A couple years ago, Mad Magazine was demoted to quarterly release – a status it had not had since it first converted into magazine format in 1955. Shortly after, I ran into its publisher Paul Levitz and expressed regret at the situation. Paul, a major comics fan and historian, shared my feelings but said with obvious sadness “Maybe its time had passed.”
Maybe so. Mad’s return to bi-monthly status, one suspects, has more to do with the successful animated series than any publishing-revenue prerogative. Paul was right, and he’s still right: Mad’s time had passed. To his credit, it had passed back when he was still a teenager.
I came across Mad at an early age, discovering my sister’s comics stash as I was ferreting about her bedroom looking for, well, comics. And maybe spare change. Like an unbelievable number of Boomers, it totally warped my mind. Mad was part of its time: we also had Ernie Kovacs and Rocky and Bullwinkle. Steve Allen and Del Close. Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. All assaulted a status quo that was desperately in need of destruction.
As it always is.
Perhaps these combined forces shaped me more than the average pre-adolescent. Truth to Power, there’s really no “perhaps” about it. Therefore, when Mars Attacks! came out I discovered creative people can up the ante. And Mars Attacks! ushered in the 1960s when the ante wasn’t simply upped, it grew daily and exponentially.
Somewhere along the way, Mad’s “usual gang of idiots” continued to age. Instead of hoisting our culture on its own petard, Mad sometimes turned on the latter-day iconoclasts. Not viciously, not regularly, but by the end of the decade you could hear the sound of the hardening of their arteries.
This was unnecessary, but it left room for the sons of Mad to take on the role – folks like Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch, George Carlin, Tommy Smothers, Richard Pryor, Michael O’Donoghue, Doug Kenny, Frank Zappa, Matt Groening, Mike Judge… I’m happy to say the list goes on and on. Now, the grandsons of Mad have taken over. Just as Frank Faye begat Jack Benny who begat Johnny Carson who begat Bill Maher, Mad is better thought of as a major influence than an active force.
I’m not saying Mad sucked. It continued to be funny and, often, clever. But it was totally ready for prime time. Mad was on Broadway. It became a movie (for which publisher and legend Bill Gaines apologized – in the pages of Mad). It became a television show. It became two television shows, actually, and both were more cutting-edge than the magazine had been in over two decades.
Onetime Madmen like Paul Krassner and Chevy Chase went elsewhere. If you’re in the culture evolution business and the establishment doesn’t regard you as a pariah, you’re not doing your job right.
Clearly, Paul was on the money. My inner-fanboy (who pays the rent; it’s a good arrangement) says Mad could of and should of stayed in the thick of the fray, but que sera, sera.
The massive talent of Mad was celebrated ten years ago in a wonderful book called Mad Art, by none other than Mark Evanier. It owns my highest recommendation. A new book, Totally Mad, is set for release next Tuesday, which means it’s in the “bookstores” right now. I haven’t read it so I won’t comment, but you might want to give it a look.
ComicMix associate editor Adriane Nash and I knew we were in for it when, on Thursday morning last, there were nine other people waiting for the same commuter train who clearly were headed not to work but to the New York Comic Con. Trains run every half-hour, and ours is but one of a great, great many such stations. Do the math.
In total… one hundred thousand people. Some of whom bathed.
Sure, San Diegoans might smirk at a mere 100,000, but there are major differences between the two shows. First, it only took NYCC six years to reach the 100,000 mark. Second, the Javits Center is smaller and much more out of the way than the San Diego Convention Center. Third, the NYCC has a lot more to do with comic books than the SDCC. Actually, the SDCC barely has anything to do with comic books, despite its title and its not-for-profit mission statement. And finally, NYCC has more European artists and writers while SDCC has more Asian. Of course, this is neither better nor worse, but it is an interesting difference.
For me, there’s another important difference: I don’t have to fly from sea to shining sea to get there.
