Author: Marc Alan Fishman

Marc Alan Fishman’s Geek Year Resolutions

Fishman Art 140104While many of you were out toasting the New Year with friends and acquaintances – perhaps a bit tipsy from the festivities and calamity – I was spending my NYE at home with the wife and kiddo. Wifey and I recently came down with a crappy bug (of which I was the first recipient, on my birthday to boot), and did not feel it smart to venture outside the containment field of our suburban enclave. I was all set and ready to throw myself a pity party, but Michael Davis not only took that cake this week… bitch cooked it up from scratch, decorated it, and served it with ice cream.

I thought it might be nice for me to spare you all a post of malaise and doldrums, and opt instead to look to the coming new year, and make some resolutions for myself. But not the typical “I need to lose weight” (I do), or “I need to quit cigarettes” (I don’t). I’m going to use my column inches today to make some geek year resolutions; things I need to do or stop doing to be a better geek in 2014.

Become a Whovian. Well, as many read some time ago I gave in and watched “The Day of the Doctor.. I also recently have partaken of a few choice episodes, as well as the most recent Christmas Special. That allows me now to start fresh and new with whatever Capaldi’s Who will be. Now, I’ll be honest… a cursory Googling did not tell me when the new series will start, but I’m simply resolving in 2014 to watch more Who. Thanks largely to a DVR and BBC America, that shouldn’t be a problem. This will also mean at conventions I’ll be more apt to draw my patented Domos (note that they are NOT actually patented by me, nor should you think they are…) in the guise of all the various Doctors of yore. And maybe a Weeping Angel Domo. Ooh! And a Dalek Domo. That outta’ be a larf.

Start A Wrestling Podcast. One of my friends in the Indie Comic Industry (we don’t have an acronym yet, but who wouldn’t like the ICI?) recently posted on a random wrestling tweet I made that he and I should do a wrestling podcast. I’ll be honest. As soon as I saw that response, I was half-planning it already. I know there’s few wrestling fans here at the ‘Mix, but I can’t not let my freak-flag fly. In 2013, I became a full-fledged re-upped wrestling fan. I purchased a single pay-per-view (it was enough), and I’ve since relegated two evenings a week to watching the product. I spent at least some time every day reading the dirt sheets (online rumor mills), and formulating my ever-so-important opinions. Knowing that I have a great gaggle of pals on the internet (who live semi-local to me) means I can finally make that excuse to learn how to Skype in guests from my home computer, and launch my own wrestling podcast. All I’ll need? A catchy name. The front-runner for now… “Let’s Go Wrestling! Wrestling Sucks!”

Get Back to the Shop. I admit it, everyone. I gave up buying weekly comics. It wasn’t a logistic or financial decision either. It was one grown from malaise. Too many predictable beats from the big two… and too little knowledge about the “not big two” to know what to buy, and what not to try. In the end, I opted to read someone else’s books, and even then… not with any rhyme or reason. Over at MichaelDavisWorld, my review column enjoyed my new approach to “read anything,” but on a personal level, I lost the personal connection I had to my favorite characters. So, in 2014, I’m vowing to find my passion for the medium I create in to become a reader once again. And while I’m likely to continue to stray away from much of the Big Two’s offerings… I don’t think I’ll be missed. Instead, I’ll be making a more concerted effort to seek the stronger smaller-press books that are made by those I might dare to say work even harder than those who are enjoying tenure on prestigious titles.

Give Up Worthless Gaming. Candy Crush Saga and Tetris have a place. They belong on my phone, to be dusted off when I’m in those rare waiting rooms where I have no choice but to distract myself with said phone. I’ve lost perhaps whole days worth of my time to the crushing of digital candies… all for what? Unlocking the next level that frustrates me until I tell myself it’s OK to drop a buck to buy the cheat to win. I’ve only done it a handful of times, but frankly? That’s handful too many. Instead, I’ll resolve to fill my time with more creative endeavors. Just as I can “zone out” whilst swapping striped and wrapped tokens, I can do much the same flatting or inking my work. This leads me to the big one:

Publish Two New Issues and Start The Next Series for Unshaven Comics. In 2013, Unshaven Comics was able to produce only one new issue. Granted we still crushed our sales records, but it almost felt like a hollow victory. The key here is that we (Unshavens…) have only two issues left to produce for our first real mini-series. “The Curse of the Dreadnuts” when finished, will immediately be ready to pull together into our first real graphic novel. Pair that with a foreword by Mike Gold, and an afterward by John Ostrander (see how I’m beginning to beg already!) and a gallery of pin-ups from appropriate friends? We’ll have ourselves a real piece of work that we just might find a way to get into those aforementioned local comic shops. Dare we to dream of a world where the Samurnauts are a known name without our siren’s song of “Excuse me! Can I tell you about my comic book?”

A boy can dream. A boy can dream. Be well, my friends and fans (c’mon, I’ve got to have a few by now, right?). Cheers to a nerdy new year.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger

 

Marc Alan Fishman: A Hanukkah Story

Fishman Art 131228I’m Jewish. Shocking, no? And as such, this time of year always bestows upon me (and my kin) an interesting level of ignorance to the festivities. While I did celebrate Christmas due to a family member (of goyish decent) throwing an annual party, we, the Jewish relatives, simply called it late Hanukkah and enjoyed the time together as I’m sure so many of you non-Jews do.

