Author: Martin Pasko

Martin Pasko: You’ve Got Mail! We Just Don’t Know Where It Is…

Martin Pasko: You’ve Got Mail! We Just Don’t Know Where It Is…

Pasko Art 130912Please believe me, as I conclude last week’s well-reasoned and temperate dissertation on why comics fans should care – maybe – about the future of the US Postal Service, when I say I’m trying hard to wrap up this little opus before the USPS goes out of business.

But I’m not working as fast nor concentrating as well as I’d like because I’ve just been distracted by another “gotcha” courtesy of my BMK – Bad Mail Karma. It illustrates one of the more interesting by-products of the USPS’s ongoing effort to modernize, simplify and streamline its products and services even as Congress calls for a postal austerity program:

When a customer confused by the ever-changing policies (that would be moi) makes a minor mistake, the USPS’s systems will helpfully turn it into an exhausting, nerve-wracking Major Hassle by preventing it from being corrected.

In my recent move back to Southern California, I managed to outsmart myself by sending ahead of me a USPS Priority Mail box of important items that I’d need before the moving van arrived with my everyday stuff. It has yet to arrive, some eight weeks later. It seems I used Priority Mail packaging that was not a flat rate box, but to which I incorrectly affixed flat rate postage generated online. OK, my bad.

That does not explain, however, why it took the P.O. four weeks to determine that that was the problem; why its online tracking system kept giving me information that contradicted the tracking data in the main USPS computer; nor why the package has now crossed the country four times, having been shipped back and forth between my old address and the new, each time being flagged in the system as undeliverable” or sent to “no such address.”

The helpful people I’ve dealt with at my local P.O. – six of them now, because the same people don’t seem to work there for more than five days in a row – can’t seem to figure it out, either. One “Letter Carrier Supervisor” told me, “I’ve been working here 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.” Of course, that may be because she apparently takes 147 coffee breaks a day.

This might also explain why she can’t get her direct reports to do what the three other supervisors have told me they will: When the package ricochets back here to Pasadena, they’ll call me so I can come pay the extra postage and pick it up. When last heard from, the package was at some “claims resolution” facility in Atlanta, but was supposed to be on its way back here. That was two weeks ago.

Now, imagine that this box had been, say, a shipment of comics from a private eBay seller for which you were waiting breathlessly. (Yes, small, private sellers often make honest mistakes. I hasten to add, though, that as someone who sells on eBay, I’ve been lucky – so far – not to make this kind of mistake with a customer’s package. And you can be sure I’m doubly careful now.)

This is a microcosmic example of the kind of thing comics fans will probably be saying good-bye to soon, mournfully or otherwise, having been left to the tender mercies of those even bigger screw-ups, UPS and DHL. The macrocosmic version is what I described last week: A stamp-related custom comic project that was extraordinarily successful for DC Comics (the aggregate print run for the nine CTC books I discussed added up to over 10 million) turned out to be a dismal failure for the USPS. This, only because the agency couldn’t secure the content approval from its licensors – the owners of several of the stamp subjects’ IT – in time to get the books out, to serve as collectors’ albums for the CTC series, at the same time as the stamps themselves.

And it’s too bad, really, this suicidal ineptitude, since comics fans once had a friend in the postal service. It was tangentially responsible for the creation of letters columns which, in the earliest days of comics fanzines and well before web sites and comment forums, became the principal means by which comics fans exchanged opinions about talent and continuity developments and, from the addresses printed, gained the means to interact and organize. These “LOC” pages came about because postal regulations required comics to have at least a page of text to qualify for their mailing rate. When the previous practice of hiring writers to create original prose fillers became prohibitively expensive, the “lettercols” were born.

Soon, those who self-identified as serious fans and collectors became the only readers who were so hell-bent on getting their monthly “fix” that they’d be willing to subscribe. But they were dissuaded from doing so because they didn’t want their mint-condition comics given a permanent vertical crease by being folded lengthwise to fit into a narrow wrapper, which was the only cost-effective way to send comics through the mail. So you can thank USPS, then, for killing this in favor of what took another decade to develop, with the growth of specialty retail shops: the pull-and-hold service.

Today, the Postal Service searches for new services it can provide http://www.informationweek.com/government/security/postal-service-pilots-next-gen-authentic/240145559, to replace the ones it has screwed up so badly that they’ve become obsolete. One of its ideas is to get itself into the “identity management business.” The fact that the average citizen can’t figure out what, in fact, “identity management” is should in no way deter the USPS from this worthy goal. It might keep them occupied so that other companies will have to deliver all the packages, and our paychecks will all be issued by Direct Deposit and have no trouble finding their way into our bank accounts.

Of course, thereafter we’ll be unable to access our funds, because our identity will have “managed” to change – to that of someone we’ve never heard of in a zip code that hasn’t been invented yet. (Remind me not to tell you about how my previous address in Pennsylvania, a rural route which was given a normal house-number in “The Monroe County Readdressing Project”  … with the result that my online change-of-address form couldn’t be processed properly because the old address wasn’t in the USPS database.)

