Author: Ed Catto

Ed Catto: Spellbound by Batman

When Leonard Nimoy died, several comic conventions paused for a moment of silence as fans offered up the Vulcan salute. Those were lovely gestures as the nerd community showed how beloved the actor, and his signature role, was to them.

I wish that Batman’s Adam West had a signature gesture like that. A hands-on-hips pose means Superman. The Vulcan salute embodies all of Star Trek’s mythology. Television’s Wonder Woman had a spinning motion (it enabled her to change from her meek self into her heroic costume) that we of a certain age remember. Iron Man kind of owns that punching-the-ground-while-crouching pose. But TV’s Batman really could’ve used an iconic pose.

Perhaps it would be holding a bomb, with a lighted fuse, above one’s head? Perhaps that silly/sexy Batusi dance move, evoking a bat’s eyes and ears? Somehow they just don’t seem right. But he had something better.

The past weekend, the Batsignal was shining onto Los Angeles’s City Hall. And the folks behind it knew their stuff. This Batsignal was the version of the Batman emblem that Adam wore. The L.A. Times showed the crowds and the entire affair looked impressive.

Everyone seems to have an Adam West story to share. I have a few too. I was really struck by how kind and sweet the stories were. To his credit, Adam West seemed to be able to instantly understand, and respect, the different connections that fans had with his TV alter ego.

As Mark Evanier, and others, reminded us, Adam West was an actor and Batman was just one part he played. Kudos to MeTV for recently running episodes of 60s western and science fiction TV series featuring Adam West appearing in other roles, before running the very first two episodes of Batman.

And in many ways, playing Batman damaged his career. He was typecast and couldn’t get other roles subsequent to the series’ cancellation. It wasn’t until years later that he was able to figure it all out, with the help of his enthusiastic agent, Fred Westbrook. They found ways so that Adam could finally reap the financial benefits of his all-too-brief superhero years.

Sadly, Fred recently passed away too. He was an agent with a real respect for his clients. He was clearly a fanboy, but he used that drive to create engaging and profitable projects for his clients. Like Adam, Fred was a great guy too. And boy, did he love TV game shows. I don’t know if he was the nation’s biggest expert on TV game Shows, but it seemed like that to me.

I fell under the spell of Adam West’s Batman TV show, but it quickly translated into a love of comics. For many fans, seeing some of those covers we saw as kids bring indelible memories front and center.

Viewing these comics is like winning a ticket for a time machine. I’m immediately transported back to Pauline’s, the newsstand that was so close to my grandmother’s house. My dad would treat us to one treasure there (I’d always choose a comic) after our Italian Sunday Dinner each week.

Detective Comics #358 is that kind of a comic for me. There’s something about those DC silver age covers with red backgrounds that bring out the six-year-old in me. This issue features the debut of Batman’s unforgettable foe, Spellbinder!

What’s that, you say? Did you forget him? Yeah, well, I guess that’s understandable.

I think that everyone who read this story forgot about it. It’s not that it’s so bad. It’s just so bland. The Spellbinder is a bank robber with a gimmick – he can hypnotize people. And like a fairy tale, the Spellbinder fools Batman three times, until the Darknight Detective finally figures out how to defeat him.

But that cover – wow! As a kid, I had thought this would’ve been the battle of all ages! It’s all about wild colors and an undoubtedly an epic battle about to be waged. I certainly expected to see Spellbinder pop up in an episode of the 60’s TV series, but he never did.

I wonder who could’ve played Spellbinder on TV?

Holy Fashion Faux Pas! What a mishmash of colors and patterns. If it were published today, Tim Gunn would have a fit. Oh, and I’m not even talking about Spellbinder’s costume. I’m talking about those clashing Detective Comics and Batman logos. Spellbinder’s nutty costume is an absurd thing of beauty… and doubtlessly it struck fear into the hearts of comic artists everywhere. In fact, no one would draw him again for years.

My copy of this comic is really special. It’s the file copy of longtime Batman editor, Jack Schiff. In those pre-internet days, publishers kept old comics on file for easy reference. Curiously, by the time this comic was published, Schiff was no longer editor on the Batman line. But he sold his file copy collection to Tim Ash Gray of Ithaca’s Comics For Collectors back in ’92, and Tim sold them to fans.

This issue is overflowing with nostalgic treasures, including:

  • More Superheroes – There’s an Elongated Man back-up (with some sharp Sid Greene art for a change) and Superman fights for Unicef in a one-page adventure on the inside front cover
  • Lots of Toy Car Ads – Geez, if future archeologists study this comic, they’d come to the conclusion that little boys in the 60s only read comics and played with toy cars. Still, one these ads showcases artwork from beloved DC artist Murphy Anderson.
  • It’s not the first time Batman fought villains on a building and certainly not the last. After the memorial service, the skyscraper battle now makes me think of the LA tribute to Adam West and the Batsignal shining on L.A.’s City Hall.

So many of us are willingly spellbound by Batman. There are a lot of good things about that. Like a long train, we all jump on at different points. That’s kind of special too. For me, it all started with that TV series and Adam West.

Ed Catto: Fight Like a Girl

It’s a good time to fight like a girl. The new Wonder Woman movie is a big hit. Everyone from Billy Tucci to my mom seems to like it. Fox News managed to complain about the level of patriotism in the movie, but whatever; every party needs a pooper.

I thought it was great fun, and yesterday’s Biographic strip in sundry newspapers taught me something I didn’t remember. It turns out Wonder Woman’s first animated appearance was on an episode of The Brady Kids. It predated Superfriends by one year! This show was a spin-off of the Brady Bunch series. Even as a young fan, I remember watching this cartoon was pretty painful. At that time, I preferred Marcia Brady to Wonder Woman… but, hey, it’s still cool that it actually happened.

Wonder Woman is very busy in comics right now. Beyond her regular “Rebirthed” series and her DC Super Girls adventures, the Wonder Woman ’77 version of the character has been on a tear with Batman and Bionic Woman team-ups. I was really surprised how much I enjoyed the Batman ’66 crossover in particular. Jeff Parker is adding onto the TV mythology in clever and unexpected ways. Batfans shouldn’t miss these.

Beyond the Amazonian Princess, currently there’s quite a few top-notch comics where the protagonist is fighting like a girl… because she is one… including:

  • Mother Panic – This wonky DC/Young Animal series about features an unlikely, and unlikable, female protagonist. But I really enjoy it and art by Tommy Lee Edwards and Jon Paul Leon has been gorgeous and inspiring.
  • Velvet – Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s excellent 007esque series just ended, but Batwoman is a consolation as Epting has continued onto this series. His art is just superlative there too.
  • Lazarus – Greg Rucka and Michael Lark deliver a world-building drama that continues to ratchet up the tension in each issue. It’s been quite a ride and show’s no sign of stopping.
  • Invisible Republic – Produced by the super-talented, and super-likable, team of Gabriel and Corinna Bechko, this Image series is literally a world-building story. It tells the tale of Maia McBride and her involvement with and efforts on behalf of a revolutionary establishing a society. It’s great creepy fun. A mystery wrapped in an adventure wrapped in an enigma wrapped in social commentary.

