Tagged: Beardo

Marc Alan Fishman The Power of the Personal Brand

When Prince Adam of Eternia would raise his mighty sword above his head, he could exclaim “I… Have… the… POWER!” and with it transform into He-Man. This would turn his pink and maroon body suit into merely a manly loincloth and pec-harness combo. He would be granted a physique that would make Vince McMahon want to give him the main event at Wrestlemania. Most important, he was now the mightiest mortal on his alien world – able to dispense of evil with but a flick of a forearm, and nary a tussle of his pageboy haircut.

When Marc Alan Fishman, Kyle Gnepper, and Matt Wright want to transform from slovenly suburbanite husband-dads into cantankerous comic book creators, they hold up their mighty laminated sign that reads “Can I tell you about my comic book?” and look mildly pathetic. But much like Prince Adam, that singular phrase has bestowed upon the lads a power unlike any other on their alien world; the power of a personal brand.

Making it in the indie comic scene is not unlike those mythical tasks undertook by Hercules. Unless you have untold fortunes lying around, the burden to even create original work (more specifically, comic books) comes with the unfair disadvantage of essentially committing to a second fulltime unpaid job. Once work is actually created… it’s time to market it. That in and of itself is somehow even harder than the act of creation!

From the very start of our first show (Wizard World Chicago, 2008), Unshaven Comics has committed to a very long game. We staked a claim to a table in artist alley, placed our first book on the table – along with some silly and snarky signs we just knew would get us plenty of attention (and they didn’t, not at all) – and sat with arms folded, awaiting untold riches.

And so we sat. And sat. And sat some more. Our smiles faded. Our fingers tapped. Our eyes darted to our neighbors in adjacent rows. How are they surviving this hellacious landscape of scavengers?! Soon thereafter, our neighbor took pity on us. “You have to put yourself out there. Just ask people as they pass by. I mean, what’s the worst they could say… No?” It was perfect advice to our green ears and yellow bellies. Kyle stood up. He asked the next con-goer sheepishly. They stopped! From there we launched into our pitch, and desperately tried to become their new best friend.

And then, perhaps out of actual interest, or perhaps pity, they bought our book.

And therein lay the rub to it all. The indie comic scene is built on the backs of personal brands. When virgin eyes and ears traipse across the convention floor, our wares are signal flares in the sky. As lookie-loos take a chance to hear us out, we not only pitch the pulp we put in their paws. We serve up a slice of our personality to boot. Each indie creator comes with a unique mystique that pairs to the work they make. For Unshaven Comics specifically… we’re unabashed in our formula:

We are brothers-from-other-mothers, who have a 25+ year friendship. We each bring separate skills that simmer in a singular pot, and present as a single brand. We are cheesy, but not ironically so. Our books are all-ages, not because we have a crucial need to appeal to the largest audience possible, but because the stories we want to tell are genuinely relatable to just about anyone who loves action and adventure. We are upfront and passionate about our product.

Whereas Kyle is always the most energetic presence at our table, I am working too; scanning the crowd, crunching the numbers, and spreading the word socially. And Matt anchors the table with his incredible and versatile art – attracting people to stop and enjoy his take on everything from superheroes to Cenobites. We are a singular machine, with a simple purpose. We promote what we do. We love what we do. And we need the world to see that and go all-in with us.

Look over each artist at a show, and you’ll see how they cultivate their own brands. Like Katie Cook and her mini-paintings that eventually landed her official Star Wars, My Little Pony, and Marvel gigs. Or Dirk Manning, whose mouthless maw has marketed his macabre books with equal parts solid professionalism, and DIY attitude. Or even perhaps Victor Dandridge Jr., “The Hardest Working Man in Comics!”, who started off with a single hook – an eight-bit art challenge – and has built a litany of indie comic series and convention-panel-emcee gigs that make him a well-known name across the Midwest comic circuit. Or, dare I ever forget my own frenemy Dan Dougherty, who has built his own brand by way of building up not only his own newspaper strip-style series Beardo into a brand, but a half-dozen other pieces in collaboration with his carefully chosen cadre of cohorts (including the aforementioned Mr. Manning from time-to-time).

Beyond the con floors though, you’ll find us all building those brands brick-by-brick. Be it on a day like today, where we’ll each be sitting in on Free Comic Book Day at our local comic book stores to promote our work. Or on social media, where we host live videos to interact with our homegrown fanbase. Or in our handcrafted newsletters. Or when we host classes at local park districts and libraries; teaching the next generation that the best way into comic books is to forge your own path. It all boils down to the simplest of truths…

To build our brands takes honed skill, patience, and determination to succeed. Without all three working together (be we islands-unto-ourselves, or three-headed bearded monsters), there is no brand to build. While any of us strive to stumble over, we’ve each committed to that aforementioned long-game. Cultivating one earned fan at a time, and hopefully producing enough to keep them on the hook until our dreams turn into reality.

We have the power, because we make the power.

Marc Alan Fishman: Defendit Numerus!

Of the many treasures I’ve collected since making comics, the friendships gained are the most valuable. One such friendship, with writer and artist Jim McClain, stands above and beyond nearly any other – save perhaps only for my frenemy Dan Dougherty (a.k.a. “Beardo”). For those who aren’t in the know, Jim represents literally the best kind person: a selfless, intelligent, driven man whose comic book career comes in between his time as a school teacher, husband, and father. This week, I’m proud to hang up my snark and snarl. Instead, I get to put on my hat of friendship and sharing. Solution Squad by Jim McClain is a gem of a series you’d be smart to jump on.

I’ll spare you the dynamic origin story. Jim wrote it already.

Are you back? Good.

Ask a younger Marc – pre-being-a-dad – how often he might stop at a table promoting a comic book series with math in it, and you’d be met with a litany of chortles and guffaws. For those familiar enough with my Unshaven history, will no doubt recall our first book was edutainment. Our experience selling it was akin to madness. A lot of polite grins. A few high fives. Mike Gold’s approval. But not much else. Suffice it to say, whenever I hear math, I’m quick to denote that I went to art school. That’s usually worth a laugh.

The first-time Jim McClain described his book to me, my snark subsided. Because Jim – an imposing man if you didn’t know him otherwise – exudes the kind of passion I didn’t find myself having until we started selling The Samurnauts. More than just proof-of-concept, Solution Squad is Jim’s professional id made real. The excitement and joy he has in making it bounces off the page.

In 2014, Unshaven Comics and Jim sat close-by in the artist alley at Indy Pop Con in (of course) Indianapolis. Jim politely needed a break from his table to moderate his own panel (as I recall) and asked one of we Unshaven Lads to staff it in his absence. Not wanting to ruin our own chance at sales, I left Kyle and Matt to our table and took up shop at Jim’s li’l corner. I recall the floor being sparse at the time. Guiltily uneducated in his wares, I snuck his first issue into my sweaty palms… and devoured it fully.

Solution Squad is a silver-aged superhero yarn through and through. The dialogue is clear and concise. The illustrations are colorful. The action starts up nearly instantly, and carries scene to scene. But I belie the bigger point; the book slyly teaches math concepts that I – a college graduate who in spite of his jests is actually not half dumb – actually had never learned before. When I put that first issue down, I remember feverishly the first couple who walked past Jim’s table (now manned by moi). I shot out of the chair and waved them down. I hit them with the trademark Unshaven Charm (“Can I tell you about my, err, this…. comic book?”). A polite and sheepish “sure?” later, and I started falling over myself to pitch them. Here’s a brief but accurate paraphrasing of my rambling:

(Please read this at double-speed for effect) “OK, this is Jim McClain’s Solution Squad. I’m not Jim. I’m his friend. He’s teaching, err, talking at a panel right now. OK! Anyways… This is Solution Squad. It’s a team action-adventure where all of the heroes have math-based super powers! (They don’t.) And this book actually teaches you math, but it’s deep in between just a great adventure! Like X-Men or something similar. And I have to tell you folks… like… I am a college graduate… and I learned math from this comic not ten seconds ago!”

I likely didn’t even breathe during the exchange. The couple, eyes glazed, declined to take one home. I was unfazed. I’d wind up pitching like an insane carnie for the next quarter hour until I spotted a middle schooler and her parents coming up the aisle. I’d refined the pitch down to the core concepts, put the book in her hand, and watched her light up. Money was exchanged, and no sooner than she was skipping down the aisle, Jim had returned.

Solution Squad read to me as a book fueled by passion, penned with wit and charm, and delivered the educational backbone without ever feeling like a tacked-on gimmick. Much like my own book, Jim writes material that doesn’t talk down to a single reader. Instead, it tells a solid story, then just happens to tie in middle-school math concepts that carry weight to people of all ages. That it does all of this while remaining an action comic at the forefront is a tightrope walk backwards on a unicycle. Jim confidently rides that unicycle backwards while juggling chainsaws.

Ever since that convention, I’ve held my friendship with Jim in reverence. The journey Jim took to making comics is a harrowing tale I beg you to ask him about when you see him. He is, as we Jews might say, a mensch of the highest order. Over the years he and I have swapped stories, toasted to our successes, and commiserated in our failures. In him, I see an older brother… never far away from razzing me, but not without a knowing smirk. His successes have become my successes – in that seeing Solution Squad grow and become a hard-cover graphic novel has only fueled my continued drive to finish Samurnauts in hopes of being even half as good (and completely devoid of actual learning, I suppose, natch).

Consider my gauntlet thrown to your feet. The Solution Squad need your help. Back the Kickstarter today, and tell Jim I sent you. Money where my mouth is: do it, and I’ll send you a digital copy of Samurnauts: Genesis.

I’d say that adds up to something special. Wouldn’t you? Defendit Numerus!

Marc Alan Fishman: Kosmic Serendipity

norah-2I’m a fan of eating crow. Truly a student from the school of tough love. The other day I happened to be perusing my archive of articles here on ComicMix when I hit on the one where I vowed to buy more indie books. That article was published August 14, 2014. Shortly after it hit the site I threw out my mainstream subscription box that was brimming with Marvel Now! and NuFiftyScrewYou floppies.

Blink, and a few years pass by. And my vow? Beaten, battered, and broken. I could spend the entirety of this week lamenting on specifically why I broke my promise. But, that (as Alton Brown would say) will be for a later show. This week, I want to start making good on my promises. You know… a mere 26 months later.

One of the many awesome side effects of being an indie creator is the wealth of newfound friends across one’s social media streams. Enter Kasey Pierce. Whilst trolling my number-one-frenemy (Dan Dougherty, a.k.a. Beardo), a tagged photo on his stream peaked my attention.  Donning a Touching Evil tee-shirt-turned-tank-top with a brawny bicep hoisted up to a nonchalant smirk stood Ms. Pierce. Like all millennial creeps, I clicked her name to see what-the-what. Hanging her hat in the Detroit area had aligned her to a plethora of palookas I had a ton of love for. Hence, I clicked “Request Friend” and sat patiently awaiting the green light to stalk… err… peruse (yeah, that’s the ticket) her timeline.

In doing so, I learned she was a many an important things to me: writer, well-versed in sci-fi, lover of the WWE, and Britpop. I was able to look past her love of Dougherty and came to the conclusion (months ago) that my smart money would be to give her comic series Norah a try when our paths crossed.

piecesEnter the New York Comic Con. On one of the few jaunts I courageously took into the wild (a.k.a. the con floor), I made my way to Source Point Press – the small press publisher of many a Michiganer, dealing wholly in the horror and sci-fi sects. A few pleasantries passed (mainly me attempting to glean if Kasey knew who I was after our back-n-forth bantering over wall posts and what not) and two issues of Norah made their way into my mitts. They survived the journey home, and were consumed with the tepid worry that my friendship with Ms. Pierce might color my often-snarky synopsizing.

Luckily for both of us, my snark remained intact, and Norah was very promising.

Before I dust off my old MichaelDavisWorld chops though, let’s get the elevator pitch of the book into the ether:

Norah Seizhelm is a “Coma Fisher” for hire. With the ability to tap into the mind’s eye, she’ll either find and retrieve you or help you cross to the other side. A mission of peace, to be sure. But how she obtained this skill is a story filled with government secrets, the death of thousands, and a threat of mass genocide.

I picked up the available issues (1 and 2 out of the first 4 of volume 1, for you number types) for a whopping $6. Kasey’s Source Point compatriot upsold me on a horror book I’ve not opened yet for a cool $10 in total. But I digress.

Norah combines Pierce’s love of neuro-science, bio-weapons, and government conspiracy… wrapped in the candy coated shell of a bitch on wheels solo book. In concept? It’s a potent potable of pulp. With a personality that harkens directly to the Jessica Jones stock, combining with a compassionate mission that leverages medical procedural plots, the book is inherently niche in scope. Where it shines the brightest is truly there in the pitch. As presented in media res, we find Norah meeting drifters in infinite blackness… cajoling them to join her as details of their sur-reality come into focus. We grow accustomed to the truth of catatonia as the patient does. It’s neat narrative trick, no doubt.

The biggest positive beyond the pitch comes solely on the mystery of the soul of the titular telepathic. As she reads on the page, Norah is a foul-mouthed malcontent until she reaches the patient du jour. With what feels like a gang member? She is curt. With his absorbed twin residing in his psyche? She softens. In the real-world, she is passive and melancholy. To see this much nuance stacked on someone who is also bio-weapon engineer? Gives credence to a fully-realized heroine far beyond the traditional manic pixie dream girl. The hook of the book is tied totally to figuring out the whole picture of Norah Seizhelm.

Where Norah falters a bit for me comes with the presentation. The striking covers to the series – monochromic kinetic fields balanced under graphic forms — sets the tone for potentially fast-paced sci-fi. The interiors, by Sean Seal, are a murky mélange that counters the covers in stark contrast. Seal’s painted panels are a bit too unbalanced to be beloved as a whole. Some sequences are clearly coated in hours of careful detail. Others are slap-dashed and sloppily strewn across the page. Some faces are rendered in proportion, others are left feeling unfinished. Taken as a complete product? The sparse prose over the unbalanced art creates an inconsistent book. But heed me: Norah is still very much worth consideration.

The beauty of the indie scene is inherent in Norah. It’s an unfinished house with a sturdy foundation. A diamond still stuck under a bit of coal. As a character study and concept, it’s lightyears ahead of standard cape and cowl pulp… and commensurate with the better parts of early Dark Horse Presents… and the like. A mature concept that isn’t gory or salacious for the sake of a sale. Kasey Pierce has a larger point to explore in her heroine, and two issues in has left me desiring the necessary closure she’s selling. While the book may not show the sheen artistically (yet), the prose is more than enough to make my first deeper dive into the indie scene a successful one.

Here’s hoping my next venture down the alley for new reads is as nuanced and notable as Norah.

Marc Alan Fishman: Unlicensed To Kill


With only a little time left in this year’s con season for me and the Unshaven Lads, I want to address an elephant in the Alley, if you will. My nemesis / frenemy / all around stunning pal Dan Dougherty – of Touching Evil, Beardo, and Bob Howard: Plumber of the Unknown fame – has recently become the talk of the town over a recent strip he posted.

Soon thereafter, many wonderful bloggers, fans, passersby, and everyone in between began commenting. The discussion was mostly positive, and on the side of us indie artists. But a few ne’er-do-wells decided to play devil’s advocate (see also: dicks, douchebags, trolls, et. al.), and champion the counterpoint. They posit the question: When an indie artist produces a printed piece (a poster, postcard, trading card, etc.) depicting any licensed character that they themselves do not control a license for… should they have any right to bitch at would-be photo snappers for merely completing the cycle of unlawful consumption of a consumer good? I

The answer isn’t as simple as I’d hope it would be.

Sadly, I’m not Bob Ingersol (whose column is always a treat here on ComicMix), thus my knowledge of the law is fuzzy at best. But I am Jewish, so that typically allows me to make something up, and it oftentimes sound legit. As it’s been explained to me by smarter (Jewish-er) folks… if the art in question is a parody or satire, it is protected under the law as being a parody or satire. Hence Unshaven Comics’ Zim Attacks or Adventure Wars mashup pieces, or Dan’s Poohvengers prints are safe and sound. Should Mr. Dougherty merely print up a batch of well-rendered Winnie’s, or we Unshaven Lads produce a straight-up Finn and Jake? We might be in a bit of hot water, should the owners of those characters come a callin’. All this in mind, we’re adjacent to the actual issue at hand.

Take a walk into any comic convention today and I will assure you that the Artist Alley will be choked to the rafters with unlicensed work. Well-rendered Wolverines sit next to pitch perfect Paste Pot Petes. Jedis mingle with Jokers and Harley Quinns. And My Little Pony is making magic on half a dozen unsanctioned tables with glee in their hearts. Artists who pay their way into a table space are there to share their talents with the public at large, in an effort to profit enough to continue to make their art. The people who purchase their art are doing so for a multitude of reasons – be it as a gift for a loved one, to hang in their own home, or to place into a personal collection. Whether that is above board or part of a terrible black market is up to you to hold an opinion on. At the crux of the debate brought by Beardo, is the newer trend of passers-by snapping a quick photo of the work on display.

Simply put: It’s a dick move.

Put a little less succinctly, it’s somewhere between theft and just being cheap. When an attendee walks by our table, we as artists see a potential customer. When they stop and admire our work, we tremble with anticipation. And when they hold their cellphone to capture our hard work, without any intent of supporting said hard work… it’s crippling.

The poster print we sell for $5 or $10 represents potentially hours of work building the composition, coloring it (or completing any number of complex finishing touches), and then sourcing a printer to produce it. Then, it takes our own capital to invest in the print job itself. And then we have to purchase the table on which we’re allowed to potentially sell it. Getting to the show costs us money too. And the years we may have spent at expensive art schools in order to make that perfect mash up of Winnie the Pooh and Captain America might still be costing us a monthly fee to boot. So, when we’re faced with someone who finds the work cool enough to take a copy for themselves without potentially reimbursing us for even a fraction of those aforementioned costs… forgive me when I say that it’s simply a dick move.

Suffice to say I could wax poetic on this topic for far longer than I’m likely to hold your attention, dear reader. I’ll likely continue to peel this onion back a bit more in the coming weeks. For now, let me leave you on the reason Unshaven Comics sells unlicensed prints without a shred of guilt to be had:

Our prints get eyes on our table. When someone stops, we engage them in conversation. Because the poster may draw them in, but our original content is what we want to truly tempt them with. Simply put, we don’t sell a poster without first pitching our own book – fully knowing that The Samurnauts has nothing to do with Adventure Wars or the Hipster League. If they don’t want the book, but want a print? Great! Money is money, and we sure need heaps of it. Our prints, as they are for Dan Dougherty and the multitude of indie creators who stand beside us, are only means to an end. If we can stop you with a chuckle, we may earn a fan with the work we truly love to make. And if not? We might just be able to pay for dinner that night with a few moved prints. It’s largely a win-win situation.

You’re more than allowed to appreciate our work live and in person. If you don’t have the funds to bring it home, but still wish to enjoy it? Perhaps have the wherewithal to ask if you can snap a photo. We artists know all too well what it means to be broke, but in love with a piece. Maybe even have the sense to grab a business card – so when you do have tangible cash, you can purchase the print at a later date. Consider offering to “like” us on social media outlets and spread the word to people who might want to see the work and have a chance to buy it too. In short, next time save the pictures for the cosplayers. Natch.