Tagged: geek culture

Marc Alan Fishman: A Guide To Geek Gifting

geek-gifts

Well, it’s about that time again when the goyem are all a’flutter over black Fridays and Christmas lists and all that jazz. I admit, in my family, the holidays were never extravagant excuses for excess. My birthday is December 28th and I was a little mercenary (as my mother would tell you), so more often than not I was never the type who had to have the thing. I was more or less a “give me cash so I can go get myself something nice” kinda tot. Just roll Chanukah and my birthday into one and drop me off at Best Buy.

But then, like all nerdy children, I got older. And while I retained my love of monetary tribute, amongst my own brood of kin (a.k.a. Unshaven Comics), there was a desired propensity to give actual gifts that were sincerely well thought out and received with aplomb. Kyle one year got me a brick of rewritable CDs. I have yet to forgive him. But I digress.

When we have those people in our lives who are of a certain persuasion – some label it as nerdy, others say geeky, and the refined say collectors – being able to produce a gift that shows we love them and that they will actually like can seem impossible. Well, my friends, here’s one collector’s key tips to getting your nebbish nerd a knickknack they’ll cherish for a good long while.

Find out where they shop and play detective

Most comic book fans will have a local comic emporium from which they procure their pulp on a regular basis. Why not visit said shoppe and inquire as to their taste. If your local proprietor is anything like mine, they can shuffle through the subscription box of your giftee and steer you in the right direction. More often than not we covet random statues, action figures, and Absolute editions of books that are just beyond the pale of normal purchasing. Any of them are entirely perfect choices, as directed by someone in the know. You look like a hero, and they get something to display and or read!

It’s OK to go Gift Card if you think Experience not Product

Look, I said it above: I am a fan of monetary gifts. But as a nerd? I actually love the challenge of a gift that forces me out of my comfort zone. If you give me a gift card to a store I wouldn’t normally frequent, well, now I have an opportunity to shop someplace new. For the nerd at heart this is actually a great thing. An even better expericnce: when the gift card is an experience not just a collectible. A gift card to a nice restaurant, the movies, the local arcade, paintball range, etc., is the perfect excuse to lure your resident nerd out of their man or woman cave out into the real world. And if they scoff, tell them it’s a LARP quest and pat yourself on the back.

Subscriptions are the gift that keep on giving

There’s little to no doubt that a well-connected nerd is likely to have a subscription or two. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Xbox Live, Playstation Network, ComicBlitz, or any odd MMORPG out there… all tether their user base to a monthly fee to enjoy their wares. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that your special little guy or gal isn’t subscribed to all of the ones I mentioned. Pick up the tab on any one they don’t have, for even three to six months And you’ll be opening a world of content to them that they’re otherwise not enjoying. And in case it wasn’t clear before? For geeks, nerds, dweebs, collectors, and nerf-herders alike… content is king.

When all else fails… Ask them!

I would rather admit to someone who is hard to shop for that I want to please them than simply give a bad gift. More often than not, the nerds in our lives (myself very much included) are always ready to blather on and on about the random assortment of hobbies we’re tending to at a given time. To have a loved one, or cherished friend reach out and want to be involved in the minutiae of our modest loves is oftentimes all we’re really seeking in the first place – something to celebrate (ahem, geek out over) with those who can appreciate it too. The day my wife sits down with me to ask what’s going on with the WWE is the day we… uhh… well… none of your business.

And on that note? Good luck in your shopping escapades. Of course, you could always check out ComicMix’s (or Unshaven Comics) fine offerings of books and related bric-a-brac for your favorite comic connoisseur.  Not to be shameless here folks… just fearlessly capitalistic!

Happy shopping!

Ed Catto: Nerd is the New Normal

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Geek culture has come a long way. Half the time, I still don’t think that many of us can quite believe it.

I can’t believe that for Monday night television, I can choose between CW’s Supergirl and a young Batman in Fox’s Gotham. After that choice is made, I can’t believe I can then watch a Vertigo comic, Lucifer come to life the next hour.

And I can’t believe that in the groceries my wife brought home, I just unpacked Avengers cheese sticks.

avengers-hero-twistsGeek Culture is everywhere.

Back In the old days, professing to the world your love of Geek Culture, be it comics, Star Trek, science fiction or any other flavor of nerdom, meant that you’d be subject to ridicule, derision and scorn. The world at large didn’t respect your hobby. Instead they just quietly put you into that “nut” or “weirdo” category and tried hard to forget about you.

I’m one of those comic fans who never took a break from it. Weekly trips for comics have been part of my life as long as I remember. However, that presented some difficulties for me in the late 70s during my high school/college/post college year dating years. In fact, I recall more than a few relationships, usually the third or fourth date, where I’d have skewer my courage and come clean. The conversations would typically go like this:

Me: “I have to tell you something about me that you don’t know.”

Her” What’s the matter, are you a serial killer or something?”

Me: “No, it’s much worse. I read and collect comic books.”

Her: “Oh dear, God….NOOOOOOOO!!!!”

tpautosBut things have changed now.

As I recently related, my family gives out comics for Halloween and that propels us into the “cool house” category. I was recently was invited to be a part of the Marketing Executives Mentoring Program, a conference at Cornell’s School of Business. I was honored to be part of a very impressive assembly of marketing professionals.