While The New York Daily News carries Biographic (I really buy this paper each Sunday for the full page Prince Valiant), The New York Times offered readers a surprise this weekend too. What a treat their all-comics version of the Sunday magazine was! Hope you were able to snag a copy of that, but if not, check it out here.

Their New York Times Book Review section also reviewed The Spectacular Sisterhood Of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History by Hope Nicholson.  This looks to be a fun book by a passionate author with an impressive pedigree. Published by Quirk, this is another one of those books in the mold of Craig Yoe’s Super Weird Heroes or Jon Morris’s The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History.

In fact, if vintage super heroines are your thing, I really must be sure you are aware of Mike Madrid’s The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and The History of Comic Book Heroines, Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics. He even gave the “bad guy women” their due in Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics.

And this all leads me to another Fangirls Lead the Way Panel. I’ll be moderating this one at Syracuse’s Salt City Comic Con on the first day of the show, June 24th. This is looking to be an engaging convention with wonderful guests. I’m expecting some cool discussions and insights at this panel, mainly because this one always brings out the best in the panelists and the audience.

(Oh, and in case you’re wondering – we can’t announce any panels for San Diego Comic-Con quite yet… so stay tuned.)

My panelists in Syracuse include Sally Heaven of Fangirl Shirts. This entrepreneurial apparel company will be exhibiting on the show floor, and I’m excited to have her on the panel. Sally’s a spitfire and comes to every comic-con with passion, energy…and really cool T-shirts! Connie Gibbs, of Black Girl Nerds always has good insights to share and brings so much to the party. it will be great to see her again. And we’ve got a few surprises too.

This one will be at 2:00 in the “Hall of Justice” on the Saturday of Salt City Comic-Con. I’ll let you know how it all goes.

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For more info on all the panels at the Syracuse show check out their schedule!

Ed Catto: Live and Let Love the One You’re With

Last week, the front page of The New York Times mourned the death of Roger Moore. Shockingly, they ran a photo from Live and Let Die showing the actor, as James Bond, in bed with Jane Seymour, right there on the front page.

How fitting. But there’s a catch. While I’m a big James Bond fan, amongst 007 fans, Sean Connery is always revered at the “real” face of Bond. I get that. And if fact, when I read James Bond prose adventures I generally conjure up Connery’s face and voice as I visualize the scenes.

On the other hand… there was a 70s sentiment that admonished us all to love the one we’re with. And growing up, Roger Moore was the Bond I was with.

I clearly remember the day when my parents were debating the merits of taking my brother, Colin, and me to see a movie. Now, my family reads a lot, so it was natural my parents read the James Bond novels. And Mom and Da, like much of America, had enjoyed the Sean Connery movies. So they knew the deal about James Bond movies. But my mom also read, and loved, Charlotte’s Web. The animated version was playing locally. But also in the local theaters was Roger Moore’s first outing as James Bond in Live and Let Die.

We were little boys at this time. My mom suggested that we all have a sweet, charming night out and enjoy the Charlotte’s Web movie. My dad, usually an easy going guy, roared, “I’m not going to take these boys to see some movie about a pig!” We went to see Roger Moore in Live and Let Die and our lives were changed forever.

Do you remember how this one starts out? Instead of being summoned into M’s stuffy office, there’s an urgent need for Britain’s top agent. It’s so urgent that the head of the British Secret Service and his secretary, unable to reach James Bond, travel to Bond’s apartment to fetch him for the mission.

And I do recall there’s also some exposition about Italy’s diplomats being upset because one of their top agents is missing, or “off the grid” as we’d say today, after completing her last secret mission.

Well… in a scene that would make any modern HR manager cringe, M, the head of the Secret Service, and Miss Moneypenny, his secretary, arrive and knock on the door of Bond’s flat.

There’s a quick scene where a groggy James Bond, played by Roger Moore for the first time, checks his watch. But it was a digital watch, and those were bleeding edge cool at the time. My brother and I were had never seen one before and were captivated by it. And then we realized that the missing Italian agent was naked in James Bond’s bed! Wow! My brother and I had never seen that before and were even more captivated by that!

I think this introduction, doubtlessly duplicated by millions of boys across the world, helped a generation embrace Roger Moore as their James Bond.
Sean Connery was great – but wasn’t he the guy who complains about the Beatles? Kind of like my grandfather?

No, Roger Moore was our guy.

A Dashing Rogue in a Pre-Bond Phase

The Saint, often called the Modern Robin Hood of Crime, was a globe-trotting adventurer created by Leslie Charteris. The character appeared in way too many books and short stories. Although largely ignored today, the Saint enjoyed very healthy cross-media exposure in radio, comics, serials, movies and television. To many, the first actor to portray the Saint on television, Roger Moore is regarded as the best. Moore brought a dashing sense of unflappable whimsy to the role, romancing beautiful women in gorgeous cities around the globe, while inevitably being drawn into some mystery or crime by a dastardly foe.

I discovered Roger Moore as the Saint after I discovered Moore as 007, although he played the character before becoming James Bond. It all seemed like a Junior Varsity warm-up to the James Bond series.  It was all there – the car, the bravado, the globetrotting, the casual affairs. But, there was no ignoring it was Bond-Lite compared the cinematic James Bond,

I lived in upstate New York, and watched one of the New York City stations, WNEW, that used to run episodes of The Saint after their “Late Movie.” The problem was that the movies were all of different lengths, so The Saint would start at different times each night. There was a stretch where I’d scour TV Guide to discover the precise time that the Saint started, and set my alarm so I could sneak downstairs at 2:20 am or 3:05 am to watch an episode. It was important to never miss the beginning of an episode.

The theme song had that Rat Pack coolness to it, and each week Roger Moore would break the fourth wall right before it played. In the show’s teaser, before the theme song, the Saint would be in Rome or Madrid or some other exotic locale and another character would recognize him. “Wait, aren’t you Simon Templar… the Saint? ” they’d always ask. Then Roger Moore would sheepishly smile and look upwards, at the animated halo (he was the “saint”, get it?) above his head. This bit never got old and to his credit, Moore made it work for six seasons and 118 episodes.

As the story goes, one reason Roger Moore kept doing The Saint series was because he was saddled with overbearing alimony payments following an acrimonious divorce. I can only imagine.

Persuaded by the Riviera

But then the crew of The Saint magically transformed everything into another show called The Persuaders! This was bromance adventure of two wealthy rivals who became chums and started gallivanting across Europe. Roger Moore played a British aristocrat named Lord Brett Sinclair and his counterpart was a Brooklyn-American, charmingly overacted by Tony Curtis.