The interesting ignorance though, came from the obviously odd faux-nicety that spread throughout the land. Because of this, the one day seemingly all stores can close without ill-tidings, suddenly we’re all nice to one another? Not that I’m knocking it, mind you. But it always struck me odd that the celebration of the birth of the messiah (which historians all concluded wasn’t anywhere near December) could bring with it the notion that everyone should suddenly be nice. As I grew up, it became even odder as Christmas continues to lose any spiritual connection and becomes increasingly secular. Plus, it’s pretty easy to see Christians co-opted the Pagan Winter Solstice,  just to be mean about it. But I digress.

One of the biggest conundrums that struck my many friends growing up was my definitive lack of love and fondness for holiday movies. Perhaps due to my overly-zealous mother telling me at a very early age that Santa wasn’t real and even if he was, he wouldn’t visit me anyways… I just never saw much reason to get doe-eyed for some Claymation classics. Home Alone? Sure, I loved that flick. But more because of the freedom I could see having myself should my parents just leave me be. As a revelatory cinema de festive though, nay I say.

When I met my wife, it was mid-January. Our first date hovered close to Valentine’s Day. We’d moved in together in the summer. By the time we’d made it to our first December, my love was all a’flutter putting up fake trees, hanging stockings, and gleefully prancing about our junior one-bedroom apartment because A Christmas Story was to be played 24 hours, non-stop, on basic cable. Near a year with my baby, and I’d no idea she swooned over such a throw-away flick. No sooner did she pirouette to the couch did I crush her spirit when I declared simply “… huh. Never saw that one. Looked boring though.”

Well, she’d have nothing of it! My ass was duck-taped to the couch, eyelids pried open with medical equipment (with the whole eye-dropper dealie above it, of course), and I was made to absorb the film whilst she creepily monitored my every reaction.

Oddly… I loved it. Loved every second of it. From the first establishing shots declaring a setting not unfamiliar to myself (a South Suburban Chicagoan knows well of Gary, IN), to the final scenes closing in on a Jewish tradition of Chinese Food (Which, honestly, I didn’t know was a thing)… here was yet another cinematic celebration of materialism, and familial love that I’d only seen dozens of times before. But unlike any other viewings, with this sleeper-of-a-film, I’d actually drawn an honest emotional connection.

Ralpie’s desire for that perfect toy, and how it permeated everything in and around his life was very close to my own greedy little-childhood. And just as he was defeated around every corner, I too, recalled many a Nintendo game left on the shelf, whilst I was dragged away in utter agony. Then, the fateful morning. Gift-wrapping strewn about. Gleeful chortles of a younger brother getting toy after toy. The inevitable gift of not-toys (shudder… clothing!). When all hope was lost, I felt for poor Ralphie now coming to grips with the end of his innocence (You can’t always get what you want… sayeth the philosopher Jagger I believe). It’s only then, when that maturity washes over Ralphie that the old man gets that glimmer in his eye. He steps over to a desk, and out from a hiding spot presents his son with one more gift. The return of hope. The rekindling of the spirit within. The damned toy he wanted… right there for him! And, yeah, he shoots his eye out, yadda yadda yadda.

A Christmas Story was for me the first holiday-centric media I’d consumed that did not ultimately declare itself worthless treacle in my eyes. It was a story rooted in innocence and reality, elevated not with effects or deus ex machina like Krampus and the like. It was a celebration of people taking that extra step to be kind to their kin and fellow man. Not because of spiritual necessity… but because of the desire to be better human beings if only for a short time before it be forgotten.

With that being said, I hope all of you enjoyed your winter celebrations. Be safe this New Years Eve, kiddos.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Marc Alan Fishman: How To Succeed In Comics Without Really Trying

Fishman Art 131221Consider this a free lesson in becoming a rich and successful writer, be it in Hollywood, comic books, TV, movies… whatever. Yes kiddos, you too can be a mega-player in the game if you follow my patent-pending advice. And since there’s no use to wasting time, let me get to them write now. Get it?

Copy someone better than you. See, I’m already gonna copy legendary John Ostrander, who in his article this very week gave out five tips to aspiring writers as well. But as you’ll learn, babe, it’s not about who did it first… just who does it next. I recall, fondly, that one of my professors at college had his intro to screenwriting class begin the year by dissecting their favorite romantic comedy for structure, and then literally rewrite it according to the corresponding skeleton etched out. Nifty, eh? So when the chips are down and your screen is blank, just boot up Netflix, and get prepared to appropriate your masterpiece.

Retcon it, reboot it, or make a prequel/sequel! Why waste your time creating an original piece of work when you can start where someone else started? As a natural next-step of copying someone who is better than you, you can get oodles of dollars by simply refraining from even considering originality as an option. DC Comics may have canceled a Batman series recently, but you best believe that someone else will fill in the slot the second they see an uptick in BatSales. It’s their New52 M.O.: when sales spike, it’s time to expand! Justice League look good? Make it dark! Make it American! Make it StormWatch! Err… Simply put, if you want to be a resource to those folks who sign the big checks? Then be prepared to take on the franchise when the original creator is off doing whatever it is “artists” do. Remember, you want to be writer… not an artist.

When the editor says “Jump”, already be in the air. When you’re in the air? Be screaming “Is this high enough?!” You see, in today’s market, the writer is just another tool in the box. One need not be “good” as much as “serviceable.” When he-who-signs-the-paychecks demands you kill a character off, or refrain from being “too gay,” you salute them, thank them for their bold choices, and immediately write exactly what they’re looking for. If they’re vague? See tips #1 and #2 above. You can never go wrong by pitching to them that which they already know. At the end of the day, they want money. The market proves to us day in and day out that one need not break barriers, blow minds, or explore new territory with our creative fiction. What sells today is what sold yesterday… with a shiny new coating.