Remember that moment in the Star Trek episode when Spock gets married, and Kirk and McCoy remark, in awe, that that the legendary T’Pau is part of the gathering? That’s what this event was like for me – about 40 times over.

With this in mind, you can imagine that I found their reactions to Geek Culture all the more validating. Maybe they were all just being polite, but the executives and the business students were fascinated when I discussed my business and marketing efforts in Geek Culture as co-founder of The Bonfire Agency. They wanted to hear more, not less.

the-caped-crusade-batman-and-the-rise-of-nerd-cultureAnd last weekend, it was invigorating to again be the go-to person when the world at large had questions and comments about the newest super hero movie, Doctor Strange.

Like so many Geeks, I enjoy the spotlight and the elevation from outcast to valued expert. It’s a refreshing change.

I just finished an engaging book called The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon. He outlines the many changes of the character, and franchise, called Batman. In particular, he chronicles this story alongside the rise of geek culture.

Weldon writes quite a bit about the relationships between nerds and normals. But that dynamic is rapidly changing. Nerds used to occupy a place in society below the “normal” population. But not anymore. Passionate fans of Geek Culture are now perched in a unique spot in the social structure’s hierarchy. Not necessarily above but certainly not below. And so often they are positioned as experts. It’s a long time in coming, but it’s a nice spot to be in.

Now it’s time for to nibble on one of those cheese sticks.

Ed Catto: Time Won’t Let Me

Chrononauts 4 issues

When I applied to University of North Carolina (UNC) Graduate School of Business to earn my MBA, one of the application’s essay questions asked “If you were go back into time to the founding of this university, what three items would you bring with you?”

I imagine the purpose of this was to discern candidates’ true character based on which items were most important to them. I bet there were a lot of answers that listed items like family photos or the Bible. I took a different approach. Having grown up on a steady diet of time travel comics and stories (most notably Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) I interpreted the question in a different way. I answered it by thinking about the three items that would have the greatest positive impact on history. One item I recall bringing back in time (in my essay) was the cotton gin. This would help me get the competitive edge on Eli Whitney, and revolutionize the labor market and possibly bring an earlier end to slavery.

Rip Hunter 19Everyone loves time travel adventures. They are everywhere. One could argue that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a time travel story (I think it’s really an alternate reality story, but that’s another column). As a kid in the sixties, so many shows would have a time travel episode (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Star Trek) and some used time travel for the entire premise of their series (Time Tunnel, It’s About Time). I grew up just knowing that I’d have an adventure with dinosaurs one day.

Today you can’t swing Shodringer’s cat without hitting a time travel adventure. Even the new iPhone6 ad ends with the admonition “Live Photos…transport you through space and time. I’m kidding, time travel is dangerous.”

But let’s be realistic – Geek Culture is leading the way, or at least is waving the battle flag of time travel adventures.

Superman and Batman always had a lot of reasons to journey through time. In fact as a teenager, Superman’s had to travel through time to visit his best friends. These vintage time travel stories were silly and fun and never really had any lasting affects or severe implications.

Rip Hunter, Time Master was one of those early sixties oddball DC comic series that never really fit in with the rest of the DC mythology. Instead of developing superpowers or fighting crime, Rip had developed a Time Sphere and adventured through the ages with his girlfriend, best buddy and his girlfriend’s pesky little brother. They’d embark on adventures ranging from solving historical conundrums to videotaping live dinosaurs for a contemporary museum exhibit!

The Rook CoversToday, of course, Rip leads a ragtag team of trademarked DC heroes through time every week on a popular CW television show. I think it’s safe to say that even the most loyal, the most devoted, the most wildly optimistic Rip Hunter, Time Master fan from 1964 would never have imagined that Rip Hunter would one day be starring in his own TV Show. And be renewed for second season.

Lately two other comic chronological adventures have shown us how much fun this concept can be.

The Chrononauts by Mark Millar and Sean Murphy tell the tale of the world’s first time travel experiment, but it’s a cautionary caper story of cocky entrepreneur-like scientists who live in our Donald Trump dominated world, where major events all too easily slip and slide into reality shows. In this tale, the protagonists do in fact change and re-change history, and their motives aren’t exactly pure. There are ramifications for these characters, both in big and in (cleverly-written) small ways.

Murphy’s art is a joy to drink in. He’s got a rock solid understanding of anatomy and composition, but renders his pages with a brisk sense of urgency. And his powerful scenes reveal an imagination that would make a movie’s budget director weep like a baby.

The Rook, from Dark Horse, is also a recent four issue miniseries. Two masters of the genre, writer Steven Grant and artist Paul Gulacy are the creative team behind this rebooted time traveling hero.

(As an aside, Gulacy is no stranger to top-notch time-travel stories. His recent Time Bomb series from Radical Comics a few years ago was exceptional – kind of like a Rip Hunter on steroids.)

“One of the most intriguing and fun comic themes I have worked on have dealt with time travel,” said legendary artist Paul Gulacy. “Time Bomb and the current Rook series come to mind.”

In the late 70s, Bill Dubay created the Rook for Warren Magazines. As an alternative to the horror adventures and sexiness of Vampirella, the character was fresh, creative and a big hit for the publisher.

