Category: Columns

Dennis O’Neil’s Big Quandary

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night. • Bettie Davis, All About Eve, 1950

Well, maybe it’ll be a bumpy night. I mean, I’m just beginning this column. How do I know how it’ll turn out? Do I look like a prophet to you?

Okay, onward! One confession, coming up:

I am not going to continue to duck, dodge, elude, evade, ditch or even do an end run around something I should have dealt with months ago.

But… where to begin?

Before beginning, let me present to you, at no extra charge, what I imagine my delinquency concerning the matter that may be the subject of this column – it’s still early – would look like, if it existed, which it doesn’t.

...a shard of mirror, jagged and pointed and sharp, thrust into my soul stuff…

Please don’t ask me to describe “soul stuff” I’m not even sure souls exist, much less how they might appear to us. And would they appear the same way to, say, a gehinkle from the planet Blookish in the Maxima Centaur system?

A shout from the balcony. “What’s that?” I ask, cupping my ear (because I am, you know, a bit hard of hearing.) This balcony bound creature – a gehinkle? – says that I am procrastinating! Not coming to terms with the problem that lies buried in my soul.

Well, bite your snerditch, gutless gehinkle! We shall engage the matter…pretty doggone soon.

(By the way…gehinkles really don’t have guts. Just thought you should know.)

Now, where were we? – bumpy nights… snarky aliens…improvised punctuation? Oh, wait! This thing that’s been eating my lunch these past few weeks! (Full disclosure: “eating my lunch,” as it’s used above, is a locution I swiped from that excellent novelist, James Lee Burke. {You did want to know that, didn’t you?}

Speaking of lunch – I should have some. A guy needs his nourishment! I’ll take a break and get back to you.

That wasn’t exactly haute cuisine, was it? Gourmets are well advised to give Chateau O’Neil a pass. But it keeps the stomach walls from bumping into each other and that’s all we ask.

Back to today’s topic. But before we get to the gist of it, I’m wondering if I should issue a Spoiler Alert here. What’s the protocol? Not that leaving a Spoiler Alert unissued would actually ruin anything, though I can’t be sure of that. Is it better to be safe than sorry? (Have you ever noticed that life can be difficult?)

Another quandary. Is this an appropriate place to reveal the title? (And oh my gosh! Is telling you that what I’ll get around to discussing any paragraph now has a title ruining anything for you? Have I let a cat out of a bag? I mean, if you know something has a title you can figure out that it’s not, say, a battleship. Have we narrowed the possibilities too much?)

I’ve glanced at the bottom of the screen and can you believe it? Already 438 words? I’d better not waste any more of your time,

The Perils of Captain Mighty and the Salvation of Danny the Kid.

I guess I did decide to uncork the title.

Box Office Democracy: War for the Planet of the Apes

I’m honestly not sure why these Planet of the Apes prequels work so well.  On paper they’re a disaster: a trilogy of prequels to a movie that while historically significant is not relevant in the modern era except for having a famous twist ending everyone knows.  Every movie sets itself up as a conflict between humans and apes and the titles reveal that the humans don’t stand much of a chance.  They work because there’s a real heart here, there are great performances from both humans and CGI apes.  Everyone in War for the Planet of the Apes cares about the stakes so much that you can’t help but be completely invested.  These movies are beacons of earnestness in a cynical, sarcastic, landscape.

There’s a lot of plot in War and I’m not sure it’s all necessary.  Head ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) wants to lead his people out of the woods they’ve been living in since the last movie because it’s suddenly untenable.  There is word of some paradise out past the desert and the apes plan to move out.  I don’t want to spoil any of the emotional beats but Caesar ends up not going with the rest of the apes and instead goes with the only two characters I remember from the last movie and a newcomer and try to hunt down the colonel leading the aggressive human military (Woody Harrelson).  The colonel is afraid of a disease that is somehow taking higher brain function away from humans and this has put him at odds with other human factions.  This all ties together with a rescued human girl who has the disease and an awfully depressing ape concentration camp.

