Tagged: John Byrne

Ed Catto and The Charlton Comics Documentary!

I’ve been writing about several of the impressive Geek Culture entrepreneurs I met at this year’s New York Comic-Con, but the real-life Gotham City certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on these passionate creators who are making it happen.

The Buffalo Comic-Con is run by Emil Novak and his team. They’re also the folks behind Buffalo’s long-lived comic shop, Queen City Bookstore. It’s a great shop full of treasures, staffed by people who love both comics and customer service.

I was invited to be a panelist at their convention a few weeks back. As we were wrapping up our panel, the next folks were setting up and I realized that was the panel I wanted to see. Keith Larsen and Jackie Zbuska are creative entrepreneurs and they are passionate about their Charlton Comics documentary.

Ed Catto:  This project seems like a lot of fun! How’d it all start?

Keith Larsen & Jackie Zbuska: So what’s our origin story? It’s not spectacular, or even exciting. Tired feet and washing dishes. We were at the 2014 ComiCONN in Bridgeport, CT. It was an awesome venue with lots to do, but after a few hours, we really needed a break off. Keith noticed a ticker ribbon message advertising a panel featuring Denny O’Neil, Bob Layton, and Paul Kupperberg. Perfect! Comic book legends and our excuse to sit!

We snuck into the panel room as Paul took the stage and announced the panel topic: Charlton Comics! Huh…what? Charlton? Didn’t they go away like, 30 years ago? “And, what the heck is a Charlton? One of those candies you put in the freezer…?”

What about Batman, Denny? What about Iron Man, Bob? Why did you kill Archie, Paul? Charlton?!?!? But, what the heck, we’re nerds who like comics, and the room is pretty packed, so let’s give it 10 minutes and then get back to walking the floor. The whole panel included Paul Kupperberg, Bob Layton, Denny O’Neil, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Frank McLaughlin. After maybe two minutes, we moved from the back of the room to the second row. By the end of the hour, we were hooked. These guys had some hilarious stories!

Cut to the next morning: Keith is doing dishes thinking about the Charlton panel… wait a minute!!!! Why not do a documentary about Charlton! Keith called Jackie with the idea. To get things going, Keith would call Mitch Hallock, who produces TerrifiCon. Mitch knew some of the guys from Charlton, so maybe he could help us track them down! Jackie’s response: “Nope, I’ll be there in 20 minutes. We’re driving back down to the con and cold pitching these guys.” The guys obviously said ‘Yes’ to the pitched idea. Since then, we’ve expanded the team, done more interviews, and have been hitting the books to crack the whole saga wide open.

EC:  Now, can you remind me how Charlton as a company started?

KL & JZ: The Comics division began only out of the necessity to save money. The Charlton factory was an all-in-one publishing establishment that made their money off Music magazines – like Hit Parader – and crossword puzzle books. They found that it was more cost effective to run the printing presses overnight – and thus Charlton Comics was born!

Oh yeah, and apparently, the idea of Charlton proper was hatched from two guys who met in jail. Weird, right?!?

EC:  Did you have a love of Charlton before undertaking this project?

KL & JZ: HAHA. NoooooNoNoNo. As we mentioned above Jackie had never heard of it and Keith has a slight recognition once he saw the bullseye logo, but that’s about as familiar as we got. We take our fair share of social media trolling for it, but as far as we are concerned we see it as a good thing. Approaching the project as filmmakers first and comic book fans second, gives us a fresh and unique perspective on the story. Had we been big Charlton fans, we may have told the tale with a bias or fan perspective. Not knowing anything about it lets us take a clean and honest approach to making the movie.

EC:  I’m excited to hear about some of the fans you’ve met along the way. What is the typical Charlton fan like? What are the atypical Charlton fans like?

KL & JZ: Funny enough, the die-hards we encounter are punk rockers from the hey-days of CBGBs. Our one atypical fan is truly unique. He’s a Generation Z 16-year old who’s got a substantial Charlton collection. He’s also a student of the silver age of comics in general. We’d say that his knowledge of the genre rivals that of any adult comic book historian we’ve spoken to. We interviewed him for the movie and we talk to him regularly as he finds Charlton gems at flea markets, tag sales and conventions all over the Northeast.

EC:  It seems like you have been making the rounds on the comic-con circuit. What’s that been like?

KL & JZ: We’re always surprised to meet new Charlton fans at every one of the stops we make. It’s a unique community of people and happy that our project is exciting to them. It charges us up to know that people are finding out about this movie and supporting us. It’s very flattering that true Charlton fans are trusting us to handle telling this story about something that they cherish so much.

EC:  Several Professionals have a spot in their hearts for Charlton. Who carries the torch for Charlton these days?

KL & JZ: Well, a super-fan named Fester Faceplant started a Facebook fan page and set up an online Charlton reading library of digitized Charlton books for fans to read. From there, it ballooned into a full-blown revival in the form of Charlton Neo Media spearheaded by Paul Kupperberg, Mort Todd, Roger McKenzie, Joe Staton and Nick Cuti amongst others. They’re first retail issue of “Charlton Arrow Vol 2” hit stands in October 4th of this year!

EC:   I’m sure you’ve learned some surprises in your research. What can you share with us now?

KL & JZ: Hmmm, if we tell you, then we’d have to kill you! Hahahaha.

What we can share is that most of the lore of Charlton that exists online is far from the truth. It really lends an extra cutting edge to what our movie will show – the real story behind Charlton Comics – and trust us, life is stranger than fiction.

EC:   After all this – What was your favorite Charlton Comic originally and what’s your favorite one now?

Keith Larsen: My first taste of some “real” Charlton was from a coveted gift I received from our new pal Joe Staton the day we interviewed him for the movie. He gave me a collected edition of E-Man published by First Comics. That was my favorite until I was able to read every Question back-up story in Blue Beetle comics from a digital collection we purchased on eBay. But Joe’s book is still awesome!

Jackie Zbuska: I instantly gravitated toward their expansive collection of horror titles, which despite the Comics Code, are subversively graphic. I have a soft spot for Gorgo stories, but my true favorite is John Byrne’s Rog-2000. He was in backup stories in some of the E-Man comics.

EC:  What’s the timing of the project and how can fans help?

