Tagged: John Ostrander

Martha Thomases: Conventional Fashion

13-02-09_ichoosepeace_logo_finAs you read this, I’m riding the rails to Baltimore for the Baltimore Comic Con, one of the more pleasant shows of the year. I expect to have a weekend of discovering new comics, seeing old friends, and spreading the word about ComicMix Pro Services.

However, as I write this, instead of thinking about comics, I’m obsessing about what to pack. I need to wear my ComicMix shirts, because that’s the brand I’m promoting. I need to wear comfortable shoes, because I’ll be on my feet a lot, either welcoming people to our booth or walking the floor. And I’ll need a garment – pants or a skirt – to go in-between the shirt and the shoes.

I could wear blue jeans (most people do), but I don’t think they look right with a dark blue shirt. I could wear my white jeans, but it is after Labor Day. How much of a rebel do I wish to be? Will I get credit for being a rebel, since no one seems to be aware of this rule at all anymore? I could wear a skirt, but then I have to sit with my knees together and shave my legs. Which I mostly do, but I have the illusion of choice when I wear pants. I could wear khakis, but I don’t own any, since they make my hips look ginormous.

My choice of garment is also determined by other factors. If I select something snug, I might look thinner, but not be able to comfortably eat. If I opt for something baggy, then I might look like I’m not taking my job seriously. I want to look somewhat cute, because then I look friendly and approachable. I don’t want to look like I’m trying to be 40 years younger than I am, because that is pathetic and sad.

It occurs to me that there are certain parallels between my fashion quandary and telling stories in mass market comic books. There is the licensed character, which media moguls insist on calling “the brand” instead of calling it the character, which is what it is. There is the story, which must be appropriate to the medium and the genre. I might want to wear my favorite shirt, but it’s not appropriate to the task at hand, nor for the people whom I’m trying to reach in this particular venue. Similarly, if I’m hired to write a Superman story, it should feature Superman, and it should follow certain conventions. One does not wear a t-shirt with a taffeta skirt.

My convention look is not made up of only three elements. I may choose to wear jewelry, or a scarf. My hair is styled a certain way that is uniquely mine. I may add layers, a jacket or a sweater. Similarly, my Superman story might have Superman, super-powers, super villains and threats to humanity, but it will also have elements that are unique to me, to the way I write and what I value in the character.

None of this has anything to do with high art, but it does have to do with respecting one’s audience. I want to give the reader not only what she paid for, what she wants, but also what she doesn’t even know she wants. A unique discovery, a bit of joy, that cements our relationship.

So, that’s settled. Now, what should I wear to the Harvey Awards?

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Marc Alan Fishman: Random Access Maladies

Fishman Art 130831I figure that many of my ComicMix cohorts will be scrutinizing one or more of the topics I had in my head to discuss with you, my adoring public. I also figure that everyone else on this site is way more important than I am. With that being said? What better way to ride on their coattails, and waste precious column inches then with a numerical list of things I want to get off my chest? Nothing! Nothing I say! Without further ado…

1. New Lobo Design
Filed under the “What Did DC Do Wrong This Week” file… DC released a new design and story direction for The Main Man. Seems the Lobo we all knew and loved, err, tolerated in Rob Liefeld’s New52 Deathstroke wasn’t actually the main Main Man. The newly designed slim-n-trim Lobo is the real thing, and he’s potentially chasing down the impostor for obvious reasons. DC top brass (Bob Harris) was quoted as saying “Ken [Rocafort] updated Lobo’s facial tattoos and weaponry by adding laser edges to his blades and gloves that’ll give him extra strength with their mechanical usage. In the end, Ken transformed Lobo into a lean, mean killing machine.”

So… what’s the big dealio? Well, the new design is like the rest of the new designs of the New52. That is to say it’s reeking of the 90’s excess I’d hoped was just a long lost running-gag by now. Fans via social media dubbed Rocafort’s Lobo a “Twilight-Esque” attempt. Many of the fans of the original character are obviously up in arms. I assume they’re also mounting cannons to their hogs, choppers, and baggers. They might even be visiting Home Depot for some last-minute chain purchases. But I digress.

Simply put, this is merely a continual symptom that is part of a far larger problem. The New52 continues to wow the world with these new and fresh takes on our favorite characters. Apparently they never got the memo that nothing was wrong with the DCU pre-Flashpoint. And I’d be hard-pressed to look at some numbers that could back me up on that. Suffice to say… you can thin down, emo-up, and photoshop effect all you want DC… but until you worry more about the quality of the stories first? You’re just wasting the time of those who buy your books in hopes “this is when they turn it around.”

