Author: Mike Gold

Mike Gold:  Electronic Comics – The Next Generation

iPad ComicsThe distribution system that provided us with books, magazines, newspapers and comics started falling apart some 60 years ago. The term “newsstand” is no more relevant today than the term “buggy whip,” newspapers are folding so fast it’s affecting fish sales, and magazines are mostly sold at the bookstore chains that are going out of business faster than a speeding bullet. So it’s no surprise that I think the tablet computer is the greatest thing to happen to the publishing industry since Guttenberg learned how to spell.

The problem with comic books is that, while they look better and read better on tablets, for the past 20 years or so we’ve repositioned comic books into collectibles, with a half-dozen collectible covers and multiple printings and all sorts of folderol. Do people buy comics for the stories any more?

Well, yes we do, but more and more in the form of trade paperbacks, omnibus editions, and electronic downloads. The average sale of a traditional 32-page pamphlet comic book, even those featuring most major characters, is embarrassing. Sales have been growing lately, but a publisher wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning if he or she had to justify all that expense and lousy cash flow strictly by pamphlet sales.

History has shown us comic book readers like to keep their comics around. I don’t know why; the idea that you’ll want to refer to them in the future is enticing but impractical. Nonetheless, we usually keep our comics around for a while.

This is why I think last week the comic book medium quietly entered a critical new phase. ComiXology, the leading distributor of electronic comics, has entered into agreements to allow you do keep your downloads on your computers and sundry storage media. You will no longer be dependent upon access to decent Wi-Fi to get the comics you paid for, you will no longer live in fear that the electronic distribution service might go out of business and obliviate your collection.

In other words, you get to keep your comics. You pay for it, you keep it.

Initially, only a handful of publishers are allowing ComiXology to sell their comics DRM-free. That’s “digital rights management,” for those of you who are merely semi-nerds. The initial participating publishers are Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Zenoscope Entertainment, Thrillbent, Top Shelf and MonkeyBrain. These are not outfits that publish out of their garages.

All of these outfits already have dabbled in DRM-free distribution, but in their brief existence ComiXology has sold upwards of a quarter-billion digital comics. That’s one powerful distribution service. So big, in fact, that Amazon bought the company last April.

Will Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Archie and the rest join in? I’m dubious about Marvel and DC because their parent companies, Disney and Warner Bros (and maybe soon Rupert Murdoch) react to bootlegging the way slugs react to salt. They conflate electronic distribution with bootlegging. Of course, iTunes and the rest sell a hell of a lot of DRM-free stuff and it’s actually easier to bootleg it for free than it is to enter all that information. But people pay for millions of digital downloads every day. Why should comics be any different?

Of course, that tablet will change just like every other electronic toy. Smartphones are getting bigger, “laptop” computers are getting lighter and thinner, and it won’t be long before there’s another game-changer device that will be better and cooler. I’m thinking direct chip implants to the brain. So the question is, even if comics sales thrive on tablets and computers, will they adapt to whatever’s next?

I sure hope so.


Jay Maeder, 1947 – 2014

Jay MaederLittle Orphan Annie writer, newspaper columnist and comics historian Jay Maeder died of cancer this morning.

Jay wrote the Annie strip from 2000 to its demise in 2010, working with artists Andrew Pepoy, Alan Kupperberg and Ted Slampyak. He felt it was the crowning achievement of his long career, which included writing columns and features for both the Miami Herald and the New York Daily News after starting off at the Lorain Ohio Morning Journal. His People column was a page-two staple of the Miami Herald for 15 years. He then moved on to the Daily News, where he edited and often wrote the Big Town NYC / Big Town Biography columns as well as the Lounge Lizard column and the NewsReel feature.Annie cover

In addition to his work on Annie, Jay is best known to the comics community as the author of Dick Tracy: The Official Biography and a contributor to The Encyclopedia of American Comics and to Dean Mullaney’s Library of American Comics.

Shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer, Jay successfully pitched a graphic novel concept to ComicMix. Sadly, this book, a collaboration with Rick Burchett, will not come to pass.