One can’t help but wonder if there might have been some financial or personal incentives to filming this series on locations across Europe. In The Persuaders!, viewers were taught that if you were clever or rich enough, all of Europe was just one big cocktail hour and there were more than enough beautiful women waiting to be charmed off their feet. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

Although The Persuaders! was shown during primetime on ABC in America in the early 70s, I discovered the show much later in syndication. While I certainly didn’t romance beautiful women as frequently as Lord Brett Sinclair did, I think the easy-breezy attitude of confidence and mischief was good to learn, at least in moderation.

Years later, after one of my business partners Joe Ahearn and I assumed ownership of the character Captain Action, we created a female counterpart. It was partially in as a result of exhibiting at comic shows, and partially a desire to create “James Bond’s daughter.”  Of course, we couldn’t make our character actually be James Bond’s little girl. Instead, we named her Nikki Sinclair and alluded to the fact that her father was an English Lord. So in essence, since Roger Moore played a similar character in The Persuaders!, we kind of found a way around making her James Bond’s daughter.

Oh sure, we saw Roger Moore as a mercenary in The Wild Geese (a kind of pre-Rambo Dirty Dozen movie) and we suffered though him as Sherlock Holmes (somehow it just didn’t feel right). He was also Beau Maverick, cousin to Bret and Bart and father of Ben, and starred in The Alaskans (the rumors were that he fell in love with his beautiful co-star). He could be a lot of things, but even Roger Moore couldn’t be everyone.

Roger Moore always seems cool and composed when not on camera. He was dapper and in fact took pride at developing his character’s wardrobe in The Persuaders! Gee, that was all so much fun – thanks for showing us how it was all done, Roger!

Ed Catto: Is It Geek Culture’s Business?

Sometimes Geek Culture – and comics – serve up social commentaries for the world at large. One end of the spectrum is firmly occupied by O’Neil & Adams’ groundbreaking Green Lantern/Green Arrow series from the 70s. The other end of the spectrum has so many more examples: Eightball, Doonesbury, Love and Rockets, etc. Each employ varying degrees of heavy-handedness.

The past week there were two examples that offered insights and lessons…and the sad part is if you’re not careful you might miss both.

The first was the Guy Ritchie’s recent cinematic King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. This film earned the dubious honor of being the summer’s first big flop. And yet it doesn’t seem like summer’s even started yet.

And, of course, this raises the stakes for Warner’s next big movie, Wonder Woman. “That one better be a hit,” thinks every Warner executive.

I’m a sucker for Arthurian legends. I think it all started for me with that World’s Finest issue where Batman and Superman have an adventure in Camelot. That story offered up the notion, which made total sense to a super-hero obsessed kid like me, that the Knights of the Round Table were essentially a superhero club.

You’re probably slowly nodding your head in mock agreement and thinking: “Riiiight. Sure they were.” Your lack of agreement is appropriate. But hey, I was just a kid and it was the sixties.

But that comic, along with some of dad’s bedtime stories, spurred me onto a life-long interest in Arthurian legends. So it was inevitable that I’d see this movie (with my dad, no less). And I was very open to whatever interpretation the director Guy Ritchie was developing.

During the closing credits, I came to the conclusion that this was a tale all about “bro culture.” You may have been reading this in business magazines, or even in the New York Times a few weeks ago in the article entitled “Jerks and the Start-Ups they Ruin.” The idea is that many up-and-coming entrepreneurial tech companies are run by boorish jerks. I know a few. They eschew the traditions of business and are guided/encouraged/self-vindicated by their own rule-breaking success. They epitomize everything bad from the stereotypical college frat-house.

In that NY Times article, Dan Lyons explained it this way:

What is bro culture? Basically, a world that favors young men at the expense of everyone else. A “bro co.” has a “bro” C.E.O., or C.E.-Bro, usually a young man who has little work experience but is good-looking, cocky and slightly amoral — a hustler. Instead of being forced by investors to surround himself with seasoned executives, he is left to make decisions on his own.

Bro CEOs also possess a sense of destiny and an underlying notion of getting the good things they deserve. And that all fits well with this version King Arthur saga. Hollywood’s most recent King Arthur wasn’t altruistic or a romantic. He was a thug who hustled his whole life and saw Camelot as one more clubhouse where he could hang his “Boys Only” sign.

Are we, as a society, getting tired of bro culture? You may have seen the glee with which the media slammed UBER, perhaps the poster child of BRO Culture, for their miscalculations of millions and a payback promise to drivers.

I like to think that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’s poor performance portends the nation’s growing fatigue with and impatience for bro culture startups. But I also worry we all have a ways to go.

And I have another example. I’m also really enjoying The Art and Inventions of Max Fleischer by Ray Pointer. This book is published by McFarland & Company. You may see their booth every year at San Diego Comic-Con, although I admit I borrowed this copy from the library.

It’s the story of the guy who competed with Walt Disney. Everyone knows Disney today, but few folks know the name Max Fleischer, Oh, they may remember some of his cartoons. Names like Betty Boop, Ko-Ko the Clown, Gulliver and Popeye aren’t really on the bleeding edge of coolness today.

Reading Fleischer’s story made me remember a particular time in my career. It was during the first bubble. We were a start-up and we were getting ready for the upcoming video streaming revolution. We were all millionaires for about twenty minutes. At that time, the majority of American households still used dial-up modems, so we were a little ahead of the curve. When a guy named Reed and his start-up, called Netflix, burst on the scene, we all laughed at his naive business model. We were so wrong. Such hubris is painful to recall today.

And that kind of happened with Max Fleischer as he dismissed Walt Disney and struggled to keep up with the rapid changes in technology and pop culture. To be fair I think he was much smarter and more creative than we were. It’s hard to really understand that in business, things can change swiftly. And that a pecking order, with winners and losers, can be inverted quickly and often is.

You know, if I was the guy planning the syllabus for an MBA program, I’d definitely slip some Geek Culture books and movies, like these two, into the mix. That’ll learn ‘em!

Ed Catto: These are the Voyages…

Eaglemoss, a UK based fan-facing company, is best known for creating detailed replicas of Batmobiles, miniature starships from various incarnations of Star Trek and figurines from the mythologies of Marvel, DC Comics and the Walking Dead. They are all of high quality and lovingly rendered.

Each figure or vehicle they sell comes with a booklet developed by experts in each fan-focused field. So when you buy the miniature replica of the Flying Batcave (if you don’t know what this is you really need to find out fast!) you’ll also get a thorough, yet concise, history of the Flying Batcave.

Given the premium quality of these booklets, it makes sense that Eaglemoss would also be a mindful and creative publisher.
Their new Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection is premium quality in spades. Produced with IDW, this is the type of project (I almost typed the word ‘enterprise’ instead of ‘project’) that both long-time fans and casual collectors will respect and enjoy. Its a regularly published collection of hardcover Star Trek comics. But there’s an interesting wrinkle to it all.

Eaglemoss encourages fans to order the first volume at a discounted price: $4.95. Then fans can sign up for an ongoing program, as each month two more volumes are sent to their home. It costs about twenty bucks each month. (The monthly fee is $14.95 and shipping is $2.45 for each book.) If fans continue in the program, they will receive special gifts. But they make it easy so that fans can cancel at anytime.

It’s nice to get our reading delivered on a monthly schedule. Longtime comic fans understand the gleeful attraction of episodic storytelling. Modern fans might prefer reading trade paperback collections and binge watching entire seasons of TV shows. They may be less inclined to enjoy twice-a-month reading engagements. But It is interesting to note that there is a whole new type of fan who’s enjoying regular, episodic fiction. In fact, The New York Times ran a story on this very topic last week.

These are the voyages…

Each Eagelmoss hardcover showcases one long story from assembles several issues of various Star Trek comic incarnations. The first volumes seem to hop and skip amongst the many different Star Trek series; a little original series here, a little TNG there.

Of course, the success of each volume hinges on the stories chosen. IDW and Eaglemoss seem to be choosing wisely, selecting innovative stories by strong creators with good tales to tell.

For a fussy fan like me, it’s really important that the art is up to snuff. I have high standards for comic art. On a licensed property like Star Trek where the likenesses must be spot-on, it’s especially important.

Each volume is a hardcover book with glossy pages and meaty introductions. There’s a heft and an importance to it all.

Star Trek has been published by many comic publishers over the years. For this graphic novel reprint series, Eaglemoss is launching the series by showcasing IDW comics. In the near future, I’m really looking forward enjoying some early DC stories in this slick format. I’m also looking forward like to those Captain Pike adventures from Marvel’s “Paramount Comics” imprint. I missed them the first time around.

Comic on the Edge of Forever

The second Eaglemoss volume reprints IDW’s recent City on The Edge of Forever mini-series. It was a fantastic story that could only be told in Star Trek comics.

As you may know, one of the best-loved episodes of the original Star Trek series was Harlan Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever. But the televised version differed significantly from the teleplay that Ellison originally wrote. For almost 50 years, fans wondered “What if the television episode had been filmed as Ellison originally conceived it?”

The IDW team decided to do just that. They created a Star Trek series based on the original screenplay. The painted artwork by JK Woodward captured the actors’ 1960s likenesses with an urgent dynamism.

“Doing Harlan’s original City on the Edge of Forever teleplay as a comic will forever be a highlight of anything I do in comics,” said IDW’s Chris Ryall, CCO and Editor-in-Chief. “Seeing Harlan get choked up, finally seeing his story come to visual life as he intended only made it sweeter, but this was one of those special projects, where all the talent involved, from Harlan on down to Scott and David Tipton adapting it and JK Woodward doing the best work of his career on those painted pages… all of that just made this something far beyond a typical licensed comic. I’m thrilled with the events that led up to this finally being able to happen after a half-century of it not even being a remote possibility and I’m even more happy with the finished book.”

The Just Dessert

At the end of each volume is a reprint from sixties Gold Key comics. They are essentially a back-up story, and each one brings so much to the party. It is kind of like when you’re in a restaurant devouring a dessert that you didn’t plan on ordering, but are so glad you did.

Starting in 1967, Gold Key was the first comics publisher to create Star Trek comics. It was so early on in the process, that it’s clear that they didn’t do their homework. They really weren’t familiar with the Star Trek TV show. Legend has it that when it all started, the writer and artist had not even watched a single episode. They based the comics on reference sheets supplied by the network.

But you know what? Each story is a joy to behold.

Dick Wood was the writer. He worked on so many comics over the years, from the Plastic Man to the golden age Daredevil to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Today, he is often remembered for his “unique” interjections, and he doesn’t disappoint in these Star Trek stories. In these adventures, you’ll find the Enterprise crew exclaiming:

Howling Asteroids!

Suffering Solar Showers!

Great Novas! (which is often stuttered as “Gr-Great Novas!”)

Was he purposefully trying to make list of “Things Star Trek characters would never really say”? We may never know the truth.

The vintage reprints also reinforce one important idea: Star Trek was very different from anything else on TV at that time. One can presume that Gold Key management said, “Oh, another one of those rocket ship shows. All we need is few laser guns, a space monster and we’re off the races.” It’s fascinating to see how these stories presume what they thought Star Trek would be in contrast to what it became.

These daft tales offer no continuity or consistency. On the other hand, each story can be enjoyed all on its own. For hardcore Star Trek fans, it’s a rare glimpse backward to understand what the general public thought of science fiction adventures before the innovative conventions of Star Trek become standard conventions.

And because they are so wacky, it’s nice that each volume of this Eaglemoss/IDW series reprints just one Gold Key story. I worry that reading more than one of these Gold Key stories at one time would cause fans brains to melt.

Coming Distractions

Way back when, coming attractions for TV shows were a thing. “Next week on…” was marketing hype that we’d eagerly gobble up. Star Trek’s original series routinely ended with just such a teaser, so it’s fitting that each volume in this graphic novel collection has a coming attractions page. These pages are fun, appropriate and gets readers to anticipating exactly which version of Trek will be featured in the new volume.

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For more information on this, you can check it out here. And if you also get that Flying Batcave, let me know how you like it.

Ed Catto: Play Nice in the Toybox

He never made a comic. He never created a TV show. He never even went to a comic convention. But his impact on Geek Media was profound.

Without him, toy store aisles would be very different. Without him, comic shops would be very different. Without him, licensing deals would not be where they are today. And if he didn’t do what he did, millions of children would have had very different childhoods.

Last week, the news broke that the creator of Captain Action and GI Joe, Stan Weston, had died.

Creating GI Joe – and creating a category

Stan’s biggest idea was to create what would become the action figure category. He had this idea to transform the 12” Barbie Fashion Dolls into a something for boys. Just as the 1960s Barbie could transform, via a simple costume change, from a fashion model to a teacher to a nurse, he envisioned a soldier who could shift from an infantry man to a Navy diver to a fighter pilot.

At that time, the idea to create a Barbie Doll for boys was a radical one. Boys might play with soldiers, but never dolls. In the sixties, I remember my grandfather, who’s approval meant the world to me, get confused about his grandsons playing with dolls. We tried to explain how off-base he was, but someone from his generation just couldn’t wrap his head around it.

It was a big deal. And with a series of comic book ads drawn by Irv Novick, GI Joe became the next big thing for a generation of young boys

Captain Action

Captain Action was Stan’s “next idea” after GI Joe. While GI Joe could change from a soldier into a frogman, or an astronaut, Captain Action could change into different superheroes. And the amazing thing was, Captain Action could change into different heroes who were owned by different corporations. He could change into Marvel Comics heroes like Captain America or Sgt. Fury. He could change into King Features heroes like The Phantom or Flash Gordon. He could even change into the NPP characters, owned today by Warner Bros’ DC Comics.

Paul Gulacy is the only artist to draw covers for both GI Joe and Capt. Action.

He explained to me that it was “easy.” They’d just hop into NYC cabs, have a meeting, ask the secretary to type up the contract and a carbon copy and they’d be all set to go.

It was simple idea that wasn’t capitalized upon before this. Kids would mix-and-match the toys in their toy box for creative play. Why couldn’t they mix-and-match the toys in one particular toy line too?

Contrasting those Mad Men days with the complexity of finalizing deals now makes today’s licensing executives want to cry. No lawyers. No emails. No conference calls. No style guides. Just a firm handshake, a focus and a little personal integrity.

Stan Weston wasn’t a one-trick pony. He did a lot of other things that become the favorite things of a lot of people. He was involved in ventures that included everything from Nintendo to Thundercats to Farrah Fawcett.

Passing the Torch

When my business partner, Joe Ahearn, and I acquired the Captain Action property, I had the opportunity to speak with Stan. He was everything you’d want him to be. He was gracious, and confident and so very encouraging. His whole attitude towards our acquisition of Captain Action was, “Wonderful! You boys have fun with that! Make some money and have some fun!”

I had an idea that Stan should be a guest of honor at New York Comic Con. I think it would have been fantastic for fans and especially for Stan. Sadly, at that point, he was living in France and was reluctant to add more travel to his schedule. In retrospect, perhaps I should have pushed harder.

But like so many of the iconic comic creators, or a guy like Chuck Berry, Stan would not reap the financial rewards of his category-creating ideas. He’d take a run at re-negotiating/re-litigating with Hasbro, the company that grew out of the little toy company started by the Hassenfeld Brothers. Hasbro had grown into the behemoth it is today based upon, in no small part, the success of Stan’s ideas. But those agreements aren’t public knowledge and it’s unclear where it all ended up.

Weston, and his heirs will have to just take pride in the worldwide industry established, innumerable jobs created and countless hours of fun resulting from a few great Stan Weston ideas.

Ed Catto: Neal Adams’ Mighty Team-Ups!

Geek Culture, unlike other passion businesses like sports or music, affords fans the opportunity to collaborate with fellow fans and rub elbows with professionals. I’d argue that it’s unique to this industry.

For example, music fans would find it difficult to imagine playing with Mick Jagger or Sir Paul McCartney. Oh, you might see them in concert, but to really spend time with them probably isn’t going to happen.

Likewise, even if I was a big football fan, I couldn’t realistically plan a way to spend quality time with an NFL Superstar. I did briefly meet football legends Larry Czonka and Rocky Bleier back in the 70s, but hey, that was the 70s.

But Geek Culture is different. There are so many opportunities for fans to meet their favorite creators. Like super hero movies, comic conventions are sprouting up just about everywhere.

With all these new conventions, and the inevitable competition for available weekends, I’m thrilled that our invitations to talent for Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con were so well received. This show has quickly developed a very impressive guest list. I anticipate it will be a fantastic opportunity for all kinds of fans to meet many of their favorite folks.

The legendary Neal Adams will be one of the creators attending. He’s a guy who’s been contributing groundbreaking art for many years. He’s also been a trailblazer – with his own entrepreneurial efforts and on behalf of creator’s rights. He seems to love conventions. He brightens up with a big smile and genuinely enjoys meeting his fans.

For this convention, Adams created a variant convention exclusive. The cover to this comic showcases Batman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and (for the first time on a comic cover) Syracuse’s iconic Niagara Mohawk building.

I’m a big Batman fan from way back, so collaborating with Neal Adams, IDW, DC and the convention to create this Batman cover was really fun.

The more I thought about it, though, this was fun because it wasn’t really a Batman cover. This was going to be, essentially, a Brave and the Bold cover. B&B, as we called it back in the day, was a long-running comic series showcasing Batman with all his super hero pals. It was always an engaging read and was a strong seller for DC as well.

Neal Adams worked on many of the early issues of B&B, but he has always been good at team-up covers. He’s great at capturing diverse characters and making them work together.

Neal Adams has also illustrated quite a few Marvel Team-Up covers to, as you can see on the top of this column.

All this got me thinking, “What would this special Batman/TMNT cover have looked like if it was published in the 60s or the 70s?” My Captain Action business partner, Joe Ahearn, brought my ideas to life with a faux Brave and the Bold 60s cover:


We then took it one step further and created an imaginary cover with a funky 70s vibe:As a marketing consultant, I collaborate a lot. Collaborations are fun – be it on work projects, fan projects or even comic book covers. Especially comic book covers, now that I think about it

•     •     •     •     •

And if you like “Imaginary” team-up covers, might I recommend the clever SuperTeamFamily: The Lost Issues site at And for more information on that Batman/TMNT variant, just check out .


Ed Catto: Watching the Detectives

Detective Comics is the longest running American comic book series. It was so important to the publisher, an outfit called National Periodical Publications, that one day they officially changed their name to reflect comic’s initials. They became DC Comics. Oh, sure, Detective Comics Comics doesn’t make sense, but let’s not split hairs and just chalk it all up to simpler times.

I’ve been reading Detective Comics for as long as I’ve been reading. Batman was the lead character since #27, 1939, and in the early days I admit I’d often choose the latest issue of Batman – with that big Batman logo – instead of the latest Detective Comics.

But then, right about the time that I was actively buying and reading comics on my own with minimal parental supervision, Detective Comics shifted direction. Batman’s superhero adventures morphed into detective and mystery stories. Many stories embraced a whodunit feel. And as an adolescent who was trying to leave behind the camp of the Batman TV series, this version seemed in synch with I wanted at the time.

Actually, Detective Comics would have many incarnations over the years. For a while it became “The Batman Family” and offered a variety of adventures of Bat-characters and detectives. Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, helped initially by Walter Simonson, created one of the most definitive versions of a mysterious yet well-rounded Batman in a 70s run of Detective Comics. And for a while in the 80s, the plotlines of Detective Comics were intertwining with the Batman title, like comic double helix/DNA strands, to create a twice-monthly ongoing soap opera style narrative.

Surprisingly, I’m really enjoying the current Detective Comics series that’s part of DC’s Rebirth. Like so many TV dramas, it’s about a team of people working together in the cause of justice. In his book The Caped Crusade and the Rise of Nerd Culture, author Glen Weldon made the point that Batman always starts by being a loner and eventually transforms to a person surrounded by a group or family. That’s definitely the case here.

Each issue is adorned with a classic Detective Comics logo and the stories are full of lush, detailed art that often showcases smooth and confident inking.

One would think a traditionalist like me wouldn’t enjoy a Batman Team book, but somehow it all works.

But the other day, I ended up enjoying an old treasure. I happened across my ragged copy of Detective Comics #414, 1972. It’s a wonderful comic for so many reasons. I won’t say, “they don’t make them like that anymore,” but… they don’t.

The powerful Neal Adams cover creates a stunning sense of urgency. It might seem odd that a lighthouse is causing Batman to burst into flames while a ghostly specter angrily lords over it all – but it sure does look great.

From the vantage point of today, I’m especially impressed that the paste-up person in the production department tried to minimize the logo with a window-like effect. I understand that it’s necessary, but the trade dress just seems out of place on this stunning illustration

The lead story stars Batman. It’s called “Legend of the Key Hook Lighthouse,” and starts off in a unique way – with a poem.

“One of the pleasures in working for editors like Julie Schwartz was that he’d allow his writers to stray from the beaten path, do wacky stuff like open on a poem,” writer Denny O’Neil reflected. “I remember very few details, but I do recall enjoying the writing of the story.”

The pencils for this page, by the often under-rated Irv Novick, are inked in a clever olde tyme/Gibson Girl style by Dick Giordano. The unorthodox inking visually reinforces the poem in this unique opening sequence.

The action starts in earnest on the second page. There we first see Batman, lurking in rafters of a Florida bar. He’s been tracking a planned arms sale and is just about ready to pounce.

The villain is the forgettable General Ruizo. He was a kind of a one-hit wonder, but without the “hit” part. The character who really steals the show is Loosy. She’s a faded beauty with a sordid past and a lifetime of regrets. She’s the type of character that you seldom see in the comics, and her tale of redemption, and Batman’s eventual respect for her, is heartfelt, natural and enduring.

To O’Neil’s credit, Loosy is the type of character that you remember for years. I’ve remembered her for about 45 years.

Batgirl and her detective boyfriend, Jason Bard, star in the second story, “Invitation to Murder.” The Frank Robbins, a fantastic artist, wrote this mystery. Longtime comics veteran Don Heck supplied the art. One might reflect on the inky similarities of Robbins’ and Heck’s art styles, but Heck’s art on this particular effort seems rushed and uninspired.

Still… extra points go to Babs (Batgirl) Gordon for one of the quickest costume changes – and the reverse change back into civilian clothes – in comic book history. In this adventure, she seems to transform in those little white gutters between the panels!

This was the first issue of Detective Comics that had jumped to the then-overwhelming price of 25 cents. In order to compensate drastic price hike, several additional stories were added. But even so, Carmine Infantino implored fans to listen to the publisher’s reasoning for the price increase. “Let’s rap,” he asked in the half-page editorial notice. He explained that they would be adding pages added to compensate for increased price. “Not just ordinary pages,” he promises, “but specially selected stories that we were planning for special time…and that time is now!’

These special pages, in this particular comic, included two reprint stories. One story is a Gardner Fox/Carmine Infantino mystery thriller, where the actor who plays the lead in a TV show called Mark Gordon, Private Eye is whisked to Venus. They needed the help of real detective and thought the TV broadcasts were a documentary. This premise would be repeated many times over the years, most notably in the faux-Star Trek movie: Galaxy Quest.

It’s notable that the Venusians seem to look just like the Martians of the DC mythology. They are both tall green beings with blue capes topped off by oversized “opera style” collars. But who knows, maybe this was all a prank courtesy of J’Onn J’Onzz.

You may recall that J’Onn J’Onzz, The Martian Manhunter, was also a Detective Comics alumnus, so perhaps it was fitting. It all comes full circle, as J’Onn J’Onzz is now on TV each week in the Supergirl series.

(I still can’t believe that he’s on TV every week.)

The other reprint, a detective story called “The Australian Code Mystery,” is a real treat. Alex Toth’s art is masterful, creative and economical. David Vern wrote the story, and Mike Gold had some interesting insights about him:

Given my background in the youth social services field, at DC Comics I often was the go-to guy when somebody wanted to get a youth culture reference right. One day in, I believe, 1977, I was in my office pontificating on the subject of the availability of “pure” THC (tetrahydrocannabinol; the psychoactive part of marijuana). Lots of kids thought that various street drugs actually were THC, and I pointed out that THC per se wasn’t readily available outside of a laboratory that isn’t in the United States. I was asked about “angel dust,” which, in those days, often was sold as THC. In fact, angel dust usually was phencyclidine, a.k.a. PCP. As I said the word “phencyclidine” Dave Vern was visiting the office next to mine. He came running in to my area.

“Phencyclidine?” Dave asked. “PCP?” “Yeah,” I responded. “Angel dust.” Dave went into an excited and unending rant. “Great stuff! Powerful hallucinations! Makes a man out of you!”

“Well, sure, if you don’t mind the delusions and risk of seizure,” I replied, trying to be humorous.

“Of course it does! Why else use the stuff?”

“Because that’s the shit they inject into large simians in the last reel of ape movies!” I pointed out.

“Damn right it is,” Dave responded. He was about 53 at the time, and in those days serious, knowledgeable dopers did not look like Dave Vern, who appeared as though he might fill in for Principal Conklin on Our Miss Brooks. After Dave returned to his chores, one of the folks in my office said, “What would Batman say?” I think a better question would involve one of his best-known co-creations: What would Deadshot say?

Yes, David Vern, later called David V. Reed, was responsible for many important elements of Bat-Mythology. In addition to co-creating Deadshot, he also revamped the Batplane and reintroduced The Joker and Two-Face. Vern wrote “The Joker’s Utility Belt,” which would be adapted as memorable episodes of the 1960s Batman TV series. Two of his Batman stories, “Ride Bat-Hombre, Ride!” (drawn by Dick Sprang and Charles Paris) and “The Last Batman Story–?” (drawn by Walt Simonson and Dick Giordano) are among my personal favorites.

The back cover ad, announcing the short-lived Hot Birds toy, is just glorious! I imagine that the folks at Mattel were asking, “How can we extend the Hot Wheels brand?” Whoever raised their hand in that meeting and suggested, “What if we make them airplanes?” would have been regarded as a genius in my neighborhood. My brother Colin and I, aided by our neighborhood gang, instantly embarked on a mission to collect all the Hot Birds die-cast planes.

There were only six Hot Birds produced. Upon reflection, that’s probably a good thing.

But hey, that’s enough nostalgia! I’m looking forward to the next issue of Detective Comics. And kudos to all the talented creative types who take a magazine that’s been published since 1939 and making it seem so fresh and new!

* * *
For more of my Bat-writing, be sure to look for The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide no.46 for my Legends of the Dark Knight essay. It’s on sale this summer. You just won’t be able to miss Jim Steranko’s Bat-Cover.

Ed Catto: The Cutie & the Indefatigable Entrepreneur

I’ve listened to many podcasts during the long upstate winter and one of my favorites has been Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This. It’s billed as a storytelling podcast exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century. I enjoy it because Longworth spins great yarns, with vivid insights, about Hollywood stars and their careers.

But I think there’s more to why it’s popular and why I enjoy it so much. I’m starting to realize that the inevitable ups and downs of yesteryear’s Hollywood Stars are analogous to the rollercoaster rides that categorize so many of today’s careers.

It’s astounding to hear about how a legendary star’s career might have floundered at one point, only to do a complete 360 as he or she gets cast in a successful blockbuster movie. Thundering successes and crushing failures become the tales told time and time again on You Must Remember This.

I believe that it’s optimism and hope that fuels our passions for Hollywood heroes and that keep us believing in ourselves too.

Longworth told the tragic tale of Carole Landis in one particularly memorable episode. I wasn’t familiar with Landis. In fact, the thing that drew me to that episode is the fact that Landis strongly resembled a friend of mine, Rosie McCooe, who’s also an actress.

The tale of Carole Landis is especially heartbreaking, and when you’re in the right frame of mind, I’d encourage you to listen to the episode here.

As I listened to the podcast, I was fascinated with Carole’s volunteer efforts during World War II. In fact, she played herself in a Four Jills in a Jeep, a movie that detailed her wartime experience.

Having learned about Carole Landis’ USO efforts, I was especially intrigued when my friend, Sean Dulaney, reached out to tell me about this latest project, Miss Vicky and Her Commando Cuties. In some alternate universe, Carole Landis would play the lead in the cinematic version of this upcoming graphic novel.

Sean’s an indefatigable, creative entrepreneur who’s always got something going on. I’m at the point now, and maybe you are too, where I admire the guys who have the internal motivation to keep getting up to bat and to take a swing as much as I admire the guys who hit the homers.

So, as you can see from the text below, I was eager to learn about this new project.

Ed Catto: Miss Vicky and Her Cutie Commandos looks like so much fun. What’s it all about?

Sean Dulaney: It’s the adventures of an all-female commando unit in World War II who operate using the cover of being USO-style entertainers to get them close to the front lines. They’ve been operating for a while when the story opens and we meet Lt. Thomas Hardy, our P.O.V. character. He’s a young guy who got a battlefield promotion, but what got the attention of higher-ups with the OSS is he grew up with four older sisters. His job is to serve as the girls’ liaison with Military Intelligence, his cover being that of their manager. He gets the orders from the higher ups, but Vicky is the one in charge. I’ve used the elevator pitch “Sgt. Fury in a skirt,” and that’s a good way to describe her and the series. Stan Lee’s old tagline of a “war comic for people who hate war comics.” Six women of different backgrounds, different talents, brought together to try and make the world safe for democracy.

EC: Is this something that just came up or have you been working on it a while?

SD: Miss Vicky and Her Cutie Commandos has been gestating for a while now. I think the initial pitch with Stephen Molnar (Danger Girl and Star Trek for IDW) on art was put together in 2006/2007. We had some nibbles and a tentative agreement in place with Praxis Comics at the New York Comic-Con in 2008, but I don’t think they were around too long after that. A few other Indies expressed interest, but the deals offered just didn’t feel right to us at the time. Shortly after that, Stephen got snapped up for some Marvel assignments and then IDW grabbed him and kept him busy. After letting it sit for a while, Tony Lee helped me find Ron Joseph and I shopped his version of the pitch a bit. Again, interest but not any great offers. When I decided to go ahead and just bite the bullet and self-publish, IDW was keeping Ron busy so I recruited Eliseu who I had been wanting to work with since the Digital Webbing days.

EC: Are the main characters based on real women?

SD: Yes and no. One of the lines I had written down was “Pin Up Commandos” and some of the initial character design directions I gave the artists for inspiration were 40s pin-ups and actresses. Vicky, the leader, I saw as a mix of Betty Grable and Bette Midler in “For The Boys.” June’s backstory was she was supposed to be the next Josephine Baker before the Nazis invaded Paris. Loraine has the smoky blonde Veronica Lake/Lisbeth Scott vibe mixed with the Varga Girls. Annie Sue is a cross between a teenaged Shirley Temple and the Gil Elvgren models. Betsy, the British member, has a touch of Caniff’s “Miss Lace” character he did for military papers and Roz… She may be the most modern influenced of the six. A mix of Lanie Kazan and Stockard Channing.

Since I’m shopped the pitch around, I’ve had people mention the story of Carole Landis and I can see some similarities with her group of entertainers.

EC: The art looks strong and engaging. But I’m not familiar with your artist.

SD: Yeah, Eliseu Gouveia is the artist for the project. I’ve known him from the Digital Webbing message boards going back to 2001 – 2002. In fact, the first “Dreah, Queen of Thieves” story from Digital Webbing Presents #12 was written for Eliseu, so we’ve been trying to work together for a while. I’ve amazed, and rather fortunate, that he hasn’t been snapped up by a major publisher here in the states. He’s done some stuff here and there like Genie for FC9 and Palmiotti and Gray’s Cloudburst for Image (I think Arcana has released the trade on that one), but being in Portugal I think he’s been off the radar of a lot of people but I can see that changing soon. He recently released his own Jungle Queen Sheva via ComiXology.

I also want to mention Jasen Smith who’ll be doing the colors on the book. He’s doing great work.

EC: As a big Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos fan, I can see some similarities. Did that series, often marketed as “The war comic for people how hate war comics” influence you?

SD: I think Kirby and Lee’s Sgt. Fury (and the later Gary Friedrich/John Severin run) ranks with a lot of other media as part of the prototype the book was built on. The Sgt. Fury book, The Dirty Dozen, Hogan’s Heroes… even Simon and Kirby’s Boy Commandos I think can be found in this book’s DNA. Even more obscure stuff like the 70s TV show The Goodtime Girls, Tales of the Gold Monkey from the 80s and the BBC’s ‘Allo ‘Allo are in there. Honestly, I came in late to Sgt. Fury, as I was more of a DC kid growing up and the War titles I would pick up were Our Fighting Forces with the Losers and Unknown Soldier.

Sgt. Fury and Hogan’s Heroes did something back in the 60s that now would be seen as trying to be politically correct in having members of different races and nationalities as part of the unit. Those books and shows are so ingrained in the 50+ years since they debuted; it’s hard to imagine them without Percy and Gabe or Newkirk and Kinchloe. In our case, we have Betsy and June, who each have great backstories that I hope we get to explore.

EC: More recently, I really enjoyed Jonathan Case’s The New Deal. Did that graphic novel influence you? And what other recent GN’s have influenced your efforts.

SD: Actually, I haven’t gotten to check it out. To be honest, my current reading list isn’t always that “current.” I try to keep up with books my friends are working on, but I don’t get out to the comic shops as regularly as I’d like, so I wind up playing a lot of catch up.

EC: The Kickstarter looks pretty cool too. How did you make the decision to launch it via Kickstarter and how is this one structured?

SD: As Kickstarter became more viable, it was always an option. The problem was trying to figure out the rewards. With Eliseu in Portugal, original art and rewards like that would have some serious shipping expense. We’ve not ruled out maybe some sketch cover commissions once we get into stretch goals, but they weren’t a default reward option like they’ve been on some campaigns. I looked into having some artist friends doing sketch covers, but schedules were a bear to coordinate.

In the end, we’re keeping it pretty straightforward. We have the first issue, physical and/or digital. We have a short story with guest artists doing pin-ups and the pin-ups are also collected as a portfolio option. I love the pin-up art painted on the nose of bombers, so we designed stickers of the girls in that style. We’ve got four variant cover options, Stephen and Ron signed off on the covers they did for their versions of the pitch to be variants and another Digital Webbing alum, Chad Hardin (DC’s Harley Quinn) will be doing a cover for the “Director’s Cut” edition.

We’ve also set up a special “Retailer Tier” for shop owners who might want to take a chance on putting Miss Vicky on their wall where they’ll get standard and sketch blank copies along with a retailer incentive cover edition. The stretch goal rewards…well, let’s hit the original goal first.

EC: This graphic novel looks like it might reach out to and appeal to classic Pin-Up fans. Is that your intent?

SD: Oh, definitely. I think Dave Stevens opened the door for that cross-pollination of comics and pin-up cultures and it’s only been in the last couple of years that the major publishers really embraced that market with things like DC’s Bombshells. I hope pin-up fans will take a chance on the title, enjoy what we’re doing and want us to do more.

EC: I’ve been fascinated with your work on the Dell superhero monsters. Can you tell me a little about those efforts?

SD: The initial response to the Miss Vicky campaign pretty much guarantees that my next Kickstarter will be Section: M.

The readers are going, “What the hell is Section: M?” It’s a super hero team book featuring the 1966 monster heroes published by Dell Comics during the post-Batman ‘66 super hero craze. Ron Joseph is the penciller on the book and the premise is the heroes went on a mission around 1968/1969 and wound up in suspended animation, only to wake up in the 21st Century. Because they’ve all been lost in time, they are kind of stuck together as they fight crime and try to adjust to the modern world.

EC: What else should I know about Miss Vicky and her Cutie Commandos?

SD: The campaign runs through May 30th, the day after Memorial Day, and folks can check it out here.

EC: Thanks for your time and good luck, Sean!

Ed Catto: Our Own Worst Enemy

Much has been written lately about the recent Marvel Retailer Summit and the unfortunate public relations debacle that followed. As you may know, Marvel had arranged to speak with and listen to leading comic shop retailers following a difficult downturn in their comic sales. The fireworks really started in the subsequent ICV2 interview when Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Print, Sales and Marketing, David Gabriel, summarized the retailer conversations, and the reasons behinds the sales slump in an awkward, clumsy fashion that ignited a plethora of heated conversations.

And then United Airlines’ corporate blunder dominated the headlines so outraged fans and consumers could focus their anger towards that brand instead.

But as the pundits reviewed Marvel’s missteps, there were a few topics missing from these conversations and analyses. Maybe these issues were just pushed into the background, but they are important puzzle pieces necessary to understanding Geek Culture’s retail landscape. And by not focusing on these issues, Geek Culture becomes its own worst enemy and just fights itself.

In fact, on John Suintres’ excellent Word Balloon Podcast, last week’s guest, industry expert Rob Salkowitz, talked about how retailers can often feed a false, or skewed, vision of reality to publishers. And as this vision can ultimately hamstring the longer term success of both retailers and publishers, I think it’s important that these trends also be considered:

Card Stores Shaking Off Comics

Attending last month’s GAMA trade show gave me a unique perspective into one particular group of the stores: retailers who are doing well but have walked away from comics.

At this trade show the focus was on games and gaming. Many card and comic shops are blended entities, where Friday Night Magic: The Gathering events are just as important as Wednesday’s New Comics Day. Of course, at a trade show like this there were many retailers whose personal passions lie in card games, and it’s difficult for them to understand comics. On the other hand, the show also hosted many comic retailers who see the potential in card games.

But there was a big contingent of card stores who have walked away from comics. It’s not that their hearts weren’t in it, it’s that they couldn’t figure out how to keep selling a sufficient amount of comics to their fans.

That’s a shame. They have the platform to make it work, they have an account with the distributor and there’s usually a lot of overlap. But for whatever reason, they chose to stop selling comics.

Diversity May Not Need Comics

A more even-handed headline would be “Diversity Doesn’t Only Need Comics, Per Se.” One of the shifts that we’ve been seeing amongst the best comics retailers is less of a percentage of sales from weekly ‘floppy’ comics and a more diversified merchandise mix. And that’s positive and robust for all parties.

It’s not hard to find a huuuuge fan of a particular character (Batman, Deadpool, Harley Quinn, Green Arrow – you name it) who does not read the comics featuring that character. They can probably recite the character’s adventures in the movies or on TV. They might spend hundreds of dollars in character merchandise. They might be wearing apparel that reflects that character or they might even cosplay the character. I know one college student in particular who has Batgirl images on her dorm room wall but is unlikely to ever read Batgirl’s adventures in comics.

The cold hard fact is that it’s unlikely you’ll ever convert this fan into a comic reader. You can convert her or him into a Geek Culture retailer customer, but not a reader. And that is surmountable for the industry.

YA Wants To Join The Party

Some of the hottest comics aren’t published by Marvel or DC – they’re published by Scholastic’s Graphix imprint and by Raina Telgemeier.  And there’s a lot of them. The Young Adult (YA) genre is hot and creating new readers every day.

I stumbled across a prose Black Widow book, Forever Red by Margaret Stohl, at my local library. I’ve always liked the character ever since her reboot in Amazing Spider-Man & Amazing Adventures. (In fact, there’s a Gene Colan-illustrated shower scene that’s seared into every middle-aged comic fanboy’s’ adolescent memory.) And I’m really enjoying the current Black Widow Marvel comic series by Chris Samnee and Mark Waid.

But when I read the book, I soon realized that the entry point for the author, and her readers, was so different than my own. These fans know Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, from the movies. She’s been on screen for half a decade and that version is their heroine. Who needs musty old comics? Who needs floppy monthlies as an onramp? I did, but they certainly don’t.

•     •     •     •     •

And that’s the tyranny of it all. So many times the insular industry that is Geek Culture is talking to itself, or even fighting against itself. The experts are knowledgeable and loud, and dominate the conversations in such a way that’s difficult to discern the other voices. It’s tough to hear the lapsed retailers or the comics-character fans who don’t read or the up-and-coming YA crowd that wants to read more. I look forward to when Geek Culture focuses more on pitching bigger tents and focuses less on fighting against itself.