Kill off as many characters as needed to feel edgy. Look kids: sex and death sell. Nothing in fiction is off limits. Hell, they killed a major character on Family Guy not even a month ago, and boom, he’s back. Captain America? Time bullet. Batman? Time warp. Thor? Ragnorak. The X-Men? Time vortex. Get violent if you need to. Hell, Man of Steel and The Avengers leveled near entire cities to make their point. Better yet, they gave away the secret to how you end things afterwards. Want your audience to leave with a knowing smirk on their face? Have your heroes be a bit witty amidst the wanton destruction, and maybe let them get a sandwich. Need your audience to feel remorse for all the devastation? Have your hero scream in agony, and then end on the witty retort. Boom. Roll the credits, and whatever you do… Do not forget the stinger. Thanks to Mickey, we have to end everything, and then end it again. Or, pull a Jackson: end your piece, and then end it eight more times. Each time make it gayer and more emotionally despondent. People eat that crap up like McRibs.

Remember that the critics, fans, et al don’t matter anymore. In the age of the Internet, everyone is a critic. Thanks to news sites, blogs, somehow-still-alive newspapers, social media, et cetera, every new release is covered by hundreds of would-be pundits. No matter your score, trust me, you’re fine. If you deliver an atrocity? You’ll pop up on everybody’s Worst Of lists, and your sales will spike as rubber-neckers come to guffaw. Get a middle of the road review? Just head to the comment section, and accuse yourself (anonymously) of being gay, racist, or a gay-racist. Then, as yourself, open up an Instagram account, and post angst-riddled notes of how depressing your life is. Soon enough, they’ll forget if your work was any good anyways. Hell, go apeshit and you could end up like Charlie Sheen. He went AWOL, and nabbed a 20/90 backend multi-season pickup for a show so by-the-book, most scripts are handled via an AOL mad-lib generator.

As far as fans go, just know that you’re safe. When you do an acceptable job writing up the expectable (it is a word now.), only elitist Onion readers will get up in arms. Do you really care if a horn-rimmed glasses wearing, curly mustachioed, corduroy and bow-tie bedazzled Arcade Fire fan thinks your work is shallow and pedantic? Do you mind that I just lifted a line straight off The Simpsons? Of course you don’t! At the end of the day, you want a paycheck and a fluffy credit. I want a yes-man. It’s a win-win situation.

The key to this all is simple. The world is going to end eventually. You’re either going to be frozen is actual carbonite (rich people have the technology – for real) or buried in a pine box right off the highway. It’s your call. Live and eat well by doing what they tell you to do, or have a backbone and visible ribs. The choice is yours. Your foolproof plan is laid out above.

When you’re famous, do me a solid and link back to this article. I’m cold, and extra readers keeps my furnace running.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Marc Alan Fishman: I Don’t Know Who I Am Anymore

Fishman Art 131214The actor/writer/comedian/rapper/not-Spider-Man Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, recently released his new album ‘Because the Internet.” On said album, Glover, amongst other tirades about money and how he has it, exclaims in a solemn tone… “I don’t know who I am anymore”. This is precluded by lyrics revolving around what one might assume his life is like these days – facing criticism from random strangers, texts from other strangers, and general haters being hateful– and as such, the line hits home pretty harshly. We’ve all been there, right?

Shortly after hearing that line though, adjoined to others like “No one’s ever been this lost”, “Funny the day you born that’s really your death sentence”, and the gem “Eventually all my followers realize they don’t need a leader” I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth. Glover’s alter ego is a pessimistic child with too much money, who has the gall to bitch about it. As a person only two years older then he, with a wife and a kid, a day job and a night job, I not only can’t relate to him… I can’t even accept the notion of where he’s coming from. More to the point? I wrote angsty lyrics like this too– in high school, when I couldn’t get laid.

With that being said? I give Glover all the credit in the world. He’s branching out, and attempting to explore the arts as a whole, rather than celebrate singular successes. As an award winning writer on 30 Rock turned lovable ensemble cast-member in Community, Donald could ostensibly ride out the well-wishes of white America for a good long time. Instead, he’s toured the country doing comedy, making movies, and of course rapping. And rather than rap as a happy-go-lucky kid who is just gosh-darned pleased-as-punch to be a success… he instead turned inward (and in an odd turn perhaps as an alter-ego if you will) to produce something new and unexpected. Granted, I don’t know Donald beyond the NBC stuff, so as it were… I was caught off guard. While I may not like the fruits of his labor, I can indeed respect the hustle. But I digress.

Those of us who proclaim the title of artist should all adopt a simple philosophy: never stop learning. An artist in my humble opinion, is someone who not only creates but challenges him or herself to continue to learn, adapt, and reinterpret ourselves and our creations. While I could easily spend paragraphs waxing on about musicians exploring other genres (Billy Joe of Green Day doing an Everly Brothers cover album, anyone?), or writers creating a new nom-de-plum so they could try their hand at something unexpected … I’d prefer to focus solely on those within our coveted realm of comic bookery.

With the continual allure of crowd-funding readily available for those with semi-famous names, great artists like Gene Ha are taking time off (in his case to do some much-needed house work) and considering going creator-owned. Even if it’s for a single project, seeing things like that are very exciting to a guy like me. Creator-owned means creator-controlled. It’s an exploration less of what will immediately be made for a specific market (that is to say… sell well) and perhaps more a leap of faith by an artist seeking to expand beyond what has merely drawn a paycheck. Look perhaps at our patron saint of crankiness, Alan Moore, who high above in his castle, now works when (or if) he chooses, and only when it strikes him to. As an artist, I can’t help but respect the moxie. Of course, if I’d written Watchmen… I might have the means with which to be choosier. Then again, my comic books are made on my own dime, and as such, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing anyways– just not as lucratively.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a step back to commend my arch nemesis, Dan Dougherty, and my friend by-way-of-the-con-circuit Jon Michael Lennon. Both gentlemen as of late have shown considerable leaps of inspiration and as such have been producing some of the best art I’ve seen from either of them. This is devoid of editorial mandate, mind-you. Dougherty’s Touching Evil is a self-published masterpiece in the same vein as Revival. Here the normally jovial Dougherty (a.k.a. Beardo) http://www.gocomics.com/beardo opts to write and draw a serious story with mature themes and an amazing blend of noir-twinged scripting married to a more serious style in his visuals. The result is one of the best comics I’ve read all year. Lennon, normally producer of amazingly-dark anthologies has had an artistic second-coming as of late. With an upcoming gallery show, Lennon’s Crumb-esque work has grown into singular pieces of art. Devoid of context, with a more potent eye for graphic design… the works are a step forward for him such that I can’t help but feel his next foray into “Product of Society” will be leaps and bounds above the previous installments.

Just as Glover drops what could be just a friendly facade to become Childish Gambino, so too, must we within the realm of comic books free ourselves from our self-imposed hells. Just because it sells doesn’t mean it needs to be made. If we are to call ourselves artists then we must act as such. The greats never stop learning, exploring, and challenging themselves. Here at the precipice of a new year, perhaps we creative-types ought to consider losing more that just a bad habit or two as a resolution. Instead, we should take a page from Gambino, and take the opportunity to get lost, and then find ourselves again. Cheers.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Roguish Charm

Fishman Art 131207Happy Saturday, ComicMixers. I hope you all grew a bit too fat because of your gluttonous Thanksgiving feasts, fractured your hips whilst storming the gates of big box retailers on Black Friday (because you really needed that 65” 3D flat screen with cappuccino maker at 80% off), and have since settled back into the doldrums of another bleak and cold winter. Yes, that’s right. I hope for your depression. Your pain. Your sadness. Why you ask? Because, Mr. Bond… everyone loves a villain.

Villains are more fun to write, are they not? Villains can do what we can’t. Say what we won’t. Fight dirty, and then laugh all the way to the loony bin. Villains can cheat. They can lie. And they love to steal. They vex our heroes, and force them to define themselves. In much of the fiction we nerds adore… it’s the villains that truly make our heroes. But what then, makes the villain great?

The keystone to all great villains starts with motivation. Without a driving purpose, a villain (or really almost any character) is a waste of space on the page / screen / what-have-you. At their cores, some nefarious ne’er-do-wells are ultimately about nothing more than pure chaos. Veritable forces of nature – think Doomsday and his ilk – tend to enjoy the decimation of the universe. Other thinkier sinners may have less base-instinct for kabooms, as much as a need to simply horde money, power, women, et al. Arch-nemeses existence ultimately centers around a singular entity through which their evil deeds all align towards. As we’ve seen in several instances, without his Dark Knight to motivate him, the Joker (perhaps the quintessential arch-nemesis if ever there were one) is rendered useless. Scratch that. Minus the bat, Puddin’ is merely banal. At the end of the day, it’s those underlying conjectures that are needed to add the gravity to real villainy.

Motivation aside, the quality villains come well-equipped. Be it with metallic tentacles, an Infinity Gauntlet, or just an amazing intellect, good villains trump their heroes’ arsenal at almost every turn. The ideology of solid story-telling is to create that all-too-important anti-climax, that moment where you truly ask yourself “How in the world can they win?” The best villains though, are more than means to an end. When faced with opposition, the best villains do the unexpected, be it with with sheer force in numbers, an opportune slight-of-hand, or a nasty reveal. Recall Lord Vader pulling the trigger on Alderaan. Or perhaps Ozymandias, what with his “Oops, I already enacted the evil plan… like 30 minutes ago, dudes.”

In pro-wrestling nothing is more beloved by smart-marks than a great heel turn. When Hulk Hogan sprayed that nWo logo onto the freshly beaten chest of the Macho Man Randy Savage, the crowd erupted. Children cried. Old men high-fived. After a decade of flag waving and vitamin eating, Hogan got to blame the fans and give out more than a few nut-shots. Great bookers (thems be the writers behind the scenes, dontcha know) understand that nothing puts their baby-face over harder than finally being able to topple the hated heel. Nothing makes that heel more hated than doing everything possible to be hated. Much could be translated into the rest of the fictional worlds we dilly-dally around in.

I started out this li’l column declaring that everyone loves a villain. I say it because without opposition, there’d be no reason for heroes. In the real world we seek to create villains to justify our actions. Not to be too political here, but let’s be honest: not too long ago, a very powerful man accused another powerful man of having doomsday devices in his secret lair. And like all good heroes, we put on our special capes and super suits, and all but salted the earth where that villain camped out in an effort to keep our loved ones safe. And while many would second guess the call to arms without real evidence… we all just knew that the villain was always up to something. I mean, crap, a while back, the guy had beef with our guy’s father! At the end of the day, these are the stories we need to tell ourselves to go to sleep feeling safe. In this world, real villainy is less a singular physical being as much as a collection of prejudices, ignorance, and abstracts.

Lucky for us, in the end, the villains always lose. Luckier still, the best villains we know will remain forever in fiction. As the poet Linnell said… “I don’t want the world. Just your half.”

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Who. Who? Who!

Fishman Art 131130Yeah. I know. I’m last on the bandwagon, yet again. But that’s OK, kiddos. I found Nirvana well after Kurt Cobain passed away. As many of you would also note, I found Star Trek: The Original Series just a little over a year ago. Funny enough, that was one of my most popular columns. For all the nerd-rage that exists when we poke and prod one another about our loves, we’re also the first sub-culture to embrace noobies with the unbridled passion of 1000 angry Daleks. That’s joyful rage though, so it’s all good. A bit over a week ago, I became of a fan of Doctor Who. Whovians, take me into your bosom. Move the celery stalk first.

A bit of backstory to begin. Unshaven cohort Kyle Gnepper has long been an outskirt Who-fan. Unshaven cohort Matt Wright also partook of the good Doctor upon subscribing to Netflix. My own timey-wifey has been a fan for quite some time as well. Heh. As we are all apt to do when everyone we know is in to something, we feel the latent pressure to join in the rapture. So, on occasion, I tried. And tried. And tried again.

Each time, the same feeling would pass over me. I’d glare at a Dalek, or a Cyberman, or whatever the thing-of-the-week was, and I’d scoff. Even ladled with every well-budgeted CGI and modeling trick, the episodes reeked to me of technical limitations. Much as I’d railed against Trek, I couldn’t find the suspension of disbelief due to the constraints of a TV budget. And much like Trek, what was really missing was my understanding and appreciation for characterization.

If you’ll allow me one more deviation off the pathway before I gush over “The Day of the Doctor” special… it’s the aforementioned note of characterization that I need to extrapolate on. Take Firefly. There, Fox supplied Joss Whedon with a budget that made his sci-fi romp visually appealing at the get-go. Without the stigma of eww, this looks like it cost pennies to make, I was quicker to give the show a try (still way late and well after the show was DOA). As much as I wanted to hate the show, like so many before me, I was enchanted by the roguish charms of Captain Mal. I bought into the character, and quickly thereafter, I bought into the show. The same could be said for my finding love in other series like House, Modern Family, and more recently Hannibal (which I can’t wait to return). The common factor here is simple: my adoration is bestowed to shows (and comics, movies, et al) that give us strong characterization.

Now, onto Who. As I’d said briefly above, I’d given myself several chances to fall in love. Each time, I was met with an odd fellow who dazzled my friends, but confounded me. His mannerisms, his oddness, his aloofness irritated me. And when I’d make an attempt to find the hook of The Doctor, I’d be met with either terse explanations (“It’s just how he is, in this incarnation…”) or lengthy diatribes that attempted to cram decades of knowledge into a tight ten-minute lecture. In both events, I simply didn’t get it. Much with Trek, it would take me having to clear my head of preconceived opinions and walk into things blindly.

After dinner with my parents, my wife, son and I retired to the casa del pescador. I’d noted that somewhere around the 8:30 hour the living room TV was still blaring. You see, that is typically night-night time round these parts. But there, wide awake, sat my young scion and my lovely lady partaking of the Doctor. Figuring it would be best for me not to attempt to daddy-lecture my own wife as to the importance of adhering to a strict schedule, I opted instead for what all us white people do when we want to make a point, but fear confrontation: I sat in the same room silent, in hopes that waves of passive-aggression would communicate my feelings.

What? (See what I did there, Michael Davis?)

And so, I sat for the better part of an hour, watching “The Day of the Doctor.” With three Doctors sharing screen space, I was curious. David Tennant with his sand shoes, Matt Smith with his fussy hands, and John Hurt with his John Hurtiness. They occupied the same space, playing iterations of the same character. Different lives, but ultimately the same consciousness. And between them, a history, a future, and a mantra I had not heard until then.

“Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in.” And there it was. Just as I’d found my love of Trek via Kirk’s labido and Bones’ testicular fortitude. Just as I’d found my love of House via his unseen pain and self-doubt (and because it’s fun to watch him be a jerk). Here was The Doctor, making the hard choices, living and reliving moments in his lifetime, and decidedly declaring a purpose. This was to me the same as the oath of a Green Lantern, or Truth-Justice-and-the-American-Way.

When I’d posted on Facebook that I’d found a love for the character and now decided to jump in with the new season to come… I was pelted with more comments than I’d seen in the last year. Seems the whole world had become Whovian without me, but were quick to open their Tardi (Tardidisisisisis?) to me with open arms and weee-oooo-weee-oooo’ing sonic screwdrivers. For the record, I liked Tennant just a bit more than Smith (sorry, that Fez ain’t cool, no matter what he says), and Hurt more than either of them (“Why are you pointing those things? What are you going to do, assemble them a bookshelf?”). Doctor Who is about a hero who fights the good fight for all the universe, through all times. That I can certainly get behind. And now? I look forward to the future… the past… and all the timey-wimey in between.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Marc Alan Fishman: The Shoot Promo on Comics

Fishman Art 131123The professional wrestler C.M. Punk truly made his mark and broke free of the shackles of mid-card obscurity by way of his infamous pipe bomb shoot promo. For those not in-the-know, a shoot in wrestling is an interview (or soliloquy some of the time) wherein said grappler breaks the fourth wall. As relived in this week’s WTF podcast, Punk was vivid in saying that this promo was done because he was at the end of his rope.

