Author: Marc Alan Fishman

Marc Alan Fishman: A Con-nundrum

This weekend finds the Unshaven lads amidst the fine folks adjacent to our hometown at the Anime Midwest convention at Rosemont’s always-lovely Donald E. Stephens Center. The show itself marks our fourth time attending. I’d be lying if I said this particular anime show was our top choice; Anime Central for all intents and purposes is a bit larger fish by comparison to this mid-summer affair. Getting a table at A-Cen however, is like getting a job with the city of Chicago. As my Uncle Howard once lamented: “You have to know someone, owe them a favor, and then hold on to it for dear life.”

Uncle Howard’s version of that quote was far dirtier than presented. But I digress.

This show itself is fine and dandy – boasting an always energetic crowd who attend with money in their pockets and a song (that we can’t identify) in their hearts. That it’s our fourth year attending should no doubt quell any lingering fear of us being tepid on purchasing a table. And with no small press areas to be dubiously placed you won’t hear me complain about any sundry logistic issues.

No, instead you’ll hear me complain about an issue brought to our attention that has me in a dilly of a pickle.

Anime Midwest, along with a collection of several other mid-sized similarly themed conventions are helmed by one Ryan Kopf. I would like for you to go ahead and google “Anime Midwest Ryan Kopf.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

See where things get prickly?

For those too lazy to google, I want to tread lightly here. Suffice it to say, Mr. Kopf sets off more than a few alarm bells when placed into the ole’ search engine. He is connected to a large trail of word salad the includes creep, stalker, and several more I choose not to repeat here. Neither I nor anyone in Unshaven Comics knows Mr. Kopf personally. None of us, to our knowledge, have even met him. The folks we’ve worked with in conjunction with the con have always been genial and easy to work with. As attendees, they have given us access to a con suite with free ramen noodles, and their volunteer staff has always been helpful and friendly. But beyond those niceties comes now this blow to our decision to attend the show.

The sheer amount of anecdotal evidence that places Kopf in a litany of angry and spiteful feelings are enough to make Unshaven Comics think twice about attending this show – be it this year or any other in the future. Sadly, the table is paid for, the books ordered, and merch ready to go; to not attend is to derail necessary cash flow into our always-by-the-bootstraps-budget of our li’l studio. We have to be here, and you better believe we’ll sell the hell out of our wares until the show floor closes tomorrow afternoon.

But beyond that? We’ll be ghosts in the wind. Next year, when it comes to Chicago-based Anime Conventions, it’s A-Cen or bust.

The conundrum to this all… what irks me most… is the Devil’s Advocate that sits on my shoulder. Kopf is merely a piece to a puzzle that works without him. And should all that surrounds him be as accurate as my gut tells me it is (suffice it to say whilst doing research this week, several folks I know who know the man are quite clear in their agreement with much that Google identifies), well, can’t Unshaven Comics enjoy a good show in spite of him?

Certainly, the attending public either don’t know or don’t care. Converging with one another to enjoy a convention is one of the truest joys in comic bookery. Take Dragon Con; despite plenty of now-documented-and-accurate police action taken on the former leader of that Con, Atlanta’s crown jewel of geek fun continues to be a dominant gem for conventioneers abroad. One man, no matter the level of entrenchment he has at an event, necessarily sullies the entire show. The show goes on. Attendees come, revel, make memories, and leave without a single worry of who necessarily takes home the bag of cash at the registration desk.

It is my hope that Anime Midwest may seek to oust their would-be show-runner in much the same fashion as the aforementioned Dragon Con. There’s a gaggle of good people connected to this show Unshaven Comics absolutely wants to see happy and throwing one heck of a show every year. Conventions are hard business. It would be a shame to see one fall because a single bad apple sits at the top of an otherwise fine tree.

But as I said above: between my personal connections to those who vouch for the nature of Kopf, and the, shall we say, Bill Cosby-level of indictment that swirls around the man, Unshaven Comics need not argue with the Devil to make up our minds. There are plenty more fish in the sea. And until this particular piece of chum is removed from the hull of the show he created, our lines will be cast in cleaner waters elsewhere.

Marc Alan Fishman: That Moment That Makes You Feel Mortal

We here at ComicMix deal part-in-parcel with the capes and cowls. Super-powered beings who defy conventional laws of science, completing miraculous acts to save humanity from heinous villainy. Most folks on the outside looking in suppose that the fascination with our superheroes stems from the desire for escapism. Faced with our own mortal foibles and faults, we lust for the life that defies those insecurities – with laser vision, super strength, or any number of special skills and powers.

But I’d argue that while there exists that sci-fi appeal where our inner kid seeks out that which is totally cool, it’s those moments on the page (or on screen) where our heroes are most human that we truly find the best part of pulp fiction.

Bruce Wayne was a just a boy enjoying an amazing adventure at the movies with his parents. Depicted at an age where mom and dad were his heroes, we see the glee and unencumbered joy in his innocent face as his family exits the Monarch. Two flashes from the muzzle of a darkened revolver later, and Bruce loses everything. His heroes. His joy. His mentors. His innocence. His world shattered, we watch as he rebuilds himself in the name of justice and vengeance.

No matter what comes afterward – be it countless battles with colorful rogues, surviving devastating Earthquakes, or even accidentally being implicit in the destruction of the Justice League – we ultimately land back at those two shots fired that turned a boy into a lost soul. To change that origin, to remove that moment of mortality is to remove the sympathy that defines the single goal of Batman.

Peter Parker, imbued with the science-defying super-human properties of a spider, is able to become the antithesis to his normal self. A shy and introverted kid is given the power to let his id free. He gallivants to a local wrestling show to use his newfound powers for ill-gotten gains. I’ll spare you the rest; you know it all too well.

