The beloved science fiction classic CHILDHOOD’S END by Arthur C. Clarke is coming to SyFy this week in a special three night event – starting tomorrow night. EP Matthew Grant and stars Mike Vogel and Yael Stone talk about their journey to bring this favorite to life. Plus there’s no doubt that Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago are rock legends. The members share their favorite memories as well as talking about their continuing nationwide tour.
I haven’t done as many comics conventions this year as I usually do. By the end of 2015, I think I will have been to maybe five. That’s less than half of what I did a decade ago.
It’s not that I don’t like comics conventions; in fact, I love them. Most of the larger shows really aren’t about comics. They are pop culture shows, much like ComicMix is a pop culture website. We differ in that ComicMix is a pop culture website for comic book enthusiasts and the comics medium is our focus. ReedPop, to note but one, runs clusterfuck shows in New York, Chicago, Seattle, India (several; it’s a big place), Singapore, Sydney, Paris, Indonesia, Vienna, and probably Mongo. These shows have little to do with comics, the ReedPop staff acts like they wouldn’t know a comic book if it bit them on the ass and probably wouldn’t get my Mongo reference without Googling, and they seem as though they couldn’t care less. If you’re real nice to them and try to explain to them a different point of view, they might actually patronize you. And among comics pros, mine is not a minority opinion.
Yeah. I know. There goes my chance at scoring pro invites to Mumbai. I’ve been to their shows; I’ll live.
So it’s probably a bit surprising that this weekend (Thursday though Sunday) I’ll be at Wizard World Chicago, which is really in Rosemont but next to O’Hare International. Yes, Wizard World is a pop culture convention. I’m going for any number of reasons: Chicago is my home town so it’s an excuse to see my many buddies in the midwest comics field, it is an outgrowth of the old Chicago Comicon which I co-founded and worked on for ten years, it really has a massive comics focus and one of the best Artists Alleys around… and because my pal and Wizard World consultant Danny Fingeroth asked.
For the record, ComicMix is at table #1024 at the show, and I’ll be on two panels: the How To Get News Coverage panel on Saturday at 12:30 that ComicMix is running , and the Chicago Comics History panel on Sunday at 12:30. Check the con schedule; these things have a way of changing. I’ll be sharing the stage with a great number of close friends.
And the food. Damn, I need an Italian beef sammich.
This is not the only big show I enjoy. For example, I love the Baltimore Comic Con and I love Heroes Con in Charlotte North Carolina. I also really enjoy the smaller cons that are oriented to independent comics creators such as MoCCA in New York City. These shows are full of people who couldn’t care less who’s drawing next week’s Spider-Man but love the medium every bit as much as… well, as I do. By and large they’re young and full of enthusiasm and they put their money where their mouths are. Over the years we’ve hired a decent amount of talent at these shows.
If you happen to be at Wizard World Chicago, or you happen to be in or near Chicago this weekend, drop by and say hello. We look at portfolios when we can, we’re usually polite and we only bite when we’re hungry.
Or when the moon is full.
I’m a Bruce Springsteen fan, and of course Bruce taught us all how to count to four (One… One – Two – Three – Four!) So I’m pretty good at math, until I get to whatever number is past four. But the number before four is three, and that’s the number of seasons in which I haven’t been able to cross the convention floor without being stopped by somebody to ask what’s up with the new First Comics.
Here’s the bird’s-eye lowdown: I don’t have a clue. I’m not part of the effort. I never was. I did write a tribute for the 31st anniversary edition of Warp, and I helped procure the services of Frank Brunner to draw the cover – go figure; he only drew the insides – and I fussed with my pal Rick Obadiah’s tribute piece because I enjoy fussing with Rick’s work.
But that’s it. I prefer working with publishers that actually distribute their work to the public, and that’s the question that’s most often asked of me. They sell their stuff at some conventions – Chicago’s C2E2 and, I believe, both the San Diego and New York shows and probably others. There I chat with art director Alex Wald, one of the truly gifted backroom people in the comics business and, by the way, a really nice guy, and Mary Levin and I wave and smile at each other, and that’s about it.
Yes, I co-founded First Comics along with Rick Obadiah way back when Godzilla was merely a flaming hatchling. I left the company at the end of 1985, which was prior to Godzilla’s entering adolescence. The lizard needed the room, and I gave him mine. Now he’s making stupid money off of a movie he’s barely in… but I digress. A lot.
I have no claim to the trademark and no equity in the company, which may or may not be the same company as it was when I was there. Overall, I spent more time at DC Comics and I have a similar lack of equity. This is not a problem at all.
I’m not pissed at people who assume I’m involved – actually, I’m kind of honored. But it does get annoying after the tenth or twentieth inquiry. This is why I’m employing this chunk of bandwidth to set the record straight. We’ve started the 2014 summer convention season, and I’ve committed to several more shows in addition to the three I’ve already done this season. See? I said I’m a Springsteen fan.
The really nice thing about all this is that Rick and I have resumed an old First Comics tradition (that’s the first First Comics, not to be confused with First Second Books or, for that matter, the Fifth Third Bank). The first First Comics was founded under the principle that, if you’ve got to have a business meeting, it should be over a truly great meal, and, generally, an unhealthy one at that. Rick’s a New Yorker living in the greater Chicagoland area, I’m a Chicagoan living in the greater New York area, so we get together about three or four times a year. Probably not more, but being a Springsteen fan, I have no way of knowing.
The cool part is that I turn Rick onto great Chicago restaurants, and he turns me onto great New York restaurants. All of these places involve supplication to massive platters of beef. I fully expect a PeTA picket line when I get off the commuter train.
This is a tradition that I’ve tried to port over to ComicMix. My four-color comrade Martha Thomases has been trying to get me to improve my diet – not by edict, but by example. Please do not tell her it’s slowly working. I now actually eat fruit!
I remember during my first tenure at DC in the 1970s company president Sol Harrison took me to the (now closed) Ben Benson’s steakhouse in midtown Manhattan, and publisher Jenette Kahn and I ate regularly at the fabulous Warner Communications dining room in Rockefeller Center, among other such joints. The food was fantastic.
So, in case you ever wondered – and if you have, you really need to get a life – I’m in this business for creative fulfillment, for not always having to act like an adult, for enjoying numerous great and enduring friendships… but, mostly, for the food.
Last week in this space I touched on the subject of Amanda Waller and how she acted in the penultimate episode of this season’s Arrow. I mentioned how I found her acting a little out of character. I thought we’d probe that a little more as I explain what my thinking was when I created her in the first place
Before I start, I want to state that I know Amanda Waller is not my character. She belongs to DC Comics and, by extension, the Warners conglomerate. I’m glad to be receiving compensation when she gets used outside of comics and I look forward to the check I’ll eventually receive. What they do with Amanda is up to them and I generally refrain from discussing how others interpret her; I was given a free pass in interpreting existing characters so other creators should have that same freedom without my breathing down their necks.
That said, I think that if you’re using a character you should stay true to who that character is – what they are, who they are, what values they have. When Tom Mandrake and I took on The Spectre, we certainly put our own spin on him but, at the same time, we very much wanted to get down to the core of the character. There was a certain type of visual that we wanted to use. Otherwise, why do The Spectre? (Plug area: you can decide for yourself how effective we were when the TPB of the first 12 issues, The Spectre Vol. 1: Crimes and Judgments, goes on sale May 20. And we thank you for your support.)
I’ll dip now into my leaky cauldron of memory and try to recreate my thinking in the making of Amanda Waller. I was putting together the proposal for my version of Suicide Squad. The high concept of that was Dirty Dozen meets Mission: Impossible meets the Secret Society of Supervillains. The series needed someone in charge of the Squad and there was a list of possible candidates within the DCU such as King Faraday and Sarge Steel. However, I wanted someone original.
Then, as now, I was into diversity in comics. I wanted someone, a type, who hadn’t existed before. I wanted a female and I wanted a person of color. I also wanted her to have a certain size, a certain heft and be of a certain age. Why? She would seem more real and, despite having no superpowers, she needed to be imposing. Her power was her will and, with that, a seriously bad attitude. Her physique was not superhero or supermodel; she seemed more real that way, to my mind. I had met women like her. My father’s mother, although not black, was an imposing woman. Shaped like the Wall. She scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. Not someone I wanted to provoke. Hell, I didn’t want her to glare at me. So a lot of Grammy O went into Amanda.
And, I guess, some of me. There are those who have told me that somewhere deep inside I have an angry, middle-aged black woman trying to get out. Yeah, that scares me, too.
Waller is ruthless but that comes from her background. For many years, she lived in Cabrini Green in Chicago, one of the projects. She lost her husband and a daughter to the violence there. She got the rest of her children out and then went to college herself. Lots of will. She knows first hand about violence and criminals. She knows a lot about getting the job done. She has no compunction of using criminals to achieve ends that would benefit, in her mind, the greater good (which she defines).
I think some people misread her that way as well. They use the badassery at the surface and interpret her mostly as a villain. I don’t see her that way and never have. She does have a conscience and she keeps people around her who prick that conscience. She may not do as they recommend but she does hear them and, deep down, considers those recommendations.
Waller is also not stupid. She is both street smart and book smart. She has college degrees. In short, she’s not one note. There are depths and nuances in her – at least as I conceived and wrote her. I think that’s what made her a compelling figure.
I don’t understand why they felt, both on the TV show and now in the comics, that they had to make her look like a fashion model. To my mind, she loses lots of what made her unique. She looked like no one else in comics; now she looks like most females in comics.
I also don’t understand why, on Arrow, they had her prepared to do a nuclear strike on Oliver Queen’s home town of Starling. Yes, there were super-powered thugs trashing the town and she stated she couldn’t risk their getting out of the city. However, Arrow told her he had a way of neutralizing them and she cut him off. Okay, I understand from a plot point perspective that the writers felt they needed a ticking clock but it’s a stupid move. It’s morally indefensible and not very bright. Nuking an American city? The repercussions from it would expose her and her group. It’s too over the top; it makes her irredeemable when there were other possibilities. Hell, shoot the thugs with exploding bullets. You have to figure that being in pieces might at least slow these thugs down. But no – she went for the nuclear option. That’s not the Amanda I know.
Will I cash the participation checks when they come to me? Oh yeah. And, again, I’m not trying to tell anyone to do the Wall my way. Couldn’t make them do it if I wanted to. I just wanted to go on record as what I was thinking when I created her.
Now you know.
This is Wednesday, so perhaps you have finished reading all those free comic books you copped last Saturday – in time for today’s new releases, of course. I hope you tried some new stuff; that, after all, is the purpose of the exercise.
I hope you got your free comics at all. Fans are limited by their proximity to a comic book store; despite the (slow) growth in outlets, finding a store remains a trauma exacerbated in less urban environs. Of course, if you are within distance of a comics shop, your friendly neighborhood retailer has to participate in Diamond Comic Distributors’ Free Comic Book Day program – and that’s a fairly expensive proposition.
No criticism is intended here: it’s a good program, and all Diamond is asking is that retailers pay their share of the expenses. Nonetheless, some retailers find the cost is prohibitive. Running a comic book store is a scary proposition: every month, the owner stares at the order form and literally bets the rent on his non-returnable choices. If you’ve made some bad calls, you might not have the coin for this promotion. And if you’re doing okay, you might know from previous experience that there is an insufficient return on investment. That’s called “business.”
One of the benefits of the convention circuit is that I get to see friends from all over the country. In the two weeks prior to Free Comic Book Day, I was at AwesomeCon in Washington DC and C2E2 in Chicago. Several retailer friends told me in Washington that they weren’t participating in FCBD, usually for the reasons I noted above. Hmmmm, I said.
The following week I was in Chicago and I asked several other retailer friends if they were playing in. Their general response was “What? Of course I am! Do you think I’m nuts?”
Well, I just might, but not over FCBD. It’s each retailer’s decision, and he or she makes that decision based upon the balance sheet and prior experience. If, ultimately, it expands their sales it’s a good idea and if it does not expand their sales, it’s a bad idea. It’s just that simple.
I like FCBD because it gives me, as a reader, the opportunity to sample stuff that I have overlooked. There are roughly 500 new comic books published each month, not counting direct-to-digital, and even if I have the Sultan of Brunei’s bank account I don’t have time to read even a small fraction of the total output. Plus, I’m an old newspaper strip fan and, as Mark Wheatley says, this is the golden age of newspaper reprints. Let’s face it, I’ve got a life. And that life has a television set.
The coolest part for me is coming across something unexpected. For example, the 2014 FCBD edition of 2000 AD contained a Judge Dredd story by my pal Chris Burnham, who neglected to tell me he did this job when I saw him the previous week. I forgive him, and respect the fact that he’s capably following in the footsteps of Carlos Ezquerra, Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon, Ian Gibson and other top-rank Dredd artists. As I moved into the guts of the book I was pleased to see Jan Duursema’s art on the Durham Red story. Pretty damn cool.
I guess for me, the whole Free Comic Book Day thing addresses that inner-fanboy that all too often is pushed aside by “professional considerations.” So, as a consumer, FCBD is a very good thing.
Besides. I like Rocket Raccoon. Hey, we’ve all got something to promote!
Last week, I attended two conventions in Chicago: the massive C2E2 multimedia clusterfuck-on-the-lake, and the more sublime Windy City Pulp and Paper show out in the western suburb of Lombard. Guess which one I enjoyed more?
To be fair, C2E2 is a lot of work for me, and my response to “work” is similar to that of Maynard G. Krebs (Google, chillun!). Lots of walking, lots of talking, some negotiating, some promoting, all the doo-dah day. As always, I enjoy seeing my friends – and that’s a big deal in Chicago. Dinner with the Unshavens on Friday at the wonderful Eleven City Diner (best deli in America), dinner with my ol’ pal and former (Real) First Comics partner Rick Obadiah at the wonderful Weber Grill on Saturday. The food was great at both venues, and the conversations were even better.
I went to the Windy City Pulp and Paper show on Sunday. Yes, “paper” includes comic books as well as old magazines and illustration art. There were tons and tons of self-published print-on-demand reprints of classic pulps, and even more original pulp fiction novels being hawked by their authors.
This latter phenomenon is extremely exciting. The authors are getting to do what they want and reach the audience they need, both through print-on-demand and electronic publishing. I wish I had the time (and money, and storage space) to read all the new pulp originals that caught my eye – but when it comes to this sort of thing I’m a stoner kid in a candy store. I will say this past year or two I’ve received more satisfaction from reading the new pulp originals than reading new comics.
Pulps are comic books without the pictures. And they’re usually self-contained. And they’re usually largely or totally insane in scope and story.
I haven’t been able to make it there ever since C2E2 moved their date to within a couple weeks of the Windy City Pulp and Paper show. This year I got lucky: they were held at the same time, albeit maybe two-dozen or so miles away. Again, lots of old friends, but no cosplay. Damn.
Lunch was in that neighborhood and was with two very old Chicago comics fan buddies, Jim Wisniewski and George Hagenauer, a frequent co-conspirator. The beauty of comics fandom is that it can be an extended family. I’ve got friends in this community that I can trace back 40 years or more.
That is the best thing about being a comics fan.
And the meals ain’t bad, neither.
Every artist has their influences. The ones who came before that make an impression on you. They blow your mind, they lift your heart, they power your imagination, they open your soul; you want to be like them and influence others as they have influenced you. The influences come from everywhere – real life, film, media, other artists – but ultimately you filter them through your own consciousness. You borrow from them but you make it your own. For myself, part of the reason I wanted to become a writer is because of the joy I got as a reader. I wanted to return that energy that I had gotten from my reading.
By the time I was ten, I had read all the Sherlock Holmes stories by A. Conan Doyle. The puzzles fascinated me, yes, as did the characters of Watson and Holmes but what I took away perhaps more than anything else was the setting and the time – the fog-shrouded street, the hansom cabs, the gaslight, the apartment, the back alleys. London of the late 1800s. When I think of that era, I think of the Homes stories. My takeaway was the importance of place in a story and it shows up most in my work with Cynosure in GrimJack. The city is the most important supporting character in the series; it has defined GrimJack and there is no relationship in the stories more important than the one between GrimJack and Cynosure.
Chicago has also influenced Cynosure as well. It is a city of neighborhoods and the ethnic culture changes from one area to the next. That’s how I understood the various dimensions that make up Cynosure; it was my experience of Chicago.
Robert E. Howard also was a major influence on me, especially the Conan stories. My takeaway here was the pell-mell sense of storytelling, the breathless sense of excitement and action. In a similar fashion, Peter O’Donnell also influenced me with his Modesty Blaise comic strip. He might spend some time setting up a given story but he never wasted a panel or a word. It all drove the story, the characters, the action forward like a juggernaut.
Shakespeare showed me how to marry theme to the plot. Yes, there are the great soliloquies, the great speeches addressing deep philosophical questions but they are all tied to the specific moment in the plot. When Hamlet launches into his “To be or not to be. . .” speech, it’s not an idle musing. This is a guy who is contemplating killing himself. It’s a debate, it’s an argument with himself. It’s actually full of suspense. His life is at stake. The language used, the questions raised, all advance the character and the plot.
Our own Dennis O’Neil in his classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow series with Neal Adams showed me how comics could marry the important topics of the day with superheroes. Without those stories, without Denny, I would not have written the Suicide Squad or the Spectre as I did.
There are many many others in all fields – in movies, in TV, in music (Aaron Copland! Beethoven! The Blue Nile! Kate Bush!) – that have had a bearing on me, on who I am, and thus into my work. Others have told me I have an influence on them (which I sometimes have trouble dealing with) but we all have to be open to outside influences if, ultimately, we are to realize our own voice. We come from others, we give to others. That’s part of the wonder of it all.
Photo by JD Hancock
As a writer and a long-time nerd, I’m used to spending a lot of time alone. Especially after the winter we’ve had, I can go for days not only not leaving my apartment, but not even wearing anything my mother would recognize as pants (sweatpants didn’t count).
And then, this weekend, just as the snow finally melts and the sun comes out, is the MoCCA Festival . All of a sudden, instead of talking only to my cat (who doesn’t require much sophisticated banter), a lot of people I enjoy will be conveniently assembled in one place.
MoCCA is certainly a lot bigger than it was the first time I went, back in the days when the museum was separate from the Society of Illustrators. Still, compared to the behemoths in San Diego, Chicago, and even across town at the Javitz Center. Instead of Hollywood previews and video game demonstrations, MoCCA’s non-comics exhibitors tend to display hand-made crochet monsters or cal figurines.
I’ve seen people I admire on the floor of this show, just as I’ve seen people I admire on the subway and on the sidewalk. But celebrities? In San Diego and New York, I’ve seen people like Robert Downey, Jr. and Whoopi Goldberg on the floor. They are easy to spot because they are surrounded by bodyguards. And they need to be. Fans have to be kept away or the celebrity will be mobbed, even physically hurt. This year’s MoCCA celebrity spotting? Probably the most high-profile will be Macy’s Charlie Brown parade balloon. Fans aren’t tall enough to maul him.
That’s cool. At MoCCA, the books are the celebrities. And this year’s assortment of new books looks especially wonderful.
MoCCA has books for kids and books for grown-ups without either feeling forced, because, for the most part, the people creating the books are creating what they want to read, not (necessarily) what they think the market wants. MoCCA is fan-friendly in a way that doesn’t require special events for cos-players. Nor do they need security guards to protect women and/or children and/or queer people and/or other minorities from assault.
Sometimes the aisles get too crowded, and sometimes it’s too hot, but it’s a very friendly show, with plenty of good will. I wish all comic book shows could be this pleasant.
In case that isn’t enough people for me, I’m also going to one of the two big benefits my family enjoys attending every year. A cancer charity throws a big party that is attended by huge celebrities, like these from last year.
Come by, if you find yourself with nothing to do in the middle of MoCCA.
While certain aspects of Showtime’s Shameless have been hit or miss, there’s a character on it who’s had such a remarkable arc over the show’s four seasons that he’s become one of my favorite characters on TV. With a father who’s barely a father, and a poverty-stricken upbringing in a bad neighborhood in Chicago, he’s had to resort to violence and scheming to make ends meet. His romantic relationships are fraught with conflict because he’s never learned how to communicate well enough to tell someone he really cares, yet even if he could find the words to say how he feels, they’d still catch in his throat because showing vulnerability to anyone is so antithetical to what his life experiences have taught him it means to be a man. And while all of these things could probably also be said about one of the show’s protagonists, Lip Gallagher, I’m actually talking about Mickey Milkovich, who started off as one of the show’s tertiary characters.
I’m in an odd mood, kiddos. Maybe it’s the polar vortex that’s waging war across our country. Maybe it’s seasonal affective disorder causing a case of the blues. Or perhaps the winds of change are blowing, and the time for revolution is nigh. I’ve simply noticed as of late an upward trend of general unrest. It’s got me equally excited, and potentially depressed. Let’s jump down the rabbit hole, shall we?