With the WWE wanting him to resign for three more years and Punk decidedly against continuing to not be the guy on the roster, Vince McMahon allowed him to air his grievances live on their Monday night broadcast. If Punk captured the zeitgeist, he’d be a made-man forever in wrestling (which, by my count, is a little over two years). If he failed, he’d be gone, buried back in VA halls wrestling for gas money, and be nothing more than a footnote in WWE’s now 50-year history.

The shoot worked. Punk resigned, and ruled the company with an iron fist until he literally could give no more. The glass ceiling was shattered on the “norm” of the product, and wrestling now is forever changed. Well, maybe not, but I’ll circle back round that idea in a bit.

Why do I bring this up? Well, for one, because it’s topical to me. I was just listening to the podcast on my way home from work tonight. Beyond that, it dawned on me that with all the coverage and snark that exists in the world of comics… there is no C.M. Punk. There is no shoot promo to cut, on any live broadcast. There’s only guys like me; indie creators and op-ed columnists chasing windmills and yelling into the wind. But this here is my stage. This here is my time. So, allow me to speak ill of the industry I wish every damned day I was a part of, but know full well I’ll never actually see.

The WWE’s CEO lives a double life as an on-screen performer. He enjoys his product not only for the money it makes but for the crafted product it actually is. Warner Bros and Disney are just faceless boardrooms ruled not by the glee in little kids’ faces, but cold hard cash. Their publishing branches exist for one reason, and one reason only: to keep the movie and TV machines churning. Don’t think for a second that your issues of Batman mean any more to the execs in Burbank than a roll of teepee. It doesn’t. That rag in your hands? The one that has the blood, sweat, and tears of a dozen hard working men and women broiled into its pulp? It’s an incubator of ideas for a movie or cartoon show. It’s a crockpot keeping the license warm. It’s a mosquito light that keeps the most vocal fans distracted. Go ahead, post your death threats if we make Afflec Batman… but hey! Look over there! It’s Zero Year!

We all desire the notion that those behind the rich mahogany desks (being packed up in Midtown Manhattan in 18 months) lie overgrown fanboys and girls that just want to knock the socks off us, the ever-enduring fans of a dying medium. But it too is just a pipedream. The suits that run your comic book publishing companies are shackled to boulders far too big to drag up the mountain. Beyond the goodwill garnered by our little niche market, and the fervent fans that exist at comic cons lie those aforementioned suits in bigger boardrooms that still demand that at the end of the day everything be profitable. Profits occur when sales increase. Sales increase when gimmicks, #1s, and creators that draw a crowd are given the top spots. When a book stops earning what meager profits it can when it’s hot, it’s tossed out with the bathwater and things start again. The era of continuity is long dead. All hail the retcon.

The closest thing we had to C.M. Punk in comics was Robert Kirkman. He took his indie prowess and love of the craft and turned out The Walking Dead. Now, Kirkman is a suit. Behind a desk. Of a multi-media empire. He won the championship belt, and didn’t even have to work for the man to do it. Now, he is the man, and no longer a voice of the voiceless. Like so many though, atop his mountain of money many years ago he gave birth to his manifesto wherein he challenged the industry to veer towards creator-owned projects. Hey Robbie! Trickle-down economics don’t work in real life or in comics. If every known talent jumped off their pedestals at Marvel and DC to come make indie books at Dark Horse, Image, and Boom! the line to replace them would still be wrapped around the vacant Midtown offices and land somewhere in the opposite ocean. Everyone is replaceable when the end goal is product. Not good product. Just product.

The fact is this: After he changed the world and held the WWE title for longer than any wrestler in the last two decades or so, Punk took a much-needed break. When he returned, he was just as our resurrected Jean Greys, Steve Rogers, or Hal Jordans… a hero to be celebrated for what he was, not who he is now. A long and listless program against his on-screen mentor, and Punk is now booked right back in the mid-card where he started. The comic book industry has no panacea to cure itself of the ills we rally against. Just as the WWE fans buy their John Cena Fruity Pebbles Lunchboxes… so too do we comic fans flock to every worthless gimmick they shove on the racks. We make our excuses, we plunk down our money, and we bitch about it on the Internet later.

The only way to make change, is to make it. There is no utopia. There’s only revolution.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Good Will Fishman

Fishman Art 131116This past week I was honored to be invited back to my alma mater, the Herron School of Art, to give a lecture on my journey “From Starving Artist to Comic Book Publisher.” I spoke for about 45 minutes and afterwards took a few questions, and then sold a few dozen books. All in all, it was a humbling experience, and perhaps the turning of a page in my book of life.

Artistically speaking, my prowess has always been largely introspective. In high school, as much as everyone was self-absorbed, I excelled at it. I took the angst and strife of not getting a date and watching my best friends dry-hump in the hallways and made haute art out of it. Come to think of it, I could have really amped my game up if I’d done a piece commemorating the near-daily visual of dry-humping.

Alas, I chose self-portraiture as my joie de vivre. The idea being that my life – that of a typical, mid-western, suburban, Jewish in name and Bar Mitzvah boy only – could be regurgitated lovingly on board and canvas as such to eventually be called fine art.

Moving on to college, as much as I continued to have aspirations of becoming a comic-book maker, the story of my life continued to be what I presented. In a manner of speaking, my art started to resemble an auto-mockumentary, turning my existence into high entertainment based solely on the fact that I was in fact that awesome. People got a kick out of it, and so did I. It was only after I graduated when the trough of life-events grew emptier, that I finally had the wherewithal to look beyond my very Jewish nose.

Here of course is where you know the-rest-of-the-story. Unshaven Comics is commissioned to make a book by a Chicago publisher. We do it. We learn from it. We decide to break out on our own. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Here’s the thing. In the time between when I formed the company to the time I commemorated it in a lecture in front of a packed auditorium, I got married, bought a house, and became a father. If ever there was a time for me to return to fine art, this would be it, no? Now, I have the glorious content my life was devoid of only years prior! But alas, dear reader… it is not.

Perhaps it’s the wisdom of the years passed that has granted me the maturity enough to know that my legacy will be far more than a worthless collection of portraiture denoted a life lived as many others before and after will lead. Instead, I realize my legacy is very much within the pages and panels of Unshaven’s pure fiction. It’s in my offspring. It’ll be in the heads of those I’ve touched in my time on this mortal coil. John’s piece this past week dealt beautifully with the complex emotions of life and death. I’d be remiss to that much of the reason I chose the arts was to deal with my own near-paralyzing fear of death.

So, it was there in the semi-darkened Basile Auditorium of Eskenazi Hall that I reached a catharsis. So much of my life story has been celebrated – in jest and in reality – such that here, some 10 years after I hung up my woodcut tools for a dayjob, I have in fact lived a third of my life without rampant documentation. I think it was the philosopher Bueller who said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Truer words may never have been spoken, Ferris.

It’s good to know in the next chapter of my harrowing tale, the best is truly yet to come. With my brothers-from-other-mothers, I will be able to continue to tour our country and make new friends and fans. With my ComicMix cohorts, I will glean sage advice in both publishing, and barbeque. With my son and wife, I will find joy in parts of my life relived through new eyes. And with you kiddos? I’ll continue to pretend I’m that damned awesome.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Marc Alan Fishman: How to Meet Your Heroes*

Fishman Art 131109*And not stick your foot in your mouth, come across like an idiot, or otherwise embarrass yourself.

The other day I hopped into Facebook because, you know, why not be pseudo-social, right?. I noted in my news feed that the show-runner from the Kokomo (Indiana) Comic Con was pleading to his friends, customers, and followers to help him live a dream – to secure Denny O’Neil for the 2014 Kokomo Comic Con. I figured since I shared column space with the living legend, I might be able to lend a hand. I made some introductions via e-mail, and well… the gentlemen are ironing out the details. Suffice to say, I love their con, and hope to see Denny there next year. Heck, I hope I see John, Mike, Michael, Emily, Martha, Mindy, Adriane, Glenn and everyone who reads my column there! But then again, like the aforementioned show-runner, I am a dreamer.

Several times throughout my life I’ve been able to meet men and women I greatly admired. And in every instance I wedged my foot so far down my mouth, I passed shoelaces. It’s taken many years, many opportunities, and a few lucky breaks to finally figure out the best way to meet someone I admire and come out of said meeting with my feet solidly beneath me. Consider this my three easy steps for not making the same mistakes I did.

Look where you are.

When you come across that special celebrity / comic writer / artist / C-List celebrity from a reality show you enjoyed back in 2008, do yourself a favor and look where you’re about to initiate a conversation. Are you bumping in to them in a coffee shop or are you in a receiving line at a convention? Context is key. If you’re running into them in a setting where they might be trying to live their life, be considerate. Yes, they may hold significance to you and your life would not be complete without telling them exactly how they’ve impacted your experiences as a night nurse in the Lackawanna County Jail… but let them get that cup of coffee. If they don’t look like they are in a terrible hurry, then go on, cowboy.

How did I learn this lesson? I ran into Mark Waid at the Chicago Comic Con about a decade ago. He was perusing some long boxes deep in the heart of the dealer room. Without warning, amidst hauling out a pile of Scrooge McDuck comics, I bolted up to him, and immediately started blabbing away. He smiled, gave me a curt answer to one of the 1,000 questions I stammered out, and pulled his focus back towards the dealer. I turned a brighter shade of red, and limped away. Flash Fact: Creators don’t walk the show floor looking to be interviewed. Sometimes they’re just enjoying being a fan.

Think before you speak.

I know it’s cliché. But it’s a long-standing piece of advice for a reason. A big thing we geeks tend to forget in mid-frenzy is that our heroes are in the industries we love… but that doesn’t automatically make them as fervent, opinionated, or as knowledgeable in the minutiae of their specific craft as we may be. I like to equate this to the person at the office party who bends his co-workers ears off about work. Your heroes are people. They have likes and dislikes that don’t always align perfectly with what they do for a living. While I myself love talking comics, I also love the Chicago Bears, haute cuisine, and the acoustic-stylings of the Barenaked Ladies. So too, might Wil Wheaton have more interest in the finer points of liberal politics over phaser settings.
Simply put, when you have an opportunity to have a little repartee with an esteemed person of note? Be original. Sure, you can tell them you love their work. But in the day and age of the Internet, Wikipedia, and social media, why not have a question about something outside of the norm? I’ve found that when I catch someone off guard with a question, comment, or anecdote they weren’t expecting? It breaks the ice, and moves the conversation beyond the normal small-talk that dissipates without even a lingering memory. My case in point: Pitching to Dan DiDio to buy my book because the stickers I threw in with the deal “are totally better than those ten cent rings you’re giving away for Blackest Night.” And you know what? He bought the book, and laughed.

Remember it’s not a pitch meeting, job interview, or investment opportunity.

