Author: Marc Alan Fishman

Marc Alan Fishman: Con Shopping Extravaganza!

While I am buried deep under a pile of production – completing “The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #3” in time for Wizard World Chicago later this month – Editor Mike reached out to inspire me. In other words, he didn’t want me to bore ya’ll one more time with my annual bitching session regarding the passion of the indie creator. Instead, he suggested I suggest to you, my adoring public, a few books that I’m reading and loving right now… that do not come from the big two publishers. There was only one problem with this prompt.

Since I’ve been knee-deep in digital art-ing, lettering, editing, coloring, and laying out(ing?) a comic for the last month or so… I’ve basically all but stopped reading comics.

Of course I could fall back on my staple suggestions: Touching Evil by Dan Dougherty, Solution Squad by Jim and Rose McClain, Product of Society by Cheeselord Comics, and Monkey Fist by Sun Bros. Studios. But then it dawned on me, I could kill two birds with one stone! I could excite the masses about the passion of indie comics without suggesting any particular book at all. Indeed kiddos, I could be that good.

When the book is off to the printers and my life is freed up once more to consume amazing comics, I’ll find myself at Wizard World Chicago. And where better than the annual comic con to take a chance to immerse myself in sequential fiction not otherwise touched by Mickey Mouse or Brother Warner. My plan is simple:

Seek books within Artist Alley, and Artist Alley alone.

Across dozens of tables will sit books built first and foremost out of passion. While it’s likely true that Scott Snyder is symbiotically betrothed to Batman, at the end of the day the caped crusader is not Mr. Snyder’s own creation. Not to get all Robert Kirkmanny here, but there’s something to be said when a book is wholly the idea of a given writer (and/or artist). Without the constraint of an editorial office, calendar, or marketing strategy, an indie title has the least weight on its shoulders to succeed. Of course the alley cat who peddles the pulp sure wants due-payment and fortune. Suffice to say though, there are far fewer hands in the cookie jar wanting their rightful crumbs. Because of that, I’ve found that the independent book tends to push the edge harder conceptually speaking. And because of that, the books may not be as polished on the page, but they read incredibly in the mind.

Set a budget, and buy a breadth of material – not pour a fortune down one well.

As a creator I want nothing more than passersby to be so enamored with The Samurnauts that they feel compelled to purchase every last ounce of material available at the table. But turn that table around and I’m often a misanthropic cheapskate. In a case of “Fool me once, shame on me…” a few times I got snookered into less-than-stellar indie titles in my early twenties. Because this was well before the near-affordable print-on-demand days, these indie rags went for double the price of a typical DC or Marvel book. And they weren’t in color. And they were poorly written, drawn schizophrenically, and sold to me under false pretense.

Well, a decade later, and I’ve crawled out from the behind the rock. My tactic is simple: Get the pitch, agree with the pitch, look over the product, ensure the product is priced appropriately, and make the damned purchase. But I digress.

The key to making the most out of exploring the Artist Alley is as I’ve noted above: it’s all about trying out a ton, not committing to an entire series without first enjoying only a taste. If an artist is worth their salt, they’ll make their line of work available to me after the show is over, or at very least offer up to me the next shows they’ll do. In the day and age in which we live, social media is the great uniter. And any artist in the alley not taking advantage of the free services that open their art and products to the world simply do not deserve my continued business.

In essence, my trip through the convention will be amassing an unencumbered anthology specific to the genres, art styles, and creators I find most akin to my wants and desires. And with an open mind (and an empty stomach…), I’m going to make it a mission to be social. To look every creator in the eye, and proudly ask them to tell me about their comic.

And in a few weeks, I’m going to let all of you know exactly how it went. Excelsior.


Marc Alan Fishman: Stand Up For Integrity

This past week, Marc Maron interviewed Mike Myers on his WTF Podcast. Myers, a consummate pro very much at peace with the world, had only one itch to scratch with Maron: His infamy in being known as hard to work with. His response was direct. If he was hard to work with, it was only because he was standing up for his creations. And if that in turn caused people to be irked by him, well, so be it. Had I not been driving at the time, I would have stood up an applauded. And to the couple on I-294 I accidentally cut off because I attempted it… I’m really sorry about that.

It got me thinking about creative endeavors, and how Myers’ ideology is the ideal that would make the world that much more of an amazing place to live. It’s a crazy notion that I’ll happily back with a litany of examples. If I may be so bold:

Louie, on FX, is an astoundingly brilliant, genre-challenging show that simply could not be made any other time than right now. Because Louis C.K. had the wherewithal to stick to his guns and demand complete creative control over his end-product, every episode is appointment-worthy TV. By comparison, IFC’s Maron is so tragically focus-grouped, it took two seasons to reach any worthy catharsis. And even then, it was a barely-there conceit that Maron should appreciate life more. To compare the two shows is perhaps a bit mean-spirited – Louis C.K. is a filmmaker, and Maron a podcaster – bit the reality remains the same. What makes Marc Maron an amazing figure is his ability to touch on the humanity within nearly any subject in front of him. IFC sought no gravitas with their adaptation of his life. They wanted a hip, edgy comic to bring some Louie-esque cred to their backlog of Portlandia repeats. And for the quasi-fame and cash, Maron went all in.

The silver screen aside, we need only look to the cinema for even better examples. While we know, no doubt, that it takes a village to raise a child – a child being a movie in this case – very few films are wholly a singular vision given their relative cost. But when a creative team that clearly anguishes over every minute detail together as a team and makes the movie they truly wish to make, the results represent art over commerce. Take folks I love like Quentin Tarantino, Stephen Chow, or the infamous Kevin Smith. Each man’s films are intrinsically connected to their source creator. That is to say nearly all of them. Let’s try to forget Cop Out, shall we? But in the best of cases, movies as diverse as the original Clerks, Pulp Fiction, or Kung Fu Hustle were built on houses of cards. No financier could look at any of those preliminary spec-scripts and say without falter that they’d be commercially viable. Even with each man’s pedigree in tow, it took integrity of self and one’s creation in order to complete their respective films. And because of it, I’d say in each of those cases the world was treated to amazing art. Yes, Clerks included.

And where would my op-ed be without touching on our medium of choice here at ComicMix. I’ll be frank: I just don’t know how to defend my point whole-heartedly here. Whereas in my examples above, the end-product – damning the man who would try to control it – ended up both a critical as well as a commercial darling. In contrast, comic books simply don’t sit at the same table. The most profitable comics seem to swirl around character regardless of how the fanboys are reviewing it that week. Per my recent columns, I’ve pontificated that in most cases as well the parent publishers must keep the rags on the racks for no better financial reason beyond being able to control the licenses that live between the pulp. With all that said, I’m still adamant in my original conceit. Removed from the external control of governing bodies that care more about latent data points, letting an artist make the art they want will always yield a better finished product in my mind. It’s the difference between Revival and whatever crossover-of-the-month is raging on. And lest we not find a silver lining to this all, we need look only to The Walking Dead – a book built and maintained by a singular vision, not a corporate marketing report. And certainly that turned out pretty well, all things considered… no?

Ultimately Mike Myers’ feeling that his vision was best, gave the world the rebirth of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in lieu of a Guns N’ Roses single. And because of it, Queen hit the top of the charts again, nearly two decades later. More importantly, you can’t hear the song at 4:07 and not bang your head accordingly. As artists we are often pawns to the masters of the finances. In order to see our visions given birth, we are challenged by those not in the know to concede to another opinion. Beyond simple collaboration, there exists a conflict of interest when those who can pull the trigger choose to question the viability of a given creation.

It is up to us, the creators, to then hold steadfast. It is far better to be proud to put your name on something because it truly represents your vision, then to compromise for the sake of a paycheck.


Marc Alan Fishman: San Diego – How It Feels To Not Go

My name is Marc Alan Fishman. For eight years now, I have been an active comic book writer, artist, letterer, and publisher. For six years, my company Unshaven Comics has peddled our wares in the artist alleys at dozens of conventions. From the small, such as Kokomo, Indiana, and Orland Park, Illinois, to the large, like C2E2 in Chicago, and the New York Comic Con, we’ve put thousands of miles on our cars in an attempt to break-in to the industry we love nearly as much as our kin. But in all our travels, the furthest west we’ve sauntered was Minneapolis this past spring.

We’ve never been financially viable enough to venture to the Valhalla (or perhaps Ragnarok) of comic book conventions. The San Diego Comic Con is a nearly week-long mecca of geekery. For a small operation such as ours, it stands to dream that selling in the same fabled halls that stars and nerds alike flock to, could lead a sale of The Samurnauts to future fame and glory. Oh, how the mind races at the thought! But with each passing summer, those daydreams dissipate as the deluge of news coats my social media feeds. And here I sit, in the wake of yet another SDCC, ruminating on what it feels like to not be a part of the central hub from which our industry grows from. In short, it feels both amazing and frustrating.

It feels amazing because I’ve little doubt that amidst the choked-with-nerd floor-space there’s a frantic energy that isn’t conducive to how Unshaven Comics does business. We’ve parlayed busy cons, but I have a sneaking suspicion as fans fight for line position to see the Avengers assemble, or catch a sneak peak ten-second look at a movie not debuting for another calendar year there’s little desire to open one’s mind to a brand-new not-known comic, and even less among those few of the 130,000 attendees that are old school fans who are there (gasp!) for the actual comic books the show was originally built around. So I ask rhetorically: how easy is it to grab the attention of them when the entire show is one massive press-conference after another?

When every news outlet, blog spot, and nerd-based industry member is there first and foremost to get the scoop – and leak footage for click-baiting articles – on the stuff that gets them click-throughs, link-backs, and ad impressions… where does that leave artists in the alley? And when the alley itself is studded with industry veterans with well-known names and pedigrees… I say once more with bearded fervor: what chance do three Chicago kids with no known fans west of the Mississippi going to do to garner attention short of faking a medical emergency? Hmm, maybe that’d be a great hook. But I digress.

Simply put, it feels amazing to miss the SDCC because it means I can sit peacefully at home with the Unshaven till in tact. I can sift through all the news releases, teasers, and interviews at my leisure. I can do all of this and smell fresh as the morning dew. Those people in line waiting for a chance to get Chris Hemsworth to wink at them? Maybe not so much.

Which of course leads to why it’s so frustrating that I’m not there, nor have I ever been. The other side to the sword I wield cuts hardest when I realize I am only a spectator and not a shareholder. And to mock the size of the crowds is only to hide the desire to be in front of them. Even if the tides draw fans from the alley away to the exhibitors, there’s simply too many opportunities amidst the show-goers to not catch a few on our hook. And while the economics of it all likely falls no where near profitable when one considers the price of the table, transportation, shipping of merchandise, not to mention meals and other sundry expenditures… a sale to someone new is a sale to someone new. Unshaven Comics exists because of that conceit.

And while I’d lament that it’s not fair to pitch when you’re sitting next to a convention colossus like Katie Cook, much could be gained through smart networking and the camaraderie earned by being table neighbors. Simply by existing alongside those whose work we covet, creates a recognizability to those in power who work their way around the alley. Over the course of our businesses life, we’ve pushed issues on Dan DiDio, Ross Ritchie, and even Mike Gold. Of course, none of them said anything to us after purchasing the issue, but we figure it’s because they’re still in awe. In short: missing the con means missing the sale. And when that sale is the most likely to reach those within the industry we want to sell to? It’s a missed opportunity.

And what lamentation about San Diego would it be if I didn’t mention having to miss out on the Black Panel, and all of the sundry Michael Davis-related ventures. Having only known the Master of the Universe via e-mails and shared column space, I’m at a loss having never shaken his hand in person. And I say this not in jest. In every instance that I’ve been able to break bread with a fellow ComicMixer, it has been a memory saved for the archives. To miss out on San Diego, is to miss out on seeing people I’m honored to call friends.

And with that, so ends this little aside. Another year passes, and San Diego reverts to the whale’s vagina it’s known to be (don’t flame me, Ron Burgandy said it himself). Will Unshaven Comics ever make the journey out yonder to be amongst the gilded nerditry? As loyal Cubs fans utter, the motto remains:

There’s always next year.


Marc Alan Fishman: Captain America, Thor, Changes, Stunts…

Black Captain AmericaMarc tips back on his heels, juts his chin out well beyond his neck and claps his hands together with a swagger like no other…

So have you seen the news lately? Seems like no one at Marvel can keep their race, gender, or sexual preference the same. It’s like Dormammu and the Living Tribunal decided to challenge Galactus and Eco The Living Planet to beer pong! I kid, I kid.

But yes, it seems that Marvel is making the dirt sheets and giving early Christmas gifts to fanboys who like to bitch online by shifting some major tentpoles of a few of their bigger brand-names. Of course, any comic book fan worth their salt saw the announcements of Captain America’s new epidermis tonal-shift, or Thor’s gender-swap as staying-the-course for modern comic bookery. Changing the face under a mantle is Sales-Spike 101 in Marketing for Muggles.

If I were to only discuss the House of Mouse with these shocking plot twist redirects, I’d still be buried deep in the publishing cycle. In the past decade we’ve seen a mind-swapped Spider-Man take to Manhattan, Bucky Cap, Professor X’s death / rebirth / paralysis / re-death, Ghost Rider choosing to inhabit a Latino street racer, Pepper Potts Iron Man, a Red Hulk, Rick Jones as the Abomination, and in Hickman’s Avengers books a brand new Smasher, Starbrand, and a few others I’ve long since forgotten about.

With all those cases, the comic-buying world looked over the rumors on Bleeding Cool, bitched about the atrocity of it all on CBR, and then posted a few selfies of them eventually reading the damned books when they came out. And given enough time, Peter Parker came back to the mantle, so did Steve Rogers, as did Tony Stark (though I guess he never really truly left the mantle… but you get my drift).

In short, a change of race, creed, gender, or underwear preference only shuffles the deck long enough to make some noise. And while creators will carry their changes as long as they hold the attention of the masses (the masses being the niche market of comic book readers), these shifts exist solely for the opportunity to tell a new story. And in my humble opinion, that’s absolutely why I think all these obvious sales ploys are great ideas.