That’s a lot of story even for two and a half hours.  War wants to linger in the bigger moments, and it should— those are absolutely the strongest parts of the film— but it ends up throwing away good stuff.  The whole illness plot builds to the predictable end, the colonel contracts the disease and kills himself, but it happens with 20 minutes left in the movie and I don’t think it affected the outcome.  By taking the disease bit out of the climax and making it basically inconsequential all it actually does is give us a cop out for Caesar’s journey of revenge.  He doesn’t have to decide to kill the colonel.  Maybe the disease just exists to explain why the humans in the original Planet of the Apes couldn’t talk but that’s such a long way to go for something that no one really cared about in a movie from 1968.

This is a well-directed movie, a gorgeously shot movie, and the series features some of the best CGI acting I’ve ever seen.  Andy Serkis has been doing this for a decade but he’s amazing at doing performance capture.  I wouldn’t give him an Oscar for this part (it just isn’t nuanced enough) but it shouldn’t be discounted because of the medium.  In an era when it seems like all of the big budget action movies are jockeying to show how little their leads can care about anything, the Planet of the Apes franchise is going the other way.  Everyone in this movie cares a lot all the time.  There’s a family-like relationship here that is exactly like the one Fast & Furious would tell you they have, but here they show it instead.  I want these apes to feel happy and know peace even though in the fiction that means the death of most of the humans.  This movie has me rooting against my own people.

I understand that they have plans to make as many as two more in this series and as much as I enjoyed this one I sort of wish they would stop.  I don’t know how to escalate from here.  The last movie has a well-meaning human who was pushed too far.  This one had an actually evil human pushed too far.  I don’t want to see them try to heighten past ape concentration camps.  It’s either time to get in to the minutia of building an ape society (and maybe don’t try that) or it’s time for Charlton Heston to fall from the sky.  (I suppose it could be time for Mark Wahlberg to fall from the sky but gross.)  I want this series to stop feeling like it’s spinning its wheels and while the end of this one suggests they’re sensitive to that problem I’m ready to just get to it being a planet of apes by now.

Mike Gold: How To Celebrate National Hot Dog Day

I have a leg in each of two worlds, having spent half of my life living in the Chicagoland area and the other half living in the New York metropolitan area, a.k.a. “The Big Apple” so don’t give me any shit about the word “Chicagoland.” New Yorkers have a problem when it comes to comparisons with other cities, particularly the so-called Windy one, named by a New York newspaper editor who previously held the same position in Chicago. And he wasn’t referring to the weather, but to the native approach to political negotiation.

The fastest way for a New Yorker and a Chicagoan to get into an argument is to say the word “pizza.” Second to that: “hot dogs.” But as they say, the proof is in the pudding. Whereas it is well-known that I loathe airlines and airports, the real reason I drive between the Atlantic Northeast and the Inter-Ocean so frequently is that I am compelled to bring back six to twelve pounds of Vienna hot dogs, also known as the Chicago dog, back to over a half-dozen jonesing New Yorkers.

One of the best-known elements of the Chicago hot dog experience is that it is never served – to adults – with ketchup. There have been several books written about this. My landsmen will tell you it’s disgusting and it hides the taste of the sausage.

Of course, that’s bullshit. The traditional Chicago dog is served with mustard, onions (raw or grilled), tomato, relish, a pickle spear, peppers and the most important ingredient: a dash of celery salt. Really, put ketchup on that and nobody will notice – other than Chicagoans. When the famed Nathan’s opened a store in Chicago, they told CBS that their hot dogs do not need all that crap. The reporter, who was not from the Midwest, responded: “but isn’t the traditional Nathan’s hot dog served with sauerkraut?” Nathan’s Chicago store closed down in short order.

But this week the Heinz ketchup company decided enough is enough. There’s money they’re not making in the Windy City, and they need to raise consciousness. They’ve started marketing a concoction called “Chicago Dog Sauce” and, today – National Hot Dog Day – Heinz is giving away an abattoir full of Chicago dogs with the stuff. They even made a cute little video about it.

It’s a very clever gag and a brilliant promotion campaign. If they’re thinking it will cause a major shift in local taste… well, I’m sure they do not. Not even Donald Trump is that stupid. Oh, screw that: Trump eats New York thin crust pizza with a knife and fork, even while in New York City!