I had known Jay for upwards of 30 years. Influenced by the great newspaper writers of the first half of the 20th Century, in Miami he took the spirit and the energy of Walter Winchell and updated it to both the times and to the Miami environment. We both grew up fascinated by the legends of American newspaper history. Jay’s style was contemporary, but no less identifiable than Winchell’s. Jay often wore a white suit and hat and he could get away with it even in a shit storm.

I think my fondest memory of Jay revolves around a summer day at his home in Greenwood Lake, NY, one shared by ComicMix’s Glenn Hauman and Martha Thomases. His library looked frighteningly like my own, and we each coveted the other’s exclusives. The two of us just sat there discussing pop history, sharing stories about legends like Col. McCormick and the great comics creators… as well as the not-so-great.

Jay Maeder is survived by his companion, Amanda Hass, his sons Jordan and Christopher, four grandchildren, and two former wives. He was 67.


Mike Gold: Comics Without Pictures

Honey WEstHoney West and T.H.E. Cat: A Girl and Her Cat, by Win Scott Eckert and Matthew Baugh • Moonstone Books, 180 pages • $6.99 paperback, $5.99 digital

Way, way back in the early-1960s, the Chicago Sunday Tribune had a separate section devoted entirely to books. Books, as Craig Ferguson explains frequently, are bound collections of sequentially numbered pieces of paper called “pages” that are, in fact, extremely long tweets. In that book section of yore, there was a “paperback books” columnist. Paperback books were collections of sequentially numbered pages, each in a size smaller than the original, bound in soft cardboard. At the time, most of these paperbacks cost thirty-five or fifty cents.

Stop shaking your heads, Boomers, and go back to finding nibs for your fountain pens so you can sharpen up your cursive. Yes, we are old. Just deal with it. Being a ComicMix columnist, I am honor bound to digress. Ahem.

As I was saying, the Tribune’s paperback columnist was a fine writer and a sincere gentleman named Clarence Peterson. He passed away three years ago after living long enough to see his hallowed newspaper turn to shit. He devoted one column to explaining why the heroic action paperback series of the time – he cited as examples Matt Helm and Travis McGee (and maybe Shell Scott) – were the comic books of the day. We’ll forget the fact that, in that day, there were real comic books: they were few and, in those days before the Marvel expansion, it seemed as though their numbers were dwindling. Compared with one decade before, they most certainly were.

That was cool. I was about 12 at the time, a voracious reader who had already read most of Edgar Rice Burroughs and James Bond novels and was looking for more… and better. So I picked up a Matt Helm book and a Travis McGee book, and I was not disappointed in the least.

Now I am a full-fledged adult (according to my driver’s license) staring at a near-future social security check, but I am doing so from underneath a pile of comic books so high the Empire State Building would cross its legs. I’ve been checking out some of the “new pulp” stuff that is being published these days, mostly due to affordable print-on-demand and electronic publishing. And I’ve liked a lot of what I’ve been reading.

Case in point: Moonstone Books’ Honey West and T.H.E. Cat: A Girl and Her Cat, by Win Scott Eckert and Matthew Baugh. Moonstone is the comics publisher that handles a lot of licensed properties as well as a smattering of original material and has branched out to paperback originals and anthologies: The Avenger, Kolchak, The Green Hornet, The Spider and many, many others. But when I saw the character names Honey West and T.H.E. Cat, I hit my Amazon account with curiosity and enthusiasm. Once again, I was not disappointed.

This is not Moby Dick, and if you thought it might be, what the hell’s wrong with you? This is Honey West, the (allegedly) first female private eye, teaming up with a teevee original, T. Hewett Edward Cat. His show only lasted a year and, for some stupid reason, NBC Universal has yet to release it on DVD, Blu-Ray, or digital download… the last time I checked. The digital streaming and download field is expanding like spring snakes out of a peanut brittle can. It gave the world a regular home to Robert Loggia, as well as to a slew of fine writers and directors. I loved it, and I’ve resented NBC for its cancellation for over four decades. Those bastards!

A Girl and Her Cat is a fast-moving action thriller at the top of the form, complete with foreign agent bad guys and a buxom Asian villainess with… wait for it… jade eyes. Ah, tradition! Honey is hired to find a serum that could cause a plague that would wipe out two-thirds of humanity, and some of the bad guys (there are several different groups) bring T.H.E. Cat in to help Honey out… as well as other stuff that would fall under the heading of “spoiler.”

