Tagged: Bob Layton

Ed Catto and The Charlton Comics Documentary!

I’ve been writing about several of the impressive Geek Culture entrepreneurs I met at this year’s New York Comic-Con, but the real-life Gotham City certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on these passionate creators who are making it happen.

The Buffalo Comic-Con is run by Emil Novak and his team. They’re also the folks behind Buffalo’s long-lived comic shop, Queen City Bookstore. It’s a great shop full of treasures, staffed by people who love both comics and customer service.

I was invited to be a panelist at their convention a few weeks back. As we were wrapping up our panel, the next folks were setting up and I realized that was the panel I wanted to see. Keith Larsen and Jackie Zbuska are creative entrepreneurs and they are passionate about their Charlton Comics documentary.

Ed Catto:  This project seems like a lot of fun! How’d it all start?

Keith Larsen & Jackie Zbuska: So what’s our origin story? It’s not spectacular, or even exciting. Tired feet and washing dishes. We were at the 2014 ComiCONN in Bridgeport, CT. It was an awesome venue with lots to do, but after a few hours, we really needed a break off. Keith noticed a ticker ribbon message advertising a panel featuring Denny O’Neil, Bob Layton, and Paul Kupperberg. Perfect! Comic book legends and our excuse to sit!

We snuck into the panel room as Paul took the stage and announced the panel topic: Charlton Comics! Huh…what? Charlton? Didn’t they go away like, 30 years ago? “And, what the heck is a Charlton? One of those candies you put in the freezer…?”

What about Batman, Denny? What about Iron Man, Bob? Why did you kill Archie, Paul? Charlton?!?!? But, what the heck, we’re nerds who like comics, and the room is pretty packed, so let’s give it 10 minutes and then get back to walking the floor. The whole panel included Paul Kupperberg, Bob Layton, Denny O’Neil, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Frank McLaughlin. After maybe two minutes, we moved from the back of the room to the second row. By the end of the hour, we were hooked. These guys had some hilarious stories!

Cut to the next morning: Keith is doing dishes thinking about the Charlton panel… wait a minute!!!! Why not do a documentary about Charlton! Keith called Jackie with the idea. To get things going, Keith would call Mitch Hallock, who produces TerrifiCon. Mitch knew some of the guys from Charlton, so maybe he could help us track them down! Jackie’s response: “Nope, I’ll be there in 20 minutes. We’re driving back down to the con and cold pitching these guys.” The guys obviously said ‘Yes’ to the pitched idea. Since then, we’ve expanded the team, done more interviews, and have been hitting the books to crack the whole saga wide open.

EC:  Now, can you remind me how Charlton as a company started?

KL & JZ: The Comics division began only out of the necessity to save money. The Charlton factory was an all-in-one publishing establishment that made their money off Music magazines – like Hit Parader – and crossword puzzle books. They found that it was more cost effective to run the printing presses overnight – and thus Charlton Comics was born!

Oh yeah, and apparently, the idea of Charlton proper was hatched from two guys who met in jail. Weird, right?!?

EC:  Did you have a love of Charlton before undertaking this project?

KL & JZ: HAHA. NoooooNoNoNo. As we mentioned above Jackie had never heard of it and Keith has a slight recognition once he saw the bullseye logo, but that’s about as familiar as we got. We take our fair share of social media trolling for it, but as far as we are concerned we see it as a good thing. Approaching the project as filmmakers first and comic book fans second, gives us a fresh and unique perspective on the story. Had we been big Charlton fans, we may have told the tale with a bias or fan perspective. Not knowing anything about it lets us take a clean and honest approach to making the movie.

EC:  I’m excited to hear about some of the fans you’ve met along the way. What is the typical Charlton fan like? What are the atypical Charlton fans like?

KL & JZ: Funny enough, the die-hards we encounter are punk rockers from the hey-days of CBGBs. Our one atypical fan is truly unique. He’s a Generation Z 16-year old who’s got a substantial Charlton collection. He’s also a student of the silver age of comics in general. We’d say that his knowledge of the genre rivals that of any adult comic book historian we’ve spoken to. We interviewed him for the movie and we talk to him regularly as he finds Charlton gems at flea markets, tag sales and conventions all over the Northeast.

