Author: Ed Catto

Ed Catto: Robert Loren Fleming’s Thrill Ride, Part 1

In the 80s, DC comics woke up the comics industry with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. Fans and retailers were anxiously awaiting the next big thing. Thriller, the comic that you couldn’t read fast enough, was supposed to be that next big thing. Management was excited about this fresh title. The DC marketing department got behind it and sent the writer on the road with a presentation. Distributors got behind the first issues. Comic shop retailers aggressively ordered the first issue.

And then…it wilted. Thriller wasn’t the next big thing. It doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of great things about the series. There certainly were. In the recent issue of Back Issue magazine, I looked at Thriller and the tumultuous backstory. As a fan, I always liked the early issues of the series, and now, understanding the backstage drama, I love it, and respect it, even more.

Series co-creator and writer Robert Loren Fleming wasn’t able to fully participate in that article. Since it’s publication, there’s been a resurgence of interest in Thriller. And now, I’ve finally caught up with Robert Loren Fleming. So, as podcaster Karina Longworth always says: “Join us, won’t you?”… for an extended look from at the tragedy of DC Comic Lost Classic Thriller.

Breaking into Comics

Robert Loren Fleming loved comics and was determined to break into the industry with his secret plan. It was the early 80s and he had started at DC as a proofreader. He loved working for the company and being a part of the industry. But he was impatient to become a comics writer. He eventually did and scripted favorites like the Flash and Ambush Bug. But it wasn’t easy to crack the code at DC comics.

“I found out pretty quickly it was kind of a closed shop – pretty hard to break in as a writer,” said Fleming. “It was really difficult to get a story sold.”

The legendary Julie Schwartz even had some advice for Fleming when he was pitching Superman ideas. “Julie told me to go home and not to think about any ideas. He told me twice, in case I missed it,” recalls Fleming with a chuckle.

Upon reflection, Fleming realizes it was a kind of a hazing ritual. If you weren’t tough enough to get through it, you weren’t tough enough to be a writer at DC Comics.

At that time there was an unwritten career path for young writers at DC. And as a proofreader, he was, more or less, on that long track. Aspiring writers would work on the corporate side for a while. Eventually, they’d be given their start with short story assignments for anthology comics. Writing assignments for the company’s prestigious superhero comics wouldn’t be offered for quite some time. If you showed talent and professionalism, you’d be awarded bigger assignments.

His Sneaky Plan

Fleming reasoned that the only way to break into quickly was “to come up with my own personal story and a big idea that it would be so good they have to take it.”

An idea was percolating in Fleming’s head for a new series that would showcase some of the things he loved: pulp adventures, an ensemble cast and a science fiction adventure that would shift away from the traditional superhero stories, dominating the market at that time.

“When I finished it, I took it to four or five editors. They wouldn’t even look at it.” Clearly, Fleming hadn’t yet paid his dues by working on smaller projects first. Looking back, Fleming realizes his secret plan was fueled by the audacity and courage that comes with youth.

He presented his idea to the top guy. “So I took it into Dick Giordano. <This was> jumping the chain of command,” said Fleming. Editor-in-Chief Giordano had no problem with Fleming bringing it directly to him. “He read the thing and 15 minutes later he bought it. Paul Levitz read it a few days later – he signed off too.”

Partnership with TVE

Levitz suggested that a young artist named Trevor Von Eeden be assigned to the series. At that time, the Marvel series Master of Kung Fu, by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy, was a big influence on Fleming. Fleming loved that series’ ensemble cast, the espionage themes and the casting of real people as comic characters. In fact, of the characters in his proposed Thriller series, Quo, was essentially Bruce Lee.

When Levitz showed Fleming the recent Batman Annual by Von Eeden, Fleming could see all of the elements he loved in Master of Kung Fu in the artist’s work. Fleming knew Von Eeden’s style would be perfect for Thriller.

Bucking the System

One of the things Fleming didn’t realize – no up-and-coming young buck ever does – is that you don’t gain a lot of allies internally by jumping over the established system. The editors at that time were not amused.

“It created a strong reaction against me,” said Fleming. “A very negative reaction. One of them (an editor) came out and said to Dick, ‘You’re not going to let Fleming write it, are you?’”

It got worse. The editors conspired to see Flemings non-traditional idea and audacious career tactic fail. They put a number of obstacles in the way of Thriller.

Off Target with The Green Arrow

One obstacle, in particular, was the Green Arrow. At that time, Green Arrow was one of the characters who was always a bridesmaid but never a bride. He was a supporting player in the Justice League of America, a co-star in the groundbreaking Green Lantern – Green Arrow series and a staple of backup stories. He was finally getting the go-ahead to headline a comic with a four issue mini-series, written by Mike W. Barr.

Fleming recalls that Trevor Von Eeden was assigned as the series artist, specifically to keep Von Eeden busy. He’s too busy working on this Green Arrow series. The idea was that he’d be so consumed with this miniseries, and it would take so long for him to draw, that the young artist would lose his passion for Thriller.