With the murder of dear Uncle Ben, Peter adopts the adage with great power comes great responsibility. That lesson, seated at the core of Spider-Man, is the moral nugget that defines the love we have for the character. Beyond all the web-slinging, trash-talking, and Mary Jane saving comes the guilt of a kid whose choices led the biggest loss in his life. That moment, that slip, makes the Amazing Spider-Man mortal.

In any story worth its salt, the conflict that arises must hold with it some connection to humanity. Be it man versus man, versus nature, or even versus himself, we as an audience must connect to something being presented in order to root our potential appreciation. When I think of a bad comic, a bad movie, or a loathsome TV show… more often than not what ultimately drags it down is that disconnect.

Think fondly of Star Wars: A New Hope. The retread of the heroes journey – reimagined as an epic space opera this time around – gives us Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, and Han Solo as our surrogates. The kid with wanderlust. The leader protecting her people. The asshole just trying to make a buck and live to see tomorrow. Through their eyes and actions, we see mortals with fears and dreams. We travel with them and succeed where they succeed.

Now, think of The Phantom Menace.

For the Star Wars apologists, I won’t deny there were attempts at adding a touch of humanity to the over-glossy under-written prequel. Anakin Skywalker is forced to choose between training with the Jedi or remaining a slave. He leaves his mother behind. Beyond that? Find me some mortal moments amidst the trade negotiations, pod-racing, and droid army fights. Good luck with that. Simply put, devoid of any real reason to care for our would-be Vader and pals… we get a wooden movie with a heart harder to find than on a Tin Man.

To close the loop, it’s this message: That moment that makes you feel mortal that cements my own work in completing The Samurnauts. As our pastiche to the Power Rangers and super sentai series abound, it’s been creating these moments throughout the mini-series that I hope sets us apart from the normally vapid source material from which we draw upon. By giving each of my heroes’ moments of doubt, dread, fear, pain, or suffering, I present to my would-be audience a cast of characters they can relate to. Beyond the wicked-cool immortal monkeys, giant robots, and Photoshopped blaster fire is a story about people trying to overcome their lesser selves. Whether they succeed or fail… so long as I show it on the page, I’m confident of the quality of the end-product.

No paper cuts necessary to see me bleed.

Marc Alan Fishman and the Rise of the Meninists

Meninist: A (satirical) belief showing the hypocrisy of first world feminism by flipping the sexes and complaining about men’s rights in a similar way to what first world feminists do.

Tip of the hat to ComicMix’s Adriane Nash for introducing me to the term via her always well-observed, vitriolic Facebook posts where she often denotes an active war being fought against stupidity – not just against meninists, but idiots from all genders and persuasions. And a polite nod to my comic book compatriot Danny Limor for the inspiration this week.

Is there something in the water these days? With DC finally enjoying both fan praise and box office dollars with the release of Wonder Woman, there’s been a definitive rise in the empowerment of women – if not in actual practice certainly at least via mentions and discussions on all the social feeds I frequent. And everyone is rightfully justified in the celebration of women. Wonder Woman was a phenomenal accomplishment – not because it is a well-written movie that is helmed stem to stern by a woman, but because it was finally a DC release that didn’t rely solely on gritty destruction and seething angst. It was a celebration of compassion and love – two concepts missing from anything else produced by the studio to date.

In our post-modern world, what is loved must also be reviled by the counter-masses. Hence the coined term at the beginning of this article. My feed has been popped here and there with “WTF” posts linking to articles that complain about Gal Gadot’s minuscule paycheck, screeds that posit Warner Bros installed some kind of glass ceiling to prevent the movie from succeeding, to backlash for having the utter gall to offer a presser of the movie to just women. It’s enough to drive me to carve out my Y chromosome in disgust.

Wonder Woman aside, the meninist agenda even crept its way into professional wrestling. At the Money In the Bank pay-per-view not a week back, a history-making titular ladder match specifically booked with just female performers was won by a man. The goal, clearly, to elicit heel heat – unabashed anger against the villains – but transparent enough to be unaccepted by smart fans. It was evident from the finish of the match that Vince McMahon’s creative team sought to be protective of their female talent, but in doing so missed the very point they celebrated with a video package pre-match! To have specifically called out that this was the first time the Money In the Bank Ladder match would have all female participants… only to cause the victor (The Queen of Staten Island, Carmella) to claim her prize by way of a male manager, reduces history to something fans will pray for retconning.

For those following along, the WWE heard the backlash loud and clear and stripped their superstar of her newly-acquired briefcase of doom. But much like the butthurt bloggers denied access to the all-lady Wonder Woman screening, it comes as too little, too late.

So, what gives? For every victory, there is defeat. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but seemingly everyone these days feels compelled to take a side – creating these now more vocal outliers who decry things that need no opposition. Wonder Woman was fantastic. The WWE’s female divisions – that’s right they have enough talent to field no fewer than three decent rosters full of femmes fatale – have literally never been more capable and captivating. To see a group of men who actively shun these things puts a knot in my stomach right next to the one formed by Trump supporters.

Women writ-large face a tougher time garnering the same riches (be it fame, fortune, or good old-fashioned respect). It’s a proven fact. One so well documented, I need not even provide you with an errant Google link’s worth of response. It doesn’t matter to a select few idiots, who thanks to the internet whose voice now carries louder and larger than ever necessary.

To proclaim the victories of women as an unbalancing is as absurd as electing a four-time bankruptee to the highest position of governing…

Nevermind. This is why we can’t have nice things, my fellow nerds.