It has widely reported that the phrase “hot dog” was the creation of turn-of-the-last-century cartoonist T.A.D. Dorgan. This may be apocryphal – and that Windy City origin might be as well. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council reports “Some say the word was coined in 1901 at the New York Polo Grounds on a cold April day. Vendors were hawking hot dogs from portable hot water tanks shouting “They’re red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!” A New York Journal sports cartoonist, Tad (sic) Dorgan, observed the scene and hastily drew a cartoon of barking dachshund sausages nestled warmly in rolls. Not sure how to spell ‘dachshund’ he simply wrote ‘hot dog!’ The cartoon is said to have been a sensation, thus coining the term “hot dog.”

The sausage itself was invented in Vienna Austria in 1487, it gathered national attention in America at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and the hot dog bun was invented at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. Doubtlessly, German and Austrian immigrants were selling these puppies throughout North America during their great immigration throughout the latter half of the 19th Century, suggesting the hot dog was popularized by anarchists.

I realize the Heinz stunt is simply that: a clever promotion and nothing more. I’d be mildly surprised to see their Chicago Dog Sauce on the shelves of the local Jewel Foods chain when I’m next out there buying hot dogs for New Yorkers, but I would not be surprised in the least if it were to be available as a condiment option at the Vienna Sausage company store.

O.K. You can tell the vegans they can come back now.

Joe Corallo: Unmasked Is Back!

Well, I haven’t highlighted a Kickstarter in about a month so I’m going to end that dry spell right now.

Last week Michael Sarrao launched a Kickstarter campaign for his latest graphic novel, Unmasked Volume 2: Promethean. Unsurprisingly, this is the follow up to Unmasked: The New Age Heroes Volume 1 which was Kickstarted back on August 26, 2012. Maybe slightly more surprisingly this is also a follow up to Unmasked: Signal the 32 page one shot which bridges the events of Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 that was also funded on Kickstarter back on April 13, 2014. Both volumes were illustrated by John Broglia and Signal was illustrated by Anthony Gregori.

In total, this will be Michael Sarrao’s fourth comic book Kickstarter. All of his previous campaigns have been successful, and this campaign is only a week in and well on its way to reaching its goal. Michael was kind enough to send me a digital copy of the first chapter of Volume 2 so I can tell you all about it.

Before I get into it I’d like to talk a little bit about Unmasked in general. The story takes place in the fictional city of Seastone where superheroes debuted in 1938 and prominent through the 90s but were absent in the 2000s to be replaced by a more ruthless and violent group of heroes. This captures the interest of a rookie reporter, Paige Cruise, whose father was the world’s foremost superhero expert but has since gone missing. Paige Cruise is out to find out who these new heroes are and is on a mission to unmask them with mixed results.

Now you, loyal reader, may be saying to yourself, “Oh I guess Paige, a reporter, does a lot of research and snooping around to find out who these superheroes really are,” and I have to tell you, “Not exactly, no.” Then you might say, “Well she doesn’t just burst onto the scene and physically grab heroes masks off their faces, right?” To which I have to tell you, “Actually, that’s exactly what she does.” Yes, she physically grabs heroes masks off. I know, it sounds cheesy, but that’s the point. Unmasked is basically a blend of campy Silver Age comics fare played straight with a Watchmen aesthetic. Yes, the threats are all real, but they were in the Silver Age too.

Okay, you’re caught up now? Good. Onto the new stuff!

Unmasked Volume 2: Promethean opens more or less where the series left off. Paige Cruise is still on her quest to unmask heroes though now she herself openly desires to be one, we’re introduced to more chaotic players like Deathdevil, and we learn more about the past of the superheroes in this world.

Where Unmasked: The New Age Heroes Volume 1 feels heavy on the Watchmen tone, Volume 2 blends new elements together and has more of a The Wicked + The Divine tone to it. I love that Image series so I’m not complaining. Michael Sarrao plays a dangerous game here balancing some of the cheesier elements of superhero stories while keeping the tone consistent and getting the reader to take the story seriously and keep the stakes high.

This is the superhero comic you wanted to make and everyone told you no and gave you a long list of why you shouldn’t; mostly because there are just too many places it could all go wrong. Michael has not only successfully handled this material, but he did it his way and has two successful Kickstarters under his belt with this material alone and soon to have a third in the Unmasked-Verse when the Volume 2 campaign wraps up.

I do have to say that none of this would have likely happened for Michael if he didn’t get John Broglia to do the artwork. I may be a little biased because John is one of my favorite people working in comics right now, but he expertly executes a concept that walks a thin line. He gives Unmasked a pop art vibe, with the vital help of colorist Paul Little, elevating the story far more than any words could. Just skimming through these pages you can interpret the tone of this book flawless. It’s a necessary skill in comics, but difficult to master. John Broglia makes it look all too easy.

Having read the first chapter of Unmasked Volume 2: Promethean I can honestly say it has a lot of promise and it’s a stronger start than the first volume. If you’re into indie superhero titles, this is required reading. Check out their Kickstarter campaign and think about donating.

Join me next week when I interview a comic creator on a new project and then the week after when I get back to writing really pretentious stuff!

Mindy Newell: Of Storms And Sun

It feels like a month. Two months.

It has been only two weeks.

A dark and stormy two weeks.

The reason I wasn’t here last week was that my 91 (and a ½) year old mom has been suffering the frailties of old age, including a steadily increasing dementia secondary to a history of micro vascular cerebral bleeds and a thalamic stroke a week before my dad died. It’s a retrospective blessing, as I’m not sure she remembers that he is dead, always referring to him as being “away.” That either means that she has confused my brother, who is the spitting image of my father, with him (and at the time of that statement Glenn was in China in his capacity as physician for the Philadelphia Orchestra), or that her time sense is displaced and believes that he is still flying his beloved P-51 in the CBI Theater of Operations during WWII.

The only time she “awoke” to my father’s death was at the funeral – “Taps” had been played, the flag draping his coffin folded and handed to her – she thanked the officer, though it was clear that she didn’t really “get” what was going on – and then, just as the casket started to be moved to the graveside for internment, she wailed, a cry of the banshee that reverberates across the cemetery and which will echo in my heart for the rest of my life, sinking to her knees between the arms of my brother and myself, crying out, “No. Oh, no!… Don’t take him!” It was chilling and heartbreaking – and then she seemed to withdraw again, and for the rest of the day, she was quiet.

Anyway, on July 3rd in the late afternoon, my mom fell and broke her hip. All things considered, it was a “simple” break, and she spent Independence Day in the OR of Cooper University Medical Center in Camden – the “Coop,” as it is called, and it is one hell of a wonderful hospital. Of course I was there, and in the Recovery Room she knew I was there despite the anesthetic dream state, and I even got her to apologize to her nurse for making her come in on a holiday. So the operation was a success, as the saying goes, but…

No, she didn’t die. In fact, she was out of bed and in a chair the next morning and even walked a little bit. She was transferred back to her nursing home on Thursday evening, and… here comes the “wait”…

…became agitated and confused, climbed out of her “geri-chair,” (which looks like a Barco lounger or a Lazy-Boy), and fell on her face and head, resulting in a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Immediately transferred back to the “Coop.”

My brother and I talked… she was in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit, but we treated her conservatively. Monitoring, yes, but nothing else. This means not even a feeding tube. It is what she wanted – both of my parents’ Advanced Directives were/are 10 pages of legalese that could be summed up in a single sentence: “Leave us alone.”

Over the next day or so, she stabilized. She knew I was there, able to give me a kiss and even took some ice cream, ice chips, and bacon from Glenn. We have now transferred her back to the nursing home, as there was/is no reason for her to be in the hospital. In fact, new orders: Do Not Admit to Hospital. She is on hospice and receiving comfort care.

And then, on Wednesday, I was walking into work, and…well, this is what I wrote on my Facebook page:

“So the klutz (me) is walking into work on Wednesday, and she trips on the irregular sidewalk and goes down… gets up, helped by a Good Samaritan, assuring him the klutz is all right. Start to walk…okay, it hurts, but I come from the school of “walk it out,” and thinking, eh, I sprained it…

“Fucking broke my ankle!!!!”