A chunk of the action comes from the guest appearances from a whole slew of mystery, movie and television characters – each quite recognizable, but never fully named lest they invoke the fury of the Intellectual Property Police. Hey, it’s an homage, guys!!! This folderall funfest never gets in the way of the story. If you get it, it’s a value-added experience. And if you get a certain couple of them, then we want you to write for ComicMix.

This may be the most unpretentious, straight-forward heroic action piece I’ve read in any medium in a long time. Kudos to all, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.


Mike Gold: Television Is The New Comic Book

GothamAs comics and popular culture fans we’ve got a hell of a year ahead of us, and this time it’s in front of our friendly neighborhood teevee sets.

As you know, Arrow and Agents of SHIELD were picked up for their third and second seasons, respectively. DC has no less than three new shows on three different networks: The Flash on the CW, Constantine on NBC, and Gotham on Fox.

The pilots to Flash and Constantine have appeared courtesy of the usual suspects – except this time, I strongly believe The Flash pilot was leaked by Warners or the CW (note: the last time I paid attention, Warner Bros owned only about 45% of the CW) and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same was true about Constantine… which, by the way, was leaked right after we all had our chance to go nuts over The Flash. Hmmmm.

Both pilots were worthy of attention. The Flash was better than I suspected; the supporting cast is excellent and I’m very happy to see John Wesley Shipp playing Barry Allen’s dad. Whereas the Constantine pilot features a female lead who will not be the female lead of the actual ongoing series (and that’s too bad), I’ll give them serious points for showing us Doctor Fate’s helmet. A policeman named Jim Corrigan, a.k.a. The Spectre, should show up sometime around Thanksgiving.

The pilot I’d most like to see is Gotham. Everything I’ve heard, read and been told has my Bat-sense tingling, and the few people I know who have seen it are quite positive about the series: each one said he or she thought it was superior to the other two pilots.

The new Daredevil mini-series is already being shot out here in New York; location shooting includes the real Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. The subsequent four Marvel Studios mini-series in The Defenders quintet (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist preceding The Defenders team-up) will follow.

But here’s the bird’s eye lowdown on the next television season (and, yes, I’m taking the broader view of “season” as that term is no longer relevant in its original form). We will have Gotham, Arrow, The Flash, Constantine, and Agents of SHIELD plus an Agent Carter mini-series presumably in the middle of SHIELD’s season, all on broadcast television. And we’ll have The Defenders quintet on Netflix.

That’s 11 shows. Being a fan of Community and Doctor Who, I have no problem with 12 episode seasons. Looking at cable originals, I think writing a dozen episodes per season results in better television.

Getting back to my admittedly vague point, I can’t name 11 comic book-based ongoing prime time television series prior to Arrow. Superman (several versions), Smallville, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, The Hulk, The Flash, Birds of Prey… I’m sure I’m missing one or two, but I said I couldn’t name 11, and I can’t.

Of course we’ve got all these cool Marvel Studios movies, and Warner Bros is at least trying to follow their lead with their Justice League movie run-up. I despair only for Fantastic Four mach 2 and any future iteration of Spider-Man mach2.

I’ve liked what I’ve seen thus far. To be honest, I’ve liked these shows more than I’ve enjoyed their published DC and Marvel counterparts in recent months. For the first time in the 100-year history of superheroes on film and digital, it’s the comic books that now have to catch up.


Mike Gold: 52 Original Future Crises Of Sin

Original SinNow that the Big Two are deep into their mandatory summer crossovers – as opposed to their mandatory winter crossovers, their mandatory spring crossovers, and their mandatory fall crossovers – I can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

At the core of both series is the same plot: all or most of the sundry parallel universes are going to collide into one, if, indeed, that many. This does not envelop either series in an aura of originality, particularly when Marv Wolfman and George Pérez did this 29 years ago. You may not think they did it better way back in the early days of the Gilded Age of Comics (and you’d be wrong about that), but at the very least you could understand that story. Original Sin and Future’s End… not so much.