I’ll gleefully admit six years ago NYCC really, truly and totally sucked. I said so right here in this space. It was the worst planned, worst programmed, worst run major show I’d ever been to, and I started going to New York conventions back in 1968 (I cosplayed Swee’pea). It improved, slowly, and achieved adequacy in its third or fourth year.
This time around the show was very well run – although I agree with Emily’s comments about their panel programming decisions being less than knowledgeable. They should endeavor to overcome this problem.
My biggest complaint – they’re called “issues” now, aren’t they? – was rectified mid-way through the show. They had the exits blocked off, forcing the mass of humanity through narrow corridors back to the small entrance way, making it dangerously difficult to leave, particularly for those who were mobility-challenged. This policy was enforced by a part-time minimum wage crew and, while I sympathize with their difficult job, there was no reason for them to lie to us – they weren’t upholding fire laws; quite the contrary – and there was no reason to act like Cartman without his truncheon. On Thursday and Friday some acted as though it was their job to put the oink in “rent-a-pig,” but on Saturday the rules were changed and you could actually exit through some of the doors marked “exit.”
The New York Comic Con was totally and completely sold out well before the show started. While there was some confusion about the changes in registration procedures (particularly for pros, but we’re an easily confused lot), most of us who followed the rules received our badges in the mail several weeks before the show and therefore were saved from the agony of lines long enough to cause a riot at LaGuardia Airport. I don’t know how you legitimately limit the audience size and 100,000 people can barely fix into the venue; there’s some construction going on at the Javits right now so I hope they procure more floor space next year.
Personally, I had a great time. Sure, most of it was work (ComicMix had nine people there, a third focused on cosplay coverage for our Facebook and Twitter feeds) and because of the nature of my work I spent most of my time in and about Artists’ Alley, the only room that routinely had sufficient oxygen. But I saw a lot of friends – a lot – and, when all is said and done, we could take whatever energy we had left and wade into the bowels of Manhattan, which is always an entertaining and unusual experience.
A rough estimate reveals the New York Comic Con contributed over a quarter billion dollars to the local economy. We’re not just legitimate. We’re big business.
(Our columnist would like to thank Ed Sullivan for the loan of the head.)
Unless you haven’t been paying your electric bill, you probably are aware that the first James Bond movie, Doctor No, was released a half-century ago this week. You might not be as aware that several months earlier DC Comics released the comic book adaptation as part of its Showcase series. Editor George Kashdan said he didn’t understand why DC picked up the book except for the fact that the artwork was in hand and the rights must have been cheap.
Several months before that, the people who actually produced the comic book – Classics Illustrated’s British division – released the adaptation as issue 158Aof their series. This explains why DC’s comic had the look and feel of a Classics Illustrated title. Just to complicate matters, Dell Publishing released Doctor No in Europe as an issue of its Detective Stories title.
At the time, I couldn’t care less. I was an 11-year old comics fan and, like most my ilk, a voracious reader. The Showcase issue had a text piece that discussed Ian Fleming and his super-spy creation. The next time my parents schlepped me out to Marshall Field’s department store I sought out the paperback novels only to discover they cost an unheard of 50¢ apiece. Most paperbacks were 35¢, some were still 25¢. I reluctantly passed, but I kept an eye out for the movie. I almost forgot about it when Doctor No finally came out.
Like an amazingly high percentage of baby boomer men and near-adolescents, James Bond was the coolest guy I’d ever seen on the big screen, and I immediately became a fan. By now I was actually 12 and able to afford a 50¢ paperback, but I couldn’t find Fleming’s Doctor No. I settled for Live and Let Die, and I was enthralled.
Over the next several years I devoured every Fleming novel, even reading the new ones as they were serialized in Playboy (I looked a bit older than my age, particularly if I didn’t buy italong with my week’s comics). I was in line for the debut of every subsequent movie, and I followed the James Bond newspaper strip in the Chicago American. The latter was a British strip that quite faithfully adapted Fleming’s books, and in my mind most of those adaptations were better than the books themselves. Here’s a fun fact: Modesty Blaise creator Peter O’Donnell wrote the Doctor No adaptation. But I wondered why DC didn’t do any more adaptations.
So did Carmine Infantino when he became publisher. In 1972 he discovered DC had a ten-year option on Bond, and that option was about to run its course. He approached Jack Kirby and his old pal Alex Toth and probably others, but then something terrible happened: Sean Connery announced he was quitting the series. Carmine let the option expire.
Clearly, DC would have made a fortune off of 007 had they picked up the series when the second Bond movie was made. Or even the third, Goldfinger, which truly launched the mega-fad. But the company was starting to doll itself up for a sale and the folks in the trenches were busy with the imminent launch of the Batman teevee series.
Perhaps the most popular heroic fantasy figure in movie history, James Bond never achieved an on-going comic book series. Many movies were adapted, some by guys like Mike Grell, Tom Yeates, and Howard Chaykin. A handful of original mini-series and one-shots were released, but nothing more.
The movie series went on and on and on, but most Roger Moore entries were more reminiscent of Adam West than of Sean Connery. The series started to improve after Sir Roger outgrew the part and Barbara Broccoli took over as producer, and Daniel Craig’s reboot in 2006 brought new hope and great entertainment to the masses. As Adele fans know all too well, the next Craig Bond flick, Skyfall, comes out in a few weeks.
But I got to tell you, as a baby boomer Bond boy, I feel greatly cheated.
Our pal and (very) occasional ComicMix contributor. high-energy comics writer Mike Baron (Nexus, Badger, Punisher, Deadman), has written us a novel and has taken it into the ether.
Helmet Head has been published as an Amazon e-book, available via the Kindle app on all computers, smartphones and tablets. It costs $4.99, which is pretty good for a full-length novel. Helmet Head is a horror piece that started out as a movie concept developed for movie director Ian Fischer about a monstrous motorcyclist who rides around the Little Egypt area in central America lobbing off the heads of other bikers and, one supposes, the occasional saluki, all expressed with the subtlety and sensitivity we have come to expect from the talented Mr. Baron.
For example, Mike refers to Helmet Head as containing “scenes of graphic violence that would gag a dog off a gut wagon.” It’s got plenty of bikers, high-holy-horror and senses-shattering action that certainly will thrill his many fans. Clearly, this is a date-night kinda novel.
Baron’s tome is the first of a trilogy – Whack Job comes out later this month and Banshees winds up this arc after the first of the year. And can a comic book adaptation be far behind?
Did I mention there’s Nazis in the story? There’s Nazis in the story. How can you go wrong?
You can gawk at Helmet Head’s interior or actually purchase the book by merely clicking on this link.
Not counting reprints of the newspaper strips, Tarzan of the Apeshas been in the hands of no less than seven U.S. comic book publishers. That’s roughly one outfit per decade. Most enjoyed long and healthy runs by the standards of the time, legal quibbles notwithstanding.
Currently The Lone Ranger is in the hands of Dynamite Publishing. In those same 70 years, John, Tonto, Silver and Scout enjoyed lengthy runs at Western Publishing (Dell and Gold Key, which were two separate companies) and a shorter term at Topps.
The 1970s property Planet of the Apes has been kept alive by comics publishers, initially Marvel and now Boom! Studios.
The Shadow? Five comics publishers, extending the life of the original pulp and radio hero by more than a half-century… and counting.
The original Twilight Zone television show was cancelled in 1964; the Western Publishing comic book series ran until 1982.
The list goes on and on. What is it about the comic book medium that keeps iconic characters and concepts alive when their originating media cannot?
Television audiences are measured in units of one million, and very generally speaking you need at least ten of them to survive. Movie audiences are measured in units of ten million dollars and you need lots of those to survive. Mass-market paperbacks, radio drama, pulp magazines and newspaper continuity strips are virtually dead. In most cases, more than just “virtually.”
Comic book audiences are measured in units of one thousand, and these days you can achieve regular publishing with only five or ten such units, depending upon costs and foreign revenues. It’s a lot easier to grab five thousand readers than it is ten million viewers or one hundred million dollars at the box office. All you have to do is appeal to each property’s hardcore audience.