But that did not happen. This Green Arrow mini-series looked phenomenal. Von Eeden delivered work that was fresh and exciting. One would think that he spent an inordinate amount of time on it. In reality, Fleming explains, the opposite was true.

Unbelievably, Trevor Von Eden finished all four in an incredibly quick amount of time – something like six or eight weeks. And then both the writer and artist were ready for Thriller.

•     •     •     •     •

Next week we’ll explore more Robert Loren Fleming’s memories and observations about what happens when you actually, against all odds, arrive at the starting line!

Interested in the full article in Back Issue #98? You can snag it here.

Ed Catto: Happy Birthday, Jack!

Jack Kirby would’a been 100 today! The best part about it all is that the world can take a break to smile and to be astonished at this man’s incredible imagination and talent.

As you probably know, Jack Kirby was a tough, scrappy kid from the tough, scrappy part of New York City that grew up to be a very important comic artist. Kirby was a guy who made countless contributions and created a phenomenal number of characters and even launched a few genres. He was also a veteran of WWII and a family man.

But as a big comics fan, I almost loathed his work! But my entry point to Jack Kirby, where I really first noticed the man’s work, was with an image that was SO hideous and SO disgusting that I was worried I’d have nightmares forever.

Here’s what happened. As a very young boy, my Dad bought me an issue of DC’s The Demon. My (very generous) Dad would let me chose one comic every Sunday after feasting on our Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house. The Demon was not one of the usual comics I was reading at that time, but the cover must have grabbed me and I selected it that week.

When I read it, I was absolutely horrified by one particular full page image. It depicted a character who’s face was horribly disfigured. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was sort of an homage to a scene in the classic Phantom of the Opera movie.

The character screams, “My face! It took my face! Look!” And as a nine-year old, I had to look. I couldn’t not look. It was the most horrible thing I had ever seen.

I was just starting to read the creator credits on comics at that time. I thought: “This Kirby guy is awful!” I realized – then and there – that I should always avoid Jack Kirby comics.

Not long after that, as Kirby was returning to Marvel Comics after several years working for the publishing competition, I was perplexed by the titles he was creating.  Devil Dinosaur was supposed to be the work of a genius? What was I missing?

It took me a while to understand it all. Sometimes I’m a bit slow on the uptake. But I would eventually figure out that one gruesome page was certainly not what the genius of Jack Kirby was all about.  I’d spend years and years later trying to understand the genius of Kirby. I now realize I can’t fully comprehend everything this great man created, but it’s so much fun to try. Reading his work is always treat. It’s both a thrill and creativity to be celebrated.  

I hope you treat yourself to a little Kirby today too.

I’ve been invited to the Buffalo Comic-Con this year. I’ll be on their Jack Kirby at 100 Panel. The convention is September 31 to October 1st – hope to see you there! For more details, check it out here!

Ed Catto: Baby Got Back

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but in comics we do. That’s what sells it. Oftentimes, comics retailers need to make pre-ordering decisions based largely on just a comic’s cover.

Comics, like people, should be enjoyed for what’s on the inside. Corny but true. But like the B-side of a vinyl record, sometimes there’s glory on the flipside, like with comic book back covers.

Emil Novak, Sr. runs a great store in Buffalo called Queen City Bookstore. It’s overflowing with comics and lost treasures, most reflecting Emil’s ravenous appetite for great comics. During my last visit there, I stumbled across The Spirit: The First 93 Dailies reprint comic from 1977. The front cover sported a heroic Eisner Spirit image, but the back cover, showing an exhausted Spirit collapsed in the snow was the cool part. And the courageous use of negative space really stood out. I really liked that back cover, and that sparked today’s topic.

We need not only reach back into the past for examples. There are so many clever back covers on comics today. Two, in particular, come to mind:

  • Cliff Chiang’s creating some gorgeous wrap-around covers for his Image Paper Girls series, written by Brian Wood. Essentially the back cover is part of the front cover, but with Cliff’s strong sense of design and deliberate use of color, the back covers have a life of their own,
  • Greg Rucka and Michael Lark swing the pendulum far in the opposite direction for their brilliant Lazarus This is a series set in the near future that provides a stark look at the impact of wealth concentrated amongst the few. The creators provide faux back cover advertisements each issue. The back cover adds to the story as if one of the storyline’s companies or ‘governments’ has created an ad. World-building via the back cover, if you will.

Back Cover Advertising

Advertisements can also create memorable back covers. I have fond memories of Silver Age back covers selling Aurora superhero model kits. The best ones leverage Curt Swan or Murphy Anderson art for on-the-nose authenticity.

And while Land of the Giants, Rat Patrol or The Invaders weren’t TV shows I was watching back then, I sure was fascinated by their back-cover model kit ads. The Aurora monster model kits back cover ads probably deserve an entire column devoted to the creepy thrill and chills they inspired a generation of readers.

Toys ads could be hit or miss. I never warmed up to – or even understood – Skittle Bowl, despite ads illustrated by Murphy Anderson or featuring Don (Get Smart) Adams, I really loved the back-cover ads for Mattel’s Hot Birds and rrRUmblers. They must have worked. All the kids on my block collected these toys for about half a minute.

Professional Backstory

Over the years, my fascination with back covers has spilled over to my professional career. I’ve helped develop a few back covers of which I’m proud. A few examples:

  • Pagemaster was the movie that had everything going for it – a great message, hot movie stars, and a top pop music performer. It was a “can’t miss.” I was excited to lead Nabisco’s promotional program with the picture. But then, the hot movie star got weird (Macaulay Culkin) and the pop music performer (Michael Jackson) got weirder. The picture fizzled, but not before we created a great comic ad for the program. We used one of the young actors from the TV ad and we ran on the back covers of Marvel Comics for a couple of months in 1994.
  • At Bonfire Agency, our geek-focused marketing firm, and GeekRiot Media, we ran quite a few ads on the back covers of comics from lots of different publishers: IDW, Boom! Studios, Archie, Dynamite, Aspen and more. It was invigorating, and personally fulfilling, to get big brands partnering with publishers beyond the “big two”.

Coming Next Issue

I think there’s something special about advertising the “next issue” on the back cover. I could go on and on about how we live in an anticipatory culture, always looking ahead to what’s next. Have we lost the ability to live in the moment? I don’t know. That’s a whole ‘nuther topic.

No matter: I still like using the back covers for next issues, or other comics by the same publisher. Recently, publishers like Titan and Black Mask started embracing this tactic.

Some of the best “coming next issue” back issues were on the flip side of Pacific Comic’s Somerset Holmes. It was a gorgeous comic with a gorgeous female lead, based on a gorgeous real-life female creator. (There’s an epic tale behind it all that I’d like to get into one day.) Somerset Holmes’ back covers were creative and memorable – some of my favorites.

Advertising experts used to say that the back cover of any magazine is valuable real estate, as there’s a 50% change that a magazine will be put on a table with the back side up, I’m not sure if anyone ever truly believed that, but there’s no denying the charm of the oft-neglected comic book back cover.

•     •     •     •     •

Oh, and in the spirit of “coming next time”: my next column builds off my recent Back Issue article on the 80s comic Thriller! I’ve finally caught up with author Robert Loren Fleming and we’ve got some long-lost secrets to reveal!


Ed Catto: Dare2Draw with Eisner & Kirby

Dare2Draw is one of those cool events that I never want to miss and am always so happy after attending.

Founded by Charles David Chenet (now its Executive Director), Dare2Draw may seem like a comics-drawing class at first glance but it’s really so much more. In fact, this Saturday’s event will be celebrating the works and legacies of comic pioneers Will Eisner and Jack Kirby and celebrating their Centennial mark in the sequential arts.

Chenet describes this long-running organization as a mentoring, supportive and networking organization for artists of all levels. Dare2Draw is also designed to cultivate the awareness of and appreciation for the study of sequential art, and to the “furtherance and preservation of the comic book medium’s contributions to literacy, art, and culture, through outreach programs, events, and projects.”

I find these events to be invigorating. They are part drawing class, part lecture, part support group… and all fun.

For this upcoming event, Chenet will be bringing Dare2Draw back to the Art Students League of New York. It is a location with a historical importance.

“The Dare2Draw returns to The Art Students League for a very special event to celebrate where Will Eisner got his start and went on to lay down the foundation for the graphic novel,” said Chenet. “We will also be celebrating the work of Jack Kirby, who was able to revolutionize comics, without having a formal art education. Dare2Draw will be celebrating both of these pioneers in the industry of comics, helping to celebrate their centennial mark in the sequential arts.”

“We have invited Kyle Baker, whose irreverent spirit and boundless talent continue to push the art form, now and into the future. Kyle has earned eight Will Eisner awards and many others,” added Chenet.

In fact, Kyle Baker is a winner of not only eight Eisner Awards, but also five Harvey Awards and five Glyph Comics Awards. He’s planning to share his reflections on Will & Jack’s contributions and what the future of the sequential arts “comics” might hold.

Representing the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center will be Rand Hoppe. He’s a tireless advocate of Jack Kirby and will be exploring the artist’s accomplishments and legacy, and how it all relates to today’s artists.

“Both these men will help us explore the contributions – Kyle, from the perspective of an artist and a peer of Will Eisner, and Rand as a curator of the Kirby legacy,” said Chenet.

You know these events are headed in the right direction as they are attracting sponsors. Of note: Brooklyn Brewery is supplying the beer.

This event will be hosted by Simon Fraser and Edie Nugent. It runs from 5:30 to 9:30 pm and the Art Students League is located at 215 West 57th Street in New York City. Have fun and post your art if you go!

•     •     •     •     •

Credit Given where credit’s due: I really must credit the creative in this week’s column. Will Eisner’s work appears via the courtesy of Will Eisner Studios, Inc. Jack Kirby’s creative provided courtesy of The Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center.

Ed Catto: Maybe It Is About The Comics!