Grant and Gulacy have brought The Rook back in style, and clearly are having fun hopping through time. In fact, the Rook’s ancestor was a character in H.G. Well’s The Time Machine.

And I think that’s the most appropriate place to end a column on time travel stories, the place, or one of the places, where it all began.

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Ed Catto: Playing Fair with Your Toys

Aw Yeah at Play Fair 2016

Toy Fair, the Toy Industry Association’s annual convention, has been held for years in New York City and offers purchasing agents from different retailers the opportunity to preview toys from different manufacturers. Retail buyers evaluate toys, games and “youth entertainment products” and place orders with their manufacturers for upcoming selling seasons.

Wall of Lego Toyfair 2016Having their orders in hand, the manufacturers would then scramble to make the toys and meet the delivery dates. But the world has changed so much in many ways:

  • Both retailers and toy companies have consolidated, while niche manufacturers continue to emerge
  • The Internet has transformed the way toy consumers shop, as it has for every other industry. For toys, this translates into a whole new way of managing inventory demands and producing the initial quantities of products. Online toy retailers don’t need to stock their shelves the way brick and mortar retailers once had to.
  • Buyers and sales reps don’t really need to meet once a year in New York. The world is smaller and communicates more regularly. Why would a salesperson want to wait until an annual event to speak with buyers?

And as we know from Geek Culture, super passionate consumers and fans are eager to know what’s going to be on sale in the future. In our anticipation-driven economy, teasing is a standard part of the game. It’s not enough that a retailer’s buyer plans ahead for what the store will be selling in the months to come – consumers want to know too.

Playfair 2016And that’s why this year saw the debut of Play Fair. Created by Left Field Media, Play Fair is a consumer show bolted onto the traditional Toy Fair. It provides an opportunity for fans and families to enjoy a sneak peek at the upcoming toys.

Toy Fair has always had a “business person only” policy. In fact, their site posts this admonishment in bold letters:

Toy Fair registration is open to the trade only; Toy Fair is not open to the public. NO ONE under the age of 18, including infants, will be admitted.

The publishing industry’s Book Expo had a similar policy, although it was enforced to a lesser degree. But recently they added a consumer element to their convention, and actually welcomed their industry’s most enthusiastic supporters. It was a great success and helped breathe new life into a stodgy show.

Left Field Media’s management is the team behind that new welcoming strategy. And these folks are also responsible for the launch of New York Comic Con, C2E2 and the ReedPop consumer events division or Reed Elsevier. They understand fans and consumer events.

I saw so many smiling families just loving Play Fair. Bone-chilling temperatures didn’t deter families – it was a big event with enthusiastic kids and parents celebrating toys and playtime.

Pikachu Ed Toyfair 2016Play Fair’s inaugural debut showcased so much, including the newest cinematic Batmobile, Target’s new line of Super Heroine merchandise and play areas hosted by family friendly companies like LEGO.

But back at Toy Fair, another big takeaway was the overwhelming influence of Geek Culture on the toy industry’s merchandise. The days of a brand created by a toy company (for some reason Hungry, Hungry Hippo comes to mind) seem to be fading. Instead, creative toy designers are more likely to embrace a pop culture license and show the world the unique spin they offer upon it.

So this year, for example, Toy Fair showcased a myriad of Batmobiles from a myriad of companies – expensive Batmobiles, big Batmobiles, small Batmobiles, radio controlled Batmobiles, TV inspired Batmobiles, movie-inspired Batmobiles, silly Batmobiles, bottle opener Batmobiles – the list goes on and on.

Similar examples can be provided from all the pillars of Geek Culture – Superheroes, Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, The Walking Dead and more. And of course, Underground Toy’s unique Star Wars lightsaber BBQ grilling tongs debuted last year, but they are still the perfect example of this trend.

It was especially fascinating to see newer Geek Culture brands like Deadpool, Dr. Strange and Spider-Gwen on the Toy Fair exhibition floor at multiple manufacturers.

Toy Fair offers a glimpse of the future. And looking ahead, it’s clear that the toy industry and retail sales are going to continue to be driven, in a very big way, by the passion that fuels Geek Culture.

Ed Catto: Look! Up in the Sky! It’s Jamal Igle’s Supergirl!

Jamal_igleGeek Culture in popular media has some dark and grisly stories to tell. I’m talking about shows like Gotham, The Walking Dead, Deadpool and the upcoming Suicide Squad movie. But it’s a big tent with lots of room.

CBS’s Supergirl show is on the other end of the spectrum. Supergirl is a positive, upbeat program that focuses on heroism without the grimness or grittiness that so many other comic shows embrace.

Over the years, however, Supergirl’s adventures have had many different styles. She’s run the gamut from being sweet and innocent to sultry and sexy (with goth-esque overtones). With a fresh and friendly point of view, Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle jumped onboard to the Supergirl comic in 2008. They never looked back. Today we see so much of what they brought to the party baked into television’s version of Supergirl.

I caught up with Jamal Igle, the brilliant artist of that Supergirl comic series, to see what he thinks about TV’s Supergirl and on his other projects.

Ed Catto: The CBS hit show Supergirl seems to embrace so much of the version of the character established by you and writer Sterling Gates. What’s your reaction?

