Tagged: Gene Ha

Marc Alan Fishman: How To Plan A Successful Con(vention)

As Unshaven Comics prepares for the annual C2E2 mega-Midwestern-super-pop-culture-show in late April, it dawned on me this might be still another one of those rare opportunities to share the creative process – or in this case business process.

It’s widely known (to our seven fans) that Unshaven Comics runs a tight table. We have well-manicured wares, a quippy answer to every response to our pitch, and an approach to conventioneering that even the mighty Gene Ha was in awe of. But here and now, prior to hitting the show floor, we’re introspective.

This show will be a very big one for us. Perhaps the biggest in our careers. Why? Because we’ll finally have a finished series to pitch. The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts is set to be completed by the skin of our chins (underneath the beards, natch) and debut at C2E2. Four issues of Samurai-Astronauts, led by an immortal kung fu monkey, defending humanity from zombie-cyborg space pirates. And now we have means to see the whole kit and caboodle, and even top off the package with their secret origin issue #0 if we need a double upsell. But with that book finally hitting our wire rack, there’s much to consider.

First and foremost, tabling at a con is a business venture. With a set price that includes the table itself, and the materials to sell at said table, there’s a distinct need to profit. Meaning we not only need to cover those costs, we need to have money in the till when the last fan leaves the hall on Sunday. This money then allows us to attend the next con. With that in mind, there’s a conundrum to cover.


As I’ve ranted here before selling poster-prints is the single easiest way to make scads of dirty dollars on the con floor. A great poster could take a decent artist 10-20 hours to complete. It costs less than a dollar to print (unless you are somehow convinced fans care about archival paper and environmentally safe inks). They are then sold for ten bucks or more (on average), typically without a single haggle. In contrast, The Samurnauts will have taken 1000 hours of work split between three guys, costs us $2.85 to print, and sells for $5. We’re in the wrong business. But it’s the business we choose to remain in.

So, it circles back around: How do we do our voodoo at our table? Simply: we offer a large variety of products… but we sell just one at a time. Notorious as it may be, our schtick remains intact: A simple, laminated 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper asking “Can I tell you about my comic book?” held up. It stops people long enough to laugh, and before they can really think of a solid excuse… we’re pitching them!

While they flip through our issues and gab with Kyle (The Sell-o-Tron 5000 of Unshaven Comics), Matt Wright and I draw live at the table to attract other looky-loos. Our own small set of poster prints hang over our heads. With a handful of fun parody prints, mashups, and a few politically zingy pieces… we will grab a fair share of passerby purchasers. With cheap posters (we only charge $5, or 3 for $10), we bank good money while Kyle closes on great purchasers – readers who will (if we’ve done well in our books) will return to us year-in-year-out.

So what will differ Unshaven’s table this year versus last? Perhaps not much on the surface. Our pitch will remain the same; it’s really about closing the sale on issue #1. But when they linger, we’ll mention that the whole series is available then and there. We’ll juice the sale with a sticker or poster. If there’s a taker to the upsell, we may even take it a step further, adding in that aforementioned issue #0 and tossing in all our stickers and a poster. $25 for 200+ pages of comics and a bag of swag? Sounds like a deal to me. And if it does to this penny-pinching tribe member, perhaps, maybe, it will to game comic con crowds.

Next week, we’ll dive into the physical space we occupy. Oh, that’s right kiddos. We’re going trilogy here!

Unshaven Conventions: The Beards Strike Back in one week!

Marc Alan Fishman: Is Lego Batman The Best Batman Ever?

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

Ed Catto: It is Balloon!

me photo

There are many ways to secure a seat at the big Geek table. Young fans often start by scribbling in their sketchbooks with dreams of drawing the adventures of their favorite characters. Cosplayers create costumes and attend conventions through the year. Today’s on-ramps include drawing, writing, coloring, publishing, retailing, reporting and cosplay…there’s a myriad of ways to participate in the grand Geek tapestry.

gene ha drawingHere’s a fan who has found a fascinating seat at the table. He talks to his favorite creators about his favorite things – and then lets us all listen in. And it’s great entertainment. The Word Balloon is an interview podcast hosted by a bright guy and with a lot of ideas named John Sinters and I wanted to find out how what drives him and how he created this podcast.

John’s a guy who loves all facets of comic culture. He was born just a smidge too late to fully embrace the debut of Batmania in ‘66, but definitely enjoyed the long tail and quickly leapfrogged into comics. “My allowance was 50 cents, and so each week I could buy two 20 cent comics.”

