Comic book legend Frank Miller — who penned “Sin City” and “300” — socked his ex-wife with a lawsuit Monday for allegedly swiping valuable rough sketches of his work and trying to sell them under the table.
Lynn Varley, an award-winning comic book colorist who collaborated with Miller on many of his early tomes, is allegedly hiding preliminary sketches she squirreled away before the couple’s divorce, Miller claims in his Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit.
Outlander Season Three, the adaptation of the third book in author Diana Gabaldon’s story of the 20th century English combat nurse and the 18th century Scottish Highlander (Voyager) is up to its 10th episode, with three to go, and it hasn’t disappointed. I read somewhere that the program’s ratings have steadily gone up with each episode, and Season 4 is already in production. I know that there are many who are disappointed that the show isn’t following the book word-for-word and paragraph-for-paragraph, but as I often remind my fellow Outlander lovers over at Compuserve, television is a visual medium, entirely different from the literary, and there are also time restraints. Im-not-so-ho, Ronald D. Moore and company have actually done a remarkable job bringing a densely packed historical romance/science fiction/fantasy – Outlander is one of those books and series that crosses genres as easily a pedestrian crossing a street – series to life.
And speaking of Compuserve, that venerable site is shutting down all its forums as of December 15, with no explanation given and that “e-mail, news, weather, sports, and entertainment information will remain available to you after this change.” Huh? Who goes to Compuserve for e-mail, news, weather, and et.al.? It’s always been about its forums – and as for Outlander, Diana Gabaldon, way back when, when she was first writing the original book, often posted her “what I’ve got so far,” and asking for comments, edits, and information. I just don’t get it.
I’m in the midst of answering a series of questions for an interview that fellow ComicMixer Joe Corallo is conducting with me for Geek.com. It’s funny what interviews can do sometimes. If it’s live, it can be a matter of thinking quick on your feet, especially if you don’t have a list of the questions in advance. When it’s going to be published somewhere, the interviewee – me, in this case – has a chance to think about it before writing down the answers. For instance, I discovered something about my work on Catwoman in the course of answering Joe. Consider this a sneak peek:
Joe C.: You’re also the first woman to write Catwoman. What was that like to you? Did you get to do what you wanted with the character?
Me: Was I really? I didn’t know that! It was pretty cool. My first swing at her was in Action Comics Weekly #’s 611– 614, a four-part story, “The Tin Roof Club.” To tell you the truth, I think it’s better than that Catwoman mini-series with my name on it. By the way,I came up with the title of “The Tin Roof Club” because that’s how I’ve always thought of Selina: “What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? – I wish I knew…just
staying on it, I guess, as long as she can” Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
With that in mind, my biggest disappointment with the Catwoman mini-series is that DC wouldn’t allow Selina to deliberately kill her pimp. I don’t know why. The guy was a fucking pimp, for Christ’s sake! The whole idea of her murdering the bastard was that it would cause Selina to forever remain that “cat on the hot tin roof.” Stuck, y’know? So I had to write it so that it was unclear. Which was total bullshit, of course.
I also made a mistake in involving nuns and Selina having a sister who was a sister. (“My sister, the sister,” as Father Mulcahy would say on M*A*S*H.) It was supposed to be an homage to Frank Miller, not only because of Batman: Year One, but also to his work on Daredevil, in which Matt’s Catholicism played such a strong role. But I think it would have been stronger, and more interesting, if I had stuck tomy own roots and made Selina Jewish – after all, “Kyle” could be just a “street name” to disguise her origins.
Basically, I guess what I’m saying is that I wish I could do it all over again – or have another crack at her.
It’s a nice, long, juicy interview – well, I think so, at any rate – so I’ll let you know when it’s slated to appear. Keep an eye out for it, ‘kay?
I’ll keep up the tradition of Thanksgiving “thanksgivings” now:
This year, as most of you know, I lost my dad and my mom. So first and foremost, I am grateful to God, the Goddess, and the Universe for blessing me with my grandson Meyer, my daughter and son (in-law) Alixandra and Jeff, my brother Glenn and his wife Ana, and my niece Isabel.
I am thankful to ComicMix and Mike Gold for allowing me entrée into the comics world via my columns these past – how many years is it, Mike? Wow! And I freely admit that my column about Secretariat was a stretch, but, hey, he was a Super-Horse!!!!
I am thankful to Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ for investing in me and investing me with a sense of home and belonging.
I am thankful for Robert Mueller.
I am thankful to The Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC, Frontline, Vice, CNN, Real Time with Bill Maher and other sane and responsible news organizations and programs for not faltering in the pursuit of truth, justice, and the American Way in 2017.
And thanks a lot, The Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC, Frontline, Vice, CNN, Real Time with Bill Maher and other news organizations and programs for going insane and being irresponsible and treating Il Tweetci the Mad’s campaign as a ratings grab and celebrity reality show in 2015 and 2016? Now you’re doing your job? Where were you in 2015 and 2016?
This past week or so has been about getting ready for NYCC. ComicMix has a panel for our successfully funded comics collection, Mine!, which benefits Planned Parenthood. I’ll be there with fellow ComicMix team members Molly Jackson, Mike Gold and Mindy Newell as well as Mine! contributors Tee Franklin, Gabby Rivera and moderator Sheilah Villari. We’ll be at room 1A02 from 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm on Saturday, October 8 at the Javits Center on Manhattan’s mid-town west side. If you’re at NYCC, please come on by – we’ll have a sneak peek at some new art from the book!
This past week or so, there has also been more than a little turmoil in the comics community.
Since I wrote my piece about the Aubrey Sitterson incident a couple of weeks ago, events surrounding #ComicsGate have escalated. From blocking and doxxing to accusations and deplatforming, things are really intensifying in the lead-up to NYCC as followers and subscribers keep going up after these conservative comics critics involved. Because of everything that’s been going on I feel that it’s important to discuss this further.
As I stated last time, part of what’s been going on has been that comics critics on YouTube and social media who lean conservative (or libertarian, in this instance) are calling out specific creators for their content; being Social Justice Warriors (SJWs); and are, in some cases using direct and targeting language that attacks a creator for their minority status. Often in cases like this, and #ComicsGate is no exception, some followers end up taking things to the next level and using even more divisive and hurtful language and carrying out acts of targeted harassment and doxxing.