And this is why comics thrive. Appealing to the hardcore, to the most faithful, requires reaching and maintaining a higher standard of entertainment. Us fanboys and fangirls are damn picky. Unlike the movies we do not necessarily demand “name” talent, but we do demand that the writers and artists remain faithful to the source material while telling their stories in a contemporary manner – while being awe-inspiring at all times.
In comics, we’ve got a special effects budget that has no limit and our turn-around time is usually shorter than that of other media, e-books notwithstanding. We can stay on the cutting edge. We are limited only by our skill and our imagination.
Most important, we have fewer cigar-chomping asshole businesspeople mindlessly calling the shots. Well, certainly at those publishers that aren’t owned by major Hollywood studios.
I’d be impressed – very impressed – if I were to see a Zorro television series or a movie that is half as good as the storyline just completed by Matt Wagner and John K. Snyder III in Zorro Rides Again. But, trust me, I won’t be holding my breath.
When it comes to the icons of heroic fantasy, we do it better.
I like anthology comics. For one thing, that’s how the comic book medium started – single-character comics didn’t really start until about six years down the road. For another, the anthology format reinvented comics with 2000AD back in the mid-1970s. Today, the anthology format is all but gone, with the notable – and highly laudable – exception of Dark Horse Presents, Creator-Owned Comics and a handful of others.
I like electronic publishing in general and electronic comics publishing in specific. I am a well-known advocate of the movement, at least in my own mind. Well before e-comics became real, I had a debate with my pal and oft-time co-conspirator Mark Wheatley, one of the most innovative and hardest-working people in the known universe. Mark advocated the potential of e-comics expanding the medium by incorporating effects that would move the medium past the boundaries imposed by print. Whereas I agreed with that position, I maintained that such additions move comic books into… something else. Not bad, not good – that depends on content. But nonetheless… something else.
Since then we’ve had various and sundry incursions into the multimedia comics world, the best known being “motion comics.” Interesting, but short of scintillating. But this is a nascent form in need of development, innovation and coddling.
Then my pal David Lloyd (Kickback, Night Raven, Doctor Who, V For Vendetta, Espers, Hellblazer, Wasteland … jeez, this guy has done a lot and, yeah, I’ve got a lot of pals who make great comics; what of it?) decided to combine the anthology concept of the past with the computer magic of an hour-and-a-half ago.
And by “an hour-and-a-half ago,” I mean that almost literally. His new title, Aces Weekly, debuted yesterday.
You’ve probably read about it in all sorts of places. I was lucky enough to get a head’s-up during last month’s Baltimore Comic-Con; Mark Wheatley showed me the first hundred pages of “Return Of The Human,” the series he’s doing with may pal (yeah, yeah) J.C. Vaughn. And I was left panting.
In addition to David, Mark and J.C., Aces Weekly offers us the talent of (take a deep breath) Kyle Baker, David Hitchcock, Herb Trimpe, David Leach, Billy Tucci, Bill Sienkiewicz, Marc Hempel, James Hudnall, Steve Bissette, Val Mayerick, Henry Flint, Dan Christensen, Dave Hine, Colleen Doran, and a lot of others of similar high caliber. No, not all are in the first issue: it’s a weekly, and as one story ends another begins, and the talent recovers.
Aces Weekly costs $9.99 per seven-issue subscription – the anthology is published in seven issue “volumes,” which is a clever idea. It’s online-only, all the material is original, and once you buy it you can read it wherever and whenever you have web access. It’s all creator-owned and, evidently, creators aren’t overly burdened by control-freak editors like me.
Check it out at www.acesweekly.co.uk. No matter how cynical you may be, have your credit card ready.
Oh, yeah. It says up there in the headline “review,” so here’s my review:
Mars Attacks • Abrams ComicArt • hardcover $19.95, also available in electronic format. Publication date: October 1, 2012
There’s a seminal moment in every weirdo’s life where we experience something so outrageous our worldview is altered severely and forever. For Ray Bradbury and Michael Moorcock, it was Edgar Rice Burroughs. For nascent NASA scientists, it was Ray Bradbury and Buck Rogers. EC Comics begat a generation of filmmakers, satirists, and cartoonists. I have no doubt we will be appreciating the influence of The Simpsons and South Park as its early adopters enter the creative workplaces.
For me, it was Mars Attacks.
I love to collect things. I suspect if comic books were unnumbered I wouldn’t have made it to the Marvel Age. So I would dutifully check out the counter-spaces at my local drug stores to see what the Bazooka Joe boys at Topps were offering in the realm of what we now call “non-sports cards.” Their Civil War News series was as informative as it was gutsy. Their Space Race and Funny Monsters cards brought great entertainment to my pre-pubescent little brain. But nothing – absolutely nothing, not Rocky and Bullwinkle, not Mad Magazine, neither Ernie Kovacs nor Steve Allen – prepared this 11 year-old proto-nerd for the glory and the horror of Mars Attacks.
Briefly for those who are not in the know, Mars Attacks was a set of 55 trading cards issued in 1962 that told the grisly story of an invasion from space by everybody’s favorite bug-eyed naked-brain Martians. On the front was a masterful painting by the great Norm Saunders based upon sketches by the great Bob Powell and the great Wally Wood. On the reverse was the next part of the invasion narrative. Cattle were torched, subway cars were eaten by giant ants, soldiers were slaughtered, dogs were vaporized in front of their youthful masters.
Spoiler Alert: We win.
The concept and story, created by Topps’ creative director (and, later, seminal comics fan publisher) Woody Gelman and staff writer Len Brown, later of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents fame, was breathtaking because it was over-the-line. Way over the line. So far over the line you couldn’t see the line in your rearview mirror if you stopped right after you crossed it. Simply put: in 1962 you did not torch dogs and soldiers and cattle and wrap it up in wax paper with a slice of bubble gum.
Were adults offended? Holy crap, yes! You’d think the Martians actually invaded and turned out to be Commies. Topps was inundated with complaints and boxes were removed from store counters. At first, the Bazooka-boys thought they’d simply tone down some of the more objectionable cards, but instead they squeezed the toothpaste back into the tube and withdrew their product… leaving nothing but the legend in its wake. A highlycollectible legend.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this historic event, Abrams ComicArts has released a hardcover book surprisingly called Mars Attacks. Forwarded by Len Brown and backwarded by Norm Saunders’ gifted daughter Zina, all the cards are reprinted (both sides) in their full glory along with the surviving sketches as well as the 1994 sequel cards and other great stuff, including artwork from Zina Saunders, Jay Lynch, Timothy Truman, Frank Brunner, Sam Kieth, Keith Giffen and a whole lotta other swell folk.
In addition to the aforementioned 1994 sequel cards, there have been several attempts to revive Mars Attacks including at least three comics series and a grandiose Tim Burton movie (forgive my redundancy). These have succeeded to varying degrees, but I think the concept is truly a product of its times. The bar of outrageousness has pole vaulted in the past 50 years, and these cards would barely raise an eyebrow if issued today.
But for its time, in its time, Mars Attacks brought the energy of rock’n’roll to the B-movies of the drive-ins and put it all on the doorsteps of the nation’s 11 year-olds. Its quick removal trusted it into legendary status. Abrams’ new book is a very worthy tribute.
Martha Thomases: So much better! Karl Urban looked the part. The set, while not looking like the comics, had the gritty spirit of the comics. And the violence was terrifically cartoony.
And no Rob Schneider, although I did think he was the best thing about the first one.
Mike: Back in 1995I went in to the theater with really low expectations, given the Sylvester Stallone / Rob Schneider leads. They managed to live up to those expectations. This new one had enough blood to make Sam Peckinpah gag, but I dug it. It was meaningful blood.
I admire Urban playing true to the character and never taking the helmet off. Sly put his money right there on the screen. Sadly.
Martha: Urban kept his face still and his voice growled. I can remember the other characters. The kid who worked the computer for the bad guys has stayed in my mind. Those eyes. Dredd 3-D reminded me of Escape From New Yorkmore than Peckinpah.
Mike: Good point. Although Escape From New York reminded me of Grand Central Terminal at evening rush.
Lots of solid special effects with the eyes. It was a signature thing with this movie. I liked how both women leads looked like they had been drawn by Ian Gibson, which was exactly the right thing. The growling was right on target, although I’m afraid some people will think he was imitating Batman.
Martha: I also liked the way the women weren’t played as sexy femme fatales nor damsels in distress. None were there to be love interests, not even Judge Anderson. Although in a society where everything is filthy and no one can get a close shave, I am impressed that they take the time to pluck their eyebrows.
Mike: This one was very faithful to the comics, both in tone and in detail. You’re right about the cityscape, and the blocks looked more realistic (and less ironic) than in the comics.
They really understood their source material… maybe because the 2000AD publisher co-produced it. The dog wagging the tail, as opposed to the Warner Bros. approach.
Martha: I couldn’t tell when it went from real to matte/CGI. The city looked quite believable.
Mike: Like the Tales from the Crypt teevee show, they added nasty language to the dialog. Unlike Tales from the Crypt, no nudity. Which was fine: I, for one, would have to pluck my eyes out after seeing Judge Dredd naked.
Martha: But a naked Dr. McCoy would be a delight!
Mike: Yeah, that’ll be in Star Trek 2.2 for sure! Just to feel Spock’s indifference.
I did flash on how cool it would have been to have Joan Jett as the villain, but Lena Headey was absolutely great.
Martha: I don’t know who should get the credit for Urban’s performance. It was very flat, which is exactly right. Kind of show-offy in a non-show-offy way. I assume the director told him to do that.
Mike: JudgeDredd dominates. Unlike the comics, he can’t be unrealistically one head taller than everybody else so his performance had to make it seem that way. Given how everything was covered up except for his jaw and mouth, all he had to work with was his voice. Which came off great.
Martha: If I have a problem, it’s the McGuffin made no sense. It’s a drug called SloMo, which slows one’s perception of time. If you’ll living a wretched slum, why is that something you would want to do?
Although taking a bath on SloMo sure was pretty.
Mike: I agree with that, although heroin is much the same way – except you also get to distance yourself from your lousy reality. But it worked well for the big finish.
Martha: It worked for the torture threats, too. Made the bad guys seem really, really bad.
Mike: I think the middle of the movie was too drawn out. When Steven Moffatt wrote the Rowin Atkinson Doctor Who, he said the show was about chase scenes through endless corridors. In Dredd 3-D, they seem to think this was a good idea.
Martha: I kept thinking video games. I thought we going to have to go through all 200 levels.
Mike: The outrageousness of the early Dredd stores has since become commonplace in our culture. It lost all its shock value. And as much fun as that was, I think they were smart to avoid that today. It would have turned the movie into a comedy. But without Rob Schneider.
Martha: I eagerly await the Judge Death storyline.
Mike: Yeah, I hope it does well enough for a sequel. Not too sure about that, although the reviews weren’t universally horrible. Two-thirds were at least fairly positive.
What did you think of the Real 3-D?
Martha: It made the SloMo parts really pretty.
Mike: This is the new second move – ever – where I liked the 3-D effects, the first being The Avengers. This was actually better. But those middle scenes lacked ‘em, making them even slower for me.
Martha: Otherwise, it was subtle enough that I focused on the movie.
Mike: Good point. The gimmicks should never outweigh the story or the performances. Just try telling that to George Lucas.
Martha: The sparkle in the SloMo 3D is the only reason I could imagine the drug was any fun.
Mike: So, kids, just say no to drugs unless you’re in a 3-D theater. ComicMix cares.
Martha: 3-D Pixar movies are great in 3-D.
Mike: Yeah, well, personally I’m not a big fan of that animation style. This makes me very lonely. And they’re a waste of Randy Newman’s considerable gifts.
Martha: We will have to agree to disagree about that.
Mike: So I infer you liked Dredd 3-D… a lot?
Martha: A bunch. I would recommend it. I hope it does well so Box Office Democracy covers it. I should warn you that I did not hate the TotalRecall remake, so my opinion might not matter.
Mike: Of course your opinion matters. Consensual reality doesn’t apply to movies. And nice job plugging Box Office Democracy!
I would certainly recommend it to action movie fans and absolutely to comics fan. I think my response is about 90% of yours.
Martha: I would be interested to know how this movie is received by those who don’t know the comic.
Mike: I will be interested to see how it does in the UK as opposed to North America.
What are you looking forward to next?
Martha: I want to see Looker. I still haven’t seen The Master. And Bond. James Bond. The Man with the Iron Fists. Django Unchained.Cloud Atlas – the new Wachowski film. I am a social butterfly!
Mike: The trailer for Iron Fists was great, although you already warned me. It’s made by Michael Davis’s buddy Rza. And, yeah, as always I’m looking forward to the next Bond. Us baby boomers and our James Bond fetish.
That Ben Afflick movie Argo looks interesting. Then again, I’m hoping he’s in Avengers 2 as well. Or Captain America 2. Just to piss the hardcore off.
Martha: I love Ben. I even loved Jersey Girl.
I find that, if there is a theme in my movie preferences of late, it’s that I like to see cute guys in peril.
Mike: Damn. So Daniel Craig is cute? He doesn’t do that much for me. But M…
Martha: Is she in peril in the new one? I think the new Q is adorable.
So, yes, I think all ComicMix readers should go see this… if only to participate in this discussion in the comments.
Mike: Ever vigilant about the page hits! I agree, on both subjects. Thanks, Martha! We’ll see you here next week!
I have reported here and elsewhere about the goings-on at Archie Comics. While DC keeps on hitting the reset button like a monkey in a crack experiment, and Marvel keeps on doing endless – literally endless – mega-events, Archie has been slowly making history.
In the past several years they’ve added a major gay character and they’ve had Archie fall in love (on the cover, no less) with a black woman. They’ve taken ongoing looks into the potential futures of their characters, which plays against the assumptions held by our culture for more than 70 years. They’ve tried to make Riverdale look and feel more like the real world: even the hallowed Pop Tate’s has had to endure competition by national fast food chains. Archie Comics continues to be the major force in entertaining each next generation of comics readers; without their efforts and similar, but smaller, endeavors by Boom!, Bongo and others, we would have no future readers for the graphic novels published by Fantagraphics and Abrams.
And, I’m happy to report, now Archie Comics is just getting weird.
In Archie #636 (the alternate cover is shown here; the newsstand cover is done in sort of a traditional 1950s Archie style), the current issue, the Riverdale gang swap sexes. Yep, the boys become girls and the girls become boys. This doesn’t happen voluntarily; Sabrina the Teenage Witch has a snarky cat who casts a spell so that the kids can see things from the other side of the gender bend. Hilarity ensues, and the point is made. Two points, if one wants to infer a warning about the dangers of catnip.
Mind you, I like weird. Weird is the antidote to boring. It’s the elixir that promotes experimentation and new story concepts. But I doubt Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Reggie will be getting permanent sex change operations any time soon.
I like comic book conventions, although I’ve been pretty hard on them lately. These days most conventions have little to do with comic books. They have a lot to do with pop culture and celebrities and movies and autographs and promotion, but over the past decade or two comic books have become the ugly stepchildren within their own temples.
Except for a handful. Mid-Ohio Con has been consumed by the dreaded Wizard ogre; that one used to be a favorite. HeroesCon in North Carolina is high on my list of the exceptional; I wish I could get there each year. There are plenty of great small shows, usually held in hotels and attracting people from about a 200 mile radius, if the weather is agreeable. And, as I’ve incessantly proselytized to the annoyance of thousands, my absolute favorite: the Baltimore Comic-Con.