KL & JZ: Honestly, we were hoping for the project to be finished by the end of 2017, but funding dictates how fast we can work. We had financial help via crowd funding, but the money has run out. Unfortunately, with something as unheard of as Charlton Comics with as niche a fan base as it has, it hasn’t allowed us the ability to break into the sphere of pop culture awareness. So, in the case of crowd-funding, our reach has been limited to the marketplace of serious comic book fans or collectors. We’re hoping that our future efforts for raising funds will make strides into appealing to that larger audience potential. Any ideas are welcomed!

You can contribute via our website, www.CharltonMovie.com

EC: Which Charlton comic series is cooler, Judo Master or Gorgo?

Keith Larsen: Judo Master!
Jackie Zbuska: Keith’s wrong, it’s totally Gorgo!

For more information, check out their site at : http://www.charltonmovie.com/ or their panel at the Rhode Island Comic-Con on Friday, November 10, 2017.

Glenn Hauman: Rejected!

she-hulk-byrne-copy

One of the most frustrating things to learn when you’re trying to break into the comics business is that you can be doing everything right – you can be skilled in your craft, pro-level, ready to go, with genuine audience pleasing work – and you still don’t get the job.

Even more, you can go back, show the same work again, get an even better response to it – and you still don’t get the job.

Let me offer myself as an example.

1989. Summer. Batman had been in theaters for six weeks and I was at the San Diego Comic-Con. My first, their 20th. I was 20, so it seemed fair. The show was still in what they now call the San Diego Concourse, with the Masquerade in the Civic Theatre, and it was the biggest convention I’d ever seen, bigger than all the New York shows I’d been to – why, there were eleven thousand people there!

(We pause for a moment of laughter – nowadays, that’s the line for Hall H. Onward.)

And there was a panel there called (more or less) “The Mighty Marvel Pitch Session.” You would get up on stage and pitch your plot to Executive Editor Mark Gruenwald and Historian / Archivist Peter Sanderson, who would listen and critique you to the audience, and give you a thumbs up or thumbs down. I went. And I had nothing, really, except for a She-Hulk story that I’d written up and mailed to editor Bobbie Chase in the wake of John Byrne’s leaving the book, who rejected it.

Heck, I didn’t even have a copy of the plot, just the memory of it. But it was what I had. And so I went up, to face the judgment of the duo doing Siskel & Ebert.

I don’t have the space here to recap the plot, but trust me: I killed.

The audience was laughing hysterically at all the right places, and Mark and Peter were right along with them. By the time I got to the point where She-Hulk was arguing with the new voice in the narration box, wanting to talk to Byrne, and the narrator explaining Byrne wasn’t there because he wanted to have She-Hulk shave her legs with her heat vision –

“ – I don’t have heat vision!”

“Yeah, we know. Messy, ain’t it?”

Mark turned into the gale force of crowd laughter, exclaiming, “Does everyone know this story???”

I finished the story to rapturous applause, and got the only double thumbs up of the panel.

Afterwards, Mark came up to me. “That was a great story! Why don’t you submit it?”

“I did. It was rejected.”

“Really? Who did you send it to?”

“Bobbie Chase.”

“Hmm. That’s weird. Why don’t you send it to me, and I’ll bring it over to Bobbie and see what’s going on with it?”

An invite to submit a story to Marvel? To the Executive Editor who already likes your story? “Yes, sir, I’ll send you a copy as soon as I get back to New York!”

And so I sent it off, and waited.

I waited through August, and just as I was packing up to head back to my Junior year of college, I got a reply – which I just found this weekend in my files and reproduce for you here.

marvel-mark-gruenwald-rejection-letter

Good story, amusing story – just not usable anymore.

Argh.

By that time, school had started up again, and I got busy and didn’t end up pitching again – you know, just got caught up, had to finish school, had to pay the bills, had to move, yadda yadda yadda. My next time writing Marvel characters would be almost seven years later in a prose anthology, The Ultimate X-Men.

So, is there a moral here?

Yes, and it’s this: Don’t give up.

Seriously.

Every writing manual tells you not to get discouraged, just keep at it, and eventually it’ll break for you.

And it will, but it does take effort. It takes time to find a voice, a groove, a point of view. The only thing that moves that process along is output.

And even when you’re ready – the shot may not be there. Even crazier: the shot you take may miss.

And that’s okay.

Don’t take it personally.

There will be other chances, other places, other things that inspire you to create.

But also, this: Talent and skill does not necessarily correlate to career opportunity.

That’s a tougher one to handle; realizing that no matter how good or bad you are, your career will hinge to a completely unknowable level on blind luck and happenstance.

But that’s okay too.

Because then when you realize it, all you have to do is put yourself out there, and all you have to be… is ready.

Ed Catto: The Mission of Star Trek – Mission New York

star-trek-mission-pix-3-cosplayers-atb

idw-john-bryne-stmnyFans, creators, actors, historians, licensees, NASA and even the United States Post Office celebrated Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary last week at Manhattan’s Javits Center during Star Trek: Mission New York. This convention was a triumph of Geek Culture and how one man’s vision inspired so many others to create one of the most successful and enduring entertainment franchises.

Star Trek fandom has always been passionate and vocal. They’ve banded together to keep the Enterprise flying and have been holding conventions since the 70s. This convention, created by Reed Elsevier’s ReedPop division, was held in the same location as their New York Comic Con. That’s become such a behemoth that, by comparison, Star Trek: Mission New York seemed to embrace a more intimate vibe.

There are benefits to a smaller convention. This was so much easier to navigate than New York Comic Con. There were shorter lines and no crushing crowds. Fans were in a better mood. But try as I might, my observations of this show are undoubtedly influenced by other trade shows and fan-focused shows. And there were a lot of shows this past weekend. Convention expert Rob Salkowitz analyzed the “so many nerds, so little time” phenomenon for Forbes.

star-trek-con-4lPanels: Where the Fans Are

The heart and soul of the convention seemed to be in the panel rooms, even more so than at a conventional trade show or comic con. These panels allowed fans the opportunity to explore the many niches of Star Trek in intense and personal ways, despite sitting in a room with 400 other people.

When I left for college, my dad suggested that it would be wise to join a group or team as a way to break down the overwhelming scope of the university. He was right – and the advice would have been appropriate for Star Trek fans that weekend.

A few of the most fascinating panels included:

  • The Women of Star Trek Reflect on 50 Years – Star Trek actresses candidly discussing the difficult choices they were, and are, often forced to make
  • The Lost Years: Treks that Never Were A panel that explored the strange but unproduced worlds of scripts, movie concepts and series that never made it onto the screen
  • Writing for Star Trek, where David Gerrold, you may know him as the writer of the classic episode, The Trouble with Tribbles (now back in print through ComicMix), passionately encouraged would-be Star Trek writers to create their own books, with their own characters and their own universes
  • Leonard Nimoy: A Tribute provided great history, including photos of Nimoy with Adam West and in costume as the Grand Marshall of a local parade
  • Star Trek: The Roddenberry Vault panel, teasing unseen footage. More on this in a bit
  • A stage reading of Star Trek IV, which I enjoyed more than the actual movie… and I like the movie

gerrold-chekov-stmnyCosplay

Creative and clever cosplay clearly was a theme at this show. Pattern manufacturer Simplicity’s booth spotlighted their licensed Star Trek patterns, but the real creativity was with the fans. Some highlights:

  • A medical student designed and sewed an elegant starship dress
  • One clever fan appeared as an animated Nurse Christine Chapel, who’s arm was miscolored for just a few frames in the Star Trek Animated Series episode The Lorelei Signal
  • A fan dressed as Lt. Uhuru in the toga-esque outfit worn for TV’s first interracial kiss

The cosplay contest on Saturday night also included brilliant pop culture mashups like Khan-ye West, Kim Cardassian, and Ensign Trump, complete with his “Make the Federation Great Again” political sign.

vulcanThe Show Floor

The exhibition floor offered an eclectic group of booths and activities. On one end, NASA’s huge booth helped fans understand upcoming space exploration, (like the Tess satellite) while on the other end, the U.S. Post Office sold the new Star Trek stamps.

In between there was a mix:

  • Comic publisher IDW was there with creatives who were signing comics. The legendary John Byrne made a rare convention appearance to sign copies of his recent photoplay Star Trek
  • Eaglemoss was selling individual Starships and Starship Dedication Plaques from their Star Trek Starships collection. Many sold out quickly. The steady crowd of fans at the booth kept me from speaking to my friends at Eaglemoss crew too much.
  • Likewise, rabid fans kept the Titan booth busy, as they also sold out of many of their products. Their new coffee table book Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years, was gorgeous. I had loved the exhibit that the book is based upon when I saw it in downtown San Diego during July’s Comic-Con.
  • The Smithsonian touted their Star Trek documentary, but somehow that seemed like an assignment a teacher would give you, rather than something fun you’d find on your own. But I’m clearly not giving it a chance and I haven’t seen the documentary yet (it debuted September 4th).
  • Microsoft’s Star Trek: Bridge Crew offers an amazing virtual reality experience for fans. The reality of the long line, however, discouraged me from taking part of it.
  • Star Trek Timelines is an immersive game that spans the many Trek franchises and, for the vast majority of users, is free. A very patient but energized (I mean that in the non-Trek sense of the word) staff helped fans play the game on the mounted iPhones and tablets – and gave away a lot of prizes.

reliant-eaglemossThe Son of….

Rod Roddenberry is the son of Star Trek Creator Rod Roddenberry. Rod carries on the business side of the work that was established years ago as his father, with prescient insight, kept many of the licensing rights.

Rod’s an affable guy. He’s warm, humble and friendly. And he announced an astounding project. It turns out that his father maintained a warehouse full of dailies and outtakes from the original series. Gene Roddenberry had gathered up everything that was on the metaphorical cutting room floor and preserved it. Working with Roger Lay, Jr., Rod and the new team have assembled these treasures in the Star Trek: The Roddenberry Vault, on sale later this year.

star-trek-con-3rA Few Stumbles

For every Wrath of Khan or ST:TNG, there’s a Nemesis or a Star Trek: Enterprise. There were some shortcomings with this convention too.

After 50 years of merchandise, collectibles, comics and books, I was disappointed that there weren’t any dealers selling those treasures in any meaningful way. I had gone into the show on the lookout for vintage Trek comics and books but left empty handed. I wanted to see things like Topps cards, Ben Cooper Halloween outfits and 70s Star Trek guns that fired little plastic disks. I hadn’t planned on buying any of those things… but you never know.

My frustration was compounded when I asked the woman in the information booth if there were any dealers or back issue sellers. She informed me that she “had no idea” but that I “was welcome to wander around the exhibition floor” to try and find what I needed. I was, quite frankly, stung by the impoliteness and uselessness of that suggestion. That’s not the Reed Expo Customer Service that I remember.

The whole exhibition floor was a bit underwhelming, but on the other hand, it seems that companies with product designed for fans sold a lot this weekend. There wasn’t a crushing competition for consumer dollars.

Years ago, I had enjoyed a Star Trek novel now and again, so I was really surprised how unwelcoming the Simon and Schuster booth was to new or in my case, lapsed, readers. I went to that booth planning to purchase a book, but after a sour experience, I decided against it. My to-read pile is tall enough, anyways.

And there’s so much more going on in the “world” of Star Trek fandom that I wish was front and center at this convention. I wanted to learn more about the many Trek podcasts, the high quality fan-films and the boom in impressive fan artwork.

star-trek-con-2Box Office? What Box Office?

Last week, The New York Times had a front-page article on changing movie going habits and this summer’s box office sequels that didn’t become hits. I was surprised to see Star Trek: Beyond on that list. I had thought it made its money back and I had enjoyed the picture. But maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised – the faithful superfans at Star Trek: Mission New York had all but ignored that movie.

The Next Frontier: 50 More Years

What’s the real magic of Star Trek? Is it the hope for an optimistic future? Is it the smart science fiction? Is it the ripping yarns? Is it really just the story of a guy and his buddies? Who knows? I’ll leave it to deeper thinkers to sort that all out. All I know is that Star Trek fan culture is thriving. It’s a robust intersection of fandom, commerce & entrepreneurialism. And that a good time was had by most at Star Trek: Mission New York.