2. Batfleck / Breaking Luthor
So we’re all pretty sure it’s official that Ben Affleck is Batman and Brian Cranston is Lex Luthor in the forthcoming Man of Steel sequel. Rumor-mills also denote that they might have signed multi-picture deals, akin to that of the House of Mouse across the street. Many fans and nerds took to the net to cry out in fear, shame, and rage over Batfleck. At the time of this writing, only Rolling Stone was saying Cranston had Luthor’s role under wraps… but I’m fairly certain nary a nerd (save perhaps for my own best friend and cohort Kyle Gnepper of Unshaven Comics) finds this to be troublesome.
In my lowly opinion, first and foremost… who the hell cares? A casting decision in mind means almost nothing until the script is written and filming begins. For the naysayers of Big Bad Ben, there’s a plethora of films that I could cite that prove his acting (and directing) chops. It’s been years since Gigli and Daredevil. He is a humbled actor, who can step into the cape and cowl without a problem in my eyes. And lest we all forget? No one wanted Heath Ledger as the Joker now, did they? Affleck, Cavil, and Cranston on screen could be a big deal. And if Snyder eases back on the disaster porn? We may get the Dark Knight of the Superman series. I for one could not be more excited about that. Call it seeing ‘dem apples’ as half-full, if you will.

3. Miley Cyrus Twerking
Seriously? Did it bother you that much when Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera, or Madonna decided it was time to act like a slut on national cable television? It did? Oh, ok. Well then, go ahead. Be angry. Comment about it. Rant about it. Hell, write an article on how she’s single handedly bringing back the minstrel show with a side of misogyny while you’re at it.
Now realize you’re doing exactly what she wanted you to do in the first place. Everything on the MTV Video Awards was planned in boardrooms, months in advance. And every rant tweeted, touted, statused, or plus-oned was just another dollar bill landing squarely on Miley’s front porch. Which is good, because she’s gonna need to by some new solid gold teeth, and tongue extensions soon.

4. Cartoons ain’t like what they used to be…
Here’s a quickie: The CW now has a block of old(ish) cartoons they’re packaging on Saturday mornings. And though I own the series, it’s still amazing to catch an episode of Justice League Unlimited. I fear that there will never be as complex, action-packed, or mature a cartoon series in my own son’s life. Lucky for me I will practically punish him into enjoying them. Not really mind you, but… yeah, really.

5. Indy Pop Con looks like it’s doing it right.
One more thing… Unshaven Comics was asked to be a part of the inaugural Indy(napolis, baby) Pop Con in 2014. I am astounded at how on-the-ball the show promoters are. They’ve built their site, started planning legitimately interesting events, panels, and discussions, as well as snag some top tier talent. You know, aside from Unshaven Comics. Indianapolis already hosts an amazing nerd-con with Gen-Con. Here, they are placing it at a time when no other cons are competing, in a town that has a bustling nerd-culture. They are putting the right amount of money into it to ensure a solid gate. And they are communicating with fervor to all the artists, and guests of the show. Simply put, they’re doing it right, and I’m very proud to be a part of it thus far.

OK kiddos, that’s my braindump for you. No doubt I’ve enraged you several times over. I implore you to let me have my comeuppance in the comments below. Go on. I dare you. My ego can take it. Plus, next week, I’m redesigning myself. I’ll be slimmer, with 80% more unnecessary lines on my shirt. So, there.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Martha Thomases: My Take On Affleck

Thomases Art 130830Gold Art 130828Like my colleagues on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I have been confounded by the negative energy directed at Ben Affleck after the announcement by Warner Bros. that he would play Batman in the next Superman film.

The Internets almost always hate every announcement from Hollywood that has anything to do with nerd culture. I remember the howls when Christian Bale was announced to play Batman in the Nolan movies, and how Heidi McDonald ran photo number eight from this slideshow in her defense of the casting. Worked for me.

The objections seem to stem from fans’ displeasure with some of Affleck’s earlier work. They especially cite Daredevil, which I kind of liked, even though it’s overwrought, and Gigli, which I haven’t seen. And don’t intend to ever see.

I love Ben Affleck. I have loved him at least since Mallrats and definitely Chasing Amy. When I had a chance to talk to Kevin Smith at some industry event, I told him I thought Affleck would be a great Superman. He agreed. He even said Warner Bros. wanted Ben for the part. That was more than 15 years ago.

Which brings me to the reason I believe.

I can only imagine that the Internet complainers never saw Hollywoodland. It’s the story of a private detective investigating the death of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman in the original television series. Affleck plays Reeves in a performance that, in my opinion, should have earned him an Academy Award nomination. He not only creates a layered, believable portrayal of George Reeves, the man, but he vividly recreates the Reeves we knew from television. The way he holds his body changes when he is on-camera and when he is off.

This performance alone should tell us that Ben can be both The Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne. I’m not the only fan of the character who thinks so. The actor previously rumored to be the next Batman agrees with me.

So does Patton Oswalt, whom I love very dearly (and chastely, from afar). He said:

“A Batman portrayed by someone who’s tasted humiliation and a reversal of all personal valences — kind of like Grant Morrison’s “Zen warrior” version of Batman, post-Arkham Asylum, who was, in the words of Superman, “…the most dangerous man on the planet”? Think for a second and admit that Ben Affleck is closer to that top-shelf iteration of The Dark Knight than pretty much anyone in Hollywood right now.”

That quote should establish Oswalt’s geek credentials pretty well. And make his point.

Like Denny O’Neil, I have my qualms about a movie that features both Superman and Batman. It could be fun, but I’m not sure that Zack Snyder, the director of Man of Steel, is the person to direct it. He has cited Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns as his inspiration, and that’s not my favorite interpretation of the characters. I like it when Batman and Superman are friends, when Superman’s optimism lightens Batman, and Batman’s realism ground Superman.

I’m less happy when they fight. Especially if they aren’t going to team up and save the world together at the end.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Marc Alan Fishman: Have Your CAKE and Eat It

Fishman 130824

So I was considering going on a long-rant/love-letter to the WWE, whose Summer Slam pay-per-view and Monday Night Raw this week were just fantastic. I was going to highlight how no other company producing week-to-week content for an audience of millions has the balls they do when it comes to allowing their villains to complete terrible acts without retribution for months on end. I was going to ramble on about how for the first time in the history of the company a truly undersized, under-utilized hero has emerged due entirely to his in-ring ability. But then I realized that while ComicMix is a pop-culture blog and news site… Comic is in the damned title. I might be better served bitching about something comic related. Which brings me to last night.

I attended a ‘Drink-And-Draw’ at a local(ish) watering hole. First and foremost? I was elated to learn just how many south-suburban Chicago comic book artists there actually were. Drinks were drunk. Poutines were consumed. Drawings were rendered. Conversations were had. I was lucky enough to flank my end of the table along with my frenemy Dan Dougherty (who I should mention has just released the second book in his Touching Evil series which could sit next to Revival for book-you-should-be-reading right now), and Wesley Wong, colorist to the stars.

Later on in the evening, Jon Michael Lennon, a compatriot, comic maker, and long-standing pal-at-the-cons moved a chair down to our end of the table, and we got to chit-chatting. Amongst the topics that came up was attending various sized shows. I then lamented that I wasn’t a fan of juried shows. Specifically the recent CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) con that Unshaven was unceremoniously denied entrance to for the second year in a row. Jon was quick to chime in. “Yeah. I didn’t get into the [expletive deleted] show either. And I was like, seriously? Have you seen my stuff? Man… [expletive deleted] them.” I’m paraphrasing, mind you.

Jon was right. As he’d go on to explain, he’d found out from those folks within the jury/selection committee/hipster d-bags who get off on being a figure of authority… that they weren’t looking to bring in a local artists whose purpose was ‘mostly to make money’, as far as he could ascertain. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The thing is, I know that Unshaven Comics is an indie brand. We put 200+ hours into every book to publish. We print in Lansing, IL, 10 minutes away from our homes. We sell only at conventions, and have to-date moved a whopping 10 books via our webstore, and those were to friends and family who simply can’t get to us. That being said? Our books are (now) all-ages, and envelop a style more attune to what might be considered traditional. I was, to-a-point OK with not being considered indie-enough for CAKE. If anything? I interpreted our denial e-mail to be a sign we were too mainstream for their con. Screw it, I guess we’re just knocking down DC and Marvel’s door any day now!

In stark contrast, Jon Michael Lennon and his Cheese Lord Comic imprint could not yell Indie any louder. His art style mixes influences of Robert Crumb and Daniel Clowes. His stories have given my nightmares daydreams. He is a boundary-pushing, down-trodden Harvey Pekar with an imagination that falls somewhere between Francis Bacon and actual bacon. I’m not doing him justice enough. Suffice to say: his work (specifically the Product of Society series he’s been self-publishing for years, as well as a handful of other short works in various other collections) are of the ilk that to me are akin definitively with alternative/indie/whatever-non-conformist label you’d ever give. I mean if you think a comic that questions the size of Jesus Christ’s penis is mainstream than maybe you and I should meet and get coffee.

