Tagged: Larry Hama

Mike Gold: The Baltimore Fun

I like comic book conventions, although I’ve been pretty hard on them lately. These days most conventions have little to do with comic books. They have a lot to do with pop culture and celebrities and movies and autographs and promotion, but over the past decade or two comic books have become the ugly stepchildren within their own temples.

Except for a handful. Mid-Ohio Con has been consumed by the dreaded Wizard ogre; that one used to be a favorite. HeroesCon in North Carolina is high on my list of the exceptional; I wish I could get there each year. There are plenty of great small shows, usually held in hotels and attracting people from about a 200 mile radius, if the weather is agreeable. And, as I’ve incessantly proselytized to the annoyance of thousands, my absolute favorite: the Baltimore Comic-Con.

First and foremost, the Baltimore Comic-Con is about comic books. The panels are about comic books. The exhibitors are about comic books. The awards ceremony is about comic books. In short, it is a comic book convention.

Second, it’s only two days: Saturday and Sunday. The burnout rate is low and people tend not to leave as early on Sundays. You can get as much done in those two days as you can elsewhere in three… or four. Third, the staff is well-trained, efficient, and so damn polite if you’re from New York your skin just might peel off in strips.

I’m happy to say I’ve got a hell of a lot of friends who go there. It’s one of the few shows Timothy Truman attends. Mark and Carol Wheatley both put me up and put up with me year after year; my daughter and ComicMix comrade Adriane Nash gets to stay in Mark’s breathtaking library and studio. Marc Hempel joins us at the Insight Studios booth. Great folks like Gene Ha, Brian Bolland, Amy Chu, Andrew Pepoy, Denis Kitchen, Jack C. Harris, Walter and Louise Simonson, Joe Rubenstein, Larry Hama, Matt Wagner, John K. Snyder III … we don’t have the bandwidth to name a tenth of the people I hang out with at the show. Even the (fairly) recently liberated Paul Levitz showed up as a freelancer.

Better still, the ambiance of the Baltimore Comic-Con allows me to make new friends, something that’s almost impossible to do at the largest shows like San Diego, New York, and Chicago. This year I was exceptionally lucky, spending memorable time with Phil LaMarr and Ross Richie.

ComicMix was there in full-force: Vinnie Bartilucci, Glenn Hauman, the aforementioned Adriane Nash, Emily S. Whitten, and the non-alphabetical Marc Alan Fishman – who was there with the rest of the Unshaven Comics crew, Matt Wright, and Kyle Gnepper, where they managed to sell out of their excellent indy comic, Samurnauts.

Probably the highlight of the Baltimore show each year is the Harvey Awards dinner, and this year was no exception. Phil LaMarr served as master of ceremonies, keeping the three and one-half hour show moving while keeping the audience in stiches, Ross Richie delivered an inspiring keynote address, and as usual Paul McSpadden did his usual amazing job coordinating the whole event.

The Hero Initiative honored Joe Kubert with its Humanitarian of the Year award – a decision made before Joe’s passing last month – and Dr. Kevin Brogan delivered a moving tribute to the late cartoonist and educator. As it turns out, Joe left us one more graphic novel. Their annual Lifetime Achievement Award went to John Romita Jr., in a presentation made by the team of Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Marc, Kyle and Matt there for the first time – being sequestered in that room with most of the above-mentioned folks as well as with Stan Lee, John Romita Sr. and Jr., Mark Waid and so many others seemed like a heady experience for our pals, who, I think it’s safe to say, were in fanboy heaven. Pretty damn cool. I’m proud to say our own Glenn Hauman helped in the IT end of things, and ComicMix joined Insight Studios, DC Entertainment, Boom!, Comixology, Richmond Comix and Games, ComicWow!, Painted Visions, Bloop, Captain Blue Hen, Cards Comics and Collectibles, and Geppi’s Entertainment Museum as sponsors.

And I managed to sign up a new columnist for this site. I mentioned the name above somewhere (good hunting), and this person will start out as soon as we iron out scheduling issues and the usual start-up stuff. I’m very excited about this, and you will be too when you read this person’s stuff.

We also went apeshit covering the cosplay scene. Adriane posted about 100,000 pictures on our ComicMix Facebook page, all to the obvious enjoyment of the masses. We’ll be expanding our cosplay coverage considerably, while at the same time polishing our alliteration.

On behalf of the whole ComicMix crew, I want to deeply thank Marc Nathan and Brad Tree for once again putting on the best show in comics, and to thank my dearest of friends Mark and Carol Wheatley for being our personal sponsors. We-all had a great time!

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil


A Death In Our Family

A Death In Our Family

I can’t begin to tell you how much I hate writing this.

Back in the late 1970s, I was editing a home video consumer magazine called Video Action. Amusingly, I staffed the publication with freelancers from the comic book community – people who excelled in the art of visual communications and popular culture. It wasn’t long before I received a letter from Martha Thomases and John Tebbel inquiring about writing opportunities. They presented their pedigrees and cited a whole bunch of mutual friends as references. They could have stopped at Denny O’Neil and Larry Hama.

John and Martha quickly became good friends. There isn’t enough bandwidth in all of Apple’s clouds for me to detail the nature of that friendship and divine the depth of the love I have for them, so instead I’ll focus on one element. There is nothing I value more than brilliant conversation with good friends. It takes wit, intelligence, experience and personality to pull it off on an ongoing basis, and I would swim upstream in piranha-infested waters to spend a few hours with these two.

A few months ago, the three of us met for a wonderful meal at a midtown Manhattan steakhouse. The three of us arrived separately, and John and I arrived early. We got into a deep conversation about how much the James Bond novels meant to us as kids but, upon later reflection, how Ian Fleming was a genuinely crappy writer and what the hell did JFK see in him anyway? By the time Martha arrived we had moved on to our favorite topic, the genius of Jack Benny and his stylistic influence over the next two generations of comedians (Benny begat Carson, Carson begat Maher). When we were seated, we moved on to an array of topics. This was typical for our dinners, but because we had that time before Martha arrived it was, for me at least, an important bonding event. We left vowing to get together again soon.

Several days later – it might have been longer; right now it seems like moments later – Martha called to tell me John was in the hospital after significant medical trauma at home. In short order, we learned he had lung cancer.

John appreciated the irony of having a particularly nasty form of lung cancer despite his lack of an addiction to tobacco. Martha showed more strength in spirit and in love than one could imagine, but none of us were surprised in the least.

You know this story doesn’t end well. John died yesterday. And that, folks, sucks.

Martha’s birthday is tomorrow. Their friends are gathering this weekend to be with her; we were planning on that anyway when we all knew John was in dire straits. It’s a lousy way to celebrate her birthday, but her essence is beautiful and she’s one of the most grounded people in Manhattan. By and large you do not cope with the death of our closest loved ones, but eventually you accept and understand you are surrounded by the love and support of your friends and family.

The ComicMix community lost a member of our family this week, and we grieve as we celebrate John’s wit, intelligence, experience and personality. Our hearts go out to Martha and to their son Arthur, and I know I speak for the extended ComicMix community, our bloggers, our commenters, our friends, co-workers and associates, in offering our love eternal.

– Mike Gold

MIKE GOLD: John Carter Returns To Earth

I was about 14 years old when Ballantine Books started their reprint series of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. Being a science fiction fan, a character fiction fan, and fan who’s attracted to anything numbered sequentially, I devoured the series. I re-read the first five books about 12 years ago and I enjoyed them, albeit with a nostalgically jaundiced eye.

I was both amazed and, oddly, not surprised (they’re two different emotions) when my father told me he was a John Carter fan. He started reading them around 1928 – by then, the first book was about 16 years old. Sharing this bond was quite comforting: both John Carter, my father, and I were created in Chicago over a 38 year span.

There have been numerous comics adaptations. The first was for the newspapers and for Dell Comics, created by Burroughs’ son John Coleman Burroughs. Gold Key tried a few issues; despite Jesse Marsh’s art, they were pretty lackluster. Later on, both DC and Marvel got into the John Carter business – sequentially – and those projects attracted an amazing line-up of artists, including Murphy Anderson, Dave Cockrum, Ernie Colón, Larry Hama, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, and Mike Vosburg. Whereas the latter Marvel issues were written by Chris Claremont and Peter Gillis, the majority of the DC/Marvel runs (by far) were penned by Marv Wolfman, and that stuff is among my favorite of his. And that says a lot. Later on, Dark Horse did some crossovers with Tarzan, and John Carter even popped up in the waning days of the classic Tarzan newspaper strip. Currently, both Dynamite Comics and Marvel are publishing the character – the latter is tied into the new movie, and the former is tied into a lawsuit.

There had been a great many attempts to bring John Carter to the screen, both large and small. If you dig around, you’ll find the legendary cartoonist Bob Clampett’s test footage and sketches – they were amazing, and I wish he was able to sell the project. I remember going to the International Licensing Show in the early part of this century and seeing a huge display for an upcoming movie adaptation – some stunning artwork, particularly in their mammoth backdrop. Sadly, none of these projects came to be. There was a movie released just a couple years ago starring Antonio Sabàto, Jr. and Traci Lords, but because I’m a nice guy who always maintains a civil tongue, I won’t mention it again.

This Friday, John Carter of Mars finally makes his big-time movie debut. Produced by Disney – not coincidentally the owner of Marvel Comics – if you haven’t seen any of the trailers, commercials or ads for the movie you just might be Stevie Wonder. For many, many reasons, I have set the bar for John Carter pretty high. My dad died six years ago, so I won’t be able to see it with him. But I notice my daughter Adriane is pretty excited about the movie, and I hope to extend the family bond to her this weekend.

By the way, this is John Carter’s 100th anniversary. If you’re planning on sneaking a cake into the theater, please, don’t light the candles.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil


REVIEW: “Wally Wood: Strange Worlds of Science Fiction”

ww-strangeworlds-300x382-3803140[[[Wally Wood: Strange Worlds of Science Fiction]]]
Vanguard Publishing, Trade paperback, 224 pages. $24.95
Introduction by J. David Spurlock

A friend of mine owns the original art to a page of what he (and I) consider the zenith of Wally Wood’s creative genius, “The Mad ‘Comic’ Opera” (MAD #56, July 1960, written by Frank Jacobs). It is a lush piece of work, a cartooning tour de force that causes wide eyed disbelief on the printed page and gasps of astonishment when viewed in its larger, original form. “The Mad ‘Comic’ Opera” is an amazing moment in time, a moment that offered Wood a piece of work which allowed him to show off everything he had learned in his preceding dozen or so years as a comic book artist.

There is not a false note or creative misstep in a single panel of this six-page feature, not in layout or story telling, not in his use of Duotone to bring depth and dimension to the black and white page, and certainly not in his ability to do pitch-perfect parodies–albeit as “real people”–of the comic strip characters populating the story The operatic death scene of Dagwood Bumstead alone would have been enough to cement a lesser artists’ reputation; in the hands of Wally Wood, it was just one panel among some three dozen bits of perfection.

Wally Wood may never have been better, and, in his later and sadder declining years, he often operated at a level that was, in comparison to “The Mad ‘Comic’ Opera,” heartbreaking but which, viewed on their own, were still better than three-quarters of what anybody else was doing. It is also no secret that Wood frequently employed assistants and ghosts to help him turn out the volume of work he produced, but their use was no concession to quality or creative control. As Michael T. Gilbert wrote in the article “Total Control: A Brief Biography of Wally Wood” from Alter-Ego Volume 3, #8, “In the ’50s he mainly worked with Joe Orlando, Harry Harrison, and Sid Check. In later decades he was assisted by Dan Adkins, Ralph Reese, Wayne Howard, Larry Hama, and Bill Pearson, to name a few. No matter. The end result was unmistakably Wood. Helpers or not, the quantity and consistent high quality of the pages were unbelievable. He was always in control of the final product.” (more…)

MARTHA THOMASES: Frank Miller Bounceback

There’s been a lot of noise on two areas of the blogosphere that I follow – comics and politics – because Frank Miller recently posted about the Occupy Wall Street movement on his blog. My favorite response, as usual, was on TBogg’s blog, because I love me some snark.

See that photo over there? It’s had an honorable position on my refrigerator since it was taken about 15 years ago at the San Diego Comic Convention. It’s me and Frank, back when he could still walk the floor.

I’ve known Frank since the late 1970s. I met him soon after I met Denny O’Neil, and we hung out a lot when he was drawing the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #14. My friend, Legs McNeil <http://www.amazon.com/Legs-McNeil/e/B000APOLAA>,  was (and is) a huge comic book fan. He managed a band, Shrapnel, that was essentially Sgt. Rock set to music. We conspired to put them into an issue of a comic book, a mission that required many trips to CBGBs.

I don’t remember talking politics with him, but its possible that I did. There are a lot of people in comics that I like, but with whom I disagree politically. Dan Jurgens, Larry Hama, Chuck Dixon – we don’t agree, and that’s fine. We also tend to like different kinds of music, movies and books. We have fun conversations.

Our disagreements never led me to boycott their work. And I’ll boycott quite easily. For example, I haven’t bought any Revlon cosmetics since Ron Perelman plundered Marvel.

But I won’t give up something that gives me joy. If my joy is ruined by my disagreement with the owner or creator, then I’ll give it up.

What amused me about this particular kerfuffle is that, once you got away from the comic book sites, the reactions were fairly hilarious. Most people seem to think that Frank Miller, not Zach Snyder, was responsible for the movie, 300. It’s true that Snyder spent a lot of time and energy trying to mimic specific pages of Frank’s work, but he also added a lot of other stuff to fill out the 117 minutes of playing time.

I disagree with Frank on this issue. I think he’s wrong, profoundly wrong. I think he’s far away from this issue, and getting his information from less than reliable sources.

But I don’t think he deserves to be called names. As grown-ups who defend the free exchange of ideas, we can disagree with each other. We should. But it’s bad for the country when we descend into name-calling.

In other words, this.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

MARTHA THOMASES: Ennis, O’Neil, and Family

Twice in two days this weekend, I ran into Garth Ennis on the street. Other than industry events, I haven’t seen him in nearly a decade (and then, on the street). Apparently, he lives about half a mile away from me, and has for eight years.

Usually, if I see someone I know in a place where I don’t expect to see him, I don’t recognize him. When it’s family, it’s different.

I’m not claiming to have a particularly close relationship with Mr. Ennis. As the publicist at DC in the 1990s, I monitored to the line for his signings at a few conventions and hung out at bars in the evenings with other comics folks.

I have cousins with whom I’ve spent less time.

There aren’t a lot of businesses with the same kind of family feelings as comics. I think it’s because, until recently, we got no respect. Biff, bam, pow, comics were for kids, and any adult who liked them – or worse, made a living working on them – must be developmentally stunted or a pedophile.

The first person I met in comics was Denny O’Neil. I was completely gobsmacked because he was, at the time, my favorite writer (since then, I have added favorites, depending on my mood. Still, day in and day out, he’s frequently the best). It turned out he lived down the street, and I managed to insinuate myself into his life by watering his plants when he was out of town, and borrowing his Ed McBain books. Besides comics, we shared an interest in anti-war politics, the great 1960s culture wars, and schlocky science fiction movies.

Through Denny, I met the crowd that was then at Marvel: Larry Hama, Archie Goodwin, Mike Carlin, Christopher Priest and the gang. I met a great group of freelancers, too: Frank Miller, Walter Simonson, Howard Chaykin, Kyle Baker, Bobby London, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mary Wilshire, Tony Salmons. I met Mike Gold through Denny, even though we know so many of the same people that I can’t believe we hadn’t met before.

And so on, and so on.

When I got the job at DC (thanks to Denny’s referral), I met a whole bunch more. And even though I’d been shy as a teenager, I found I was able to talk easily to people I’d just met. Maybe because we had business to talk about, or Superman, or Jim Shooter, but conversation was easy, and I felt comfortable around these people.

Just like family.

Comics used to be much more of a New York business. Then Fed-Ex, fax machines and the Internet made it possible for people to live in other states, even other countries. And that’s cool. I have family in Australia, and we’re still tight.

Since Denny retired, I don’t get to run into him every day. He moved out of town and I’m using the phone much less. Even so, I know that, the next time I see him, which will probably be at our Chanukah party, we’ll have a bunch to talk about, and we’ll laugh at our respective wrinkles and gray hairs. We’ll talk about the kids, and their crazy music and hairstyles.

Maybe, if I invite him, Garth will come, too.

Martha Thomases suspects that her teen-age self would not believe how little she uses the telephone anymore.

SATURDAY: John Ostrander


According to stories like this, there was quite the kerfuffle at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con about the decline in the number of female artists and writers on the new DC reboot.

Raising questions about this is guaranteed to get one labeled a bitch (or worse). Kudos to Batgirl for being the bitch. It’s a thankless job, but somebody has to do it. However, I’m disturbed by DC’s response. They claim they were looking for the “best available” talent. Apparently, the best indicator of talent is a penis.

Look, I understand that DC (and Marvel, and Dark Horse, and IDW and so on and so on) want to hire writers and artists with built-in fan followings. It’s a competitive market, and anything that helps to sell the product is desirable. I also understand that these publishers want to hire people who have demonstrated an ability to meet deadlines reliably, and the easiest way to do that is to employ people you’ve already employed.


The entertainment media require a steady influx of new talent. Some, like music and movies, demand youth, and too much experience can be considered a drawback. Other branches of publishing, such as books and magazines, all have systems in place to not only keep successful writers, artists and photographers, but also to develop new ones.

Mainstream comics, not so much.

I got my break at Marvel because I hung out at the office a lot. This was back in the mid-1980s, before heinous security measures engulfed New York office buildings. I had interviewed Denny O’Neil for High Times magazine, and exploited our acquaintance (and subsequent friendship) so that I could hang out, use the photocopiers, and make free long-distance calls. Because of this, I was a familiar face, and when Larry Hama wanted to expand the kind of comics he was publishing, he took a chance on me, and we developed Dakota North with Tony Salmons.

No one has since taken a chance on me. Dwayne McDuffie once told me this was all the evidence he needed that comics is a sexist business. As things stand now, most people who enter the field of mainstream comics are former fans. The business won’t attract more women until it creates more comics that girls like. And it probably won’t create more comics that girls like until there are more people who used to be girls making comics. It’s a vicious circle.

The easiest way to break this chain is to make it less profitable. The first step in that direction, at least at DC, seems to be the failure of the Green Lantern movie to make a boatload of money. Geoff Johns, fanboy in chief, seems to be getting the blame. I admit that I kind of liked it, but that’s because I’ve been reading the comics for 50 years … and, also, Ryan Reynolds in a skintight suit. Most people who buy movie tickets don’t have my knowledge of the backstory, and so didn’t have the patience to sit through it.

Bringing in new perspectives isn’t easy. The old ways are easy. Unfortunately, the old ways inevitably produce the old results. Since this is comics, it doesn’t have the same impact as, say, firefighting, but the results of this laziness are the same – ostracizing newcomers and alienating the general public.

Comic book editors, look beyond your slush piles! Seek out new talent at places other than portfolio reviews at comic conventions! There’s a whole world of talent out there.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

We’re off to I-Con 28

We’re on the road again this weekend, this time to I-Con 28, which is all over Suffolk Country this weekend (no, it’s not at Stony Brook Univeristy this year, major repairs going on, don’t ask) and various ComicMix folks will be out in force.

And many many more friendly folks– David Mack, Keith DeCandido, Peter David, Larry Hama, Jeness Crawford, Bob Rozakis, Greg Pak, Jane Yolen, Holly Black, the list goes on and on and on.

I-Con is home to one of the wider spectrums of fans, from anime to science and technology, and generally draws about six thousand people a year and is never the same from year to year. So if you’ve never been there, give it a shot. Tell them we sent you.

NYCC Announces First Round of Guests

NYCC Announces First Round of Guests

It’s been a good week for J. Michael Straczynski.  First, his Changleing film opened to good notices and box office.  Then he was announced as the writer for the forthcoming remake of Forbidden Planet.  Now, the New York Comic-Con has announced him as its first Guest of Honor. The growing convention will be held at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan the first weekend of February.  Featured guests announced to date include Mark Brooks, Bob Budiansky, Cliff Chiang, Tommy Lee Edwards, Larry Hama, Kris Justice, ComicMix’s Frank McLaughlin, Robert Place Napton, Ivan Reis, Alex Robinson, Christian Slade, Herb Trimpe, Ron Wilson, and Leinil Yu.

‘G.I. Joe’ Movie Details Revealed

‘G.I. Joe’ Movie Details Revealed

The executive producer of the upcoming G.I. Joe movie, Brian Goldner, dropped a few hints about the film in an interview with MTV News.

According to Goldner, the movie began filming last week and is proceeding smoothly. When asked about characters that may make an appearance in the film, Goldner revealed little, but offered a few hints as to what fans can expect from the film:

We all know of the Arashikage [ninja clan], and we all know of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, but we need to build that story," he explained. "We all know the story of Duke, and the story of the Baroness. … We know the story of Destro, but do we really? We need to go back and tell the origin story of how you get a Scottish arms dealer, who comes forward in history — how does that happen?"

Goldner also said that the film chronicles the rise of Cobra Commander and his quest for power.

G.I. Joe is being directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing) and features a script that long-time G.I. Joe comic book scribe Larry Hama contributed to. The film stars Dennis Quaid, Sienna Miller, Arnold Vosloo, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marlon Wayans. G. I. Joe is tentatively scheduled for release in August 2009.