Tagged: John Ostrander

Mindy Newell: Ruminations, Ramblings and Rumblings

So what’s in Mindy’s head today?

I haven’t been to a convention in a long, long time, but reading about some of the ComicMix crew’s sojourn to Baltimore (here and here) lit up my temporal lobe – that’s the part of the brain responsible for memory, for you non-biology majors out there. James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Captain, the engines canna take it” Scott of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701) in the “green room” at ICON spilling his coffee all over my new outfit and his gentlemanly response as he went to wipe my chest and then blushed, stopping himself just in time. London in 1986 – walking through London with Archie Goodwin, Mark Gruenwald, Louise and Walter Simonson. Meeting Neil Gaiman and John Wagner. Forgetting that I met John Higgins and then marrying him 17 years later. The British Museum. The Tower of London. Breakfast with Mike Grell and Tom DeFalco. Toronto: sitting on a panel with Chris Claremont. Chicago: Meeting Kim Yale and John Ostrander and Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar. Michael Davis in the audience lending support and trying to fluster me (“Number Nine. Number Nine.”) during the Women In Comics panel. Hanging out at the pool with a bunch of comics pros and getting such a great tan that my coworkers back home thought I had gone to the Caribbean for the weekend. Sitting next to Julie Schwartz at the DC booth. Being followed into the bathroom by a fan wanting an autograph.

Over at The League Of Women Bloggers on Facebook, I found out about a troll who has been sexually harassing and threatening women pros and their families on the net. As I said there, “I would like to know why it took Ron Marz and Mark Millar (and kudos to them for doing so) to take the asshole on. Having never been subjected to the troll’s attacks, I was ignorant until I read about it here. However, I will say that if I had been attacked like this, I would not have stayed quiet. (Anyone who knows me should not be surprised.) I would have taken him on, language for language, and if it had continued, I would have contacted the authorities. So, girlfriends, I do have to say…why didn’t anyone who was being attacked by this asshole not take him on? My graduate paper for school was ‘Horizontal, Lateral and Vertical Violence in Nursing.’ It’s a worldwide phenomenon in the field. What this trolling ogre has been doing is the same thing (and it occurs on the net in nursing, too.) And every peer review paper I read, every person I interviewed, said the same thing – those who are attacked in this manner must come forward. It’s the only way to stop it.”        

Reading comics as a kid taught me the meaning of “invulnerable” and that the sun is 93,000, 000 miles from Earth. (Thanks for the editor’s notes, Julie!) It opened my mind to the infinite possibilities of “life out there” and the wonders of the universe. It taught me that guns are bad and life is precious. It taught me to love reading. I mentioned this to daughter Alix’s husband, Jeff, who is a professor in the City University of New York system and teaches remedial English, suggesting that he use comics as part of his syllabus. He’s looking into it.  If he can get into his office. The key the administration doesn’t open the door. Ah, CUNY.

Conspiracy moment: It might be my writer’s brain, but can’t help having a suspicion that the release of The Innocence Of Muslims (the video that launched horrific demonstrations against the U.S., Israel, and the Western world all over the Middle East, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and resulted in the deaths of our Libyan ambassador and three others) was an act of Al Quada, especially as it occurred on September 11, and especially as Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over as head of the terrorist organization, released a message on the net calling for an uprising. Laugh if you must, scoff if you will, but I won’t be surprised if the New York Times reports that a link was found by our intelligence agencies.

The Giants lost their opening game. They deserved to lose. They looked horrible. Their offensive line is non-existent. For this I missed Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic Convention?

Martha Thomases’ fashion police column last week made me want to see a spread featuring the very fashion-forward women of comics. Hey! New York Times! How ‘bout it?

La Shonah Tova, everybody! That’s a big Happy New Year to all of you!

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis

 

 

Marc Alan Fishman: BaltiMORE!

Yeah, I know. The illustrious Mike Gold has already written at length as to why the Baltimore Comic-Con is an amazing experience. But Mike’s career in comics is older than I am. I had thought, for only a second, that maybe I should just move on and try another column to piss people off. But here I sit, and man, I still can’t stop smiling. So, screw it, you’re gonna hear (again) about the Baltimore Comic-Con. Maybe you’ll get a different perspective. This was my first trip to the Charm City, and I think Mike may have underplayed just how awesome this shindig is. Oh Baltimore Comic-Con, how do I love thee… Let me count the ways.

As many here have read my recent tirades about the Wizard Conventions may know… I have been seriously duped. I was raised on a convention where I honestly believed that in order to make it successful, one needed the publishers (especially the big ones) to anchor the show. How wrong I truly was! BCC was a show where the publishers were truly secondary to the main draw – the creators. In one of several walks I took away from our own table, I realized I was feet away from a litany of personal heroes. Brian Bolland, Cliff Chiang, J.G. Jones, and Gene Ha only to name a few. And while there were publishers there, they were in non-monstrosities that made them feel a “part” of the show, not the driving force behind it. The driving force truly was the community of creators. And given that I was amongst them? It was one of the few times in my five years as one I felt comfortable owning the term.

Far cooler though was the chance to truly “meet” Mark Wheatley, Marc Hempel, and ComicMix’s Emily S. Whitten. Over an amazing dinner (joined by my amazing friends/Samurnauts Erik and Cherise Anderson, Unshaven Sales Machine Kyle, and the always tall Glenn Hauman) we swapped stories, histories, personal politics, jokes, and more. And sure the crab cake was some kind of life altering experience… but just the chance to be at that dinner table in the suburbs of Maryland was some kind of amazing that I’ll be chasing for years to come. I know this is not an experience one gets simply by being at this con… but this was one perk of writing for this site that certainly is continuing to pay off in spades – even if it’s in food and stories alone.

As Mike already mentioned, the show was the perfect length. No “preview night” to force an extra day’s parking money out of the creators… just a packed weekend of festivities. It was almost as if the show runners knew that the creators who got into town early might find one another prior, and take the responsibility themselves to find a good time in the city. Preposterous!

What Mike didn’t mention (mainly because he wasn’t there to sell…) was the positively unending crowd. For two days the traffic at the show was never sparse. Our booth was literally in the last aisle of the convention center, and there was rarely a time where there wasn’t a nice gaggle of comic fans walking past our table. Unshaven Comics walked into the con with a “it’d sure be nice” goal of 150 books over two days. On Saturday alone, we netted a personal record: 137 books sold. And Sunday helped us tip the total to over 200. That makes me beyond proud to announce with three more conventions still left on our schedule, we met our years’ goal of 1000 books sold. For three guys making books in their basement, selling only on the convention floor? I’d say Baltimore put the icing on a cake made of success.

And how about those Harvey Awards? Well, all points from earlier in the week stand true: We were in awe in attendance of living legends. Phil LaMarr was an amazingly hilarious host who proved that beneath all the funny was a legit fan. Ross Ritchie proved that beyond the Gutters’ continual assault on his character, he’s a humble and very passionate man. His call to action only cemented further Unshaven Comics’ love of the medium. And hey, the 30-pound gift bag they let us leave with was nothing short of super. It’s more than possible that it will take an entire career for me to get one, but mark my words: Unshaven Comics will take home a Harvey before we retire our pencils and Wacoms.

Suffice to say, the Baltimore Comic-Con showed me exactly what Wizard is missing in it’s conventions: comic book creators. We’re not a sideshow or a footnote to be hidden on the con floor. We’re the reason this industry exists – from the billion dollar movies we create to the never-ending stream of ideas. The BCC knows how to elevate and celebrate this fact.

As a creator and as a fan, I was (and am) awestruck at what I was witness to this past weekend. And sure it took a twelve-hour car trip to get there, but it was truly a small price to pay for a head full of memories I’ll be hard-pressed to replace…

Until next year.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

Marc Alan Fishman: Whedon’s S.H.I.E.L.D. Has Already Been Canceled!

OK, no it hasn’t. But I bet I sure got your attention. Let’s have a quiet chat here, nerds, shall we?

Joss Whedon, Emperor of the Nerds, has ascended to the top of the mountain in Hollywood. Who knew all it took was a couple billion bucks behind the largest franchise film in history to get there? With that being said, Disney / ABC / Marvel has officially dropped the proverbial “dump-truck of money” at Joss’ gilded doorstep. And with it comes his triumphant return to television. And every geek in America (and parts of Europe and Asia, I suppose) holds its breath in anticipation.

The S.H.I.E.L.D show, as we’ve gleaned from what few words have graced us from St. Serenity, will take place in the Marvel Movieverse, but will not be sequel to The Avengers. Aside from that? Well, there’s not much else being said. So what are we to do? Speculate of course! Consider this my open air wish list for the show itself. What it could be, and what it shouldn’t.

First and foremost? I want continuity. I want the show to play in not just New York. I want weekends in Wakanda, layovers in Latveria, as well as trysts in the Triskelion. Marvel has a rich tapestry to explore, and a series that gets too many kicks in a single environment ends up becoming predictable. I’d like to think of the helicarrier as our Serenity, and the 616 provides us a new and cool place to explore every week.

And while we’re on that topic, who, prey-tell, should be doing the exploring? If I had my way, I’d free Colbie Smulders from How I Met Your Mother (which I truly love) in lieu of a permanent station as the show anchor. Whedon is known for his strong portrayal of female characters. Sadly, the movie was too pumped full of testosterone to really have much for Maria Hill or Black Widow to do beyond get a little scuffed, and pouty. I say play to your strengths, Master Joss. Maria Hill would not only be recognizable to the masses, but she (Ms. Smulders) has the depth and chops to carry a show on her shoulders with ease. And beside her? Well, I want all the S.H.I.E.L.D. stalwarts. Dust off Falcon, Quartermaine, and the offspring of Dum Dum Dugan (since I believe he was in the Cap movie and is quite not-amongst-the-living).

And what good guy is good without a bad guy to combat? Marvel’s bench is deep with cool villains perfect for the silver screen. Obviously no spy-based show in the 616 would be worth its’ salt without the perfunctory associations of ne’er-do-wells: Hydra, AIM, the Hand, etc. Heck, bonus points if they incorporate “The Ten Rings” from the Iron Man franchise. But aside from the machinations of large criminal organizations comes a bevvy of singular baddies that S.H.I.E.L.D. could be responsible for removing from the picture. Who here wouldn’t giggle a little if they saw the Purple Man, Baron Zemo, or dare I suggest the Hood making their way onto the teevees? No one, that’s who.

And would it be too much to ask for an occasional cameo? Yes, we know that all the Avengers are going to have full dance cards for a while. But nothing, and I mean nothing keeps fans (casual and crazy) coming back for more than the off chance the real Dr. Banner, Dr. Stark, or Captain America shows up to shoot the breeze. And if not for our “actual” movie stars, maybe a secondary cameo from Dr. Selvig, General Ross, or Agent Coul – err… never mind. The point remains the same. After five-plus feeder movies? There’s a metric ton of characters in the toybox that will help keep the show fresh.

And if I have only one wish fulfilled for this show-to-be… it’s all in the presentation. Smallville started strong, but quickly degraded into predictable schlock. The tendency for all TV (dramas and sci-fi shows alike) is to become machines of procedure. S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t bode well if it quickly becomes “case of the week.” Same could be said if it goes the direction of Lost or Heroes… and becomes obsessed with serialization. The key is, was, and will always be balance. Have an overarching storyline peppered with great single episodes to chew on. With an ensemble cast in place, this will all fall in line.

Ultimately, Whedon’s return to the medium that has raised him up as much as it’s let him down stands to be a great reckoning for our king-nerd. Where Firefly and Dollhouse were quickly dispatched due to poor schedule placements and too-small-of-a-fanbase-to-keep-it-on-the-air, S.H.I.E.L.D. stands the most promise to succeed if only for it’s parent franchise feeding the masses now hungry for more Marvel. You know, all those people who loved the movie(s) but were way too afraid of going to a comic shop to read about their new favorite characters. So long as the show can walk the line between “cool spy adventures” and “snarky fan-service”, and Marvel backs the show up with continually successful movies… the sky is the limit. And in that sky? A gleaming CGI set for the Triskelion.

Marc Alan Fishman and fellow ComicMixers Emily S. Whitten, Mike Gold, Glenn Hauman and Adriane Nash will be at the Baltimore Comic-Con today and tomorrow, mostly hanging around his Unshaven Comics booths, selling his wares to the unwary, and screaming obscenities at nearby Yankees fans. Drop by and say hello.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander and George Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare, Del Close, and Stan Lee.

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Rob Liefeld Vs. Batman

In case you don’t follow the Twitterverse, allow me to succinctly sum up the “happening” that occurred this past week. Rob Liefeld, stalwart artist and writer, melted down. After months of being jerked around by his nebbishy editor, he waved the white flag and left his position at DC. He took to Twitter to vent a bit. Creators around the industry came to bat for the editor he trashed. He lashed back. First to Marvel’s First Hat Honcho, Tom Brevoort. Then, Scott Snyder, in a private communication, reached out to the champion of anatomy himself. After a bit of back and forth, the private conversation became not-so-private. Seems Liefeld took it upon himself to imply that Scott’s success at DC lies with the character Snyder writes, not his prowess of prose.

I could actually argue on the side of Robbie Jordache about the editorial mandate issue. Seriously. It’d be brilliantly positive. The single time in my life I wouldn’t take every chance I get to dump pot shot after pot shot on the man whose most famous creation is the thigh pouch. This however, is not that sunshiny post. Rob? You done went and got me pissed.

The tweets in question:

“It’s not you (referring to Snyder). It never has been. It’s Batman.”

“I’d like to think that if your going to wave your ego around on Batman you’d remember all that came before you. Holeee crap.”

“One word. Haunt. Two words. Swamp Thing. Not all creations equal”

Where do I even begin? OK, Rob, if you’re paying attention (which shouldn’t be hard since you’ve got an abundance of free time right now…), here’s the skinny: Scott Snyder’s Batman is selling amazingly, well, because he’s writing it brilliantly. Yes, Batman will sell tons of books because he’s in it. Certainly all the other Bat-titles being produced right now are enjoying that fact; they’re not as good (save perhaps for Batman Incorporated). Snyder’s run, first for a year on Detective, and now on Batman’s flagship title, has proven time and again what a talent Scott happens to be. For one year, he thrust Dick Grayson into the cowl, and delivered a series I personally hold up as being one of the most deftly written in the last decade. And when he transitioned to the main book? He created an original epic story and villain (in the entire Court of Owls) that takes all the gravitas Hush falsely earned, and did it without relying on the crutch of every single rogue in the Bat-gallery. To imply that the consistent sales Snyder’s run is bringing in is due to the nameplate alone is not only short-sighted… it’s insulting to me as a fan.

Rob’s next pec-pulsating punch to the gut implies that Snyder takes credit for his success without denoting all those great creators that came before him. Given Liefeld’s inability to draw a straight line, a proper foot, or a plausible gun has perhaps caused him to not be able to read. Because when I read Snyder’s run on Detective Comics, I saw that he brought back James Gordon Jr, a character who‘d long been forgotten since his introduction in Frank Miller’s acclaimed “Batman: Year One.” And in his tenure as Bat-plotter, Snyder has paid homage to nearly every other writer before him, including working with Grant Morrison to tie-in several pieces of “The Return of Bruce Wayne” with his “Gates of Gotham.”

If Rob’s beef was that Snyder took credit for the work he’s done? Well, that steak ain’t for dinner. Snyder is allowed to revel in his limelight. He’s earned it. And while Rob’s runs on several books saw increases in sales… it seems it wasn’t enough for the powers that be. And so, we end up in this one-sided squabble.

Snyder’s ultimate response to the fans: “…I’ll echo what my brother @GregCapullo said before. All of us on team Batman are extremely proud of the success, and that success is due to your support. But as the team on the book, if we didn’t believe that your incredible and humbling support was due at least a little to us doing a somewhat decent job – if we sat back and said – Batman sells Batman – what sort of book would that engender? We have to think the sales are because you guys like what we’re doing on the book. It fuels us to continue to do stories that matter to us, knowing that you’re telling us you like what we’re giving you, on a character that means everything to us both. That’s it. I will not fight or post another negative tweet about Rob or anyone. And, I want to say sorry to you all and no one else– to you, the fans of comics, not just me or Rob – for bothering with this. It’s a waste and we should be pushing the good not attacking each other. And I’m guilty of that too. So I’m sorry to you for going negative. Thx to those of you who reminded me of that.”

See? Snyder certainly isn’t waving his ego around now, is he?

And let’s not leave the table before we discuss Haunt versus Swamp Thing. First off, I tried Googling to see where or how Liefeld is tied to Haunt. Couldn’t find one. But suffice to say, even if he had anything to do with it, I’ve read it. It doesn’t hold a candle to Swamp Thing. And again, I cite the books themselves to combat this idea that “all creations aren’t equal.” Well, Robbie? You’re damned right. All creations are not created equal. Swamp Thing has decades of material from which to draw from. To expect Haunt would be on the same level is asinine. And for the record, I didn’t give two poops about Swamp Thing before Snyder was on it. And I say this knowing full well Alan Moore wrote the character. Snyder’s prose and ability to craft truly creepy tales helped Swamp Thing rise to the top of my pull list every month. I got through two issues of Haunt. And the second one was read during a long night in the loo, where no other reading was available, and my phone was dead. I’ll leave it at that.

At the end of the day, I want to give Liefeld a pass. I really do. He was exasperated, like so many others these days, at DC’s whirlwind editor machine. Since the New 52, it would seem that unless you’re on the top of the heap in sales, the Brothers Warner are pushing down on the middle management to keep shaking the tree until money falls out. By doing this though, it inevitably leads to creator burn out. And through the lens of his exasperated state, Rob lashed out at those defending the editor in question. What good did it do you, Rob? Where you could have once just waved that white flag and retreated back to the land of your creator-owned crud, you instead decided to pick a fight with Batman.

And Robbie, in case you never got the memo: Don’t ever pick a fight with Batman.

Marc Alan Fishman and fellow ComicMixers Emily S. Whitten, Mike Gold, Glenn Hauman and Adriane Nash will be at this weekend’s Baltimore Comic-Con, mostly hanging around the Unshaven Comics booth hawking his wares. Drop by and say hello.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander and Writing Story Stuff

 

Mindy Newell: Sometimes A Great Notion Gets Beat

Gosh darn that Entertainment Weekly!

Curse you, Martha Thomases!

Damn those Republicans!

Off with your head, John Ostrander!

I’m the New York Giants’s Lawrence Tynes. I’m the place kicker here. I’m the one who gets the game going. Yeah, that’s right. Monday is the start of the week here at ComicMix. The calendar week may start with Sunday, but Monday is the real start of the week, isn’t it? As in first day of the work week and first day of the school week.

(BTW, what y’all thinking about the Giants first-round draft choice, running back Dave Wilson? I’m liking him. Yeah, that’s right. Football season is just about here. Deal with it. Go Giants!)

And here it is Monday, and I’m sitting here on Sunday afternoon without a thing to write about.

I was going to write about Superman and Wonder Woman sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g in a tree. Except that my pal Martha beat me to it. And superbly, I might add.

Then I was going to write about how life imitates fiction, even when events are too strange, too scary, too twisted, too cartoony to be believed. Except that my buddy John got there first. With an A+, of course.

This happens sometimes when you’re a writer.

Great minds thinking alike.

Okay, you can stop snorting in derision now.

But Ken Kesey’s Sometimes A Great Notion (great book, btw, highly recommended) gets beaten to the punch. So then what do you do?

Panic is the best – and first – reaction.

Going to the gym to clear out your mind (and burn off the fight-or-flight adrenaline) is the second thing you do.

Read all the comics that have been piling up in the kitchen in one sitting, praying that one of them will spark an idea.

Look at the clock and realize the deadline is looming and curse yourself for not writing the column earlier in the week when all the hub-pub hit the media, thus beating out Martha and John.

Panic again.

Cut open a vein and watch yourself bleed.

Or sit down in front of the computer and start writing from fear of Mike whooping your ass.

I love you, Mike.

Oh, and by the way:

Regarding Diana and Kal-El. I still maintain that Diana, considering her upbringing, would most likely look to her own sex for an adult relationship before venturing into anything heterosexual – meaning she needs to discover just where her sexuality lies. Hey, is that where Geoff Johns is going with this? Not that I believe for a second that DC and its corporate papa, Time Warner, would ever let Wonder Woman be gay.

Regarding Rep. Todd Akin (R-Missouri), Judge Tom Head of Texas, and State Senator Stacey Campfield (R). They only prove that the Repugnanticans have become truly asinine, ignorant, bigoted enemies of truth, justice, and the American way.

If only they were characters in a comic book.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis and More Milestones

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Wizard World Redemption

Hello, everyone! After last week, I figured it’d only be fair that I give Wizard World a little hand up, since I was so quick to toss them into the gutter. Suffice to say I saw a ton of responses via Facebook, Twitter, etc. in support of my disappointing feelings at this past Wizard World Chicago. So, with all eyes from their ivory tower now squarely pointed at me*, I shall make an epic journey for Wizard, giving them the laundry list of things I’d like to see them do to reclaim their former convention glory.

Remember what started this whole shebang – comic books. Just because you can’t lay claim to the publishing giants does not mean with some delicate planning, you can’t land the amazing creators behind said publishers. Suffice to say, if you bring them, the fans will come. People love Marvel and DC. But they don’t come to the convention just because there’s a chance to see DC Direct action figures and snag some Marvel posters. More often than not? The mainstay of your crowd – the real comic fans – want a chance to meet the creators behind their favorite book. Whatever Wizard did to shun so many artists and writers? Well, it’s time to send out some apologetic gift baskets, and comp the way for the names that will draw in the most people.

And if you should be so lucky to entice a gaggle of cool creators, the next step is simple: plan a convention that celebrates the medium through intelligent discussion and good old-fashioned fun. What this means? Programming. Even in the larger convention halls, your crowd can peruse the show floor in about two hours, if they take it slow. This means that there is time in every show-goers’ schedule to enjoy something more than just spending their money.

In my youth, I recall amazingly fun panels: the Silver Age Trivia Contest, hosted by Mark Waid, the CBLDF Sketch-off, where top names like Jim Lee and Phil Hester jammed on audience suggestions for charity, as well as countless “how-to” panels where small gatherings of 50 or so fans got live demonstrations on everything from digital inking to script writing. At their core, the conventions are here to celebrate comics, not (just) corral all our cash.

Next up on the list? The non-comic stuff. Hey, I freely admit that these shows have grown to encapsulate all of Nerdtopia. And it’s cool if the show plays well with others. Comic geeks are also Trekkies, Jedis, Whovians, Vampires, and Otaku. So bring on the D-List Sci-Fi Channel celebutaunts. Bring on the retired WWE wrestlers. Create a dais of former Starfleet Captains and Wookies. Just don’t make them the sole reason to come. And better yet? Find a way to reduce the gouging. No need to pay for a show floor ticket, if you’re only there for some pictures. In the past, there was a nice area off the main floor where photo ops and autograph seekers could assemble. Do it again and you can bring back something all good shows have… a laid back traffic flow, instead of a jam of fanny packs and unwashed masses.

The last bit I’d like to touch on is something I yearn for: the promotion of the little guy. For a company like mine, these conventions are the single best way for us to gain a following. We sell books, hard, and do our best to connect to every fan that walks past our table and makes eye contact. With just a little help from show promoters (ahem, Wizard World…) we “indie guys” could have access to the fans en masse. And that could make all the difference in the world. Back when Wizard was huge, tickets came with a grab bag of materials. Offer the opportunity for indie creators to make samplers to place in these bags. Offer up panels to unknowns, who can help lead discussions, debates, tutorials, and demos. Con attendees interested in the content alone might then be converted into legit fans.

In short, Wizard World is well within the grasp of greatness. A few apologies, a few comps, and a few good planners could help take their show from the doldrums their in right now, and slowly rebuild them to be what they once were. The first step though is to admit there’s a problem. As the industry slowly crawls towards the advent of creator-owned content, the convention circuit will quickly become the single best way to connect fans to the industry. Don’t lose sight of that just because you can nab Sookie for a few autographs. We’re the reason these shows started, and dag nabbit, we’re the ones who can make them great again.