I actually went into work, changed into scrubs, got my assignment and tried to work. In my first room, the anesthesiologist noted my swelling-and-turning-colors ankle. I told him what happened; he said I’d better put some ice on it. I went into the post-anesthesia care unit and got ice. When I told the other nurses what happened, they said that since it happened on hospital grounds I’d better report it. I soon found myself in a wheelchair on the way to the ER and X-rays.

And that’s how I found out I fucking broke my ankle!!!!

All things considered, I was very lucky. Read that as: it could’ve been worse. For those of a medical nature or with anatomical interest, it’s an avulsion fracture of the distal tip of the left fibula. Which means that when my ankle twisted, the ligaments and tendons stretched and pulled the some of the bone off. As I said to my friend, Dr. Glenn Atlas, “strong ligaments and tendons.”

Like my brother and me deciding to treat my mom conservatively, my wonderful orthopedic surgeon said he could treat the fracture the same way. I was in a splint for two days, and now can use a walking boot, though I’m not running a marathon, or even a 5K, or even a mile, for that matter. Mostly I’m staying off of it as much as possible.

Oh, and I’m also out of work for at least six weeks.

Which means – and bringing this back to comics – I have plenty of time to write.

So, I’m working on a story for a major project that ComicMix has put together that we’ll be announcing in a bit over a week. And I’m also putting together a proposal for a graphic novel. It’s been a long time between comics work for me – gotta say I’m filled with a little bit of trepidation, but also feeling the blood of creation bubbling and roiling in my veins and my head is full of sequential panels and dialogue.

This has been some dark and stormy two weeks.

But maybe, just maybe…and “fer shur” eventually –

The sun will come out.

Ed Catto: The Power of Walter Simonson

In 1977, the Syracuse Post Standard blazed the headline “Comic Book Confab Listed” to announce the second Ithaca Comic Convention. Actually, I think it would be more appropriate to say they whispered the headline. It was scrunched in the middle of a crowded page. The article listed professional comic guests such as Walter Simonson and Al Milgrom. I’m not one-hundred percent sure if that’s how my family found out about that second Ithaca Comic Con way back then. It may have been from seeing a flyer on the bulletin board at Fay’s Drug Store. That used to be a legitimate marketing venue too. But the big takeaway is that back then, the concept of a comic-con certainly wasn’t understood.

“People meet to buy and sell old funny books?” The very notion sounded absurd.

Today’s comic conventions and “cons” are part of the nation’s everyday lexicon. Any gathering gets a little extra oomph by adding “-con” as a suffix. Every Comic Con held anywhere in the country gets a modicum of respect and “Comic-Con International” (commonly referred to as San Diego Comic-Con, or simply SDCC) is right in the center of pop-culture radar.

At the Confab

It was at that Confab in Ithaca that I first met Walter Simonson. I was already a big fan. His Manhunter in Detective Comics, written by Archie Goodwin, had made every fan sit up and take notice. At the time of the convention, he was illustrating a black and white Hulk magazine story that told lost tales of the character’s early days in the Marvel Universe. It was called a continuity implant back then, but I simply realized it was a fresh, outstanding story. I was elated to meet the guy drawing it at this Ithaca Comic Con.

You know how sometimes we meet our cultural heroes and they are really jerks? We spend all this time worshiping a celebrity’s accomplishments, only to have it all come crashing down when they reveal an unappealing side to their personality in a personal meeting? We all have probably experienced that type debilitating letdown.

Well, meeting Walter Simonson was the polar opposite of that. He was kind and patient with me and to everyone there. He was a big talent wrapped in a smile wrapped in supportive enthusiasm.

It’s no one wonder he’s still often referred to as ‘the nicest guy in comics.”

”You will hear similar stories from many comics professionals,” said J.C. Vaughn of Gemstone and The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. “Walter Simonson was the first comic professional to talk to me one on one as if I were an actual person. Never mind that he’s Walter Freakin’ Simonson, one of the greatest comic artists to walk the planet; he’s also Walter Simonson, a genuinely good guy (we could use more of both). To hire him (twice!) to do covers for the Guide has been a joy, real wish-fulfillment stuff.”


More recently, I met with Walter and his wife Louise at his home to discuss his latest project, Ragnarok. It’s a fantastic IDW series that reimagines the Norse legends, including Thor, in a completely different setting than the Marvel version. He used the phrase “Norwegian Zombie” to describe it.

And reinforcing his humble nature, he’s quick to point out two of his collaborators on this project: Laura Martin and John Workman.

During this visit, Walter showed me pages of issue #10. This is a moving issue that explores the distortion of a brand. Basically, Thor finds the symbol of his hammer is being used for something rotten. Where are the trademark and licensing lawyers when you need them?

As with so many Walt Simonson stories, it’s full of power, action, and majesty. But my favorite moment was at the story’s finale when a woman is kneeling and we, as the readers, have a view of the soles of her feet. It’s a usual image for a comic, for whatever reason, but rendered with care and love. “I had to ask Weezie to pose for that,” laughed Walter. He meant that he needed to ask his wife Louise to serve as an artist’s model in order to render the character’s feet correctly.

Let’s talk about Louise Simonson for a moment. She’s quite an impressive creator. Like Walter, she’s humble and soft-spoken. That’s especially impressive as she has every right to be boastful and proud. Her accomplishments are many, but I am always struck by her kind and gentle manner. I’d tend to think that she’s a huge part of the Walt Simonson mystique. Any man married to a woman like Louise Simonson would clearly want to do his best each and every day.

Plus: she made a mean breakfast when I visited. We really must devote another column to this fascinating person at some point down the road.

Walter also revealed a bit of his own personal background and how it influences his latest series. He spoke to me about his family history in North Dakota, and the wheat farms of the 1800s. There seemed to be a sense of adventure about it all and a respect for the “giants of the earth.” His parents even kept an extensive library that contained a few mythology books from the 1890s. The lessons of this all stayed with him well into his years learning design at the Rhode Island School of Design.

He summed up so much of his background and learning in his mantra for storytelling, “Play by the rules, but still surprise.”


This week at the San Diego Comic-Con, publisher IDW has a clever marketing promotion centered on Walt Simonson. Lucky fans will be having dinner with Walter, receive two of the enormous and lovingly crafted IDW Simonson books, get them autographed, and receive a sketch or two. Not surprisingly, the unique event quickly sold out.

I asked IDW’s Director of Special Projects, Scott Dunbier, to speak a little about Walter. He offered a clever and genuine response:

“What can I say about Walter Simonson that hasn’t been said before? Blah blah blah legendary creator blah blah blah brilliant run on Thor blah blah blah nicest guy in comics. Sure, all those things are true. But best of all, I get to work with him and talk to him on a regular basis. I’ve got a great job!”

There may be another big night at San Diego Comic-Con for Simonson. The Eisner Award Committee has nominated him for the Hall of Fame. To be fair, there are many other deserving creators on that impressive list. I have no idea how the judging actually works, but I certainly wish him luck.

This week Walter and Weezie will be at the epicenter of pop culture at the San Diego Comic-Con. And I’m sure they’ll continue to inspire many more people.

John Ostrander: The Digital Dog Ate My Homework. Honest.

When doing my writing lectures/classes, near the start I always ask who in the class would consider themselves to be storytellers. A few raise their hands and then I tell everyone to raise their hands.

We’re all storytellers. We all use story in our daily lives. They’re the atoms of our social interactions. The example I give is if you’re a student and you’re late with your homework assignment you should have a good reason why. Make it a good story. “My dog ate my homework” no longer qualifies – if it ever did. In fact, given how much everything is done on computer these days, it would have to be “My digital dog ate my homework.” It’s not any more compelling than the old version, but it might be considered moderately clever.

Deadlines remain a factor long after you leave school and nowhere is that truer than in comics. In his editorial capacity, my good friend Mike Gold once warned me I had moved past deadline and was approaching the funeral line. He also once rang the doorbell of a truant artist (he happened to be in the artist’s home town on other business). Editors showing up on your doorstep can be unnerving.

In my earliest days as a pro writer, I did everything on typewriter (first manual and then electric; rumors that I chiseled them on stone tablets are just mean). I didn’t have a computer until later and, even when I did, some companies (including DC) were not equipped to receive them electronically. So that meant printing them up on my dot-matrix printer and then rushing them off to FedEx for overnight delivery.

Unless you called in your package by a certain time, usually much earlier than you had the work done, you had to take the package to the nearest FedEx office. If you didn’t hit the office by closing time (usually around 6 PM), you had to make the Midnight Run to the main FedEx office out by the largest airport around. More than once, Kim was the driver while I finished collating the pages, stuffing them in the envelope, and addressing the delivery slip. Let me tell you, Speed Racer had nothing on Kim. She’d run stoplights and take stop signs as suggestions to be ignored. Often, we’d meet other local freelancers also making the death defying Midnight Run. It almost got to be a club.

It was something of a step up when I could fax the script in; that could be done at any time. It still wasn’t completely convenient. These days it’s all done electronically. For instance, this column will never see paper.  As soon as it’s finished, it’s a rush to Hotmail and then to the hallowed halls of ComicMix. It doesn’t have quite the same romance as the Midnight FedEx Run but, on the other hand, there’s a lesser chance of a traffic fatality. And fewer chances for an alibi although the possibility that my steam-powered computer (a.k.a. the digital dog) ate my column is potentially truer than the classic excuse.

Of course, all this could be avoided by simply buckling down and doing the work on-time but, hey, where’s the fun in that?

Right, Mike?

Marc Alan Fishman: The Push of the Pull Box

As a rite of passage to become an official “Comic Book Nerd,” the pull box subscription is a near-impossible-to-ignore piece of the puzzle. For those playing along at home: the other parts include strong unwavering opinions you’re willing to argue over until your death, an ability to rattle off superhero minutiae without the use of Wikipedia, and typically a small collection of not-always-well-fitting graphic tee shirts. But I digress.

The pull box, for the uninitiated, is a service wherein a customer subscribes to weekly comics, and are held by their local comic book store for purchase. Every store does this a little different, but the big takeaways remain fairly standard: Pull box subscribers are offered a bit of a discount (often progressively increasing with order size) and are usually honor bound to come in and “clean out the box” as often as they’re able to.

For perspective, I asked my own local comic book retailer (Joe Bullaro of The Zone in Homewood, IL) about pull boxes, and he put it quite succinctly:

“I couldn’t imagine a store succeeding without a pull service… but I think many stores can fail because of one. “

For the store, pull boxes are mostly guaranteed sales. When customers are engaged with their store, and the current draw of monthly titles, there’s a wonderful symbiotic relationship. Back in my subscription days, a weekly trip to the comic shop was one looked forward to as seeing a good friend. Witty banter about what was occurring in the books I followed locked in step the way one might gab about their favorite TV shows. Each issue an episode. Each story arc picked apart for organic and passionate discussion. As Joe would denote to me “…it’s a community. It creates a bond between a customer and their store.” Loyalty feeding into prosperity.

But the pull box system is not always a box of roses. Joe was quick to add “…people abandon 100’s of dollars of books and don’t [always] communicate [their] reasons.” While some stores combat this by tying customers’ boxes to an on-file credit card… smaller stores know doing so limits customer’s desire to be officially subscribed to anything. Call it a fear of commitment. So it becomes a double-edged sword. Attempt to guarantee that pull boxes are clean, and potentially carve away swatches of your buying public. Even in my quaint little suburb, a comic fan is not necessarily limited to a single store to procure their fiction.

In addition to the potential fallout of customers who choose to inexplicably abandon their boxes, comes the actual work involved at the store to maintain the boxes in the first place. Every subscription to a book comes with a two-month ordering window. The book sits outside the regular order the store may keep for their off-the-shelf offerings. This means, for example, ordering 50 copies of Detective Comics to fulfill 40 different pull boxes, and keep 10 issues on the shelf for new comic book day when the issue arrives. And if the book is popular, like Detective Comics is, well, this is perfectly fine. But place your order on a more obscure title (even one from Marvel or DC) and you now place a bet: that your subscriber will buy the book, and if they don’t, placing it on your shelf isn’t taking up space a better book might inhabit.

And then, of course, there comes the issue of annuals, double-drops, mini-series, new creative teams, or the dreaded crossovers. A fan of Green Lantern may be faced with a dozen options in a given month. And they need to commit two months in advance to ensure what they want is held back for them. It’s a dangerous game when the love of a character or book begins to wane.

A few years ago, I made the choice to stop being a weekly subscriber. Faced with a less-than-enthusiastic opinion of the constant cycling of Epic Crossover, New Series Debut, Dwindling Sales, Book Cancellation, Repeat, I ultimately decided my comic purchases should be curtailed to graphic novels and indie titles procured at conventions I attended. While I have never personally abandoned a pull box before, I have been guilty of racking up massive back issues of books I slowly grew tired of. Wednesday Comics, Countdown to Final Crisis… thy name is mud.

So, where to leave the debate? Like so many things in this world, there’s a spectrum between black and white. As a necessary evil, the pull box can keep a store open perhaps almost as often it can wind up a debtor’s downfall. As a means to create a community and store culture, it can unite masses under common interests, or create the sparkling debate that ingrains a base of customers to their local store.

For me, it’s a matter of maturity and conservatism that prevents me from being a card-carrying member anymore. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss walking into a shop, to be greeted warmly with a fresh pile of books awaiting my geeky eyes.

Tweeks: Spider-Man Homecoming Review

There’s so much to discuss. Like how much we love Tom Holland. Like how Zendaya was all over the marketing for a meh role in the actual movie. Like Donald Glover. Like how it’s so refreshing to have movie teenagers actually look & act like real teenagers. Like how Spiderman compares to Wonder Woman. And other stuff too, but you have to watch.

Martha Thomases: Getting Your Nerd On?

The San Diego Comic-Con is next week, and I’m going through my annual trajectory of feelings.

On the one hand, I like comics. I like a lot of the people who work in comics. Twenty years ago, I had a great time when I went because San Diego is a lovely city and it’s pleasant to walk out of the convention center and see palm trees.

On the other hand, I don’t like huge crowds, and SDCC has only attracted more of them. I don’t mean to begrudge anyone their good time, but I don’t necessarily want to be jammed in the middle of it. Especially when their good time is more and more about pop culture in general, and less about comics specifically.

Yes, you can still go and wallow in the sweet, sweet mud of comics love. My experience, the last time I tried, however, was that I still had to struggle to get a seat, because people who wanted to see a television star or a movie preview four panels from now had taken all the good spots. And this was not Hall H.

This year, I’m noticing a change in the tone of the pre-Con hype. Perhaps this change is all in my head, influenced by my contradictory feelings. There was a time when SDCC was “Nerd Prom,” a place where those of us who were never accepted by the cool kids could have our own space, our own definition of “cool” that included us.

And then, the really cool kids noticed us. Hollywood came to court us, to flatter us, to assure us that they, too, loved comics and cartoons and science fiction and fantasy. Movie stars competed to prove they could differentiate Stan Lee from Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby from Neal Adams.

I wanted to believe. If nothing else, it would give me something to talk about with my future husband, Robert Downey, Jr. In any case, even if they were only reciting lines that had been fed to them by publicists, it showed respect to the stories that we loved.

It was a nice gesture.

Lately, I’m not sensing the same respect. Just as in the episode of Entourage referenced above, I sense less a sense of affection for comics and fandom than a sneering sense of superiority. Yes, some of us like to dress up in costumes. Some of us like to talk for hours about obscure facets of our favorite genres. Some of us look forward to a chance to meet the talent whose work has brought us so much joy.

We don’t go to watch from the outside as Hollywood parties. We had enough of the outside in high school, thanks.

We don’t go to provide easy laughs for guys from Harvard too lazy to look beyond the obvious. We love comics for our own amusement, not yours.

So how can you get your geek on without becoming an unwitting accomplice to your own abasement? One solution that works from is going to smaller conventions. The focus tends to be more on comics, and there is more chance to interact with guests as well as other convention goers. It’s also usually easier to find a place to eat and a hotel room close to the show.

For the record, I’m not saying that everything I like at SDCC is cool and everything you like is not cool. Nor am I saying that geeks are never so ridiculous that one can’t laugh at them derisively.

I’m just saying that we don’t have to put on a show to get ridiculed by Hollywood. We don’t have to be so grateful for their attention that we become their dancing bears. Although that might be a cool costume.