As I noted last week: in the economics of pulp-and-paper, idea generation is the true value of the end product. As such, the clamor I’ve long heard (mostly from old farts and the old-at-heart) about how comics should just tell good stories about the core characters – never succumbing to epic events, or tawdry flights of fancy. Well, the epic event crossover thing… I get that. But if we chain the hands of our creative teams and force them to work within the confines of a limited universe, we’re removing the possibility of those teams then creating something truly memorable.

Of the aforementioned stunts, I personally was enthralled by the Superior Spider-Man. And while I knew that there’d be no way that Peter Parker would truly be forever removed from the 616, I was amazed (natch) at the balls Dan Slott showed by keeping Otto under the skin for as long as he did. He introduced us to a not-so-friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, who decided that proactive crime fighting beats the typical responsive nature of super heroism. Because of it, we were treated to month upon month of smart heroes outsmarting villainy instead of relying on dumb luck, pithy speachifying, and mindless punching. And sure, there were tropes (the manic-pixie girlfriend who sees through the cock-sure attitude, the hubris of the hero eventually being his downfall), but more-so there were stories I had not read. And that, kiddos, is worth its weight in mouse-approved gold.

So let having Falcon take a turn with the most recognizable shield in comics. Let Thor enjoy earning only 80% of the wages an equally powerful male version of herself would. Heck, let Dr. Strange turn into an asthmatic asexual narcoleptic quadriplegic Aboriginal with crippling psoriasis!  If it shakes up the character, and allows the creative team to tell a story we’ve never heard before, then it keeps the ball rolling.

It’s only when we let our prose live in the predictable status quo that we stand the most chance to lose any momentum we gain in the era of the comic book blockbuster.


Marc Alan Fishman: But Why A Comic Book?

FreakanomicsLately, I’ve become a freak. That is to say, a fan of the Freakanomics Podcast. Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt like to take a topic and ask the questions no one is asking. They also like to start from the opposing side of the common problem in order to find potential solutions. As such, I figured I would let their methodology bleed into my brainpan. I want to tackle a question I’ve had lately and approach it from a different perspective than I’m used to. The problem is simple: With all the more lucrative business ventures that exist for the largest publishers of marketing licenses (that’s DC and Marvel, kiddos), why produce comic books?

Because I’m not an economist and I don’t have the will power to sift through sales data, I’m going to opt to go out on a limb instead. I believe that it’s safe to say that the revenue that comes in for a blockbuster comic book movie – and all the associated merchandising and licensing revenue associated directly to said movie – outweighs the revenue generated from the parent comic book in levels of magnitude that’d astound even Lex Luthor. That in turn would make the common man scoff. Why would Marvel and DC, peddlers of the most recognizably licensable properties, waste any money chasing the paltry profits that stem from their publishing arms, and not just opt to make movies and television? It’s time to freak out.

If I were Mr. Dubner, I’d likely start with the history first. Obviously DC and Marvel have dabbled in non-comic book ventures nearly as long as they have been printing funny books. Look to the Superman serials, radio shows, TV series, et al. And Marvel, too, had their run of crappy movies, TV shows, and odd proto-motion-comic ventures to boot. In their time, perhaps these alternative media led new eyes to the products. More likely though, those models in the past never doled out the bankroll like todays modern day media. At the heart of all those aforementioned side projects though, one would argue that the real crux of content being produced was driven by the rags on the racks. And therein lies the answer to the original question.

Beyond the likely-break-even nature of comic book publishing, the actual process of producing the product establishes worth beyond simple dollars and cents. Because a great comic book story may give birth to an amazing storyline, a new character, or an inventive design. Where might Jon Favreau’s Iron Man franchise be if not for Adi Granov’s ubiquitous model? Would the pockets of the Warner Bros be as full without the library of reproducible stock art for any number of merchandising ventures? Would the House of Mouse’s motion picture business be as entrenched in the zeitgeist today if not for the decades of source material being produced on a weekly basis? And if we’re thinking to a brighter future… How much credit is owed to ComicMix’s John Ostrander if Amanda Waller ends up becoming the Phil Coulson of the new DC movie franchises? Suffice to say on all counts… the sunk costs of producing sequential fiction is a pithy particle when compared to the opportunity cost you’ll gain for making it.

Even if a comic doesn’t sell well – or even is a loss – the final product exists for eternity thereafter. If I as a fan pick up that long forgotten issue of Slingers and pitch it to Marvel in a new and fantastic light, and my relaunch of the title captures the attention of the niche masses of comic book fans, then the thru-line exists that the new book may lead to a new licensable property – like a new character on a cartoon, a subplot to be used in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or its own Netflix spin-off. The simple math says the loss having to pay for even six issues worth of ink-and-paper (including the per-page costs of the creative team, the salaried cost of editors/administrators, as well as the actual material and distribution costs) may eventually balance out through the usage of the intellectual property that then sits in the archives of the parent publisher. A bad batch of Coke II will never mint Coca-Cola a fortune. And in a few weeks, D-List book will likely net Marvel hundreds of millions of dollars in repeating revenue.

When you think of it that way: why would you ever notproduce a comic book?


Marc Alan Fishman: Color Me Good

7_8_14_1When we last left off, I’d taken you through the steps to get us towards completion of an independent comic book. Or really any comic book, I suppose. We plotted, outlined, scripted, gathered reference material, and now penciled then inked (or in my case, digitally rendered) each page in the book. Now, with a pile of black and white artwork, it’s time for the most unsung of duties: coloring, lettering, layout, and print pre-production. If you take nothing else from this week’s brain droppings, I hope you’ll leave with a seriously redefined respect for all the names that get penned in on the credits page. (more…)

Marc Alan Fishman’s Snarky Synopsis: Magneto #6

MagnetoWritten by Cullen Bunn. Art by Javier Fernandez and Dan Brown

I’m perpetually locked into trying new books, so sometimes I nearly forget to catch up on those I’ve most recently enjoyed. Lucky for me that the marvelous Magneto has magnetically adhered itself to the top of my pile. It was a fairly light week. For those not keeping score, I can’t recommend this series any more than I already have. What I can do now instead is really spend my time with the titular man (and mutant) hunter and see how he ticks in accordance to Cullen Bunn’s pen.

At the onset of the relaunch (if one would consider this book a relaunch) Bunn’s Magneto sees himself a grey wound in a black and white world of scar tissue. Unhappy at the atrocities that have continually befallen his species, Erik Lehnsherr decides that he will rise to become the judge, jury, and executioner of those charged with murdering a mutant. In issue #6, the deathpool expands to those mutants who have killed their own kind. Mr. Sinister’s Marauders – as Magneto helpfully expounds to himself throughout the issue – are pawns and grunts serving a higher power. It is boy coy and intelligent then that Magneto denotes (again, to himself, I suppose) that he too once raised an army under his fist. In his case though, his pawns were at least decidedly homo-superior. No black-on-black crime for this angry Jew!

Because Cullen puts us in the position of a fly on the shoulder of the master of magnetism, it’s inevitable that we come to see him as our hero. And it’s hard to not be swayed by his joie de vivre when he brutally murders a murderer. Painted as a more elegant Frank Castle, it’s hard to deny Magneto is doing good of a sort. But any follower of Charles Xavier sees then the other side of that coin.

Do I believe in capital punishment? No. Simply put, I don’t feel man has any right – regardless of sin – to take the life of another man. I’m not overly religious (if at all), but the agnostic in me says that when murder is done in the first degree it is a pox on the species at large. I should note I’m a huge fan of corporal punishment. I say why let Hitler enjoy the freedom of death when you can pummel him daily? But I digress. In the case of Magneto, our protagonist is vindicated in his justice in spite of breaking the law in doing so. For making as many mutant killers pay the ultimate price, we see the forest for the trees. This is either Magneto doing as much righteous damage before he’s killed himself, or he’s making a final gambit to become a Batmanesque myth; to become an immortal price to be paid upon those who so choose to hunt homo-superior.

Magneto’s barely scathed in his quest. After laying several Marauders to rest (by way of some of the most inventive and gory methods one could imagine), the plan is set: Magneto will reprogram the next batch of cloned Sinister Slaves to become a new suicide-bomb-ready army of Brotherhood pawns. I don’t know if Mr. Sinister himself is still alive in the 616, but if he is, I’ll assume I should purchase flowers and a condolence card for whomever makes those crazy metal ribbon capes.

The story and pacing throughout the issue is slow, but methodical. A B-story regarding the now limbless Scalphunter leaves a few cryptic beats, and is much needed in the book. The opposing A-plot simply shows Magneto on yet another murder mission. Six issues in and Bunn has the tone and style down. From here on out – and trust me, he’s captured me – I want to see some sharper left turns. Simply put, there’s only so much hard justice a man can take without knowing the true master plan. And if the plan truly is just a death march, it can be said now, and spare us too much more of the same.

Artistically Javier Fernandez and Dan Brown continue to deliver a book that looks as gritty as it reads. The book’s hard shifts in color are some of best I’ve seen in modern comics. The heavy inks here well placed. And Fernandez’s textural shifts showcase a look that simply should not be in a Big Two book… and he’s commended for it. There’s little left to say to the art aside from simply picking favorite moments. The death of a Prism is done so well with simple storytelling that you could almost hear the faint crickle-crackle of eminent shattering. When a book is heard in your head when you’re reading it, the artists are doing their job well.

Ultimately, Magneto #6 is hopefully the last stop on the simplistic potential swan song of Erik Lehnsherr. The book has style, grace, grit, and vigor. My hope then now is to see a plan emerge, and from it, a continuous look into a villain fit to be grey in the continuously simplified world of cape and cowl comics.


Marc Alan Fishman: Your Mother’s A Tracer!

fish_pic_articleSo the book we’ve been building for the past two weeks (starting here) has now been plotted and all visual resources gathered. What else is left to do? Oh yeah. Draw the damned thing! You know, that big step that takes a bunch of words on a page and interestingly shapes them into visual communication of plot, character, nuance, and depth. It’s the thing that makes our medium truly special. Like a movie, but slaved over a single moment in time, at a time.

OK kiddos. Time to wear my heart on my sleeve. For all my piss and vinegar, pomp and circumstance, beard and bite, I have long hidden my entire creative process from prying eyes. Why? Because I’m man enough to admit for a very long time, I was ashamed of it. As noted last week, when Matt informed me I should either poop or get off the toilet (when it came to contributing to Unshaven Comics). I accepted his challenge. But I did so on my terms. I would use every trick in the book of my professional life as a graphic designer. I’d be fine to draw… so long as I could cheat. Let me peel back now exactly how I cheat – and in doing so end up with a finished product I am proud to attach my name to.

Picture Perfect Illustration

As we covered before, at the point I’m ready to illustrate I already have the entire comic page and panel layout. Simply enough, I open up my first page in Adobe Illustrator and get familiar with what I’ll be drawing. I then open the cache of photo references taken prior, and drop in the appropriate references in for the panel I’m building. I then drop the opacity down, and then I… I…

I trace.

There. I said it. It’s out there. And it can’t be taken back. With it being said though, I sternly suggest that what I end up doing is far more than tracing. When I make my mark in Illustrator, it’s tied to my pressure sensitive Wacom tablet. And the brush tools I use to make my lines have been custom built and tweaked by me to give me the line I envision in my head when I make my mark via the computer. Furthermore, anyone who traces learns quickly that every line – especially in comics – is crucial to personal style as well as building the right form. And when one works in a photorealistic style, line choice is the difference between making someone look their age or 40 years older. Line weight, and composition come into play. A thicker line can be used to separate forms, as well as add depth to flat objects. To the point: I trace, but I trace with a degree in fine art, and knowledge that I could replicate the results without tracing – just in twice the amount of time. Time I could be spending making more comics.

Building A World That Doesn’t Exist

Aside from using my photo references for the actual characters in The Samurnauts, no doubt you’ll note that they don’t fight zombie-cyborg pirates from space in a vacuum. Well, OK, sometimes they do. But you get my drift. Furthermore, as hard as we’ve tried Unshaven Comics has yet to procure a humanoid-monkey hybrid capable of performing kung-fu that we could afford. Nor have we any advanced degrees in cybernetic technology. And beyond all that, we don’t live in a futuristic city, have giant robots, or even own laser swords or shoulder mounted cannons. Lucky for me, I own an imagination and can afford to commission 3-D models of the props needed to flesh out each panel in our comic that I’m responsible for.

Much like staging for TV or movies, I am firm believer in building only what you have to show. When there’s need to show more, we show more. Matt, as the antithesis to my mantra, lives for building out sketches in every angle. And that of course leads me to the other half of this story:

Matt Wright. Penciler, Inker, Craft Beer Drinker.

Here I was spending all my precious time standing on my soapbox, defending my process to the masses… and I forgot that I only constitute 50% of the content of each issue of The Samunauts! Whilst I toil at my computer with photos, 3-D models, and a second screen of Google images, Matt Wright is doing things the traditional way. With a blank page, a dark basement, and a pile of actual art tools, Matt’s half of The Samurnauts is made the way you’d think all comics should be made. While Matt will keep reference materials at arms length, he typically draws from the figures and fantasies that lie betwixt his ears. It’s a skill I sadly lost literally within moments of meeting Matt, back in sixth grade.

So, Matt’s process is thus: light blue pencil gestures within pre-planned panels, followed by heavier pencils to clarify form and details, followed by finished pencil artwork. After every page has been penciled to his liking, Matt will then take to his ink and brush to lay out blacks and grey tones. As his sequences in our books typically encapsulate the past, Matt has explored a variety of media – gouache, water color, copic marker, and ink washes – to create the weathered, nostalgic look. As most people see upon viewing of the completed comic note, the juxtaposition of Matt’s well-rendered fine art mixes with the sterile, cel-animation-esque digital art I contribute. At the end of the day, it’s an aesthetic we’re proud is wholly ours, serves a purpose in our story telling, and is truly unique within the artist alleys we frequent.

Sage Advice I was Once Given

“Celebrate your successes, but cherish your failures. It’s only when we lose do we learn to win.”

And a personal favorite: “You think your fans care that it took you two-hundred hours to make that book in their hand? Hardly. All they care about is if it’s actually worth the time you invested in it.”

After this, it’s on to the finishes – flatting, coloring, lettering, and the cover. We’ll cover that (natch) next week… in our epic conclusion!


Marc Alan Fishman’s Snarky Synopsis: Hulk Vs. Iron Man 2014

Hulk vs Iron-ManWritten by Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen. Art by Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessey, and Jason Kieth

After last week’s insane rant, I came onto a book like Original Sin: Hulk Vs. Iron Man with both arms up. Let’s face facts: Hulk and Iron Man seem to fight once a year. If not in the 616, then in the Ultimate Universe, or any other iteration of the Marvel U. It’s like they’re a match made in pugilistic heaven. One man, the unstoppable juggernaut… the other a walking arsenal. It’s short range versus long range. It’s rage versus hubris. And really… it’s beating a dead horse by now, isn’t it? Each time they fight, Tony unloads a continent-stopping amount of tech and boom-boom-booms on the emerald giant, who is phased long enough to get pissed, and then we cue epic punching. Tony flies and flails, maybe has a little inner-caption angst party, and then we repeat the cycle. Maybe Steve Rogers or Maria Hill jump in after a while to stop the fracas. Suffice to say, Hulk and Iron Man have been done just about as much as Batman and the G-D-Joker.

How amazing is it then that Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen play a little retcon-history gambit and come out unscathed! This issue, spending most of its running time setting the scene, is a shining example of being able to use common tropes in all the right ways. Here is an issue that truly is made better by the sum of its parts, than it is when you deconstruct it. And what an amazing segue that was. Let’s cut this sumbitch’ open then, aye?

So, the skinny is simple: The Watcher was murdered. A mort came out and declared he was the dude who done did it. He didn’t. But he was able to attack a ton of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with a psychic bob-omb. And with that attack, each hero – or pair of heroes in this case – get a big ole’ chunk of Watcher-vision in their brainpans. Specific to this book, Tony and Bruce Banner share their memories chained to the fateful detonation of a gamma bomb. And the SPOILER retcon of it all: Tony tinkered with Bruce’s bomb. Yup, while both Mr. Stark and Banner were science bros at one time in their youth… at a pivotal time when they were truly working to hone their identities, they ended up on either side of a potent fence. Bruce, the pacifist. Tony, the war monger. And one pithy, snarky barb begat another, and soon thereafter, Tony (in his alcoholic days, mind you) took Bruce to task for potentially inhibiting his gamma bomb. Throw in Thunderbolt Ross, and presto! Revisionist Marvel history that bleeds into why this book should matter.

And matter it does. As I’d noted before, there’s little to no need now to show another green goliath versus the tin can man bout. But, like Vince McMahon, Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen know that with the right story even the umpteenth fight can matter a whole lot. By introducing this snag into the history of the Hulk, and layering it over the current storyline in Waid’s Hulk-ongoing – where Bruce himself is now laced with Extremis in his cerebral cortex – we end up with a fight that is built on far more than another silly misunderstanding. And because the Extemis in Hulk’s brain now brings Banner to the forefront of his angrier half, there’s a level of threat raised here to an all-out extreme. An angry Hulk is still handicapped by his less-than-stellar thought capacity. But a smart Hulk is indeed a scary thing. Especially true when the whole “the angrier he gets the stronger he gets” card is played.

I’d noted above how this was a book of tropes. And let it be stated for the record: this is. Waid and Gillen’s plot is so by-the-numbers, it nearly stings. Or maybe it just stinks. Having to use revisionist history to create conflict is such a comic-book thing to do, I’m left again wondering if that is the modus operandi of Gillen – who I called out for doing as such in his recent stint on Iron Man. I’m all about playing to the cheap seats mind you (I do love pro-wrestling… I mean… sports entertainment after all). But when the rest of the script is really just getting us from point A to point B, there’s little to celebrate specifically about the delivery. There’s really just the employment of typical flashback – flash forward presentation after an action-packed cold-open. Maybe I’m still grumpy over Future’s End, but when I see Waid’s name on a cover these days, I expect greatness.

Artistically, you can’t get more straight-line-bombastic than Mark Bagley. He’s kinetic, epic, and clean in his storytelling. He doesn’t try to bend the rules… he doesn’t need to. It’s akin to Ocean’s Eleven as recreated by Soderbergh – this is a master playing a riff on common themes. As we all know Bagley’s ability to whip out acceptably modern comic book pages, you’re getting exactly what you’d expect from this book. And as a bonus Scooby snack… we also get a few attempts to stretch the common style. Andrew Hennessey’s inks, and Jason Kieth’s colors render an even slicker Bagley page than one is used to. Specifically Kieth’s bold choice of colors, and smart use of glows and knockouts elevate the final product to the epic-crossover level one can appreciate. Knowing that this is Marvel’s flagship blockbuster for the summer, here the art team does their job swimmingly, in giving us visuals that play to the strengths of the script.

Original Sin: Hulk Vs. Iron Man is the kind of popcorn-comic I can get behind. While it’s a bit of a copout to need to introduce new history in order to carry a story, here things move so briskly we hardly have time to savor it. And because of that smart pacing, we’re left with an inaugural chapter amidst the ever-winding checklist within the event that gives us real foot holes to anchor ourselves in for the next chapter. While I’m still not at all interested in who killed the Watcher, I can hang my hat on Hulk’s deserved rage. And therein lies the real point to why I’ll celebrate this book one week and trash DC’s attempt just seven days prior. Original Sin pays attention to the story and reasoning behind it, rather than merely announce “it’s time for punching and new team affiliations!” While the underlying structure may not be all that different, at the end of the day it’s the technique and execution that elevated Mickey’s efforts far more than the Brothers Warners has in a good long while.


Marc Alan Fishman: Dr. Photoshoot…


How I learned to stop caring what someone more talented than I can do, and love my models instead.

When last we spoke, I’d revealed the initial steps to Unshaven Comics building a book from the ground up. We covered our notes process, outlining, and then the breakdown. That leads us to the first steps that require artistic direction. Shall we venture forth then, true believer?

The Gestalt of Gestures

With our breakdowns in hand, Matt Wright (penciler, inker, craft beer drinker) and I then build each page in loose gestures; I create the final digital page and the panels, and Matt and I frame each figure within the panel. When complete, we’re better able to see if the story we’re telling is compelling. We can test the ebb and flow of action, as well as pace out the most dramatic beats. In short, our gestural comps help us literally sketch out a complete comic.

DreadnutsThis is by no means a step to wash over quickly, albeit it’s not one that takes incredibly long to complete. Case in point, we finished an issue this past Saturday night. Most of the time we would read aloud the beat from the breakdown and then discuss how we envisioned it being laid out on a page. Matt had a trusty sketch book next to him, alongside my open page in Adobe Illustrator, where I lay out the panels, as well as digitally ink my pages. Over those final six hours we tend to bicker and banter about the best ways to capture action, and drama. We pour over graphic novels of our favorite artists (John Romita Jr., Alex Ross, and Brent Anderson come to mind and to finger, often). We sketch, erase, debate, sketch, agree, and then retranslate to loose (“terrible looking”) sketches within the pre-made pages. These comps now serve as visual shorthand for our next steps.

While we’ll obviously refine compositions and continue to craft the page as we go… this step is the most heavy lifting we do during pre-production. Shortly thereafter? It’s time to gather our resources. In simpler terms, it’s Photoshoot time!

Just Shoot Me. Well not me… Them.

The picture that came emblazoned at the beginning of this post was taken a week ago at our fifth Samurnaut photoshoot. A bit of backstory:

When Unshaven Comics sported mere stubble on our chinny-chin-chins, Matt was our only artist. While I did do all the coloring, letter, half of the writing, and all of the graphic design… I feared venturing out of my comfort zone. Because Matt is very much my brother from another mother, he had no fear looking me in the eye and calling me out – get drawing, or die trying. I did get a BFA with a concentration in drawing and printmaking. I did know how to draw. But my fear that a comic creator worth his salt had to be able to work without reference kept me clinging to those tasks I was more than qualified for. Long story short, I swallowed my pride and accepted the fact that I could make sequential panel art that I was satisfied with (as in: I’m happy with it, but I’d never be one to say it’s anything more than passable)… so long as I had reference for literally everything I’d need to draw.

So when we created the Samurnauts, we needed models. Lucky for me, I am wealthy with friends. Even luckier: many of them are naturally gifted and funny folks willing to become super heroes and zombie-cyborg space pirates for the price of some pizza and access to my cache of Nerf weaponry. With each comic we create, Unshaven Comics open-casts our way through each part, and rents out a local venue that will leave us alone long enough to literally stage each panel, and capture it on digital film. Thank Rao we have no shame acting like 13 year-olds around each other.

And, after a few short hours of contorting, twisting, punching, kicking, nerfing, and general whackado, we break so that we Unshaven Lads can return to our lair for the next portion of comic creation.

Sage Advice I Was Once Given

“Learn to highlight your strengths and hide your weaknesses from the public eye. But behind the scenes, never stop learning or challenging yourself to overcome those things you fear. If you can’t draw hands, then you need to draw them everyday until you no longer fret over them. You’ll never have to love your work – you’ll just need to be able to live with it.”

And next week…

… I’ll pull the curtain back even further in a chapter I like to call “Your Mother’s A Tracer!”