Tagged: Marc Alan Fishman

MARTHA THOMASES: Confessions of an iPad Comics Virgin

Is that all there is?

I finally downloaded a few comics onto my iPad using the updated Comixology app. I mean, I’m on record as being a lover of comics on paper, as well as the comic book shops that sell them. However, I’m also a big fan of prose on paper, as well as the bookstores that sell them, and I love my Kindle, so I thought I should give the new delivery system a try.

Previously, I’d noticed a flaw in the iPad design as far as visual entertainment goes. The screen is too shiny. Reading a book on the iBook app is more difficult for me than reading a book on the Kindle because of the glare (the Kindle has a matte finish). It’s even more distracting when watching a movie. However, I enjoy having a movie downloaded if I’m flying somewhere, and I might also enjoy having a virtual stack of comics.

I started by scouting out the free comics, because what if I didn’t like it? And I wanted something I hadn’t read already, so my previous opinion wouldn’t influence me. My son loves Robert Kirkman, and I was a fan of the TV show, so I downloaded the first issue of The Walking Dead.

It was a good choice. The app was easy to use, even for an old fart like myself, and I enjoyed my experience.

So last week, when there was a shipment glitch at New York comic shops, and I couldn’t get two of the books I wanted at any of my local stores by Saturday, I went online and paid for content. Reading Detective Comics and Stormwatch was, oddly, more difficult than reading the indie comic with lower production values. The lettering was hard to read, too small, and when I made the image bigger, I lost the flow of the page.

Did I lose some strength in my optic nerves? I went back to read Walking Dead again (and why can’t you go back to the beginning with one touch?), and that still worked well for me.

Still the color of the DC books was brilliant, and there were no ads. There were also no letters pages or other DC editorial material. For my $2.99, I got my story, and that’s it.

As it happens those two books have a reasonable amount of story. If I’d read Justice League #1 in that format, I would have been irked.

Will I buy more? Maybe back issues, because I’d rather have the stuff on my computer than in storage. Or if I’m away on a long trip, where I’m unfamiliar with the local comic book shops. Or if it’s the middle of the night and I don’t want to get dressed and go walking the streets, looking for Superman (or, I suppose, Mr. Goodbar).

But otherwise? I’m sticking with paper, at least for the near term. I like my comics with some social interaction. I like folding back the cover – and watching the true collectors freak out.

There aren’t that many occasions when I can feel eight years old again, and reading comics lets me do it once a week. So I’ll stay with the format from last century for as long as I can.

Martha Thomases, Dominoed Daredoll, really really really liked the new Animal Man.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

JOHN OSTRANDER: Comic Books, Peanut Butter and Anchovies

For twenty-five years, Mike Malve down in Arizona ran a successful line of comic book stores called Atomic Comics. I knew him from his weekly e-mail messages that he sent out. Nice chatty e-pistles about what sold last week, what was coming out this week, assorted thoughts about the industry, various promotions he was running, different guests he had visiting and so on.

I’d never been to his stores but Mike and I exchanged several e-mails. He always struck me as a good solid sort of retailer, one who knew and loved the industry, worked hard, promoted the work and those who made it. The sort of guy you wanted to see make it.

Two weeks ago, he closed down all his shops. There were lots of factors contributing to the closings, as he detailed in his last report. When the times were good, he expanded into high profile locations but, as he said, “when the economy went sour, low sales could not support the higher rent at these high visibility locations. The leases at these particular stores which had originally provided the consumers with greater visibility and more foot traffic to our wonderful world of comic books, the higher overhead proved to be too much for Atomic as we faced declining sales.”

He traces the decline back to an incident in 2006 when a 16-year old uninsured driver crashed her car through the front window of his biggest store and best revenue producer. The accident tore up a water main and the flood caused a million dollars worth of lost revenue and the store closed down for over five months. This was just as the recession started.

Mike secured the leases on the stores with his house so he’s going to be losing that as well as going into bankruptcy. Throughout it all, he’s maintained as cheerful and upbeat an attitude as he can manage – better than I could in his circumstances. He hopes to find some way to remain in the industry he loves.

Just two weeks later, this last week, DC launched its latest version of its titles in a sweeping revamp that includes same-day digital sales. At the same time, we see Borders closing its doors and various and sundry people have announced the death knell of the brick and mortar bookstores of all stripes.


MARTHA THOMASES: Comics, Quality and Obscenity

Inevitably, when discussing the best way to market comics to a larger, non-indoctrinated audience, someone will suggest “good writing and art” as the sure-fire remedy.

The mirror image of this is accusing publishers of employing “cheap publicity stunts.” I was on the receiving end of this charge from Gary Groth of The Comics Journal when he was questioned about the Death of Superman in USA Today. Naturally, I was miffed, because I thought my salary proved I was not cheap.

(I’m sure that’s the occasion when the most people ever thought about The Comics Journal.)

The premise, in any case, is incorrect. Or, rather, it should be. In publishing, the editorial department should decide what to acquire (or, in the case of comics and other work-for-hire situations, solicit) and the marketing departments (which include publicity) should promote this material to the people who would most enjoy it.

It never works like this. Publishers want to attract the largest possible audience, and they’ll instruct editors to jump on the latest trends, whether that’s sword and sorcery, black and white indies, steampunk, graphic novels, television and movie adaptions or whatever. You’ll notice that’s a jumble of genres and formats, not a single directive. That’s the kind of thing that makes editors lose their hair.

But wait! There’s more! Sometimes marketing people think they know more about what makes a book good than the editors. I’m thinking of one person at DC (now a vice-president) who boasted to retailers that he wouldn’t promote a book he didn’t like. I have no doubt that he thought this was the honorable thing to do, but it does a disservice to his employers and to the retailers. The marketplace is not made up of people with exactly the same taste as this vice-president. By limiting the options he offered to them, he limited their sales.

I didn’t like every book I promoted. However, I knew that there were potential readers for every book, people who would be entertained and amused and involved. I didn’t necessarily know these people, but I wanted them to be happy, so I wanted them to know about our comics.

It’s not a perfect system. At the time, DC published about 70 titles a month across all imprints. There weren’t enough mainstream media outlets to cover that much. I had to pick and choose what was most relevant to the media I was pitching. Again, trying to match the story to the potential audience was the key. I’m sure I made mistakes in my choices. I’m sure some worthy projects didn’t get their share of attention.

No one is going to argue against quality. It’s like arguing against apple pie and Mom. Maybe there’s an opposing side, but only opinionated and obnoxious people like Mike Gold and I like to argue for the sake of arguing. And because of our Talmudic tradition.

Unfortunately, when it comes to comics, quality is like obscenity – I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it. And what I see as quality you may not.

Lots of people enjoyed the Death of Superman storyline and its follow-ups, and lots of comics cognoscenti sneered at them for enjoying it. A lot of these people are preemptively sneering at the New 52. I hope they’re wrong. I hope it works.

I hope it brings happiness to millions.

Martha Thomases, Dominoed Dare-Doll, will spend next week looking for Spider-Man at Walt Disney World.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

MARTHA THOMASES: Sex and Comics and Rock and Roll

When I started out in comics in the late 1970s when dinosaurs walked the earth, the comic book business was like a small town. It was possible to be at least a nodding acquaintance of all the major players on the publishing side, and quite a few of the retailers as well.It was a small town – a small town scattered around the world. And like all small towns, there was always gossip.

Gossip, being gossip, is often nothing but lies. However, I’ve always found it fascinating because 1) I’m petty and shallow and 2) even untrue gossip reveals something about our feelings for the person involved.

Back in the day, the gossip was a particularly heady mixture of sex, drugs, and the kind of behavior that can only be the result of hideous self-loathing and bad brain chemistry. People would date, cheat, marry, divorce, hook-up, stalk each other – the usual.

And then there were those who were less usual. I don’t know if the stories were true, but they were fascinating: Freelancers who lived in their cars because they couldn’t manage their money, as opposed to freelancers who lived in their cars because they worked for scumbags. People who were such hoarders that they couldn’t walk from one room to another. The editor who did so much coke that they’d find this person dancing on the desk. The editor who had sex in the elevator on way to the office. The freelancer whose wife, looking for him, screamed into the phone so loudly that you could hear her across the office, even though she was out of state.

There is something both charming and small-minded about this kind of gossip. The small-mindedness is obvious. The majority uses gossip to keep everyone in line, obeying the rules. The charming part develops from the fact that we all knew each other and, for the most part, cared about each other.

Today, comics is a bigger business and a bigger scene. There’s more money at stake, and the stories (true or not) have changed accordingly. Now we hear about the men whose marriages fell apart because they were having affairs with their publicists. Or maybe they left their wives for an actress on the set of the movie based on their books. Or maybe it’s a coke habit. The same vices are involved, but the rise in status ups the ante. People (thankfully) can afford to go to rehab. They can afford to pay child support. The problems might grow with the money available, but so do the solutions.

There’s also a different tone. There is more envy, and, as a result, more a note of satisfaction when the person being discussed can’t handle success. It’s meaner.

We aren’t living in that small town anymore where we care about each other. We’re not even in Kansas anymore.

Martha Thomases, Dominoed Dare-Doll, has been a comic industry publicist for two decades, and no client ever made a pass at her. The stories she hears make her wonder what’s wrong with her.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


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

MARTHA THOMASES: I’m Dreaming of… Paul Levitz?

Androids may or may not dream of electric sheep. Lately, however, I dream of Paul Levitz.

No, not like that. Get your mind out of the gutter. Yeesh.

Having said that, it’s still a disturbing experience.

I’ve known Paul since the late 1970s. He was my boss’s boss for the ten years I worked at DC Comics in the 1990s. His daughter is around the same age as my son, and sometimes we would both bring our kids to a convention and watch them work the booth together. I don’t see him very much these days, but our relationship has never been worse than cordial.

That’s not why he’s prowling through my sub-conscious.

In my dreams, I’m back at DC. The only problem is, no one else knows it. No one has actually hired me. I’m sneaking into an empty office, unpacking my Rolodex, and booting up the archaic IBM computer.

I’ve secured a space, and now I need to start doing my job, so I can justify my position. When I had the job, I’d go and talk to editors to find out what we were publishing, whether it was a newsworthy storyline or an interesting creative team. This technique worked pretty well for me. I got stories into gossip columns (e.g. the Lois and Clark engagement, the Death of Superman), and I got writers and artists interviewed by mainstream magazines (e.g. Neil Gaiman in Details).

Now I have to sneak around, crawling into offices to snatch photocopies of upcoming books. And then, I find out that Warner Bros. is going to make a Justice League movie. This fills me with fear.

Why? What does this mean?

I was one of the last people to actually get my own computer at DC, so clearly, my sub-conscious wants me to assert territorial rights. The crawling means my self-esteem is low, hardly a news-flash.

But a Justice League movie?

During my tenure, it was policy that any time there was a story involving a character scheduled for television or the movies, my work had to be approved by Warner Bros.’ publicists in Burbank before I could contact any media. This was cumbersome but doable when the only character involved was Batman. For the most part, corporate was reasonable.

The most frustrating exception, from my point of view, was when Chris O’Donnell was promoting a Batman movie on the Letterman show, right across the street. I wanted to send over a copy of a Robin comic, maybe get a picture. I was told I couldn’t, because Chris didn’t like to promote “licensed” products. My attempt to say that the movie was licensed from us was not successful.

A Justice League movie would mean that no character could be promoted without corporate approval from Burbank.

And everything would have to go through Paul. I have to keep myself a secret, but still be spectacularly successful to keep my nonexistent job. In my dream, Paul is the logjam. I must simultaneously perform a miracle and get the credit I deserve, while acting like I’m not really there, just visiting.

At least I kept my clothes on.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

MARTHA THOMASES: Must The World Have A (Mrs.) Superman?

The staff at my regular comic shop wants to know what I think about the DC re-launch. I’ve been shopping there for decades, and I buy DC comics every time I go in there. I don’t only buy DC, but I buy almost everything they publish.

That’s the way it’s been for me for more than 50 years. I’ve liked Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and the Legion of Super-Heroes for that long. As I’ve grown up, I’ve liked other characters, and I’ve learned to follow not just the heroes I like, but also the writers and artists.

So here’s what I tell them when they ask me what I think: “It doesn’t make any difference to me.”

Superman has relaunched once in my lifetime. I can’t count how often Wonder Woman has been rebooted. The Legion is so complicated that I have trouble keeping it straight and I’ve been reading it for 50 years!

I predict that, within five years, everything that’s important will be the same in the DC Universe as it is now, or as it was at some time in the past.

In the meantime, DC’s publicist, David Hyde, is kicking ass with his publicity efforts. I hope that enough people sample the new comics to see if they like them. It’s been a very long time since new readers have been courted so aggressively.

Unfortunately, there is one aspect of this I don’t like. Dan Didio and Jim Lee have described their characters as “brands.” This is the way the MBAs who run Warner Bros. talk about their properties, and I understand how, when one wants to appear savvy to one’s boss, one appropriates the bosses’ jargon.

“Brand” is a marketing term. Tide is a brand. Nike is a brand. It’s a corporate identity that promises consumers something they want, whether that something is reliably clean clothes or athletic shoes that let the wearer perform like a superstar.

Superman is not a brand. He’s a character. He’s a character that changes according to the whims of the creative teams making his stories. He may implicitly promise consumers something they want (truth, justice and the American way), but he keeps them as readers because of his human qualities, the details of his life that fascinate us, amuse us and excite us.

As his publicist, I observed these phenomena in the 1990s. When Clark Kent and Lois Lane got engaged, the world went crazy. They didn’t do this because of branding, but because it was a sweet, human story. It’s always been my opinion that the reason the “Death of Superman” story was such a big deal was not because Superman died (he’s died plenty), but because the public had been following his relationship with Lois, and felt the loss along with her.

I’ve enjoyed Superman’s marriage. I enjoy stories of happy couples, whether they are detectives or ghosts or super-heroes. Millions of people watched Smallville to see Clark and Lois get married.

So I’m disappointed that the marriage will no longer be. That said, I trust Grant Morrison to write great stories.

And I’d bet we see another marriage in my lifetime.

Martha Thomases, Dominoed Daredoll, would also like to see The Dibnys’ back.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

Events around and about tonight, March 2, 2010

Events around and about tonight, March 2, 2010

  • He’s too humble to promote it himself, but our own Marc Alan Fishman will be performing at Stand-Up Comics, 3429 Ridge Road, Lansing, IL tonight at 8 PM. Ask him about the thing he does with the strawberry jam and the gargoyle statue.
  • And representing Brooklyn:
‘Watchmen 2: The Smell Of Fear’ (and other potential titles)

‘Watchmen 2: The Smell Of Fear’ (and other potential titles)

Watchmen 2All right, let’s get them all out of the way…


In case you haven’t heard, Rich Johnston is talking about the disturbing possibility that there will be Watchmen spinoffs now that Paul Levitz is gone. And in case you want to know how bad this could get, let’s give you a reminder:

Special thanks to Marc Alan Fishman for the art and @miss_sarah_s for extra titles. And if we missed any titles, please add them in the comments.

ComicMix Six: Favorites (and not-so-favorites) of the decade

ComicMix Six: Favorites (and not-so-favorites) of the decade

And then one day you find ten years (and two weeks) have got behind you…

Since everybody thinks it’s the end of the decade, we’ll do a recap of the decade to go along with our recaps of 2009. This is
by no means a definitive list of “the best of the decade”, just our disparate takes
on what stuck out in the minds of everybody here at the Mix as to what happened in the last ten years. Backwards ho!

Best Ethnic Replacement for Milquetoast Hero of the Decade: Jaime Reyes, Blue Beetle

Ted Kord fans (yes, all 28 of you…) slow your roll! I am one of you! Need proof? I totally own the original Ted Kord action figure from back in the mid 90s! But let’s face it guys, Ted wasn’t doing much since his Justice League Extreme days now, was he? So, leave it to DC Architects Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Judd Winick (ok, one architect, one great noir writer, and that guy from MTV) to give Ted a swansong, and smear his boring white-guy-noggin all over a castle wall. A short time later, yet-another-space-bound-artifact came crashing down into the DCU, at the feet of second generation Mexican immigrant Jaime Reyes. Poof! The DCU has this generation’s Vibe! Jaime is the perfect addition to DC’s general melange of milquetoast major leaugers. Jamie’s got “Benetton Ad” written all over him, as he lives in the southwest (El Paso, Texas, I tell ya whut.), is best friends with a slacker named Pedro, and all but spews Spanglish in between beetle battles. Jaime’s Blue Beetle is a far more marketable sort, trading Kord’s wits and a powerfully dorky light/air gun for slick alien techno-armor with a disposition for deadly demolition by way of any number of fun action-figure accessories. Jaime enjoyed an ongoing series for a few years, but has seen his stock rise with recent appearances on Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon series. And just to kick sand in our collective Ted-loving-faces? They gave Jaime Ted’s old ride. Ay, dios mio. –Marc Alan Fishman

Favorite Idea Wasted of the Decade: The Illinois Spaceknights, Civil War

We know the story well enough, don’t we? Nitro done blowed up Stamford, and Tony Stark done led ole’ congress to pass the Superhuman Registration Act. What with a plethora of newly discovered super-powered people… something had to be done with the excess. Welcome to The Initiative! Marvel opted to train every Tom, Dick, and Butterball with powers in a military style bootcamp. After graduation came placement into any one of 50+ super teams, each to be covered under the Fifty State Initiative. Now, it’s no secret I’m a loyal native son of the Chicagoland area… So, imagine my surprise that the state housing the nation’s third largest city would be protected by… The Spaceknights?

Now, color me confused here folks. Illinois has no connection to NASA, where one might THINK a connection to “Spaceknights” might be relevant. Since the Civil War ended in 2007, nothing else has come of the aforementioned Illinois superteam. But I guess they’re not alone. Wikipedia lists no less than 25 other states not only in the dark… but without totally horrible team names like “the Spaceknights”… Hell, at this point, I’d sooner hope they are disbanded, and redubbed “the Windbags”. Epic Fail anyone? –Marc Alan Fishman

Most Forgotten Book of the Decade: 1602

Remember this book? Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, gorgeous colors by Richard Isanove, did gangbuster sales? Now, alomst completely forgotten. Didn’t make many people’s best of decade lists, wasn’t mentioned in sales material for Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader (okay, competing publishers, but still, that doesn’t matter to booksellers) and it seems to have dropped off the radar. Which is a shame, because it seemed more like the Marvel Universe I knew and loved than anything else Marvel published in 2007. —Glenn Hauman

Most overlooked of the decade: Street Fighter (UDON/Image)

Yeah, we know. A comic based on a fighting game series? But here’s the thing: UDON’s team borrows the best elements of a kung fu movie, layers on the manga-esque melodrama and soap operatic intertwining ensemble cast storylines, glues it together with a heaping dose of love for the source material, and then polishes it until it shines with stylish and flashy artwork. I can’t speak to how well it works if you don’t know the game, having known how to pull a Hadoken my entire life, but if you like Street Fighter even a little bit, it’s a heck of a ride. —Matthew Weinberger