John drifted out of fandom a couple of times. When an inevitable interest in dating took hold in high school, he lost interest, only to be drawn back during college. “A local comic shop was giving away Xeroxed copies of Watchman.” It was short hop over to Frank Miller’s Batman opus, The Dark Knight Returns and mainstream comics.

John Siuntres in a Spider-Man comicBy the mid-nineties, he had drifted away once more, but hearing that Kevin Smith’s new Daredevil was just as good as Frank Miller’s mid-80s run, he jumped back into the pool and will probably never climb out.

John always loved radio. Having started as a disc jockey, he quickly shifted to talk radio. “Talk will always endure. I gravitated towards Sports Talk Radio first.”

In the early 2000, John was working for CBS’s The Score and then Sporting News Radio, owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The company always encouraged ideas that would leverage Allen’s other holdings. Siuntres realized one of Allen’s other holding was the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle Washington. (It has since been rebranded as the EMP museum.)

He suggested that Sporting News Radio create an audio podcast to help promote this Science Fiction museum. Management declined, but thought the idea had great potential and suggested, “Why don’t you just do it yourself?”

Word Balloon originally started as a documentary. But when those plans fell through, John turned to the local Chicago scene and creators like Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) and Max Collins (Ms Tree, Road to Perdition). The movie Batman Begins was in production locally and Moonstone was a local comics publisher ramping up at that time.

In the early days, he used a lot of elbow grease to get the word out. “I’d just post on CBR and various message board communities,” said John. “I started with Azzarello – very early on. I liked the Jeff Parker’s The Interman and at the time he was just getting Marvel work.”

He posted that interview and then clearly recalls getting a message from comic artist Mike Wieringo, who asked for help downloading the podcast. John quickly invited him onto Word Balloon as a guest.

principal siuntresJohn really enjoyed the conversations, and fans did too. “By that point, I was doing Chicago radio for about 12 or 13 years. I was interviewing Chicago athletes in the fields, at the games. I had my 10,000 hours of experience in that,” said John, referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s contention that 10,000 hours of practice is needed to achieve mastery in a field.

He was inspired by magazines like The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes. And in music, magazines like Rolling Stone were focusing on the creators and creative process. “Those were great,” he recalls. As the era of creator owned comics dawned, an interview show like Word Balloon made all the more sense.

“I’ve got an audience and it keeps getting bigger. People are becoming more Podcast savvy. In 2010 they said it was the end of podcasting, but it keeps on going,” said Siuntres.

attachmentWhat’s his secret? “I make it very social. lt’s like spending an evening with someone I wanted to get to know better anyways,” said John.

Siuntres does have concerns about today’s comics. He gives a lot of thought to the amount of time it takes to tell a story. “An hour long (TV) episode of The Flash tells a whole story. But a comic reader just gets part of story and has to come back.” It might take five or six weeks to read a complete story. He feels the big two have to really look at the competition for storytelling.

Siuntres also has an opinion on the upcoming changes to DC’s publishing. “DC is about to do another rebirth. The wheels have come off the wagon, “ he said. “I don’t think a lot has happened <since the last reboot>. The chess pieces haven’t moved that far. The recent Superman story was bloated. It didn’t have to be that bloated.”

I asked John what was coming up next. Like a gleeful child the week before Christmas, he became even more animated. He teased me and told me to stay tuned for his with interviews with comic writer Rick Remender, Maria Carbado on her documentary Better Things: The Life and Times of Jeffery Catherine Jones and Joe Henderson, the showrunner for Fox’s Lucifer.

“I’m excited for the now and for the next five years,” said John. “It’s kind of like a one-on-one cocktail party.”

Take a listen here: http://wordballoon.blogspot.com

Line art sketch of John Sinters drawn by Chicago’s own Gene Ha.

Marc Alan Fishman: Crowdsourcing All My Fears

blogpostcrowdsourcingimageOh what an age we live in! Marvel banks billions at the box office. DC hits homerun after homerun on the silver screen. And Boom!, Avatar, IDW, and Image continue to stretch the boundaries of the original source medium like no one before them. Yet, it’s we, the lil’ indie folks that are living in the most golden of ages. Why? Because the marketplace has found a way to make us matter; to give us a national (if not international) fanbase all at the click of the mouse. And now, before any art is ever born (outside some sizzling promotional pieces) whole projects can be given birth at only the pitch level. Rao bless you, Crowdsourcing.

Of course… they say the Devil is in the details. Right? Back in 2011, when Unshaven Comics was nothing but a lowly anthology series and an educational graphic novel, we opted to use Kickstarter to fund a dream – the creation of a cosplay suit of armor for our Samurnauts series. We had high hopes that if we really stretched out our arms and begged every single person we knew, we could raise the necessary funds (A whopping $1100 to cover the design, materials, and labor to produce a very high quality suit by some great artisans, Malmey Studios). Well, after an agonizing month of hustling? We succeeded. And in funding the suit, and sending out the prizes? We were left in the hole. When the magnificent suit arrived, we couldn’t be happier. And the joy that our live model (both in the suit and in the book, natch) brought to the kids at various cons over the next 2-3 years? It was well worth the effort.

What tickles me to no end is that what we raised then is a mere pittance in comparison to what our compatriots are pulling down today. And to be honest? It scares the poop right outta my colon for our chances, now that we ourselves are considering returning to crowdfunded-fracas. Even funnier? When Unshaven Comics needs 250 people to vote for them, for free, we’re still having trouble. But I digress.

I look no further than my northernly neighbors Tom Stillwell or Gene Ha, and marvel at their recent successes. Stillwell’s Fangirl garnered over 300 backers, and tipped the scales at over $12,000 to help him produce his excellent story of a murder mystery taking place at the largest comic con in the nation. And hey, if that sounds like you want a copy, look no further for a pre-order. And ole’ Gene? Well, not that long ago, he was begging Unshaven Comics for tips on attending a comic con successfully (no lie! He wrote about it here). And now? He’s proven how much of a powerhouse he is, with his Mae graphic novel project boasting over 1,300 backers, and more money than I’d like to type out. Girl power, indeed.

It would appear perhaps these successes are a boon; that finding a fanbase is totally doable, and with the right moxey, the money needed to see our dreams become reality is just a little elbow grease away. But alas, that’s the kind of fluffy talk that sounds wonderful until you try it. Back in October, my Unshaven cohort, Kyle Gnepper, sought backing for his project Toolbox. It’s a strong concept, paired with a wonderful artist (and no, I’m not talking about me, or the other Unshaven guy). But with all his gumption, moxie, and lucky rabbits feet in tow, Kyle was only able to see close to half his needed goal. In the fallout, he’s been paying for the project anyways, a page at a time. His passion – no different than Tom’s, Gene’s, or any of the other successes we know – wasn’t the key to success.

As it were, name recognition matters. The time you debut your campaign matters. The time you promise it takes to bring the completed project to market matters. The price-points of your wares matters. I could go on. What was once a breezy and open marketplace is now its own economic ecosphere, held in place by unseen forces and unknown rules. Where promotion was once tethered to your facebook fan page, a few reddit groups, and maybe your dusty e-mail newsletter list… is now a fully-developed campaign where updates are a necessary evil, along with stretch goals, and swag far beyond the standard tee-shirt or sketch promise. Heck, in the successful campaign for Albert the Alien, I paid a handsome fee to ensure Unshaven Comics be drawn into the book. Why? Because my money was burning a hole in my pocket, and the guy running the show, Trevor Mueller, is too damned nice.

So, here I sit, with a litany of burning questions broiling in my draft folder for those smarter than myself (it’s a long list, trust me). Does Unshaven Comics actually have a shot at seeing several thousand dollars for a graphic novel of our Samurnauts series? If so, should we be launching it before all the material is done, to ensure we’re far enough away from the holidays so-as to attract wandering buyers? Do we go with IndieGoGo where failure is far harder to achieve (with a lower bar to victory), or go all-in with Kickstarter? Do we seek way-out-of-the-box merch tie-ins for bigger backers? Do we offer wacky and wild limited prizes? Do we call in every favor owed to us by known names in an attempt to garner attention from those who likely don’t know or care to know us? Do we plan a staged coup at a big-time comic con in hopes of being written about on CBR, Newsarama, Bleeding Cool, or Ain’t It Cool News?

The answers, my friend, are all yes. Stay tuned for my greatest leap of faith, perhaps ever, in comics.

Marc Alan Fishman: When Unshaven Comics Took On Marvel…

…and won? Well, we won’t know that until October 13th when all our data is tabulated. But the old adage applies: it’s not so much about the destination as it is the journey that matters. In this case, the journey is that of the punk rock garage band attempting to overcome the man. But first, a little history.

Unshaven Comics partnered with ComicMix in 2013 to exhibit at the New York Comic Con. Over the course of four days, sales records were decimated. Beards were bristled with pride. New York’s con felt like a wave pool, where every few minutes, a shallow tsunami rolled past our booth, and thanks in part to a helpfully pitiful sign (“Can I tell you about my comic book?”), customer after customer soon parted ways with our book(s) in hands. Here we are a year later, and ready to return with the loftiest goal we’ve ever uttered. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At this year’s NYCC, Unshaven Comics is untethering ourselves from ComicMix (but we know they won’t be too far away… like the paternal nudgeniks we know them to be) and shacking up with Jim McClain of the Solution Squad to staff a small press booth across from the biggest and best publisher working today. You may have heard of them. No, not First Comics (Boom, roasted.). Marvel Comics. And with but a swatch of carpet between their monstrous exhibit and our little meager table? Well, it’s either going to rock like an Eddie Van Halen solo over a Flea bassline with a little drum fill from Neil Peart… Or it will suck like Courtney Love.

I’m all about transparency kiddos. Last year, Unshaven Comics sold 524 books over a four-day period. Our business plan is built around setting a goal to see 10% growth in book sales every time we return to a convention. That would mean we need to see roughly 53 more books sold. Given how sales looked at our most recent conventions, we’re very confident we can see that happen. I am a “pie-in-the-sky” kinda guy, so I’m personally looking to leave the Javits Center 800 books lighter. And because I’m not one to hedge bets, we’re packing 1,000 of them. This isn’t hubris, kiddos. This is positive thinking.

As it stands, Marvel Comics is crushing it with their movies and TV shows. DC isn’t far behind with decent love for Arrow, excitement for the Flash, and “it doesn’t suck that much” feelings over Gotham (and truth be told, I’m liking it so far). But let’s not beat around the Groot here. Marvel is in charge right now, as they should be. And to be sitting across the aisle from them at the second largest convention in the country is an opportunity me and my chiseled-chinned cohorts will face in a few days. The run-off from a “destination” booth such as theirs alone will rival the total traffic we saw on the outskirts of the far wall, back a year ago. And knowing that our Samurnauts pitch is only 30 seconds long (see Gene Ha’s video here), it shouldn’t take long for us to pitch, wow, sell, shake hands, pass over to Jim… and move to the next awesome fan.

It will also help that above our table will sit a pair of posters to catch a wandering eye. We’ve decided it’s always a good idea to make a bad impression, so we’ve made “The Hipster League” as well as the “Brovengers.” They are both worth a chuckle, and will do what we need them to do: Disrupt someone who is wandering (with or without purpose) and get them to stop and listen to what we have to say. As more and more conventioneers question how to make a show more profitable, Unshaven always takes the simple solution. In this case, make em’ laugh, make em’ laugh, make em’ laugh. After the guffaws comes sincerity and the promise that our books were made with our tongues no where near our cheeks. Much like a little company I know that promised a picky movie-going audience they’d root for a talking raccoon with a gun. Natch.

And if Marvel should be leading a rousing crowd in a fury of ear-peeling cheers for their wares, well then, we’ll hold our signs higher, and be just that much more desperate for attention. Trust me, it works.

The key to it all – as is the key to whatever success we’ve enjoyed thus far – is really in catching someone’s eye, and then being passionate about our product. Backing that up with a unique concept, and a quality product priced appropriately certainly helps too. It also never hurts to use what little attention we can garner prior to the event to help amplify our plea. So, to all my east coasters making travel plans to New York in the coming week, I have but one simple question to ask:

Can I tell you about my comic book?

Unshaven Comics and the Solution Squad will be at the New York Comic Con in Booth 1361 across from… well… I am Groot.


Marc Alan Fishman: Color Me Good

7_8_14_1When we last left off, I’d taken you through the steps to get us towards completion of an independent comic book. Or really any comic book, I suppose. We plotted, outlined, scripted, gathered reference material, and now penciled then inked (or in my case, digitally rendered) each page in the book. Now, with a pile of black and white artwork, it’s time for the most unsung of duties: coloring, lettering, layout, and print pre-production. If you take nothing else from this week’s brain droppings, I hope you’ll leave with a seriously redefined respect for all the names that get penned in on the credits page. (more…)