Now, the idea that CAKE didn’t include Jon or Unshaven Comics, or dozens of other local folks I knew who also did not make it into the creamy filling of their convention resting on our collective desire to earn money for our wares…is perhaps a bit weak. If it is, in fact, true? Well, I’d never submit an application to them again, and I’d freely and happily do everything in my power to sway the masses from ever going to the show in the first place. More likely though, is that this ‘juried’ convention wanted to include those artists whose name and art style follow closer to the hip-and-with-it crowd of horned-rimmed readers who know names like Chris Ware, but couldn’t tell a Kirby from a Crumb.

The fact is that art is subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It’s how boy bands sell billions of albums, and singer-songwriters are left recording on youtube for pennies. For whatever reason, I’ve never had a problem with a fine-art gallery having a jury for a themed show. But a comic convention never crossed my mind as being a place where lines are drawn (natch) between what constitutes show-worthy and not. Comics have long been considered by the zeitgeist to be all-encompassing kitsch. The trails blazed by Crumb, Clowes, and their brethren seemed to dampen that universal lumping of our medium.

Call it a bit of black on black crime here kiddos, but I see a show like CAKE with its collection of like-minded creators to prove that within even this extremely small, extremely tight community of artists and creators… there’s still an undercurrent of ‘good and bad’ which leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Comics to me is all-inclusive. Juried shows, by-and-large, only breed seclusion. And if that is the case? Then I’m right where Jon is:

 [Expletive deleted] them.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Martha Thomases: Comics… and How Science Works

Thomases Art 130823There was a time when it was assumed that people who read comics were not very smart. They couldn’t understand a book without pictures, despite the opinion of Lewis Carroll, as expressed by Alice. This opinion began to lose ground in the 1970s, and by the 1980s, when Art Spiegelman published Maus, some people began to think that comics were for people who were too smart.

During my time at DC, I saw a parallel development among schoolteachers and librarians. When we first start displaying our wares at book shows, we initially faced skepticism. As comics stories like “The Death of Superman” made the news, and more serious work, like Sandman, got reviewed in mainstream media, these professionals began to understand how graphic story could get students and library patrons excited about reading.

For the most part, comics have played only minor roles in classrooms. The excellent For Beginners series has covered about a bazillion topics. This September, NBM gets into the act with an American edition of a Dutch book, Science: A Discovery in Comics by Margreet de Heer. It is available in paper and pixel.

I could use a book that would explain science for the not-so-smart types I described above in the first paragraph. I’m terrible at memorizing the periodic tables, and if I start to think about time and how to define it, I get dizzy. Alas, this book does not fix my head.

It does something better.

deHeer traces the history of science from the ancient Egyptians to Richard Dawkins and beyond. She covers all the sciences: biology, geology, physics, astronomy, chemistry and so on. She describes scientific inquiry from the time that science was as hunch-based as religion (when it was assumed there were four elements, and the earth was the center of the universe) until now. Not only does she cite the times when scientists proved each other right, but also the times when they proved each other wrong.

She does this with charming drawings, with two characters who walk through the millennia, and interact not just with historical science, but with the people affected by their discoveries. It deftly shows that there is more to history than a list of kings and battles.

A lot of fundamentalist types, especially creationists, like to point at the errors other scientists have found in the work of Darwin, and claim that since his original theory of evolution was flawed, that means God created the world in six days a few thousand years ago. That’s not how science works. Real scientists never take “Yes” for an answer. They always seek to disprove an old theory, or prove a new one. When science proves something is false, it is as much a vindication for the scientific method as proving something is true.

If you have a curious kid in your household, you could do worse than get her this book. Even if that kid is 60 years old.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Marc Alan Fishman: The Con Con

Fishman Art 130817So after all that hemming and hawing, Wizard World Chicago came and went. Unshaven Comics saw record sales, happy fans, and well… that’s all we needed. The vibe itself of the show was tepid at best. Many many folks stopping by were quick to talk about their excited meetings with John Barrowman, Wil Wheaton, and Zach Quinto. Others simply said the show was OK, and that they were having a good time as always.

As always, the looming undercurrent of complaints crept around the edges. Full weekend passes cost nearly $100. The show floor itself (due to circumstances beyond Wizard’s control) was split between two floors, with significant bottlenecking of crowds throughout the day. And for those of us showing, Artist Alley seemed to have significant dead-spots – places on the show floor where traffic seemed to never pass by. Attempts to move (and move, and move) seemingly did nothing for the sales. I would guess that roughly a third of the exhibitors left unprofitable, and grumpy.

But I digress. I’m not here to give a thorough analysis of this particular con. Nor am I going to politely make suggestions on how Wizard might improve their exhibitions. I did that last year. And the year before that. I wave the white flag on Wizard’s practices. It’s clear that they want to be micro-San-Diegos in pop-culture-scope and have no desire to really cater to comic creators or the fans that-there-of. My biggest gripe found its way to my Facebook feed via the illustrious Gene Ha.

Gene caught a story over on The Beat that declared Wizard was moving in on comic-con competition in Minneapolis. It’s Wizard World Minneapolis show (a new one amongst their cadre of dates and locales) is scheduled a mere two weeks before the Midwest Comic Book Association’s already established SpringCon. Well, well, well Wizard. Good on you.

Once again, Wizard chooses to horn in on territory where locally owned and beloved conventions have scheduled. Just as they purchased Mid-Ohio Con in Columbus and took over the New York Comic Con in years past. When asked for comment (in case you didn’t read the link above) Wizzy just piddled in the corner… essentially blaming the convention center, and kicking the dirt by it’s boots like a child trying to lie, and failing. It’s maddening.

Wizard has deeper pockets than small comic-based shows. It’s a fact. They book bigger halls, bag bigger stars, and charge exhibitors considerably more. And the fact that Wizard Chairman John Macaluso himself commented that “Scheduling conflicts do no one any good,” he’s merely playing coy in my not-so-humble opinion. What Macaluso isn’t saying is that the conflicts are plenty good for him because the odds are in his favor. His shows snipe in dates weeks earlier than his competition, and brings in pop-culture stars from movies and TV… which invariably draw in a larger audience. And in a smaller city like Columbus or Minneapolis? The average con-goer will have little to no reason (or a plethora of discretionary funds) to attend one con right after the other.

In short, the little guy gets boned, unless they spend their time creating guerrilla marketing efforts such to undercut Wizard all in an attempt not to go under. Mid-Ohio simply caved. And now? The same Cincinnati/Columbus area will see three conventions within a six-week period: Wizard’s Mid-Ohio Con, the newly formed Cincy Comic Con, and the elder Cincinnati Comic Expo.

Is this the fate of Minneapolis looks forward to? Conventions fighting over guests and rolling the dice on their attendance? In the end, if that happens everyone will lose. And when the competition has a deeper wallet, the battle becomes that much harder to fight. We proud dwellers of the Artist Alley are left in waiting, trying to figure out what move to make. Especially those of us making the choice to venture beyond our hometown borders… Where profitability of these shows determines whether we’re eating a nice steak dinner after the show, or supersizing on our way home, with merchandise still in tow.

As it stands, Unshaven Comics this year alone has visited Dayton OH, Ft. Wayne IN, Novi MI, Charlotte NC, and the Chicagoland area several times. Later this year we’re going to Cincinnati, St. Louis, Baltimore, New York, Dearborn, and Kokomo. It’s our hope that Wizard takes a step back, and considers making the shows its known for good again… rather than simply expand it’s empire of bullying.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Martha Thomases Loves Mark Millar

Thomases Art 130816Kick-Ass 2 opened and I’m very psyched. Loved the comics. Loved the first movie. Even liked the Wanted movie, although it isn’t as sharp and funny as the book.

You see, I’m a big fan of Mark Millar. I’ve followed him ever since he wrote Swamp Thing with Grant Morrison, and, as DC’s Publicity Manager, I had to explain to people who he was. And while I haven’t read absolutely everything he’s written, nor have I loved absolutely everything I’ve read, he always engages me with his characters, entertains me and, in places, makes me laugh.

So it surprised me when I read this.

To be sure, I’m not surprised that there is a backlash against someone who is commercially successful in a popular art form. There are always those people, desperate to be cool, who affect disdain for anything popular. There is a subset of this group, who claim to have liked the person/band/actor/director’s work before, when they were unknown. I, myself, am capable of rambling on pretentiously about the first time I saw Talking Heads, when they were a trio.

That’s not what I’m talking about here. Instead, a (reasonably) well-respected magazine, The New Republic, did an overview of Mark’s work and didn’t like what they saw. They spoke with some people who defended Millar, and with some who criticized him. Mostly, the article focused on sex, violence and rape.

Of which there is a lot in Millar’s work. To quote from the article:

“Laura Hudson, the former editor-in-chief of the popular blog Comics Alliance and a senior editor at Wired, thought that scene was deplorable, but typical of Millar. ‘There’s one and only one reason that happens, and it’s to piss off the male character,” she said. “It’s using a trauma you don’t understand in a way whose implications you can’t understand, and then talking about it as though you’re doing the same thing as having someone’s head explode. You’re not. Those two things are not equivalent, and if you don’t understand, you shouldn’t be writing rape scenes.’”

Laura Hudson is someone I admire and respect. When I say I disagree with her, it is not my intention to dismiss her point of view (and I’m aware it can sound like that in print, when you can’t hear my tone of voice or see my evocative hand gestures). Having said that, I suspect we’re having a similar problem when we read the stories. I don’t pick up a tone in the work that celebrates actual violence or rape. I see those actions being used to define characters. Unlike Laura, I don’t think women in the stories are raped solely to motivate men. I think rape is used to show how awful the person is who commits it.

Is this a comic book problem? John Irving writes books that are full of raped characters and the men who love them. Most contemporary critics consider him to be a feminist, or at least an ally to feminists.

(And this will probably be the only time anyone ever discusses Mark Millar and John Irving in the same article.)

Writing about something – even illustrating something – is not the same as endorsing it. I’ve been involved in the non-violent movement for social justice for more than 45 years, yet I enjoyed these comics a lot. I’m tickled by the cartoon violence, in no small part because I know that no actual humans are involved. This may be because of the tone I infer from the stories, or because, as Scott McCloud describes, we each supply our own interpretation of what happens between the panels.

We bring our lives to comics in a way that’s different from other popular art forms. Maybe this is why we can differ so profoundly in our reactions to what we read. In my version, Mark Millar is sort of kind of related to Chuck Jones by way of Francis Ford Coppola.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


John Ostrander on… The Substitute!

Ostrander Art 130811On June 10th of this year, Jon Stewart took leave of his job hosting The Daily Show on Comedy Central to go direct his first film, handing the hosting duties over to John Oliver, one of the show’s top “reporters.” This was a big deal to me – I’m a huge fan of the show but Oliver has never been my favorite performer on it. He’s been a little too over-the-top manic, playing at a character rather than being the character as predecessors like Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert have done. Or Samantha Bee who comes off as a genuine lunatic (and I mean that as the highest compliment). I thought he was trying too hard to be funny rather than being funny.

Someone I would have picked over Oliver was Larry Wilmore – the dry and droll “Senior Black Correspondent.” I saw him doing a documentary about African-Americans and the Mormon Church in a Showtime special titled Race, Religion and Sex. His interviews were first-rate. I was somewhat disappointed they didn’t pick him to sub for Stewart.

I was also concerned that The Daily Show itself would suffer. Stewart has been so identified with it, rarely taking a night off even when obviously physically ill. There was simply no one else to do the job. Until now.

So, the summer wanes and Labor Day approaches and with it Stewart’s return to the desk of The Daily Show. How’s it gone without him?

In my view, surprisingly well. Oh, no question that I will be glad to see Stewart’s return but John Oliver has, overall, done a very good job. I get a better sense of Oliver as a person in his work as anchor for the show. He’s also been willing to play the straight man for the gang of comedic lunatics that comprise the show’s “reporters.” He’s been an adept interviewer, which is important because the interview sessions comprise about a third of the show. Stewart is still the better interviewer but Oliver is better than David Letterman. And he’s getting better.

An early criticism I had for Oliver’s anchorman duties was that he appeared to be imitating Stewart’s intonations and gestures and even posture. Understandable – you go with what works and you don’t want to lose the audience (I’ll bet that is one of Oliver’s recurring nightmares; that he loses the audience for Stewart). It’s gotten less as the summer has gone on, however.

My larger concern was the show itself. Stewart’s not just the anchorman for the series; he’s a writer and co-executive-producer for the show. He has set the tone for The Daily Show, I think, and that’s important. It’s not only a satire of news programs in general but of the news itself and how it’s covered. There’s a sense of real moral outrage running through the show that gives it the edge it shows. There’s a point of view that is consistently presented.

The show is biased and that’s fine; those who say it should be more balanced forget that this is actually a comedy show and not an actual news show. They proudly proclaim themselves a “fake news” show. However, in 2009 the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said that 21% of people between 18 and 29 said that The Daily Show was their primary source for news. Stewart and producers of the show have discounted that and suggested those who used the show as their only news source would wind up horribly misinformed.