* I’m safely assuming that Wizard scours the net for mentions of their cons, and have no doubt flagged me as a ne’er-do-well on their hit list.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

 

Dennis O’Neil: Fantasize

First, check out John Ostrander’s column, found somewhere near the stuff you’re reading, and then imagine me shouting Amen into the Grand Canyon and listen to the seemingly endless echoes and finally consider this a small gloss on John’s work.

John cites the old how-to-write chestnut: Write what you know. Okay, first a slightly snarky hypothesis that’s not intended to insult, or even question, my pedagogical colleagues, just raise the tiniest bump in the dialogue: Maybe those who teach the aforementioned chestnut write what they know because that’s all they, themselves, can write. That’s not a knock: we’re all wired a bit differently and who’s to say that a talent for writing, if talent it be, doesn’t manifest in as many different ways as, say, a talent for music? No good or bad, just different. (Who’s your fave, Mozart or Bob Dylan? Oh – lucky you! – can you dig ‘em both?)

It seemed to me, back when I was giving this kind of matter some thought, that until recently there’s been a cultural bias against imaginative storytelling. “Realistic” (note punctuation) equals good: fantastic equals bad. So Hemingway is a good writer because he wrote about going down to the café in the afternoon to drink the good wine, and Bradbury is bad because he wrote about… Martians and stuff.

Second, a confession that, with any luck at all, will segue into an observation: Despite my having written 200 or so Batman stories, I have never waited on a shadowy rooftop for a heavily armed psychopath to arrive so I can give him such! a smack. I’ve never bent steel in my bare hands or changed the course of mighty rivers either, but I’ve written Superman stories. The Batman stories were easier and more fun.

Here we circle back to the chestnut. I think the reason I was more comfortable with Batman than with the undoubtedly estimable Superman has to do with writing… not what I know, but what I fantasize. Batman lives near my dreams: Superman, not so much. I’ve never daydreamed about having godlike powers – and let’s face it, Superman is a demigod, at least – but I could imagine, oh…running a marathon in 2:10? Punching out that bosun’s mate who clocked me solid at that bus stop in Cuba? We’re talking about feats that are difficult and even extraordinary – he was one tough bosun’s mate – but that are within human capabilities. Did you watch the Olympics this year?

Let’s revisit the chestnut one last time…No – let’s toss it out altogether and substitute a few words from Henry David Thoreau: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Maybe Hemingway dreamed of those cafés. And Bradbury? All those wonderful Martians…

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases Flies Back

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Hey Wizard – You’re Running Outta Magic!

This past weekend Unshaven Comics attended our fifth Wizard World Chicago Comic Convention … as creators. As fans, we’ve been going to this every year since 2000. It is, for all intents and purposes, our home show. We sell the most books, meet the most fans, and generally enjoy an amazing time. Some, if not all of this is derived by selling the most books, but don’t quote me on that. I am quite proud to report that we hustled and bustled our way to our “soft goal” of a 10% increase in sales over the year past. 333 books left our table, and into the eager hands of friends, fans, and passersby who were lured by the pitch of Kung-Fu Monkeys and Zombie Cyborg Space Pirates. For that? We’re elated creators.

That being said, this was easily the worst Wizard World we’ve ever been a part of –be we just fantastic fans or curmudgeonly creators.

Where to begin: how about show length. As I recall this show used to be over a Saturday and Sunday. Then they added Friday. Then they added “preview night.” This year? They made it a full four days. Hey if it works in San Diego, right? Wrong. When the two largest booths on the convention floor are Chevy and “Smell Like An Avenger” and your panel listings fit on a black and white 11 x 17 photocopy? You don’t have four days worth of con. You have a weekend con stretched to the absolute limit.

Next? The floor plan. There’s a saying, I’m not sure if Wizard is familiar, that goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s a great saying. Since Wizard obviously hasn’t heard it (and they most certainly are reading this) let me make it clear as the Invisible Woman. For 20 years the show floor has followed a very simple layout. Enter into the exhibitor zone with small press booths behind them, move to the dealer zone, and then the Artist Alley. Autographs and appearances? Wrapped right into the exhibitor booths. This year? They littered exhibitors with dealers all over the floor, put the autograph area smack dab in the middle of the convention hall, and then shoehorned the Artist Alley in the back third of the hall, split by a few jutting walls and the ATM.

And just to stick it to artists on the far end, they placed the photo op zone right at the end of the hall, ensuring a lengthy queue that stretched into the alley at all times during the convention. Nothing better for book sales and fan interaction like a line in front of your table that only cares about snagging that shot with Lou Ferigno, right? Wrong.

Far too many of my friends extended smiles coldly bookended with sighs of exasperation. Our neighbor from Mid-Ohio Con, the always amazing Eliza Frye, was forced to move her table three times. Three times! Which meant this show, which she flew in for, was a wash at best. Our close personal friend and arch nemesis, Dan “Beardo Comics” Dougherty, was one of the unlucky ones shoehorned near the photo op booth. He “made table” (as we in-the-know like to say) but didn’t quite reach his personal goal. Given that he makes comics for a living? This means less living for Dan. On one hand, I’m glad my arch nemesis failed. On the other hand? He’s an awesome creator who got the shaft by Wizard.

Concerning our Unshaven table… life was somewhat better. Our neighbors, both very awesome in their own ways, out-flanked our paltry table decorations with elaborate PVC and metal shelving installations. Our roll-up sign, and clear plastic tabletop book holder certainly didn’t impress. So much so that we heard from several fans after the show that they simply didn’t find us. It didn’t help that we were table “3113,” but there were no markings on the show floor (or provided program map with font size only Hank Pym could read) that would have assisted people in finding us. It also begs to note that prior to the show, Wizard e-mailed all the artists asking who we might want to sit next to. We listed six friends, all similar in fame and similar in style. We sat nowhere near them. While traffic on the floor itself was steady, it was always apparent how weary the fans were. Suffice to say (and it’d been said before) four days for a two day show does not make for an energetic crowd. Had it not been for our fevered pitching, I doubt we could have even topped the prior years’ sales.

Ultimately the show was just okay. Most creators saw enough sales to warrant their appearance. Most dealers left pissed at their spotty placement. I’m sure all the celebrities enjoyed being the star attraction of the show, in addition to getting to charge anywhere from $20 to $50 for signing their name.

There was a time when Wizard World Chicago was the crown jewel of a Chicago comic geek’s summer. Nowadays? It’s a second rate flea market peppered by those of us fighting in the trenches to earn one fan at a time. Will we be there next year? In order to be successful, we have to be. Will be bitch about it then, too? You better believe it. Wizard has a whole year to improve upon the car wreck they displayed a weekend ago.

In the simplest terms: Put the show floor back the way it was, attract more comic creators and publishers to return, make panels that celebrate the medium that spawned the creation of the show itself; You’re not San Diego, and you’ll never get close. It’s time to own that, Wizard. Excelsior.

Footnote: Post show, we received an e-mail from Wizard asking all creators to “put a good word in” for them to respective fan bases and with other creators. Nothing like owning up to shared feelings of failure, right?

SATURDAY: John Ostrander

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Marvel Now and Later

Sorry for my absence last week, loyal readers. It would seem something had to break in my fragile world, and this was the first thing closest to the exit ramp. Luckily for me you all had more important things to do on a Saturday morning than read my rants and raves. Right? You didn’t? You mean to tell me you’ve been sitting there, at your desk, for a whole week… awaiting my article? Jeez. I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you. Let’s start off with something really inflammatory to get back into the thick of it, shall we?

Marvel Now is what I’d wished DC would have done with their New 52.

Marvel comes right out of the gate with the smartest roll-out plan I’ve seen in a while: A sensible one or two new books out every week, over the course of a few months. DC’s “throw everything at the fan, and watch the sales spike and recede” did exactly that. Marvel Now (boy, that’s gonna get annoying) sidesteps the idea that fans are willing to try everything all at once, in lieu of a doing it a few at a time. I’m a marketing man by trade. This screams of “listening to the target audience” and “lowering the barrier to entry” for those less willing to hop aboard. In human-speak? Someone at Marvel realized fans aren’t made of money. They are more willing to start a new series at #1, and toss it into their weekly rotation a little at a time, rather than dump their entire paychecks out for the opportunity to “catch up” to a continuity that wasn’t quite rebooted, wasn’t quite reset, and wasn’t quite defined in the slightest.

Marvel also has taken it upon themselves to shake up some major players on major books, after successful long-term runs had been accomplished. Where DC has been quick to play musical chairs before some writers grew their sea-legs for a particular title, the House of Mouse once again played it cool. Let Bendis play in the Avengers sandbox until he’s run out of awesome things to do. Then let Fraction do the same with Iron Man. Then put Waid (who is still rocket hot after relaunching Daredevil back into our hearts) onto a book, The “Insert-Adjective-Here” Hulk, that frankly I’m sure no one has cared about since Jeph Loeb murdered it in the early aughts.

In the art department, fan favorite John Cassaday gets to give The Avengers a nod, which I hope is as good or better than his work on the Astonishing X-Men. The always tried-and-true Mark Bagely will lend his hand at Fantastic Four, which should loosen the book up from its present look and feel. And over in the Four’s sister (or really… daughter?) book, FF, none other than Mike Alred is slated to put pencil to page. The last time I believe he was around MarvelLand, we got X-Statics, which was X-cellent. Sorry, had to go there.

And how about the overall plan? Axel “Not Danny D” Alonso made it pretty clear that the books that are working well now will have no plan for resets. This means fans of Daredevil, the Punisher, X-Factor and the like won’t have to fear an immediate exit strategy and creative retreat from their favorite books. This is of course (to me, at least) a direct wink and a butt slap to the boys with the new oddly shaped logo.

DC was glad to let its entire line of books stink up the joint for the last three months they were around prior to the New 52 debut. Never in my 20+ years reading comics had I felt more books “phoning it in” then at that time. As a 20+ DC book subscriber? It rubbed me the wrong way. Hard. Here, Marvel seems to realize the old adage holds true; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Generally we know this is the point where I play devil’s advocate. And I see by the folding chair in your outstretched arms, ready to strike me where I type, I’d better get on with the “Howevers…” or else. Now, Marvel Now is just an on-paper-plan at this point. Even with that said, it’s hard not to notice a few things that reek of desperation. I love Brian Posehn. I do. But does anyone here honestly wish to place a wager on how long his run on Deadpool will last?

And just how many Avengers titles are they releasing? 20? 30? We get it, the movie made a kajillion-billion Disney dollars… but someone somewhere had to wave a white flag. As it stands I still contend that the over saturation of books with the popular characters just clutters up racks with an ultimately less-than-the-best product. All this, and somehow, the X-books still all sound ludicrously horrendous, Bendis or not. The idea that “silver age” X-kids land in the present, and get to play the “Oooh-how-the-world-changed-card” to me is choking hard on the gimmick bone. Be sure to take a shot every time NewOld Jean Grey asks “what’s an iPod?”

See? I’m not just shilling for Marvel, unless they wanna send me a check. In that case, I’ll make myself “AR” compatible in a heartbeat. In the mean time, my opinion stands: Marvel Now appears to be better thought-out, with a smarter release schedule, and an ideology that holds on to the notion that quality beats quantity every single time. Mark my words, kiddos. Marvel Now is gonna pants DC, and in the scramble expect DC to fire back with 17 epic all-title consuming crossovers.

Did you mark that down? Good.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

 

Martha Thomases: My Green Lantern Problem

If I’m reading their website correctly, DC Entertainment currently publishes three different Green Lantern titles, not counting the animated series tie-in. There is also a Red Lantern comic. The last several company-wide crossovers involved the Green Lantern Corps as major players.

It’s too much.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Green Lantern. I vividly remember when I bought my first copy. I was about eight years old (which would make it 1961, for those of you keeping score), and felt very grown up. I thought Green Lantern, being a science-based character, was much more intellectual than Superman or Batman at the time, with their dog pals and mischievous imps. Hal Jordan wasn’t a millionaire playboy nor an alien. He was a test pilot. He had a job.

A decade later, when Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams took over the title, I was mesmerized. They were using a character (one whom, by this time, I realized didn’t have much to do with science) in a comic book to express a point of view on the world in which I lived. How amazing was that?

By the time my son was reading comics, there were several Green Lanterns. He loved them. He especially liked Green Lantern: Mosaic, which featured John Stewart trying to assist a world that had a variety of intelligent life forms, immigrants from dozens of worlds. It seemed like a metaphor for life in New York, but I don’t know if that’s why he liked it so much.

I guess I’m trying to say that Green Lantern is a concept that different people, at different stages of their lives, can enjoy. A man (or woman) with a strong will, and a ring that can manifest that will, is a wonderful vehicle for imagination. With the introduction of the idea of the Green Lantern Corps, 3600 strong, each patrolling a different sector of the universe, the reader can see how different personalities affect the way the ring works. Some shoot green rays, some make green weapons, some create helpers. The stories are limited only by the imaginations of the creative teams.

Still, the heart of the stories was Hal Jordan. The supporting cast included fellow Lanterns Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, and the previously mentioned John Stewart. Sometimes one of them would replace Hal as the main Lantern for sector 2814 (that is, Earth).

Since the introduction of The New 52 last fall, the cast has expanded quite a bit. There are Lanterns of other colors of the rainbow, representing other emotions. Each color has 3600 champions (except orange, which is avarice, and its ring holder took all the other rings because, you know, avarice). The stories involving these characters, and the Guardians of the Universe who created the Corp, span all three books.

Believe me, I understand that this may be the direction that the creative teams want. They may enjoy having the cosmos as a canvas, and they may think that having different species as characters is a wonderful opportunity to comment on the human condition. If this is the case, I don’t think they’re succeeding.

I can’t keep up with everybody. Even worse, I don’t care.

I want some stories to take place on Earth. I want to see Carol Ferris, and not in her Star Sapphire costume. I want to watch John Stewart as an architect. I want to see how artist Kyle Rayner meets his magazine deadlines. I want to see Guy Gardner with Ice. Even better, I’d like to see story ideas that haven’t happened yet, but that engage me with situations with which I can relate.

I want to see humans. More to the point, I want to see human stories.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman, Gone Fishing

SUNDAY: John Ostrander, Friend to the Chickens