First and foremost, the Baltimore Comic-Con is about comic books. The panels are about comic books. The exhibitors are about comic books. The awards ceremony is about comic books. In short, it is a comic book convention.
Second, it’s only two days: Saturday and Sunday. The burnout rate is low and people tend not to leave as early on Sundays. You can get as much done in those two days as you can elsewhere in three… or four. Third, the staff is well-trained, efficient, and so damn polite if you’re from New York your skin just might peel off in strips.
I’m happy to say I’ve got a hell of a lot of friends who go there. It’s one of the few shows Timothy Truman attends. Mark and Carol Wheatley both put me up and put up with me year after year; my daughter and ComicMix comrade Adriane Nash gets to stay in Mark’s breathtaking library and studio. Marc Hempel joins us at the Insight Studios booth. Great folks like Gene Ha, Brian Bolland, Amy Chu, Andrew Pepoy, Denis Kitchen, Jack C. Harris, Walter and Louise Simonson, Joe Rubenstein, Larry Hama, Matt Wagner, John K. Snyder III … we don’t have the bandwidth to name a tenth of the people I hang out with at the show. Even the (fairly) recently liberated Paul Levitz showed up as a freelancer.
Better still, the ambiance of the Baltimore Comic-Con allows me to make new friends, something that’s almost impossible to do at the largest shows like San Diego, New York, and Chicago. This year I was exceptionally lucky, spending memorable time with Phil LaMarr and Ross Richie.
ComicMix was there in full-force: Vinnie Bartilucci, Glenn Hauman, the aforementioned Adriane Nash, Emily S. Whitten, and the non-alphabetical Marc Alan Fishman – who was there with the rest of the Unshaven Comics crew, Matt Wright, and Kyle Gnepper, where they managed to sell out of their excellent indy comic, Samurnauts.
Probably the highlight of the Baltimore show each year is the Harvey Awards dinner, and this year was no exception. Phil LaMarr served as master of ceremonies, keeping the three and one-half hour show moving while keeping the audience in stiches, Ross Richie delivered an inspiring keynote address, and as usual Paul McSpadden did his usual amazing job coordinating the whole event.
The Hero Initiativehonored Joe Kubert with its Humanitarian of the Year award – a decision made before Joe’s passing last month – and Dr. Kevin Brogan delivered a moving tribute to the late cartoonist and educator. As it turns out, Joe left us one more graphic novel. Their annual Lifetime Achievement Award went to John Romita Jr., in a presentation made by the team of Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.
I particularly enjoyed seeing Marc, Kyle and Matt there for the first time – being sequestered in that room with most of the above-mentioned folks as well as with Stan Lee, John Romita Sr. and Jr., Mark Waid and so many others seemed like a heady experience for our pals, who, I think it’s safe to say, were in fanboy heaven. Pretty damn cool. I’m proud to say our own Glenn Hauman helped in the IT end of things, and ComicMix joined Insight Studios, DC Entertainment, Boom!, Comixology, Richmond Comix and Games, ComicWow!, Painted Visions, Bloop, Captain Blue Hen, Cards Comics and Collectibles, and Geppi’s Entertainment Museum as sponsors.
And I managed to sign up a new columnist for this site. I mentioned the name above somewhere (good hunting), and this person will start out as soon as we iron out scheduling issues and the usual start-up stuff. I’m very excited about this, and you will be too when you read this person’s stuff.
We also went apeshit covering the cosplay scene. Adriane posted about 100,000 pictures on our ComicMix Facebook page, all to the obvious enjoyment of the masses. We’ll be expanding our cosplay coverage considerably, while at the same time polishing our alliteration.
On behalf of the whole ComicMix crew, I want to deeply thank Marc Nathan and Brad Tree for once again putting on the best show in comics, and to thank my dearest of friends Mark and Carol Wheatley for being our personal sponsors. We-all had a great time!