Jamal Igle: I was over the moon, to be honest. It’s a little surreal to see the things you’ve drawn homaged on screen. There have been subtle changes in some cases like substituting Alex Danvers for Lana Lang, Hank Henshaw/ J’onn J’onzz sort of standing in for Inspector Henderson but the broad strokes were definitely maintained.

Supergirl Sectret Identity Jamal IgleEC: Did you know about this approach before it debuted?

JI: I had heard some rumors before hand but I have some media connections who got to see the CBS upfront presentation and confirmed it for me.

EC: Do you watch the show, and what’s that like each week?

JI: I watch it with my daughter, we both enjoy it immensely. It’s definitely gotten stronger with each subsequent episode. I particularly like how they manage to balance the interpersonal relationships between the characters with the action. It’s fun for me to see Kara and Alex interact on one level as sisters and then as partners.

EC: Was your approach to Supergirl dictated by management or did you and Sterling develop that approach?

JI: No, in fact just the opposite. I think, at least for me we were going against the grain a bit. Keep in mind that when Sterling and I first came on the book, the series was a bit rocky in terms of characterization. It floundered after Jeph Loeb and Ian Churchill left and the sales had dipped a bit as they were trying to find an origin and a take that would work. Sterling came in with an honest to god love for the character that was infectious and made me love her as well. It seemed to work because we started to get some serious notice for what we were doing,

EC: How was your Supergirl received by management? How did the fans like it?

Supergirl Dollmaker Jamal IgleJI: The majority of the fans loved it, and a lot of women came back to the book as well. There were some detractors of course. One example that always sticks out to me is a poster from the old DC Comics message boards who went by the name “Larry Gardner” who was incredibly upset by what we were doing. 

 “Those of us Supergirl fans who continue to be pissed off by the undershorts and Supergirl’s lack of hormones, spirit, and personality need to keep up our angered posts and let them know their gender double standards and anti-Supergirl witch hunt will never be tolerated.”

So incensed by our take, he started a “Disgruntled Supergirl fan” website.

There were some in the upper management that weren’t too keen on what we were doing either. They thought our approach was too prudish, that she was being written like an old woman. When the subject of the fore mentioned “Supershorts” became known after an interview I did on Comic Book Resources was picked up by NPR and a slew of feminist blogs, DC started turning down media requests from newspapers that wanted to cover the story. So the irony that the very same approach that some derided has been embraced by a large television audience hasn’t been lost on me all these years later. 



EC: How did Supergirl sell then?

JI: There was an uptick in sales for a good portion of our run, in fact we were at one point outselling Superman and Action Comics for about six months.

EC: Firestorm is an integral part of the CW show, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. What’s been your reaction to that?

Jamal Igle FirestormJI: I’m a fan, and again it’s awesome to see one of my designs translated into another medium that way. The first two episodes have been great.

EC: You’re now working on a comic called Molly Danger. Can you tell us about how that started and what it’s about?

JI: I originally created Molly back in 2003 as an animation pitch, but I ended up trying to make a comic series out of it. After many misfires, I put the series to the side until 2010 when I was approached by an editor at a publishing company looking for kids’ comics materials. So I revisited the concept and adapted it to its current form. When I finished my contract at DC, I was approached by another writer about trying to put together a Kickstarter and I decided to do Molly instead. After two successful Kickstarter’s, Molly is well on her way as an ongoing series. Molly Danger is looks and acts like a 10 year old girl, but she’s actually an immortal, invulnerable, super humanly strong 30 year old. She’s an incredibly famous hero with fans, merchandise deals but she’s also an incredibly lonely person. She’s trapped because on the one hand she’s probably one of the most famous people on the planet, but she isn’t allowed to have a private life. It tears at her and that’s where the story begins.

EC: How are Molly Danger and Supergirl alike?

JI: Beyond the similarity of their power sets, they’re both ‘good’ people, genuinely altruistic and loving. I think they share a love of humanity and a need to believe in the better nature of people.

Molly_Book_1_5EC: And what makes them different?

JI: Molly is much more world weary and cynical, even if she doesn’t like to admit it. The nature of Molly’s physical condition keeps her separate from the world and that creates a bit of pathos for her.

EC: Molly Danger is published by Action Lab Comics. What makes that publisher unique, and what are some of the other titles they publish?

JI: I think in terms of publishers, Action Lab has an incredibly diverse line-up of creator owned book as well as company created titles. Everyone involved on the business side of the company are people who self published or worked for large marquee publishers. So, while it’s a young company, the staff is comprised of established professionals who are incredibly serious about building the type of company we want to see flourish. The fact that as a smaller publisher, we have the luxury of developing new talents and giving them a platform is something many companies in our position can do. We’ve grown exponentially over the past few years and I feel that Action Lab will be the next marquee publisher in comics.

EC: Thanks so much, Jamal.

Molly_Book_1_11

Ed Catto: The Joy of Dreaming the Impossible Dream

CKRT LAB TOYS_Store

Geek Culture has been buzzing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens to an overwhelming degree. It’s been a wonderful way to wrap up the year. Even with a focusing on the marketing, I’ve been talking about it on TV and in Entrepreneur Magazine. But the more I think I about it, the more I realize we may have gotten it wrong. I think we’ve been talking about the wrong movie. Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro is the movie that should be the poster child for Geek Culture. Let me tell you why.