 

Ed Catto: Paul Kupperberg Looks Up Into the Sky!

Supergirl Covers

I have a friend who loved opera and music growing up, and now she sings in the chorus for the Metropolitan Opera. There’s something energizing when you witness someone leverage their passion and turn it into a wonderful and fulfilling career.

And my friend, comic writer Paul Kupperberg, is exactly that kind of person.

PK-SA SGirl NYCCAs a kid back in 1976, Paul was buying comics at My Friend’s Bookstore in Flatbush, Brooklyn. “My ideal book store,” Kupperberg explained. “Carts out front, loaded with cheap books. The counter on the right had all the Golden Age issues. Superman #1 was $100. They used the Howard Rogofsky price list. Behind the counter there were boxes on the shelves. A magical place – we’d go on weekends. We would even work there.”

Even though Superman was his favorite, Kupperberg has had a long experience with the character, Supergirl. “I didn’t come to the Supergirl strip until the sixties,” he said. Supergirl was “one of the first characters I collected.” These adventures were unique as they employed an internal continuity. Certainly more than other DC series at that time. “It was a very different strip for that era,” said Kupperberg.

But by the late 70s and early 80s Kupperberg had the opportunity to contribute professionally to Supergirl’s mythology. “I did stuff for Superman Family. It was an oversized book. I was writing Jimmy Olsen. Marty Pasko was doing Supergirl. He left and I picked it up. Win Mortimer was drawing it – about a year’s worth,” said Kupperberg.

“Then she got her own title. A big deal.”

Kupperberg finally got his chance to fly with Supergirl. Supergirl debuted in her new comic – The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl in late 1984.

UnusualTales1“Julie Schwartz was the editor,” Kupperberg recalled. “and Julie was famous for reinventing characters. Supergirl was, at that point, a soap opera star in New York City. I had a problem with a grown woman as Supergirl. We wanted to push it back, so we sent her back to college. We didn’t say if she was an undergrad or a graduate student. In those days, hard reboots didn’t exist. The idea of totally changing a character didn’t exist. You could bring them back and reinvent them.”

Kupperberg wrote the series for almost two years, until it ended with issue #23.

Due to slow sales, this Supergirl series was cancelled, along with Superboy. But there were plans to combine Supergirl and Superboy into a single, oversized, 40-page comic called DC Double Comics. The two characters would rotate as lead feature and back-up feature.

Plans called for Kupperberg to write the stories. Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson would provide art for Superboy. The revised premise would showcase Superboy’s intergalactic adventures with the Galaxians. “They were like the Legion of Super-Heroes but in the present day,” explained Kupperberg.

Supergirl fans would have enjoyed a real treat. The brilliant Eduardo Barreto was assigned as penciller on this strip. Bob Oskner was to be the inker. The first issue was penciled and lettered.

“Life had caught up with Supergirl,” said Kupperberg. The premise was that she was going to visit her parents on New Krypton, and have adventures on the new planet recently established from the restoration of the the bottled city of Kandor.

SecRom_2Unfortunately, as DC developed the Crisis on Infinite Earths, a company-wide reboot of DC mythology, these two characters were written out of continuity. Plans for DC Double Comics were scrapped.

In the DC mythology, the Supergirl of Earth-2, that alternate earth where the Golden Age heroes still thrived, was called Power Girl. Originally created as a Wally Wood heroine appropriate for all ages.

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths streamlined the continuity, “they wanted to keep her around,” said Kupperberg. Gerry Conway and Bob Greenberger rejiggered her backstory in an issue of Secret Origins where she became the

granddaughter of Arion, Lord of Atlantis. (This was a character that Kupperberg created.) Kupperberg wrote several Power Girl adventures, including a mini-series illustrated by Rick Hoberg.

“I love my Wally Wood,” said Kupperberg. “But Rick Hoberg drew her in human proportions.”

As for the new CBS series, “I’m enjoying the show,” said Kupperberg. “They got it right. They got the heart and soul of Kara correct, and that’s what’s important.”

Kupperberg sees a bit of the DNA of his Supergirl run in the TV show, but concedes there’s no direct influence. One character they’ve used is Reactron. “I came up with him,” said Kupperberg. “So there’s that. That’s cool.”

But he watches it just like every other fan. “Hank Henshaw – when they turned him into Martian Manhunter – I knew it was coming but I was still like: EEEK!”

Kupperberg is very philosophical about different interpretations of characters. He related a story where he and longtime pal John Byrne were bitching about evaluating one of the recent comic versions of Superman. They were saying that those guys aren’t writing the real Superman. But then he realized, “neither were we. The only person who wrote the real Superman was Jerry Siegel. Everyone else is just writing his own version. Sure, we stuck close to the original source material, but <even> we were pretty far from the original. The original Superman was like Bernie Sanders. He was democratic socialist. He was knocking down doors and saving an innocent guy from the electric chair. He was battering down the Governor’s door.”

Today, Paul Kupperberg is involved with myriad ventures. One is Charlton NEO, “a revival of the old Charlton comics in name if not in spirit.” His collaborators include Roger (Daredevil) McKenzie and Mort Todd.

Paul Kupperberg’s Secret Romances is a comic that attracts an A list of comic professionals, including Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Dean Haspeil, John Byrne, Joe Staton & Nick Cuti (on a new E-Man adventure), Rick Burchett and Neil Vokes.

He’s also working on The Scary Squad, a Scooby Doo style team of cosplayers, a Planet of the Apes story for an upcoming anthology, and a trilogy of Atlantis stories. “These are essentially my last Arion stories.”

Kupperberg has always enjoyed writing strong women: Supergirl, Power Girl, and Chian in Arion. “Even my Betty and Veronica” (in the recent Life with Archie series). I like women. I respect women,” said Kuppperberg.

For more information check out Paul’s site http://kupps.malibulist.com.

Ed Catto: The Fantastic (Four) Adventures of Tom Tataranowicz

TomT at Marvel

For the past week the pop culture world has engaged in a post game analysis of the under-performing Fantastic Four movie. Instead of offering further analysis, I think it’s time to provide insights into an instance where the Marvel’s first family had more creative and authentic success onscreen.