A video one comics critic released last week specifically targeted one comics journalist. The video ended up being flagged, then deleted by the uploader. Not long after, more videos were flagged on this comics critic’s YouTube account, leading to the account in question being suspended. Tensions have risen as accusations of attempted deplatforming of comics critics by comics journalists are being raised. As in #GamerGate, we are seeing similar arguments of “It’s about ethics in journalism,” whether or not that’s the actual issue.
Whenever issues like these come up or any other divisive politically driven issues arise you often hear the same things. You hear people talk about how the other side is horrible, how we shouldn’t even attempt to understand them and how we need to focus on beating them back and diminishing them. But in my case, I usually like to at least understand how things have come to be how they are.
Many of these conservative-leaning comics critics do more than provoke harassment of comics professionals to whom they are opposed: They’ve built a community. Like-minded comics fans who have similar issues with the direction that mainstream comics are going in get together for online hangouts, talk about the comics and creators they like, and more. Some of what they talk about I can even get behind, like how Black Bolt is one of my favorite books that Marvel is putting out right now. It’s easy to paint everyone involved as a troll, and that’s not to say there aren’t any trolls involved, but there are a lot of others who are fans of comics that want to see changes made and get riled up and moved to action when they can rally against perceived hypocrisy and calls to violence from the left.
Look, I’m an unapologetic liberal and political activist — I’m working on a Planned Parenthood benefit anthology, after all. That said, comics is not an exclusively liberal or conservative space and we have to exist without this level of conflict. There are plenty of conservative voices in comics who have put out quality work over the years including Chuck Dixon, Mike Baron, and Frank Miller. I (and others) am not advocating for an eradication of conservative thought from the comics medium.
With that in mind, there are things that cannot be tolerated. Transphobic language and personal attacks targeted at comics professionals and journalists cannot be tolerated. Using a creator’s’ background and minority status to attack them and their work cannot be tolerated. Allowing followers to go unchecked in their further attacks on comics professionals cannot be tolerated. Creators are getting death threats. We need comics professionals to feel safe.
Conservative voices in comics aren’t ever going to go away. If these comics critics, or anyone for that matter, want to be taken seriously by the comics industry that they’re criticizing then they need to drop the bigoted language and personal targeted attacks, and lead by example and call out the increasingly abusive behaviors of some their followers.
I’ve been perplexed. As I’m sure so many of you have been paying at least a modicum of attention to the comings and goings of our President, no doubt you’ve seen a rise of discourse throughout your social feeds and TV screens concerning the separation of art and the artist.
OK, it’s really an argument about whether using the national anthem as the background for non-violent protest is offensive. Okay. Follow me here, kiddos.
Among the master debaters I’ve followed, one argument floated to the top of my gaze. It was the notion that professional athletes are in fact paid to entertain and therefore should be reprimanded and subjugated to dismissal from their jobs if their actions fail to entertain the fanbase of said sports team from which they hail. In short, I think that argument is hilariously off-base. Professional athletes are in fact paid to play a game. Yes, they are company men who must project the professional je ne sais quoi of their team out in the real world. But they are American and are actually free to act as they see fit. Taking a knee during a song is not a fire-able offense. Period.
If you disagree, I know no amount of my chortling will change your mind. I welcome you to leave my column. Door is over there to the left, marked “Ignorance is bliss.” You find that offensive? Too bad. This is America and I can label my door anyway I want. Especially when the door isn’t real.
This whole kerfuffle led me down a path though – taking to heart the idea that certain artists (musicians, writers, fine artists, etc.) whose work I am fond of may hold different political, religious, or personal opinions than my own. And upon learning these things… could I in fact still enjoy their art separate from themselves?
Let’s start with comic books. Bill Willingham, Frank Miller, Ethan Van Sciver, and Chuck Dixon have each let slip their leanings towards a more conservative mindset. I’d even go as far as to say that I once followed one those men on Facebook before learning of said leaning. A few ranty posts later, I delightfully unfollowed them and skipped on down the road. I’ve read (and loved) a ton of Fables. Green Lantern: Rebirth remains one of my favorite series of all time. The Dark Knight Rises and Sin City are masterpieces worthy of college class theses. And Chuck Dixon penned nearly a baker’s dozen of books I absorbed in my adolescence. Knowing what I know about who each of these men may have voted for hasn’t stopped me from loving any of their work since.
That being said, I felt no need to read Holy Terror.
While I personally never liked Kid Rock or Ted Nugent, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never bobbed my head to Bawitdaba or Cat Scratch Fever.
Remove the political leanings of any of the known conservative actors – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Vince Vaughn, Chuck Norris, Angie Harmon, or even that Jew-loving Mel Gibson to name but a few – and I could easily rattle off any number of their works that I’ve willingly forked over cash to enjoy. All the while knowing about their personal viewpoints being dissonant from my own.
It we cannot separate the art from the artist, we push ourselves down a slippery slope. While I wish the matter was black and white (pun intended, I suppose), shades of grey still permeate my periphery. The other day I happened upon a marathon of The Cosby Show and was tempted to revel in what I largely consider one of the best sitcoms of all time. But Bill Cosby himself feels tainted to me. And while I know deep down Hulk Hogan is likely amicable to everyone in his personal life, or those men he danced with in the squared circle. But I’d be lying if I said that when I hear I am a real American play during some nostalgic top ten on WhatCulture: that I don’t immediately recall Terry Bollea’s racist gaffe. And it causes me to just go ahead and skip to the next video. So is life.
Where to fall now, though? For me, the litmus test lies in the totality of the person, and the quality of the art. There’s an algorithm to determine where my personal line of demarcation exists, but I’d like to think that if a person is civil in their ability to voice their opinion, if they consider the time and place when to share it and their ability to listen to the opposition with an open mind, then let them do and be free.
Let their art stand on its own, should it be art that is separate from their personal opinions. Because without that open mind, I know I’m only shuttering myself to worlds not yet explored. And that would be wholly un-American of me.
I didn’t think I was going to write about Howard Chaykin, Image Comics, and The Divided States of Hysteria. When the first controversy sparked up the beginning of last month I had already committed to an interview with a team working on a Kickstarter project for my column that followed said controversy. While people still talked about it some after I thought people had basically covered the scope of the issue and I wouldn’t have anything constructive to add.
Then this happened followed by this apology from Image Comics and Howard Chaykin. I tend to discuss these sort of occurrences in the comics community and I really haven’t lately so it’s time for me to get back to that.
Full disclosure: I have met Howard Chaykin before at a few conventions, got a Lois Lane sketch from him some years ago, and attended a panel back at the first Special Edition NYC spotlighting him with fellow ComicMix columnist Martha Thomases in which he recommended we read the Tom De Haven novel It’s Superman which is actually quite good and one of the best things you’ll ever read that stars The Man Of Tomorrow.
I don’t want to rehash all the details you likely already know, and if you are somehow into comics enough to read columns on comic book news sites and are not aware of what’s been going on, it’s covered in the links provided. You can also type in keywords in a Twitter search and find plenty on this. So, rather than restate the information, I’ll tell you how I, someone that discusses diversity in comics and adjacent topics, read this situation.
First, nobody is ever obligated to purchase and enjoy a comic. Period. If people see a cover or an image from a comic that makes them not want to read it, they don’t have to. They’re allowed to voice their displeasure and tell their friends and the Internet they don’t want to read it and you shouldn’t either. People are allowed to look at a comic and decide against it without reading it.
It is not against the concept of free speech to openly discuss why you do not like or support something; it’s nearly the entire point of free speech. Nor is speaking out against this comic censorship. Howard Chaykin and Image Comics have every right to put out this material and you and anyone else have every right to actively not support it if you so desire.
It’s up to the marketing people and the publisher to convince people that their product is worth their time and to spend money on it. Part of the blunder that took place here is that Image had worked out getting The Divided States of Hysteria a Pride variant when the content inside didn’t fit for that audience. More eyes, including a lot more queer eyes, were on this book because of that variant and it being Pride month. Had this book come out without that variant and later on in the year I think it may have glided under the radar a bit and while their likely would have been some backlash, it wouldn’t have hit the same levels.
Another factor is that this is an Image comic. While Image does have some gruesome books like The Walking Dead, most of its line-up is pretty accessible to a wide comics audience. A publisher more well known for its over-the-top stories and graphic imagery like Avatar Press may have been able to take on The Divided States of Hysteria with less backlash.
The political and cultural environment is just not where this book is either. People are upset, depressed, and frightened by what we see coming out of the White House; I know I am. Had the results on November 9th, 2016 been different then maybe people would have been a little more open to the idea of a comic that’s talking about a horrible alternate reality. It hits a little too close to home for many right now.
The timing of this book was way off. Particularly with the portrayal of a trans sex worker being brutalized. What may have seemed edgy or even acceptable decades ago in terms of representing a trans character doesn’t fly anymore. At least fourteen trans women, mostly trans women of color, have been murdered just for being trans this year, and more trans women were killed in 2016 than in 2015. I encourage you to follow the link in the last sentence and to read the names of those we’ve lost. Audiences not only are demanding more from trans representation in all media, but it’s necessary and can save lives.
Finally, I want to talk a bit about Howard Chaykin himself. Some people have criticized him for being “an old white guy.” While there is some truth to that, it’s a bit more complicated. Howard Chaykin was born October 7th, 1950. He had a rough childhood moving many times as a kid across New York City, being raised on welfare, finding out later in life that who he thought was his biological father was in fact not and having a cruel adoptive father.
Despite all that, and despite the fact that many doors shut in front of him as he tried to develop his career early on because he’s Jewish, Howard was able to get his start in comics before branching out into other media. One of his early works, American Flagg!, was also a political satire and starred Reuben Flagg, an overtly Jewish lead at a time where that was far from common in mainstream comics. Hell, it’s uncommon now. That work, in particular, went on to inspire multiple generations of comic creators, including Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction, Frank Miller, and Brian Michael Bendis.
I’m not writing all this to make you change your mind on The Divided States of Hysteria. If you don’t want to read it, don’t. If you don’t like Howard Chaykin’s work, continue to not like it. If you want other people to know you feel that way, let them know.
What I am saying is that he is a person, he’s fought his own battles for decades to get where he is, he may have been through more than you know, he and Image Comics are in no way advocating bigotry, there is absolutely no need to make personal attacks towards Howard, and his entire body of work should not be summed up in one poorly timed and arguably poorly executed comic book.
This past weekend was the Big Apple Convention at New York City’s famed Hotel Pennsylvania. Fellow ComicMix columnist Molly Jackson joined me in attending this show as she has for the past four years now. Boy, time really does fly, huh?
The Big Apple Con is a show I’ve been going to for many years. For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is a con run by Mike “Carbo” Carbonaro who has had more close calls with retirement than Cher. I don’t *think* he was retiring this time, but I could be wrong.
Anyway, his shows tend to attach some big names from the old guard in comics like Jim Steranko and Ramona Fradon, as well as young up and comers like Mindy Indy and Stan Chou. In the past I’ve gotten to meet people like Herb Trimpe, who is no longer with us, George Pérez, and Chris Claremont back before he was charging for signatures. That’s not a crack on Claremont, by the way. Nearly all the X-Men comics at this point and many of the movies are in part or entirely based on his work so if you can’t shell out a few bucks for a signature you might be trying to flip on eBay anyway, then you can get by without his signature on your comic. I’m pretty sure a firm handshake is still free with most creators, but don’t get carried away.
This year the big draw was Stan Lee. Well, it was supposed to be Stan Lee. He unfortunately fell ill and had to cancel. We all wish him a speedy recovery. Stan regenerated into Jim Lee, who flew in for a signing on Saturday, and Frank Miller was the big cheese for Sunday. As disappointed as I’m sure some comics fans were that Stan Lee couldn’t make it, if Jim Lee and Frank Miller aren’t enough for you on top of everyone else who was there then I just don’t know what to tell you.
Molly and I only attended Saturday of the show. Previously, the Big Apple Con was a one day show and we figured we could get almost everything done that we wanted in one day. As much as I would have liked to see Frank Miller, I’m sure another opportunity will arise. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pay that much for an autograph this past weekend either.
We had a nice time overall. Yes, we agreed we liked it best the one year it was at The New Yorker Hotel down the block and that it’s hard to walk around some parts with the crowd congestion, but Molly and I together make pretty good nitpickers. Some of the highlights for us were picking up original art from Ramona Fradon and getting to chat with her briefly. I’ve got a couple of sketch covers done from her over the hears, but I splurged on a nice piece she brought from home. Molly picked up a couple of smaller pieces herself. As a side-note, Ramona is an incredible pop artist whose influence can be seen in comics right through to today. If you’re unfamiliar, please consider picking up The Art Of Ramona Fradon digital book or the hardcover and learn all about her career and see so much of her gorgeous art.
The Art Of Ramona Fradon includes a long form interview with her conducted by Howard Chaykin who was also in attendance this past weekend. I’ve gotten to meet Howard a couple of times before and this time was no less interesting. Previously he had recommended the prose novel It’s Superman by Tom DeHaven at a Q&A which I read and absolutely loved. This time the topic of conversation would be deemed controversial to most. I’m not going to tell you what it was about. You’ll just have to go to a con he’s at and maybe if you’re good (not nice – good) he’ll tell you a good (not nice) story.
We got a chance to catch up with Stan Chou at the show and see what he’s been up to. He was previously at Double Take, but since they wrapped up production he’s been doing more freelance work. He gave me a copy of a comic he put out with writer Patrick McEvoy, The Darker Region. Basically, the premise is classic horror movie monsters in space and contains three different stories. What really stands out here in that Stan Chou goes out of his way to make the art style different in all three stories contained here. If you’re not familiar with Stan’s work, the link earlier goes to his Twitter page. Check it out.
Molly and I ran into a lot of other people including Mindy Indy, Todd Matthy, Dennis Knight, Bob Camp, Reilly Brown, many of the people we’ve seen waiting in line with us at signings over the years, and more. It was a good day all around. If you only go to the big shows, it’s worth checking out some of these smaller conventions. And if you’re the type that’s more into the indie comic zine fest scene, there are plenty of indie comics creators at a show like Big Apple Con that need support too.
The 2017 convention season is really just kicking off, so start looking up shows, marking your calendars and putting money aside if you can. There are a lot of shows to come and this is sure to be an interesting year ahead of us.
This past weekend my wife and I tried to be adults, but Fandango’s inexplicable UI rendered my better/prettier/sexier/amazinger half confuzzled. The tickets we purchased to see “Split” by M. Night Shamalamadingdong were for the wrong date (as in three days prior to when we were currently out). D’oh! Mistakes happen, no biggie. But with a sitter on the clock, and time dwindling, we opted instead to catch “Get Out” by Jordan Peele. Until we noticed that the entire theater was sold out — save for two seats not together. And boy, it’d be a hindrance to a date night to not sit together.
So we saw “Lego Batman.” It would be the second time I’d seen it in as many weeks.
I won’t bury the lede: “Lego Batman” is amazing. It’s a visual and auditory roller coaster that nearly never comes up for air. In fact, I can honestly think back to only two sequences in the over two hours of show time where there are actual silent, simple pauses of reflection. All other times it was non-stop jokes, fights, and fun-fun-fun.
One of the more interesting debates I’ve seen creep up lately in my social network posits that “Lego Batman” is indeed the best filmed adventure of the caped crusader. Through the mixture of camp, thoroughly deep comic references, and a balanced story that actually deals with the emotional baggage of Bruce Wayne in a thoughtful non-emo-broody-whiny-baby way… most nerds are finding a hard time placing any other Bat-film above the Danish brick-based flick.
Are they wrong?
By way of Gene Ha sharing it, Ty Templeton says so. Ty places “Lego Batman” at honorable mention status… falling fourth to “The Dark Knight,” “Mask of the Phantasm,” and “Batman: The Movie”.
If I’m being bold myself, I agree that “Lego Batman” isn’t the best Bat-movie. “The Dark Knight” still is. It won’t be topped in my lifetime. I’m nearly certain on that. But I’d proudly put the Lego flick in a comfortable second place. The two films are truly polar opposites, and nearly incomparable given their intended target audiences. But the devil is in the details, and as Templeton himself denotes: Zach Galifinakas doesn’t do the Joker any justice. Whether it’s the script itself or the delivery of the lines, it’s odd that the yin to Batman’s yang truly is the yoke that holds “Lego Batman” down just enough to place it solidly as the best all-ages Bat-flick… but nowhere near the best overall film in the franchise.
This week’s article is a celebration though, not a nit-picky snark fest. Minor voice foibles aside, “Lego Batman” has a cup that runneth over in fan-service. By building on Will Arnet’s id-cum-Batman take on the character — equal parts Frank Miller’s “God-Damned Batman” and Adam West’s “Gosh-Darned Batman” — we finally get a Batman that changes from act one to final curtain. Look long and hard at every other film; I dare you to see true growth. Letting the villain fall off a church, or out of the back of a train doth not a hero make.
Bats aside, “Lego” also features the first true collaboration between Bat-family members that stays nearly believable. Taking orphan endangerment with a grain of salt and you’re left with the most complex female character in a Bat-movie, period. Babs Gordon in “Lego Batman” leaves little girls as proud as the boys exiting the theater. Suck on those bricks, Dr. Chase Meridian.
And did I mention the movie gives frames of film to Crazy Quilt, Zodiac, Calendar Man, Orca, Clayface-as-voiced-by-Allison-Brie, and still manages to tie in Lord Voldemort, King Kong, Sauron, and the flying monkeys of Wizard of Oz into the final battle? On that merit alone, “Lego Batman” boggled and baffles the mind with pure joy.
In the annals of Bat-films “Lego Batman” is a tough act to follow. Especially when Ben Affleck is already souring to the character. While it may never go down as the best, it will clearly hold sway in nerdy debates to come over the next millennia which flicks are really any more fun.
“All great articles end with amazingly relevant quotes. And Marc Alan Fishman is the best quoter of all time.” – Batman
JC: I think it is fair to say you’re a big comics fan, and particularly of legacy superheroes. What is it about them that makes you want tell their stories?
VD: I think it’s less about the legacy and more about how the most current person in the line handles the responsibility of the mantle. Like, if you’re the most current Phantom (Lee Falk’s character) and you’re 24, let’s say, your reality, your Africa/Bengalla, is totally different than your grandfather’s. So, there’s a real chance, as a storyteller, to push the idea of legacy further. That’s what Sean and I try to do with Stray; there’s a reason why he’s not Doberman III or the Rottweiler. He chose a different path.
JC: How do you apply that passion uniquely to your new creator-owned title, The Golden Guard?
VD: Well, instead of taking the idea of the legacy hero, the one who has been almost genetically predisposed to being the latest in the line of heroes, we bring a few of the characters to the present to see exactly what the impact of their individual legacies are. There are four characters in particular who are in the present and they find out they’re actually dead, or in the case of Kid Viper, MIA during the Vietnam era. So, if you’re able to come 30 or 40 years beyond your death, and you are able to, for lack of a better word, “shape” your own personal history, how do you do it? What will you truly be remembered for? That’s the aspect of legacy we’re playing with.
JC: Tells us a bit about your collaborators, Charlie McElvy and Carlos Caballero. How did you all decide to work on this together and what’s everyone’s responsibilities on the project? Is anyone else involved?
VD: Originally, this was going to be a story that Ray-Anthony Height and I wrote with Sean Izaakse doing layouts. My Prisoner Of None co-creator, David Bednarski, provided a lot of the initial designs that Carlos would eventually play with. I’m not sure if we ever got to a point where we knew who would do the finished art, but that was who I was working with when initially conceived. After a while, Ray couldn’t do it; he decided that his efforts were best put towards finishing Midnight Tiger, and I agreed. So, I turned to Charlie. Charlie and I “met” over a shared interest in Sean; Sean designed a lot of characters for his Watchguard comic/RPG. And truth be told, it was seeing Sean’s work with Charlie (on DeviantArt) that drew me to his art (and the rest is history).
So, there was a bit of professional envy, I think, on my part. I met Charlie at Baltimore Comic Con, bought a few of his books and somehow, somehow, I “fell in love” with the dude. Loved where his head was at, and loved what he was building. Charlie doesn’t realize what a big influence he has on me, and that’s probably going to make him laugh when he reads this. Fast forward, and Charlie and I are working on a Watchguard/Aegis (my superhero team from Stray) crossover that could still see the light of day someday, and I just convinced him to tackle Golden Guard with me.
Oh, I need to say this here…hat tip to Lan Pitts who gave me the name “the Golden Guard.” Because what happened next doesn’t happen without the team being named.
So, we’re being pretty blatant and we’re talking about the team and comic that doesn’t even exist on Facebook. Carlos had already been in my head as a potential artist to work with because I once carelessly said, again on Facebook, “I know who would write a TeenAegis spin-off (Caleb Monroe), but who would draw it?” Carlos was one of a few artists that chimed in with, “me!” and I looked at his work and said, “I have to keep him in mind.”
So, Charlie and I are “flaunting” Golden Guard, and at roughly the same time Carlos posts fan art of the Justice Society. I sent a private message to Charlie and said, “I didn’t realize we were holding auditions, but I think this dude won the part!” Turns out, Carlos and I have history. I met him at San Diego Comic Con in 2006 and shortly after, I emailed him saying, “Let’s start brainstorming an idea!” He never replied! Hahaha! But, everything happens for a reason. He says he wasn’t ready for that kind of work, and I surely wasn’t the writer I am today. And it all just…the three of us talk daily on Facebook Messenger. We’re extremely tight. Carlos and I shared a table at NYCC last year and it’s really the most perfect three-person combo since Nirvana. We complement each other really, really well.
JC: Legacy superheroes are at the heart of another creator-owned title of yours, Stray. What makes these two properties stand out from each other?
VD: Stray is about one man’s quest to find himself and find the hero inside of himself. I’ve said for a long time that it’s about identity and choosing the person you want to be. Stray is me at my most Joseph Campbell-ian. The Golden Guard is really pushing the idea of history and legacy forward, but we realized this week that it’s really bigger than that. We knew Americana would be the leader, and Cadmus, once Carlos designed him, just became our favorite character. And as we kept going further into it, and developing more characters, we started to see that our favorite characters, our story linchpins, were all the…best way to say this is, non-white male (but not quite; stay with me) characters. And this week, I realized that what we made was a team comprised of marginalized minorities. A woman, a black man, a gay man, a handicapped (mute) man, two teenagers…even the elderly. It wasn’t until this week that we realized just how special the book is and can be.
JC: You’ve gone the Kickstarter route for other projects of yours before The Golden Guard. Why do you feel Kickstarter is the best avenue for this project?
VD: Let me be perfectly honest with you… Kickstarter is not the perfect avenue. Having a publisher pay our page rates and publish the book and pay us a ridiculous amount of money in royalties would be the perfect situation. But, that’s not happening and it’s kind of by choice. I don’t think that every retailer would support this book. We’re talking about a team book that more or less points an accusing finger at the recently elected administration, and I distinctly remember in the past few weeks seeing the headline “Keep Your Politics Out of My Comic Store.” If retailers won’t support the book, then a publisher won’t publish it. And the three of us agreed that the thing we wanted to do the most was connect directly to our audience. And that’s why Kickstarter is… if it’s not the perfect avenue, it’s the next best one.
JC: As a father, I imagine comics accessible to a younger audience is important to you. What age range would you recommend The Golden Guard to? Can you share your thoughts about the importance of younger comics readers, both to you and the industry as a whole?
VD: I think that pre-teens and tweens are a safe age range for TGG, but we’re not putting sex or drugs or anything like that in the book, so you could go as young as 7. There’s a big historical component to the book, and I think that will appeal to a lot of readers, of all ages.
I think superhero comics are easily maligned. People still make the case that it’s unhealthy (male?) power fantasy made accessible to children, but my daughter, who just turned four, is currently watching DC Superhero Girls. Do you know what lesson she gets out of it? Be a good friend. Be brave. Being smart is as important as being strong. Superhero comics, and movies, should be saying that.
This is what is so frustrating about things like Batman V Superman; you’re assuming that because the comic audience is predominantly male and roughly 24-50, that the best representation of these characters is a Frank Miller book from the 80s. And that’s not a slight against Frank or The Dark Knight Returns. I’m 43 and I remember a time when the mantra in comics was, “They’re not just for kids anymore,” and the result of that was chasing kids away. And the industry has spent 30 years trying to get them back. Thankfully, things like Squirrel Girl, Lumberjanes and the like exist. There’s still plenty of “grim and gritty,” but the industry has proven it can support both.
For me, my goal is to enforce the idea that “all-ages” doesn’t mean “kids.” Ideally, parents will sit and read my books with their kids, and I know a few who have. Stray, which is literally rated T for Teen, has drug usage and a hero who is flawed. I think that’s something a 9-year old should see… they should see that you can make mistakes but if you’re inherently a good person, if you are sorry for the mistakes you’ve made or the bad you’ve done, you can be a hero. My goodness, that is such an important lesson for… for everyone!
JC: The Golden Guard will be featuring a wide range of characters including Black Viper, an anti-hero. How big of a role will these side characters have and can you tell us about the importance of anti-heroes to you in comics?
VD: I have to be careful because I can say too much. The core team is made up of Americana, the aforementioned leader; Cadmus, her second in command; King Jaguar, the devil-may-care swashbuckler; Silent Shield, the former G-man turned crimefighter; Honorata, Charlemagne’s thirteenth knight; and Kid Viper, the first sidekick of the Golden Age. They meet up with their teammate in the modern world, Theo Concord, a.k.a. Captain Scarab, who is now in his 70s or 80s. Readers will meet the entire team at the beginning of Chapter One, but by Chapter Two, this will be the team. JC: Sidekicks will also have a role in the TGG story, which is similar to the focal point in your prior work, Stray. What’s the importance of Sidekicks and their legacy to you, and what makes them important to The Golden Guard?
VD: They’re not incredibly important to the larger story in The Golden Guard, but I wanted to make sure that we had one represented (or three, when you see the finished book). And that’s probably because the concept of the sidekicks is important to me. As a kid, I wanted to be Robin, and I’ve always felt that Dick Grayson, as Robin, Nightwing or even Batman, is the character that I relate to the most. I’m currently wearing a “Grayson” t-shirt! Kid Viper is thought to be, in this universe at least, the proto-sidekick. And if that’s the case, you have to tell his story. Like I said, we’re taking marginalized minorities, and in this case, the idea of millennials (which he technically isn’t, but he will end up representing).
JC: As someone whose been published by many publishers over the years and has worked on both established properties and creator-owned work, what kind of advice would you give to writers trying to get their work out there and what do you want to see coming from the comics industry as new creators come in?
VD: I usually tell writers to just keep writing. Get all the bad pages out and just keep your head up. I think the days of trying to break into the Big Three or Four or whatever it is… well, that’s indicative of the fact that all things are kind of equal now… but I think those days are over. There are so many avenues available now that you don’t have to break in the same way as someone else. Save your money, find an artist to pair up with. Go.
JC: Before we wrap up, what else should we know about The Golden Guard?
VD: I think backers and casual observers might be surprised to find out that we’re one, putting out a magazine, two, putting it out annually, and three, also including a tabletop roleplaying game with the characters (including a pull-out map!). In the spirit of creating a relationship with our readers, we wanted to make something they could rely on. So, if we’re successful in March (and I have a lot of faith that we will be), every subsequent March (2018, 2019, etc), we will put out a new Golden Guard story which will also expand the RPG. Eventually, we’ll crowdfund a collection for both the comic and the RPG. And we’ll take the same amount of time to make it, and put it out by October. Every. Year. We’re just trying to stand apart from what we’ve seen, and make something we want to own.
JC: That sounds great! Thank you so much for chatting with me, Vito! Follow The Golden Guardon Facebook to get all the latest updates and don’t forget to check out the Kickstarter when it launches this Thursday, March 2nd.
Wow. I never thought I’d miss that little ditty. Granted, whenever that tune consumes my brainpan it’s the version recorded by The Who and not the one from the ancient teevee series. I find myself humming Neal Hefti’s remarkably enduring theme song every time a new Batman movie screws up. Yup, this means I’ve been humming it a lot lately.
The latest batastrophe – as of this writing – came down last week when the director of the upcoming release The Batman quit the picture. That’s a big problem, as he is also the co-writer of the movie… and, oh yeah, also its star.
Arguably worse, the top choice for replacing director Ben Affleck, Matthew George Reeves (no relation to anybody who starred as Superman), quickly dropped out of the negotiations. One is reminded their March 16, 2018 release, The Flash, also has gone through multiple directors.
Of course, as soon as Affleck walked away from the director’s chair, the trolls started jabbering about how great it would be if he walked away from the cowl as well. And that soon morphed into a belief that he would turn his back on the whole Momma Martha complex. This is not a surprise, as the Internet is quite capable of meeting Donald Trump’s dark vision of the media in general. And maybe he will – but I kind of doubt it. He’s in Justice League and he’s contracted for at least a couple more appearances in gray battlegear. But, hey, it’s Hollywood and as we all know, Hollywood is the one place where gravity does not work.
Some fans won’t forgive him for Daredevil. Jeez, I know I’m in the minority here, but Daredevil was an okay movie. In fact, I think the director’s cut was “good.” And maybe some people thought everybody involved with Batman V Superman should be punished, just like our sensibilities had been punished. I belong to the slightly larger pool of eyeball owners who thought that Affleck turned in a fine performance as the world’s oldest Batman. The movie sucked, but Ben did not.
Some fans – and there’s a lot of overlap here – seem to be taking the position that Warner Bros should just drop the whole Batman thing. Yeah. Dream on. If they’re desperate enough, Warners would offer George Clooney enough to fulfill Auric Goldfinger’s most golden wet dream. It’s Batman.
For example. For the second week in a row, The LEGO Batman Movie out-earned everything else on Popcorn Row. I haven’t seen it yet, although I have enjoyed most of the other DC Lego movies. But, just as Batman is also something of a regular on Robot Chicken, one cannot deny that the Darknight Detective (who doesn’t really do much “detecting”) has massive and enduring appeal. I don’t know why – many of the extra-media interpretations of the guy have really, truly sucked – but I’m rather fond of The Bat myself and I’d love to see another really good Batmovie.
But, probably, not as much as Warners wants to see another really good Batmovie… even though the crappy ones did well at the box office. That Clooney movie brought in $238,207,122 when it first was released, and – by way of comparison – that’s at least $364,353,620 in 2017 dollars.
If they’re still seeking a director, maybe Frank Miller is looking for work.
I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise. I love being out on the water, and have even joked that I’d live in a tiny house surrounded by water if I could. So it’s kind of silly that I’ve never been on a cruise, isn’t it? And I love comic-cons, as anyone who’s ever read my column will know. So when I first saw that someone was organizing Fan2Sea, a comic-con on a cruise ship (and one with an adorably punny name, at that!), I thought, “What? I have to go! Also, this absolutely sounds too good to be true! Because it’s a comic-con. On a cruise ship. How can this be?!?”
So when I went to look up the details of Fan2Sea, and I saw that their line-up includes cast members from Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, and Guardians of the Galaxy, and also Deadpool and Batman comics creators, my mind pretty much exploded from excitement. Add to that the excitement of going on a cruise, with all the cool experiences that has to offer; and port stops in Tampa, Key West, and Cozumel, Mexico (I’ve never been to Mexico! But I’ve been meaning to go!); and it’s a wonder I’ve even been able to pick up all the little brain-pieces.
Fortunately, I recovered my wits enough to determine that I had to know more about Fan2Sea. Like: where did it come from? Who had this marvelous idea? Is it going to be as awesome as it sounds? More awesome?!? (Which I might not be able to handle, but I’m willing to take the risk.)
To get answers to all of the questions swimming through my overheated brain, I got in touch with the people who are putting on this wondrous event, and Stefan Lawrence of Rethink Leisure & Entertainment sat down with me to give me the lowdown on everything all of us con-goers need to know before we decide that we must embark on the grand Fan2Sea adventure. Read on for all the details!
ESW: So who came up with the idea for a comic-con on a cruise ship, and what was the inspiration behind it?
SL: We were brought this project by one of the investors who had the idea of a boutique-style comic-con on a cruise. It’s a response to some of the larger comic-cons. They’re delightful, they’re amazing, but there’s also so much friction involved – there’s the waiting in lines, there’s the crowds – a lot of it can be a little bit stressful even if you love this stuff. So we have partnered with a travel agency that specializes in themed cruises; and had the idea to do basically a boutique comic-con – where it’s a limited number of people, and you’re eliminating all of the standing in line, waiting around…all the bits and pieces that make comic-con both maddening and delightful at the same time. We want to take all the good stuff and eliminate all the other bits. So you’re staying at a luxury hotel, on board this ship. You’re not waiting in line forever to get to huge panels. We’re running the big panels twice so that everybody will get a chance to see all the big panels on the ship. It’s a lot about making this the most artist-friendly and the most fan-friendly convention that anyone’s ever attended.
ESW: I know some of you come from a theme-park background; and it sounds like at least some of you have gone to enough comic-cons to know what they’re like and know why something else is needed. Can you talk about the background of the team that is making this happen?
SL: I work for a company called Rethink Leisure & Entertainment. We’re a theme-park design company made up of a gang of ex-Disney Imagineers, ex-Universal creatives… So the thing that we’re really good at is customer experiences; basically creating fun events and experiences for guests. So that’s always our focus. Because whether you’re master-planning an entire theme park or you’re doing an attraction, you’re constantly thinking about how an experience is from beginning to end. So that’s been our focus from day one. We don’t want to welcome you on board the boat and be like, “Here’s a bunch of celebrities – have at it.” We want to make sure that the experience is fun the entire way though. So for instance, we’re working with the 501st in Tampa so that the moment you get on board, there will be storm troopers that are welcoming you on board the ship on the gangway. We’re going to have themed parties every single night. We really want to make sure that it’s…kind of a “surprise and delight” thing. So that you feel like this is a party that was created and curated just for you.
ESW: It sounds like your Rethink staff comes from some of the best companies geeks are familiar with; what are some other things that Rethink has done that we may have heard about?
SL: We ourselves are a fairly young company; we’ve been around for about three years now. In the sort of comics space, we designed the world’s largest toys and collectibles store, which is in Dubai – it’s called Comicave. It’s 17,000 square feet, it has themed areas – we actually have a full Iron Man hall of armor in there; there’s a Star Wars collectibles room that looks like the Death Star; there’s the “rooftops of New York,” which is where you can buy all of your single-issue comic books; there’s an otaku anime and Gundam area – so that’s one example, and the whole store is pretty spectacular.
In terms of our team here, they’re the people who have worked on everything from – we have the show writer from Harry Potter in Orlando, and Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood. They wrote all the scripts for the rides for Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. One of our senior creative directors here was on the opening day team of Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The President and CEO worked on Disneyland Paris. People here have worked on Transformers, the ride. Everyone here in the office lives and breathes pop-culture – so shifting over into this realm of things really is not much of a stretch.
ESW: So are you guys super excited to be getting into this area?
SL: Speaking just for myself – I love this stuff. I love comics, I love movies – this is all stuff that I do anyway – it’s all completely up my alley. So to be in this playground is a delight for me personally. But we also have an office full of people who have desks covered in toys, and we all make the pilgrimage down to San Diego every year and come back with mounds and mounds of stuff. So it’s all a world that we love already. It’s tangential to what we have done in the past, but it’s completely in our wheelhouse in terms of what we love.
ESW: You’ve talked about your goal, which is making sure everyone has an amazing time. Can you give me both the immediate picture of what this particular cruise experience would be like for a fan; and then what goals Rethink has for the future?
SL: The immediate experience is that we want this to be like a big geeky slumber party. As opposed to a comic-con where everybody is on the show floor during the day, and then you have to disperse and go find parties or whatever else you feel like doing. We’re going to be running panels into the evening; but then when the evening time comes, we are going to transition into parties. We’re having cosplay karaoke; themed DJ parties; outdoor movie nights on the pool deck that are going to be themed, with themed cocktails – so like the first night we’re doing a double feature with Jaws and Piranha, and so we’re going to have Blood in the Water themed cocktails that go along with that. We’re going to have complete Stranger Things ‘80s themed parties. So we’re looking to extend the entertainment, so when you come out of your panels and you’re like, “What’s next?” there’s a full array of things to do.
We’re working with the chefs on board the ship to provide special menus – so that you can have a Game of Thrones menu that you can choose in the dining room, or you can have a Bladerunner-themed future Asian fusion-style thing that you can choose as part of your menu. We’re running movie marathons all day every day – so there’s always going to be something to do. And even when you go back to your cabin, we’re partnering with a company called Monster Channel that runs late-night monster movies as programming, so there will be a bespoke monster movie channel that you can turn on in your cabin at all hours of the day. And there’s no one else on the ship except comic-con attendees. Some ships will buy a block of rooms for a themed event – but we have the whole ship; so everybody on the ship is going to be there for this one thing.
ESW: You know what it reminds me of, in a good way, is the way Dragon Con works, in the sense that you get to stay in the place where everything is happening, as opposed to trekking to a convention center. But again, Dragon Con is a big, big show; and the Fan2Sea experience sounds like a more intimate experience without the hassle of the habitrails or anything. That sounds amazing.
SL: Exactly – and we are filling every single venue that we can fill with programming. We are taking over almost every single open bar or space. So you can just wander through the ship and see something cool that’s happening.
ESW: That is amazing and brings me to the question of: what with being on a cruise ship, that has a comic-con, and stops in ports and everything – how in the heck are we going to overcome our FOMO, our Fear of Missing Out? Because it sounds like the sort of thing where I just want to do everything, immediately. Any tips for people who are like, “This sounds good, but I’m overwhelmed by all the potential awesomeness?”
SL: Not to worry: well before the cruise sails, we are going to be releasing schedules and checklists you can put together. I know people who go, for instance, to Disney World, and they program everything to within an inch of its life, and that’s how they vacation; and I know people who want to go on a journey of discovery, and they’re like, “I just want to go out and see whatever I want to see, as I want to see it. We are going to give you the tools to be able to plan everything beforehand, if that’s what you want to do; or if you just want to wander into the cinema and see what’s playing, or wander down to the pub and join the trivia quiz that’s happening, or head on over to cosplay karaoke because you hear it from down the hall; the ship is set up to accommodate both things. You can rigorously plan your day; but then you can also take it as it comes.
We are being careful to get out of the way of some of the bigger stuff – so if you definitely want to see a Stranger Things panel, we are not going to be doing something exactly in that category somewhere else at the same time. We’re trying not to cross programs so that there are two blockbuster programs at once. We are trying to make sure that the program gets out of the way of itself. But, you know, you are going to miss something, because there’s just going to be too much happening for you not to.
ESW: Sure – and that happens at every con. So I’ve been to a ton of comic-cons, but I’ve never been on a cruise. For those of us who are cruise newbies, are you going to be putting up tips for that, and if you want to experience everything on the ship, are you going to feel like you’re losing out on that if you take time to explore the ports?
SL: The ship gets in to port usually at about 8:30 in the morning for both Key West and Cozumel. We are delaying our big programming until later in the morning on those days; so the big panels will probably start around 11 or 12, although that’s not final yet. So that if you would like to go to port, you can do so. You can get off, go check out Key West, go check out Cozumel; but necessity dictates that we will have to start the panels sometime. So we are giving some windows of exploration if that’s what you want to do. We are also cognizant that we are programming things to go late into the evening – most of the programming will last until three or four in the morning. So you can also sleep in a bit, because the earliest programming will start around 9:30 or 10:00. So there’s no crack-of-dawn programming.
ESW: So if this all goes well, what’s next?
SL: Our goal is to be the comic-con destination of the year. Like, we’re never going to be San Diego Comic Con, or that scale; we’re never going to be New York Comic Con. But outside of that, we want this to be the coveted destination so that when this goes on sale, people are excited, and they can’t wait to see what the line-up is. We want it to be something people look forward to every year, and get excited about; and they can sort of make their own, and it can be something special that happens. We want this to be a yearly tradition. And our goal would be to start with one a year; but a West Coast and East Coast launch would be something else we’d be interested in doing – but we’ve got to get this one done first! But I think people are going to be surprised to see what a good-quality experience this will be, for fans and guests – and the quality of our guests is top-notch, as well. And then we want to grow this as an experience every year.
ESW: I like that. So if you are someone who has been to a ton of comic-cons, but you’ve never been on a cruise, what would you tell people about why they should try this experience?
SL: If you’ve never been on a cruise ship before, you might be surprised by actually how nice they are. We went and did a visit to one of the sister ships earlier this month; and the ship is absolutely spectacular, the venues are gorgeous and themed, the cabins are really, really nice, the restaurants are fabulous; it’s going to be completely unlike staying at the Marriott and going over to a con. The actual experience is going to be completely different than your usual con experience – but in a good way.
ESW: It sounds amazing, Stefan; and thank you for this great information!
After our interview, Stefan also let me know that the con has just implemented a fab booking feature for those of us who want to experience Fan2Sea but aren’t sure who else might want to go and be our roomie, and who can’t afford to just book a whole room without roomies. Now, if you go to the Eventbrite page, the ticket choices include several room options where you can book a bed in a four-guest cabin, and roommates will be assigned by gender. The individual bed ticket includes all fees, too, so it’s easy to know what you’re paying for the whole experience. Pretty cool!
Well that wraps up this column, but stay tuned for more Fan2Sea news in the upcoming weeks – and also, when January rolls around, for con reports from yours truly, because I’ll be goingon this amazing comic-con cruise, experiencing everything so that I can share it with you, my faithful readers.
…But really, you should go too and share it with me in person, because OMG why wouldn’t you?!