Category: Columns

MIKE GOLD: Baltimore Tales

As predicted, I had a swell time at the Baltimore Comic-Con. Lots of friends, lots of fans, and lots of attention from the best convention crew I’ve ever seen. The editorial we had a few fun experiences we’d like to share.

•     •     •     •     •

I bopped around the show carrying a cane. I don’t really need it, but since I was on my feet in a crowd for a couple days I thought bringing it would be a good idea. Besides, at any comics convention I can never tell when I might need to bash some head-slapping backpack donkey. Several people asked about my unconcealed weapon, including cosmic comics superstar Jim Starlin.

I told Jim I blew out my back in his hometown of Detroit. He sympathized and then one-upped me. He screwed up his back in South Africa, at a funeral, at which he was a pallbearer. When a breeze wafted by, the pallbearer in front of him lost his yarmulke and left his responsibility to go fetch. The weight of the coffin shifted over to Jim, and that screwed up his back. O.K. Jim wins.

•     •     •     •     •

At 88, living legend Stan Lee gets more attention from women than a 1960s movie spy. At least three-quarters of the men at the show were jealous, including those who were happily married. And including me. I was particularly amused at his lustful glowering at my daughter.

•     •     •     •     •

Most of the folks who dress up in costume at these shows are, at the very least, entertaining to watch. Some are sexy, others are cute, many are adorable. But for the life of me I just don’t know who the buff middle-aged guy dressed in nothing but a loin cloth was supposed to be, other than a buff middle-aged guy dressed in nothing but a loin cloth.

•     •     •     •     •

Mark Wheatley took me to a place purposed (by comics fanboy and teevee star Guy Fieri) to have some of the best pit beef in the nation. It’s a wonderful shack called Chap’s and it’s next to a strip club on Pulaski Highway. Both Mark and Guy are right. The place kills. This wasn’t the highlight of the convention for me, but it made my Top 10 list.

•     •     •     •     •

Mike Grell introduced me to his former assistant on [[[The Warlord]]], a woman who used to be married to the brother of Brother Grell’s ex-wife. Beverly Derouin was extraordinarily pleasant, particularly after Mike explained the etymology of their relationship. That’s really cool. Particularly in an environment that can be a bit overwhelming.

•     •     •     •     •

Timothy Truman and his son Ben were hawking their upcoming series Hawken. If it is half as fantastic as the t-shirt they were selling (and I should have purchased, damnit), this series will be absolutely fantastic. As well it should be, given its high pedigree.

•     •     •     •     •

I got a chance to tell Dean Haspiel how much I enjoyed [[[Cuba ­– My Revolution]]], one of my favorite projects of the year. It was written by Inverna Lockpez, and if you haven’t read it yet, you’re making a very, very serious mistake. It’s the best graphic novel I’ve read since Stagger Lee. Outside of those I’ve edited, of course.

•     •     •     •     •

The drive from Connecticut to Baltimore takes about four hours, which is how long it took for us to drive down last Friday. The drive back took eight and one-half hours, virtually all of which were spent on the New Jersey Turnpike. That road hasn’t been the same since Simon and Garfunkel broke up.

•     •     •     •     •

As always, I want to thank Marc Nathan and his unbelievably professional crew for putting on another great show, to Mark and Carol Wheatley for putting my daughter Adriane Nash and me up – as well as putting up with me – and to the aforementioned Ms. Nash for her assistance and companionship during the show and for sharing with me my proudest moment in my comics career.

I’ll be at the Baltimore Comic-Con next year. You should be, too.

(ComicMix editor-in-chief Mike Gold annoys the masses with his Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind rock’n’blues radio show, which streams four times a week on and is also available on demand at that very same venue. He also pens a very political column at Michael Davis World – — where he joins ComicMix columnists Martha Thomases and Michael Davis.)

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

MICHAEL DAVIS: Has Comic-Con Jumped The Shark?

This weekend I watched the movie [[[Paul]]] on BluRay. It seemed so lame to me when it first came out. When I saw the previews I decided I’d avoid it like Stevie Wonder avoids driving. I only rented it because it’s one of the few movies that I have not seen On Demand and I get so many free rentals movies from Blockbuster I feel that I’m wasting my money if I don’t rent something. I’m about to give up my Blockbuster membership for NetFlix just as soon as I remember that’s what I want to do.

Anywho, I took [[[Paul]]], [[[True Grit]]] (I really wanted to see that in the theaters but I’m just so damn busy) and [[[Rango]]] home to my massive flat screen.

Hey. I’m a man and size matters.

Well, size matters if it’s big. If not then, not so much, at least that what guys with little flat screens tell themselves and by little flat screens I mean penis.

True Grit was GREAT. Rango was not. I’ll leave it at that. On the other hand, Paul was really good. I enjoyed it and realized I’d made the same mistake with this film as I’d made with [[[The Iron Giant]]] and Galaxy Quest. The previews and marketing were so freakin bad on those movies I just stayed away.

In Paul, Comic-Con was a nice little backstory. Yes, it was centered on nerds but what are you going to do? The movie started at Comic-Con, ended at Comic-Con and was referred to many times during the film.

I watched Paul Saturday night. Sunday, the day of this writing, I was flipping channels and stopped when I saw the face of my friend David Glanzer. David is the head of marketing and publicly for Comic-Con and was a guest judge of a show called Cupcake Wars.

I try to never say never but I’m pretty damn sure if I did not see David I would have never watched a show called Cupcake Wars. That show has as much appeal to me as a show called Towel Wars or can goods conflict or The Peanut Butter Lick Off. You know I could see watching the Peanut Butter show if there were hot women contestants. The more I think of it I would watch that show and now the show sounds like a good idea!

(The Peanut Butter Lick Off. trademark & copyright Michael Davis 2011. All Rights Reserved.)

But I digress (sorry Peter). I was talking about David. Not Peter David. I watched the entire show not caring rather or not who won (who the fish cares?) but rater I watched marveling at the genius of David and Comic-Con. Clearly, appearing on that show as a guest judge in his capacity as the head of marketing and publicly for Comic-Con is a fantastic way to market to people who may have no clue what Comic-Con is.

Then it hit me— has Comic-Con jumped the shark?


MINDY NEWELL: The Real Origin of “I… Vampire” And Other Bits And Pieces

MINDY NEWELL: The Real Origin of “I… Vampire” And Other Bits And Pieces

Just a quick little column this week, guys, just a collection of my thoughts. Some about comics, some not. Call it a walk into Mindy’s brain. And don’t forget to duck.

• Spent three hours today at the New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles renewing my license. Last time I renewed it, I was in and out in 20 minutes. Why did it take so long? Two words: Walking Beachball.  (Actually I was going to say Fat Fuck, but I didn’t want to offend anybody.) That’s right, I’m talking about New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie. For a while at the DMV I occupied myself looking at the latest IKEA catalogue. Then I started talking to some of the nice people who work there. (Now that’s a job in hell! Compared to working at the DMV, Buffy’s stint at the Doublemeat Palace was being the Queen of England.) One of the first things Christie did when he took office was to cut the budget of the DMV, meaning layoffs and location closings and cutting the days and hours the DMV is open and absolutely no updates in computer software. I also talked to some of the nice people who were also waiting at the DMV. Apparently nobody voted for him. In fact, nobody I know voted for him. Even my friends who are Republicans. So how did the Walking Beachball become governor? I don’t know.

• I really hated Season 8 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Dark Horse by way of Joss Whedon). Hated. Loathed. I mean, I’m not a big fan of comic adaptations of television and movies to begin with, but this one really sucked. The artwork sucked. The story sucked. The ending sucked. And I put Season 9 on my list at my local comics shop. Fuck it. I’m a Buffy junkie.


JOHN OSTRANDER: Brave-ish New Worlds

JOHN OSTRANDER: Brave-ish New Worlds

In last week’s column, I talked about target audiences and how, in comics, there has been a primary and a secondary audience – the retailers and distributors being the primary audience and the readers being the secondary audience. If you don’t get the product on the shelves, you can’t sell it. I surmised that could change as comics go to same digital sale as the comic shops; that could mean the readers become the primary audience.

So – what does that mean? What might it mean? Let’s do a little idle speculation and what I would like it to mean. Maybe you would, too. Let’s compare note.

More readers. Actually, this isn’t just a wish, it’s a necessity. Not that there’s anything wrong with the readers that we got; you guys is swell. But we need more in sheer numbers and that’s the point of going digital: comics need to go where the eyeballs are and that’s on the web. Nor is it enough to just preserve the status quo. We need to increase the readership, meaning new readers, and that involves some of trick below.

Lower prices. I think this mandatory. The jury is still out as to whether folks on the web will pay anything – lots of folks online are used to and defend downloading for free – but I don’t think they’re going to pay $2.99 for 22 pages of story. Also, the costs of producing the product is less: no printing, no shipping, no cost of paper. Yes, the companies have to pay for access to whatever reader they’re using, but I’m betting it’s less than the cuts taken by retailers and distributors.


MARC ALAN FISHMAN: The First Comic That Mattered… To Me

MARC ALAN FISHMAN: The First Comic That Mattered… To Me

Strangers (Malibu Comics)

Image via Wikipedia

Welcome back, friends. After the hate-spew I delivered in the first few weeks, and the near love-in I had over the last two… I asked myself what was the obvious next step.

Yes, Marc?
What’s the obvious next step?
Hell if I know. I still hate Flashpoint. And about half of the DC reboot. And the X-Men. And walnuts.
Well, that’s no help.
Sorry. Why don’t you talk about Malibu?

Seems simple enough. Let me set the scene. It was 6th grade. 1993. I’d just met this crazy kid named Matt who drew better than me, and loved comics. I was insanely jealous of his talent, and unlike my other friends at the time, he wasn’t a brilliant mathematician well on his way to being our eventual class valedictorian. He invited me to a sleepover birthday party, which pretty much meant by the next week, we were hyper-awesome bestest friends.

27 days after his birthday party, he showed up at my house, in the frigid December air. He handed me a box. “Happy Birthday, dude.” Paper rips, bow is tossed to the stoop. Before my 12 year old eyes, bagged and boarded, were copies of UltraForce #1 and The Strangers #1. Matt had remembered that I’d seen the short-lived UltraForce cartoon show, and loved it. Especially the episode featuring The Strangers. Excuse me for a second… I need to go wipe my eyes. It’s dusty down here. Dusty!

Suffice to say, I read those two books near instantaneously. And then reread them. Looked over every nook and cranny, too. Something about these books spoke to me in a way no other sequential literature had.


MARTHA THOMASES: Sex and Comics and Rock and Roll

When I started out in comics in the late 1970s when dinosaurs walked the earth, the comic book business was like a small town. It was possible to be at least a nodding acquaintance of all the major players on the publishing side, and quite a few of the retailers as well.It was a small town – a small town scattered around the world. And like all small towns, there was always gossip.

Gossip, being gossip, is often nothing but lies. However, I’ve always found it fascinating because 1) I’m petty and shallow and 2) even untrue gossip reveals something about our feelings for the person involved.

Back in the day, the gossip was a particularly heady mixture of sex, drugs, and the kind of behavior that can only be the result of hideous self-loathing and bad brain chemistry. People would date, cheat, marry, divorce, hook-up, stalk each other – the usual.

And then there were those who were less usual. I don’t know if the stories were true, but they were fascinating: Freelancers who lived in their cars because they couldn’t manage their money, as opposed to freelancers who lived in their cars because they worked for scumbags. People who were such hoarders that they couldn’t walk from one room to another. The editor who did so much coke that they’d find this person dancing on the desk. The editor who had sex in the elevator on way to the office. The freelancer whose wife, looking for him, screamed into the phone so loudly that you could hear her across the office, even though she was out of state.

There is something both charming and small-minded about this kind of gossip. The small-mindedness is obvious. The majority uses gossip to keep everyone in line, obeying the rules. The charming part develops from the fact that we all knew each other and, for the most part, cared about each other.

Today, comics is a bigger business and a bigger scene. There’s more money at stake, and the stories (true or not) have changed accordingly. Now we hear about the men whose marriages fell apart because they were having affairs with their publicists. Or maybe they left their wives for an actress on the set of the movie based on their books. Or maybe it’s a coke habit. The same vices are involved, but the rise in status ups the ante. People (thankfully) can afford to go to rehab. They can afford to pay child support. The problems might grow with the money available, but so do the solutions.

There’s also a different tone. There is more envy, and, as a result, more a note of satisfaction when the person being discussed can’t handle success. It’s meaner.

We aren’t living in that small town anymore where we care about each other. We’re not even in Kansas anymore.

Martha Thomases, Dominoed Dare-Doll, has been a comic industry publicist for two decades, and no client ever made a pass at her. The stories she hears make her wonder what’s wrong with her.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

DENNIS O’NEIL: Enough with the Superhero Movies?

Not long ago, I was chatting with a movie guy (yes, that was me, riding shotgun in the gold Ferrari, tooling down Rodeo Drive, heading for Brad and Angie’s…) and he said that the summer of ’11 could be make-it-or-break-it time for superhero flicks.

As you know by now, there have been four – count ‘em four – such entertainments released in the past several months, raising the question: Have we had enough?

Hard to say. Three of the four films were solid profit-makers and the last will probably limp into the black eventually, if it hasn’t already. So the chair-fillers aren’t reacting against super-doers, but if you squint, you might be able to detect signs that the honeymoon is over. A hundred and ten minutes of a dude in a funny suit doing grandiose stunts and bashing other dudes, also in funny suits, is no longer box-office surety. The novelty value is gone.

Remember when kung fu flicks first hit the U.S.? (Okay, most of you don’t because that happened before you were born, but indulge me.) For some of us, including me and my post-toddler son, any martial arts movie was the right martial arts movie and we spent a lot of afternoons in sticky-floored theaters watching them. The new approach to action-melodrama, the exotic casts, and – oh yeah! – the nifty fight-acrobatics (and whatever amusement could be gotten from bad dubbing) were enough to engross us, regardless of these Asian imports’ other merits or demerits. Then along came Bruce Lee and Enter the Dragon and then Jackie Chan and…

And, eventually, kung fu became just another genre, like westerns and war and romance and family comedies and raunchy comedies… Another genre. I still watch and enjoy martial arts films, particularly those with acrobatics, particularly acrobatics as practiced by performers from Thailand, and you can enjoy them, too, because your local Blockbuster has a goodly selection for rent and you don’t have to troll too far on your cable TV hookup to find one or two or…

Another genre, yes, but one that comes in a lot of sizes and shapes and languages and one you might patronize because of the virtues of a particular movie, not because of that movie’s label.

Superhero movies are, I shyly contend, undergoing a similar evolution. Already, perhaps, some of you don’t go to see a Marvel flick, you go to see Robert Downey, Jr., doing his Iron Man, and it’s well worth the trip. The acting is improving, the themes becoming more complex and the special effects…well, sometimes you aren’t aware of them as effects; they exist to serve the narrative, not to make us ohhh and ahhh as though we’re watching a spectacular fireworks display. It’s about story, not spectacle.

Spectacle is fine, but narrative offers other rewards, and most movies are narratives. The best special effect I’ve seen all summer happened early in Captain America, when somehow the cinematic wizards grafted Chris Evans’s head onto someone else’s body – seamlessly, perfectly realizing a plot element. No explosions, no shattered planets, just splendid storytelling.

Recommended Reading: The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir by Michael Uslan.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

MIKE GOLD: On Conventions and Baltimore

I attended my first big comic book show back during the Paleolithic Age. It was either Phil Seuling’s first or second New York Convention, and it was a blast. There were about 500 of us in a Broadway hotel, and at least 475 of us didn’t realize there were so many people who were, in this respect, just like us. We realized we were not alone.

Cut to the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con. Add everybody up – paid attendance, freebees, professionals, dealers, Hollywood types, publishing people, foreign distributors, Communist spies – and there were about 150,000 folks stuffed into that convention boxcar. That’s like a 300x increase. OK, it took over 40 years to get to that point, but still, back in the late 1960s the Seuling show was the only big game in the nation. Today, you’ve got huge shows in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and/or Dallas and/or Austin, San Francisco… you get the point.

Sadly, as San Diego grew the comics presence diminished – and not just proportionately. Today, the comics part of the San Diego Comic Con is an afterthought. It’s so blatant that it was mocked on Futurama, by no less than Sergio Aragones.

I miss the shows that are truly about comic books. I don’t need the Hollywood whores, and if I want to see celebrities I can just walk around Rockefeller Plaza for about ten minutes. I want that feeling I had so long ago, at the ancient hotels Phil rented for the comparative handful of us to meet and greet each other, back in the days before the horrid eBay forced artists to charge for their sketches and before the evil eBay pulled the rug out from underneath the dealers’ feet.

I can’t say I miss those shows completely, as there are still a few around. The HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina comes to mind. There are others.

This coming weekend, I’m going to my favorite of these few shows. Once again, I’ll be at the Baltimore Comic-Con – I rarely miss it – and I always have a great time. It’s run by good people who love comics and know how to run a convention. It’s got a lengthy guest list and it’s got the Harvey Awards dinner.

There are three other factors that are probably more personal to me. A lot of my friends and collaborators go to it – Baltimore is one of the few shows that Timothy Truman frequents, Mike Grell comes out from the northwest, and Mark Wheatley (who puts me up while he puts up with me) lives in the vicinity. Robert Tinnell, John K. Snyder, Bo Hampton, Ted Adams, Marc Hempel, Denis Kitchen, John Workman, Walter Simonson, ComicMix’s own Glenn Hauman and Robert Greenberger … the list of my friends there just goes on and on. Most important, unlike San Diego or the New York Comic-Con or Chicago’s R2D2, I can actually hang out with my buddies and meet my fellow fans.

Of course, the show is a mere four-hour drive from Connecticut. That’s about as long as it takes me to get from my front door to wheel’s up at New York’s JFK International. The six-hour flight to the left coast is extra. And the Baltimore show is only two days long: Saturday and Sunday. Yep, no padding, no unending lines to wait in, just two solid days of comics’ fanboy fun.

If you can make it, please do. I’ll be mostly at the Insight Studios Booth, and I promise I won’t hit you with my cane. At least, not intentionally. Yep, this is my first show since I destroyed my back. My back’s back, so I’m back.

Drop by and say hello. We’ll probably get into a conversation or something. It’s that kind of show.

(ComicMix editor-in-chief Mike Gold resumed his Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind rock’n’blues show, which streams four times a week on and is also available on demand at that very same venue. He also pens a very political column at Michael Davis World – — where he joins ComicMix columnists Martha Thomases and Michael Davis.)

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

MICHAEL DAVIS: Spanish Harlem – The New Spider-Man, Part 2

Please read part 1 from last week before reading this. Thanks!

Spider-Man: The Rice And Beans War
By Glenn Beck

When Manny awoke he was looking down the barrel of an Arizona State Trooper’s gun. He and Juan and the illegal brothers and sisters they were transporting to a better life in Arizona were all sitting on the side of the road hands on head encircled by other State Troopers.

Something in Manny’s head was tingling, as if it was some kind of warning. Manny looked around for something he did not know what until he found it, the spider he was bitten by.

“That’s your spider sense, Ese!” said the spider.

End of part 1

Part 2

Manny quickly reclosed his eyes hoping to wake up from the dream soon. “This can’t be happening. OK. Get a grip Manny, get a grip.” He thought while keeping his eyes shut tight as if the tighter they were the less real the situation will be.

Manny thinks, “OK, it’s possible that Juan and I were stopped by State Troopers. That’s possible. It’s also possible that I’m on the side of the road with my illegal brothers and sisters we were transporting to a better life in Arizona. It’s impossible that the spider that bit me is talking to me. That’s just not possible. So that means everything that’s happening is not happening. I must have had some bad rice or bad beans in my rice and beans.”

“It’s happening, Ese.” Said the spider. You better open your eyes before one of these troopers take them being closed as a threat.”

“Now I know I’m dreaming! How in the world could a state trooper take my eyes being closed as a threa…”

“This wetback’s eyes are closed…gun!”



JOHN OSTRANDER: Targeted Audiences

john-ostrander-8877507My Mary gets pissed-off about a lot of commercials because they’re so stupid. I remind her that, in most cases, we are not the target audience for the product. At 62, I’m rarely the target audience for most products unless they’re for erectile dysfunction or, as I like to call it, Limp Dick Syndrome.

Most products have a targeted audience, and that includes comics. In fact, it has a primary and secondary audience and it might surprise fans to know that they are the secondary audience. Who is the primary audience? Distributors and retailers – or, at least, they have been.

A quick review/primer on how comics are sold: when comics are printed they are shipped to distributors who then solicit the sale of the comics from retailers (traditionally direct sale comic book shops) who have pre-ordered the books based on how many they think they can sell. The books are then, hopefully, sold to a public who comes into the shops and buys them off the shelves.

ostrander-column-110814-art-1133233That’s the trick. If the books don’t find their ways to the shelves, they don’t get sold. The distributor has a catalog in which the books are advertised and where and how they’re placed can determine how many copies of a given book are ordered or if they are ordered. The retailers’ goal is to sell out each book each month. Why? Because they’re stuck with each book they don’t sell; the books are non-returnable. It makes better business sense to order too few than order too many especially when you look at the volume of titles out every month.

The primary goal of the comic book companies is to make money which translates into how many books they sell. They want to convince the distributor to give them bigger space in the catalog so they can attract the eye of the retailers so that they will order more or at least the same amount as the previous month. (Many retailers I know automatically reduce their order by so many percentage points every month unless the book is in the top twenty. They assume readers drop off after a certain point. Why do they assume that? Experience.)

How do the big companies do that? They stage events – crossovers, multiple covers, guest stars (Wolverine or Batman everywhere!), revamps, new creative teams, new directions and so on. The companies hope that the fans will get excited but the real reason is to get the primary target audience to order more. So the stories that the secondary audience – the reader – sees is largely dependent on what grabs the primary audience.

And all that’s going to change. The small independent creators are proving that they can sell their comics online or in digital form direct to the fans. And the big companies have taken notice. DC is making its book available online the same day they go on-sale in shops. If it’s successful, expect everyone else to follow and fast. The secondary audience will become the primary audience.

What will that mean in terms of story? It means things could get real interesting. More on that next week.

(Editor’s note: This column was supposed to be posted on Sunday morning. That’s what the editor set everything up for. But it didn’t happen. We think this is because the editor is an idiot. Our apologies to John and all the Ostranderites all over the globe.)