EC:  It seems like you have been making the rounds on the comic-con circuit. What’s that been like?

KL & JZ: We’re always surprised to meet new Charlton fans at every one of the stops we make. It’s a unique community of people and happy that our project is exciting to them. It charges us up to know that people are finding out about this movie and supporting us. It’s very flattering that true Charlton fans are trusting us to handle telling this story about something that they cherish so much.

EC:  Several Professionals have a spot in their hearts for Charlton. Who carries the torch for Charlton these days?

KL & JZ: Well, a super-fan named Fester Faceplant started a Facebook fan page and set up an online Charlton reading library of digitized Charlton books for fans to read. From there, it ballooned into a full-blown revival in the form of Charlton Neo Media spearheaded by Paul Kupperberg, Mort Todd, Roger McKenzie, Joe Staton and Nick Cuti amongst others. They’re first retail issue of “Charlton Arrow Vol 2” hit stands in October 4th of this year!

EC:   I’m sure you’ve learned some surprises in your research. What can you share with us now?

KL & JZ: Hmmm, if we tell you, then we’d have to kill you! Hahahaha.

What we can share is that most of the lore of Charlton that exists online is far from the truth. It really lends an extra cutting edge to what our movie will show – the real story behind Charlton Comics – and trust us, life is stranger than fiction.

EC:   After all this – What was your favorite Charlton Comic originally and what’s your favorite one now?

Keith Larsen: My first taste of some “real” Charlton was from a coveted gift I received from our new pal Joe Staton the day we interviewed him for the movie. He gave me a collected edition of E-Man published by First Comics. That was my favorite until I was able to read every Question back-up story in Blue Beetle comics from a digital collection we purchased on eBay. But Joe’s book is still awesome!

Jackie Zbuska: I instantly gravitated toward their expansive collection of horror titles, which despite the Comics Code, are subversively graphic. I have a soft spot for Gorgo stories, but my true favorite is John Byrne’s Rog-2000. He was in backup stories in some of the E-Man comics.

EC:  What’s the timing of the project and how can fans help?

KL & JZ: Honestly, we were hoping for the project to be finished by the end of 2017, but funding dictates how fast we can work. We had financial help via crowd funding, but the money has run out. Unfortunately, with something as unheard of as Charlton Comics with as niche a fan base as it has, it hasn’t allowed us the ability to break into the sphere of pop culture awareness. So, in the case of crowd-funding, our reach has been limited to the marketplace of serious comic book fans or collectors. We’re hoping that our future efforts for raising funds will make strides into appealing to that larger audience potential. Any ideas are welcomed!

You can contribute via our website, www.CharltonMovie.com

EC: Which Charlton comic series is cooler, Judo Master or Gorgo?

Keith Larsen: Judo Master!
Jackie Zbuska: Keith’s wrong, it’s totally Gorgo!

For more information, check out their site at : http://www.charltonmovie.com/ or their panel at the Rhode Island Comic-Con on Friday, November 10, 2017.

Marc Alan Fishman: The New Breed of Con Goer

This past week, you’ve likely seen it: Denise Dorman, wife of “Famed Comic Book/Sci-Fi/Fantasy illustrator Dave Dorman,” decided to write an op-ed concerning the decline of sales she and her husband have been privy to over the last years. She has since posted a second response to make her points more clear.

Denise’s original piece began: “Privately, famed comic book industry personalities everywhere are discussing with each other whether to stop exhibiting at comic book conventions. There’s a fine line between being accessible to and pleasing the fans vs. losing money at these conventions.”

Unshaven Comics has been independently producing comic books and attending comic conventions regularly for only seven years or so. In no way, shape, or form do we come close to the level of fame and success her husband has enjoyed. But in the time that we have been active, I have never heard a single peep (and we in the Artist Alley tend to be a gossipy bunch to begin with) about this discussion. In fact, at the Cincinnati Comic Expo I attended this past weekend, with Mark Bagely, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Neal Adams, and Bob Layton I saw only smiling faces – even when lines weren’t incredibly overcrowded. And while I did hear from some folks around us that the show wasn’t bringing them tons of business, only our neighbors decided to cut ties early. And for those playing at home, Unshaven Comics beat our desired sales goal by over 25%.

At first, Bleeding Cool would have you believe that she blamed the Cosplayers. This is not true. In her second blog on the matter, Denise points blame to the “new breed of attendees who are there because someone said its cool to be there.”

To that point: Comic Conventions weren’t founded with the expressed concern of making creators money, they were ways to bring a community of fans together for the opportunity to commiserate, a way to trade and purchase issues to build budding collections, and meet those would-be creators who were the reason the conventions were created. These conventions were small – starting out in gymnasiums, VFW halls, and hotel ballrooms. This new breed (and those who specifically come to the new larger shows), per Denise, are hangers-on to the fad; those who come because they think it’s en vogue. Those who show up not being card-carrying comic book fans.

Her column went on to note as sales were simply non-existent at ole’ Wally World:

“…You know, you start to get paranoid. You start to think, ‘Is it only us? Is Dave no longer relevant?’ So I began covertly asking around. Asking artists equally in demand, equally famous. No one I interviewed made money at that show.” Ultimately Denise falls back on her assertion that it’s these quasi-fans that are most likely the culprit to her husband’s decline in sales specifically at conventions. Mrs. Dorman continued “I have slowly come to realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, cosplay is the new focus of these conventions – seeing and being seen, like some giant masquerade party. Conventions are no longer shows about commerce, product launches, and celebrating the people who created this genre in the first place.” She’s absolutely right. And may Rao bless that fact from here to the next Crisis.

Comic book conventions have become less and less about comic books. On this, I don’t disagree. In addition to comic books, they now encapsulate science fiction (like Doctor Who, Star Wars, and Star Trek), fantasy (like Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter), and gaming (like Magic: the Gathering, and Warhammer). A cursory glance back at Mr. Dorman’s Wikipedia page celebrates that he has created artwork for Batman, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Star Wars… and Magic: the Gathering. Curious then that he’s not connecting to the larger audiences coming to these shows. But I digress.

The point made was that the flux of cosplayers and their subsequent fans are now taking away from the open commerce, Marvel and DC press release parties, and the creator-gushing of yesteryear. You might say that the conventions are becoming more about a gathering of a like-minded community coming together to celebrate their loves and less about dropping ducats on merchandise from people who now can be accessed via a personal website, or any number of social medias.

What troubles me is this: My table of artists (including me) who aren’t in demand or famous saw an increase in book sales upwards of 10% at the show (over last year) Mrs. Dorman most recently attended. This included a day where we set a single day record for total books sold – 225 of them to be exact. How would it be then, that a table of peons would somehow out-earn those who are known in the industry? Did our nefarious plan of installing a toll booth actually work? Someone better go back and get a shit load of dimes!

Denise went on to ask: “At what point do you start to wonder if – other than your faithful, loyal regulars who are like family and who find you every time – the general fandom population even gives a shit about the creators more than they care about their Instagram profiles?”

Allow me to answer in kind. The general population – those Instagram-obsessed fans – gives more than just a shit for those creators who take the time to reach out and communicate. I say this admitting freely I’ve never seen Dave Dorman. And we’ve exhibited at the same shows more than once. I don’t know how specifically Dave exhibits. But if he is like others I’ve seen over the last seven years… he may sit, smiling, awaiting those loyal regulars to come with cash in hand. In short, it’s not enough anymore. It hasn’t been that way in a long time.

For those new fans Dave needs to continue to be the celebrated creator he is, I ask how he chooses to engage them? Having not been a specific fan of his work (and yes, he is actually an astounding talent), if I were to walk past him, would he attempt to stop me and chat? I’m not selfie-obsessed, but I’m also not apt to make it a chore to check with every exhibitor at a convention. Especially if there’s a cool cosplay I need to post a picture of. It’s no longer enough to rest on the laurels of a resume, or even the strength of a displayed portfolio. The market has evened out. All who exhibit are slowly becoming equals amongst the growing legions of fans flocking to the shows. And it’s clear to me, as it should be to all creators: If you’re not making money… it’s not the fault of the fans, or the rising ticket prices, or food costs. The blame doesn’t get to be shuffled anywhere else but on those who make no effort to change with the rolling tide.

The fact is that the newest generation of fans that frequent comic conventions are coming first and foremost to celebrate their love of the media. That love need not be via purchases in the digital era. A comic on my table is considerably less than a commission a known artist offers at their table. When one faces a sea of new faces (heh), the easy money is on the short sale – be that a celebrated or loathed fact. Never once in my time behind the table have I heard from legit fans (including those in every conceivable generation) that the cost of a ticket, a hot dog, or an autograph prevented them from purchasing a comic or print from my table. Cons are costly, I’m not denying that. But at the end of the day, the fans are coming on their own terms, not by the financial needs of those of us behind the table.

Mrs. Dorman’s original post ended “…at what point would YOU cut bait and stop attending these shows? How do we satisfy the fans in a way that makes sound financial $ense ? ? ?”

To be blunt, here are my answers: I won’t cut bait, ever. We earn our fans one at a time. I assess the marketplace. I exhibit within my means. I analyze my sales data. I adapt to a changing market. I work my ass off. And I don’t wait for fans to come discover me. I make them discover me. I don’t want to be an instigator, or one to throw a punch at an undeserving target. The truth of the matter is that the conventions of old are dwindling, if not dead. If Wizard and their ilk don’t offer comped tables to creators who are there to turn profit, then those creators must accept that the shows are now not there the fans’ need to connect to creators. For good or bad… They’re there to connect with each other. If you want that to change… It’s not about cutting ties or holding conventioneers responsible. It’s about getting your hands dirty and figuring out how to make the change yourself.


Dennis O’Neil: Charlton + Wertham = Olio?

Can I pause? Can I catch my breath? Where am I? About half way through August? That means Im more than half way through the distance run that is this summer. Last commitment in October, only … I dont know? three between now and then?

Meanwhile, imagine me yelling, Oh, Leo! Something like what I yelled when I was a grade-school kid: standing in a friends back yard and calling his name and if his mother appeared asking if my pal could come out and play. Or maybe Im shouting another name, a last name: O’Leo. Irish fella, dontcha know! Actually, none of the above.

The word were going for here is not a proper noun, its a plain old common noun, one known to faithful solvers of the New York Times crossword puzzle: olio – thats our word, and would one of our New York Times stalwarts favor us with a definition? Or do you Times readers think youre too good for such a mundane task, you elitists who would never even consider watching Fox News? Well, climb back into your ivory towers then while I take it upon myself to consult the dictionary that resides inside my computer and supply the definition in question:

o*li*o: noun, a miscellaneous collection of things

So, know where I was over this past weekend? At the Connecticut ComiCon, is where. On Saturday I did a panel with my old and seldom-seen friends Paul Kupperberg, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Frank McLaughlin, and Bob Layton. Subject was Charlton Comics, which I don’t remember ever discussing in front of an audience before. Why Charlton? Well, apart from the fact that Charlton was headquartered in Connecticut, which made the talkfest site-appropriate, the company provided work for an impressive list of writers and artists who later attained comic book eminence including – no surprise here – those of us on the panel.

Paul and some colleagues are doing a Charlton revival. Might want to check it out wherever you check out things like that.

I learned a lot in those 45 minutes.

I didn’t know that the convention city, Bridgeport, was so close to where I live, I don’t expect this information to change my life.

We made some money for Hero Initiative, there in Bridgeport. Always good to make money for HI. Always worth a journey.

When I extracted the three days worth of mail crammed into the box yesterday, I was happy to see the latest issue of what is identified on the cover as “Roy Thomas’ Not-So-Innocent Comics Fanzine,” Alter-Ego. Blurbed below the logo: “Seducing the Innocent with Dr. Fredric Wertham.” The writer of the article is Carol Tilley, who, a while back, examined Wertham’s condemnation of comics and found that the good doctor had tampered with the research. She deserves our thanks for that and Roy deserves our thanks for giving Ms. Tilley a place to do us a service.

Full disclosure: I read the New York Times.