color pages for just $3.99. And Yoe ensures that each issue offers a variety of stories, with a variety of artists –many of them unknown greats to today’s readers. Clearly, Craig is more reader than a collector, and creates this labor of love for other readers. “I’m not the type to put my comics in tombs of plastic,” he boasts.

In fact, Yoe often tries to showcase the work of “lesser known but brilliant” artists. And then he and his cadre of experts play “comic art detective” to diligently ascertain the correct artwork credits.

Is there a rhyme or reason to the stories that actually get selected for print? Yoe explained that longtime fan Jeff Gelb ‘cracked the code,’ and told Craig that he figured out Yoe’s strategies for choosing which tales are included. “It’s either tales with strong art providing a visual blast, or jaw-dropping stories.”

Still there have been some surprises for even a comic book horror expert, like Yoe. So often in these vintage stories, especially in the EC comics, the last panel would provide a shocking surprise. In fact, many fans would regularly get in a habit, when turning to the last page, of covering the final panel with their hand, lest their eye be drawn to the grisly surprise.

However, in the Jay Disbrow story in the first issue, this innovative artist had such an impactful, wide-screen style image, that he drew that last panel full page and sideways. “It blew my mind,” recalls Yoe.

I did ask Yoe if he ever found any the content he found too grisly or gross or in bad taste. “My moral compass broke years ago and I never replaced it,” he shrugged.

Yoe is also very particular in choosing covers. “The more simply designed covers seem to work the work the best”, said Yoe. “There’s no spinner rack these days, so the covers have to work at a very small scale – in Diamond’s Previews or online. You have to have a strong and immediate image, a force, that really reaches out and grabs you.”

The cover to the latest issue, Haunted Horror #10, really stands out. It features a lurid face, perhaps a ghoul or a mandrill, framed by an evil candle (the candlestick holder even says “evil”) and colorful winged creatures flittering about. “I was intrigued by this bizarre poster like cover by Golden Age great L.B. Cole.” Craig explained that he had many conversations after the artist’s comic book career. “Cole brought a graphic design sensibility to the design and color of his covers, in addition to his draftsmanship. He wanted to make his covers stand out on the crowded newsstand –and they did!”

In fact, Yoe is always looking to make each issue of Haunted Horror standout. He selects the stories to print not only from his personal collection, and those of his friends.

But in the great tradition of comic (and TV) horror hosts, Craig Yoe transforms into the creepy Warlock the Forelock in the pages of these comics to introduce the stories. And he doesn’t do it alone. Haunted Horror is actually the brainchild of several creepy editors, who fans know by their horror host alter egos: Madame Clizia and Mr. Kraswell. Yoe is so very appreciative for the help of his co-conspirators and friends in this mad venture. “I’m grateful for the kindness of my friends.” And that’s not so horrible, is it?