When you come face to face with someone you admire, there just might be that catch in your throat… that little voice in your head that says “Hey, when will you ever have this chance again! Tell them about how you can save the franchise!” Obviously though, it’s not gonna happen. Trust me when I tell you this: I’ve spent the last five years finding every way possible to dance around the idea that I’m one joke, one conversation, one chance blurb away from landing that big gig I’ve always wanted. I’m now older, wiser, and weary; conventions are where deals get started, yes, but not because you want them too.
I’ve been lucky enough to have breakfast with a CEO of a company I would shave my face to be a part of. I broke literal bread with the man. I was witty. I listened attentively. I asked leading questions. I even got an industry veteran to vouch for what good work I was doing. And you know what? I’m not working with that company now, and can safely say it’s not on the horizon either. Lucky for me, the breakfast was damned tasty and the next time I saw that CEO he waved hi and asked me how Unshaven Comics was doing.

Sorry for going a bit long today, kiddos. I’m just looking out for you. Next time you run into that retired wrestler, cosplaying sexy Spongebob, or Kevin Smith at the Quick Stop? Remember: look where you are, think before you speak, and don’t waste your opportunity to make a memory in lieu of begging for a job they don’t have the power to give you on the spot. Shake their hand. Tell them why you love their work. Ask about their favorite album released in the last year, and then leave on a laugh. Those coveted creators and celebrities are just human, and as such, it’s worth it to enjoy making a human connection with them.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Marc Alan Fishman: A Tale Of Two Cons

Fishman Art 131102This past weekend, Unshaven Comics closed its convention year out with Detroit Fanfare. In addition to the posh amenities of Dearborn’s finest hotel, we were also graced with the duty of completing a mitzvah: schlepping John Ostrander. Now, far be it from me to pelt you goyim with so much of the Jew-speak, but I’m finding myself a little verklempt. I’d ask that you talk amongst yourselves, but that would require you to skip to the comment bar before I have a chance to say something inflammatory.

Before we get to the meat and potatoes, I want to take a brief time-out to note just how awesome it was to drive John to and from the convention. Outside the small talk all near-strangers are prone to pelt back and forth, I’d like to think that even with as little as four or five hours in cars, or sharing meals, we Unshaven Lads got to know a hero and industry legend a bit more. Aside from sharing column space with the man and trading a few e-mails back and forth, my only other real experience with Mr. Ostrander was a few years back at Unshaven’s first foray at said Fanfare. We broke bread over the breakfast table one morning, and spent the majority of that ride home still convincing ourselves we’d had a meal with someone who took up significant shelf space in our private collections.

Aside from all the Ostrandering we did, Fanfare this year did as we’d hoped: it gave us an opportunity to see a sales gain from the previous year, meet up with old fans, make new ones, and spend just a little time making with the chit-chat amongst our fellow creators. That being said, I got more than a bit Jewy on the car-ride home, after we’d dropped off John. Matt and I, starving, stopped at a McDonalds on the way back to Chicago. Over fresh-from-the-fryer McNuggets (and screw it, real chicken or not, they are damn tasty when you’re starving), I looked over the hard numbers from the year. Specifically, the cost for our table verses the actual sales numbers we pulled down. And here is where the story gets interesting.

As per my witty title, it’s apropos that I open the lid on the jar of facts and figures for Detroit. Two times this year, Unshaven Comics made the trek to the Motor City. In the spring, we attended the aptly named Motor City Comic Con. Housed in nearby Novi, Michigan, the show boasts a large open convention center floor space and a multitude of celebrity guests. The big draws this year? Norman Reedus and Stan Lee. By the power of those names alone, the show suffered from what was later dubbed a humanity bomb, where fans literally waited hours outside the convention hall to even be able to walk in the doors. As creators, our table cost us $268. This was because the show-runners decided that each artist table would cover a single badge. Unshaven Comics’ trifecta-of-triumph required the purchase of two additional badges. By the end of the show, we’d sold 189 books. In 2012, we sold a scant 94 books. The increase of 101% in book sales was certainly enough to allow us to declare a stupendous victory.

Or so it would seem.

As noted, Detroit Fanfare is smart to wait long enough for fans to be hungry for con-goodness, some six months later. Also smart? The show opts to stay away from Detroit proper. The show takes over much of the Adoba Hotel and Suites. Far different from the Suburban Showplace, the hotel-centric con inhabits multiple ballrooms throughout the main floor. Media guests are also par for the course, with this years’ main delights including Billy West, John DiMaggio, and Tyler Mane, to name a few. Unlike Motor City, Unshaven detected no Humanity Bomb. All we really felt was a Walking Dead feeling to the fandom throughout the weekend. With multiple rooms to meander about, fans simply didn’t coagulate in waves like we’re used to in the big rooms. Instead, we simply saw a slow stream of passersby, many of whom were not in much mood to buy. That being said, we rounded out with 143 book sales, besting last year’s 126. Oh, and the table cost? $170, and that’s with the single extra badge we needed to purchase.

When I calculated the final costs of both shows – including gas, hotel, and meals – the numbers didn’t lie. The shows ended up netting Unshaven Comics nearly identical profit. Where Motor City showcased arguably larger stars and boasted a broader attendance, Fanfare’s more affordable table costs and attached hotel (with generous discount) offset a smaller audience. Motor City’s single-room show makes for better traffic flow, but Fanfare’s lower ticket price means fans more likely apt to purchase. At the end of the day, when Unshaven wants to work smarter, the devil is in the details. Fanfare occurs at the tail end of the year, when no other major shows tend to run. Motor City faces off against larger anime conventions and a few Comic Cons to boot. Now that we know we’ll end up with roughly the same amount of money from either? Well, I guess it’s just the best of times to be a lil’ indie publisher.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell