Tagged: Matt Wright

Marc Alan Fishman: Facing My Fears

As I noted last week, Unshaven Comics’ trek to Hotlanta for the annual Dragon Con had me face down several fears all at once. As Unshaven Matt Wright was sidelined due to a babysitting emergency, the biggest fear for me was knowing that our terrific trio was reduced to a dingy duo. Beyond that, there was the continual fear that our little shtick will finally reach the point that it doesn’t garner the excitement we count on to close sales. Add that ennui to the more concrete fear that a ten-hour trip in the car while completing the Whole 30 diet – one that forced me to give up everything but lean protein, fruits and vegetables – would make what is normally a doable drive become something more akin to the trek undertaken by a ragtag fellowship of adventurers trying to ditch a silly ring.

Backup just a wee bit further and I was dealing with the fear of finishing our comic. In what was our second year without a new book to bring out to shows, the creeping horror of attending a show yet again without anything new to our names had forced me to use vacation time from my day job – and then working 12 hours a day to ensure we limped across the finish line. But once production was done on the digital end? Well, then came all the tiny nightmares: getting gigs of data over to our printer intact, checking proofs, correcting errors, and then awaiting the full order for Atlanta to be printed, cut, and stapled.

All of those fears aside, I also decided that life isn’t worth living unless you’re burning the candle at every conceivable end. Upon our return from Dragon Con, the awesome editors of Mine!, Joe Corollo and Molly Jackson were kind enough to allow me a chance to contribute to the book. I had a plan in place – to work hand in hand with a friend of mine very close to the cause, to produce something original and funny (a specific request by said editors). But life never works exactly as we plan, right? My collaborator went on an impromptu vacation, and I felt the pinch to produce my script sans net. This, above production woes or travelling drudgery scared the bejesus out of me.

For the last five years or so my comic series The Samurnauts has been a comfortable and fruitful universe to play in. The rules had been well defined by myself and my Unshaven cohorts. Our stories had been written and everything stayed right in my wheelhouse. That house, you ask? Taking those things I loved growing up, and putting a new twist on them to produce something that kids would enjoy, but adults could appreciate the layers built below the surface of the shiny comic action. But Mine! is a beast far outside the realm of immortal Kung-Fu monkeys and zombie-cyborg space pirates.

So there I sat with the blank screen blinding me. No collaborator to bounce ideas off of. A deadline perilously perched at the precipice of my palms. And no alliterative allegories alerting me to an able-bodied antiphon. If Sinestro were real? I could charge his ring from the sweat forming on my brow. Here, with this opportunity to be a part of a book alongside living legends (too many to mention), did I actually have a leg to stand on… or was I destined to tuck my tail between my legs and just scamper off to make some toys tussle with one-another.

In all of these situations, I am lucky now to be a father. To see in my two sons how fear (and the reaction to it) molds who we are. Be it my younger, Colton, timid and terrified of a two-foot tall Domo I was making wave, or my older, Bennett, scared to even open his mouth for a patient dental hygienist. In both of them, I see myself. Scared, and frozen as I try to check-down the possibilities. Would Unshaven Comics not sell well? Would Samurnauts simply remain forever incomplete? Would I have an original idea to sit in the same book with the likes of Mark Waid, Neil Gaiman, John Ostrander, or Brian Azzarello?

The answer came from one of the biggest mentors in my high school days. Dean Auriemma, my fine arts teacher, instilled in me the keys to overcoming my fear. Sadly, he didn’t know Hal Jordan from Michael Jordan, but I digress. The memory here is preserved like the dino DNA in Jurassic Park. There I was, sitting, mouth agape, at my drawing board. Before me strewn a hastily fastened together still life from which we were to create our work. Mr. A sauntered up behind me, and gruffly asked “What are you doing? Waiting for it to draw itself, buddy?”

I stammered back (not unlike Bennett when asked about the evil dentist) “I… I don’t know.”

Mr. A leaned back on his heels, and dropped a truth bomb that has resonated with me ever since:

“Just start doing what you know. If you wait for the answer to come, you’ll be waiting forever.”

And so too did every recent fear in my life fell before me. I put my head down and finished our comic. I stood up, and sold to every passerby in Atlanta. And damn it all, I started writing my script for Mine! By leaning in to what I knew, and soon thereafter, my script came together – as did Molly and Joe’s approval and acknowledgment.

It turns out we have nothing to fear but fear itself – in our brightest days … and darkest nights.

Marc Alan Fishman: When the Words Come!

There’s no single moment in the creation of the comics that I make that cement the driving feeling of accomplishment more for me than finalizing the lettering on a page. When it comes time to build The Samurnauts, my studio (Unshaven Comics for the uninitiated) subscribes to a combination of the so-called DC Style and the so-called Marvel Method.

The DC Style such as its short-handed via various wikis and whatnot is a full script treatment. This means that the writers produce a script that outlines every bit of information to be in a given comic –  from the panel descriptions, to the actual laid out dialogue, caption boxes, and onomatopoeia.

The Marvel Method is often the cited style of the stalwart staple of Marvel Studios, Stan Lee. Stan provided his artist collaborators the basic structures and story beats. He’d allow them to lay it all out as they saw fit. He then would come back to the final art, and add in all ‘dem fancy words.

To note: it’s likely in comics today that neither DC or Marvel actually adhere to these methods full-stop for the glut of writers they employ. It’s most likely down to individual preference, editorial management, or some combination of the two. And neither company originated these so-called styles.

Unshaven Comics utilizes both of these styles when it comes time to create an issue of The Samurnauts. Kyle Gnepper (resident writer and sales machine) is the full-script aficionado. As to why he prefers that style is an article I implore him to write on his own. What we’re here for today kiddos is to explore why I’m so enamored with the extemporaneous creation of the words that land on the page of the books that bear my name. Ya dig?

As I draw the pages, the script of my portions of The Samurnauts is always playing in my head like a Saturday morning cartoon. When we Unshaven Lads plot out an issue, we furiously take notes and debate on the outline. We create scenes, and story beats we want to hit on. We envision large set pieces, and tropes we want to pay homage to. When it’s time to translate those musings to actual actions? Well, for me, it’s all a matter of staring at a blank page and letting the story play out. I’ll layout panels (Adobe Illustrator is my medium of choice), and I’ll scribble near visually-illegible gestural drawings in the panels – my outline nestled in the margins of the artboard. From here, I typically bounce the final sketches to my artistic cohort Matt Wright. His keen eye for dynamic shots and action always set me up for logical-yet-exhilarating moments to capture in my final art.

By this point, I should make clear: my goal is to show more than tell. The immeasurably keen and kind Brian Stelfreeze once told me “A great comic book page can tell a story without a single word,” and I’ve long made what attempts I could to visually communicate as much as I could in the panel. This often translates to capturing my models with numerous poses, facial expressions, at different angles. My comic-making process is essentially a cartoon on mute for the first half of production. My end-goal always being to tell the entire story through the artwork first.

After the digital penciling, inking, flatting, and coloring, I’m left with a page ready for the final layer. Per the same conversation with Stelfreeze, I vividly recall him pointing out that “The words that appear on the page need not tell me what I’m already seeing. They need to fill in the gaps between the panels.” And so, with the page visually telling me one portion of the story, I add in my captions and dialogue in response to the action already on the page. With each blurb of text, I ask myself what am I communicating here that adds to the depth of the story? I’ll end on a recent anecdote:

On the first two page spread of the forthcoming The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #4 the action is clear as day; the Dreadnut dreadnaught (natch) reigns a hail of laser fire at the feet of the now-Delta-Wave Samurnauts, blowing them towards us (Power Ranger style!). Set in panels beneath the action we see their sensei, Master Al (the immortal Kung-Fu Monkey) imprisoned aboard their nemesis’ ship. We pull in on his pained expression.

When I outlined the scene, I knew that the action in the major portion of the page would not need to have a ton of dialogue – keeping in mind the sound effects of the lasers would be a key visual on top of the art. Pairing that action with the introspective moment by Master Al offered me the opportunity per Stelfreeze’s advice. The ability to counterpoint said action with narration that dives deeper into Master Al’s backstory (setting up Kyle’s five-page flashback on the following pages) becomes that thing that adds a layer to the artwork. By pairing reflective and solemn narration over the explosions creates a deeper experience – one I think that is best celebrated via the medium of a comic book. There’s no fancy star-wiping here, just a juxtaposition of incongruous actions that taken together tell us more than if they were presented more plainly.

And as I’d started saying at the top of this article, it’s here in these moments… when my unadorned artwork lays before me, I let Jesus take the wheel. Funny enough, I’m Jewish. I kid, I kid. Without a fully-developed script – paired with Kyle’s completed piece in front of me – I’m able to craft a more cohesive comic. One where my words set the table for Kyle’s, while still advancing the story in my portion of the book. It’s a balancing act that is the single most important selling point of The Samurnauts. Without that singular vision that marries the past to the future, our book is a mismatched mélange of wholly dissimilar action, save only for a monkey. Walking that tightrope, without a script to catch my fall is the kind of adventure that truly pays off when I’ve finished the last word balloon on the page and hit save. I reread the entire page, and play back the cartoon running in my mind. If it gels? It sells.

Excelsior, indeed!

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.

Marc Alan Fishman: The Unshaven State of the Union – 2017

My fellow geeks, nerds, nerfherders, and dweebs: I stand before you today afraid of tomorrow. As it’s only been a few weeks since Donald J. Larfleeze took the oath of office of these United States. Each day seemingly brings us closer to eminent destruction. With that in mind, I figured it would behoove me to survey the landscape for my little independent comic book studio and make some sweeping declarations for the year.

Declaration Number 1. The Curse will be Completed

The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts, our mini-series-that-is-taking-five-years-to-make will be completed. As of this writing, I have 13 or so pages left to flat. Then comes final coloring, lettering, and placing into the final print-ready file. All things considered, my aim is to have the book on the table for C2E2, which is April 21st. This is a necessity for the rest of the success we will have in the year to come. Because finishing the final issue means finishing the graphic novel collection, and finally making good on our commitment to our Kickstarter backers – who no doubt have plenty of reason to seethe at our inability to deliver anything on time.

Declaration Number 2. Unshaven Comics is Going Educational.

As detailed a few weeks ago, Matt Wright and I taught a pair of classes through our local park district. We saw over 25 students make their way into our li’l classroom and steal our hearts. To watch as kids come to grips with how complex a comic really is… a feeling I can’t describe save only for a basic grunt of elation. As we breakdown conceptualization, creative writing, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering… the joy piled up until we were asked why the class was only two weeks long. Suffice it to say: lesson learned. We’ll be doing longer classes from now on.

Declaration Number 3. Upgrading our Brand.

The first post-Curse priority for us is to completely revamp the Unshaven Comics brand. This means a new website, new convention branding, new business cards, new merchandise (beyond Samurnauts), and new company apparel. Don’t worry, the “lego head” logo ain’t going anywhere. But maybe there will be a fun (and free!) Unshaven Avatar app… But you didn’t hear that from me.

Declaration Number 4. Three New Samuranauts Will Begin Production.

Unlike unnecessary walls, Unshaven Comics knows when something needs to be built. Upon the completion of Curse and our brand being refreshed, our little studio is making the attempt to up the ante of our output. Each of we Unshaven Lads will take on a new Samurnauts title by our lonesome. Kyle will pair with a new artist to create The Rage of Rep-Simian. Matt Wright will dip his toe into story development (and do the artwork, as per usual) and bring The Luchanauts to life. And I will once again tackle both story and artistic duties to produce an all-female romp (set in the 1980s) The Samurnauts: Night of the NuWave. While there’s no chance any of the books will be complete in 2017, we will get a solid headstart on them before the year is out. And this time around? We’ll be sharing our progress reality-TV-style with weekly production vlogs. #WeAreSo2013

And Our Final Sweeping Declaration… 5. We Will Continue to Have the Time of Our Lives

Let me never stray too far from reality. Making comics is not easy when you have a full-time day job, a wife, two kids and two business partners very much in the same boat. Finding the time to work and to go to conventions while maintaining normal lives takes plenty of focus. Which means above all else, when I get to work with my brothers-from-other-mothers, be it at a convention table or the studio, I do not take it for granted. We will cherish every memory we build in 2017, as we hit new and old cons alike. We will break bread with our ComicMix brethren whenever the opportunity arises. We will release new content, and cherish each new fan we make… while doing our best to continue to earn the love and support from our existing (and very patient) fan base.

So long as we’re not destroyed by North Korea, Russia, Syria, or Iran, I look forward to high-fiving each and every one of you at a convention soon.

And as always… Stay Unshaven.

Marc Alan Fishman: Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way … To Fail


For those following along with the never-ending struggle in my attempt to finish The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #4, it becomes clear that when I declare “Each comic takes about 250 hours to complete from concept to final print,” I’m being very serious. And with this, the last issue of the mini-series, 250 hours is a massive understatement. As I was lamenting on my social feeds how I was without topic this week – because I figured no one wants to really know my lengthy thoughts about Arrow given I just started on Season 3 last night on Netflix – the consensus spoke.

Chicago’s Resident King of Nerds, Elliot Serrano, made the pitch:

Dude, you’ve been going through all these trials with life and creating your book, talk about that. Talk about the process and what drives you to keep going.

And his suggestion was liked by numerous compatriots of mine. Who am I to argue when the masses (exactly three people) demand I share the secret inner workings of Unshaven Comics?

So, let’s start at the top, shall we? This issue was supposed to be done last November. December if I was being lazy. Here we are in August of the following year, and we’re still inking pages. I myself have three left. Matt has four or five. And then the whole thing needs to be colored, have special effects added, lettered, proofed, and then printed. Shortly thereafter, the whole mini-series needs to be compiled, bonus materials built, and the graphic novel (that 125 very very very patient fans have awaited) will be done too.

So what happened?

Well, Elliot, the answer comes in two parts as you suggest. First, the quality of the final issue. Issue 1 of the series was all about the setup. For me personally, the only challenge was a cold-open action sequence, and having to learn how best to draw my Samurai-Astronauts panel after panel. While, yes, I’d completed Samurnauts: Genesis the year prior to Curse, the truth is I used as many cheats as I could to get to the final panel. Speedlines instead of a background? Sure! But I digress. By issue 4, there’s no more room to hide. Every page is the last of major sequences. Major fights. Transforming Zombie-Cyborg space pirates. Super move after super move. And probably a story somewhere in there. For Matt? It’s page after page of giant robots fighting. Suffice to say, we’d bitten more off than we could chew, but would be damned if we let it beat us.

But if our own stipulation of making the final issue be as good as we want it to be wasn’t enough, life gets in the way. As detailed before, in several columns, both Matt and I each brought another child into the world some five months ago. While we didn’t carry the children in our beer guts (thank Rao…), it was no less stressful. Another mouth to feed is another blessing on your home (yes, indeed, Rabbi Krustofsky), it’s also not fed for free. Both Matt Wright and I have more than doubled our efforts in the work-a-day world; Matt has taken to Uber’ing for secondary sources of income, whilst I have taken on massive amounts of freelance web and print design. Both of us work solid 18 hour days, minus some of the weekend when we just get to play dad and husband. Somewhere without those 18 hours, we scrape, scratch, and claw to complete panels. We still meet every Friday night to work together. We still attend conventions – with Dragon Con coming in about a week, and the New York Comic Con a month later.

So, what of the process, and what drives us to keep going? Well, it’s perhaps a bit rote to say it, but it bears stating it anyways. What drives us is the same thing we assume all other indie creators; the thrill of selling our wares to complete strangers who get what we do and want to support us. We create because we can’t exist without creating. Since our friendship blossomed in the sixth grade (with the unmentioned-until-now-but-still-just-as-important Kyle Gnepper), we’ve spend decades creating and destroying creation after creation. It’s simply part of what gets each of us up in the morning. I could work 25 hours a day, and still need to make my own work before my head hit a pillow. And to that point, the process itself is even more predictable. We work. We don’t stop working. We second guess how deep the undertaking was every damned week. But then we look at the pile of pages of the best-rendered, best-written ideas of our young careers, and we yearn to see it in the hands of those who supported us.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest of answers that drive home the most salient points. We do what we do, because we simply couldn’t be ourselves if we didn’t. And while we’re not punctual, the proof will exist in print soon enough.

Please note that Unshaven Comics is declaring that issue 4 of Curse of the Dreadnuts will be debuting at the 2016 New York Comic Con this October, even if Marc and Matt end up working 25 hours a day until then to ensure it happens.

Marc Alan Fishman: Everything’s Better When You Relaunch

unshaven bbq brisket

It’s about that time of the year again for the annual Wizard World Chicago Comic Con. The show itself is very close to my heart. It’s the first comic con I ever attended as a fan. It’s where I went year in and year out to see DC and Marvel fight for comics supremacy. It’s where I went to grab bargains on lost toys and statues not found in my local comic shop. It’s where I’d attend numerous “How to Break Into Comics” panels every year and leave with my heart full of hope.

It’s also where my little studio, Unshaven Comics, would take the leap to the other side of the aisle and learn the fine art of the pitch. It’s where we’d learn that our future was with making books on our own terms and selling them to fans who appreciated the indie movement for what it was; where unpolished professionals honed their craft by presenting unbalanced final products with the hope of finding future success. This show has been, and will always be, our home show.

This is the first year since I can honestly remember where Unshaven Comics will not have a table. Let me make it known, of course, that my studio mate Matt Wright will be at the show, at the ComicMix table (Table 625! Come say hi!) to offer some commissions and maybe move a few books. But Unshaven Kyle will be visiting his mother in Ohio. And me… I’ll be at home. Working. OK. Maybe sulking a bit. Heh.

The reason? As a business, Unshaven Comics lives on the profits we earn at comic cons. But at this point our fourth installment of The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts remains unfinished. With a hefty table cost and limited vacation days for the entirety of our threesome, there’s a commodity cost to doing said business. And with the dire threat of go big or go home, we need to have that final issue in hand by the time we make it to New York Comic Con this October. So, basic economics dictated our abandoning of the home show. Bigger risk begets bigger rewards. You dig?

Also… last year we were bitten by the DragonCon bug. The four-day excursion in Hotlanta netted us the second greatest showing at a convention ever, especially when compared to the table cost. Therefore, when we were granted a green light to return, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. Sure, Atlanta includes long car trips to and from, a potentially pricey hotel stay, as well as the general doldrums of being on the road. But with attendance that rivals NYCC, well… Bigger risk begets bigger rewards.

By abstaining from our home show this year, I’ll have time to plug away at the final pages of a soon-to-be-released comic. Without Kyle being available, we could never have seen the sales we would have needed to be profitable at a show the size of ole’ Wally World. As they like to say often on my beloved WWE… it’s what’s best for business.

But all that being said, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow. One that will go down easier knowing I’ll be able to break bread with EIC Mike Gold (and as John Ostrander notes, that means good BBQ) and the rest of the ComicMix crew that comes out. I know the show floor will be a little less bearded without me this year… but we all know the truth in comics:

Everything’s better when you relaunch the next year.

Marc Alan Fishman: When You Can’t Have It All

Touching Evil

Barely six days ago from the time this article prances across the interwebs to be posted to my little corner here at ComicMix, I will have once again broke bread with our ol’ E-I-C Mike Gold. Mr. Gold was in town (Chi-Town) for secret business. I’ve long since learned to stop asking for details, as when such a query is prodded Mike is prone to drum up a story with no fewer than seven name drops, and four blink-and-you’ll-miss-it delicious details about someone famous in comics. Before you know it, the subject has been changed, the barbecue brisket has hit the table, and you’ve completely forgotten your original question.

It was on the ride home that found Unshaven Matt Wright and me doing as we’ve come to do weekly: wax poetic about the state of our lives. You see, marrying our wives roughly two months apart, buying homes roughly five months apart, having our first kids about six hours apart, and then the second kids about two days apart has led he and I to fairly symmetrical lives. As such, these days … it’s been the world crashing down on top of us, whilst we have nary a baseball cap to keep from impending concussion. The finite details here are irrelevant. Let’s look to the macro.

When we’d completed our Kickstarter, we’d been about halfway through the inks on our final issue to-be-collected in the Curse of the Dreadnuts four-part series. Matt and I each felt that a solid four-to-six weeks would be all it’d take to plow through. Well. That was back in November. It’s not November now. And we’re still working on those final 10 pages or so. It’s blindingly frustrating. More than others may know because as much as we could choose any number of distractions in our lives preventing the completion of our book, it’s honestly the unrelenting pile-up of all of them at once rendering us barely able to scratch at a single page a week – if at all.

Reconnecting with Mike this past weekend reminded me that no amount of money sitting in my bank account will make up for the life not lived. Since November, when I should have been shuttering my side business to hunker down on a book, I took on five new freelance clients. And while I told myself the little bits and pieces of work they threw me would allow my family to exist when my wife eventually took her current maternity leave, I know I’m mostly lying to myself because the honest-to-Rao truth is I can’t say no. Until now, I suppose.

For example, take my ComicMix cohort Emily Whitten, who recently took a polite bow in order to tackle sundry missions in her neck of the woods. I read her wave goodbye and applauded. Make no mistake: I’m not going anywhere. I show up on a site a day before John Ostrander every week, which allows me to say I open for John Ostrander weekly to all geeks I meet on the street. I can’t ever give that up. Plus, my rants and raves about the geek culture I hold so dear is one of my favorite escapes when I sit down to write. But I digress. And screw Peter David. I stole that line from my high school choir director. Natch.

But the hunger pangs to be a true creative is now far too strong. I’ve denoted my fellow Midwestern comic makers doing amazing things as of late, and it makes me a brighter shade of Sinestro in jealousy of their output. My number one frenemy Dan Dougherty? He’s recently collected his comic Touching Evil http://www.beardocomics.com/#!touching-evil/c17ar into a trade paperback and is presently poised to release issue eight. And it’s seriously one of the best books I’ve read in years. I die a little every time I admit it.

As for Dan’s karaoke cohort, Dashing Dirk Manning? Well, he just launched a Kickstarter for the third volume of Tales of Mr. Rhee (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dirkmanning/tales-of-mr-rhee-those-who-fight-monsters-hardcove?ref=nav_search, and I’m one of the 100+ backers onboard in the first day. By the way, Dirk met goal in less than half a day. It’s fitting given how wonderfully macabre that series is. Then there’s my good buddies Leo Perez and Mikey Babinski, who both landed their art into exclusive tie-in trading card sets for the upcoming Ghostbusters movie. Trust me, I’m barely scratching the surface. My Facebook feed overfloweth with glowing announcements of soon-to-be-released goodies. All my friends… living their dreams, while I tackle yet another logo, business card, and UI update.

Until now. My name is Marc Alan Fishman. My shoppe is hereby closed. My studio is now open nightly. My book will be done. I know now that I can’t have it all. But the truth is, I never needed it all in the first place. It’s time to get back to doing what I love. The rest of the world can wait.

Marc Alan Fishman: Slaying the Dragon Con

John BarrowmanAs you read these words, my Unshaven brethren and I will be in “Cincinnati” for CincyComiCon – Tony Moore’s comic book convention that takes place in the Northern Kentucky Convention Center (which is, funny enough, not in Cincinnati proper). A week ago we were in Atlanta for the famed Dragon Con. The show itself had been promoted to us as “A license to make money,”Nerd Mardi Gras,” and “The biggest and best fan-run comic convention in the nation.” We were told the absolute truth.

Dragon Con exists not in a behemoth convention center but a gaggle of interconnected hotels and venues in downtown Atlanta. Each building either hosts a litany of programming or contains an artist alley, an art show, a celebrity row, or dealer’s room. Anyone within a square mile of any of these venues is likely to get the feeling that the entire city itself has been usurped wholly by the geek world at large. This fact was compounded to me personally when upon entering the hotel that housed the Artist Alley the night before the show actually started, we had to cut through what could only be described as a cosplay raver that choked the Hyatt Regency’s lobby to the rafters with costumed partiers, and their menagerie of fans and onlookers. Nerd Mardi Gras indeed.

From Unshaven Comics’ perspective, the show felt far more like an intimate Anime show than the MegaCons that are C2E2, New York Comic Con, or any of the Wizard Cons. Because the alley itself was housed in a single ballroom (split, in-fact, with a fantasy fine-art show), everything felt small. This in and of itself turned out to be a boon for our business.

The reason, as best as I could ascertain, was due entirely to the fans themselves. Unlike the cold and lifeless MegaCons whose corporate masters anchor their shows on exhibitors and celebrity guests, Dragon Con is clearly a fan-driven affair first and foremost. The staples of the con circuit – the aforementioned celebs and exhibitors, the artists, small publishers, and vendors – are secondary to the programming and atmosphere. Furthermore, the Alley itself was juried, built to ensure that amidst some well-recognized names there was an emphasis on showcasing that which was new and off-the-beaten-path.

Because each bit of Dragon con existed in its own ecosystem, there was no fighting for a fan’s attention. Unshaven Comics is used to competing with marked-down maquettes, bins of bootlegs, the appeal of autographs, and the untz-untz throb of expensive exhibitor booths. In lieu of that, our particular Alley was served up as an experience unto itself. Within our handful of aisles were the skilled craftspeopleartists alone selling their crafts, prints, canvases, and comic books. And with that atmosphere cultivated without the aforementioned competition, the fans came without any larger agenda beyond appreciating the specificity of the Alley. That appreciation bore the sweetest fruit an indie table could dine on… great sales.

To get analytical about it, by the end of four solid days of shilling we limped out of Atlanta 600 books lighter. For those playing along at home, that’s better than our first year showing at NYCC. Our closing rate has never been this high, peaking at 60% on Saturday and Sunday. We also had the largest rate of return purchasers; fantastic fans willing to pick up the first issue in our Samurnauts series early in the show, and make their way back to us to scoop up any other issues on our rack. In addition, both Matt (Wright, Unshaven artist extraordinaire) and myself saw a plethora of commission requests. This required us to bring home homework every night, in order to satisfy the masses. Forget Sid Caesar, kiddos. This was the Show of Shows.

As we took to the 12-hour car trip home, it became evident to us that Dragon Con was not a convention. Truly, it was a celebration. Beyond the curtained walls of our show-space, we’d later find out there were over 30 tracks of programming to peruse. There was a literal parade for Cosplayers. There were 4 unending nights of after-parties. We were left baffled in the wake of it all. That feeling of a larger company perched on high-tented fingers over a pile of reports and stacks of cash was nowhere to be found. Instead, there were passionate promoters trying to put together a cacophony of fan-driven fun. They did it in style. They did it in epic fashion. And they did it in a manner that served up that mass of fandom to our little table, with an open wallet, and an ear-to-ear smile.

Smaug be damned… Dragon Con decimated my idea of what a comic con could be.

Marc Alan Fishman: Your Mother’s A Tracer!

fish_pic_articleSo the book we’ve been building for the past two weeks (starting here) has now been plotted and all visual resources gathered. What else is left to do? Oh yeah. Draw the damned thing! You know, that big step that takes a bunch of words on a page and interestingly shapes them into visual communication of plot, character, nuance, and depth. It’s the thing that makes our medium truly special. Like a movie, but slaved over a single moment in time, at a time.

OK kiddos. Time to wear my heart on my sleeve. For all my piss and vinegar, pomp and circumstance, beard and bite, I have long hidden my entire creative process from prying eyes. Why? Because I’m man enough to admit for a very long time, I was ashamed of it. As noted last week, when Matt informed me I should either poop or get off the toilet (when it came to contributing to Unshaven Comics). I accepted his challenge. But I did so on my terms. I would use every trick in the book of my professional life as a graphic designer. I’d be fine to draw… so long as I could cheat. Let me peel back now exactly how I cheat – and in doing so end up with a finished product I am proud to attach my name to.

Picture Perfect Illustration

As we covered before, at the point I’m ready to illustrate I already have the entire comic page and panel layout. Simply enough, I open up my first page in Adobe Illustrator and get familiar with what I’ll be drawing. I then open the cache of photo references taken prior, and drop in the appropriate references in for the panel I’m building. I then drop the opacity down, and then I… I…

I trace.

There. I said it. It’s out there. And it can’t be taken back. With it being said though, I sternly suggest that what I end up doing is far more than tracing. When I make my mark in Illustrator, it’s tied to my pressure sensitive Wacom tablet. And the brush tools I use to make my lines have been custom built and tweaked by me to give me the line I envision in my head when I make my mark via the computer. Furthermore, anyone who traces learns quickly that every line – especially in comics – is crucial to personal style as well as building the right form. And when one works in a photorealistic style, line choice is the difference between making someone look their age or 40 years older. Line weight, and composition come into play. A thicker line can be used to separate forms, as well as add depth to flat objects. To the point: I trace, but I trace with a degree in fine art, and knowledge that I could replicate the results without tracing – just in twice the amount of time. Time I could be spending making more comics.

Building A World That Doesn’t Exist

Aside from using my photo references for the actual characters in The Samurnauts, no doubt you’ll note that they don’t fight zombie-cyborg pirates from space in a vacuum. Well, OK, sometimes they do. But you get my drift. Furthermore, as hard as we’ve tried Unshaven Comics has yet to procure a humanoid-monkey hybrid capable of performing kung-fu that we could afford. Nor have we any advanced degrees in cybernetic technology. And beyond all that, we don’t live in a futuristic city, have giant robots, or even own laser swords or shoulder mounted cannons. Lucky for me, I own an imagination and can afford to commission 3-D models of the props needed to flesh out each panel in our comic that I’m responsible for.

Much like staging for TV or movies, I am firm believer in building only what you have to show. When there’s need to show more, we show more. Matt, as the antithesis to my mantra, lives for building out sketches in every angle. And that of course leads me to the other half of this story:

Matt Wright. Penciler, Inker, Craft Beer Drinker.

Here I was spending all my precious time standing on my soapbox, defending my process to the masses… and I forgot that I only constitute 50% of the content of each issue of The Samunauts! Whilst I toil at my computer with photos, 3-D models, and a second screen of Google images, Matt Wright is doing things the traditional way. With a blank page, a dark basement, and a pile of actual art tools, Matt’s half of The Samurnauts is made the way you’d think all comics should be made. While Matt will keep reference materials at arms length, he typically draws from the figures and fantasies that lie betwixt his ears. It’s a skill I sadly lost literally within moments of meeting Matt, back in sixth grade.

So, Matt’s process is thus: light blue pencil gestures within pre-planned panels, followed by heavier pencils to clarify form and details, followed by finished pencil artwork. After every page has been penciled to his liking, Matt will then take to his ink and brush to lay out blacks and grey tones. As his sequences in our books typically encapsulate the past, Matt has explored a variety of media – gouache, water color, copic marker, and ink washes – to create the weathered, nostalgic look. As most people see upon viewing of the completed comic note, the juxtaposition of Matt’s well-rendered fine art mixes with the sterile, cel-animation-esque digital art I contribute. At the end of the day, it’s an aesthetic we’re proud is wholly ours, serves a purpose in our story telling, and is truly unique within the artist alleys we frequent.

Sage Advice I was Once Given

“Celebrate your successes, but cherish your failures. It’s only when we lose do we learn to win.”

And a personal favorite: “You think your fans care that it took you two-hundred hours to make that book in their hand? Hardly. All they care about is if it’s actually worth the time you invested in it.”

After this, it’s on to the finishes – flatting, coloring, lettering, and the cover. We’ll cover that (natch) next week… in our epic conclusion!


Marc Alan Fishman: Dr. Photoshoot…


How I learned to stop caring what someone more talented than I can do, and love my models instead.

When last we spoke, I’d revealed the initial steps to Unshaven Comics building a book from the ground up. We covered our notes process, outlining, and then the breakdown. That leads us to the first steps that require artistic direction. Shall we venture forth then, true believer?

The Gestalt of Gestures

With our breakdowns in hand, Matt Wright (penciler, inker, craft beer drinker) and I then build each page in loose gestures; I create the final digital page and the panels, and Matt and I frame each figure within the panel. When complete, we’re better able to see if the story we’re telling is compelling. We can test the ebb and flow of action, as well as pace out the most dramatic beats. In short, our gestural comps help us literally sketch out a complete comic.

DreadnutsThis is by no means a step to wash over quickly, albeit it’s not one that takes incredibly long to complete. Case in point, we finished an issue this past Saturday night. Most of the time we would read aloud the beat from the breakdown and then discuss how we envisioned it being laid out on a page. Matt had a trusty sketch book next to him, alongside my open page in Adobe Illustrator, where I lay out the panels, as well as digitally ink my pages. Over those final six hours we tend to bicker and banter about the best ways to capture action, and drama. We pour over graphic novels of our favorite artists (John Romita Jr., Alex Ross, and Brent Anderson come to mind and to finger, often). We sketch, erase, debate, sketch, agree, and then retranslate to loose (“terrible looking”) sketches within the pre-made pages. These comps now serve as visual shorthand for our next steps.

While we’ll obviously refine compositions and continue to craft the page as we go… this step is the most heavy lifting we do during pre-production. Shortly thereafter? It’s time to gather our resources. In simpler terms, it’s Photoshoot time!

Just Shoot Me. Well not me… Them.

The picture that came emblazoned at the beginning of this post was taken a week ago at our fifth Samurnaut photoshoot. A bit of backstory:

When Unshaven Comics sported mere stubble on our chinny-chin-chins, Matt was our only artist. While I did do all the coloring, letter, half of the writing, and all of the graphic design… I feared venturing out of my comfort zone. Because Matt is very much my brother from another mother, he had no fear looking me in the eye and calling me out – get drawing, or die trying. I did get a BFA with a concentration in drawing and printmaking. I did know how to draw. But my fear that a comic creator worth his salt had to be able to work without reference kept me clinging to those tasks I was more than qualified for. Long story short, I swallowed my pride and accepted the fact that I could make sequential panel art that I was satisfied with (as in: I’m happy with it, but I’d never be one to say it’s anything more than passable)… so long as I had reference for literally everything I’d need to draw.

So when we created the Samurnauts, we needed models. Lucky for me, I am wealthy with friends. Even luckier: many of them are naturally gifted and funny folks willing to become super heroes and zombie-cyborg space pirates for the price of some pizza and access to my cache of Nerf weaponry. With each comic we create, Unshaven Comics open-casts our way through each part, and rents out a local venue that will leave us alone long enough to literally stage each panel, and capture it on digital film. Thank Rao we have no shame acting like 13 year-olds around each other.

And, after a few short hours of contorting, twisting, punching, kicking, nerfing, and general whackado, we break so that we Unshaven Lads can return to our lair for the next portion of comic creation.

Sage Advice I Was Once Given

“Learn to highlight your strengths and hide your weaknesses from the public eye. But behind the scenes, never stop learning or challenging yourself to overcome those things you fear. If you can’t draw hands, then you need to draw them everyday until you no longer fret over them. You’ll never have to love your work – you’ll just need to be able to live with it.”

And next week…

… I’ll pull the curtain back even further in a chapter I like to call “Your Mother’s A Tracer!”