Marc Alan Fishman: My Five Best Comic Book Meals!

Life is about balance. After last week’s screed on my personal health journey, it’s only fair I balance things out with a very gluttonous listing of my most favorite meals whilst being an indie creator. You see, a life in comics — part time, at least — find folks assembled around a table to break bread more often than you’d think. When logging in considerable hours at a convention, creators often will nibble here and there, and then run out of the expo hall in a mad dash for food when the con floor closes. Great minds have met over bowls of pasta and pizzas, whilst inking deals on Batman or the X-Men. Here are, in no particular order, five meals that remain stuck in between my teeth:

Miller’s Pub with Mike Gold

The first time ComicMix honcho Mike Gold asked Unshaven Comics to meet him for a meal, he chose Miller’s Pub in downtown Chicago. Prior to the lunch we shared, Mr. Gold was a fleeting presence at the Wizard World Chicago where we made our debut. The lovely late Linda Gold had stumbled across we Unshaven Lads, dying a slow and panicked death in Artist Alley. She listened to our pitch and promised to bring Mike by. After briefly meeting us, Mike and I exchanged e-mails post-show. When the opportunity arose to find Mr. Gold back in the Chicagoland area, he proposed a meeting of the minds. Over hot sandwiches and the first round of name-dropping stories we would succumb to hear on a yearly basis, Mike looked us in the eyes (as we demanded Unshaven Comics pick up the check) and said the kindest thing we’d ever hear in our careers: “Boys, I will do whatever I can to see you doing well in this business.” And let me tell you, nothing has ever tasted sweeter.

Breakfast Buffet with John Ostrander

A few years back, John asked us to pick him up at his house and drive him down to the Detroit Fanfare comic convention. We were more than happy to oblige. The next morning, he asked us to join him for breakfast. Amidst pans of bacon, lukewarm pancakes, and runny scrambled eggs, John waxed poetic about all sorts of things. Star Wars, the Suicide Squad, playwriting in Chicago, and even the secret origin of Wasteland all came tumbling out from John’s timid timbre. Matt, Kyle, and I sat in awe of an industry legend as he treated us as friends… not the drooling fanboys we were. And not to be undone by Mike Gold, John heaped a bit of praise on us (as we picked up the check): “Seriously, I don’t know how you guys do it. You have everything planned out to the nines. I’m in awe of you.” Not bad for the cost of a few plates of breakfast meat.

The CowFish with The Samurnauts

Unshaven Comics got greedy in 2013. Figuring we could sell tons of books by splitting up and covering more ground, we sent Unshaven Salesman 2000 (Kyle Gnepper) off to a show in Cincinnati whilst Unshaven Matt and I covered the HeroesCon in North Carolina. Knowing that sans-Kyle we’d be without our real power, our blue and yellow Samurnauts (Cherise and Erik) joined our menagerie to bolster our abilities. While we learned that four of us couldn’t match a single Gnepper, we did find something redeeming about the lackluster show. Unshackled from Kyle’s more predictable palette, the Samurnauts, Matt and I found a burger/sushi restaurant in a neighboring town. I could spend literally an entire article simply remarking about what all we ordered… or I could simply say we loved the place so much, the manager gave us coupons if we’d consider coming back the next night. And we very much did.

Brandy Hauman’s Homecooking

When Unshaven Comics makes the 14-hour trek from Chicago to New York (or, in fact, Homewood to Weehawken), ComicMix’s Glenn Hauman is always the most gracious of hosts — opening his home to us for the price of a few bottles of hooch. As the New York Comic Con sits on the single piece of New York real estate devoid of decent food, we often wind up at la Casa del Hauman for some real New Jersey takeout. But last year, Glenn’s amazing (talented, beautiful, funny, and charming) wife demanded she make us a home-cooked meal. A nice roasted chicken and some sides — but it was served over a table filled with laughter, embarrassing stories, and friendship. With this past NYCC our fourth journey to the city that never sleeps, this single meal stands out as a testament to the best part of the tri-state area: the people who you make friends.

Some BBQ joint in Stamford, CT

I’ll end here on the most sincere memory I have in regards to comics and food. As mentioned above with the meal at Miller’s Pub, with this meal Mike Gold quickly morphed from a coveted mentor to both a mentor and a mensch. When my wife and I got married in November of 2009, we’d invited all of the ComicMixers we knew — knowing that the gesture was largely symbolic given the distance any of them would have had to travel just to see a then super-fat Marc stomp on a glass and yell L’chaim. As it would turn out, the newly minted Mrs. Fishman and I would take our honeymoon out along the East Coast (we didn’t quite google that Cape Cod is really a summer town). Mike was quick to demand that on our way home, we move our route to swing down his way. There, not far from the WWE headquarters, Kathy and I would be greeted by Glenn, Mike, Linda, and a smattering of other ComicMix friends for a BBQ lunch. As with much of this list: I don’t remember the food as much as the feeling that I’d made friends I’ve held on to ever since. That these oddballs would welcome me and mine into their family has cemented that my life in comics has been filled with some of the finest meals a man could dine on.

Marc Alan Fishman: It Ain’t Over ‘Till The Fat Guy Sings

I’m half the man I used to be.

OK, more like 2/3rds, but that’s being picky, no? Let me be blunt: as much as I shamelessly self-promote Unshaven Comics, The Samurnauts, and any wares for which I am able to shill, patting myself on the back honestly is uncomfortable territory. This week, I’m letting my guard down in a way that frankly I’m afraid to. There’s no use in hemming and hawing over it here in the preamble though. And spoiler alert. I get a little long in the tooth this week, but I’m hopeful you’ll find it… inspiring? Avante!

My name is Marc Alan Fishman, and I am a fat, fat man. Or perhaps it’s better to definitively declare it: I am, after a year’s work… a less fat man. If you particularly care about numbers, I’m fairly certain, to date, I have dropped a bit more than 80 pounds. Some people would dare say it’s closer to 90. I’m not one of those people, but hey, it’s a good rumor to spread.

My personal health has been a boring-as-hell roller coaster ride in reverse; plummeting in a freefall of increasing fatness from middle school ending at some point around 2011. For those playing at home, that included college, dating and then marrying my wife Kathy. In 2011, I was hospitalized due to kidney stones – truly a pain comparable to reading issues of Flashpoint. Whilst my body expelled sharp rocks out of my nether-bits, I was met with the trifecta of diagnoses: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type II diabetes. The best part of it – it didn’t come as a shock at all.

I never knew my Grandpa Meyer Fishman. He died of a heart attack. My own father had one himself, survived, but wound up with a quintuple bypass in his mid-forties. The writing had long been on the wall, and I figured why fight the universe? This lead to a life of fast food, bad choices, and an aversion to physical activity akin to the Hulk’s aversion to normal-colored trousers.

But you see, the story only truly begins in 2011. For the next year, I righted the ship. I ate according to strict rules. I took my blood sugar twice a day. I logged in food and personal data religiously. And I dropped a considerable amount of weight. I purposely never found out how much I’d tipped the scale at when I was hospitalized. I figured it never did me any good to quantify being one foot in the grave. Then, in 2012, a new-lease-on-life Marc Alan Fishman received his fair share of cat calls and back-pats. But they truly felt hollow. The work I’d done was merely to eat less crap. Nothing more. The new state of being was medically-sound, but empty in the soul. And so, slowly, I gave up the good fight.

One bad decision here, one little cheat there, and slowly over the next four years I’d put back on nearly everything I’d lost. I gave myself every excuse in the book. My day job was stressful. We’d had a kid. Unshaven Comics and freelance designing rendered my work day as 18 hours on the clock out of every 24. Flashpoint sucked. It was hot out. That guy over there looked at me funny. The McRib was still not a menu staple.

Like I said: I had excuses.

May 8th, 2016. My pants – which came with the fat-guy-secret-shame elastic waist band – were pulled to their limitations. My wardrobe consisted only of stretched-out henleys, and graphic tee-shirts that had seen better days. Going to restaurants became secret panic-attacks in anticipating being sat in a booth. And, like the unnamed narrator in Fight Club, somehow, I reached bottom. I typed a letter to myself. An op-ed directed solely at myself, you see. And in it, I pulled no punches:

I know the truth: I fell off the wagon HARD, for no real reason. I succumbed to temptation because no one I know is comfortable calling me out on it. But I don’t blame anyone; I’m my own worst enemy. I’ve always been it. I’ll always be it. Cold hard facts: My lifestyle has gifted me gout, diabetes, and most recently… the reminder that I’ll only request seating at a “table,” as I don’t fit in the booths anymore. It’s embarrassing, and I need to quell it.

And with that, I made the commitment to change. My mantra was – and still is – very simple. I vowed to make small, significant changes to the way I live. To capture the food I eat, the mood I’d been in, and the exercise completed each day, without fail. To commit to completing some kind of exercise every day, without fail. To eat better food, in better portions… and to never think of food as a reward or punishment. And to commit to all of this knowing that unlike before: this wasn’t a sprint, nor a marathon; this was to be the way I’d strive to live until my brain could be successfully transferred to a cyborg body in 2039.

Over the course of a year (and change, natch), each little change begat another, and then another. I started taking walks outside last summer. When daylight savings hit, I bit the bullet and bought a gym membership. When I realized I was (and still am) far too embarrassed to lift weights next to other actual humans, I built up a collection of weights and such at home. I started out completing very small workouts a few nights a week. Then it grew to a nightly routine. Paired with my one hour of TV before bed, I force myself to complete a little workout during commercials. A few sets a night have seen me reach personal lifetime best numbers that have continued to rise. I even hired a wellness coach to help me fill in the gaps where I’d continued to stumble.

And here I am. On the path to 190 pounds by mid-July. I’ve truly never felt as good as I do now, in my lifetime, ever. Yeah, I’m even counting grade school – the last time I was ever truly able to run, jump, or play.  I am now, at 35, better than I was at 25. And my beard is a hell of a lot nicer looking then when I was 15.

And so, I end on an inspiring note not to you, my friends and fans reading this. I end on an inspirational note to myself: It took a year to completely change who I am outside and in. With that same determination, the same successes can translate to Unshaven Comics and The Samurnauts. To be the better Marc Alan Fishman means to give the best back to the world. If I want to see my products be what I know they can be? I need only continue to make small and significant changes to how I work. Nothing comes to those who wait for the world to change. Make the change yourself, do the work, and reap the rewards when you’re finally able to lift your head up.

Be well.

Marc Alan Fishman: To Every Season, Turn, Turn, Turn

As we wind things down on the current season of TV, I’m of two different minds on two shows I’d long held in similar regard. Agents of SHIELD (no, I don’t want to add all those extraneous periods. You know what I mean, right?) and The Flash. Both turned in seasons that were rife in comic references. AOS gave us Ghost Rider, LMDs, Madame Hydra, and a dash of the non-Marvel-sanctioned Matrix. The adventures of Team Flash gave us… Flashpoint. I am nothing if not full of opinions on both.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? For the first time in the history of the show, Agents of Shield dug its heels in deep with reverence to the pulpy source material. Because of this, the normally cinema-by-way-of-a-limited-budget show felt larger than ever. With pronounced arcs carrying through a disjointed season, we finally got a TV show with the pacing and payoff akin, truly, to actual printed comics. We had a genuine drive from the beginning to end – allowing the final beats of the season to encompass literally everything that came before it. The means justified the ends, and by the time the stinger for the 2018 season drops, we’re exhausted in the best way.

Beyond the prowess of the prose, where AOS shined brightest came collectively in character development. Over the course of this season, nearly each member of the team was given an arc to follow. And while perennial favorite Phil Coulson was left with the least to improve upon, even he was given a few badass moments to chew the scenery on. With Phil mostly on the dramatic sidelines this time around, the MVP of the season falls solely on Iain De Caestecker’s Leo Fitz.

Where he and co-science-bro (by-way-of-Sam-and-Diane) Jemma Simmons were once the bright-eyed innocents of the team, Fitz was saddled with the most growing up to do over the lengthy season. Shouldering the moral arguments of science-over-dogma, followed by a What If conceit Stan Lee himself would have been proud to take credit for, left our Scotsman bereft of any remaining innocence by season’s end. That the writers of AOS make the gravitas of Fitz’s arc feel deserved stands out as the season highlight for me.

You’ll note we’re three paragraphs in, and I’ve not had a single good thing to say about The Flash. Sadly, much like my thoughts around the literary basis of the arc, Flashpoint does for the TV show the same as it did for the comic and animated feature: drag the whole series down into the muck and mire that plagues DC all too often these days.

Simply put, The Flash’s best moments all contained themselves in the singular episode that largely snuck away from the timeline-altering plot that drove the entirety of the season. The Supergirl crossover episode that showcased Grant Gustin’s singing chops, Duet, stood alone as the single point of light in a dreary season.

As with the source material, The Flash saw Barry Allen time-travel to the past to save his mother from her timely demise. By doing so, we entered an Elseworld tale that spins out like so many would-be DCU alternate timelines. Things are darker, grittier, sadder, and devoid of the humor and spritely spirit that has long been the calling card for the show’s continued success. And by doing so, and pitting Barry Allen against yet another Speed-Based-Villain for the series… we are treated to yet-another-plot wherein Barry must. Run. Faster. Except this time, he merely gets by with a little help from his friends.

Speaking of… Not to continuously drop elbows on a dead Beta Rey Bill here (sorry, I know I’m crossing the streams, but I don’t know any more famous comic book horsies), but Team Flash is as much to blame over the dead-in-the-water season as any linger ties to Flashpoint itself. Whereas AOS took time to build, and rebuild their continuously expanding team – taking time to really allow the audience to get into the heads of Mack, Yo-Yo, and even The Patriot – The Flash seemed content to heap team member after team member into Star Labs without ever expanding each character beyond one or two notes they began with. Be it Wally West, that one scientist who HR Wells loved, or Malfoy CSI (I think his name is Julian, but he’s not worth the Googling), basically every Flash-bro walked into Star Labs, delivered or received a litany of pep-talks about their value to the team, and then sat back to let Barry run and mope. By the season’s end, I felt a connection to every Agent of Shield. I left The Flash wishing I had any feelings whatsoever.

At the end of the day, we know both shows will return for another season. My hope is that Barry and his team will return to the real roots of the character – the fun, and hope – and largely forget as much of the Savitar saga as metahumanly possible. As for Agents… Heh. Well, let’s just say Coulson did his job; I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Marc Alan Fishman: How the Twin Cities Stole My Heart

To those who follow the exploits of my little studio, Unshaven Comics, you know the last time we tabled at a con things didn’t turn out so good. Well, this past weekend at the MCBA SpringCon in Minneapolis, MN, Unshaven Comics got its groove back.

Let’s be clear: C2E2 is a major comic convention in a large city that charges lots of money, populates itself with celebrities across the span of pop culture, and lives inside a massive convention center. MCBA SpringCon is a fan-built comic convention in a smaller city, that charges very little money to attend (and nothing to table at), populates itself with comic makers and dealers, and lives inside the state fairground center. The two shows are nothing if miles apart in scope and direction. But that’s really aside from the point I’ll be trying to make here.

C2E2 was deflating in multiple ways. First off, it was a money-sucking show for my very cash-strapped company. While I’d like to defend Reed (the fine folks behind the show), they did give me a call after my article posted to take down considerate and constructive feedback, and vowed to work with me (and others) to make next year better. That much is good. But beyond those promises, the show itself was a spectacle for fans. You came in and got swept away in the multitude of activities, artists, dealers, panels, and what-not. To “do the show” meant to walk for hours — meaning if we didn’t sell you on your first pass around, it’s likely we never saw you again. In addition, the basic logistics of the show were taxing to boot. Over $20 a day to park. The food was very expensive. But I need not rehash any further.

In contrast, SpringCon is a show that oozes sincerity and joy. While it was an arduous drive from Chicago to Kenosha to Minneapolis to make our way there (six hours, beginning after our day jobs on Friday night), at very least the show itself comes with an unmatched amount of love for their guests and creators. Free parking, and free meals for the creators! Donuts in the morning! Lunch and then dinner on Saturday night! Always delivered with a smile. For attendees, a low cost of admission opens up a show floor peppered with true giants of the comic industry — like Gena Ha, Dan Jurgens, and Zander Cannon to name but a few — and filled in with solid dealers and smaller artists (ahem) to boot. And all of this is done based on a powerful volunteer army. Literally, everyone, there is there to make a great show… nothing more. It’s infectious.

Two anecdotes stand out over the course of the weekend that truly left Unshaven Comics as verklempt mishpochas:

On Saturday, amidst a day where we sold more books than we’d done in any given day at C2E2, one fan returned to us late in the afternoon. Bewildered, he sheepishly made his way to our table. He’d go on to explain that he purchased our book (which, yes, we all recalled), but had not been given his change. Now, normally, two of us Unshavens handle the money in succession so as to never run into this problem. The customer gives cash to Kyle, Kyle gives it to me, I get the change, give it to Kyle, who gives it back to the customer. This way, we never mess up. But hey! Mistakes happen, right? We happily hand the kid back $15 and send him on his way. Kyle and I look at one another, astounded. “He didn’t just try to grift us, did he?” “I hope not. I mean, he really didn’t look the type.”

The next day, shortly before lunch, the same fan returned. “So, I got home yesterday and realized I’d miscounted. Turns out I wasn’t short like I’d thought. Here’s your money back. I am so sorry!”

Honesty. Integrity. It was truly one moment out of a decade of tabling at conventions where a fan had stolen our breath with an act of selflessness. And this kid was indicative of everyone who dropped by our table over those two days. Everyone was happy, laid back, and in no rush. Our pitch was met with glee (or a polite Minnesota-Nice “No thanks!”), and we were met by more than half a dozen fans who’d remembered us (our last jaunt to the state of great lakes was 2014) and demanded new books. To say it put the wind back in our sails would be an understatement.

And then came my favorite moment of the entire trip. As is so often the case on the longer car trips, Matt and I wind up waxing poetic on the finer plots of The Samurnauts when Kyle inevitably snoozes in the back of the van. In between the passing car headlights on a dim stretch of I-94, Matt and I wound up finding a single plot thread to tie together the next three unrelated Samurnauts projects that up to that point were truly disjointed adventures. As we excitedly expounded detail after detail, I was instantly reverted to a younger self — one whose passion to create incredible original worlds was met with a kindred spirit who could build on top of my own ideas and make them even better.

Soon thereafter, Kyle woke up from his nap, and (as he is wont to do) put a bow on top of the entire fleshed-out idea, giving us a narrative through line to carry out the next two years of material. All that, and we even came up with a catchy sub-title to my next Samurnaut book… which had been a lingering fear of mine now for the last couple months.

I’ll end on lyrics of the now late Chris Cornell — who encapsulated the MCBA SpringCon for me and my mates.

I got up feeling so down / I got off being sold out / I’ve kept the movie rolling / But the story’s getting old now

I just looked in the mirror / Things aren’t looking so good / I’m looking California / And feeling Minnesota / So now you know who gets mystified

Show me the power child / I’d like to say / That I’m down on my knees today / It gives me the butterflies. / Gives me away / Till I’m up on my feet again

I’m feeling outshined

Marc Alan Fishman: Five Super-Villains I’d Prefer Over Trump

If anyone is living under a rock these days, good for you. There are some of us who aren’t – and we’re living in a perpetual state of fear, revulsion, and panic. Why? Well, not to get too political, but the President of the United States of America is a lying, xenophobic, narcissist with tendencies to say whatever floats past his KFC-soaked brainstem. Over the last one hundred plus days in office, Donald Trump has tried to ban aliens from our welcoming shores, offended our allies, kissed up to our enemies, spent millions of dollars to fire off some weapons, and if you’ve been paying attention lately… obstructing the investigation that could link his campaign to Russia.

It’s comical at this point, if only because as a comic book fan, for once, I now know what it’s like to live under the reign of a super villain. But c’mon. This is America, damnit. And if we’re going to live under the rule of a megalomaniac…  we could do better. My proof:

  1. President Lex Luthor

Under President Luthor, it’s most likely he’d get far better than a Muslim ban passed. Luthor, with his actual fortune, and actual genius-level intellect would easily figure out a way to draft a bill and grease the right palms to ensure all aliens (be they foreign or Kryptonian) be held at the shores of their homelands – impossibly tethered to any nation but Lexmerica. Beyond holding sway over all xenophobes… I mean nationalists… President Luthor would also be a boon to the billionaire class. Sweeping tax cuts and promises of trickle-down economics would be bolstered by stories of how Lexcorp hires hundreds of thousands of people and has cultivated a workforce of go-getters. A few executive orders later and Bernie Sanders would be living in the South Pacific, shouting at the heavens in protest as the .001% soon own 99.99% of the country.

  1. President Norman Osborn

When you think about it, Norman Osborn isn’t all that different from Trump. Crazy hair? Check. Short temper? Checkity-check. Rumors of mafia ties and a fortune built on the backs of the little people crushed back into the dirt? Check-check-1-2-check. But where Norman differs lay at the ground of all who look at us cock-eyed. Trump is a bit of a warhawk. Norman makes Trump look like a dove on an olive branch. President Osborn – gliding across Pennsylvania Avenue on his newest rocket-propelled death-machine – would shoot first, and never ask questions. All in the name of our country’s safety, mind you. North Korea? Smoldering ash. Russia? Newly minted as “America’s Gas Station.” The Middle East? Rebranded as Glassville, as one of the countries (President Osborne doesn’t recall which) looked at him cockeyed, so he ordered it all be nuked until he could see himself smile.

  1. President Magneto

OK, this one might seem odd because President Magneto actually is 100% pro-choice. 100% for universal health care. He taxes the rich and gives it directly to the poor. He welcomes literally any alien seeking help. With his impenetrable magnetic dampening field generators attached to our warships and border, our country is armored against any attack! Sounds good, right?

Well, you’re not a mutant, so I hate to be the bearer of bad news; please go get on the cattle car outside. You’re due at the internment camps for muggles in two hours.

  1. President Darkseid

Look, let’s get this out of the way immediately. Yes, the all-powerful despot doesn’t technically meet the established standards to become President. He wasn’t born on American soil. We’re not even sure if he has parents. And he definitely declined to even apply for citizenship. But on the plus side? It didn’t matter after he used his Omega beams to obliterate Congress, the courts, and… well… all the government buildings and people who worked in it. With that in mind? Life isn’t so bad now, is it? We’re all getting totally ripped working in the salt mines every day. Thanks to the newly added firepits, every day is a blustery 102 degrees – but it’s totally a dry heat. There’s no more debt, save for our miserable lives which we owe to our dark lord and ruler, of course. Say what you will, but at very least? I like that President Darkseid actually drained the swamp.

  1. President Negan

You can call President Negan a bully. I mean, you might as well, he put it on the back of the new $20. But you can’t deny his results. After taking Secretary of Offense, Lucille, to all those folks overseas? We now enjoy half of the world’s supplies! I mean, it was only fair that they give them to us, right? President Negan protects all of us from the zombies. Sure, I’ve never exactly seen one in person, per say. But who needs to, when I know that all the work I’m doing now serves the greater good! With the Cabinet of Saviors in place, we’re all living within our means. And it’s great how forward the nation is with the LGBTQ community. I mean, it’s OK now to be whoever you were meant to be. So long as you don’t rape anyone? You’re totes kewl brah. I sure do miss Glenn though.

And you know what? Any one of these downright bastards would be a welcome change from he who calls themselves our leader today.

Marc Alan Fishman: When the Words Come!

There’s no single moment in the creation of the comics that I make that cement the driving feeling of accomplishment more for me than finalizing the lettering on a page. When it comes time to build The Samurnauts, my studio (Unshaven Comics for the uninitiated) subscribes to a combination of the so-called DC Style and the so-called Marvel Method.

The DC Style such as its short-handed via various wikis and whatnot is a full script treatment. This means that the writers produce a script that outlines every bit of information to be in a given comic –  from the panel descriptions, to the actual laid out dialogue, caption boxes, and onomatopoeia.

The Marvel Method is often the cited style of the stalwart staple of Marvel Studios, Stan Lee. Stan provided his artist collaborators the basic structures and story beats. He’d allow them to lay it all out as they saw fit. He then would come back to the final art, and add in all ‘dem fancy words.

To note: it’s likely in comics today that neither DC or Marvel actually adhere to these methods full-stop for the glut of writers they employ. It’s most likely down to individual preference, editorial management, or some combination of the two. And neither company originated these so-called styles.

Unshaven Comics utilizes both of these styles when it comes time to create an issue of The Samurnauts. Kyle Gnepper (resident writer and sales machine) is the full-script aficionado. As to why he prefers that style is an article I implore him to write on his own. What we’re here for today kiddos is to explore why I’m so enamored with the extemporaneous creation of the words that land on the page of the books that bear my name. Ya dig?

As I draw the pages, the script of my portions of The Samurnauts is always playing in my head like a Saturday morning cartoon. When we Unshaven Lads plot out an issue, we furiously take notes and debate on the outline. We create scenes, and story beats we want to hit on. We envision large set pieces, and tropes we want to pay homage to. When it’s time to translate those musings to actual actions? Well, for me, it’s all a matter of staring at a blank page and letting the story play out. I’ll layout panels (Adobe Illustrator is my medium of choice), and I’ll scribble near visually-illegible gestural drawings in the panels – my outline nestled in the margins of the artboard. From here, I typically bounce the final sketches to my artistic cohort Matt Wright. His keen eye for dynamic shots and action always set me up for logical-yet-exhilarating moments to capture in my final art.

By this point, I should make clear: my goal is to show more than tell. The immeasurably keen and kind Brian Stelfreeze once told me “A great comic book page can tell a story without a single word,” and I’ve long made what attempts I could to visually communicate as much as I could in the panel. This often translates to capturing my models with numerous poses, facial expressions, at different angles. My comic-making process is essentially a cartoon on mute for the first half of production. My end-goal always being to tell the entire story through the artwork first.

After the digital penciling, inking, flatting, and coloring, I’m left with a page ready for the final layer. Per the same conversation with Stelfreeze, I vividly recall him pointing out that “The words that appear on the page need not tell me what I’m already seeing. They need to fill in the gaps between the panels.” And so, with the page visually telling me one portion of the story, I add in my captions and dialogue in response to the action already on the page. With each blurb of text, I ask myself what am I communicating here that adds to the depth of the story? I’ll end on a recent anecdote:

On the first two page spread of the forthcoming The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #4 the action is clear as day; the Dreadnut dreadnaught (natch) reigns a hail of laser fire at the feet of the now-Delta-Wave Samurnauts, blowing them towards us (Power Ranger style!). Set in panels beneath the action we see their sensei, Master Al (the immortal Kung-Fu Monkey) imprisoned aboard their nemesis’ ship. We pull in on his pained expression.

When I outlined the scene, I knew that the action in the major portion of the page would not need to have a ton of dialogue – keeping in mind the sound effects of the lasers would be a key visual on top of the art. Pairing that action with the introspective moment by Master Al offered me the opportunity per Stelfreeze’s advice. The ability to counterpoint said action with narration that dives deeper into Master Al’s backstory (setting up Kyle’s five-page flashback on the following pages) becomes that thing that adds a layer to the artwork. By pairing reflective and solemn narration over the explosions creates a deeper experience – one I think that is best celebrated via the medium of a comic book. There’s no fancy star-wiping here, just a juxtaposition of incongruous actions that taken together tell us more than if they were presented more plainly.

And as I’d started saying at the top of this article, it’s here in these moments… when my unadorned artwork lays before me, I let Jesus take the wheel. Funny enough, I’m Jewish. I kid, I kid. Without a fully-developed script – paired with Kyle’s completed piece in front of me – I’m able to craft a more cohesive comic. One where my words set the table for Kyle’s, while still advancing the story in my portion of the book. It’s a balancing act that is the single most important selling point of The Samurnauts. Without that singular vision that marries the past to the future, our book is a mismatched mélange of wholly dissimilar action, save only for a monkey. Walking that tightrope, without a script to catch my fall is the kind of adventure that truly pays off when I’ve finished the last word balloon on the page and hit save. I reread the entire page, and play back the cartoon running in my mind. If it gels? It sells.

Excelsior, indeed!

Marc Alan Fishman The Power of the Personal Brand

When Prince Adam of Eternia would raise his mighty sword above his head, he could exclaim “I… Have… the… POWER!” and with it transform into He-Man. This would turn his pink and maroon body suit into merely a manly loincloth and pec-harness combo. He would be granted a physique that would make Vince McMahon want to give him the main event at Wrestlemania. Most important, he was now the mightiest mortal on his alien world – able to dispense of evil with but a flick of a forearm, and nary a tussle of his pageboy haircut.

When Marc Alan Fishman, Kyle Gnepper, and Matt Wright want to transform from slovenly suburbanite husband-dads into cantankerous comic book creators, they hold up their mighty laminated sign that reads “Can I tell you about my comic book?” and look mildly pathetic. But much like Prince Adam, that singular phrase has bestowed upon the lads a power unlike any other on their alien world; the power of a personal brand.

Making it in the indie comic scene is not unlike those mythical tasks undertook by Hercules. Unless you have untold fortunes lying around, the burden to even create original work (more specifically, comic books) comes with the unfair disadvantage of essentially committing to a second fulltime unpaid job. Once work is actually created… it’s time to market it. That in and of itself is somehow even harder than the act of creation!

From the very start of our first show (Wizard World Chicago, 2008), Unshaven Comics has committed to a very long game. We staked a claim to a table in artist alley, placed our first book on the table – along with some silly and snarky signs we just knew would get us plenty of attention (and they didn’t, not at all) – and sat with arms folded, awaiting untold riches.

And so we sat. And sat. And sat some more. Our smiles faded. Our fingers tapped. Our eyes darted to our neighbors in adjacent rows. How are they surviving this hellacious landscape of scavengers?! Soon thereafter, our neighbor took pity on us. “You have to put yourself out there. Just ask people as they pass by. I mean, what’s the worst they could say… No?” It was perfect advice to our green ears and yellow bellies. Kyle stood up. He asked the next con-goer sheepishly. They stopped! From there we launched into our pitch, and desperately tried to become their new best friend.

And then, perhaps out of actual interest, or perhaps pity, they bought our book.

And therein lay the rub to it all. The indie comic scene is built on the backs of personal brands. When virgin eyes and ears traipse across the convention floor, our wares are signal flares in the sky. As lookie-loos take a chance to hear us out, we not only pitch the pulp we put in their paws. We serve up a slice of our personality to boot. Each indie creator comes with a unique mystique that pairs to the work they make. For Unshaven Comics specifically… we’re unabashed in our formula:

We are brothers-from-other-mothers, who have a 25+ year friendship. We each bring separate skills that simmer in a singular pot, and present as a single brand. We are cheesy, but not ironically so. Our books are all-ages, not because we have a crucial need to appeal to the largest audience possible, but because the stories we want to tell are genuinely relatable to just about anyone who loves action and adventure. We are upfront and passionate about our product.

Whereas Kyle is always the most energetic presence at our table, I am working too; scanning the crowd, crunching the numbers, and spreading the word socially. And Matt anchors the table with his incredible and versatile art – attracting people to stop and enjoy his take on everything from superheroes to Cenobites. We are a singular machine, with a simple purpose. We promote what we do. We love what we do. And we need the world to see that and go all-in with us.

Look over each artist at a show, and you’ll see how they cultivate their own brands. Like Katie Cook and her mini-paintings that eventually landed her official Star Wars, My Little Pony, and Marvel gigs. Or Dirk Manning, whose mouthless maw has marketed his macabre books with equal parts solid professionalism, and DIY attitude. Or even perhaps Victor Dandridge Jr., “The Hardest Working Man in Comics!”, who started off with a single hook – an eight-bit art challenge – and has built a litany of indie comic series and convention-panel-emcee gigs that make him a well-known name across the Midwest comic circuit. Or, dare I ever forget my own frenemy Dan Dougherty, who has built his own brand by way of building up not only his own newspaper strip-style series Beardo into a brand, but a half-dozen other pieces in collaboration with his carefully chosen cadre of cohorts (including the aforementioned Mr. Manning from time-to-time).

Beyond the con floors though, you’ll find us all building those brands brick-by-brick. Be it on a day like today, where we’ll each be sitting in on Free Comic Book Day at our local comic book stores to promote our work. Or on social media, where we host live videos to interact with our homegrown fanbase. Or in our handcrafted newsletters. Or when we host classes at local park districts and libraries; teaching the next generation that the best way into comic books is to forge your own path. It all boils down to the simplest of truths…

To build our brands takes honed skill, patience, and determination to succeed. Without all three working together (be we islands-unto-ourselves, or three-headed bearded monsters), there is no brand to build. While any of us strive to stumble over, we’ve each committed to that aforementioned long-game. Cultivating one earned fan at a time, and hopefully producing enough to keep them on the hook until our dreams turn into reality.

We have the power, because we make the power.