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to stop oiling my old spinner-rack and instead donate it to a nursing home. I’m going to shop for comics via ComiXology exclusively, and work on figuring out how to get my new tech for promoting pacifism and conservation of labor, to make plastic staples. Once everyone on eBay is shipping via UPS, and we have the technology to totally recreate “floppies” in our own homes, the world’s Geeks – comic book division – won’t have anything to fear from the P.O. anymore, whatsoever.

FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis (honest)

 

Martin Pasko: A Brief History of Mail Power Fantasies

Pasko Art 130905Last week’s column, about the apparent suicidal impulses of the US Postal Service, advanced what I hope is a baseless and purely paranoiac thesis: Because UPS, FedEx, and their ilk don’t cover every form of deliverable and are prohibitively expensive for many small-business shippers, we are in urgent need of alternative low-cost means for shipping parcels and other three-dimensional objects that can’t – or won’t – be deliverable to us in electronic form any time soon. That’s because the P.O.’s collapse might happen faster than we can create the infrastructure necessary to take up the (very minor) slack.

That would be a Geek Apocalypse. Some momzer with an encyclopedic memory of The Overstreet Guide won’t be able to profitably ship you that copy of Tales To Astonish #12 you bid too much for. And your ability to receive items like priceless Mr. Terrific maquettes, or the Talents’ endless flow of royalty checks for $.35, will be jeopardized. And then suddenly, one day, before you know it…entire vital industries start getting wiped out. Y’know, like Hero-Clix.

But it’s hard to be too sympathetic to the USPS’ increasingly strident argument that it needs more funding and a different budgeting process. Perhaps because there’s a reason it’s OK to bail out Detroit but not USPS: the auto industry hasn’t yet come up with a car that can go anywhere except the direction you’re trying to steer it in.

If all this leaves you unmoved to lament the coming Götterdämmerung in Mail Valhalla, perhaps you might shed a tear out of nostalgia. When the Post Office finally goes, so, probably, will the memory of some – odd and arcane, to be sure – pieces of comics history.

For example, whatever else USPS is trying to preserve, it isn’t a commitment to the goal expressed in huge letters on the New York City main branch: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That inscription is believed to have been carved by a young stonemason named Ira Schnapp, who went on to play a major role in comics history by designing the classic Superman logo and lettering most of DC’s top-tier output for roughly the first fifteen years of its existence.

Over the next 50 years, the USPS was indirectly responsible for some memorable, comics fanboy-beloved policies and procedures. I’ll discuss a few of those next week, when I perform the death-defying feat of ending this two-and-a-half part rant and starting a new one, establishing a premise that you will have forgotten by the time you conclude reading about it the following week.

Before USPS became irrelevant to comics, it resorted to printing comic book content, in a sense – such as with the 2007 Marvel Super Heroes series that put Spider-Man on a stamp. It was one such “issue” that inspired the project that arguably brought the uneasy alliance of comics and USPS to its disastrous apotheosis.

The negotiations for the use of Superman on a stamp to commemorate his create led to high-level talks that generated a custom comics initiative. This project, of which I was the alternately fascinated and appalled editorial supervisor, was The Celebrate The Century Super Heroes Stamp Album series. This was part of a much more ambitious campaign, The Celebrate The Century stamp series. It seemed like a simple, sure-fire plan: nine sets of stamps commemorating each of the nine decades of the 20th Century. The subjects of the stamps for the first half – the 1900s thru the ‘40s – were selected by a panel of scholars assembled by the USPS. The remaining stamps subjects would be chosen by polling…those notorious champions of intellectual rigor and high-mindedness, the American people.

Which means that our first five volumes were filled with cleverly-written, beautifully drawn, and impeccably researched two-page spreads in which Superman and his Justice League friends enlightened while entertaining on such worthy subjects as the League of Nations, the development of antibiotics, and the WPA. The latter half of the series featured third-tier super heroes no one had ever heard of, but which were chosen because they were minorities, got excited about I Love Lucy and the Slinky Toy.

We were on an aggressive schedule with a tremendous investment by the client: print runs in the millions. We managed to do the huge job of research, creating the Editorial, and fact-checking the first five books on the P.O.’s schedule, which required the comics-format albums to be on sale at the same time as the corresponding stamps. We didn’t get into trouble until we got to the issues based the stamps the Brand-Conscious American Consumer “voted in” – a slew of stamps featuring Other Companies’ trademarked intellectual property.

In the sort of bureaucratic failure of due diligence that has made USPS a company that could not lose more money if it subcontracted its shipping to Amtrak, the USPS had secured the rights to the images it used on the stamps, but not the clearance of, or payment for, use of the images in licensed products based on the stamps.

What ensued was a train wreck, with the rights-holders demanding outrageous and labor-intensive changes to the already-completed art before they’d be approved. Some of the licensors’ objections had to be negotiated away because they negated the very concept of the project itself.

The widow of a certain famous children’s book cartoonist withheld approval for over two months because she could not be dissuaded from what she seemed to think was a simple, reasonable request: that her late husband’s creation, which was the subject of the stamp, not be upstaged by a DC super hero character, and that the super hero who described the stamp’s history to the reader had to be deleted.