At least Marvel’s Original Sin is built around a clever plot point: somebody offed The Watcher and stole one or both of his eyes… and then, one eye exploded implanting various deep dark secrets held by various characters into the brainpans of those who were within the blast radius of the eyeball.

No, I don’t know how big the blast radius of a Watcher eyeball is. And I’m a bit pissed off at offing the big bald guy anyway, but it’s comic books, where death has no meaning whatsoever. If they ever kill Aunt May off, she’ll be back in a few months with a bionic bustle.

DC’s Future’s End simply makes no sense. Batman Beyond is sent back in time to prevent the end of the world as we know it, but he misses his mark and arrives later than he was supposed to. Well, fine. That’s it. The hero blew it and it’s over, right?

No such luck. All the characters wander around slapping their foreheads and mumbling woe is me a lot. It doesn’t help that this series features the New 52 version of the DC Universe, which really hasn’t been very well-defined or thought out, but has been compromised after-the-fact by bureaucrats who wouldn’t know a good comics story if they bothered to read one.

It was time to retire the mega-event crossover before we started worrying about Y2K. But these puppies make money, so the Big Two are going to keep on hitting the event button like a crack whore with new kneepads.

It’s easy to understand why comics fans like the Marvel movies. They exist in a comparatively small universe with clear roadmaps. DC doesn’t have that goodwill going for them, and Man Of Steel offered little hope.

But we continue to hope. These are great characters. We love them, and we hope that someday the powers at Warners and Disney start to trust those characters as much as we do, before the core audience is all on catheters and people start to view Superman and Wolverine the way we view The Lone Ranger and Buck Rogers.

Before time runs out. 

Mike Gold: The Internet – Meet Your New Boss…

Doctor DoomThe thrill is gone / The thrill is gone away / The thrill is gone baby / The thrill is gone away – Roy Hawkins and Rick R. Darnell

I was going to write about something else today. Actually, I had several topics to choose from. Then I had a conversation with Glenn Hauman, the invisible hand of ComicMix, and then this screed shot out of my fingers.

As this new medium flourished, I was excited about the opportunity for anybody to communicate in virtually all ways (print, audio, video; instantly, eventually, historically) and to do so directly without outside interference. As I’ve said before, I am a first amendment absolutist: people should be able to express themselves the way they want, in the form they want, using the language they feel most appropriate. The Internet, I felt, allowed all of us to communicate without these ridiculous and unwarranted barriers.

Sure, there’s a price to pay. There’s a lot of bullshit out there, options and outright lies presented as fact. And the rush to judgment that we see on cable’s 24 hour “news” channels (which, oddly, don’t offer very much in the way of news) is exceptionally prevalent. I literally come from the “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” school of journalism. But those are growing pains, and the outrageous lies and distortions generally are limited to sites where they wear their prejudices on their sleeves. I don’t except a eulogy about the three teenagers Hamas slaughtered in Israel to appear on an American Nazi Party website. Or vice versa.

I don’t want or need big business or the government – any government – to tell me what I cannot say… to the extent that there’s a difference between the two. But it didn’t take very long before big business did exactly that by banishing that which they find objectionable from their services.

Ironically, for me this started with Apple. They do not distribute magazines or books that they find violates their standards. Do they have the basic right to do this? Of course. It’s their tubes and wires. But they enforce these standards in a hypocritical manner. There is a ton of music, television and movies for sale on iTunes that Apple would not sell in electronic print form on iBooks, had that content been presented in that medium. And if the object in question is from a big name author or has an enormous amount of buzz about it, well, often it manages to be listed on their service anyway.

Does this differ from, say, Wal*Mart? No… except that Wal*Mart (et al) is consistent. If it doesn’t meet Wal*Mart’s standards, popularity or mass-salability doesn’t enter into it. Playboy could have an interview with Jesus Christ and Wal*Mart wouldn’t stock it.

And then we have Google.

Google may very well be the Doctor Doom of the Internet. They have so much information on each and every one of us that the National Security Agency actually tapped (taps? who’s to know?) Google’s files in their spying-on-the-citizenry jag. That’s bad and ugly and evil, but for the purpose of this particular column it illustrates their corporate culture.

If Google divines what you’re posting is objectionable, they de-list you. In fact, this almost happened to ComicMix. If you’re de-listed by Google, you are screwed. You are left alone in outer space, where nobody can hear you scream.

There’s a good graphic novel in that. But I doubt Apple and Google and their fellow travelers would allow you to use their tubes and wires to sell it.

“Meet your new boss,” Pete Townshend famously wrote. “Same as your old boss.”

And I won’t get fooled again.

Mike Gold: The Force… In The Wind

George LucasSo, George Lucas is moving to my home town. Hmmmm.

Well, that’s not literally true. Yesterday, George decided the so-called Windy City will be home to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (LMNA), his so-called storytelling museum that will feature George’s massive collection of paintings, illustrations and digital art. Like everybody else, Lucas gets to visit it – although he probably won’t have to pay.

Chicago beat out Los Angeles and Lucas’ own San Francisco, so, on behalf of my fellow Chicagoans, those still in Cook County and those ex-pats who never really leave Chicago – not in our hearts – let me offer a hale and hearty “na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey-hey!”

I’ll bet Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ari had something to do with this. Ari Emanuel is a top Hollywood dealmaker who was the model for Ari Gold (no relation) in Entourage. He’s been referred to as a living hurricane, but usually hurricanes are seen in a better light.

“We are honored to be partnering with the city of Chicago and the many cultural, educational and community groups that have come forward with ideas about how the LMNA will add to their vibrant work… Choosing Chicago is the right decision for the museum, but a difficult decision for me personally because of my strong personal and professional roots in San Francisco,” the director said. Then again, he does live in Chicago part-time and his wife Mellody (pictured above with her husband) is a Chicagoan. We Chicagoans can be stubborn.

This is great news for my fiends at ReedPop, as the museum will be a couple blocks from the massive McCormick Place convention center on Lake Michigan, home to their C2E2 pop culture convention each spring. It’s also near Soldier Field, the Field Natural History Museum, the planetarium and the aquarium. It’s within walking distance from Buddy Guy’s Legends and the sprawling Columbia College complexes, where young media freaks go to percolate. Ergo, it’s in the heartland of heartland culture.

From the reports I’ve seen, LMNA appears to be quite a sprawling place. The architectural plans will be submitted in early fall, so we’ll see. Moving George’s massive collection to his museum is going to be a monster job.

I respect Lucas for doing this museum thing. Not just because it’s in a place I tend to visit three or four times a year (but thank you for that!), not because if you’re flying somewhere you’re probably going to be inconvenienced by having to change planes at the dreaded O’Hare International so you might as well jump on the subway, but because he is, essentially, giving his astonishing collection to the public.

Good for you, George. And, again, thank you. I’m looking forward to visiting your home away from home.


In Gratitude

In Gratitude

It’s easy to define the best part of making it into your geriatric years: you are still alive. The worst part of making it into your geriatric years is also easy to define: people are dying all around you. That sucks, but you’re still alive so maybe when its time to get past your mourning you shouldn’t think the world has taken a crap on you in particular.

But… you know… it really has.

More than thirty years ago, Mike Nesmith, of Monkees fame, said “growing old is a bitch, and our generation is totally not prepared for it.” That’s true; the baby boomers are indeed the first generation to be raised in the luxury of Peter Pan’s shadow. Death has a habit of shouting “It’s time to grow up.”

I don’t believe I ever met Michael Davis’ mother, and that’s a shame. I think the most difficult part of motherhood isn’t childbirth, although that’s hardly a walk in the part. It is taking on and fulfilling the responsibility of raising your child to be a decent human being. After doing just that, Michael’s mom, Jean Harlow Davis Lawrence (and that’s a cool name), passed away Saturday morning.

I owe her… big time.

She raised a great kid – clever, intelligent, funny, and a person who genuinely understands the holiness of friendship. I put that all on Jean. Michael was too young to do it himself. He’s written lovingly about her so much that I feel I really know her. But I think I really know Michael, and that’s about the closest thing.

Michael, you are surrounded by the love of your many, many friends. Your loss makes you feel lonely, and that is fair and proper. But, my friend, you are not alone.

And you are loved.

Mike Gold: 20 Ways To Procrastinate – Comic Book Pro’s Edition

WimpySure, you’re on a deadline. You’ve got more deadlines than you have socks. So what are you going to do about it? If you are a genuine comic book professional, or you hanker to be a genuine comic book professional, you’ve got to learn how to procrastinate like a genuine comic book professional.

Please note, these tips apply to freelancers of all stripes and not just to cartoonists, artists, writers and/or sloths.

1. You find yourself thinking you should wash the dishes.

2. You find yourself thinking you should take out the garbage.

3. Your abode is not going to paint itself.

4. You’re fiddling through your DVD and DVR library looking for “reference.”

5. You are convinced your editor won’t get around to your assignment for a while anyway.

6. Your cat ate your Internet connection.

7. Your quarterly estimated taxes were due a couple days ago. You really need to find an accountant. Ask around.

8. Damn, if you don’t read these 78 comic books in a pile on your nightstand, you won’t be up on continuity and you’re script/artwork/whatever will have to be completely revised anyway so instead of working, you really should be reading comic books.

9. You realize you haven’t backed-up your computer since Jack Kirby invented the Mother Box.

10. You find yourself wondering, “What would Barry Windsor-Smith do?”

11. Hey, that crossword puzzle isn’t going to solve itself.

12. Your crack dealer doesn’t deliver.

13. You’ll get to your work just as soon as your computer’s countdown clock hits “O seconds.” You won’t have long to wait, as right now it says it will be done in six minutes and six minutes isn’t very long, is it?

14. It’s new comics Wednesday. Or, at least, it was in the past six days.

15. You still haven’t done your homework.

16. You can always backdate your Fed-Ex waybill.

17. You really should take your dog for a walk. After all, you don’t want to be interrupted while you’re working.

18. After trying most or all of the above, you’re way too depressed to work.

19. You find yourself writing a piece about “20 ways to procrastinate.”

20. You’ll start working just as soon as you come up with the 20th item on your list.


Mike Gold: Restoring Our Sense of Wonder

Savage DragonBack in the days of purple hallucinogenic duplicator fluid, Bill Schelly published a great fanzine called Sense of Wonder. In an era when there were many first-rate fanzines (Alter-Ego, Fantasy Illustrated, RBCC), Bill’s zine was the most aptly-named. That’s what comic books were all about. Playing to the sense of wonder.

Today, well, not so much. Comics offer us nitty-gritty, slow moving but quick reading stories that are meant to be collected into trade paperback form. The audience is a lot older than it was a half-century ago, and that’s okay. Times change, tastes change.

But then there’s the “baby-for-the-bath-water” argument. I think we have turned our backs on a vital portion of our potential audience. We’ve finally addressed the younger end of the audience, primarily through recent efforts from Boom!, IDW and Archie, although DC and Marvel continue to churn out needlessly lame versions of their cartoon characters. That’s their problem. Our problem is, how do you keep the readers too old for Adventure Time but too young for Hawkeye? What do we have for the “bridge” readers?

Obviously, it’s an issue of commitment from the publishers. They must invest in their own future, and sometimes they’re trying to sustain their current efforts and don’t have the cash flow or incentive to experiment. But, I think, it’s also a talent issue. It’s hard for a publisher to turn down a great concept from established talent. It happens – well, it happens a lot, but we need more.

The greatest comics creators bathed in the sense of wonder. Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Will Eisner, Bud Sagendorf, Carl Barks, Carmine Infantino… the list is nearly endless. And many of those who grew up reading these masters bathe in similar waters: Jim Starlin, Walter Simonson, Keith Giffen, Howard Chaykin, et al. But too many comics creators who are not on Medicare are sadly less likely to be fantasists.

Today there are only a handful of such titles being produced by the larger publishers. But Erik Larsen has been doing Savage Dragon for 200 issues – if you count crossovers and mini’s, that number is probably about 300. Somebody must be buying it, and I doubt it’s just a couple people with severe myopia thinking they’re getting a lot of variant editions.

Maybe we perceive such stuff as “children’s comics” and we feel indulging in such storytelling is a step backwards. Retro. I don’t think so. The sense of wonder addresses all audiences. Just go to the movie theater during afternoon showings and count the number of old geezers wearing 3-D glasses.

We need to address the entire humanity of potential audiences. And we desperately need to hold on to our sense of wonder.