There’s a common refrain from longtime fans that San Diego Comic-Con isn’t about comics anymore. I understand that point of view, but I don’t really believe it. In fact, I’m developing a theory that San Diego Comic-Con is really about a lot of different things, but each and every one is so big and boisterous that they eclipse comics. But that doesn’t mean that comics aren’t there.

With that in mind, here are a few comic discoveries from this year’s Comic-Con:

New publisher Black Mask had a modest booth, but it was bursting with talent and creativity.

Black – Jamal Igle was a friendly face in the Black Mask Booth. He’s a tireless creator and was proud of his latest comic, Black. It’s a super hero comic that takes place in a reality where only black people have superpowers. It’s gutsy and compelling.

Galaxy of Brutality – I also purchased the first issue of Galaxy Of Brutality by Alexis Ziritt and Fabian Rangel, Jr. The art grabs you by the throat in a grindhouse way. If Mike Allred had a bad boy cousin, this is what his art would look like. It’s full of coarse language and in-your-face adventure.

There’s Nothing There is another new series that was previewed in the back of Galaxy of Brutality #1. I’m glad I was exposed to it. This is an intriguing series that goes into the “note to self: pick-this-one-up” category.

The publisher Humanoids’ upbeat booth and knowledgeable booth workers were very focused on comics. It’s evident their staff at SDCC believe in their product and have had some sales training. And for anyone who was open to trying something new – they were ready. I ended up snagging two gorgeous graphic novels:

Miss is a film noir crime thriller. Ed Brubaker’s impassioned forward was the thing that ended up selling me. Miss is a gritty story with rough characters doing nasty things.

Olympus is a story originally created over ten years ago by American creators Geoff Johns, Kris Griminger and Butch Guice. It’s an adventure story featuring two gorgeous sisters studying abroad. And wouldn’t you know it? They stumble into a mythological adventure.

TwoMorrows Publishing

I’ve recently started writing for one of TwoMorrow’s comics-focused publications, Back Issue Magazine, and I’m happy to report that the current issue sold out at Comic-Con. Their booth was bustling the whole time, and I was particularly intrigued by a couple of comics-focused publications:

Kirby 100 is another celebration of Jack Kirby’s Centennial. One hundred top creators are interviewed and discuss their Kirby influences. It’s by John Morrow, a soft spoken Tarheel and a 2017 San Diego Comic-Con Guest of Honor and Jon B. Cooke. This book brings to life exactly how Kirby’s vast body of work influenced a diverse line-up of creators in so many different ways.

Reed Crandall: Illustrator of Comics is a look back at another one of the Golden Age’s greatest artists. He’s always been a favorite of mine. This new publication is a great way to enjoy his work again and learn a little more about the man.

Titan Merchandise & Titan Comics

Titan’s booth always has a plethora of fascinating licensed merchandise, and this year was no exception. At the heart of it, Titan Merchandising’s Andrew Sumner is a major fan who wants to create top-notch stuff for other fans. And beyond merchandise, Titan’s robust line of comics continues to grow.

Fighting American – They’re relaunching the classic Kirby & Simon character, Fighting American in a new series by Gordon Rennie and Duke Mighten. The #0 issue debuted at San Diego Comic-Con and was a lot of fun. I look forward to the ongoing series.

Indy Creators

I remember reading one time about Mark Evanier’s strategy to walk through the Independent Creator’s aisle at conventions. The goal would be to discover new things. He’d plan for a set amount to spend. I’m not always disciplined enough to make this strategy part of my convention routine, but I try. This year I stuffed a few extra bucks in my shirt pocket and went on a little walkabout.

Native Drums – This is a self-published comic by Chuck Paschall and Vince Riley. These dedicated, drinking-the-Kool-Aid creators were working the aisle. They were a figurative “Exhibit A” to the truism that you need both talent to produce a comic and marketing to get it out there. Native Drums is an apocalyptic thriller with a strong female lead.

San Diego’s hometown publisher, IDW, had so much going on. Scott Dunbier’s newest Artist Editions were gorgeous and the display copies at the IDW booth gave every fan the chance to feel like they were actually handling original Kirby or Simonson artwork. After hours, Dirk Wood’s band rocked it downtown in a truly memorable party.

But comics-wise, I was really impressed with Ger Apeldoorn and Craig Yoe’s new collection, Behaving Madly, published by IDW. It’s a celebration of all the MAD second-tier knock-offs. These were the short-lived imitators that weren’t as successful as Crazy or Cracked. The book is chock-full of funny stuff from great comics artists like Severin, Ditko and that guy named Kirby.

It’s not really that insightful to write “Comics are still at San Diego Comic-Con.” But it was easy to zig and zag through the hype machines and find some outstanding comics. I’m still busy reading them all.

Ed Catto: From the Front Lines of Comic-Con

denialle-von-fitch-oblong-box-150x135-6833162blues-brothers-bluesmobile-150x113-5204680As I write this, the Annual Nerd Prom is underway. This year the San Diego Comic-Con seems to be a little more relaxed and a little more joyous. There’s an upbeat mood and every attendee I’ve spoken with is just thrilled to be here. Exhibitors and the professionals tend to be a little more world-weary.

