We aren’t entirely unbiased on this one, but we hope it all works out.
Time was, three-four decades past, that I wrote some fiction with environmental themes. There was a short prose story with no real villains; what the characters were contending with was an ecosphere that was completely decayed. Then there were the comic books. These, being heroic fantasy, sort of, did have villains – a genre requirement – but I don’t remember much about them and I will, thank you, spare myself the discomfort of rereading old work. It’s pretty safe to say, though, that these bad guys did what they had to do, serve the needs of the plot in narratives that focused on what they did, the polluting bastards, and very little on why they did it.
What to you want in a 22-page comic book, War and Peace?
If I were to do those stories today, I might, just might, try to peep into the villains’s motives. Something like this:
Our antagonist is wealthy beyond the needs of a hundred lifetimes, but he is not satisfied. He wants more…no, in a way, he needs more. He has been indoctrinated in the belief that men are judged only by profit. He does not question this, any more than he questions the air he breathes. Nor does he question the kind of society he strives for but, if it happens, it will be a world ruled by a plutocracy: the creators, the movers and shakers, the worthy at the top, and the moochers and lazy and incompetent, the rest, in some grey region doing what the worthy have given them to do – grumbling and grousing, to be sure, but doing their jobs because they must.
His philosophy, his religion, his family – all assure him that his is the correct zeitgeist and those who believe otherwise are pathetic and ignorant.
But he is starting to hear, sometimes from those in his employ, that his world is beginning to crumble. The damage he and his brethren have done to the planet has become manifest. He scoffs: lies! The deterioration continues: his companions tell him that the upheavals have perfectly normal explanations, that the whole thing is not man made and will soon correct itself. Just be patient. Oh, sure, the scientists are busy doom saying, some of them, but at the end of the day, what do the scientists know, really know? And aren’t most of them fuzzy-minded fools who suck at the public teat? No, no need to listen to the scientists.
Eventually, he must admit that, yes, something is wrong. But that science – he doesn’t understand it and so he feels that this lack of understanding means he is exempt from doing anything about the problems. What can he do but what he’s always done, make a profit.
That’s the villain. As for the story itself…I wonder what kind of ending it might have.
Back in the days of purple hallucinogenic duplicator fluid, Bill Schelly published a great fanzine called Sense of Wonder. In an era when there were many first-rate fanzines (Alter-Ego, Fantasy Illustrated, RBCC), Bill’s zine was the most aptly-named. That’s what comic books were all about. Playing to the sense of wonder.
Today, well, not so much. Comics offer us nitty-gritty, slow moving but quick reading stories that are meant to be collected into trade paperback form. The audience is a lot older than it was a half-century ago, and that’s okay. Times change, tastes change.
But then there’s the “baby-for-the-bath-water” argument. I think we have turned our backs on a vital portion of our potential audience. We’ve finally addressed the younger end of the audience, primarily through recent efforts from Boom!, IDW and Archie, although DC and Marvel continue to churn out needlessly lame versions of their cartoon characters. That’s their problem. Our problem is, how do you keep the readers too old for Adventure Time but too young for Hawkeye? What do we have for the “bridge” readers?
Obviously, it’s an issue of commitment from the publishers. They must invest in their own future, and sometimes they’re trying to sustain their current efforts and don’t have the cash flow or incentive to experiment. But, I think, it’s also a talent issue. It’s hard for a publisher to turn down a great concept from established talent. It happens – well, it happens a lot, but we need more.
The greatest comics creators bathed in the sense of wonder. Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Will Eisner, Bud Sagendorf, Carl Barks, Carmine Infantino… the list is nearly endless. And many of those who grew up reading these masters bathe in similar waters: Jim Starlin, Walter Simonson, Keith Giffen, Howard Chaykin, et al. But too many comics creators who are not on Medicare are sadly less likely to be fantasists.
Today there are only a handful of such titles being produced by the larger publishers. But Erik Larsen has been doing Savage Dragon for 200 issues – if you count crossovers and mini’s, that number is probably about 300. Somebody must be buying it, and I doubt it’s just a couple people with severe myopia thinking they’re getting a lot of variant editions.
Maybe we perceive such stuff as “children’s comics” and we feel indulging in such storytelling is a step backwards. Retro. I don’t think so. The sense of wonder addresses all audiences. Just go to the movie theater during afternoon showings and count the number of old geezers wearing 3-D glasses.
We need to address the entire humanity of potential audiences. And we desperately need to hold on to our sense of wonder.
By the time these words hit you, I’ll have trekked across the barren wasteland known as Wisconsin (sorry, Cheeseheads!) to arrive at the Midwest Comic Book Association’s Spring Con, held annually in Minneapolis. Since Unshaven Comics started seeking conventions outside the Chicagoland area, Spring Con has long been a desired destination. Our compatriots sang nothing but praises for the show each year without fail. And with careful planning, we’re elated to schlep our way west (for once) in order to hawk our wares to the unsuspecting Vikings fans.
I always look forward to a new convention. Unshaven Comics has built a reputation on the cold sale. Why? Because we embrace the fact that no one knows us from Adam. Or the Atom. Or Adam Strange. Or Dr. Strange. I could go on. The simple truth is our Artist Alley table represents a pop-up artist’s commune. But a Domo Trading Card or hand-made commission by Matt is only an expression of our physical talents. The sale of a Samurnauts book is a representation of two very important things: it’s validation of our ability to create a fulfilling piece of fiction, and it’s assurance that we are able to tap into the market and minds of like-minded fans. It’s cliché, but it’s true; there is no greater satisfaction professionally.
Even better, Spring Con is very much a dying breed, one we hope to continue to pump life into. As a convention that isn’t owned by some large conglomerate seeking to grow its mound of gold atop the mountain… it’s one of those “wacky” shows that seemingly is founded first and foremost on the celebration of the culture. Not ‘pop’ culture – tacky, silly, D-List, exploitative wastes of time – comic culture.
Panels at Spring Con? Adam Hughes being interviewed by Bill Willingham. Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber discussing their process. And rather than purposefully gouge show-goers with inflated concessions and needless gifts? How about free autographs, free picnic areas, and free parking. And the coup-de-grace? Over 250 comic creators on hand, ready and waiting to interact with fans. While Reed and Wizard may boast similar numbers… they aren’t the type to offer a free dinner for their artists. Spring Con does. Sensing a theme?
Don’t get me wrong. Unshaven Comics would not be in business (such as it is) without Reed and Wizard. C2E2, Chicago Comic Con, and New York Comic Con combined for over a thousand book sales last year. In all honesty, if we top a buck fifty by the end of Sunday night, it’ll be a banner convention for we beardly boasters.
Spring Con – which is nearly all volunteer run – exists first and foremost to bring people together. For over 26 years now, it’s been a staple of the great lakes (one would assume). Reed, Wizard, and the like also desire to bring people together… but their purpose is profit, and no one questions it in the least. The fact that they continue to pick on the local conventions like MCBA, and try to push them out of town only endears them harder with the community of creators. Of course we all also attend those for-profit shows too; we need to eat at some point.
This brings up my last li’l point. You see, many people (OK, like three or four) have asked us how we’ve attained the successes we’ve enjoyed to this point – specifically regarding our track record at making all attended conventions lucrative.
Well, I could (and will eventually) spill those beans at a later date. For now though, how about one juicy secret. We count everything. We count books in, books out, dollars in, dollars out, number of pitches, number of unique customers, number of up-sells, yadda yadda. And when we do a new show, we bring our data with us to try to figure out what sort of business we should expect. And when we leave the show, we debrief on the car trip home. Spring Con brings with it the most important thing Unshaven covets… numbers. But I digress.
Should you find yourself in or around the Minneapolis / St. Paul area today or tomorrow? Make your way out to the state fairgrounds, and find your way to our table. We’ll pitch, you buy. Sounds like a plan! There’s nothing more invigorating than a new set of fans to be made. I’ve built a semi-career around it. So, for the time being, I’m happy to declare it:
Or so we learned in “Sacrifice,” the four-part story that started in Superman #219, then crossed-over through Action Comics #829, Adventures of Superman #642, and Wonder Woman #219. I thought the “sacrifice,” would be Superman’s. Silly me. Turns out the sacrifice was mine, in reading the story.
And after I tell you that –
no discussion of “Sacrifice” is possible without my telling you the ending of the story, so if you’re waiting for trade paperback to read it, you should stop reading this column. Now. (more…)
“Daring” Dick Ayers, an Eisner Award Hall-Of-Famer best known as an inker for Jack Kirby during the 50’s and 60’s during Marvel’s rebirth in the Silver Age, has passed away. He had just turned 90 last week.
