Author: Marc Alan Fishman

Marc Alan Fishman: Facing My Fears

As I noted last week, Unshaven Comics’ trek to Hotlanta for the annual Dragon Con had me face down several fears all at once. As Unshaven Matt Wright was sidelined due to a babysitting emergency, the biggest fear for me was knowing that our terrific trio was reduced to a dingy duo. Beyond that, there was the continual fear that our little shtick will finally reach the point that it doesn’t garner the excitement we count on to close sales. Add that ennui to the more concrete fear that a ten-hour trip in the car while completing the Whole 30 diet – one that forced me to give up everything but lean protein, fruits and vegetables – would make what is normally a doable drive become something more akin to the trek undertaken by a ragtag fellowship of adventurers trying to ditch a silly ring.

Backup just a wee bit further and I was dealing with the fear of finishing our comic. In what was our second year without a new book to bring out to shows, the creeping horror of attending a show yet again without anything new to our names had forced me to use vacation time from my day job – and then working 12 hours a day to ensure we limped across the finish line. But once production was done on the digital end? Well, then came all the tiny nightmares: getting gigs of data over to our printer intact, checking proofs, correcting errors, and then awaiting the full order for Atlanta to be printed, cut, and stapled.

All of those fears aside, I also decided that life isn’t worth living unless you’re burning the candle at every conceivable end. Upon our return from Dragon Con, the awesome editors of Mine!, Joe Corollo and Molly Jackson were kind enough to allow me a chance to contribute to the book. I had a plan in place – to work hand in hand with a friend of mine very close to the cause, to produce something original and funny (a specific request by said editors). But life never works exactly as we plan, right? My collaborator went on an impromptu vacation, and I felt the pinch to produce my script sans net. This, above production woes or travelling drudgery scared the bejesus out of me.

For the last five years or so my comic series The Samurnauts has been a comfortable and fruitful universe to play in. The rules had been well defined by myself and my Unshaven cohorts. Our stories had been written and everything stayed right in my wheelhouse. That house, you ask? Taking those things I loved growing up, and putting a new twist on them to produce something that kids would enjoy, but adults could appreciate the layers built below the surface of the shiny comic action. But Mine! is a beast far outside the realm of immortal Kung-Fu monkeys and zombie-cyborg space pirates.

So there I sat with the blank screen blinding me. No collaborator to bounce ideas off of. A deadline perilously perched at the precipice of my palms. And no alliterative allegories alerting me to an able-bodied antiphon. If Sinestro were real? I could charge his ring from the sweat forming on my brow. Here, with this opportunity to be a part of a book alongside living legends (too many to mention), did I actually have a leg to stand on… or was I destined to tuck my tail between my legs and just scamper off to make some toys tussle with one-another.

In all of these situations, I am lucky now to be a father. To see in my two sons how fear (and the reaction to it) molds who we are. Be it my younger, Colton, timid and terrified of a two-foot tall Domo I was making wave, or my older, Bennett, scared to even open his mouth for a patient dental hygienist. In both of them, I see myself. Scared, and frozen as I try to check-down the possibilities. Would Unshaven Comics not sell well? Would Samurnauts simply remain forever incomplete? Would I have an original idea to sit in the same book with the likes of Mark Waid, Neil Gaiman, John Ostrander, or Brian Azzarello?

The answer came from one of the biggest mentors in my high school days. Dean Auriemma, my fine arts teacher, instilled in me the keys to overcoming my fear. Sadly, he didn’t know Hal Jordan from Michael Jordan, but I digress. The memory here is preserved like the dino DNA in Jurassic Park. There I was, sitting, mouth agape, at my drawing board. Before me strewn a hastily fastened together still life from which we were to create our work. Mr. A sauntered up behind me, and gruffly asked “What are you doing? Waiting for it to draw itself, buddy?”

I stammered back (not unlike Bennett when asked about the evil dentist) “I… I don’t know.”

Mr. A leaned back on his heels, and dropped a truth bomb that has resonated with me ever since:

“Just start doing what you know. If you wait for the answer to come, you’ll be waiting forever.”

And so too did every recent fear in my life fell before me. I put my head down and finished our comic. I stood up, and sold to every passerby in Atlanta. And damn it all, I started writing my script for Mine! By leaning in to what I knew, and soon thereafter, my script came together – as did Molly and Joe’s approval and acknowledgment.

It turns out we have nothing to fear but fear itself – in our brightest days … and darkest nights.

Marc Alan Fishman: Dragon Con is for Lovers

This past weekend, Unshaven Kyle Gnepper and I braved a 10-hour car ride from Chicago to Atlanta to present our wares at the annual Dragon Con. While I could spend my article telling all of you the harrowing tale of how our booth was stolen and then how it turned out to be a simple clerical error, I figure it’s easier to spare you the banal details. Long story short, it always pays off to be flexible, kind, and eager to make the best out of any situation.