JOY Jennifer LawrenceMy wife and I saw it last weekend, and I’ll admit I went into the theater thinking it was a (so-called) chick-flick. But now I realize the studio missed the bullseye with their marketing efforts. At the core, it’s an inspirational story of a persistent entrepreneur.

Joy is the tale of a single mom smacked around by the trials and tribulations of a difficult life. She embraces her entrepreneurial passion in order to save the day.

Joy Movie imageIt’s loosely based on the real life of Joy Magnano, the inventor of many household products, including the Miracle Mop.

It’s fair to say that you’ve seen these types of movies before: the hero–with-a-dream struggles to overcome adversity and eventually triumphs. In fact, the hit TV show Shark Tank shows a part of this process each week, as entrepreneurs share their business plans with potential investors and their dreams with the audience.

But the most interesting thing for me was how many times Joy, the heroine, was told, “No, you can’t do that”. Most of the supporting characters, many with well-meaning intentions, tell her what stupid ideas she has and counsel her to abandon her crazy efforts.

And you know what? There are a lot of dumb ideas out there. And it is good for each of us to assimilate the right kind of advice and course correct in our endeavors.

On the other hand, the world of Geek Culture is a world of dreamers who fight against seemingly impossible odds, passionately working to tell a story or create a product. It’s filled with modern day Men (and Women) of La Mancha.

This point was driven home to me last week. As a part of my daily commute through mid-town Manhattan, I saw four huge billboards for Geek Culture –themed TV shows.

In reality, Geek Culture creators who “make it big” are few and far between. Select successes, like that of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, inspire so many aspiring creators to keep plugging away.

I’m always impressed with these folks. I’m thinking about new creators who have stories to tell and are trying to get published. I’m thinking about an international lawyer I know who wants to spread the word about social injustice through comics. I’m thinking of collectors-turned-makers like my pal Tim Ellis, who’s started CKRT LABs, a brand new superhero toy/collectible company. I’m positive they’ve all heard “No” and “That’s a stupid idea” many times.

One of my favorite Batman moments is from an old Justice League of America comic. All the heroes are trapped on a distant planet in a traditional jail, but they can’t bend the bars open to slip free. The villain taunts Superman that even he couldn’t get out of this nefarious death-trap. So the mighty Superman (who’s done this a million times before) tries to bend the bars but can’t. Then J’Onn J’Onzz (currently co-starring in CBS’s Supergirl) takes a turn. He can’t either. Each of the other heroes subsequently takes his or her turn. Despite their impressive powers, they each fail to bend the prison bars.

Finally, Batman, who is not gifted with superhuman strength, steps up. He admonishes his fellow justice leaguers to remain silent. He grips the bars with both hands and grits his teeth. Astonishingly, he bends the bars apart!

The Justice League is amazed. The Caped Crusader explains it this way:

 “I noticed that before each of you tried to bend those bars, someone told you that you could not do it. I thought can it be possible on this strange world – that what someone is told – is believed to be true?”

That’s a great life lesson and a great entrepreneurial lesson. We can learn it from Batman, we can learn it from the movie Joy and or we can learn it from the many persistent creators working so hard to create comics, graphic novels, collectibles, toys and more in the Geek Culture space.

Just because they tell you that you that you can’t do it doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. Dream the impossible dream.
Batman Bends the Bars 1

 

 

 

 

Mike Gold: Batman’s Rainbow Coalition

Detective Comics 241You’ve probably heard this one; the story has been going around for more than a half-century.

During the 1950s, publishers and sales directors would carefully gawk at their covers, most often all tacked up on one wall, and discuss sales figures and the all-important “sell-through” percentages, the latter being the percentage of comics sold against the number of comics printed. They would try to figure out what cover elements sold best. Mind you, this wasn’t simply an activity of the 1950s: in the late 1970s I started at DC’s wall of covers and noticed Batman was dead on a half-dozen separate titles. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have pointed this out.

But getting back to the 50s, the story goes there were three elements that caught the readers’ eyes: the color purple (no, not the movie; that was much later), fire, and talking apes. That’s the folklore, and it reeks of truthiness. Being who I am – an obnoxious sot – I maintain there was a fourth element.

Rainbows.

dc-collectibles-rainbow-batmanThere were a hell of a lot of rainbow covers back in the day. I admit they attract the eye, although not so much the imagination, as compared to all those talking ape covers. My favorite by far was on Detective Comics #241, “The Rainbow Batman.” The cover was drawn by Shelly Moldoff and the story itself was written by science-fiction master Edmond Hamilton and penciled by Shelly and inked by Stan Kaye.

The plot is irrelevant, at least for my purposes today. I was six years old at the time – yep, obnoxious and precocious is a wonderful combination in a human of that age. Anyway, the story worked for me and it still works for me because, like many Geek Culture fans, I suffer from the disease called “nostalgia.”

So, when I saw that DC will be coming out with a set of Rainbow Batman action figures this summer, I let out a apoplectic yelp that is common to our ilk but generally perceived as childish by mainstream humanity…

If such exists.

But I’ll cop to the childish part. I immediately texted the link to The Point’s Mike Raub, knowing full well he would have a similar reaction. I did not share it with my daughter, who has been tolerating such nonsense most of her life. But I bet she’ll find this sort of cool.

Yes, I know Funko Pop did such a set several months ago, but it wasn’t realistic. Think about that for a moment. That’s not realistic? Well, no, it’s not: the real Rainbow Batmen were not hydrocephalic.

Childish as it may be – well, is – I shan’t be playing with the Rainbow Batman action figures in my bath.

But I will take them out of the box!

Ed Catto: Second Act and Good Deeds

perlin2This month’s Fortune Magazine has a career-focused article that I passed along to my daughter Tessa, a recent college graduate who just joined the workforce. One part of this article that stood out for me was when you enter into the workforce, it is the first time, for many, that the adults closest to you don’t always have your best interests at heart. For many fortunate individuals, they go through life with supportive parents, teachers, coaches and community leaders all who are trying to help them achieve success. But in the “real world” your boss might not a supporter. In fact, a boss’s self-interest might even be contradictory to your own success. It’s a sobering reminder about but it’s a tough world out there.

TCbNLixJ_0101151758371(Luckily Tessa’s boss seems to be a pretty good boss.)

But one of the nice things about a creative industry, like the wild, weird of Geek Culture, is that there’s often room for good things. Specifically kindness and second acts. Paradoxically, I’ll talk about second acts first.

Don Perlin is a long-time comics artist. He’s had a long and a varied career, but when I met him in the 90s, he was best known for his Marvel work on characters like Moon Knight, Werewolf by Night and The Defenders. Interestingly, before all that, he worked for a number of publishers including Hillman, Harvey and Ziff-Davis. And he even spent a short time working on The Spirit and PS Magazine, the magazine that Will Eisner was contracting for the government.

bs13In the 90s, I was working for Nabisco and needed to fill ad pages in Disney’s Adventure Magazine. We didn’t have any creative on hand, so I came up with the idea of doing a comic strip to promote the brand. The team at Valiant supplied the creative work for this strip called “The Dunkins”. It was sweet and charming and the type of thing that you don’t see too much anymore.

Don was an artist at Valiant at that point, and every time I’d visit Valiant I’d be to sure spend a little time with him. This was about the time when Valiant was red hot – every book they created was loved by readers and hoarded by collectors. And Don was the artist on one of the new big launches, Bloodshot. The debut was astronomical by the standards of the day, and the standards of today, and Don was treated like royalty at comic conventions.
Moon-Knight-First-Costume-580x356I remember him telling me that how touched he was when one young fan at convention said “You’re my favorite artist”. Don clearly enjoyed this newfound second act and was very grateful. He was that kind of guy.

Don has since moved to Florida and was continued his art career for several years. Recently, he was overwhelmed by medical bills following an illness.

And that’s where the kindness part of this article kicks in. Longtime comics guy and occasional ComicMix contributor Cliff Meth organized a campaign to ask fans to contribute to help Don wrestle with these medical bills. The proceeds went directly to Don. And it’s still going on if you’d like contribute.

4254654029_13f3c707d0This isn’t the first time that Cliff’s created something like this. He has a big heart and can do attitude and is excellent at mobilizing fans to help their artistic heroes. In this case, Geek Culture rose to the occasion with an impressive display of participation and kindness.

A lot rotten stuff happens everywhere. But I’m encouraged that so many positive things bubble up in Geek Culture. I’m impressed with Don’s perseverance and humility, Cliff’s “just do it” attitude and fans that step up to the plate. So here’s the question – what positive things are you going to do in 2016?

 

Ed Catto’s Person of the Year

Ed Catto’s Person of the Year

Cosplayer Family image 2

It’s that time of year to pause and look back at the best of and the coolest stuff of the year. It’s always fascinating to compare and contrast what you feel was more important with what everyone else feels what was important. It doesn’t really matter what the topic or industry is – there’s bound to be disagreements. I was especially amused when the roundtable on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show was criticizing Time magazine’s choice for Person of the Year. So naturally, I started thinking about who should be the Person of the Year in Geek Culture. And the more I thought about it – the more I was convinced this was the time for one of those high concept pronunciations. So for Geek Culture Person of the Year – I choose The Cosplayer.

The Cosplayer embraces and exemplifies so much of pop culture. Its almost as if cosplayer collectively are playing another role – the proxy hero for Geek Culture.

bombshell-ww-1Convention Growth

Cosplayers, by definition, dress in costumes at comic conventions. Oh, sure, we saw a lot of cosplay during Star Wars’ opening weekend, recently on Back to the Future Day and a slightly different flavor of it all at the various Santa Con pub crawls. But by and large, cosplayers cosplay at comic cons. And that’s where so many of the big stories have been this year. In 2016, there were more comic conventions than ever before. And there were more high quality conventions. And there were more fun small conventions. And more international conventions. Attendance records were routinely shattered and the convention season now stretches to cover the entire calendar from January to December.

But with this growth has also come some growing pains. The mix of attendees, and their reasons for attending conventions, is changing dramatically. Geek Culture at comic conventions now means so many things beyond comics. At some conventions, some dealers of old comics struggle to find their place in the new order. New, often unexpected, exhibitors are always jumping into the fray. Even the traffic patterns of convention aisles is changing, especially as taking photos is now a much bigger part of the experience than it once was.

And the Cosplayers aren’t the only reason for these changes – but they are a big part of it. Their goals at a convention might not include shopping, treasure hunting or snagging artwork from a favorite artist. On the other hand they bring a level of enthusiasm and creativity that’s not seen in any other gathering. So many gatherings of super-passionate fans, everything from the US Open Tennis Championships to the National Dog Show, encourage fans to be there as spectators – not participants.

Diversity and Acceptance

Baked into the idea of today’s cosplay is a wonderful non-judgmentalism. If you cosplay as Superman, you don’t have to be tall and muscular. You don’t have to be a man or white. You’re even applauded for stretching the original character’s concepts into something new and different. And that’s whey we may see a steampunk Superman or a Stormtrooper Superman.

Diversity BCC Cosplay GLC Shazam
So you don’t need a super-physique to cosplay super-characters. Sure, there’s some shallow, judgmental lunkheads out there, but the wonderful overwhelming mindset that cosplay brings is a celebration of all different body types. And in today’s hypercritical social media atmosphere, so often based on passing judgments via “likes”, it’s an important cultural counterbalance.

CA_BatmanOn-Ramp for New Fans

Back in the day, there were always a few blowhard know-it-all-fans (cough, cough) who took great pride in their knowledge of trivia and backstory about certain comic characters. New fans often felt condescension when these fans, the industry’s culture version of Wine Snobs, looked down their noses at the rest of fandom.

But Cosplaying has worked to change that. If someone wants to cosplay as a certain character, but doesn’t know all-there-is-to-know about a character, it’s fine! There have been reports of the old guard shaming new fans when they cosplayed “incorrectly” (i.e., not getting their characters’ details correct.) But lately, it seems that this unfortunate paradigm is flipped on its head, and now cosplayers are applauded for trying new things and celebrating them in the costumes.

Green Arrow New DelhiIt’s a Family Affair

How wonderful it is to see the way that Geek Culture now embraces families. I’m a second-generation comic fan. Both my mom and dad read and traded them back in the way. And my dad would flip through my new comics stack and enjoy the latest Jonah Hex or Master of Kung Fu.
At conventions today, it’s wonderfully common to see families cosplaying together. Usually, it’s a dad who’s introducing the kids to his favorite hobby. But at the recent New Jersey Comic Expo (it was a great show), I was thrilled to see two brilliant cosplayers dressed as Captain America and a female Red Skull bring their parents, portraying a Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers. 

Cosplay Knows No Borders

Like Geek Culture, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Cosplay is now a part of every major Comic Convention. In fact, this morning I was sent a Buzzfeed link showcasing “27 Cosplayers from Comic Con who are Absolutely Nailing this Costume Thing”.

Mike Gold and Blackhawk Cosplay BCC* * *

So here’s a holiday toast to the creativity and passion of all 2015’s cosplayers. Congratulations on being voted as my “Geek Culture Person of the Year”. Now start planning for next year.

(Note: The Editor is profoundly embarrassed to note that it is he who is standing to our right of Blackhawk, in a photo taken at the ComicMix booth at this year’s Baltimore Comic Con.)

Ed Catto: Kim Draheim, Comic Shop Pioneer

Welcome to Auburn

My first regular comic shop, Kim’s Collectibles, was a cramped little store that shared a cramped little building with a barber. Old men would share war stories in the barber shop, while right next door kids would be flipping through the newest Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man. The small space got gleefully smaller with the long boxes of comics’ back-issues and bins of vintage vinyl records.

I stumbled across this treasure at the end of the story arc rainbow the day before they opened. And you can bet I made sure I returned the next day to make a purchase. But in 1975, especially in a little town like Auburn, nestled in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, we didn’t really know about comic shops. It would be a long time before being a Geek would be cool and “nerd shows” like the Big Bang Theory were waaaay in the future. But it was a glorious time to be a kid and fanboy.

I had the good fortune to catch up with Kim Draheim, the founder of Kim’s Collectibles (later called Kim’s Comics & Records) and he revealed some astounding things about those early days.

Kim Draheim IllustrationKim explained that his path to opening a comic shop was not planned. He and his girlfriend were buying their weekly comics from a newsstand, but then decided to make a regular trek to a comic shop in Rochester. The so-called Flour City was way ahead of the curve, with two comic shops already located in that town. And he reminded me that back then, nearby cities like Syracuse had no comic shops. Queen City Bookstore in Buffalo had opened in 1969, but that was long drive from Auburn. New York had a couple of comic shops, but they had yet to catch hold in other major cities, like Boston.

So as Kim and his girlfriend made their weekly pilgrimages to Rochester’s The Fantasy Shop, there came a day when the owner suggested that Kim start his own comic shop. He had never considered it before. But in those early days, long before today’s monopolistic distribution model, The Fantasy Shop sold comics at a near wholesale price to Kim.

Kim knew that low rent would be important, and he found that little hole-in-the-wall in the Five Points section of Auburn, NY. The tiny brick building was owned by the barber, and he provided a separate storefront for Kim’s comic shop.

“Those little hole-in-the-wall comic shops are lost. Now they are they are all big and well lit … and that’s great. But there was a charm to those little comic shops,” Kim reminisced.

At that time, Kim reminded me, no one had ever heard of a comic shop. He had a hard time convincing his landlord that it would not be a porn shop. In fact, Kim had to give the barber all kind of guarantees that it wouldn’t be a porn shop.

The Community and the Comic Shop

Kim recalls how suspicious some parents were of the shop. Some thought he was dealing drugs. He was not. Other parents, and members of the small town, were supportive and would become friends.

One mother didn’t want her son to read comics. The boy was a voracious reader, however, and Kim would see time and time again that “readers read”. So many of his customers read not only comics, but also everything they could get their hands on.

There was an irony where one parent who was quite a drinker would give his son a $10 bill and say, “Go to that weirdo store”. The father would then spend an hour in the nearby bar. His comments probably reflected the mood of many folks in those days, i.e. reading “weirdo” comics was less healthy or productive than spending an afternoon in a bar.

“It’s funny, but I didn’t realize until later when my early customers grew up, how much it meant to them.” And local musicians, the other part of Kim’s Comics and Records, credit Kim for expanding their musical horizons. Several of them still have the first guitar that they purchased through the store.

The Early Days of Comics Distributors

I was curious how the distribution system worked in the early days. At first, Kim’s Collectibles would pick up comics from another store in Rochester. But quickly, he outgrew that system.

“We eventually worked with Capital then switched to Diamond Distributors. We were big enough so we were getting a 50% or 55% discount due to our big volume.” At least it was big volume for those days. “Today we wouldn’t get those discounts.”

In today’s world, where the vast majority of Geek retailing comes from one near-monopolistic distributor, it’s easy to come across complaints. “The one thing I do remember is customer service,” said Kim. When he would call his distributor “…everyone at Capital and Diamond knew comics” and was a fan or collector too.

What Made It Work … and What Didn’t Work

For a brief time, Kim left Auburn and sold the business to one of his best customers, Gary Amadon. Gary ran it for about three years, but the business went downhill without Kim’s passion as a fan of both comics and music. From the start, Kim had blended those two interests together for his retail store. “(Boston’s) Newbury Comics is an extreme example of a retailer who’s done this,” said Kim. To make it work in a small market, he realized he needed to use a blended model to ensure an income stream.

Kim also knew that as a retailer it was important that he didn’t let a fanboy’s collector mentality take over. He related a story about a time where Gary was astounded when a near-mint Amazing Spider-Man #2 was brought in for sale. And soon after, a second near-mint Amazing Spider-Man #2 was also brought in for sale. Gary, as a huge collector, bought both of those comics but couldn’t bear to sell either one. That was a lot of cash for a small store to tie up in non-saleable inventory.

A Return to the Business

Not long after, Kim returned to the Auburn area to start a family. They say you can’t go home again, but he decided to reboot the comic shop. He took it over from Gary.

And so it was time to re-negotiate with his landlord, the barber. Originally, Kim was paying $100 rent each month. That low overhead helped keep the business going. During renegotiations, Kim was concerned when the barber told him that he wouldn’t be able to give him the sweetheart deal any longer. “The price would have to be raised,” he told Kim in a serious manner.

“‘It will now be $110 a month’, the barber tells me,” said Kim with a laugh.

Upon his return to the store, Kim partnered with a super-fan named Thaddeus Foos. Thad had a great talent for grading comics, and together they took great pride that they never gouged collectors and always sold back issue comics at a fair price. They worked hard to ensure that nobody ever felt ripped off.

Thad, with a warm smile and infectious smile, helped make new customers feel welcome and continued the high standard of retailing authenticity for long-time fans.

His Greatest Regret

“I’ll tell you my greatest regret”, Kim confided. “It has to do with the astounding quality of superhero movies today. I feel bad that Gary Amadon died young. Gary loved superhero comics ten times as much as I did. He used to dream about quality superhero movies. He used to talk about it constantly.” With great sadness, Kim explained how much a super-fan like Gary Amadon would have enjoyed today’s big screen, and small screen, comic heroes.

It really has come full circle. Kim’s three-year-old granddaughter dons her red cape regularly to watch the new Supergirl show (over and over) with Grandpa.

Still Deep into Geek Culture

“Do you still read comics?” I asked.
“Absolutely!” he enthusiastically replied. Even after all this time, Kim’s still into Geek Culture.

Then Kim went on to explain that he drifted away from superhero titles, but his wife loves the superhero movies. Due to equal parts of nostalgia and habit, Kim still reads Conan comics, now published by Dark Horse. Conan was the title that pulled him back into comics, in eight grade, after he had “graduated from them” in fifth grade. He still likes several series such as Dynamite’s The Shadow, Drawn and Quarterly’s Berlin and Image Comics’ Stray Bullets. His favorite of recent years was Vertigo’s Scalped. “I kept waiting for it to jump the shark, but it never did.”
Kim still sells to a select group of fans. “To be honest – even now – when I get my new comics box I’m always excited. Even though I only purchase five to seven comics each month. And I’m always excited to look through Diamond Previews. It’s just a thrill.”