A part of the exuberance might be the novelty of it all. I was surprised to learn that one big domestic comic convention has an incredible churn; over 50% of their attendees are first timers each year. I’m not sure how that shakes out at SDCC, but it bears further investigation.

Everyone Grabs Their Chance

alan-and-jay-150x138-9009685green-lantern-daffy-duck-300x292-1163689I don’t think the Romans used the phrase “shameless promotion,” but the Latin equivalent to that should be emblazoned on every San Diego Comic-Con badge. There are so many ideas, brands, companies, retailers, and creators all elbowing one another to get in front of consumers. And there’s a lot of money behind many of these efforts.

On the other hand, not everyone has the big budgets. And that means that many creatives get by with just a little grit and cleverness. Here are three determined and impressive entrepreneurs I met:

  • Alan Truong is a young cartoonist working hard to break in. His strip is called The Missing Digit. Alan attended First Comics News annual “How to Get Press Panel,” where I was a panelist, and made it a point to chat me up afterward. I was impressed with his clever self-promotion. Along with his business card, he offered a comic bag & board (I can never find ‘em when I need ‘em at a comic-con) with his strip printed on the board.
  • Jay Latimer from TomCat comics is excited about his new graphic novel Burrito Apocalypse. He’s meeting as many folks as possible and offers a firm handshake and a great smile. His book is a humorous look at what might happen in the world of politics and society if Aliens came to visit Earth. Chapter One is up on his website, along with other free comics.
  • The Oblong Box is an online retailer, but during the week of the convention, owner Denialle Von Fitch tried something different. It’s obvious that she likes to sew and has a creative vision. Booths on the exhibition floor at San Diego Comic-Con are hard to get. In fact, there’s a waiting list. So Denialle opened up a pop-up apparel store right in the Gaslamp district.

sdcc-superman-car-150x113-8552979sdcc-batman-car-150x113-8386748Car Cosplay

One more thought: I didn’t know Car Cosplay was a thing. I probably should have known when I saw that Captain America on his motorcycle at Cosplay Invades Auburn earlier this summer.

But Car Cosplay is alive and well on the left coast. The first morning of SDCC I was treated to the Bluesmobile blaring the Blues Brothers soundtrack from their trademark oversize speaker. (I wish I caught them playing She Caught The Katy; that’s my favorite song on from that movie). Later I saw a Superman car and a Batmobile.

Both were stuck in traffic.




Ed Catto: The Power of Walter Simonson

In 1977, the Syracuse Post Standard blazed the headline “Comic Book Confab Listed” to announce the second Ithaca Comic Convention. Actually, I think it would be more appropriate to say they whispered the headline. It was scrunched in the middle of a crowded page. The article listed professional comic guests such as Walter Simonson and Al Milgrom. I’m not one-hundred percent sure if that’s how my family found out about that second Ithaca Comic Con way back then. It may have been from seeing a flyer on the bulletin board at Fay’s Drug Store. That used to be a legitimate marketing venue too. But the big takeaway is that back then, the concept of a comic-con certainly wasn’t understood.

“People meet to buy and sell old funny books?” The very notion sounded absurd.

Today’s comic conventions and “cons” are part of the nation’s everyday lexicon. Any gathering gets a little extra oomph by adding “-con” as a suffix. Every Comic Con held anywhere in the country gets a modicum of respect and “Comic-Con International” (commonly referred to as San Diego Comic-Con, or simply SDCC) is right in the center of pop-culture radar.

At the Confab

It was at that Confab in Ithaca that I first met Walter Simonson. I was already a big fan. His Manhunter in Detective Comics, written by Archie Goodwin, had made every fan sit up and take notice. At the time of the convention, he was illustrating a black and white Hulk magazine story that told lost tales of the character’s early days in the Marvel Universe. It was called a continuity implant back then, but I simply realized it was a fresh, outstanding story. I was elated to meet the guy drawing it at this Ithaca Comic Con.

You know how sometimes we meet our cultural heroes and they are really jerks? We spend all this time worshiping a celebrity’s accomplishments, only to have it all come crashing down when they reveal an unappealing side to their personality in a personal meeting? We all have probably experienced that type debilitating letdown.

Well, meeting Walter Simonson was the polar opposite of that. He was kind and patient with me and to everyone there. He was a big talent wrapped in a smile wrapped in supportive enthusiasm.

It’s no one wonder he’s still often referred to as ‘the nicest guy in comics.”

”You will hear similar stories from many comics professionals,” said J.C. Vaughn of Gemstone and The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. “Walter Simonson was the first comic professional to talk to me one on one as if I were an actual person. Never mind that he’s Walter Freakin’ Simonson, one of the greatest comic artists to walk the planet; he’s also Walter Simonson, a genuinely good guy (we could use more of both). To hire him (twice!) to do covers for the Guide has been a joy, real wish-fulfillment stuff.”


