What Marc Alan Fishman Looks For In A Comic Book

Following up on my column last week, I had to sit down and really ask myself what it would take to sell me on a comic book. Not to toot my horn of Stereotypical Jewishness, but the thought of wasting as few as five dollars on a product I won’t wholly appreciate causes me to back out of a deal faster than the Marvel greenlights new films. The fact is I am oftentimes a skeptic when it comes to consumption of media. Either the creators have to be known to me previously, or come recommended by a trusted friend or critic.

When I self-discover, it’s typically after I’ve consumed everything else on my personal docket (which, admittedly, is rare). Most recently, I consumed the movie Chronicle. It was on my DVR, when I had two hours of alertness left in me and literally nothing left to watch. I really enjoyed it. And now because of it, I’ll be more inclined to not hiss at the next movie iteration of the Fantastic Four, knowing that the director and one of the announced stars were both great parts of the aforementioned flick. But I digress.

It starts with the pitch.

This year at Wizard World Chicago, I’m going to attempt to be a blank slate in the Artist Alley. Rather than seek out what looks interesting to me (“art first” if you will), I’m going to randomly choose tables with indie comics, and straight-up ask the person behind the table to pitch me their book. If the pitch is tight, the hook is something original, and the book is five bucks or less, I’m taking it home. Regardless of genre, art style, or any other number of factors. This is me trying to break the bad habit of judgment and reward those who know how to represent their product. I wholly understand that artists are not salesman, and I shouldn’t punish someone for not being a huckster (like me…). But in those cases where the pitch can’t sell me on a book, I know then it’ll be my duty to sell it to myself. For that to happen I need something to latch on to.

The older I get, the crankier I become when I consume media I’ve consumed before. I freely admit, I don’t tend to like fantasy, westerns, or horror because of that fact. Each of those genres tends to cling to tropes tightly, and just gnash any number of them into their prose to fill the void where originality might be otherwise. Oh, that medieval epic you’ve penned… does it have dwarves warring with elves? Egad man, it’s never been done! Oh… but this time the dwarves has mastered ice magic?! Sorry, my bad. That being said, noir, superheroes, and hard science fiction concepts wind up on my shelf more often than not. For me, those stories tend to use genre only to set mood or environment, not drive plot. Think Kill Bill vs. any anime revenge story produced in the last decade.

If the plot doesn’t grab my gonads off the bat, then it’s time to just look at the damned book. On a purely aesthetic level if the comic is doing something visually I’m not seeing elsewhere? That’s a big step in the right direction. Moreso, if the medium being used is wholly uncomicy then I’m even more apt to perk up. Not to namedrop my own books, but screw it. The Samurnauts continues to sell well – beyond the well-practiced pitch – because we combine painted panel art for half the book with more typically sterile digital fare. Should I see a book rendered originally in paint, charcoal, or mixed media? It’s going to ring a bell or two near my buying hand because the creators are changing the language necessary to enjoy their piece.

Ultimately what will sell me a comic will be the passion on the page. Certain comics and concepts just ring true when you hear them come from their creators. I’ve mentioned more often than I’d care to admit that Touching Evil by Dan Dougherty is one of the best books I’ve read in the last decade. And truth be told, the pitch did nothing for me at first. But even a single page in, after Dan let his guard down, and gave me a glint of his creative process, I was sold. And one issue later? I was a card-carrying member of the Touching Evil Empire.

So, by the time these words will hit your eyes, I’ll be milling about the Artist Alley. And next week, you’ll hear all about my exploits amongst my brethren. Until then, I bid you good reading.