My friend Tom Tataranowicz is a talented animation professional and a longtime comics fan. I’ve gotten to know him as we’re working together, with a talented team, to create the new Captain Action animated series… But that’s another story for another day. Tom’s impressive resume includes his work on the 1990s Fantastic Four animated show and, understanding his passionate dedication to his craft, I wanted to get his perspective on that “fantastic” experience.

When he is presented with a project like the Fantastic Four, Tom explained his approach to me. “I’m not trying to reinvent it. That’s not my job. Fealty to the original source material is key. Otherwise, fans say, ‘Where’s the comic I like?’ And I have to agree with them. I need to bring the fans’ dreams to life.”

1994_Fantastic_Four_Cartoon_Season_2_TitleThe Secret Origin

Tom recalled just how he got involved with this Fantastic Four animated series. He had been working on the Biker Mice From Mars animated series and was completing the last of 65 episodes. The organization was called New World Animation at the time, and then the Marvel Films animation division started.

Avi Arad had just made the first season of the Fantastic Four cartoon with another unit, but they weren’t as well received as they had hoped for. One thought was that there were just too many characters crammed in there, in an overly zealous effort to support toy sales.

As Biker Mice From Mars was ending and they liked what he had done with that series, they reached out to Tom to take over both the Fantastic Four and Iron Man shows.

“I proposed that ‘I’m going to revamp everything,’“ recalled Tom.

319253_2628633872647_1503137669_nOn the FF show, Tom was rather perplexed that the previous team had chosen not to follow the comic’s official canon, focusing instead on often not too good, original stories. So his idea was to adapt classic stories from the comic book. The overall arc of the season that Tom developed revolved around the Inhumans’ introduction and subsequent exile.

And he also felt that it was important to change the look of the look of the main characters as well. The first season was using a robin’s egg blue color for the FF costumes that mirrored the existing toy line. But Tom’s vision was to establish a more heroic look by adapting the darker, blue/black, John Byrne style costumes of the 1980s.
“So I mapped out the season’s storylines and arcs and pitched it to Avi Arad and Rick Ungar. They liked it. I pitched it to Stan Lee. He liked it. I pitched it to Toy Biz and they liked it,” said Tom.

A Blind Man Shall Lead Them

But the question for season 2 was… Where to start? Looking over those old comic book stories, it became apparent that it was difficult, if not almost impossible, to get adequate material from just one issue to be enough for one very good episode. It often required story lines from multiple issues. “One particular story I always liked was the two parter from issues #39 and #40, A Blind Man Shall Lead Them, with Daredevil. It was also a real fan favorite. Plus, I thought having Daredevil in there would be very cool. And then, of course, it had the exciting bonus of being a Dr. Doom story. A perfect second season opener. As Stan Lee was fond of saying – Excelsior!”

“With the second episode, we launched into the Inhumans saga. That was the season’s arc and it was kicked off by a three parter,” Tom explained. “My B storyline for that arc was Johnny meeting and subsequently searching for Crystal.”

In the first season, the previous team had already told the “ultimate” Silver Surfer/Dr. Doom story, Doomsday. Tom didn’t like the way it turned out. “For the second season finale, I – admittedly, somewhat arrogantly – decided to redo that story and do it right; to do it as it truly deserved,” said Tom. He used the “Garden of Eden” beginning from Silver Surfer #4 as a way to introduce the Surfer and dovetailed it into the threat of Dr. Doom stealing the Surfer’s powers.

“I wanted to treat the Fantastic Four as if the stakes were always really huge. The Kree, The Skrulls, the Inhumans – they were all part of this epic comic book saga”, said Tom. “I even went to some of the John Byrne stories – to mix things up as well as to help amplify on stories while still staying faithful to the comics,” recalls Tom. “For example, there was this one episode where the FF were going after Ego, and encountered Thor and Galactus. It was one of the best animated shows ever done at that the time. After it aired I got calls from friends, colleagues and other studios – people I didn’t even know – saying that was one helluva good-looking show,” mused Tom. “That high degree of artistic success was why the series’ cancellation proved to be so bittersweet.”

In the first season, each episode had a minute-long introduction from Stan Lee in his office. “Stan is a lively, very personable guy, but I didn’t particularly see the necessity of doing those things in the beginning. I would much have rather used the time for the stories. Well, that didn’t sit particularly well with Stan, and I have to admit I completely understood his position.” said Tom. As a compromise, Tom added 15-second introductions that validated Stan’s contributions and creativity and had him matted in against cool painted backgrounds from the show.

375228_2628616232206_1693887972_nBack then, most series, especially animated ones, were not told in sequential continued story arcs. Stand alone episodes were simply the way it was. Because there was the season long Inhumans continuity, around the eleventh episode of the season, Tom developed a recap episode. He used the Impossible Man (with a stellar voice performance by Jess Harnell of Animaniacs) in which he and Johnny interacted to cleverly segue into clips of the season’s events that had earlier transpired. As the Impossible Man was a more cartoony character, the animating studio, PASI, really went for it and did a great job on this episode, even though there was only 5 or 6 minutes of new animation. “From there we went on to the freeing of the Inhumans and everyone was then up to speed and ready for it.”

Crystal Clear

For the second season, as Voice Director, Tom kept most of the original voice cast. Brian Austin Green had bowed out as Johnny Storm and was re-cast. But one character Tom really wanted to change was Doctor Doom. “The first actor was certainly good but I felt the character came across as a bit too much of a mustache twirler,” said Tom.

Victor Von Doom was from Latveria, which seemed to be one those Eastern European/Germanic countries. And the aristocrats from those countries were well educated, as if they went to Oxford and thus often spoke with an English accent, Tom reasoned. So he recast Doom with Simon Templeman, whose voice had that nobility and who laced his performance with a unique aspect of condescension and decadence. “He did a memorably great job,” remembered Tom.

With the Inhumans being new characters to the series and so integral to the season’s arc, Tom had a clean slate to cast whomever he thought best for any particular role. Mark Hamill, who impressed everyone with his animated Joker, was a natural for Maximus the Mad. Likewise Star Trek – The Next Generation’s Michael Dorn was the perfect voice for Gorgon. “Black Bolt was easy he was basically mute, so he didn’t need a voice,” joked Tom.

313034_2628617472237_2033074401_nThe young Inhuman love interest for the Human Torch, Crystal, was very important to the storyline and she needed to be fresh. She was young, but she wasn’t a kid; she needed to have a womanly quality. “Then I saw supermodel actress Kathy Ireland, on television. I liked the quality of her voice and thought she’d be good.” Even though she wasn’t primarily a vocal actress, Tom was impressed at how hard she worked and how seriously she took it. The results were terrific – the perfect, definitive Crystal. And it all also helped with publicity – as her casting became a story on Entertainment Tonight.

“I always liked casting against type,” explained Tom. “The Silver Surfer was tough. What does he sound like? Stentorian? No. Too easy and cliché an approach.” So, it took a couple of attempts with various actors, but finally Tom cast Eddie (Green Acres) Arnold’s son, Edward Albert, as he felt the philosophical sound to the actor’s voice ideally suited the Surfer’s musings.

Keeping it Fantastic

Tom and his talented crew worked hard to keep the show true to what it was. “To me, the Fantastic Four was the self-proclaimed crown jewel of the Marvel Universe,” remembers Tom. “Even though I may have personally liked Spider-Man more as a kid, the FF was always the big kahuna, with the biggest stakes.”

So for the new main title sequence, Tom wanted to showcase the FF’s rich history. And he would tell it through a great iteration of iconic Kirby covers: FF #1, the tiny FF in the gigantic Dr. Doom’s hand from FF Annual #2, “Beware The Hidden Land” from issue #47, the four panel split screen from a later issue, in which the FF were each individually fighting an android.

859_10201981800284139_1428367397_nHe also used this main title to showcase the history of the FF’s costumes. From issue #1 with no costumes, through the 60’s Kirby look, a nod to the Season #1 robin egg’s blue costumes and finally to the then ‘current costumes’ inspired by John Byrne.

Tom did what he always did when creating a main title. He’d listen to the new music provided by the composer, Will Anderson. He’d drive and drive in his car, just trying to viscerally imagine where and how he’d place which visual images that were conjured up by beats with the music.

For the new look of the show, everyone’s first knee jerk reaction was to “do Kirby.” But Tom took issue with that. A big Kirby fan, Tom’s point of view was that if you mimic Jack Kirby’s work, it would run the almost inevitable risk of looking bad. Kirby’s art worked so well because of the strength of his uniquely individual talent. Only Kirby could truly be Kirby and thus there was also a realistic danger that the overseas studio artist working on the show just wouldn’t understand Kirby’s Style.
319249_2628625832446_957424239_nSo Tom took another approach. He hired legendary artist John Buscema to redo the characters. He based the show upon John’s also iconic Marvel look and own tenure on FF after Kirby left. In addition, he was able to send the overseas Philippines studio, PASI, that did the actual animation, John Buscema’s book, How the Draw Comics the Marvel Way, as well as the accompanying video of the book to explain it visually. “Buscema was an illustrator. He drew realistically and the anatomy made sense. Especially to the Filipino artists who loved American comic art. Everybody was extremely happy with that approach,” recalls Tom.

Clobberin’ Time!

Overall, Tom was very pleased with the show. Great stories. Terrific animation. Top notch voice acting. Unfortunately, the show didn’t earn the ratings needed to continue, and many believe that was because fans just thought it would be more of the same from the first season and never gave it a chance.

There were plans for a third season. Tom had developed the arc that focused on Sue’s pregnancy, Agatha Harkness and the birth of Franklin. But Tom wanted to start the season with the Invisible Woman running away with Namor, the Sub-Mariner. “There could be Sub-Mariner action figures, so the toy people liked that”, he explained.

During production, it was mandated that the Hulk guest star in an episode (and also in an episode of the companion series Iron Man), so the progression to the subsequent Hulk series made sense.

The Incredible Hulk series on UPN came next. “I had an overall plan of what I wanted to do with each new series – I wanted to do them (all the Marvel Series) so they all looked very different from one another. My idea was that each series would be unique. Here’s our Gene Colan show, here’s our John Byrne show, or our Ditko or McFarlane show. Like how it would be if you picked out one of the comics from the rack. Not cookie cutter” said Tom.

“As always, it was hard work, but it was gratifying,” said Tom. “I am very proud of what we accomplished. It was one of the few times in television that a studio had truly done right by a comic book.”

Fantastic Four - Cast Photo - 2nd Season - 1996[1]

 

 

John Ostrander’s Story Behind the Story

Suicide Squad

There’s a lot of attention focused on the Suicide Squad, what with the movie being filmed right now and coming out next year, and, yes, it’s based on the version of the Squad that I created back in the 80s and, yes, I should see some money for the use of Amanda Waller (not the Squad per se since it already existed in another form in the DCU) and that’s all pretty cool. Might as well tell my version of how this all started and give some credit where credit is due. You may have heard/read some of this before but I’m at the age where repeating stories is de rigeur so let’s do this.

My first shout out goes to Robert (“Bobby”) Greenberger who was our first editor on the Squad. I had met Bob at several conventions and while waiting in airports afterwards for our respective planes. I was working only for First Comics at that point; I hadn’t yet moved up to the major publishers. Bob and I got along really well and he broached the idea of my doing some work for DC. I was perfectly amenable and we started talking what I might do.

I loved the title “Challengers of the Unknown” which was lying fallow at the time. I considered, then and now, that this was one of the great titles in comics. All by itself, it conjured up possibilities. Really cool.

Unfortunately, someone else had already grabbed it for development so it was off the table. Then Bob suggested “How about Suicide Squad? It only appeared for five issues of Showcase a million years ago and nothing is being done with it.”

My first reaction? What a stupid name! Who in their right minds would belong to a group that called itself Suicide Squad? And just as I was dismissing the whole thing, an answer struck me: the only ones who would join would be those who had no other choice. Who doesn’t have any other choice? Folks in prison. Supervillains who’ve been caught. How do they get out of prison so fast? The Squad.

I thought about the Dirty Dozen and Mission: Impossible and The Secret Society of Supervillains, a DC title that teamed up loads of supervillains. I loved that. So the idea was to have a team of supervillains, rogues, enrolled by the government to take on secret missions deemed in the U.S. national interests. If caught they could be disavowed easily; they’re bad guys running around doing what bad guys do. If they die, who cares? They were bad guys. If they succeeded and got back alive, they would have time shaved off their sentences or outright freed.

It would also give us a chance to see the villains as competent and even deadly in their own right. Make them dangerous. For the missions, I’d comb newspaper and magazines for real world ideas. In fact, our first issue had a super-powered terrorist group attacking an airport while Air Force One was landing. I doubt I could get away with that today.

Bob suggested we also have some superheroes in it as well; not A list or maybe even B list. I was resistant at first; I wanted it to be all bad guys. Bob was insistent and it turned out he was right.

I wanted B-listers because I wanted to be free to kill any of them off. I wanted the missions to be dangerous; in all other comics, you knew the heroes were coming back alive because they had to be there for the next issue. Not with the Squad. We could kill them off with impunity. And we did. Always added to the suspense of the story – you never knew who was coming back alive.

To run the group I created Amanda Waller, a.k.a. The Wall. Tough as nails, heavy set, middle aged, bad attitude, African American woman. Why? Because there had never been anyone like her in comics before (and there hasn’t been since). Actually, she was based on my paternal grandmother who scared the bejabbers out of me when I was a kid. One glare and that was it; whatever I was doing, I stopped, even if I wasn’t really doing anything.

Bob also brought in Luke McDonnell as our artist; Luke had just finished some Justice League and was looking for another gig. Luke had (and has) great storytelling and real good character skills. Not flashy but that suited the stories we were telling. Bob also added Karl Kesel as our initial inker. Karl was a hoot; he was brimming with ideas and I’d get what I would call “Kesel Epistles” where he would share his notions. I used some but always encouraged the participation; I figured that was the best way to make a good team. Let everyone have a say if they wanted it.

We picked our members and I wanted the ones that no one else wanted. Deadshot had a cool name, a really stupid costume when he first appeared that Marshall Rogers later revamped and made really cool, and only a few background facts. He was technically a Batman villain but the Bat office said they didn’t want him so I was free to give him a backstory and a bit more of a character.

Captain Boomerang was a Flash character but the Flash had also just been revamped as a result of Crisis on Infinite Earths and, at that point, the Flash office was no longer using the rogues. Bob suggested we use him and, at first, my reaction was, “What a stupid character.” (I really needed to learn not to do that.) However, I decided to make him like the character Flashman in the Flashman series of historical novels by George McDonald Fraser. Boomerang was an asshole but he knew what he was and liked it. Every time you thought he could sink no lower, he’d find a new level. He quickly became one of my favorites.

Bob also got us an issue of Secret Origins for the same month as our first issue so we could use background material; and reference the original Squad(s).

This is when Mike Gold stepped in, Mike is an old old old friend, my former editor at First Comics, and the one who gave me my first shot as a comic book writer. (Yes, it’s all his fault – unless you like my stuff in which case it’s all due to me.) He had gone over to DC and was intent on taking some others with him, including me. Mike got me a shot at plotting the first company wide crossover since Crisis, which we called Legends. Mike felt it would be a good idea to include the Squad in it for their first appearance since lots of attention would be drawn to the series. Among other things, John Byrne would be drawing it – his first work at DC after leaving Marvel.

Of course, I wasn’t sure. (Notice a pattern here?) I didn’t want the Squad getting lost in the shuffle. They weren’t, and we had a great launch.

At some point into the Squad’s run I brought in my wife, Kim Yale, as co-writer. Kim was a very good writer in her own right and she complimented and completed my work with the Squad. To say it wouldn’t have been the same book without her seems obvious and trite but it is also true.

Bob eventually moved on to other work at DC and new editors took his spot although none could take his place. His love of the Squad and his enthusiasm for it shaped the book from the beginning and it would not have existed without him, or Mike, or Luke, or Karl, or Kim. Did it change comics? Beats me but we told some damn good stories and now they’re making a movie out of it.

Not bad for a series with such a damn stupid title.

 

Martha Thomases: Cutting The Cord

Wonder GirlIt only took me close to six decades, but I finally did it. And I’m inordinately proud of myself.

What did I do? Cure cancer? End hunger? Stop global warming? Hell, no.

I stopped buying new comics that I didn’t want.

In any other commercial business, this would seem like a simple thing to do. If I buy a lipstick and decide I don’t like the way it wears, I don’t feel like I have to buy that same lipstick over and over again. If I get food poisoning from a restaurant, I don’t feel like I owe them a return visit. But, for some reason, once I started reading a comic, I used to feel like feel like I had to read all of them.

This isn’t just my problem. Every time a publisher announces a big crossover, fans complain that the company is doing this to force readers to buy books they don’t want. It’s as if Dan DiDio is standing there with a pitchfork, stabbing people in the butt when they miss a chapter.

He’s not. Your butt is safe.

Why did it take me so long? I think it’s part of the nature of comics, especially as they have become more serialized. A self-contained story is just that. You read it, and it comes to a conclusion. However, if there is a cliffhanger, or even just a loose thread of subplot, you don’t have that sense of finality. It’s normal to want to know what happens next.

This is how Charles Dickens became a rock star, with people anxiously waiting on the piers as the boats containing the newest chapters of his novels arrived on the market. This is how movie serials brought people back, week after week, no matter what the main feature was. And this is how soap operas sold soap for decades before middle class women went into the workforce and couldn’t keep up.

We, as a species, like long and complicated stories. We develop affection for our favorite characters.

What’s happened to me, at least, is that I’ve realized that my perceptions about what makes characters my favorites are not the same as those of the people publishing them.

For example, I liked the Wonder Girl John Byrne created. She was quite different from Donna Troy, younger, not so angst-y. Her costume was pretty much stuff she pulled out of her closet, a sports bra and shorts. She was a kid, not yet obsessed with boys. She was the super-heroine I would have been at her age.

Now, she’s not. Now she’s the daughter of a god. She’s angry all the time. She worries that Robin or Superboy doesn’t like her, or will get too close, or some other crap.

Don’t even start me about Starfire.

So I’m probably not going to read the new series when it reboots. Not to make a statement or a threat. I doubt my single copy makes much of a difference to anyone’s bottom line. I stopped reading all the peripheral Green Lantern books, and they seem to be plugging along just fine. I hope that the people who like them continue to get pleasure from them, because pleasure is good, and that the writer, artists and other talents continue to get paid.

Me, I now have extra free time in my comics-reading schedule. I’ve been trying new books, and found a few that I like. I believe I’ve raved about Sex Criminals before. Southern Bastards is also good fun. I wish there was more Resident Alien.

When they reboot Wonder Girl again, I’ll check out the book and see how she’s doing.

 

 

John Ostrander: Up Against the Waller

It’s always interesting to see your children grow up. In my case I don’t have any flesh and blood children; I have the offspring of my imagination, of my heart and mind – the characters I’ve created in my stories, especially in my comics. By growing up, I mean seeing them in other media. And occasionally their sending money home.

In that regard, the most grown up of my offspring is, without a doubt, Amanda Waller, a.k.a. the Wall. She first appeared in the DC miniseries Legends but was created for my version of the Suicide Squad. For those of you who don’t know, the Suicide Squad was a covert team that Waller put together using jailed supervillains. They were sent on secret missions pursuing American governmental objectives and, if they succeeded and survived, they were set free or had their time significantly reduced. If they died – no loss. If they failed or were uncovered, they could be easily disavowed – hey, they were bad guys doing bad guy things.

Waller created this version of the Squad and was herself created to do that in the DCU. Len Wein and John Byrne are credited as co-creators since she first appeared in Legends but Amanda originated with me. (The same way that Tim Truman is, rightly, co-credited as GrimJack’s creator although the character also originated with me.) As conceived, Waller was middle-aged, black, heavy set, on the short side, and with no super-powers; just an iron will and a terminal bad attitude which is why her nickname is “the Wall”. I’ve always said that some aspect of the characters we write exist within us; it’s been pointed out to me that would mean that I have an angry middle aged black woman inside of me. Maybe I’m just channeling Tyler Perry.

She’s also one of my favorite characters to write; actually, I don’t so much write her as just take dictation and pay attention to where she wants to go. She gets the job done and doesn’t care what she has to do along the way; she is morally a gray character by design. Some think of her as an anti-hero; the site IGN listed as her 60th Greatest Comic Book Villain of all time. For my view, she’s not a villain but she is deeply flawed. Just the way I like my characters.

Waller has appeared all over the place – in video games, in animated series (Justice League Unlimited as one example), animated movies, television shows, and movies. I find seeing the different variations of her interesting and gratifying, especially financially. I have what is called “participation” with Amanda; DC licenses her out and I get a taste of the money that comes in because she was an original character. I don’t have the same deal with the Squad itself; there was an earlier version. Amanda, bless her, sends some money home every now and then.

Both Amanda’s appearance on Arrow and in the New 52 DC Universe is changed; rather than older, stouter, and shorter, she’s now model thin and young and, well, sexy. I’ve always thought of Amanda as many things but “sexy” was not one of them.

I don’t control what happens with Waller or where she goes or how she looks; she is owned by DC Entertainment and Warners. I knew that going in. She is their property. That said, I think the changes made in her appearance are misguided. There were and are reasons why she looked the way she did. I wanted her to seem formidable and visually unlike anyone else out there. Making her young and svelte and sexy loses that. She becomes more like everyone else. She lost part of what made her unique.

Still, I look forward to the Squad episode of Arrow and not only because of the eventual check that it will bring in. It’s interesting to see how your children turn out and to see how much of you is in them whether they are flesh and blood or just the children of your imagination.

Watch the “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” trailer now

The ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. The beloved characters from the original “X-Men” film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from X-Men: First Class, in an epic battle that must change the past — to save our future.

Based on the classic story from Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin, the movie stars (deeeep breath) Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Ellen Page, Daniel Cudmore, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, Peter Dinklage, Omar Sy, Booboo Stewart, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Evan Peters and Josh Helman. Written by Simon Kinberg from a story by Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, and Jane Goldman, and directed by Bryan Singer, X-Men: Days Of Future Past is due in theaters May 23, 2014.

All Pulp Interviews Bad Tiger-Final Interview- Steven Wilcox!

For the last interview in the BAD TIGER STUDIO series, ALL PULP takes on Steven Wilcox, Artist!

ALL PULP: Tell us about yourself, your personal background, and how you got into writing/art/etc.
 
SW: I have been drawing, in some form or another, since I was able to hold a pencil – even before I could write. My dad cultivated my love of drawing things like Batman and Spider-Man into a love of comic books by subscribing to several titles when I was growing up. The love of drawing and love of comics seemed to go hand-in-hand for me. As my tastes matured, so, too, did my art ability. 
 
AP: What is your role at Bad Tiger?
 
SW: At Bad Tiger, I’m the co-creator, penciller, inker and colorist of The Black Viper: Enemy of Evil strip.
 
AP: In our modern society, some would say that there’s nothing new or original anymore.  What makes Bad Tiger stand out?
 
SW: While there is “nothing new” these days there are new ways of presenting old ideas and themes. Bad Tiger wants to be known as the New Home of Pulp Adventures!
 
AP: What are your inspirations, influences for the work you do?
 
SW: Personally, my wife of twenty years and my four children inspire me in everything I do. Artistically, I find inspiration in a lot of artists, mostly comic book artists like John Byrne, Alex Ross, Arthur Adams, Mike Mignola, Tim Bradstreet, and Jim Lee to name a few. Outside of comics, I love the work of Norman Rockwell and Alphonse Mucha.
 
AP: What do you think appeals to the public about heroic/genre fiction and/or comic strips?  Why will people come to Bad Tiger?
 
SW: Because most of us grew up on comics and pulp adventures, and like the old fashioned storytelling of ouryouth, we tend to make our comics/stories the way we would want to read them…
 
AP: Last question! Say whatever you’d like to about Bad Tiger, yourself, or the experience!
 
SW: Working with Bad Tiger has been a joy. They embraced a character that me and my co-creator Justin Jude Carmona came up with a few years ago and gave him a home. We’re about to embark on adventures of The Black Viper that haven’t been sitting in a drawer for a few years, (the first two episodes were done in 2008 or 2009).
 
BAD TIGER STUDIO- www.badtigerstudio.com