Ayers may be best known for inking some of the earliest issues of Fantastic Four, and he was the signature penciler of Marvel’s World War II comic Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos. Ayers started as a artist in the 40’s (where he co-created the original Ghost Rider), later teaming up with Kirby in 1959 over at Marvel. Ayers went on to ink scores of Kirby Western and monster stories, including such much-reprinted tales as “I Created The Colossus!” from Tales of Suspense #14, “Goom! The Thing From Planet X!” from Tales of Suspense #15, and the immortal “Fin Fang Foom!” from Strange Tales #89.
As Marvel Comics introduced superheroes in the early 1960s, Ayers inked Kirby on the first appearances of Ant-Man (Tales to Astonish #27 and 35, Jan. and Sept. 1962), Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos (#1-3, May-Sept. 1963), and the revamped Rawhide Kid (beginning with The Rawhide Kid #17, Aug. 1960). He inked Kirby on the second and several subsequent early appearances of Thor (Journey into Mystery #84-89), plus others; on Fantastic Four #6-20 and the spin-off Human Torch solo series in Strange Tales (starting with its debut in issue #101); and Avengers #1. He also inked Steve Ditko on Iron Man, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk, among many many others.
Ayers took over from Kirby as Sgt. Fury penciler with issue #8 (July 1964), beginning a 10-year run that — except for #13 (which he inked over Kirby’s pencils), and five issues by other pencilers – continued virtually unbroken through #120 (with the series running Ayers reprints every-other-issue through most but not all from #79 on).
He was a frequent convention guest in recent years, and was one of the last living creators of the Marvel era. Our condolences to his family, friends, and fans.
“These days, the potential comic audience has a nearly limitless array of diversions that vie for its attention and dollars, including movies, TV, video games, and the Internet. To grab the attention of a large audience today, whether in print or digital formats, comics creators need to have the skills to tell great stories in interesting, clear, and compelling ways.”
– Carl Potts, The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics- Inside the Art of Visual Storytelling.
Join Carl Potts and Phil Jimenez for a special presentation and signing of his book, [[[The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics- Inside the Art of Visual Storytelling]]]. Carl will begin the evening with a presentation on the basic principles and techniques of sequential visual storytelling. This will be followed by a conversation with Phil Jimenez on his approach on the three page Batman sequence in the book along with additional thoughts on the night’s topic.
- *The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics – Recommended (comicsworthreading.com)
…first and foremost, the Hero Initiative. Thanks to you, the Hero Initiative has raised over $700 to help comic creators in need. Thank you to everyone who contributed.
Second, all the participants in the tournament. We were getting widespread reports of traffic spikes at many sites, and we saw thousands of clicks away from our sites to various webcomics. We hope that you have discovered a few new strips that you enjoy and can follow.
Third, what do you think of our Ryan Seacrest impersonation? We spent a lot of time looking at him to see how we could stretch out the time before we announce the winner.
But we can delay no longer!
This past week, I joined a panel of fellow indie comic publishers in a Q & A session revolving around the industry. There were some great questions bandied about, but for my money? The best concerned ‘the hustle’. When you’re a garage band, your merch doesn’t march into the stores without serious work. As I’ve detailed before, the way into every comic book shop is paved in broken glass, and tarnished dreams. Indie publishers’ best chance at initial sales comes first and foremost in face to face pitches. But you see, on this panel, I sat next to two other gentlemen… each representing a side on the teeter-totter of salesmanship. It got me thinking about the process of building a brand, and how those who are readying themselves for their first cons on the other side of the aisle might benefit from knowing the lay of the land.
On one side? I had Dan Dougherty. As many fans and followers of this column know the name by now… Dan is my quintessential nemesis. He’s a sharp wit, a deft hand, and an amazingly well-coifed comic creator. At the comic cons? He’s on the side of the introverts. A fresh smile, a board to draw on, and typically a “table helper” to help handle purchases if his hands are otherwise occupied. But in order to crack the nut, if you will, one must mosey past and have their eye caught on his wares. And after a decade in the trenches, his table is a veritable warzone of brilliance. He has well over a dozen projects available at any time – including the next ‘Revival’ if he keeps it up with “Touching Evil”, and Hellboy-by-way-of-the-Red-Line with “Bob Howard: Plumber of the Unknown”. At the end of the day: Dan wins his customers over with the slow burn. He lets those interested come to him, confident that if they saw something they liked? They’ll like picking it up.
On the other side? I had Onrie Kompan. If Dan’s pitch is a 1, then Onrie’s is a 100 on a 10 point scale. Unlike nearly any other creator I’ve seen in the Artist Alleys… Kompan untethers himself from behind his table, stands, and literally plucks passersby to pitch to. He’s quick on his feet. He knows to butter up the sale with a free giveaway. He mercilessly doles out his elevator pitch. It takes less than 15 seconds to hear the price. And if you give the glint of a yes? Onrie’s already up-selling you from single issues to a graphic novel. It’s jarring to see, to be a part of, and I safely assume… to sell next to. But the proof is in the pudding. Kompan continuously sells out his wares at each successive show he attends.
For those who know me and my Unshaven cohorts… you’ll no doubt see how I consider myself somewhere between the two extremes. It also helps that unlike Dan and Onrie… we’re 3 men to their solo acts. We have a consummate pitchman though, in our writer, Kyle Gnepper. While he doesn’t stand in the aisle to attract would-be suitors… he does stand and beckon to any passing by. In fact, it’s become a bit of a larf for those who know us (and know Kyle can’t remember a face to save his life) to listen to his pitch only to chortle off a snarky response. Gets him every time. But for those folks who don’t know us? Being able to pitch our Samurnauts series in a succinct set of seconds makes for quick turnaround. We’ve enjoyed our victories – with increasing sales per show – now for 5 years strong.
Honesty time, kiddos. My title of the article, “In Defense of the Hustle”, comes out of the debate Dan and I had on the car trip home from the panel. And yes, I drive my nemesis to gigs now, what of it. You see, prior to knowing Onrie by name, I knew him by reputation. Upon knowing I would soon share a space at the dais with someone I’d previously professed “Crossed the invisible line between hungry creator, and used car salesman”, I was resigned to enter the discussion already jaded. But Dan, politician that he is, asked for me to give Mr. Kompan a chance. And I did. And he spoke. And he won me over. Not with his book mind you – I respect that his Yi Soon Shin series takes creative non-fiction to new heights… it’s just not my bag per say – but with his enthusiasm. Truthfully, I’d never step around my table to hawk my wares. But I respect that Onrie has the extroverted nature to do it, and do it relentlessly. And according to his sales figures? He’s on to something. But perhaps akin to Mark Waid’s allegory on breaking in to the industry itself… his way is his way, and no one else’s to take. And so long as he’s not selling next to me (and his neighbors have been properly vetted on his approach)? God bless.
So, I open up the column to your opinions. When you walk down the aisle to a comic con, do you prefer your creators be playful and shy? Can you handle the hard sell on a 5 dollar book? Or do you think there is an etiquette to pitching your passion to passersby? I’m a capitalist through and through… but my friends, what are you?
I don’t like to brag, but over the weekend, I deflowered three virgins.
Oh, who am I kidding? I love to brag.
Lest you think my sex life is more interesting than it actually is, I mean the above statement metaphorically. As you know if your’e female, breaking in virgins isn’t really that entertaining. Instead, what I will now describe is how I took three friends to their first comic book convention.
Lucky for them, it was MoCCA.
Going to your first anything can be intimidating, even something as simple as a county fair or a school dance. Every event that has occurred more than once has a history. Often, there are traditions and customs with which you are unfamiliar. The way the media portrays comic book conventions, whether on Entourage or The Big Bang Theory or next year’s talk show wars, can be unnerving for newbies. Does one need to dress as a Stormtrooper? How do you know what you’re looking at?
At MoCCA, my friends didn’t have to figure it out. The tables were welcoming, with clear signage, lots of books on display, and friendly smiles by the creators (at least on Saturday, when I was there. The closest thing to cosplay was aggressive hipster-ism, which I noted primarily through the prominent number of heads adorned with hats.
Best of all, my friends didn’t require an undergraduate degree in graphic story-telling to be drawn to the books. Two of my friends are leftist political history junkies, and I soon lost track of them as they found book after book that intrigued them. My other friend, who shares my love of the obscure laugh, joined me in celebrating a new book from Shannon Wheeler and various other booths. There was one by a woman whom I think was named Stevie Wilson, who had a sign claiming her books were all about coffee, feminism and cats.
Everything I want in one place. I wish I could find her again. Stevie (if that is your name), please tell me how to buy your books.
I hope that, when my friends go home, they continue to be curious about graphic story-telling, and start to explore the kinds of books that appeal to them. I hope find more joy.
And next year, if they’re in New York at the right time, I hope they go to MoCCA with me again. Perhaps, for the occasion, we will all dress up like John Lewis.
Photo by KLGreenNYC