My concern was, what would the show look and sound like without Stewart, no matter who was in the anchorman’s chair? I’m happy to say it still has the same voice, the same values, the same moral outrage underlying it.

That bodes well for the show’s future. I’m glad Stewart is coming back but, let’s face it, at some point he will leave and not come back. He may want to direct some more (depending on how this first film goes), he may get offered a gig on a broadcast network late night show, he may just get tired and want to do something else. This summer has proven The Daily Show can go on without him.

It will also give him a viable substitute on the nights when he’s too ill to perform or needs to be elsewhere. That’s a good thing; it will help keep Stewart from burning out. Will the sub/heir apparent be John Oliver? It depends; Oliver’s gotten a lot more visibility and credibility as a result of this summer’s experiment. I‘d be surprised if he doesn’t get more offers as well.

So let’s call the experiment a success – John Oliver showed he can do the job and welcome back Jon Stewart. Just don’t go away again too soon, okay, fellah?




Marc Alan Fishman: All Ages Be Damned!

Fishman Art 130810According to Robot 6 and a few other comic blogs Paul Pope pitched an all ages Kamandi series to DC. Upon hearing it, supposedly, DC responded “You think this is gonna be for kids? Stop, stop. We don’t publish comics for kids. We publish comics for 45-year olds. If you want to do comics for kids, you can do Scooby-Doo. Well, I don’t know how true that is, but it certainly brings a few thoughts to mind.

Let’s say that the statement was in fact true. We don’t actually know the context in which it was said. I’ll assume Pope can tell sarcasm apart from snark. So, if DC actually had the balls to be so rude to such a great talent, they’ll deserve the continued flack they seem to be gunning for on what feels like a daily basis. There’s so many things wrong with what they said… so much so I don’t even know where to begin. How about the beginning.

“We don’t publish comics for kids.” You don’t say. I recall a while back DC had a whole line of comics for kids. I assume though, that it wasn’t profitable, even with the acclaimed Art Baltazar and Franco’s Tiny Titans, and Mike Kunkel’s Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam. Oddly enough though, when I type “DC Comics for Kids” into Google, I seem to be directed to dcnationcomics.kidswb.com! How odd that a company that doesn’t publish comics for kids seems to do just that. Of course my only real options for DC kids comics these days are Scooby-Doo, Looney Toon, Lil’ Gotham, and Adventures of Superman, I might tend to agree that they indeed don’t. Not to knock Superman or Lil’ Bats, but comics for kids amongst the big two always seem to be cordoned off, and rarely beloved. To be even more fair? The only time I’ve personally ever cared to peruse an all-ages book by either Marvel or DC has been Tiny Titans. Then again, I’m not the target audience of less-than-mature comic books.

I’m also not 45, but I get the potential point they are hypothetically making. That point though, is a terrible one. No company in their right mind should be aiming to please 45 year olds. While I plan on being a comic book reader until I’m unable, I freely admit that a comic (and let’s be bland and say traditional super hero comics) should be targeting a younger market. Go back and read something from the silver age. Stan Lee and his ilk wrote simplistic stories with solid doses of emotional depth. It was only when the industry went goth––and started getting mean, and angry – did the product by-and-large seem to start aging with its audience. The point though is this: yes… teens, tweens, and toddlers alike seem to not be embracing the super heroes as much as the Yuhi-Ohs or whatever. What a load of bull-pucks.

This is where I’m perhaps the angriest. There seems to be the insane undercurrent within our niche industry that somehow, someway we need to reach the kids. How the future of our livelihood depends solely on our ability to make ankle-biters know we’re here with funny books. Guess what? We won, years ago, and no one noticed!

Go to Target, Wal-Mart, and the like. Do you see Avengers T-Shirts? Do you see Batman underoos? Do you see an entire aisle of toys that are comic related? Because I do. Go to the electronic sections of the same stores. Do you see the literal wall of DVDs that are comic book related? If you don’t, you’re blind. Facts are facts: Super-Heroes of Marvel and DC are in the zeitgeist. And while comic sales are seemingly no better (as in, kids aren’t rushing in droves to their local comic shops like we all seem to hope…), the fact that the movies, TV shows, and merchandise is out there. For those kids who want more than a movie, show, or toy to play with, there will always be comics. Hell, that’s exactly how I myself came into the industry!