Since our table-saga is off the table, I could discuss how for the first time in now our tenth year of presenting at cons I finally bit the bullet to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Kyle and remain in pitch mode the entire duration of the con in order to see our goals be met. I could wax poetic about how it felt to step outside my comfort zone and really connect with complete strangers without fear. Long story short, we met our goals. I was tired every night, but feel like Kyle and I found our brotherly bond again after too-long a time. It will remain something I’ll fondly talk about for cons to come.

No table woes. No astonishing sales lecture. What’s left? The most important part of the con: The people.

As I’ve said before, Dragon Con is the con I would personally go to as a fan. The sheer amount of programming they offer in addition to a fantastic vendor floor and artist alley adds up to an experience that truly celebrates pop culture in nearly every form and facet. From our vantage point in the alley – thanks in part to Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s sad cancellation (which in turn landed us their spot) Kyle and I were privy to just about every single con goer who made their way onto the show floor. To be clear: we heard rumor of tens of thousands of people attending the con, of which, I’d feign a guess that a solid half made their way into our portion of the America Mart in downtown Atlanta.

Beyond the amazing cosplay, happy families, and great geeks on-the-hunt-for-wares, something caught my eye. As wave after wave of people passed by, I noted gay couples, Lesbian couples, transgendered folks, asexual folks. Literally every race, creed, and color. And nary a one of them without a smile plastered across their maws. It was, above all else: inspiring.

And it hit me right in the cockles, I tells ya. Here, amidst the aisles of the Artist Alley, a procession of positivity parlayed publications and posters devoid of anything but an untethered celebration of pop-culture. It reminded me that while there’s plenty of nerd-rage between specific sects of fans – be it western comics versus manga, Trek versus Wars, or steampunk versus whatever group fears gears – there is a commonality that binds all folks who clip a comic con badge to their person. An acceptance of everyone’s right to be themselves. Because, where else but a Comic Con can we unabashedly declare not only our love for some specific nerdy-milieu, and meet nothing but acceptance to it by all who surround us. Because we too are different, and we too want this place to remain a sacred space where all are allowed to let our freak flags fly.

After four solid days of seeing every gender, sexual orientation, and science fiction fandom stroll past our twelve-foot storefront, Kyle and I left Atlanta tired but accomplished. Between the two of us, over 500 books crossed the border from our racks to the hands of happy fans. We sold every single poster we brought. And I personally sold out of every pre-made Pokémon card I packed. As Kyle and traversed the interstate from Georgia through Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana, our minds darted through the memories logged. But none stick out more for me (save perhaps that one customer who demanded one of every book we had on the table) then the cavalcade of comradery I saw at the show. A reaffirmation that the ties that bind me to comic books help me ground myself surrounded by like-minded people who celebrate our world in every way it presents itself. Amidst all the insanity our current overlords spew from on high… it was worth it to have four days devoid of hate; all hail Dragon Con, as it truly is for love.

Marc Alan Fishman: To Boob or Not To Boob

A short one act play, in response to this recent hubbub during the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con.

To boob, or not to boob, that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind of cosplayers to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fans and parents

Or to take arms against a sea of tsk-tsks,

And by opposing, end them.

To diet (to fit in a form-fitting costume) – to sleep on the floor of your con hotel suite –

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That the display of flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d of the fans to see.

For those not playing along, let’s cut to the chase. This past weekend, a cosplay maven – with distinct permission to come in her much-worked-upon Silent Hill cosplay – was jeered and leered at by some in the crowd, and ultimately (and incorrectly) walked back to her hotel room to change.

Per her posting, she had gotten the proper clearances, but miscommunication amongst the staff of the convention center and the con itself led to her removal. To her credit, she took the whole debacle in stride. As she commented in the aforementioned post: she expects some of the reactions she gets in her guise. As is her opinion, the human body can become a work of art; as such, her costume (the effort clearly of many hours of construction and creation) is her craft. If convention attendees find her faux – décolletage to be too much so be it. She clearly takes proper steps to ensure she’s meeting the criteria to cosplay by the rules.

This of course begs us to ask questions. Is she bending the rules to the given extreme? Is a well-produced facsimile of a naked body part – aligned to some measure of a costume – an allowable choice of expression within the confines of a convention? And if you personally find something akin to the display of the naked human body to be unsettling or offensive, are your rights inherently more potent than that of the cosplayer?

Let’s be clear: I’m not a show-runner, and thank Rao for that. What I am though, is a parent. My children, ages five and one, were attending Wizard World Chicago at the same time this particular cosplayer was doing her thing. The cosplay-picture-posing thing… not the being politely escorted away thing. Now, amidst snapping pics and moments with Wolverine, Batman Beyond, Deadpool and the like, my children nor my wife happened to see the naked-esque participant.

But what if they had?

Would I be chiding the choices of a fellow artist? Hardly. As it were, I sincerely agree with her opinion. The human body is not offensive. A nipple or breast out in the air – be it constructed, make-upped, or otherwise displayed – is of no more or less value to me personally than an ankle or an earlobe. If the costume itself requires the display of one’s personal nether-regions (augmented as necessary), and it falls within the rules of the given convention? Let it all hang out!

It mostly comes down to the show-runner. So long as their rules are on display in some fashion, the responsibility will fall on the patrons of the con to choose whether they feel they can enjoy the show or not. For a more family-focused show, perhaps there will be need to be more specific about the display of human flesh. But as with all things: we are all in shared space at a convention. Choosing to air your negative opinion in any way shape or form will always be far more offensive to me than any exposed tit.

As a parent, perhaps I wouldn’t make a choice for my kids to see this particular cosplayer – moreso because she looked genuinely scary – but if they had seen her? So what. My job as a parent isn’t to protect my kids from the world. It’s to help them interpret, understand, and appreciate it.

With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary costume,

But that the dread of something after death –

The undiscover’d titty, from whose bourn

No traveler returns – puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others dress as yet-another-Harley Quinn?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard, their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action. – Soft you now!

The fair Pyramid Head! – Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins rememb’red. Sorry I stared a bit too hard at your cosplay.

Marc Alan Fishman: “When Are You Going To Stop This?”

As I placed the final piece of the puzzle into the floppy copy of The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #4 (ironically it was an ad for ComicMix, what synergy!) a fleeting thought tripped me up. Throughout the production process of creating Curse, Unshaven Comics has faced one teeny-tiny nagging question from a few people very close to our hearts. This single question – phrased and rephrased in both passive-aggressive and totally-aggro ways has come to represent a choke point for me and my l’il studio.

“When are you going to stop this?”

For the sake of clarity? The question was posed to us by close family members – none of whom share room and board with us. All three Unshaven Lads are beyond lucky to have wives (and children) who are always fully in-support of our indie comic dreams; so long as we work hard to be good husbands and dads… which we are.

This gentle nag comes out of place of love mind you, and it bears some defense. Making comics, attending comic conventions, and running a small business takes time, energy, and money. Three things none of the Unshavenauts have a plethora of. And as girlfriends became wives became mothers of our children, all three resources continued to become even more important. Imagine leaving a frazzled new mother with a screaming infant while her pie-in-the-sky-publishing-father-of-the-doomspawn traipses across the country to go sell comics for just enough money to afford going to the next show. When you phrase it that way? Well, me and my brothers-from-other-mothers are downright villainous, aren’t we?

But we’re not villains.

The nagging question comes fully loaded with the bigger picture in mind; to what end did we envision all this comic bookery doing for us?

When we began… perhaps it was hubris and optimism that made me think it’d land us on the doorstep of a great publisher like Boom!, Avatar, Image, or Dark Horse. As issue 2 and 3 dropped, that dream shifted a bit towards even larger goals like licensing and multi-media expansion. When we launched our Kickstarter, the promise of a graphic novel brought with it this feeling of making a statement – that we had arrived, and soon Samurnauts would morph into a vehicle to break us away from our normal day jobs, and allow us to live the life we’d spitballed about during those lengthy drives across the country.

And those dreams, shared with our friends, family, and fans eventually came full circle. Here we are on the verge of actually collecting together the graphic novel (and finally fulfilling our promises to our now-rightfully-mad-as-hell backers), no longer hell-bent on stardom or fame. The journey has been the reward staring us back in the face all along. Money would be great; but a big break comes much like love does. Always be open to it and ready for it… but never demand it or expect it.

So…“When are you going to stop this?”

It’d be so easy to quit. While our nemesis enjoys the ending of his biographical comic by way of a now-viral-sensation and we see plenty of our compatriots releasing more material than we ever could in the same amount of time, I can’t lie – the not-so-secret jealousy of their good fortune (well-deserved as it is) makes it feel like perhaps we missed the boat on that next level we aspire to be at.

Like I said, it’d be easy to turn the lights off and walk away. A single graphic novel that represents the very best of what we built together, ultimately delivered to the fans we made along the way. It sounds great on paper, right?

As it stands, the Unshaven Lads have all taken on extra work to keep our home-lives comfortable. One of us moved a state away (yeah, it’s like two hours away from us, but that can feel like half a country some days). And our kids aren’t getting easier to keep a handle on. To spit in the wind triumphantly and declare “This is just the beginning!” Would feel like the prattling optimistic idiocy we blurted out to Mike Gold the very first time we met him. We’re older now. Wiser. Exhausted.

Forgive me now, as I ascend my last remaining soapbox. And I know I’m being a bit long-winded about all of this. But fuck all, I don’t care.

The Samurnauts to date has seen the toil, sweat, and tears of over a thousand hours to produce from stem to stern. We have sold over ten thousand copies of them from Chicago to New York… and this is before we release the final issue of the first series at the upcoming Dragon Con in Atlanta. Beyond delivering what we promised to our 125 backers, we owe thousands of people the conclusion to this first story. And damn it all, they will get it. And after the dust settles on the graphic novel production to come here in the forthcoming month (collecting 4 comics and bonus materials doesn’t just happen overnight), guess what?

We’re starting three more Samurnauts series. This doesn’t end. This will never end. The drive to create… the bond built over 20 years with my best friends who I would take a bullet for each… the bonds made with all our fellow creators sharing in the same experiences on the road… the smiles on the faces of random kids and adults who hear our pitch and buy our book. That’s a drug I refuse to ween myself off of.

“When are you going to stop this?”

Never. Samurnauts. Are. GO!

Marc Alan Fishman: “Tales from the Multiverse: The Alt-Left”

With all the stupid that has recently infected our news feeds and such this past week, I’d be remiss to admit I didn’t at least try to find something comic-related to rant about today. I read about half of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s Kros: Hallowed Ground graphic novel – but wouldn’t have anything cathartic to say about it as I’m numb from the dumb. I learned how to make my own salad dressing – but I doubt you’d really care about it or Whole 30. I read all the articles about how Justice League was getting some nifty reshoots to fix errant tonal problems – but again I digress: why sit here and rant about a movie that isn’t out yet, when our glorious leader took to the press and created a new villain for our weary nation!

I won’t regurgitate the circumstances that led the mighty Twittler to coin the phrase “Alt-Left” this week; the odds are in my favor you couldn’t hide from the forthright gaff. Let’s just go in media res here, and talk about the elephant in the room.

Points to me, by the way, for using elephant in the room, as a punny turn of phrase for our Republican Fascist-In-Chief.

The Alt-Right movement, such as it is, is a grotesque that uses rope, leather, and chain to bind white nationalists, white supremacists, and vanilla-ice-cream-only lovers to slough across the land in hopes of finding a way to make it great again. For those playing at home? That was a killer reference to Kros: Hallowed Ground. The Alt-Right likes to postulate that our nation – the one founded by people seeking freedom to live as they saw fit in a religious system they preferred over the one they chose to flee from – is better off as an insular island of a single race and single religion.

Devoid of minorities (racially or religiously) the Alt-Right sees a prosperous and strong country with a rich celebrated history of capitalism and a mighty military. A place where you get rich because you pull yourself up from your boot straps, make a fortune, and only pay enough taxes to keep the lights on (or whatever). Other nations fear us, and do business with us because they fear us. This is their dream scenario. And now, they have an arch-nemesis.

The Alt-Left movement, such as it will now become, is a even-grotesquer that uses smugness, gay-loving, and NPR to bind progressives, LGBTQ folk, and only-artisanal-gelato lovers to slough across the land in hopes of finding a way to smite the Alt-Right. With their cat-ear hats, and pink-batons, they incite violence for those (who through legal channels) were peacefully protesting.

For you see, the Alt-Left interjected and caused the violent outbursts in Charlottesville; they didn’t understand that the Alt-Right legally had permits to encircle their counter protestors and shout hate-speech at them. They didn’t understand that the Alt-Right were there to use their freedom of speech, and promises of violence only ceremonially. The Alt-Left, of course, is known to use their fake news to circumvent these truths. You heard it here, folks. I’m telling the truth.

To date, there had never been a name for the Alt Left. President Trump has the best words though; Crooked Hilary, Lying Ted, Little Marco. His ability to deconstruct a foe and rebuild them with simple nomenclature is a thing of beauty. And let’s call a spade a spade: Hilary Clinton has a few dubious marks on her career. Ted Crux lies. A lot. And Marco Rubio is kinda short. I guess. Hence the naming of this previously-unknown beast has shown the light to the true villainy of this nation! The loquacious hydra that seeks to destroy the President who won so many more votes than literally any other candidate ever in the history of this nation!

But therein lies the problem, my friends. I went searching – yes, even on the dark web – and couldn’t find a single Breitbart-for-queers. There wasn’t a single hate-group built on the idea that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. And while I found plenty of very vicious t-shirts proclaiming how gay the occupant of the garment was… I didn’t see a single one with a gun or bomb, or language that implied the use of it was necessary on the opposition. Hell, I even found one company making a comics anthology for that one service that tries to help women. But not a single mention of a backer reward of a molotov cocktail to throw at white nationalist march.

If you spot the Alt Left in the wild, please let me know. Until then: Stay vigilant!

Marc Alan Fishman: The Light At the End of the Tunnel

For those of you who follow my li’l studio Unshaven Comics on Facebook, you’ll note a recent ramping up of delightful sharing. As pages get completed in The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #4, I’ve been too excited not to immediately share them with our fans. As such, I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on a book that has taken more than a year beyond what I’d intended to see it be ready for release.

We’re not there yet, but the end is truly nigh.

For those sticklers who like details: three of us presently are mashing on the necessary color work – with about 20 more pages that need final effects. Everything is lettered. The book file is built. Literally, 20 pages need some over-the-top TLC, and they will be pushed into their final form. To ensure we round third base and dive for home, I’m even taking this coming week off my normal day job to only work on the book. By the time you read my article next week, I should be sending the book off to the printer – and likely attempting to gain back a weeks’ worth of lost sleep.