As Jules Feiffer once put it…a subtle pattern begins to emerge…

Next Week: “You’ve Got Mail!”…We Just Don’t Know Where It Is.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

Martin Pasko: Actually, The Postman Never Rings At All

Pasko Art 130829When I was a little kid, the original The Fly scared the crap out of me. Then, later, when I wrote the Star Trek and Justice League franchises in comics, I felt a morbid and uneasy fascination with the transporter idea, which I’d always thought had a greater potential for disaster than deliverance. But I never did much with it, because my early Vincent Price-induced trauma left me with zero interest in writing about steaming piles of misshapen, dying flesh. So I never thought I’d see the day when I’d write these words:

We need teleportation. Badly. And we need it now.

Why am I bending your digital ear with this?

Well, another day I never thought I’d see is the one when the number of Americans who self-identify as Geeks would outnumber Americans who give a flying rat’s ass about what happens to the US Postal Service.

The great irony of this is that many of the people who stand to lose big-time if the USPS achieves its goal of total self-annihilation are Geeks.

If this painfully slowly-approaching disaster isn’t averted, no amount of muscular adblockers will be able to Improve Your eBay Experience. And there are still some comics publishers who don’t drop-ship everything from Canada by courier service. Moreover, there still exist certain types of vendors who think DHL is an even bigger nightmare than the postal system, and a few pesky creative dinosaurs who still have the temerity to expect payment for entertaining you. And they expect it from Accounting Departments who are already resentful enough as it is about having to generate all those 1099s at year’s end. Which is why their indulgent bosses reward them for never, ever suggesting that Talent can be paid via Direct Deposit, which is obviously evil and irresponsible, in addition to being too much trouble, because that’s how the government that needs to be shrunk in the bathtub now pays The 47% all that social safety net money they don’t deserve and which is obviously a Socialist plot.

All these nice folk will feel like they live in an even more dystopian alternate universe than they already occupy if those little paper things that are redeemable for cash and prizes stop showing up in their cobweb-infested mail boxes.

Yes, I know you know what “going postal” means. But you may not be old enough to remember why, despite the fact that many local P.O.s are named after famous people living or dead, there’s no such thing as a David Berkowitz Post Office. Which is why you may be blissfully unaware that you’re not getting half your mail because your letter carriers’ dogs talk to them and tell them what they should do with it instead of delivering it.

For you, USPS’ headlong rush to make the case for its own irrelevancy to modern life might have a greater significance, so it is my duty to helpfully call it to your attention.

In the interest of appropriate full disclosure, I should add that I’m uniquely qualified to talk about the USPS on a site that’s supposed to be about comics, and not just from having been tortured by them through a few decades as a freelancer (an old girlfriend once got so tired of hearing me bitch about the horrors they visited on me, she nicknamed me BMK, which stood for Bad Mail Karma).

Oh, no. There’s more. You see, I was once involved in creating comic books FOR the USPS, which was a little trip through Pinhead’s Lament Configuration all by itself.

Have I hooked you? Good. Then maybe you’ll come back here for that story next week. I mean, maybe you’ll deign to sample this column again. In spite of everything.

Because in that tale – from the ‘90s, mind you – lies an insight into the monumental and long-customary – and therefore ineluctably irreparable – bureaucratic ineptitude that will inevitably result in USPS’s demise. This, despite a Congress that, while having done nothing else of substance, has managed to reinstate the possibility of its remote mail centers receiving Ricin-laced envelopes on Saturdays.

Hmm. The dogs I live with are barking. That must mean the mailmoron’s here. But that’s impossible. It’s not even dark yet. Must be a new person on this route. Excuse me while I go peer out at him or her suspiciously through the venetian blinds, like one of those crazy old people who’s about to run outside waving a broom to shoo the neighborhood kids out of the driveway. That’ll inspire continued excellent service, I’m sure.

Whoah.

The mailmoron has just delivered six pieces of mail, only four of which are for people who don’t live here. Plus, unlike her predecessor, she actually noticed the large banker’s box under the mailbox. The one with the sign on it reading, in 72-point type, outgoing mail. Which means she actually took the prepaid packages and stamped letters that have been sitting in it since Tuesday. And will do whatever her dog tells her to do with them.

I never thought I’d see the day.

Next week: Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor gloom of night can possibly make anything worse.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

Martin Pasko: Geek Ennui

Pasko Art 130822My regular readers have figured out by now that when I sit down to write this column every week, my tongue is usually so deeply planted in my cheek that my face scares homophobes.

Which is why I come to you today with a heavy heart. And an uncharacteristically downbeat-sounding bunch of words. I have nothing to joke about – at least, not “above the cut.”

No, all I’ve got is just … flat affect.

Oh, I continue to monitor, and very discriminatingly partake, of the various expressions of Geek culture chronicled, dissected, and celebrated here and elsewhere. But I can’t seem to get as excited about any of it as do all the other too-numerous and overstimulated chatterers.

Something is missing.

Yeah, I know it’s supposed to be a big deal that John Romita, Jr. is maybe gonna draw Superman. And no one can figure out why Kick-Ass 2 was a box office disappointment. And people can’t wait to know what the Guardians of the Galaxy movie is gonna look like, or how Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who is gonna be different from Matt Smith’s. And on and on and on. But, for some reason that’s really starting to bug me, because I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, I can’t motivate myself to give a rat’s patoot about any of it.

From most of the comics and movies and video I sample, something is missing. For a long time I thought it was just that I was somehow managing to miss “the good stuff,” but now I’m not so sure.

It can’t possibly be Just Me. Not with the fistful of antidepressants I take every day. No, of course not. That can’t be it.

I suspect that what I’m really experiencing is a massive case of Be Careful What You Wish For, You Might Get It. And what veterans of the comics biz like myself have always wished for was that comics – the genre, if you can call them that; the type of content, not the physical printed product – would became a mainstream entertainment phenomenon. And they have.

Thanks more to CGI and Hollywood than to their modest printed spawning-ground, comics and related pop culture are, of course Big Business now, and have been for so long that most readers of sites like this one can’t remember a time when they weren’t. Which means they can’t remember, either, a time when all this stuff wasn’t quite as mindlessly escapist, or – at the opposite end of a spectrum that seems not to have a mid-range – leadenly, pretentiously Serious Minded.

That condition obtains, perhaps, because mindlessness sells big-time, while Seriousness of Purpose wins Eisner Awards and fanboy cred (and the occasional crowdfunding bonanza), which freshly-minted capital is then expended by the mintee on being mindless for a much bigger payday.

But something, nevertheless, seems to me to be missing.

What first got me seriously wanting to write comics instead of just reading them were things like Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’s original Green Lantern / Green Arrow series and Steve Gerber’s Howard The Duck. Titles that were a vibrant and perceptively critical commentary on the culture they arose from, but whose Creative always enveloped its core concerns with a sugar-coating of good, solid, old-fashioned fun. Fun as in slam-bang heroic-fantasy action or verbal jokes and sight gags – the stuff that allowed the less demanding readers to remain oblivious, if that was their wont, to the Big Ideas the writers of such comics were trying to explore. In so doing, these comics were hits among fans (as opposed to being successful by the casual-reader-at-newsstands-only distribution “metrics” of their day. But the industry learned, for a brief time in the ‘80s, that such content was solidly marketable in the direct-only environment.

The art of producing that kind of comic book entertainment seems to me almost lost. At least, I haven’t been able to find it – not for a few years now.

If that’s the something that’s missing, I want and need – need – to find it again. Or somehow become a force in reviving it, if not just making it more visible than it is now, if it’s even still out there. And that’s what seems to be preoccupying me this week, and will, I hope, be grist for this mill in weeks to come.

All this is why something else is missing this week: a column that tries to be itself entertaining, while “sugar-coating” with humor an observation or caution that I hope might prove thought-provoking or inspiring of debate.

Oh, well. Maybe next week.

At least I didn’t do what too many in the blogosphere are tempted to do, and write a column about how I couldn’t figure out what to write about.

Or did I?

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

Martin Pasko: City On The Edge of Forgetaboutit

Pasko Art 130815If you follow this column regularly (in which case I apologize for the feelings of loneliness and alienation), you might remember me mentioning that I now reside in Los Angeles, which is the perfect city to move to if you’re really desperate to live in a comic book. It’s so colorful and exciting and full of funny-looking noises. Like when the valet at Jerry’s Deli on Ventura slides that new car you haven’t even started making the payments on yet into a parking space narrower than its wheel base – at 120 mph – because he thinks he’s Batman.

So I am thrilled to report I’m serene, I tell you, serene as I continue to sit around, keyboarding like this. Only now I do it for fun because the keyboard I’m using is the digital one on my smartphone, and it’s now in my lap as I write this, with the vibration intensity on the haptic feedback set to “Maximum.”

Sorry.

I am, however, finding it somewhat more lonely here than I’d anticipated.

Many of my old friends – the kind who keep insisting I refer to them on social media as “not-old-that-way” – don’t get out much. They glide about their palatial homes in motorized tricycles which have to be loaded into their very tiny cars when a group of us goes out to lunch. Whereupon the one who still has enough use of his legs to actually drive a car keeps asking the voice on the GPS to speak louder, so he can hear her replies to his inappropriate comments about how hot she sounds and what time she gets off work.

Meanwhile, the other three beg me to push their motorized tricycles out into freeway traffic while they are still in them, because their fingers are too arthritic to use a trackpad and none of them has mastered SEO well enough to Google for the guy who inherited Jack Kevorkian’s equipment.

Thus I find myself in the rather odd position of actually looking forward to inviting to lunch Stan The Man, who, as you know, lives in Beverly Hills. And is not too busy to see me because there are no animation studios or comic book companies left out here with whom he can jointly announce a project that will be completed after you and I are dead.

 (“Just came back from The Mansion and I’m way stoked, ‘cause Hef an’ I are This Close to launchin’ that whole Spider-Bunny thing.”)

I’ll have to find a way to break it gently to Mr. Man that Mr. Hefner no longer sits around all day in his pajamas and bathrobe because he needs to be ready at a moment’s notice to fuck a smokin’-hot babe, but because sitting around all day in your pajamas and bathrobe is just what you do when you’re 187 years old.

But, of course, as Bill Maher knows how to say with much better fake sincerity than I, I kid Mr. Man. I have every confidence that he really will be with us many years hence. That’s because, as he has helpfully informed us, he has a pacemaker but no need whatsoever for a motorized tricycle. I am, however, inviting Mr. Man to lunch in my home, where absolutely no effort will be made to point out that he’s standing too close to the microwave.