If I were to play devil’s advocate for only a second, I can see between the poor choice of words spoken to Mr. Pope. He pitched a character that by and large is unknown. And while his name brings with it an audience, a Paul Pope Kamandi book doesn’t necessarily come close to the potential profits of a Paul Paul Batman book. At the end of the day, as much as we may love those tertiary characters deep within the catalogues of DC and Marvel… those two companies don’t stay in the black because of them. Marvel makes its money on Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Avengers. DC does with Batman, Superman, and to a lesser extent Wonder Woman / Green Lantern / Flash. Show me the bottom-line earnings of a Kamandi or a Ka-Zar book, and I’ll show you why DC offered Paul Scooby-Doo.

That being said, I’d personally love to see his pitch and take on the character. He’s incredibly talented. And just as I would have wanted to see the Static Shock John Rozum originally pitched for the New52. To me what this pull quote really makes me think is this: There needs to be a way for Marvel and DC to allow amazing creators to drive their own ship, and still make money. Reduce their pre-production / up front pay in lieu of per-piece pay. Release the book digitally only, and then collect it into a printed trade if the sales permit it. Open up the catalogue and let creativity be the driving force of what you put out. Certainly we know that the pulp and paper market will only live so much longer. And beyond that? When a creator wants to deliver an all-ages title? Embrace it! A comic that can be read and enjoyed by more than one demographic only increases the possibilities of readership.

You think you can step on creators as much as you want? Why don’t you just go back to publishing Scooby-Doo.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Martha Thomases: TV Jones

Martha Thomases: TV Jones

Last Friday, in eight major television markets, CBS stations disappeared from televisions served by Time-Warner Cable. In addition, stations owned by CBS, including Showtime and the Smithsomian Channel, are also off the air.

Except there isn’t any air. And that’s part of the problem.

When television first became a business, the various stations broadcast over airwaves owned by the people and licensed by the government. Having a broadcast license was like a license to print money, and, in exchange, the owners of the license were expected to do things “in the public interest,” like news programs and public service announcements.

Because of, you know, capitalism, people learned how to make money from these forms of public service. News divisions must now be profitable. Public service ads are often underwritten by for-profit corporations, which use them as occasions to build their brands.

In other words, CBS (and the other networks) became corporate powers in no small part because our tax dollars allowed them to reach a mass market.

And then, cable.

Now, cable also depends on an infrastructure that owes its existence to public investment. Phone lines, the Internet – all came about because the government supported them. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect cable (and fiber optic and satellite) companies to do things in the public interest.

One of those things, mandated by local-carry laws, has been to carry local stations, including those affiliated with broadcast networks. In New York, that means the five major networks (ABC, CBS, the CW, Fox and NBC) as well as Channel 9, which is owned by Fox but doesn’t broadcast network programming, but does have a lot of baseball.

Several years ago, Congress, in its wisdom, decided that these poor network affiliates were being discriminated against by the nasty cable (and satellite etc.) companies. Cable stations get a fee for every subscriber, while the broadcast channels do not. Therefore, Congress allowed the broadcast channels to get a fee for every subscriber as well.

Which brings us to our current situation. In New York, CBS wants to raise its fee from $1.00 per subscriber to $2.00. Time Warner doesn’t want to pay that much. The previous contract expired in June, and, until now, Time Warner allowed CBS to continue to use its system to reach customers. However, with football season on the way, and new fall shows about to debut. They wanted to get the matter settled.

Which they are doing, in a manner that pleases no one.

If I lived anywhere else, I might consider switching providers. However, in Manhattan, satellite is not a reliable choice (skyscrapers get in the way), and not every building is wired for other cable providers. I don’t claim Time Warner is the best, but I’m generally happy with it.

I don’t get Showtime, and I don’t watch a lot of CBS. I like the first half-hour of their morning show (because they sometimes have actual news on it). I like Scott Pelley for my news anchor, but not so much that I can’t watch Brian Williams. I like Elementary, but it’s in reruns. Under the Dome is great, but I can see it on Amazon (although not until Friday and the folks at CBS are being such dicks that I can’t see it online because cable is how I get my Internet). None of this is so disturbing that I need to take extraordinary measures to survive this inconvenience. In other words, I’m not getting an antenna.

Would I pay an extra dollar a month? Maybe. However, if I’m going to have to pony up for CBS, I want to be able to decide what other stations I get – or, more important, don’t get. Of the Viacom stations (corporate cousins of CBS), I don’t need MTV or VH1, but must must must have Comedy Central, and sometimes Logo. I bet my choices would cost them more than they’d get for me to see The Late Show with David Letterman the few times I’m awake that late.

And I would really love the opportunity to get Fox News off my signal in any way, shape and form.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander