Author: Marc Alan Fishman

Marc Alan Fishman: The Unshaven State of the Union – 2017

My fellow geeks, nerds, nerfherders, and dweebs: I stand before you today afraid of tomorrow. As it’s only been a few weeks since Donald J. Larfleeze took the oath of office of these United States. Each day seemingly brings us closer to eminent destruction. With that in mind, I figured it would behoove me to survey the landscape for my little independent comic book studio and make some sweeping declarations for the year.

Declaration Number 1. The Curse will be Completed

The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts, our mini-series-that-is-taking-five-years-to-make will be completed. As of this writing, I have 13 or so pages left to flat. Then comes final coloring, lettering, and placing into the final print-ready file. All things considered, my aim is to have the book on the table for C2E2, which is April 21st. This is a necessity for the rest of the success we will have in the year to come. Because finishing the final issue means finishing the graphic novel collection, and finally making good on our commitment to our Kickstarter backers – who no doubt have plenty of reason to seethe at our inability to deliver anything on time.

Declaration Number 2. Unshaven Comics is Going Educational.

As detailed a few weeks ago, Matt Wright and I taught a pair of classes through our local park district. We saw over 25 students make their way into our li’l classroom and steal our hearts. To watch as kids come to grips with how complex a comic really is… a feeling I can’t describe save only for a basic grunt of elation. As we breakdown conceptualization, creative writing, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering… the joy piled up until we were asked why the class was only two weeks long. Suffice it to say: lesson learned. We’ll be doing longer classes from now on.

Declaration Number 3. Upgrading our Brand.

The first post-Curse priority for us is to completely revamp the Unshaven Comics brand. This means a new website, new convention branding, new business cards, new merchandise (beyond Samurnauts), and new company apparel. Don’t worry, the “lego head” logo ain’t going anywhere. But maybe there will be a fun (and free!) Unshaven Avatar app… But you didn’t hear that from me.

Declaration Number 4. Three New Samuranauts Will Begin Production.

Unlike unnecessary walls, Unshaven Comics knows when something needs to be built. Upon the completion of Curse and our brand being refreshed, our little studio is making the attempt to up the ante of our output. Each of we Unshaven Lads will take on a new Samurnauts title by our lonesome. Kyle will pair with a new artist to create The Rage of Rep-Simian. Matt Wright will dip his toe into story development (and do the artwork, as per usual) and bring The Luchanauts to life. And I will once again tackle both story and artistic duties to produce an all-female romp (set in the 1980s) The Samurnauts: Night of the NuWave. While there’s no chance any of the books will be complete in 2017, we will get a solid headstart on them before the year is out. And this time around? We’ll be sharing our progress reality-TV-style with weekly production vlogs. #WeAreSo2013

And Our Final Sweeping Declaration… 5. We Will Continue to Have the Time of Our Lives

Let me never stray too far from reality. Making comics is not easy when you have a full-time day job, a wife, two kids and two business partners very much in the same boat. Finding the time to work and to go to conventions while maintaining normal lives takes plenty of focus. Which means above all else, when I get to work with my brothers-from-other-mothers, be it at a convention table or the studio, I do not take it for granted. We will cherish every memory we build in 2017, as we hit new and old cons alike. We will break bread with our ComicMix brethren whenever the opportunity arises. We will release new content, and cherish each new fan we make… while doing our best to continue to earn the love and support from our existing (and very patient) fan base.

So long as we’re not destroyed by North Korea, Russia, Syria, or Iran, I look forward to high-fiving each and every one of you at a convention soon.

And as always… Stay Unshaven.

Marc Alan Fishman: Game On, Comics Off

My good friend, comic retailer Shawn Hilton (of Comics Cubed in Kokomo, IN), posed an interesting conundrum: Why is it that a video game can be a multi-million dollar enterprise, yet yield nary a single issue sold when adapted (or continued…) to comic continuity?

A cursory look over some sales data would mostly back Shawn’s gripe up. This week, I’m not necessarily all that mindful of specific dollars and cents as much as the basic principle being questioned here:

Is adaptation a worthy vehicle towards success, specifically in comic books?

At the most macro of levels, so much of our modern geek marketplace relies on adaptation. Outside the spinner rack a walk down the toy aisle in nearly any comic shop or big box store, will yield an unending regurgitation of the same figures — all adapted to a different specific milieu. Be it a Funko Pop, 6” Action Figure, Dorbz, MiniMate, or another half dozen iterations… a given character like Batman can be purchased in so many mediums, it boggles the mind.

Adapting video games beyond their pixelated purview has long been in practice. Be it the Super Mario Brothers TV show, Halo BoomCo dart blasters, or Injustice (I figure Shawn is in surplus of DC’s Injustice), there are plenty of video game bric-a-brac to go around. One would postulate if the products were truly unmarketable, they wouldn’t continue to develop and license their brands out, sure. But when I think specifically to comics? I’m drawing a considerable blank, in terms of out-and-out success stories.

Turning towards another friend in retail, Eric Garneau of Past Times (in Niles, IL, don’t-cha-know), my hypothesis seemed to carry weight.

“…yeah, mostly I don’t even touch them.” He mentioned to me. “Injustice has moved all right in TPB for me, at least the earlier volumes… [But] stuff like Assassin’s Creed, World of Warcraft, etc… no way.”

As I polled several other friends in the know, all basically came to the same conclusion: While video game comics themselves are OK to have a few of on the racks, they aren’t ever ordered or purchased with veracity. They are evergreen merchandise; easy to upsell someone on the outskirts of the fandom, doing more to make a shelf look filled out than rifled through.

If I were to hypothesize specifically to the correlation between a video game comic and the parent product, I’d guess the biggest difference (aside from controlling the content, as one does in the game) comes in the speed at which content can be consumed. In a video game — as with any motion-based medium — story can be delivered quickly, with little necessary comprehension.

A solid cutscene of Injustice lasts two or three minutes at best. In that time, character motivation, settings, history, et al can be gleaned with ease. In a comic book, time is almost as malleable, but the static imagery cements the reader in a single moment. Put simply, a comic will always read slower and accomplish less on a page than can be communicated on a screen. Is it better content? Rarely, in my opinion. But, again, the bane of adaptation carries the burden of the appeal inherent to the original medium of the property.

When a book becomes a movie, the movie must drop nuance and backstory for increases in action and visual exploration of settings. When a movie becomes a TV show, it drops the quality of the settings, and becomes stifled by commercial breaks interrupting story. When a TV show becomes a movie, it loses the ability to explore nuanced characterizations afforded to longer interactions across multiple episodes.

And in all cases, adapting to a comic book awards the property with a new visual communication tool but loses any number of other qualities the source material gained simply by virtue of the original medium. So too, do we lose subtle stylization and character depth when our beloved comics turn into movies. Even when done well, they’re still permutations and distillations of how we grew to love a character, setting, or story. So too, then, does it apply when pixels are plundered for the pen and paper.

All that… and comic books don’t reward you with thirty lives when you flip the pages up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, and then B, A, and start.

Marc Alan Fishman: Ode to a Bully

“We 1983 midwesterners will repel bullies. We will shelter freaks and outcasts … and those who have no hope. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are at a loss against the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will ­ as per Chief Jim Hopper – punch some people in the face.”

As told to a room full of his peers and beamed across the TV and Interwebs, actor David Harbour of Stranger Things let loose his inner activist while receiving the SAG award for Best Ensemble. The award was well deserved — Stranger Things is an absolute masterpiece in homage, acted with a level of craft that elevates the ridiculous into the sublime. The acceptance speech is deserving of an Emmy, and perhaps some kind of Flaming Trump Tie award for its severity and passion.

It should come as no surprise to you, my dear readers, that I was bullied growing up. My mother, assured that my hereditary flat feet would cause me future issues, kept me in orthopedic shoes through adolescence. And long before the contemporary version of the term hipster was a known commodity, I was rocking saddle shoes like it was 1957. I was an easy target. My choice of friends did little to stifle the beratement of bullies as well. My best friends in grammar school were just like me: concerned more with the minutiae of role playing games and Star Wars then participating in little league and the like.

By middle school, bullying was simply part of my life. I was lucky enough that those who picked on me chose only mild verbal abuse. As my sense of humor would soon be cut against their barbs, soon I could figure out that self-deprecation was an ever-effective diffuser of torment. Make fun of my shoes? Good! I hate them too. You negotiate with my mother! That didn’t make the hurt less, but it certainly forced my tormentors to move quickly to their next target (often my best friends standing right next to me).

High school dissolved bullying to a non-factor. With honors and AP classes built to separate the future workforce, the villains of my life faded from view as they discovered weed and beer were far preferable to making a fat Jewish kid feel bad about himself. But, hey, the damage was done, and here I am coming full circle on the subject, a few decades later.

Harbour’s words hit me hard. “We … will repel bullies.” To stand in the face of those who knock you down takes fortitude I know I don’t have alone. To phrase his speech in the plural, surrounded by his costars, his message rang loud and clear. We can accomplish what I never will. It’s a lesson to us all. There is power in numbers, as is becoming clearer with each passing protest. It’s not the 1960s, but civil unrest is nigh. Collectively, we’re dividing ourselves between colors, ideology, religion, and even gender. Per the fine sheriff’s words … we can overcome the bullies of this world.

Make no doubt about my opinion. Donald Trump is a bully. He takes the worst traits of Lex Luthor and Doctor Doom and mashes them fully with dullards like Rhino and Bizarro. With his mighty pen, and a lack of foresight, in mere weeks he has done more damage to the collective psyche of the world writ large than perhaps any other world leader in as little time he’s had in power.

The time is not for self-deprecation. It’s not time for soulful reflection, or meaningless shivas served in front of our smartphones. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. We will deal with the bullies of this world together. Trump may have the office and title, the congress, and soon the courts… But he doesn’t control the will of all people. When we consider that barely half the country voted, and amongst them, less than half voted for him … it stands to note that this bully may control the schoolyard, but we own the school.

While Sheriff Hopper may have been alluding to comic book’s proclivity for Spenceresque Nazi-punchery, his point remains valid:

“…when we are at a loss against the hypocrisy and casual violence … we will punch some people in the face…”

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Head of the Class

Unshaven Comics has offered me too many moments of pure Trump-level pride. Selling hundreds of copies more than our friends at various comic cons through the sheer force of Kyle’s will. Breaking bread with industry legends. Seeing Stan Lee be escorted by Playboy models so he could roast the great John Romita while giving an award to his son. But none may be greater and pride-filling than officially teaching our first “Comic Book 101” class for our local park district.

In the not-too-distant-past, we’d offered a one day workshop for local kids through a small gallery. For a few hours, we broke down how comics are made and then sorta turned the kids loose to aimlessly draw and ask us questions. It was quaint. But we had bigger dreams.

After a fruitful meeting with our local Parks and Rec manager of classes, we pitched something far more comprehensive. A pair of two-hour classes where the entire process of comic book creation is explored in-depth, with interactive lessons at every step. They were elated. We were excited, and parents were notified

Smash cut to a week ago, when 18 smiling children (and one very curious and excited adult) showed up, bristling with energy.

Matt and I presented a worksheet packet of our own design as we walked through our creative process. From the conceptualization phase — where pie and coffee meet monkeys and robots — straight through to outlining plot, thumbnailing a page, and penciling. Our class ranged in age from 8 to 14 or 15 (and the one lone 57-year old), but everyone shared a common love of the medium; even if their actual knowledge of the form was in its infancy.

What struck me beyond any other point during class, came when Matt and I made rounds to speak to each student about their idea they wanted to draw. My expectations of simple “Captain Amazing beats up Doctor Weird Beard” were decimated by complex and deeply-imagined universes of characters. Our students regaled us with winding plots and characters they’d had in their heads, just awaiting an opportunity to burst out on to the page.

And while we had some fights to draw out, I was astounded to hear several students describe heady, dialogue-driven pieces. Fathers taunting their sons to join their evil legions, party-girls dealing with their poor life-choices, and students and teachers connecting over bully problems. To hear the breadth of ideas being explored really made me appreciate that our little group cared more about the narrative than learning how to render the perfect punch.

As the students worked on their turnarounds for their characters, I overheard their conversations. Civil War came up, and lively chatter about it ensued. It hit me like a splash page: this generation is literally growing up in the golden era of comics going mainstream. They have over a dozen perfectly adapted comic stories as multi-billion-dollar movie franchises. Between cartoons, they also have live-action dramas on multiple networks that draw directly from the pulp and paper. And now, in their backyard, a pair of indie comic creators are breaking down the process of building a page from soup to nuts. A golden era, indeed.

Teachers often comment on how the kids really teach them. I can say without a doubt just how true an adage that is. As we let kids loose after the first class completed, I could see their energy as they showed their moms and dads the work they completed. One parent stepped over to me, smiling ear to ear, before ushering his son out of the classroom.

“So… is this every week?”

One day, sir. One day.

Marc Alan Fishman: Injustice 2 and The Hype Machine

The very first movie trailer debuted in November, 1913. It showed backstage rehearsal footage of an upcoming production of the musical The Pleasure Seekers. The actual play itself debuted the same month.

In contrast, today you can catch the sneak peak to the first look of the first cut of the promotional trailer of any given movie upwards of a full year before the actual film is released. How starved for content is our culture?

Think now, how literally days into pre-production of a given franchise the hype machine starts a’rollin’. When George Lucas and his menagerie sneezed a bit too loud, Entertainment Weekly and any other number of film blogs lit the net on fire. Speculation then is answered by some unseen specter of a source, second-handed, to an iffy-looking kid with a smartphone. And soon enough, Donald Glover is pitching to be young Lando.

Smash cut to the actual release of the story a year later. Smash cut again when Glover is doing his first costume fitting. Maybe he’ll Instagram his name on a garment bag. It’ll be picked up on TMZ, the AP, AICN, and Perez Hilton — if he’s still a thing. You know, just enough to keep the future film top of mind.

Marketing is an art and a science. Hype is the currency. Hype parlays demand into action. Or so marketing companies want to tell you – ask Edgar Wright how Scott Pilgrim turned out for him when you have a chance.

And it’s not just movies that are guilty of this sin. The day I wrote this very article, the teaser to the full trailer for the upcoming Injustice 2 video game crawled across my Facebook feed. And boy howdy, it worked. Before the predictable (but oh-so-glorious) cut scene footage shown over some narration completed, I was furiously calculating the cost to upgrade my Xbox. When the teaser-to-the-trailer ended, the release date in May whizzed across the screen. I looked over at my second browser window – with open tabs at Amazon, eBay, WalMart, and Best Buy – and I stared off into the middle distance in shame.

The fact is, these days products are bought and sold long before they are ever completed. Pilot season in TV land churns out show after show. Only those with enough hype to garner attention from advertisers ever see the light of day. And even then, if the hype train doesn’t keep chugging down the tracks, the show flies off the rails leaving hundreds of actors and production crew scrambling to do it all again. Maybe with a different script next time.

But who am I to judge? My company’s Kickstarter campaign – itself a bit of a hype machine if you think hard on it – was essentially drumming interest up in a project we’d still not completed inking before we were promoting the crap out of the finished product. Smash cut to over a year later, and only now am I flatting one-half of the book while I finish other pages as they drizzle in. And while I’d be tempted to share my half-completed work on our Facebook page, I’ve relegated it to our “seen by at least four people weekly” Facebook Live show.

The broad question is: When have we reached the event horizon? I think we’re already there. With the ubiquitous nature of technology allowing us to capture content being created live as it’s being fretted over, marketing and promotion is half-button push away. In a world where virality is as important at times as the actual quality of the product, hype is now deeply rooted into the very fabric of creation.

And because of it, Wing Commander made nearly half its lifetime gross its opening weekend. It was a bomb of a film and a financial failure. But it had The Phantom Menace trailer attached to it. We all know how that hype played out.

Marc Alan Fishman: JL Fashion Statement “Gritty Is the New Black”

DC released the image that precedes this week’s via a puff piece in USA Today. In it, we see the Aveng-err-Justice League being scowly amidst steam and metal and stuff. It’s really striking, ain’t it?

As the image made its way across the social media networks I frequent, a common theme rose to the surface: Vomit. While I typically love to play devil’s advocate in situations like this, offering a nice counterpoint to typical rantings in lieu of some of my own delicious snark, I honest to Rao can only pile on. Let’s carve this screencap into a thousand angry pieces, shall we?

First off, I’m fine with Batfleck. He’s grumpy and gray. Which is exactly what I expect Batman to be. I think the one fine thing to come out of Batman v Superman was the portrayal of Bruce Wayne and his emo counterpart. He’s weary. He’s underpowered. He’s overcompensating for a lot. The actual look of the armor is good. Flat, simple, thick. The added Oakley shades over his eye holes make me think he’s got some gadgets on this suit. I like the look, as it’s basically Frank-Miller-Meets-the-Arkham-City-Games. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade:  A-

And then we come to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Diana here is actually pretty comic accurate, no? While someone forgot to saturate her suit with any actual color, the basic forms here are as we’d hope. Her corset-like top over a weird armor-skirt, bifurcated by an ab-piecing belt reads wholly to her pulpy counterpart. In the shot we also see her shield, sword, and lasso. She’s even got her tiara and gauntlets in place. While she doesn’t feel Amazonian to me — she’s clearly not smaller than all save for Flash — everything else is checked off the list. If someone could add 33% more saturation, I’d be in love. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: A-

Cyborg is depicted as a Michael Bay Transformer nightmare. As someone denoted to me on Facebook, his crotch literally looks like Megatron’s maw from Bay’s atrocities. Vic Stone here is a mangled mess of wires and tubes. It’s as if the CGI department just couldn’t help but scream “look what we done did!”

Look, I get it. The tragic accident that left Stone a small meat pile being grafted onto a T-1000 frame is a nice idea. But the look here is severely unfetch. From a practical standpoint, one would think maybe Batman would tell Cyborg to add layers of protective plating over the exposed machinery? Or perhaps not declare boldly “look at my lights. They show you where to start shooting and punching”? For Rao’s sake… the AI Bots in I, Robot had better armor. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: F

Flash. Oh, Flash. This picture clearly is of a team that prepared a bit before battle. See Batman’s shades, Wonder Woman’s armament, and that trident. Flash clearly found some leftover maroon gym mats and Bungie cords and decided to try his best at a Pinterest costume tab. I pray that Mr. Allen figures he’ll move so fast people won’t notice the mélange of oddly shaped armor bits held together by string and sheer force of will. The only smart move he made: his helmet covers a good part of his face. It’s a shame when the CW’s Flash is better appointed to fight crime than a Flash with several hundred million dollars more in the coffers. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: Whatever constitutes something worse than an F

Last in our assemblage of angst is Artie “Aquaman” Curry. This shark of a man is a big ole’ brute, ain’t he? The Snyderverse version of the once orange-adorned aquatic superman is clearly kin of WWE’s Roman Reigns. It’s a bold take. And we get it by now, don’t we? No one will make fun of him now! We can hear DC’s movie investors chortle. While Aquaman is shrouded in plumes of hate-smoke, there’s enough to go on here: He’s scale-armored. He’s got a bitchin trident. He’s got a massive beard. And he stole some shoulder pads from the set of Spartacus. Good on him. The look is different. But it’s intriguing. It looks stiff. But I’ll hold out hope it looks good in motion. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: C+

So, what say you of this new League of Justice? Or perhaps the better question to answer… Who wore it better?

Marc Alan Fishman: Meetings With Remarkable Men

“I had a lovely brunch with Jesus Christ.
He said, “two words about inanity: fundamental Christianity,” yeah.
The food was very nice.
But then He had to go and die for my sins and stick my ass with the check.”

Just before 2016 died a fiery death, Unshaven Comics broke bread with ComicMix EIC Mike Gold and Living Legend John Ostrander. It wasn’t our first meal together, and assuredly it’s nowhere close to the last. We met for no better reason than to share a meal and a joyous time. Little did Mike know I was going to just go ahead and record the whole evening in my mind, and use it for this week’s article. I’m coy, don’t you know.

As with many interactions with Gold, barbecue was involved. We wound up at a north suburban Chicago joint with walls adorned in celebrity photos and the wafting aroma of wood-fired Q, as is often the case in the company of great and powerful comic book men.

What I love, perhaps more than anything else about these meals, is how quickly we nerd out. Barely a passing “Hello, how’s so and so” was muttered before the three Unshavens and the two greybeards (can I get away with that? I’ll try it) landed on the minutiae of our beloved pulp heroes and villains. Before we could even be seated we’d begun to ramble on about Supergirl, Suicide Squad, Arrow, Amanda Waller, Avengers: Infinity War, and the Smallville version of Martian Manhunter.

I bowed before the avatar.
He said, “the problem’s clear to me: you never got over Morrissey,” yeah.
I said “well, right you are!”
“It’s so much harder to be underfed than under-understood,” he said.

After we were seated, the conversation veered towards the political. Again, folks in-the-know of our trusted EIC wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. It’s likely not a surprise either, that nary a single point made was in favor of our soon-to-be Reality-Judge-In-Chief. We lamented on the state of the cabinet (“…akin to the Legion of Doom, but likely far more evil than the pulpy counterparts”). We chortled about the two party system (“…it doesn’t work, but then again, neither does anything else”). We commiserated on the power of social media (“…there’s no way in my day folks could assemble as fast”). In between bites of pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and brisket, John and Mike gave me the moment of the evening.

I’m not certain who originated the point, but someone on the Unshaven side of the table asked of our elders if they still had hope – that with enough spirited activism in place our country wouldn’t end up like the fire-pits of Apokolips. Mike and John each paused for a moment and delivered a Chicago-esque Siskel-Ebert take. I won’t tell you who said what (somethings are better left to be discovered), but Gold and Ostrander took different answers. Backed either by the eternal optimism stolen from the 60s that sparked their own original rebellious natures, or rebuked because of the sage wisdom of seeing the world rise and fall enough to believe that pessimism finally stole the day. It was sobering, prophetic, and amazing; and the moment fell as our last entrée plate was taken away.

I went to see KIP WINGER!
He said, “in my day we knew how to party; bands today, c’mon, not hardly.”
He had a back-up singer (doo doo doo doo).
He said, “the metal scene is a disgrace, but I ain’t got no dog in that race!”

When the moment passed, the conversation moved from the sobering to the cynical. The careers of Andy Dick, Rob Schneider, and David Spade were compared and picked over. And true to form, Mike Gold had a personal connection and a story about one of them — likely the other two as well, but by then the server was eyeing our booth for the still-unpaid-bill.

Unshaven picked up the tab (and was sure to extort our dinner guests for future favors, the true way of the comic book business), and the long Jewish Goodbyes began. Thirty minutes later, we parted ways, and the evening ended as brightly as it’d began.

Mike turned to John. “You know, I was just reading a list of the worst movies of 2016, and Suicide Squad was in the top five!” John snickered immediately. “Yeah, well, it made 750 million bucks, so I don’t give a damn.”

Damn straight, John.

Tip of the hat to Harvey Danger’s “Meetings with Remarkable Men (Show Me A Hero)” for the lyrical inspiration this week. If Mike ever lets me program my own guest set on “Weird Sounds Inside the Gold Mind”, that will be how I kick it off.

Marc Alan Fishman: 35

I write this article today, on the 35th anniversary of my staging a complex breakout from the prison that brought me life. 6 weeks before I was due for release, I set plans in motion that would force the state to grant me early release — however, I was a fool. Born only 3 pounds, 8 ounces left me with no meat on the bone with which to battle the icy storms of the Chicagoland area in 1981. So, I was hurried off to an easy-bake oven for babies… and set to warm until my pop-up thermometer came out clean. This is my exasperated attempt to be funny about writing today, on my birthday. For the record: it’s December 28th, but as you all know, my articles are your most favorite Saturday reading.

I write tonight after a truly uneventful day. As is the case for a Jewish suburban kid whose birthday comes three days after everyone is stuffed and sick of partying, and three days before everyone is set to do it again to ring in the new year… I’m not often one for making a big deal about the day. In my lifetime, I think I had an actual party two or three times. Suffice to say: seeing the dozens and dozens of Facebook friends wish me a pleasant day is as joyous a thing as time spent cutting a cake and opening presents I don’t actually want. Maybe if people read my article about gift giving I wouldn’t be so sour about getting a useful block of CD-R’s. Natch. But I digress.

2016 for many reasons was a year people would love to forget. The loss of Prince, George Michael, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, John Glenn, Alan Thicke, and most recently Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds… combined with the electing of Donald Trump certainly squashes a lot of the joy that came over the last 363 days (as of this writing). But I’m not one for staying down. 2016 was a year of great joy personally for me. For starters? My second son, Colton Mikel, was born. He’s healthy, happy, and a babbling brook of teething delight. My older son, Bennett Reed, has taken to pre-school like a total champ. He’s curious, energetic, and truly the light of my life on the darkest days. And hey, the Cubs won the World Series. Of course, had we all known the cost of that win apparently came with all the aforementioned loss…

I wouldn’t earn my keep on this site if I didn’t mention pop culture and comic books though, right? 2016 saw the rerise of DC. By stabbing the New 52 in the crotch with Rebirth, Dan DiDio finally earned back my business (speaking only of pulp and paper). At the movies, we got Civil War, a new Star Wars, a new Harry Potter (sorta), and Deadpool. On TV, Agents of SHIELD continues to be a worthwhile romp, alongside Flash, and the entire CW comic-based menagerie. They event launched a new Justice League cartoon my 4 year old and I can both appreciate. Note that I’m saving my son for the real animated DCU when he turns 9 — the same age his old man was given access to it. Suffice to say: amongst the litany of dour dolts rising to power, in my 35th year on this mortal coil… pop culture provided me with a breadth of quality content I couldn’t have fathomed even half a decade ago.

Professionally, Unshaven Comics remains my truest love (beyond that of my wife, sons, and family, of course). 2016 saw our return to both Dragon Con and the New York Comic Con. While we were unable to complete work on our last issue of Curse of the Dreadnuts, I can confidently say that the book itself will be worth the (incredibly unprofessional) wait. When it debuts in February or March of 2017? I will be very proud of it. While the year stagnated for Unshaven as a whole, it was amazing to see our resident writer and sales-machine Kyle Gnepper release his own graphic novel. To see my brother from another mother complete a project from stem to stern (on his own dime to boot) filled me with a joy I’d never had the pleasure of feeling before. Pride by proxy if you will.

And allow me a final indulgence to share here unrelated to any pop culture. Back in May, I’d reached an impasse personally, where I was truly sick and tired of my physical self. Without announcement, I decided to make significant changes in what filled my food hole, and what physical exertion I would force upon myself. Over the course of 6 months, I have dropped more than a significant amount of me, and have entered a new strange phase of my life. A phase where I purposefully watch what I intake, and go to a gym to improve the parts of me not bearded. With a new lease on life (and a serious goal to meet May 8th, 2017), I am proud to state here in my little corner of the internet that I am a better Marc Alan Fishman at 35 than I was at 25. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Comicly.

As They Might Be Giants have long said:

I’m older than I’ve ever been. And now I’m even older.

Marc Alan Fishman: Who Gates the Gatekeepers?

A tip of the hat to my friend Michael Sacco-Gibson this week for the topic.

It seems we’ve finally labeled the übernerds who choose to make it their lot in life to ostracize and criticize fans who enter our pulpy realm by ways and means different from their own. Gatekeeping against those fans who found a love of comic books (the books themselves, the characters therein, or any comic-related endeavor I assume) by way of TV, movies, or perhaps cosplay.

As Michael would explain to me (and no, not mansplain), Gatekeepers are often men, who often pick on not men over their comic book bonafides. Seems without an encyclopedic knowledge of issues, storylines, writers, artists, and editing mandates at the ready, a gatekeeper will scoff — and in some reported cases deny purchase of wares based on this inability. This also extends to those fans of properties who dare say they love the character… but have no interest in reading a comic. The horror!

That this is even a thing makes me sick as both a comic book creator and fan. It stings because I know that at my core, I’m not worthy by the aforementioned would-be gatekeepers.

The first comic book I ever bought was an X-Men Adventures rag that was a direct rip off the Saturday morning X-Men cartoon (which in turn was a rip off a Chris Claremont issue in the 80’s). The reason I bought it? I’d seen that actual episode the week prior and loved Colossus. I figured the comic would expound on the plot of the cartoon. It didn’t, but I was no less thrilled.

The next comic I would get would come years later, when Unshaven Comics’ Matt Wright delivered my birthday present: Strangers #1 and Ultraforce #1 from Malibu Comics. He’d gotten them in the discount box. I loved them. Why? Because I’d been an avid fan of the cartoon series.

Not even kidding. I was that lone fan.

Of course, later I would dive headfirst into back issue bins. I would demand the local comic shop clerks regale me with their opinions, and recommendations on good stories to pick up. I would debate long into the night with my friends about how Batman will always beat the Punisher. I earned my stripes eventually. But one thing that never struck me was the notion that people were only allowed into the sphere of comics by way of the arcane.

Do you mock someone for finding a love of Star Trek if their first series was Deep Space Nine? Do you click your tongue at a punker whose first album was Nimrod? Do you chide the bookworm who picks up Harry Potter before they even know of The Hobbit? If you do, please close my article. You’re no longer welcome here.

That any fan would deny another would-be devotee because of their path to the medium only feeds into the stereotype of the insular nerd. Thanks now to the wave of content platforms, and mainstream appeal specifically of comic books and comic book related brands? To check admission at the door based on your back issues is in hilariously bad taste. DC and Marvel have been trying to peddle their wares via TV, Movies, Radio, and any other medium that would have them in order to draw in new casual fans. To turn your nose away from someone because their first Superman was George Reeves is simply asinine. DC and Marvel don’t give a shit where you enter from. Just that you stay there. And they’re right to think that.

Michael would even go on to tell me that when he and his crew (from a local theater group) made a comic based on a play… about comics… that fans and a few creators openly scoffed at the notion. For the record: The book/play was “Badfic Love,” a play by Adam Pasen. The theater was the Strange Bedfellows Theatre (no longer open, sadly). That there would be gatekeepers maligning creators for their content and pedigree is angering on a Trumpian level. Perhaps those same fans might talk to John Ostrander about his literary roots?

To gatekeep comic books is to wholly miss the point of what being a fan truly is. It doesn’t matter where we come from. It only matters that we immerse ourselves in the content. That we evangelize to other would-be fans. That we celebrate achievements in media that personally connect us to the work, and to one another. To do anything to stymie the love of art is to miss the point of art in and of itself.

The only gatekeeper I allow in my life? Hedly Lemar and Taggert. Better get a shit load of dimes, kiddos. Merry Christmas.

 

Marc Alan Fishman’s Custom Geek Crate – Vol. 1, Young Animals

A few weeks back I made mention of my newfound love of my local comic shop. And in rekindling a relationship with them, I was torn with what to do with my old comic shop. You see, the manager of the establishment is a longtime friend and colleague whose opinion on good quality pulp and paper I covet. So, I came to an agreement. From my local shop I would establish my subscription box with “the big two” cape books — Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Titans, Captain America, and so on. And on the other side of that comic coin, I issued a challenge to my friend:

Take the $20 I would have given you for my subscription box, and turn it into any other books you think I’d like. Just nothing mainstream per say.

Well, a few weeks ago, I got my first custom crate if you will. In it, came the entire run of #1 issues from DC’s newly christened Young Animal imprint (and a pair of other books unrelated to fully spend the $20). Eric, said manager-friend, did his homework well. He knew I’d long been a fan of the Grant Morrison years of Doom Patrol, and with that, made the choice to show me what a full line as directed by Gerard Way would look like.

So, what of Doom Patrol? As penned by Way himself, I’m left (ironically) between diametric opinions. I truly either loved the book or I loathed it. Nearly a month since cracking it open, with several rereads has yet to solidify my thoughts. Way clearly loves the Morrison years as much as I, but in doing so he creates a book that offers as much new content as it relies on obscurer-than-obscure references throughout the thin read. By books’ end I had a sense of where we’re headed, without any idea what (if any) the stakes are. As a number one, the issue skates by on style points enough to warrant a second issue buy for sure. Will I be getting it? No.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is Vertigo to a tee. Gerard Way also writes this book, wherein a retro-futuristic spelunker of yore has recently lost his wife but gained a new ocular outlook on life. Unlike DP, this one is weird, but grounded solidly. Cave Carson himself is maudlin, but thanks to slick art by Jon Rivera, the panels breeze by. Because I have a strong feeling (and truly no urge to Wikipedia about it further) that the book is dusting off a silver age concept, there’s that quintessentially Vertigo vibe to the proceedings. Darkness around the edge of a hipster plotline? Sure, count me in. The added pocket of mysteries — the wheres, whys, whats, and hows of the titular eye — would certainly give me reason to see it through a few more episodes.

Shade The Changing Girl is penned by Cecil Castellucci and is the wild trip Gerard Way perhaps wishes he’d written himself. Taking cues from the Shade, the Changing Man — itself a dusted-off ditty from one of the first Vertigo-rounds — the Girl takes the basics of the brand and boils them in some serious acid. What we get, in its best parts, is the sheep of CW drama in a Vertigo wolf’s clothing. When a braindead mean girl is reanimated by a dimensionally-traversing bird-man who has appropriated some Shade-Tech, the result is psychedelic in media res of epic proportions. The book is a rough read in all the right ways. Its concepts are challenging enough to remain engaging despite the off-kilter kitsch of being weird for weirdness sake – which itself is a Vertigo trademark, as far as I’m concerned. Suffice to say, with a blissful balance as presented of properly pretty/trippy art Shade was the biggest standout to me of the line.

Last and least comes Mother Panic. Jody Houser delivers a Tarantino-esque revenge porn comic wherein a wealthy socialite stalks Gotham on the fringes Batman misses to punch bad men in the dicks until the crime is solved. Forgive my blunt snark. Mother Panic is a sludge-dirty book that seems to be joyless in the face of its Young Animal brethren.

The plot – revolving around our hero trying to pin down an artist-cum-serial-killer – is rote enough to have been back-burner fodder from a spec script of Hannibal. The titular heroine is mean, nasty, and nasal throughout. And her Rom: The Space Night pajamas may look striking on the cover of the book, but read as a half-thought mid-panel. Where Cave, Doom Patrol, and Shade each combined darker and mature themes into their retro-tinged panels, Mother Panic is a gothic melodrama with no light to be seen; save only for the Jim Krueger / Phil Hester backup piece which delivers at least one laugh before toppling into gritty grizzle for the sake of blackity blackness. Color me unimpressed.

But… I digress.

Pair those four books with two other indie gems (tied together as Eric denoted: all written and/or directed through the lens of a rock and roller), and you paint me a more-than-satisfied customer. Young Animal was off-the-beaten path enough for me to feel that hipster vibe I was searching for when I came up with the challenge. My best advice to you: befriend your local pulp slinger, and throw down the gauntlet yourself. I’m certainly a better fan for doing it. Let’s reconvene in a month and see what box #2 will hold!