Not that I’m counting our chickens before they are hatched. Within these last pages is the crux of the issue – if not the entire four book series. Fight scenes dissolve into bigger fight scenes and culminate in a space fight that will push me to my limit with meticulously placed texture maps and Photoshop glow effects. Every single page matters. Every panel needs polish. If this is to be the culmination of five years’ worth of nights, weekends, holidays, and everything in between, there will be no half-measures.

If I am to speculate that my work is successful, I will look forward to those final steps to see the book become a physical, sellable object. The book is pressed into a high-res PDF and is carefully transferred to our printer. A proof is produced, and we spot check every page to ensure the trim doesn’t cut into any major details or words. Then, issues will be printed, cut, bound, and boxed. We’ll pick up issue #4 along with a hefty helping of issues 1, 2, 3, and the not so secret origin and make the 12-hour drive to Dragon Con in Atlanta. And there lies the grail of emotion I truly seek at the end of this process.

For five years, we have minted a minor (very, very, very minor) fortune by uttering a pitch that takes less than 20 seconds to complete. I’d say, “you already know it by now,” but if you know me then you know I’m not missing my window to boldly brand:

The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts is a team-action adventure about samurai-astronauts, led by an immortal Kung Fu monkey… saving humanity from zombie-cyborg space pirates!

And for the last five years, one burning question had remained deftly unanswered by our growing amassment of wonderful fans…

“Is this everything?”

Now, we can now look them dead in the eye, and place the entire series in their lovely mitts. A complete thought (plus a wonderful upsell if they want that origin tale) that took over a thousand hours to piece together across the birth of four kids, the marriage and subsequent moving of one Unshaven lad to Wisconsin and over 102 individual mortgage payments posted. Now for a single Andrew Jackson, the fruit of all of that labor is handed over with glee.

The light at the end of the tunnel represents more than just the culmination of a comic book. It’s the lighting of the torch that announces the next phase to Unshaven Comics. The only place to go from here is up. And now… it’s starting to feel like it’s actually true.

Marc Alan Fishman: So How Do I Get My Kids Into Comics?

Last week I got a little hot and bothered over Dan DiDio and Jim Lee’s declaration that their holy trinity (and let’s assume all the rest of their ilk) were being introduced to would-be-suitors for the third time via the printed page. They sought to make the comic shop the first meeting point between the kiddos (you), and their heroes (you know, the ones with the muscles and tights). Simply put, it’s a cute idea but it’s pretty much impossible to pull off.

It leads me to this week, where my good friend (and real-life Wolverine) Todd asked me point blank: so how do I get my kids into comics? Well, bub, here’s my step-by-step guide:

  1. Let the TV, movies, or the Internet be that first touchpoint.

Let’s not split hairs here. It’s astoundingly simple to flip on a show, YouTube clip, or take the family to the matinee. Especially for pre-literate wee-ones. The screen is a part of their lives from birth unless you’re one of those holier-than-thou-hipster-parents who turn your noses to such savagery. You can’t shake a stick these days without hitting something comic related that will speak to your li’l lads or lasses. Ray gun to my maw? Teen Titans Go! is as great a place to start as any. Proof in point: My five-year old has been watching since the pilot aired, and still regularly calls me “Dude” because of it. When a show/clip/movie hits the mark, you’ve got the spark.

  1. Now, take that spark, and add some kindling

For me personally, it was stumbling over the Adam West Batman – more specifically the Dick Sprang inspired animated intro that truly made me pause and glue myself to the set – that would lead to my first foray into comicdom years later. Had I a time-machine I’d find that younger me and immediately take that newfound curiosity and stoke a fire with actual comics.

Much the same, I propose that when your wee-one has sunk their teeth into a character, it’s time to take their love to the page. If Teen Titans tipped their curiosity, introduce them to Tiny Titans. It’s just as funny, just as accessible, and widens the breadth of known commodities with aplomb. Or, take a horizontal swing from the Titans to their adult counterparts. The Justice League comes in a veritable rainbow of iterations – one is bound to suit the proclivities of your scions.

  1. Now, put those kids in a helicopter, and rise above the ground

A few movies or TV shows got them hooked. The comic (or related adapted kids books, etc.) hinted at a larger landscape. Now, with them invested… show them the world! The best part of the age in which we live now is the access afforded to anyone with an attention span. To like Teen Titans Go! is to like team action adventures. From that single precipice, you can leap across the aisle to Avengers or X-Men. Or, be bolder, and let your hellspawn into the realms of the smaller creator-owned fodder. I’d give a kid Molly Danger a hundred times out of ninety-nine versus anything Marvel or DC published. The key here is simple: A trip to the comic shop should come with an invitation to be curious.

Even if the words are above their pay-grade, comics have pictures for a reason. Give your kids the keys to a castle choked to the moats with possibilities. Now, all that’s left is to close the deal with a pair of key action items.

  1. Take your kids to A Comic Con

Be it big or small, a full weekender or just a day-trip, attending a comic con is a rite of passage every lover of pulp and paper should take in. In the real world, comic heroes may be mainstream but the books they hail from are still a niche market. They open up the realm of the fandom to innocent eyes. The very first time I went to the Wizard World Chicago show, it felt literally larger than life. In a convention hall bursting at the seams with comics, toys, cartoons, and anything else I could imagine, it was seeing thousands of like-minded ne’er-do-wells rifling through long boxes, and debating at panels that really stuck with me. To know that beyond those at my local shop, there existed a community gave me a sense of self that stoked the eventual fire to become a creator. Which leads me straight away to my last suggestion.

  1. Give them a piece of a paper, a pencil, and an assignment

“Now, you make me a comic!”

Let their mind run wild. There’s a visceral universe living and breathing behind the cookie crumbs and desire to play video games. For those you are trying to will into nerdery, I offer no better advice than to invite them to create. When a child becomes the owner of an idea, I believe it bonds them not only intrinsically to the notion itself but to the world from which it stems. Be it anime, a random cartoon, a specific action figure, Lego playset, or, yes, a comic book. Give them the task, and open the floodgates. Before too long, you’ll be taking them to the comic shop on the regular, you know… for reference.

Excelsior!

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Comics Are Dead. Thank you, DC!

So, spoiler alert. The comic industry as we know it is going to die. Well, according to Dan DiDio and Jim Lee it is. At the San Diego Comic Con – which I clearly didn’t attend because I already knew comics were dying – the DC honchos all but shook their rain sticks at the assembled retailers to eulogize the industry before revealing how they would save it.

Forgive me. You no doubt heard the thundering cacophony of my right eyebrow arching high on my face at a speed worthy of Barry Allen. The speed at which it jutted there clearly broke the sound barrier in a reflex akin only to those meta-humans with the ability to transcend space and time.

There’s literally too much to unpack from all they blabbed on about for me to fit in a single column. And rather than present evidence how the comic industry isn’t dying at all, I’d like to specifically snark back on one particular point DiLeeDoo made.

“Comic books have become the second or third way to meet characters like Batman and Superman, and we want to change that.”

Uhh… Why?!

The statement itself is a bland platitude at best. It’s big-wigs trying fluff up their retailers – as well as comic fans – into believing their medium is purer than the first or second ways fans meet their heroes. That somehow, DC’s publishing arm will find a way to get kids into the comic shop before they see any licensed character on TV, movies, or frankly… the Internet. Of all the laughable things said at this panel – forgetting the whole part where they confirmed Dr. Manhattan made Rebirth happen – trying to pit comics against their motion picture counterparts takes the cake and crams in a pie to boot.

I am 35 years old. The first time I ever saw Batman? It was Adam West on the campy syndicated re-runs, in between episodes of Happy Days. Superman? Learned about him second-hand on any number of references dropped during episodes of Muppet Babies, or an errant episode of Challenge of the Superfriends. And while I would eventually seek the printed page for more mature and significant adventures of those (and all other) characters, the tent-pole flagship Trinity of DC Comics was met in motion long before the pulp.

Furthermore, as a Gen-X/Gen-Y/Millennial/Whatever I’m classified as these days, my generation learned and loved superheroes first via these extraneous ways, because the comics themselves were mired in the muck of massive continuities. As I’ve long detailed in this space previously, when comics peaked my interest it was because of an adaptation of an X-Men cartoon I’d seen the week prior. Investigating at the local Fiction House stressed me out when I saw an actual X-Men comic was on issue 568 (or whatever), and the shop keep made no qualms telling me he wouldn’t even know where to start me out if I was wanting to collect the book.

Times have since changed aplenty, but that doesn’t mean the same issues still exist if we are to take to heart Dan and Jim’s sentiment.

A 9-year old girl goes and sees Wonder Woman with her mom. She falls in love with Diana of Themyscira and begs her mom to learn more. They venture into the local comic shop, and what then? If the cashier is worth her salt? She’ll have a great big display of the now Eisner-Award Winning Wonder Woman: The True Amazon ready and waiting. But peer over to the rack, and where does our 9-year old go? Is the current issue of Wonder Woman ready and waiting? And where is Batgirl, and any other female-driven comics all set and ready for their newly minted fan?

And beyond that, how on Gaea’s green Earth would you ever suppose you’d find a way to get this 9-year old girl into the shop before she’d been enticed by the multi-million dollar blockbuster action film. Simply put, that’s proudly brandishing a knife in a nuclear bomb fight. It’s dumb to even think it, let alone declare it like a campaign promise.

To this point, credit where it’s due: Dan DiDio denoted the need for more evergreen books – titles that live outside any common continuity to tell great one-off stories – to specifically meet the needs of fans who come in (or come back) to comic books. The truth of the matter is no book will ever compete with a big release movie or a weekly television show. Video killed the radio star for a reason. And the Internet murdered the video star and put the snuff film on YouTube. To cling to printed fiction as some form of hipper-than-thou solution that could wage war with more ubiquitous platforms all in the name of changing the way the public meets their heroes is a dish I’ll never order, even if I’m starving.

To declare this was all in part to save the industry … well Dan: is it fair to have cultivated the problem only to turn around and say now you’ll save us from the very issues you created? That is some Luthor-level vertical integration if I ever did hear it.

Save me, Dan DiDio. You’re my only hope. Well, barring Image, Boom!, Lion Forge, Valiant, Aw Yeah, Oni Press, IDW, Dark Horse, Action Lab, and Unshaven Comics.

Marc Alan Fishman’s ComicMix Six: Marc’s Top Marvel Studios Movies!

To date, Marvel Studios has 16 released films in their shared universe. And while I have an affinity for all of them (truly, there isn’t a bad one in the bunch) it’s fair now to see the cream rise to the top. Having just finished Spider-Man: Homecoming this past weekend – yes I’m a suburban dad who no longer prioritizes movies as a need-to-see-on-release-day – I think I’m within bounds to pluck out my top five… until I mentioned this idea to EIC Mike Gold who denoted “We have a logo” for picking six. Natch. So, without any further preamble, here are (ranked from bottom to top) my most favoritest Marvel(ous) movies.

Definition time: I’m specifying movies only within the “Marvel Cinematic Universe.” This excludes the X-Men movies, the Fantastic Four movies, the Blade trilogy (which was awesome, honestly) any previous Spider-Man flicks, and sadly Deadpool who would have been #3 on my ranking.

  1. The Avengers

It’s funny enough to me that this film – the quintessential tent pole of the MCU – arrives in this bonus spot on my list. When the dust settled for me on The Avengers I remain in love with the concept, less the execution. Because Joss Whedon is so adept at creating great team dynamics there’s rarely any downtime in the flick, which is its saving grace. Ultimately, the plot is barely logical, with Loki aligning with Thanos because reasons and it’s all an excuse for a huge CGI fist fight. That the film never abandons the damage New York takes because of the epic Midtown massacre again harkens why The Avengers made my list in the first place. Amidst the cacophony, humanity still remains at the heart of the film. Even if Agent Coulson’s death was retconned almost immediately.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

All of Cap’s movies are infinitely watchable to me. Somehow the cock-sure asshat that was one of the only saving graces of the terrible Fantastic Four films (you know which ones) truly adopted and adapted his talents to fully realize Marvel’s big blue boy scout. And in his performance, Chris Evans balances the fish-out-of-water aspects of the character perfectly with a soldier’s grit and heroism in the modern age. While The First Avenger did all the expository heavy lifting to sell us on Steve Rogers the man, The Winter Soldier proved that “superhero” films could be far more than large set pieces and quips. The Directing Russos took their love of 70s political / conspiracy fiction and married it to the modern day in a way that felt bombastic but real. I still remain in awe watching Rogers chase down his former best friend amidst the chaos of the biggest Holy Watcher! moment of the MCU – the reveal of Hydra’s long-simmering subterfuge. Pair that with the late-in-the-movie tête-à-tête with Nick Fury over proactive protection over reactive super heroics and you get a heavy flick that leaves you wondering why it took this long to see something this good.

  1. Spider-Man: Homecoming

The only thing I could honestly nitpick about the flick was the avidity for late-night fight scenes, is a boon to the first Spider-Man film to truly nail the character as I’d always imagined him to be. Our believably-baby-faced Peter Parker steals the show (fitting given it’s his film) in what amounts to an homage to 80s teen rom-coms with a running thread of super-heroics. And, amongst literally all the movies I’ll be listing today, none had me more on the edge of my seat than the car ride discussion between Peter and his date’s daddy. That a superhero movie had me captivated without thwipping a single web is a testament to its depth and brevity. Oh, and somehow, the movie made a mort like Vulture into a believable badass. Case. Closed.

  1. Captain America: Civil War

Take everything that was said above, copy, and paste it. But magnify it by two or three. Civil War took big swings at the politics of being a super hero, weaved in a deeply personal conflict, and then set it all against a global backdrop. The movie owned the space Avengers: Age of Ultron should have, all while taking those initial beats of young Steve Rogers and bringing them home to roost. That they could tell all of this, drop our jaws with the airport sequence and make both sides of the equation nuanced in their actions and opinions only drove the point home harder how Marvel could make mature fiction against the flashy colors and CGI bombast.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel’s way of raising two gigantic middle fingers at DC while simultaneously mooning them. For a bit of perspective: Batman v. Superman earned (essentially) the same amount of money as the first GotG movie, but came out two years later. So, a movie where a loose Indiana Jones / Han Solo rip-off pilots Firefly alongside a talking raccoon and animated tree earned the same amount of money. But that’s truly beside the point. Guardians 2 took everything amazing from its first iteration – the comedy, the space-action, the brilliant visuals, and an astoundingly wide scope of the universe at large – and somehow improved upon it. Kurt Russel’s Ego is a massive villain whose plot (for once) feels earned. All the performances were beyond exemplary… but nothing truly hit this father harder than a blue dude with a red Mohawk literally defining fatherhood amidst an intergalactic chase and war sequence.

  1. Iron Man

Iron Man was a no-brainer for the top of my list. While other actors across the MCU have grown into their roles… none of them hold a candle to Robert Downey Jr. – who doesn’t so much as perform Tony Stark as he simply exists as a surrogate so close to the source material he bleeds ink. While other Marvel films have woven more intricate plots, delivered better (a few, if we’re being picky) villains, or provided us with better battles… none compare to the total package quite so well as the original kick-off to Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here, our introduction to what the general pop-culture lexicon would consider a “B” lister, Jon Favreau drags right to the top of the A list in the cold open. Tony Stark – as massively, untouchably talented and wealthy as he is – becomes our surrogate POV character for nearly every Marvel film he’s subsequently been in. And while his personal politics and actions have led him to morally gray areas ever since… it’s all the work done here in his origin that allows us to believe every action that has occurred. All that and the movie made this millennial truly believe a man could fly. In a suit. Of space-age material, designed by a genius living with an electromagnetic reactor in his chest that powers it.

Marc Alan Fishman: The Push of the Pull Box

As a rite of passage to become an official “Comic Book Nerd,” the pull box subscription is a near-impossible-to-ignore piece of the puzzle. For those playing along at home: the other parts include strong unwavering opinions you’re willing to argue over until your death, an ability to rattle off superhero minutiae without the use of Wikipedia, and typically a small collection of not-always-well-fitting graphic tee shirts. But I digress.

The pull box, for the uninitiated, is a service wherein a customer subscribes to weekly comics, and are held by their local comic book store for purchase. Every store does this a little different, but the big takeaways remain fairly standard: Pull box subscribers are offered a bit of a discount (often progressively increasing with order size) and are usually honor bound to come in and “clean out the box” as often as they’re able to.

For perspective, I asked my own local comic book retailer (Joe Bullaro of The Zone in Homewood, IL) about pull boxes, and he put it quite succinctly:

“I couldn’t imagine a store succeeding without a pull service… but I think many stores can fail because of one. “

For the store, pull boxes are mostly guaranteed sales. When customers are engaged with their store, and the current draw of monthly titles, there’s a wonderful symbiotic relationship. Back in my subscription days, a weekly trip to the comic shop was one looked forward to as seeing a good friend. Witty banter about what was occurring in the books I followed locked in step the way one might gab about their favorite TV shows. Each issue an episode. Each story arc picked apart for organic and passionate discussion. As Joe would denote to me “…it’s a community. It creates a bond between a customer and their store.” Loyalty feeding into prosperity.

But the pull box system is not always a box of roses. Joe was quick to add “…people abandon 100’s of dollars of books and don’t [always] communicate [their] reasons.” While some stores combat this by tying customers’ boxes to an on-file credit card… smaller stores know doing so limits customer’s desire to be officially subscribed to anything. Call it a fear of commitment. So it becomes a double-edged sword. Attempt to guarantee that pull boxes are clean, and potentially carve away swatches of your buying public. Even in my quaint little suburb, a comic fan is not necessarily limited to a single store to procure their fiction.

In addition to the potential fallout of customers who choose to inexplicably abandon their boxes, comes the actual work involved at the store to maintain the boxes in the first place. Every subscription to a book comes with a two-month ordering window. The book sits outside the regular order the store may keep for their off-the-shelf offerings. This means, for example, ordering 50 copies of Detective Comics to fulfill 40 different pull boxes, and keep 10 issues on the shelf for new comic book day when the issue arrives. And if the book is popular, like Detective Comics is, well, this is perfectly fine. But place your order on a more obscure title (even one from Marvel or DC) and you now place a bet: that your subscriber will buy the book, and if they don’t, placing it on your shelf isn’t taking up space a better book might inhabit.

And then, of course, there comes the issue of annuals, double-drops, mini-series, new creative teams, or the dreaded crossovers. A fan of Green Lantern may be faced with a dozen options in a given month. And they need to commit two months in advance to ensure what they want is held back for them. It’s a dangerous game when the love of a character or book begins to wane.

A few years ago, I made the choice to stop being a weekly subscriber. Faced with a less-than-enthusiastic opinion of the constant cycling of Epic Crossover, New Series Debut, Dwindling Sales, Book Cancellation, Repeat, I ultimately decided my comic purchases should be curtailed to graphic novels and indie titles procured at conventions I attended. While I have never personally abandoned a pull box before, I have been guilty of racking up massive back issues of books I slowly grew tired of. Wednesday Comics, Countdown to Final Crisis… thy name is mud.

So, where to leave the debate? Like so many things in this world, there’s a spectrum between black and white. As a necessary evil, the pull box can keep a store open perhaps almost as often it can wind up a debtor’s downfall. As a means to create a community and store culture, it can unite masses under common interests, or create the sparkling debate that ingrains a base of customers to their local store.

For me, it’s a matter of maturity and conservatism that prevents me from being a card-carrying member anymore. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss walking into a shop, to be greeted warmly with a fresh pile of books awaiting my geeky eyes.