And, in what passes here in Hollywood for truth, Mr. Man has announced a strategic relationship with Archie Comics, for whom he will be writing Just Imagine Stan The Man Asking You To Believe He Actually Wrote This Comic Book Himself About What It Would’ve Been Like If He’d Created That Really Swell, Groovy Homo Kid We Came Up With That’s Putting Us Out Of Business Because It’s Pissing Off All Those Loudmouthed Jesus People Who For Some Reason Are Still Under The Impression That They Can Buy “Age-appropriate” Comic Books At Wal*Mart.

I, for one, am looking forward to chatting Mr. Man up about that book. I may be totally off-base on this, because I haven’t actually seen Mr. Man in the 20 years since the announcement, but I think Archie is a perfectly natural “fit” for him because, at least at that time, the back of Mr. Man’s head was orange, too.

Now, as we come to the conclusion of what I know all you reverential fanboys, with your keenly developed senses of humor, will have understood was meant as Just Jokes rather than the gratuitous and mean-spirited rant you, you hero-worshiping little cretins, you, mistook it for … I leave you with just these humble thoughts:

Apparently, here in The City On The Edge of Forgetaboutit, the way you fight ageism is by making fun of people who are even older than you are. If you can find any.

And so it is that I whistle past Forest Lawn and rage, rage against the dying of the light from my smartphone.

OK, so I’m a little cranky, too.

Some asshole just totaled my motorized tricycle, trying to park it at 120 mph because he thinks he’s Batman.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

Martin Pasko: U-Moved! U-Phoric? U-Betcha!

Martin Pasko: U-Moved! U-Phoric? U-Betcha!

Pasko Art 130808If you’ve got The Amazing Colossal Comic Book Collection whose unfettered gigantism is dust-collecting you out of house and home, you may need to find a bigger but cheaper house and home … in which case you might need what is known as a Low-Cost Move. Which brings me to this week’s excursion into the realm of Don’t Let This Happen To You.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my lovely new home in California, to which I moved right after attending the San Diego Comic-Con, and am comfortably and serenely keyboarding as usual.

Back from that link? Sorry.

It wasn’t really my intention to begin with a headlong plunge into The Do You Know Long It’ll Take Me To Get That Image Outta My Head? Zone. I only mention it because the only clothes I have right now are what I packed for San Diego, and I launder them daily. That’s because, almost two weeks later, I’m still waiting for everything I have in this world to arrive in a conveyance that is over 10 days late, courtesy of a lovely little company I’ve come to call “U-Hell.” 

But I’m serene, I tell you, serene, because U-Hell now promises me that tomorrow they’ll finally deliver the plywood 8′ x 7′ x 5; contraption we will call “the U-Pod.”

A “U-move” is theoretically simple: U-pack your stuff in this container and They-Haul it to Ur-Destination, where U-Unload it Ur-self, then call to have Them-Pick-Up the empty pod.

But I’m serene, I tell you, serene only with the help of the margaritas I’ve blended every night since shipping the U-Pod from my former home in Pennsyltucky, the Wolf Trap State, so named because after sic months there you’re willing to chew off your own foot to escape. And I’m so drunkenly, sleep-deprivedly serene that I actually believe a promise from U-Hell.

This, despite the fact that everything They’ve-Told me so far about what They’d-Do for me has been either: (a) a “communications error;” (b) something that someone else told me the previous person had no authority to promise me in the first place; or (c) information contained in an automated “U-Mail” that didn’t accurately reflect my origin point or destination; was sent from an email address I couldn’t replay to; and notified of charges to my credit card for products and services I didn’t order.

Today, U-Hell helpfully informed me (“Do not reply to this U-mail; it will not be We-Read”) that in transit, my possessions have been heard to be … uhm, “shifting.” I tried to call to express undying I-Thanks for their U-Mail inquiring whether I was transporting ping-pong balls or unlidded crates of grapefruit, because I’d begun sleeping regularly and was falling behind on my panic attacks. But all I got was “Please stay on the line; a U-Call is important to us…”

So, luckily, I won’t be sleeping through my alarm and will be wide awake to begin the all-important process of determining how many irreplaceable pieces of priceless memorabilia from my award-winning career have been ricocheting around my U-Pod, thanks to the U-Truck’s “U-Patented ‘Air Glide!’ U-Suspension U-SystemTM.”  Thank God I didn’t get a wink of sleep breathlessly anticipating how much expensive computer hardware I’ll be replacing by spending all that big money ComicMix pays me.

But I’m laughing, I tell you, laughing at life … to the point of margaritas spewing out of my nose and onto the keyboard borrowed from one of my new housemates, which is now shorted out and won’t be available to replace the one that’s colliding with all those boxes of priceless and irreplaceable memorabilia. But that’s okay, because I think it’ll be bent just enough to look really good glued to the top of my Emmy®, right where that globe made of all those slender, fragile strands of gold used to be. Besides, what’s an Emmy® when you have an Inkpot Award, the sharp edges of which have been useful in responding to my irresistible impulse for self-mutilation, by making sure that the Wolverine claw stab-wounds never completely heal?

So, by this time tomorrow, I’ll be serenely, I tell you, serenely ignoring the U-Mail I can reply to: the one asking me to “Rate Your U-Hell Experience!” This customer-satisfaction questionnaire helpfully compensates for my obvious inability to express myself, by supplying multiple-choice answers to its questions. These range all the way from “Thrilled Beyond Even My Unrealistic Expectations” to “Even Better Than The Promotions On The U-Site When The Server Wasn’t Crashing,” helpfully enabling me to resist the temptation to type in “U-Suck.”

By the time U-read this column, the U-Pod will have arrived. But please don’t ask me how my Amazing Colossal Comic Book Collection fared, because I didn’t have a collection to entrust to U-Hell in the first place. That was lost by Wall-Eyed Van Lines, which moved me last year from New Jersey to the My-Hell of Pennsyltucky.

Now where the fuck is the lid to that blender…?

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases Can’t See TeeVee

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman – Scooby and the Geriatric Comics

 

Martin Pasko: The Age of Michael Jackson Comics

Pasko Art 130801Before I Do This Thang for the week: I’ve been getting messages from readers. Apparently, I do have them. Or, as Bob Hope might have said, “I know you’re out there, because why else would Dolores be propping me up in that direction?”

These messages I’m talking about are all “Why do you use so many links?” Clearly, if you’re asking this, you’re not clicking on them. Hint: Some – not all, or even most, but some – of them don’t lead where you might assume they do. They are instead meant to be weird, “disconnective,” hit-or-miss jokes in and of themselves. So, as the most celebrated member of The Hair Club For Men once put it, “’Nuff said.”

Now, on to That Thang. Meaning I have to stop vamping with jokes about what I didn’t learn in San Diego the weekend before last, and, God help me, actually come up with a third and final part of my highly speculative and putatively uninformed rant to go with the first and second parts. [I say “putatively” because Richard Feder of Fort Lee, New Jersey, writes, “Aren’t the comics selling better than ever? What should I do?” (And, no; no link this time. Get off your fat ass and Google it.)]

If you’re just joining me here for the first time, please feel free – unless your ass really is too fat to allow you to lean over and reach your mouse or trackpad – to check out those previous parts. And maybe click on some on those links you’ve been skipping over. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It’s not like I have anything better to do.

Back now? Good.

One thing Iwasn’t joking about last week: SDCC really didn’t shed much light on whether the Big Two might be incrementally but profoundly changing how they think about creating and marketing comics. Specifically, that they might have to take back total creative control from the freelance talent, to better justify their claim that comics help generate new, original movie and TV properties – titles and characters that aren’t mere spin-offs from the oldest, best-known super hero “brands.”

But I remained in the dark not, as I facetiously suggested, because of the conditions endemic to the con itself, but, rather, because the Big Two’s massive “booths” at least appear to still be doing their dog-and-pony shows in much the samo-samo way as they have been since the beginning of The Gastrotrich Super-Star era and the annual “continuity stunt.” You know – the age of what I like to call Michael Jackson Comics. As in, “We’re going to keep rearranging our face because it gets us publicity even though we don’t entertain anybody anymore. (But we do have a few pet chimps who clap for us when we do it.)”

At first, superficial glance, little seems to have changed this year. There were the same long lines of people waiting for something, but you couldn’t quite be sure what because the crowds were too dense. And there were the same old book signings by the Flavors Of The Week – those comic book “creators” who have been rocketing out of obscurity and vanishing back into it just as fast, ever since Hollywood’s “‘bankable’ star” mentality was first applied to four-color pamphlets by, if memory serves, Jenette Kahn. She was the first Big Two publisher to wonder, for example, whether Superman might not sell better if it were John Byrne’s Superman.

And it did.

For a while.

Thirty years ago.

But this year at SDCC, when I took a closer look at those exhibits, and let my eye follow carefully where that long line was snaking to, it seemed as if more and more of those people were queueing up for a chance to glimpse some “teaser” footage from an upcoming movie or TV show, and the lines to buy signed copies of Flavor of the Week’s Superman or Smokin’ Hot Newcomer’s Spider-Man were shorter. The “brand” – the property – was what was making the loudest ka-ching, ka-ching.

But the people who decide what will be presented in these exhibits seem not to notice, and persist in announcing new comic book titles whose selling point is presumably the name of the creative talent rather than the super hero brand. Meanwhile, superhero feature films continue to succeed without being dependent on major stars in their casts, a phenomenon that is a reflection of a larger, industry-wide paradigm shift.

The early warning signs might be barely noticeable, but I really think they’re there. And it’s getting harder not to wonder whether someday – maybe sooner than even cynical me suspects – Disney and Warners will have convinced themselves that they can endlessly exploit their existing brands, through reboots not unlike those in the old annual face-changing stunts, without any help from their four-color pamphleteers. And if their comic book divisions will have ceased to yield new brands they can add to the product mix as break-out hits, they might start to wonder whether all those Flavors of the Week and their pamphlets are any use to them at all.

LATER TODAY: Emily S. Whitten Returns!

FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY MORNING: Marc Alan Fishman

 

 

Martin Pasko: Your Wolverine Claws

Pasko Art 130725Yeah, I know that last week I promised you the third and final part of that earth-shattering rant that, as you know, went hugely viral and made me the new darling of the Internet.