More recently, I met with Walter and his wife Louise at his home to discuss his latest project, Ragnarok. It’s a fantastic IDW series that reimagines the Norse legends, including Thor, in a completely different setting than the Marvel version. He used the phrase “Norwegian Zombie” to describe it.

And reinforcing his humble nature, he’s quick to point out two of his collaborators on this project: Laura Martin and John Workman.

During this visit, Walter showed me pages of issue #10. This is a moving issue that explores the distortion of a brand. Basically, Thor finds the symbol of his hammer is being used for something rotten. Where are the trademark and licensing lawyers when you need them?

As with so many Walt Simonson stories, it’s full of power, action, and majesty. But my favorite moment was at the story’s finale when a woman is kneeling and we, as the readers, have a view of the soles of her feet. It’s a usual image for a comic, for whatever reason, but rendered with care and love. “I had to ask Weezie to pose for that,” laughed Walter. He meant that he needed to ask his wife Louise to serve as an artist’s model in order to render the character’s feet correctly.

Let’s talk about Louise Simonson for a moment. She’s quite an impressive creator. Like Walter, she’s humble and soft-spoken. That’s especially impressive as she has every right to be boastful and proud. Her accomplishments are many, but I am always struck by her kind and gentle manner. I’d tend to think that she’s a huge part of the Walt Simonson mystique. Any man married to a woman like Louise Simonson would clearly want to do his best each and every day.

Plus: she made a mean breakfast when I visited. We really must devote another column to this fascinating person at some point down the road.

Walter also revealed a bit of his own personal background and how it influences his latest series. He spoke to me about his family history in North Dakota, and the wheat farms of the 1800s. There seemed to be a sense of adventure about it all and a respect for the “giants of the earth.” His parents even kept an extensive library that contained a few mythology books from the 1890s. The lessons of this all stayed with him well into his years learning design at the Rhode Island School of Design.

He summed up so much of his background and learning in his mantra for storytelling, “Play by the rules, but still surprise.”


This week at the San Diego Comic-Con, publisher IDW has a clever marketing promotion centered on Walt Simonson. Lucky fans will be having dinner with Walter, receive two of the enormous and lovingly crafted IDW Simonson books, get them autographed, and receive a sketch or two. Not surprisingly, the unique event quickly sold out.

I asked IDW’s Director of Special Projects, Scott Dunbier, to speak a little about Walter. He offered a clever and genuine response:

“What can I say about Walter Simonson that hasn’t been said before? Blah blah blah legendary creator blah blah blah brilliant run on Thor blah blah blah nicest guy in comics. Sure, all those things are true. But best of all, I get to work with him and talk to him on a regular basis. I’ve got a great job!”

There may be another big night at San Diego Comic-Con for Simonson. The Eisner Award Committee has nominated him for the Hall of Fame. To be fair, there are many other deserving creators on that impressive list. I have no idea how the judging actually works, but I certainly wish him luck.

This week Walter and Weezie will be at the epicenter of pop culture at the San Diego Comic-Con. And I’m sure they’ll continue to inspire many more people.

Ed Catto: It Creeps! It Crawls! Beware the Comic-Con!

It’s indestructible! It’s indescribable! Nothing can stop it!

Every one of you watching this screen should look out! Because soon, very soon, the most horrifying monster menace ever conceived

No, this isn’t advertising copy for a comic convention coming to your town. These lines are from the trailer for that old monster movie, The Blob. But it could be used to describe any upcoming comic con.

Comic conventions are not only thriving but, like the Blob, they are now oozing out from the walls of their convention centers and invading local towns. Geek culture cannot be held within its original confines.

Who would have ever thought, way back when Geek Culture was nestled in little comic shops in the scorned section of town, that we’d get to this point? Unlike the foreboding tone of that Blob movie trailer, this expanding, oozing primordial mass inspires a sense of awe and wonderment.

The San Diego Comic-Con is probably the best example of this. The nation’s longest running convention is held annually at the San Diego Convention Center. (And it will be held there until 2021, but that’s a whole ‘nother column.)

The entire city seems to get behind this show. Most of the shops, bars, and restaurants in San Diego offer specials and decorations to welcome convention attendees. It seems like every waiter and waitress is wearing a comic book or Walking Dead themed shirt, in fact. And the show itself is so sprawling, it now schedules events in nearby hotels, local libraries, and even the town baseball’s stadium.

I have a great friend who lives in San Diego. Walshy, as we’ve called him since grade school, doesn’t know anything about comics or pop culture. Check that – he loved MAD magazine. That counts. But by and large, he just doesn’t have a passion for graphic novels, or science fiction, or horror movies, or Doctor Who, or any of the cool stuff at the San Diego Comic-Con.
But each year he attends Comic-Con and has a blast. There is one particularly wild story about how he partied with Michael Rooker (“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”) and Miss Venezuela on a hotel rooftop… but we’ll save that one for another day as well.

Walshy throws himself into San Diego Comic-Con because, as a resident, he can’t escape it. It’s so big and so boisterous that it’s all encompassing, even for locals.

And the great news is that Geek Culture is very welcoming. It pitches a big tent and invites everyone to come on in and have some fun.

The same thing is happening at other conventions. New York Comic-Con now hosts “Super Week” before their show, for example. Not surprisingly, it’s also happening at the up-and-coming shows in smaller markets.

Over the past year, I lent a hand to help grow Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con. It was a rousing success: it doubled in attendance and exhibitors reported very strong sales. It was officially held at the local convention center in the middle of Syracuse’s downtown area. But in reality, the event stretched to make the two days of the comic-con much longer.

  • The Mayor: Even Syracuse’s mayor got involved. Neal Adams was the guest of honor, and Mayor Stephanie Miner proclaimed the Saturday of the show to be “Neal Adams Day” in Syracuse.
  • Comics on Campus: It turns out Syracuse University has an incredible collection of original comic strip art. And for the past 80 years, only researchers have been able to view these treasures. We worked with SU’s Special Collections Director for an exhibition of original pages for fans. I never thought fans would be able to hold the very first Prince Valiant page, by Hal Foster, in their hands, but they did! One of our favorite artists, Joe Jusko, stopped by the exhibit and was in awe. His posts of viewing his favorite artists (Foster, Frank Robbins, Stan Drake etc.) went viral. And yes, we’re planning something bigger for next year.
  • Barley Quinn Craft Beer: The local brewpub, Empire, created a specialty beer called Barley Quinn and debuted it the week before the show. They gave away free Comic-con tickets and comics publisher Aftershock offered up a box full of Captain Kid graphic novels. Tom Peyer, the co-author of the series, is based in Syracuse and the publisher wanted to support him.
  • Cosplay: The convention partnered with the nearby Schweinfurth Art Center, a museum with a specialty in fabric arts, to host a cosplay “pre-game” event. I always feel bad when cosplayers put so much time and energy into their costumes, and can only wear them for a day, or two, at a convention. I suppose it’s the same way for brides. It was fun to be able to offer one additional “wearable opportunity” for cosplayers.

So even in a market like Syracuse, Geek Culture has creeped and crawled to ooze out beyond the confines of both the calendar and the convention center to become something bigger. Unlike the teenagers and townsfolk in The Blob, I’m not terrified. I’m elated! And you should be too.

Ed Catto’s Convention Treasures!

I’m still reeling – in a good way – from Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con. It was a fantastic comic convention where I had way too much fun. And I’ve got some observations to share with you about it, but they’ll have to wait until next week.

This week I like to share some of the treasures I found at the show.

Let’s start with the “full disclosure” routine. I’m at the point where my comic collection is way too large, and I’ve been taking the steps to prune it back over the last few years. I’ve found this process difficult to adjust to, but my wife and I are in that downsizing mode. Surprisingly, I’m finding that maybe I am not that much of a hoarder after all. I actually feel better when I get rid of stuff.

But… I can’t help but wander a convention and stumble across a few treasures. And I was delighted with what I found at Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con.

In a 50-cent long box, I found this fantastic copy of Fantagraphics’ reprint title from 1987, Untamed Love, showcasing Frank Frazetta stories. Even though this reprint collection was published thirty years ago, the comic felt pretty new. The coloring is vibrant and the high-quality paper really holds up. The stories are a bit silly, but that Frazetta artwork is gorgeous!

Neal Adams was our guest of honor and, as he often does, told us few stories. Iwas especially intrigued when he revealed he’s working on a new Deadman series. I pressed him for details, and instead of offering just a few coy or cryptic teases, he outlined the whole first issue. And then he showed me the page he was working on. I was really impressed and think it will be his best work in years.
So… in anticipation that new series, I picked up a reading copy of Strange Adventures #209. It was a thrilling story with innovative storytelling and clever page layouts. The big climactic fight atop a Ferris wheel kicked my vertigo into high gear. I have trouble with heights these days, and that frenetic battle above the midway isn’t going to help matters.

Of note: there was a circulation statement in this issue. It turns out Strange Adventures was reported to be selling 146,600 issues each month. I find that so astounding, especially compared to today’s print runs.

I just loved the cover to Girls’ Romances #160 and couldn’t resist snagging it. The brilliant Jay Scott Pike is the artist. While the composition is solid and strong, the non-traditional sketchy, scratchy line work was what grabbed me.

It turns out this was the last issue of this long-running series. By this time, they must have decided it wasn’t worth it to create new stories. Inside are reprints of old John Romita stories – but the women’s hairstyles were retouched to give it a “modern” 1971 feel! These bizarre edits create a double layer of retro.

Most fans fondly remember those Antonio Banderas Zorro movies from a few of years ago. My dad was just watching it on cable, in fact. And comic fans all agree that Alex Toth’s Zorro comics were a pinnacle for that character. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself buying Zorro – The Complete Dell Pre-Code Comics from the Hermes Press booth at the con. It’s a totally different version of Zorro.

Hermes Press was an energetic and committed exhibitor. I may be a bit biased, as I do like so many of their books. They created two convention exclusives and they were selling everything at a discount, so all attendees found a lot to like about their stuff.

In the forward of the Zorro collection, ace author Max Allan Collins provides a brief history lesson about the main artist of these stories – Everett Raymond Kinstler. I wasn’t familiar with this artist, but he is work is evocative and often confused with, Joe Kubert’s style from the 50s. “You had me at Kubert,” I thought when reading the forward.

It’s a tremendous book and after I read it, I think it deserves a spot on my coffee table. Then after a while, I’ll lend it to my dad. Another treasure from another comic-con.

Ed Catto: Inside the Gold Mind

I’m a sucker for crime fiction, whether it’s served up by Raymond Chandler or by Harlan Coben. As a kid, my passion for adventure stories started it all. But like a Chevy Impala on a rain-soaked highway, my interest slid all over the road. I’d devour mysteries, detective novels, pulps and crime thrillers.

In the world of comics, lately we’ve been treated to outstanding fantastic crime thrillers. Ed Brubaker leads the way, of course, with his various crime noir and spy series. Greg Rucka’s stuff is always fun and I hope Oni publishes more Stumptown soon. And other publishers, like Dynamite, IDW, and Boom! Studios have been providing strong contributions as well.

In the traditional book world, Hard Case Crime has been on the forefront of hardboiled crime fiction. Charles Ardai is the man behind it all, and he combines his love for this genre with a great eye for pulpy artwork to create some of the best crime thriller books and paperbacks out there. Some of the books are new, others are lost classics.

It’s been refreshing to enjoy favorite classic detective authors, like Brett Holiday and Mickey Spillane as Hard Case Crime re-publishes their works. Newer favorites, like Max Allan Collins and Lawrence Block are there too. I like to try new authors too. I enjoyed John Lange’s newly re-printed Zero Cool… but then I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a pseudonym for Michael Crichton.

Recently, Hard Case Crime has teamed with their distributor Titan Comics to create a line of comics. Like Hard Case paperbacks, these comics’ covers, titles, and premises all grab readers by the throat and pull ‘em in.

Fay Dalton’s stunning Normandy Gold #1 cover piqued my interest when I first saw it in Diamond Previews. It’s a hauntingly beautiful illustration evocative of every paperback and movie poster you saw in the 70s. Titan offers a number of others #1 variants by other artists, including a quiet, but menacing, portrait of the heroine by interior artist Steve Scott.

Normandy Gold is a fish-out-of-water story. A small town sheriff hunts for her sister’s killer in the big city. The big city, in this case, is Washington, DC. And it’s set in the swinging seventies.

The retro-cool seventies vibe is important to this series. I almost wish there was a suggested soundtrack. All the tropes are here: the big cars, the dorky men’s sports coats, phones with cords, bushy mustaches and women’s fashion. But they are presented with a stark authenticity and effectively immerse the reader into the story.

That’s in a big part due to series artist Steve Scott. He’s a gifted artist with a great line, top notch rendering skills, and a natural pacing. You may have seen his mainstream work, including a few Batman stories a few years ago. Here, Scott effortlessly presents all those big gas-guzzling cars, opulent office buildings and Sonny-and-Cher vintage fashions with a natural ease that keeps you in the story and keeps you hungry for more.

The other creators are a big deal too. The creative team of Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin write the series. I’m not familiar with their work but after this, I want to read more from them.

This past week there was some outrage – Outrage!, I tell you – over the fact that the talented James Robinson, obviously a man, was taking over DC’s Wonder Woman comic series. As the Wonder Woman movie was such a hit and was driven by a female director and a female lead, some outraged fans assumed a female writer should helm the comic.

Look, we need diversity in all areas. Culturally, we’re all at a point where we all understand that everyone benefits from hearing lots of different voices. But that shouldn’t mean that only women write female characters or only Chinese-American writers write Chinese-American characters. In fact, just last night I had a passionate “front porch’ discussion with my wife and long-time comics expert John Cresco. And no, no wine or beer was involved. Maybe next time.

But it is fantastic when new venues open up to new voices. So here we have a female detective written by female writers. I tend to think, however, that Abbot and Gaylin got this writing gig because they are damn fine writers, not because of their sex. Normandy Gold #1 is crisp storytelling with just enough hints into a complicated character’s background. The reader is intrigued, but not rushed.

I hope fans concerned about finding opportunities for female writers give this series a try, and/or pick up back issues of Chelsea Cain’s recent Mockingbird.

Be warned, as, with so many hardboiled detective stories, there are a few salacious scenes. But they are important to the story and almost expected in this genre.

Normandy Gold is at least the second comic heroine with that catchy first name. In Milton Caniff’s long-running newspaper strip, Terry and the Pirates, Normandy Drake was the niece of a wealthy man who had captured the heart of one of the lead characters. I hope this Normandy likewise captures fans’ hearts.

The female detective in comics is a small subgenre. Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree was such a treasure. Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano’s Jonni Thunder, A.K.A.Thunderbolt was also a favorite (more on her later). The torch has been passed recently to well-rounded characters like Dex Parios and Jessica Jones. Normandy’s a welcome addition to the club. I’m eager for the next issue.