Tagged: Katie Cook

Marc Alan Fishman The Power of the Personal Brand

When Prince Adam of Eternia would raise his mighty sword above his head, he could exclaim “I… Have… the… POWER!” and with it transform into He-Man. This would turn his pink and maroon body suit into merely a manly loincloth and pec-harness combo. He would be granted a physique that would make Vince McMahon want to give him the main event at Wrestlemania. Most important, he was now the mightiest mortal on his alien world – able to dispense of evil with but a flick of a forearm, and nary a tussle of his pageboy haircut.

When Marc Alan Fishman, Kyle Gnepper, and Matt Wright want to transform from slovenly suburbanite husband-dads into cantankerous comic book creators, they hold up their mighty laminated sign that reads “Can I tell you about my comic book?” and look mildly pathetic. But much like Prince Adam, that singular phrase has bestowed upon the lads a power unlike any other on their alien world; the power of a personal brand.

Making it in the indie comic scene is not unlike those mythical tasks undertook by Hercules. Unless you have untold fortunes lying around, the burden to even create original work (more specifically, comic books) comes with the unfair disadvantage of essentially committing to a second fulltime unpaid job. Once work is actually created… it’s time to market it. That in and of itself is somehow even harder than the act of creation!

From the very start of our first show (Wizard World Chicago, 2008), Unshaven Comics has committed to a very long game. We staked a claim to a table in artist alley, placed our first book on the table – along with some silly and snarky signs we just knew would get us plenty of attention (and they didn’t, not at all) – and sat with arms folded, awaiting untold riches.

And so we sat. And sat. And sat some more. Our smiles faded. Our fingers tapped. Our eyes darted to our neighbors in adjacent rows. How are they surviving this hellacious landscape of scavengers?! Soon thereafter, our neighbor took pity on us. “You have to put yourself out there. Just ask people as they pass by. I mean, what’s the worst they could say… No?” It was perfect advice to our green ears and yellow bellies. Kyle stood up. He asked the next con-goer sheepishly. They stopped! From there we launched into our pitch, and desperately tried to become their new best friend.

And then, perhaps out of actual interest, or perhaps pity, they bought our book.

And therein lay the rub to it all. The indie comic scene is built on the backs of personal brands. When virgin eyes and ears traipse across the convention floor, our wares are signal flares in the sky. As lookie-loos take a chance to hear us out, we not only pitch the pulp we put in their paws. We serve up a slice of our personality to boot. Each indie creator comes with a unique mystique that pairs to the work they make. For Unshaven Comics specifically… we’re unabashed in our formula:

We are brothers-from-other-mothers, who have a 25+ year friendship. We each bring separate skills that simmer in a singular pot, and present as a single brand. We are cheesy, but not ironically so. Our books are all-ages, not because we have a crucial need to appeal to the largest audience possible, but because the stories we want to tell are genuinely relatable to just about anyone who loves action and adventure. We are upfront and passionate about our product.

Whereas Kyle is always the most energetic presence at our table, I am working too; scanning the crowd, crunching the numbers, and spreading the word socially. And Matt anchors the table with his incredible and versatile art – attracting people to stop and enjoy his take on everything from superheroes to Cenobites. We are a singular machine, with a simple purpose. We promote what we do. We love what we do. And we need the world to see that and go all-in with us.

Look over each artist at a show, and you’ll see how they cultivate their own brands. Like Katie Cook and her mini-paintings that eventually landed her official Star Wars, My Little Pony, and Marvel gigs. Or Dirk Manning, whose mouthless maw has marketed his macabre books with equal parts solid professionalism, and DIY attitude. Or even perhaps Victor Dandridge Jr., “The Hardest Working Man in Comics!”, who started off with a single hook – an eight-bit art challenge – and has built a litany of indie comic series and convention-panel-emcee gigs that make him a well-known name across the Midwest comic circuit. Or, dare I ever forget my own frenemy Dan Dougherty, who has built his own brand by way of building up not only his own newspaper strip-style series Beardo into a brand, but a half-dozen other pieces in collaboration with his carefully chosen cadre of cohorts (including the aforementioned Mr. Manning from time-to-time).

Beyond the con floors though, you’ll find us all building those brands brick-by-brick. Be it on a day like today, where we’ll each be sitting in on Free Comic Book Day at our local comic book stores to promote our work. Or on social media, where we host live videos to interact with our homegrown fanbase. Or in our handcrafted newsletters. Or when we host classes at local park districts and libraries; teaching the next generation that the best way into comic books is to forge your own path. It all boils down to the simplest of truths…

To build our brands takes honed skill, patience, and determination to succeed. Without all three working together (be we islands-unto-ourselves, or three-headed bearded monsters), there is no brand to build. While any of us strive to stumble over, we’ve each committed to that aforementioned long-game. Cultivating one earned fan at a time, and hopefully producing enough to keep them on the hook until our dreams turn into reality.

We have the power, because we make the power.

Tweeks: Interview My Little Pony Artists & Writers

Comic_issue_1_covers_A-FWhile at Long Beach Comic Expo, we were lucky enough to chat with some of the writers and artists of IDW’s My Little Pony comics.  We talk with Agnes Garbowska about drawing Pinkie Pie’s ever growing hair and the difficulty of Rarity’s tail.  Christina Rice tells us about what it’s like to write the comics and how she’s like Rarity.  And Katie Cook not only gives us her backstory, but also lets us talk to her about one of our favorite Spiderverse superhero ever — Penelope Parker who acts EXACTLY as a tween girls should finding out she has spider powers….ewww, gross!

Marc Alan Fishman: San Diego – How It Feels To Not Go

My name is Marc Alan Fishman. For eight years now, I have been an active comic book writer, artist, letterer, and publisher. For six years, my company Unshaven Comics has peddled our wares in the artist alleys at dozens of conventions. From the small, such as Kokomo, Indiana, and Orland Park, Illinois, to the large, like C2E2 in Chicago, and the New York Comic Con, we’ve put thousands of miles on our cars in an attempt to break-in to the industry we love nearly as much as our kin. But in all our travels, the furthest west we’ve sauntered was Minneapolis this past spring.

We’ve never been financially viable enough to venture to the Valhalla (or perhaps Ragnarok) of comic book conventions. The San Diego Comic Con is a nearly week-long mecca of geekery. For a small operation such as ours, it stands to dream that selling in the same fabled halls that stars and nerds alike flock to, could lead a sale of The Samurnauts to future fame and glory. Oh, how the mind races at the thought! But with each passing summer, those daydreams dissipate as the deluge of news coats my social media feeds. And here I sit, in the wake of yet another SDCC, ruminating on what it feels like to not be a part of the central hub from which our industry grows from. In short, it feels both amazing and frustrating.

It feels amazing because I’ve little doubt that amidst the choked-with-nerd floor-space there’s a frantic energy that isn’t conducive to how Unshaven Comics does business. We’ve parlayed busy cons, but I have a sneaking suspicion as fans fight for line position to see the Avengers assemble, or catch a sneak peak ten-second look at a movie not debuting for another calendar year there’s little desire to open one’s mind to a brand-new not-known comic, and even less among those few of the 130,000 attendees that are old school fans who are there (gasp!) for the actual comic books the show was originally built around. So I ask rhetorically: how easy is it to grab the attention of them when the entire show is one massive press-conference after another?

When every news outlet, blog spot, and nerd-based industry member is there first and foremost to get the scoop – and leak footage for click-baiting articles – on the stuff that gets them click-throughs, link-backs, and ad impressions… where does that leave artists in the alley? And when the alley itself is studded with industry veterans with well-known names and pedigrees… I say once more with bearded fervor: what chance do three Chicago kids with no known fans west of the Mississippi going to do to garner attention short of faking a medical emergency? Hmm, maybe that’d be a great hook. But I digress.

Simply put, it feels amazing to miss the SDCC because it means I can sit peacefully at home with the Unshaven till in tact. I can sift through all the news releases, teasers, and interviews at my leisure. I can do all of this and smell fresh as the morning dew. Those people in line waiting for a chance to get Chris Hemsworth to wink at them? Maybe not so much.

Which of course leads to why it’s so frustrating that I’m not there, nor have I ever been. The other side to the sword I wield cuts hardest when I realize I am only a spectator and not a shareholder. And to mock the size of the crowds is only to hide the desire to be in front of them. Even if the tides draw fans from the alley away to the exhibitors, there’s simply too many opportunities amidst the show-goers to not catch a few on our hook. And while the economics of it all likely falls no where near profitable when one considers the price of the table, transportation, shipping of merchandise, not to mention meals and other sundry expenditures… a sale to someone new is a sale to someone new. Unshaven Comics exists because of that conceit.

And while I’d lament that it’s not fair to pitch when you’re sitting next to a convention colossus like Katie Cook, much could be gained through smart networking and the camaraderie earned by being table neighbors. Simply by existing alongside those whose work we covet, creates a recognizability to those in power who work their way around the alley. Over the course of our businesses life, we’ve pushed issues on Dan DiDio, Ross Ritchie, and even Mike Gold. Of course, none of them said anything to us after purchasing the issue, but we figure it’s because they’re still in awe. In short: missing the con means missing the sale. And when that sale is the most likely to reach those within the industry we want to sell to? It’s a missed opportunity.

And what lamentation about San Diego would it be if I didn’t mention having to miss out on the Black Panel, and all of the sundry Michael Davis-related ventures. Having only known the Master of the Universe via e-mails and shared column space, I’m at a loss having never shaken his hand in person. And I say this not in jest. In every instance that I’ve been able to break bread with a fellow ComicMixer, it has been a memory saved for the archives. To miss out on San Diego, is to miss out on seeing people I’m honored to call friends.

And with that, so ends this little aside. Another year passes, and San Diego reverts to the whale’s vagina it’s known to be (don’t flame me, Ron Burgandy said it himself). Will Unshaven Comics ever make the journey out yonder to be amongst the gilded nerditry? As loyal Cubs fans utter, the motto remains:

There’s always next year.

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Licensed to Bore

As a rule of thumb (the very same thumb I referenced not seven days ago), I stay away from licensed books. How did I come to that rule? It’s one engrained in my loathing of fan-fiction. Gasp! I’ve never, ever, (ever-ever) appreciated the world of fan-fiction. The whole notion that one’s love of a property goes so far they must appropriate the universe another writer created for their own nefarious purposes seems weak to me. Why limit oneself to the rules of another’s whims when the post-modern world allows for infinite homage, pastiche, and appropriation? Given the pre-sales of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (go Katie Cook!), I’m obviously in the wrong.

But Marc, you fickle bastard, you’ve just argued yourself into a corner! You, who have lamented on countless occasions how you’d love to write for Marvel and DC… don’t you realize if you were given a run on Green Lantern, Batman, or the Slingers, you would in essence be “limiting oneself to the rules of someone else’s whims?” Too true.

And when DC and Marvel hire me, you’re welcome to call me a hypocrite.

There’s nuance to this argument, and my greater point stands true. Writing for mainstream comics is its own beast, one I’m sure to tackle soon. For the time being, stay with me.

The fact is that amongst the small presses (still large enough to get rack space) are almost entirely engrained with this unyielding genre, save perhaps for Image or Valiant. Certainly we know why: licensed properties bring with them a given fan-base. For much of Dark Horse, IDW, Boom, and Dynamite’s catalogs are siphoning life-force from the lost and misspent youth of their target demographic. And since I’m no Bob Wayne, I simply don’t know how well it’s boding for any of them. The ideology that the comic buying audience at large is desperate to read more tales set inside the Hellraiser, Battlestar: Galatica, and the Ghostbusters seems legitimate, if only on paper (heh). But when I see the book on the shelf, it is truly taxing to find reason to open the gates again on properties built elsewhere.

Perhaps it’s my fear that licensed comics seem far from canon (that is to say that their contributions will hold true forever). Perhaps it’s my fear that adding to existing canon makes it harder to enjoy. I can’t tell you how many times my unshaven cohort Matt has given me the verbal Wikipedia entry on all that has gone down in Transformers extended properties (novels, comics, soft-core porn). And every time? My eyes glaze over, and I’m immediately reminded that I’m happy to have the G1 box set and Beast Wars and call it a day. It’s this fear of the overwrought rules and backstory one needs to know that stifles any anticipated joy in reading a licensed book.

But what if the teams involved are at the top of their game? Creative teams be damned. Truly, if you told me Alex Ross would paint over a Mark Waid script of G.I. Joe… and that it was the best work ever put out by either one of them… I’d still sooner spend my paycheck on a Grant Morrison Doom Patrol graphic novel or maybe some new socks.

Lest you think I’ve never even given a book like this a chance, allow me a simple anecdote. An amazing columnist for the Chicago Daily Red Eye (think hipster news for the daily commuter) Elliot Serrano had been given the opportunity to write a new Army of Darkness comic. Given that it was a slow week, I decided I should support my fellow indie creator (and he was nice enough to interview me for his blog twice) and give it a chance. I’d never purchased an Army of Darkness comic in the past. My knowledge of the source material was limited to the handful of viewings I’d had of Raimi’s film. And to his credit, Serrano’s pen wasn’t weighed down too heavily by the yoke of backstory that came with the property.

That being said, the book suffered terribly from Serrano having to forcefully hit the beats the license (and, no doubt, the legion of deadite fans) demanded. What we were left with? I quote myself from my MichaelDavisWorld review:

 “The book has moments of clarity, but they are dragged down by the wishy-washy plot and cardboard cutout of a protagonist. I think I’ll go put on my copy of the movie, and bury this necronomicon deep in a long box… in hopes that the evil spirits lurking within don’t wreck havoc on my soul.”

Given that I thought Elliot’s writing was better than what he’d showed on page only proved to me that the book was not intended for me. While fans of the AoD universe were heralding it as a success, I was left back in the starting blocks wondering why the book shifted tone more than Mitt Romney (ooooh, semi-late reference burn!).

Suffice to say, licensed books have their place. There’s been great examples of those who made great leaps of fiction balancing the properties’ beats while adding to the canon. John Ostrander’s run on Star Wars is still sold out at my local shop. And Joss Whedon’s continuation of the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer into a “9th season” via comics helped fans continue their love affair with the series. There is a place for these books, indeed. The fact is unless you yourself are a die-hard lover of the property in question, the book is wasted space on the rack. And for someone who is now actively seeking originality at the shop… no amount of lightsaber fun will turn me toward the dark side. Simply put? A licensed book is a license to limit your sales to those who are familiar. Everyone else? Find some place else to read.

I would like to note that if the powers that be would like to license Exo-Squad to Unshaven Comics, I will voluntarily lop off my left leg, and then proceed to write and draw the best damned Exo-Squad comic is history. And I can guarantee that it’ll be a top seller… to the 40 or so people who still love the property.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

 

Marc Alan Fishman: The Top 5 Comics I’d Like To See

In an effort anger the Internet – and save me the time of writing too much – I figured this week I’d take a trip into Fantasy Land. Here is a list, simple and to-the-point, of five books I’d love to see hit the stands. This probably won’t happen unless we’re on Earth 29.

The Avengers: Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Peter Krause.

With his ability to handle a multitude of characters (see his run on Justice Society, or to a lesser degree, Justice League) and draw from countless years of continuity to craft original tales, John’s would deftly deliver a truly epic arc for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Peter Krause (of Irredeemable fame) has an amazing ability to show emotion, and a wide range of your more traditional superheroes. Put together? I think the fans would assemble in droves for a chance to see the premier Marvel team run through the proverbial wringer. And with John’s latent ability to hone lesser villains (see Captain Cold, or his subtle shifting and deepening of Sinestro), no doubt this impossible title would be one for the ages.

Green Lantern: Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Mike Norton.

Brian Michael Bendis could do perhaps what no other writer has done for Hal Jordan in the last 10 years of his comic booking career: he could make me give a damn about Hal. Bendis, master of the talking head page, could instill the much-needed pathos to what has basically been a cardboard cutout of a hero since his “rebirth.” Given his pedigree and ability to craft subtle, nuanced characters, I’ve little doubt his emerald knight would finally be a human being, akin to the Ultimate Peter Parker, with far more years under his power-ringed belt. And with Mike Norton’s clean, concise, and emotive style? Well, I think the book would look as sharp as it read. Norton’s often forgotten runs on Blue Beetle and Green Arrow proved to me long ago, he’s the go-to guy when you need stalwart presentation.

DC Kids Cavalcade: Written by Art Baltazar, Franco, and Keith Giffen, Art by Katie Cook, Art and Franco, Jill Thompson, and a Troop of Others.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. “Anthologies don’t sell.” Well, maybe they would if the stories and art in them wasn’t always a crap shoot, maybe it’d have a chance. I’d kill to see a monthly rag where the funniest minds in comics met with an endless parade of the most kid-friendly artists. Give us a chance to see Katie Cook’s Batman saga or “Tails From The Litter Box: The Midadventures of Dex-Starr.” Pair Giffen’s sharp wit with Art’s never-not-cute style. What could be more perfect for young readers, than a never-ending series where each issue packs in a brand new kid-friendly (but with plenty of Easter eggs for adults) tale? Nothing that I can think of, darn-it.

Thunderbolts: Plotted by John Ostrander, Scripted by Gail Simone, Art by Ethan Van Sciver

No, I’m not just pandering for my close and personal friend John Ostrander. OK, maybe I am a little. But hear me out. Ostrander’s original run on the Suicide Squad is just an amazing piece of sequential fiction. His ability to mine realism in the face of the absurdity of comics is unparalleled. Match this with the wit and charm of Gail Simone? You get yourself one fancy-assed book about ne’er-do-wells. It stands to note I found Simone’s Secret Six to be the sleeper hit of DC in the mid-aughts. Certainly her pitch-perfect evil side would pair well with John’s, and together they could craft a story about Marvel villains trying to change the world. Since Marvel doesn’t really have an “evil only” book per say, I’d think this’d be an interesting one to see. Pair them with Gail’s buddy Ethan Van Details? And you have a gory and beautiful mess on your hands. Van Sciver’s meticulous style would be great to see, when there’s no forced lighting, constructs, or fire being forced into every panel. When its time for poop to hit the fan though? There’s no one better for the art duties.

Metal Men: Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Chris Burnham.

Last but not least, a title so impossible to exist, 14 editors just burst out laughing over how unsellable it’d be. This iteration of the Metal Men would be a mash-up of sorts. Fraction has proved he’s got the uncanny (natch) ability to build slow, methodical tales without boring his audience to tears. And based on his most current work on the Defenders, he’s proven he can be witty to boot. Pair him with the “in-the-prime-of-his-career” Burnham, whose carefully crafted dynamic figure work is second to none, and you have a book that’d look as sharp as the titular metallic men in question. Fraction could world-build around the odd duck Doc Magnus, but not lose the fun always associated with the franchise. Toss in some climactic battles with new versions of Chemo, Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, or Monsieur Mallah and the Brain… and you have a perfectly unsellable train wreck – that I’d buy 10,000 copies of.

BONUS! GrimJack: Written and drawn by Unshaven Comics.

What? Boys are allowed to dream!

OK, Internet. Time to tell me how wrong I am! Or better yet? Pitch your impossible book below. We’ll take a vote, make a petition, and incite riots for the best idea. Now, go do that voodoo that you do so well.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

It’s Women of Wonder Weekend!

It’s Women of Wonder Weekend!

In October 2006-2010, five annual Wonder Woman Day events raised over $110,000 for Domestic Violence programs in Portland, Oregon and Flemington, NJ. The five-year combination of auctions of over 1,100 original art pieces, plus collectibles, autograph signings, and photo opportunities garnered spectacular turnouts and four Portland Mayoral Proclamations.

This year, the event will take on a new name and an expanded mission! On October 30, 2011, the new Women of Wonder Day — again as a part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month — will take place, returning to Excalibur Books in Portland, Oregon, and Comic Fusion in Flemington, New Jersey, as well as at Heroes and Fantasies in San Antonio, Texas.

This year’s contributions for auction include not only artwork featuring heroines from the world of comics — Wonder Woman, She-Hulk, Storm, Michonne from The Walking Dead, Leetah from ElfQuest — but also from the world of media as well, including Lisbeth Salander, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hermione Granger, and others. Plus, TV series such as Glee, Nikita, The Big Bang Theory, Castle, and Chuck have donated special items as well.

The all-ages events will include artists and writers signing autographs at each event, as well as costumed characters with whom you can take photos. And in Portland, white-hot writer Brian Michael Bendis is auctioning off a role in one of his upcoming comics. Other contributors include Lar DeSouza, Dan Parent, David Lloyd, Gilbert Hernandez, Nicola Scott, Wendy Pini, Yldiray Cinar, David Mack, Ethan Van Sciver, Jamal Igle, Katie Cook, Michael Golden, Neil Vokes, Terry Moore, Ben Dunn, Billy Tucci, Bob Layton, Charlie Adlard, Don Kramer, Doug Mahnke, Humberto Ramos, Jeff Moy, Joe Benitez, Phil Hester, Scott McDaniel, Stephane Roux, Patton Oswalt, Robin Williams, Rick Riordan, and of course, Lynda Carter.

Details about the three events follow:

(more…)

Mix March Madness, Round 3: Gronk vs. Hyperbole And A Half!

It’s Round 3 of Mix March Madness, and we’re down to the Sweet 16! Wood chips!

To our left… fresh from her appearance at C2E2, Katie Cook’s clobbering monster with a heart of gold and a stuffed Kitteh…

Gronk!

And to our right… Allie Brosh, the storyteller with the strangest worldview and the shakiest line in comics…

Hyperbole and a Half!

Operators are standing by! Vote now!

[poll id=”54″]

Polling closes at 11:59 Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, March 23!

Click here to see all the webcomics and their standing in the tournament!

Mix March Madness, Round Two: My Sister the Freak vs. Gronk!

It’s Round 2 of Mix March Madness, where 64 webcomics come in, but only one comes out! Let’s meet the comics that made it to the second round… ready to duke it out, as only webcomics can! And we have a battle of a cute monster against a cute kid who battles monsters!

To my left… Dani Jones presents…

My Sister the FREAK!

And to my right… Katie Cook brings us…

Gronk

Who will win, the monster fighter or the monster? The battle is in your hands! Vote now!

[poll id=”41″]

Polling closes at 11:59 Eastern Standard Time on Saturday, March 19!

Click here to see all the webcomics and their standing in the tournament!

Mix March Madness: Amazing Super Powers vs. Sheldon!

Mix March Madness: Amazing Super Powers vs. Sheldon!

ComicMix March Madness Webcomics Tournament

That’s right ComicMixers… it’s an all out brawl for webcomic supremacy! Whose toons will take the title this month? Only you, the stark raving mad fans of these strips, will decide! Vote for your favorites, and watch them dominate the doodles of lesser drawers!

In this corner, weighing in at 210 pounds with no irises or pupils…

Amazing Super Powers!

And in this corner, weighing in at 60 pounds soaking wet, backed by his grandfather and a talking duck…

Sheldon!

Sheldon can buy almost anything with his billions, but can he buy victory here? Not unless he’s bribing you, the voter! So vote now!

[poll id=”17″]

Polling closes at 11:59 Eastern Standard Time on Saturday, March 12!

Click here to see all the webcomics and their standing in the tournament!