I promised to report on what I’d have learned – evidence that supported or refuted my thesis about Mainstream Comics being unable to escape from the corner they’ve painted themselves into – at the publishers’ booths in the exhibit halls of the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con.

But I made that reckless and foolhardy promise before I’d actually been to the San Diego Comic-Con – or, at least, to what it has metastasized into in recent years. Oh, I’d heard all the stories, of course. But none of them do justice to the actual experience, which taught me that you can’t, in fact, learn anything at the San Diego Comic-Con…because can’t really hear anything over the sound of dozens of Jumbotrons trying to sell you things you don’t want, or see anything for the crush of, uhm, imaginatively-garbed bodies slowly taxiing through the Area 51-like hangar like some flying fortress of presumably human flesh.

Wait. I take that back. There are some things you can learn at Comic-Con. And, because I won’t be able to concentrate well enough to resume the serious business of earth-shattering rants until I can see and hear again – and the anti-depressants kick in three days from now – I’d like instead to share some of them with you.

1. There is a definite limit to the number of times you can tolerate bleeding from the chest because you are being poked by some asshole wearing Wolverine claws.

2. SDCC makes you grateful for word processing apps on smartphones. Mainly because there are so many competing WiFi hotspots in the exhibit halls, you can’t use the phone for anything else. I am, in fact, writing this column on my phone, during my hour-long walk back to my hotel. No prob; I love hour-long walks. Good exercise. Unfortunately, my hotel is only three blocks from the convention center.

3. Best way to deal with being poked in the chest for the third time by some asshole wearing Wolverine claws: Fling a handful of your blood in his face and chant, “Nyah-nyah, I’ve got the Hanta Virus…”

4. Always remember, when tempted to accept an invitation to the Eisner Awards, that they are not merely a new version of the old Inkpot Awards banquet, because they are no longer, in fact, a banquet. And when you are sitting through 30-minute anecdotes from dead artists’ children, reminiscing about how their dad sculpted “Eskimos” from soap bars when they were five, you will really want to be having the dinner you didn’t eat earlier because you thought you were gonna get food.

5. No one presenting or accepting an Eisner Award is as funny as they think they are, and the ones who are supposed to be, aren’t. And Doctor Who cast members who try to be are just FAAABulously embarrassing. However, this rule does not apply to Chip Kidd, who made me believe the Eisners really are the Oscars of the comics industry because now they have their own Bruce Vilanch. But only when Chris Ware wins something.

6. None of the panels or “events” is as entertaining as the looks on the faces of the guys picketing out front with “You’re a crawling piece of shit but Jesus loves you anyway” signs, while people dressed as the entire cast of Supernatural shuffle past them. Especially not the events you can’t get into without coming down with a virus by camping out on the sidewalk all night.

7. The virus you get from camping out on the sidewalk all night is very effective in dealing with getting poked in the chest by assholes wearing Wolverine claws.

8. The Eisner Awards are not, in fact, “the Oscars of the comic book industry.” The Oscars are smart enough to video, in a separate, earlier ceremony – and play back at the main event only in judiciously-edited clips – the awards for Best Translation of A Graphic Novel You Will Never Read About A Subject You Don’t Understand Originally Published In a Language You’ve Never Heard Of Before.

9. In the convention center there is one Starbucks concession for every 10 guests, and by Sunday at noon every Grande Hazelnut Frappuccino® is being spiked by 150-proof Captain Morgan’s, and you are wondering how you can find an asshole wearing Wolverine claws so you can hire him to stab you in the chest.

Please Note: The above are Just Jokes. I actually enjoyed the convention (as a guest) enormously, and the staff is terrific. Still the best show in the business, serious about comics amid all the Hideous Hollywood Hype, and everyone – guests and paid members alike – are treated well. My thanks to all the folk at SDCC for a memorably fun weekend!

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

Martin Pasko: Marvel & DC – The Little Big Two

letterpress2As I was saying last week before I was so rudely cut off by the limitations of your internet-degraded attention span

Mainstream Comics (read: The Big Two) have begun to remind me of that much-mocked TV commercial with the old woman screaming “Help! I’ve fallen but I can’t get up!”

That business seems to me to be in freefall, and only gaming the numbers so as not to scare the horses maintains the status quo, with ongoing monthlies somehow being considered successes with four-digit sell-through estimates that, as few as 10 years ago, would’ve gotten a title canceled long before things got that desperate. And the “top-selling” titles, you’ll note, are all brand extensions – all variations on, or team-ups with, batmen, wolverines, and other tried-and-trues.

Which presents a thorny dilemma.

Neither of the “Big” Two’s corporate parents wants to be in the business of putting ink on dead trees, which – though ComiXology might claim otherwise – is still the major comics delivery-system. And publishing’s a low-margin biz, and low margins are as crucifixes to Count Disnela and Baron Von Warner. But they’ve been persuaded not to drive a stake through the comics divisions’ hearts by being sold on the dubious proposition that comics are low-cost R&D for blockbuster movie and TV development.

Yet not one of the tentpole franchises from the Big Two’s studio daddies has been based on anything created more recently than 50 years ago (the 40-year old Blade being neither tentpole nor generated by Marvel Entertainment). If you’re going to be a stickler and say, for example, that X-Men’s success owes more to the ‘80s reboot than the Lee-Kirby original, okay – 30 years ago. So far the closest Hollywood has come to building a discrete film around a newer character is the alleged Deadpool movie. Since the New Mutants and X-Force titles that whelped the character are both X-Men spinoffs, however, Deadpool doesn’t really count as something that isn’t a brand extension. If Jeff Robinov’s successors don’t share his aversion to making a Lobo film, maybe then I’ll sit up and take notice.

To make matters worse, the comics themselves are not being used as a development lab, since most, if not all, of the new titles in recent years have themselves been brand extensions. (And, when films like Red and The Losers tank, the incentive to look to newer “original” Big Two titles as source material dies with them.)

If the Big Two can’t be profit centers from publishing alone, the only way Pub Ops can truthfully be a development lab is if the publishers increasingly take back control of the creative development of their comics, which they’ve completely outsourced. This, to control new product development focused less on selling comics and more on creating potential movies and TV shows. But they probably can’t do this – at least, not easily.

For one thing, The Big Two seem to be under pressure to roll back the kinds of deals that used to give Creatives limited profit participation in new characters. And in this Brave New World of self-publishing, it’s hard to find strong, seasoned talent willing to let their new ideas be Wholly Owned by the Big Two.

So how much longer can the Big Floppymeisters justify their existence? Especially when they’re completely reliant on the freelance talent … because they no longer have editors who can control the process credibly, even if their bosses were willing to redefine the role of the editor. Few, if any, of them have the chops to pick up a pencil, graphics tablet or keyboard and make the product themselves (and show the newbies how it’s done) – the way the Infantinos, Orlandos, Lees, Romitas, O’Neils, Weins, and Shooters did when they were running things.

More in the third and final installment of this rant, written from the San Diego Comic-Con, where I’ll be looking for signs of a forced-change in Talent Relations – if any – and reporting back from my maybe not-so-uniquely skewed perspective.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

Martin Pasko Wants To Know What’s Going On

Pasko Art 13071I was considering doing a piece on how I can’t figure out why I haven’t seen any of my comic collector friends on Hoarders. You know, those people who keep moving to cheaper, bigger houses in worse and worse neighborhoods so they can have a living room big enough for those little, narrow walkways among their 437 eight-foot-high stacks of long boxes? Fear of ending up like that is the main reason I never got into collecting. Or so I thought.

But then I looked around my own claustrophobic living space and realized that people who live in Mylar snuggies shouldn’t throw weighted-based maquettes.

But I’m not a collector. I’m an accumulator. I haven’t paid for a comic book in 20 years, but people keep sending them to me. I can’t get them to stop. So I put them aside, saying I’ll get to them eventually. But I hate clutter. So today I finally forced myself to spend the day opening stacks of boxes of comps from the major publishers. And wasting several hours on one of my favorite pastimes (not): cutting open those shrink-wrapped bundles of “floppies” and searching for a cover on which I could tell what was going on without having to stare at it for half an hour.

I’ll award my own personal version of the No Prize (you don’t wanna know) to anyone who can me tell what’s going on here. Or here.

Y’see, I just blew my mortgage payment on a new pair of glasses with lenses thicker than the mirrors on the Hubble, so I know it’s not my eyes.

So engrossed was I in trying to find points of focus and resolving all those hyperthyroidal ink strokes and manic bursts of color into coherent images that I didn’t notice right away that I’d sliced my finger with the box cutter and was bleeding on the comics. In fact, it took a while to notice the flecks of blood on the pages.

No, not because of the gory, violent content (Since when does Superman need to bleed from the nose? Oops, better not get myself started. That’s another rant for some other week) … but because the interior pages are even more incomprehensibly busy, busy, busy than the covers, and in this particular book, the digital colorist’s efforts to cram 137 shades of red into a grad in the background of a panel that printed at 3” wide made it impossible to see the blood.

It finally struck me that what has now made most mainstream super hero product unreadable to me is the very same thing that made it impossible for me to get into collecting, but until today I’d never fully made the connection.

Clutter.

For those of us schooled in certain design principles, minimalism and the use of “negative space” is more effective at arresting the eye than throwing in everything including the kitchen sink. Minimalism in composition, at least ‑ such as that employed here. And here. (And if you don’t believe me, consult Alex Toth.

Since the beginning of this industry, up until relatively recently, many comic book artists have had to be forced by knowledgeable art directors and editors to understand that less is more.

And therein lies part of the problem.

Are the art directors and editors asleep at the switch? No, they’re just impotent. What, exactly, editors and art directors are expected to do these days isn’t abundantly clear. But what role could they play that they aren’t playing in preventing the indecipherable train wrecks that are most mainstream super hero comics?

And what if the very survival of the medium depended on their ability to change course? Could they do it? (Hint: I’ll argue that it does, and they can’t.)

Be here for Part II when we dissect these weighty issues (no, not the floppies). And if you’re one of those eyestrain fans who actually enjoys this stuff while sitting cross-legged in a 3-foot-square floor space between stacks of long boxes, and any of this got your knickers in a twist, just wait’ll next week.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman