Tagged: Mike Gold

Mindy Newell: It Doesn’t Know It’s A Game

American Flagg

Joshua/WOPR: “Shall we play a game?”

David (Matthew Broderick): “Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War.”

Joshua/WOPR: “Wouldn’t you prefer a good game of chess?”

David: “Later. Right now let’s play Global Thermonuclear War.”

Joshua/WOPR: “Fine.”

General Beringer (Barry Corbin): Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, sir, I’ve come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.

McKittrick (Dabney Coleman): I don’t have to take that, you pig-eyed sack of shit.

General Beringer: Oh, I was hoping for something a little better than that from you, sir. A man of your education.

Officer: Sir, it’s the President.

McKittrick: What are you going to tell him?

General Beringer: That I’m ordering our bombers back to fail-safe; we might have to go through this thing after all.

David (Matthew Broderick): “Is this a game or is it real?”

Joshua/WOPR: “What’s the difference?”

  • Wargames (1983), Directed by John Badham

Last week I watched Wargames on one of my cable channels, which was a weird bit of synchronicity because just a few days before, February 18th to be exact, the New York Times ran a very interesting article about that point on the graph where fiction and reality meet. It was called “‘Wargames’ and Cybersecurity’s Debt to a Hollywood Hack.”

Wargames, if you don’t remember – and I would be very surprised if you don’t, my fellow geeks – was a 1983 movie which starred Matthew Broderick as David Lightman, a high school student who is failing every class but also happens to be a genius computer geek in an era when it was not yet totally cool to be a high school computer geek. He accidentally hacks into the Cheyenne Mountain security complex known as NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and its super computer WOPR (War Operations Plan Response). WOPR is programmed to run numerous nuclear war scenarios and their outcomes, but David, a computer game “connoisseur,” believes that he has hacked into a games manufacturer’s R & D system, and decides to play global thermonuclear war, which is listed along with other strategy-learning games such chess, backgammon, checkers, and poker. But the computer “doesn’t know it’s a game,” as David desperately tries to tell the military. WOPR is counting down to Armageddon.

Anyway, the article tells the story of how, on June 4, 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan watched the movie at Camp David. The following Wednesday, Reagan met with his national security team and 16 members of Congress to discuss the upcoming meeting with the Soviets about nuclear arms. There he asked if anyone had seen Wargames, gave a synopsis, and if such a thing was possible. Coming on the heels of his Star Wars speech in which he asked scientist to develop “laser” weapons that could shoot down Soviet (or other hostiles) ICBMs from space, everyone in the room was thinking, to paraphrase, “There he goes again.”

But as the meeting disbanded, Reagan held back General John W. Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and told him to look the possibility of someone breaking into the nation’s high security and top-secret computer systems.

One week later, the General returned to report that the President’s question wasn’t so off the wall and out of the box at all. In fact, to quote the New York Times, what the General actually said was, “the problem is much worse than you think.”

Reality imitating fiction.

There must have been something in the air in 1983, for that was also the year that Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg hit the comic book shops. Published by First Comics – which was co-launched by Rick Obadiah and ComicMix’s own Mike Gold – Flagg takes place in the year 2031. The U.S. government and the boards of major corporations have moved to Mars, and the Soviet Union has collapsed because of Islamist fundamentalism. The new center of power is the Brazilian Union of the Americas and the Pan-African League. America is ruled by the “Plex,” an amalgamation of the U.S. government and corporations. The population of the United States is centered around massive centers of commerce termed Plexmalls; the “Plexus Rangers,” including former television star Reuben Flagg, enforce the law.

Okay, the U.S. government is still in Washington. The Soviet Union did collapse in 1991, but Vlad Putin’s “wannabe” Soviet Union has problems with the Islamic fundamentalists living in the border states. But, can you say “Citizens United?” The 2010 Citizens United Vs. Federal Election Commission case, brought before the Supreme Court – which voted 5-4 in favor of the plaintiff – changed the landscape of our political system. Although it was originally meant for non-profit corporations, the principal has extended to private corporations – our First Amendment right to free speech as been convoluted to money as people. As in, to quote Mitt Romney, “Corporations are people, my friends.”

So I watch the 2016 Presidential campaign with a besotted eye. It does seem like some dystopian science fiction movie or comic, doesn’t it? The Republican candidates are cursing like roughnecks, complaining about television make-up, throwing bottled water at each other, tweeting and trolling like sociopathic adolescents, and a billionaire head of a corporation is leading the polls. The Democratic candidates are a woman suspected of murder and of e-mailing top-secret information on a public server and a socialist Jew from Brooklyn who isn’t Larry David.

And the current President is keen on sending a manned mission to Mars.

Mindy Newell: Yesterday’s News?

US Japs At War

Last week, after I submitted my column to Old Man Editor Mike Gold, I made myself a cup of English Breakfast tea, sliced up some mozzarella and cheddar cheese, grabbed some crackers and got into bed – this woman has to get up way before the first rays of the sun crack the horizon during her work week – and so I didn’t read Old Man Editor Mike Gold’s e-mail in response to my submission until the next afternoon. It said something like: Jessica Jones is old news. It debuted on Netflix in November.

Well, gee, that was only two months ago, Old Man Editor Mike. Two months and 16 days, to be precise.

But I get it. In today’s hyper-streamed world, 10 weeks might as well be 1010 (or 10,000,000,000). There’s so much to watch, so much to read, so much to talk about on the information superhighway that was brought to us courtesy of the U.S. military industrial complex and Al Gore – the World Wide Web, baby – that it’s just about impossible for anyone to stay absolutely current and up-to-date unless you happen to be a green-skinned alien and Legionnaire from the 21st century named Brainiac 5. Even Chris Matthews, of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, now has a segment he calls “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” in which various reporters and pundits tell him, well, something he doesn’t know. And he has a research staff.

Sometimes I feel like the Gallifreyan, trapped in a confession dial for 7000 years while the universe just merrily keeps on expanding, minding its own business, and intelligent life and civilizations and planets and suns within it are born, thrive, wither, and die.

I can’t even keep up with my e-mail. Every day, for instance, I get at least three notifications from Comic Book Resources (CBR). I delete the ones that don’t sound interesting to me, but even the ones I want to read pile up faster than those cars and buses and trucks that were stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike last weekend. Then, by the time I actually have the time to check them, they are all old news which I’ve either already heard about, or read about, or watch somewhere else on the net. And that’s just CBR. There’s also Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, Den of Geek, Bleeding Cool News, Michael Davis World, et. al. Oh, and that also includes ComicMix.

Plus my other e-mails and notifications. On Saturday it took me two hours just to clear out my mailbox. Some of the stuff dated back to November, and I never even read them. I’m telling you, it’s like reading a newspaper with the headline U.S. and Japs At War.


I am up-to-date on my X-Files. (I’m thinking that it rocks!) I saw that movie its first weekend in theatres. And I’m actually ahead of the ball on Downton Abbey, having just watched Episode 8 of “The Final Season” on Amazon Prime.


I missed the premiere of Legends of Tomorrow, Parts 1 and 2, and I missed last week’s Supergirl because I watched X-Files. So now I have to catch up those two shows. And I’m embarrassed to admit that Daredevil is still in my queue.

Not to mention that I have three more episodes of Jessica Jones to go.

Jesus, I wish I had a TARDIS.

John Ostrander: Back to the Beginning

Warp Play PosterWhen I get asked by earnest neophytes how to break into comics, my pat answer is “With a pick and a crowbar through the roof in the middle of a moonless night.”

Somewhat less than helpful, I know.

The truth is that I don’t know how to break into comics. I don’t think most of you can go the path I took. I had an old friend – Mike Gold, who you may have seen hereabouts – and he knew I loved comics and he had liked something I had written for the stage and offered me a chance. When Mike had first gone to NYC to work for DC Comics, I pressed on him a sample script I had written for Green Lantern. He dutifully did but the script didn’t go anywhere and it shouldn’t have. I was very keen but very raw in those days (although I did use elements of it eventually; writers are forever cannibalizing themselves).

Fast forward a few years. Mike left DC to return to Chicago and eventually co-found First Comics with Rick Obadiah. The first comic that First Comics was going to print was an adaptation of the play Warp!, produced by the legendary Organic Theater of Chicago. The play trilogy described itself as “the world’s first science fiction epic-adventure play in serial form”. The director and co-writer, Stuart Gordon, freely acknowledged that he was very influenced by Marvel Comics. (We’re talking late 60s, early 70s Marvel. The primo stuff.)

I was – and am – a huge fan of Warp! Heck, I was a huge comic book geek at the time as well. Peter B. Gillis was hired to adapt the play but I got a call one day from Mike (who was now supreme editor and High Poohbah of First Comics) asking me if I would like to try my hand at writing an eight page back-up story.

Of course, I said yes.

And so began the process of picking one of the characters from Warp!, figuring out a story, working out the plot, breaking it down into page and panels, doing it and re-doing it, learning the tricks of the trade as I went. I had written plays which are similar to comic-book scripts but comic book writing has its own practices and demands. I’d write it up, Mike would give me notes, I’d re-write it, I’d get more notes and so on until one day Mike finally called me and congratulated me – they were going to use my story as the back-up feature in the first issue of Warp! which was going to be the first comic published by First Comics.

“Oh,” I replied, “great. Uh … do I get paid for this?”

“Of course, you sap,” Mike replied and gave me the page rate.

As a side note, I’ll mention that at that point I hadn’t written anything for a year or more. I felt I had a bad case of writer’s block. I discovered that there’s nothing like getting a paycheck to dissolve a writer’s block.

I went on from there to write more back-ups. Then I got Mike Grell’s Starslayer as a regular assignment and from there I originated GrimJack thus creating my career or sealing my fate, whichever you prefer.

The fact that I have a career is largely Mike Gold’s doing. As my first editor, he taught me not only the tricks of the trade but how to be a good writer. When Mike returned to DC, he brought me with him. Thanks to Mike, I got the job plotting Legends which was the first big DC crossover following Crisis On Infinite Earths. It may not sound like so much in these days of constant company wide crossover events but it was big back then. (Len Wein did the dialoguing and John Byrne did the pencils.) At Mike’s suggestion, we debuted Suicide Squad in the pages of Legends.

Mike also famously drafted me into doing Wasteland (we brought Del Close along). It was Mike’s idea and I wasn’t sure about it or at least my doing it at first. However, Mike is persuasive and I’ve learned when Mike has an idea to just say yes; at the very least, it will be interesting and potentially it will be some of my best work (as with Wasteland).

Mike has also been a very old, very loyal, and very good friend.

It boils down to this – if you like what I’ve done with my career, hey it’s all due to me.

If you don’t like what I’ve done, blame Mike.

John Ostrander: Michigan Political Theater

House of Cards

I’m from Chicago. Most of you already know that. I grew up in the days of Mayor Richard J. Daley (the first Mayor Richard Daley) and the Chicago City Council of his era so I’m used to the concept of politics as theater, as popular culture. The rest of the country is catching up; the Republican Debate last week scored really high ratings for CNN. Some of the big TV shows such as House of Cards and Scandal also score well.

Given my upbringing I’m somewhat a connoisseur of political dramedy. Years ago, in one of the early visits to NYC, I read that a NYC borough president was caught in a scandal and committed suicide. I’m afraid my first rather uncharitable reaction was, “What a wimp.” I was from Chicago; when our politicians got caught and convicted, they would try to run their political fiefdoms from inside the prison and/or run their wife/brother/dog in the election to keep their seat warm until the malefactor alderman got out of the pokey.

I’ve been living in Michigan now for a number of years and we have our own set of entertaining politicos. In a state were over 60% of the population was polled and said their first priority was the state fixing our lousy and dangerous roads and bridges, the legislature has been unable to get together on a sane way of financing that fix without gutting things like education. They’d get close and then – whoops! – it was time to take a few weeks off. This, however, is simply incompetence; as I said, I’m from Chicago and I have higher standards for real political theater.

Recently, however, there has been an incident that has risen to my lofty standards. It involved two Republican members of the House of Representatives, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. Both are Tea Party activists and devout Christians who are self-proclaimed proponents of “traditional” marriage values. (Courser was also the representative for my former district, Lapeer.) And, of course, the two were having an affair.

Still, despite the delightful odor of hypocrisy, the affair still didn’t reach the bar for me in regards to political corruption. There was nothing really new or compelling in all this. It’s what happened next that really started making it entertaining.

Todd (the God) Courser decided to “leak” a phony e-mail saying that Courser had been caught having gay sex with a male prostitute. The “reasoning” was that it would “inoculate” Todd and Cindy if allegations of their affair came out.

Don’t ask me to explain it. I’m just reporting it.

This Dynamic Duo were using their offices and their staffs to help get this e-mail out and some of them refused. It was improper use of state funds and services. And, of course, the truth came out in all its jaw-dropping glory.

There was an investigation, Courser and Gamrat admitted to everything but asked to be censured and not expelled, there was a huge official report, and the whole messy debacle came to a head this last week. Courser resigned just before he could be expelled but Gamrat hung on to the end and got the boot. A new election was set to fill the now empty seats.

All this is fun and interesting to an old Chicago political junkie like me but it’s what happened next that raises the whole thing to Chicago level chicanery.

As of Friday, the last day for candidates to file, both Courser and Gamrat declared themselves as candidates for the very seats they just lost. That is Chicago style politics!

And they say, you can’t make this stuff up. I think if I tried to make a story that did all this, the editor would tell me it was just not believable. (Except for Mike Gold – Mike’s another old Chicago boy and he could easily cite three or four historic events that were much worse.)

Part of me is perverse enough to wonder if I should work in Courser’s and/or Gamrat’s campaign. You know; just as a way to say “thank you.” They made me nostalgic for the Chicago of my youth. I could even devise a campaign slogan: “Don’t let those bastards in Lansing tell you who can represent you! Vote Courser/Gamrat! Let the affair continue!”

Sigh. It seems like the old days all over again. I miss Chicago.

John Ostrander’s Story Behind the Story

Suicide Squad

There’s a lot of attention focused on the Suicide Squad, what with the movie being filmed right now and coming out next year, and, yes, it’s based on the version of the Squad that I created back in the 80s and, yes, I should see some money for the use of Amanda Waller (not the Squad per se since it already existed in another form in the DCU) and that’s all pretty cool. Might as well tell my version of how this all started and give some credit where credit is due. You may have heard/read some of this before but I’m at the age where repeating stories is de rigeur so let’s do this.

My first shout out goes to Robert (“Bobby”) Greenberger who was our first editor on the Squad. I had met Bob at several conventions and while waiting in airports afterwards for our respective planes. I was working only for First Comics at that point; I hadn’t yet moved up to the major publishers. Bob and I got along really well and he broached the idea of my doing some work for DC. I was perfectly amenable and we started talking what I might do.

I loved the title “Challengers of the Unknown” which was lying fallow at the time. I considered, then and now, that this was one of the great titles in comics. All by itself, it conjured up possibilities. Really cool.

Unfortunately, someone else had already grabbed it for development so it was off the table. Then Bob suggested “How about Suicide Squad? It only appeared for five issues of Showcase a million years ago and nothing is being done with it.”

My first reaction? What a stupid name! Who in their right minds would belong to a group that called itself Suicide Squad? And just as I was dismissing the whole thing, an answer struck me: the only ones who would join would be those who had no other choice. Who doesn’t have any other choice? Folks in prison. Supervillains who’ve been caught. How do they get out of prison so fast? The Squad.

I thought about the Dirty Dozen and Mission: Impossible and The Secret Society of Supervillains, a DC title that teamed up loads of supervillains. I loved that. So the idea was to have a team of supervillains, rogues, enrolled by the government to take on secret missions deemed in the U.S. national interests. If caught they could be disavowed easily; they’re bad guys running around doing what bad guys do. If they die, who cares? They were bad guys. If they succeeded and got back alive, they would have time shaved off their sentences or outright freed.

It would also give us a chance to see the villains as competent and even deadly in their own right. Make them dangerous. For the missions, I’d comb newspaper and magazines for real world ideas. In fact, our first issue had a super-powered terrorist group attacking an airport while Air Force One was landing. I doubt I could get away with that today.

Bob suggested we also have some superheroes in it as well; not A list or maybe even B list. I was resistant at first; I wanted it to be all bad guys. Bob was insistent and it turned out he was right.

I wanted B-listers because I wanted to be free to kill any of them off. I wanted the missions to be dangerous; in all other comics, you knew the heroes were coming back alive because they had to be there for the next issue. Not with the Squad. We could kill them off with impunity. And we did. Always added to the suspense of the story – you never knew who was coming back alive.

To run the group I created Amanda Waller, a.k.a. The Wall. Tough as nails, heavy set, middle aged, bad attitude, African American woman. Why? Because there had never been anyone like her in comics before (and there hasn’t been since). Actually, she was based on my paternal grandmother who scared the bejabbers out of me when I was a kid. One glare and that was it; whatever I was doing, I stopped, even if I wasn’t really doing anything.

Bob also brought in Luke McDonnell as our artist; Luke had just finished some Justice League and was looking for another gig. Luke had (and has) great storytelling and real good character skills. Not flashy but that suited the stories we were telling. Bob also added Karl Kesel as our initial inker. Karl was a hoot; he was brimming with ideas and I’d get what I would call “Kesel Epistles” where he would share his notions. I used some but always encouraged the participation; I figured that was the best way to make a good team. Let everyone have a say if they wanted it.

We picked our members and I wanted the ones that no one else wanted. Deadshot had a cool name, a really stupid costume when he first appeared that Marshall Rogers later revamped and made really cool, and only a few background facts. He was technically a Batman villain but the Bat office said they didn’t want him so I was free to give him a backstory and a bit more of a character.

Captain Boomerang was a Flash character but the Flash had also just been revamped as a result of Crisis on Infinite Earths and, at that point, the Flash office was no longer using the rogues. Bob suggested we use him and, at first, my reaction was, “What a stupid character.” (I really needed to learn not to do that.) However, I decided to make him like the character Flashman in the Flashman series of historical novels by George McDonald Fraser. Boomerang was an asshole but he knew what he was and liked it. Every time you thought he could sink no lower, he’d find a new level. He quickly became one of my favorites.

Bob also got us an issue of Secret Origins for the same month as our first issue so we could use background material; and reference the original Squad(s).

This is when Mike Gold stepped in, Mike is an old old old friend, my former editor at First Comics, and the one who gave me my first shot as a comic book writer. (Yes, it’s all his fault – unless you like my stuff in which case it’s all due to me.) He had gone over to DC and was intent on taking some others with him, including me. Mike got me a shot at plotting the first company wide crossover since Crisis, which we called Legends. Mike felt it would be a good idea to include the Squad in it for their first appearance since lots of attention would be drawn to the series. Among other things, John Byrne would be drawing it – his first work at DC after leaving Marvel.

Of course, I wasn’t sure. (Notice a pattern here?) I didn’t want the Squad getting lost in the shuffle. They weren’t, and we had a great launch.

At some point into the Squad’s run I brought in my wife, Kim Yale, as co-writer. Kim was a very good writer in her own right and she complimented and completed my work with the Squad. To say it wouldn’t have been the same book without her seems obvious and trite but it is also true.

Bob eventually moved on to other work at DC and new editors took his spot although none could take his place. His love of the Squad and his enthusiasm for it shaped the book from the beginning and it would not have existed without him, or Mike, or Luke, or Karl, or Kim. Did it change comics? Beats me but we told some damn good stories and now they’re making a movie out of it.

Not bad for a series with such a damn stupid title.


John Ostrander: Where The Hell Have I Been?

Man Woman Life Death InfinityFrequenters to this spot on the ComicMix radio dial are aware I’ve been MIA for the past two weeks. Attendees at the Jedi Con in Dusseldorf, Germany, also know I was a no-show. Mike Gold has supplied the basic info but I feel I should elaborate.

I’ve been sick. Really, really sick.

It started with the Rock of Gibraltar, a 7 mm kidney stone that took up residence in my right kidney. The doctor went in and yanked it out in one piece, leaving a stent to help me pee.

My penis had an opinion on all this. “No no no! Things go out that way; they don’t go up!” The penis was overruled and has been very sullen ever since.

The stent was removed about ten days later in the doc’s office in a sort of “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” procedure. No ceremony. They just inserted a tube and pulled out what looked like a long green worm. It took longer to fill out the paperwork than to perform the procedure.

Four or five days later I was back in the ER. I’d developed a fever, a bad pain in my back, and my bladder wasn’t emptying right. They told me that 400-600 ccs on urine would cause most people discomfort. 600-800 should have people doubled up in pain.

I had 2000 ccs.

Some nurses suggested that my bladder could have exploded. We’re all glad it didn’t I don’t know why it didn’t. Maybe he’s Iron Bladder. Bladder of Steel. Green Bladder. The Dark Bladder Rises.

I was admitted. A catheter was attached (further annoying Mr. Penis) and a bladder bag attached to it which I have taken to calling my Gucci Bag, or just “Gooch” for short. In addition to my fever, evidently I had sepsis and an acute urological infection.

Oh, and I also had had a mild heart attack. Don’t know when, never felt it, but the markers were all there.

My fever spiked to 103 degrees with some interesting side effects. I was watching my TV when one of my doctors dropped by. I just stared at him since I was convinced I was home watching TV and wondered what the doctor was doing in my living room. We rapidly established I was in the hospital and everything was cool.

Fevers can also give you interesting fever dreams. I had one where I knew I was about to be recruited both by ISIL and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was of the mind I needed to get out of there but in the morning I was still there so I’m assuming I didn’t escape.

I had a cardiac catheterization where a catheter is stuck into a vein in either your arm or your groin (anyone else see a meme here?) to go look into your heart. They splash around a dye and then take x-rays to see how the blood flows through my heart and check for damage after the heart attack.

The good news according to my cardiac doctor was that my heart was pretty healthy; he said if it was a six-cylinder engine it was running on seven cylinders. No, I don’t quite understand what that means either but I was assured it was a good thing.

The bad news was that I needed a triple coronary bypass. One of three veins going into the heart was 89% blocked and they couldn’t roto-rooter it out. That’s been scheduled for the end of October. Good news is that this sort of surgery has become much more common than it was at once time; the bad news is that it’s going to hurt. Better news is that, if I behave myself and do what I‘m supposed to and eat what I’m supposed to afterwards, I could be healthier than I’ve been in years. My Mary has already decided that I’m going to do all that.

The hospital cleared up the infections and sent me home to recoup a bit before the operation with strict orders that I am not to do anything.

“Gee, honey, I’d really like to help with the dishes but the doctors said. . .”

“You know I’d take out the garbage but doctors’ orders say. . .”

“I’d be happy to clean up the cats’ litter boxes but doctors said. . . “

And one small part of brain keeps whispering, “I wonder how long I can milk this.”

Actually, I really do wish I could do things around the house. My Mary has been so fantastic about taking it all on and watching over me that I wish I could pitch in so that it didn’t all fall on her shoulders but she won’t let me. Time enough afterwards, I guess, when I’m better.

One thing I’ve also been aware of – when in the hospital, express your appreciation to those who are taking care of you. Say “thank you” to the nurses and NAs and everyone. Yes, they’re just doing their jobs but gratitude is appropriate.

I’m also appreciative of all those who have expressed good wishes, kind thoughts, and have included me in their prayers or sent me energy. I can feel the good will and I don’t ever take such things for granted.

So – that’s what I’ve been doing on my autumn vacation. At some point, I’ll disappear again. Mary will keep Mike informed and Mike will pass it on. In the mean time, think good thoughts. I know I am.


Marc Alan Fishman: New York, New Sales, New Aggravation

So Unshaven Comics finds itself once again in the loving bosom of the Javits Center and the New York Comic Con. As I reminded you last week, Unshaven split its booth space with ComicMix in 2013. This year we split with the lovely Jim McClain of the Solution Squad (and subsequently Reading With Pictures). As of this writing ­– literally being written hours before you are likely seeing it posted – Unshaven has had some significant ups, and some hilarious downs. Let’s list them until I’ve wasted enough of your time.

Up: Sales!

It’s always good to see a rise in sales. Given our booth placement (ahem, Marvel-Adjacent) we figured we’d either be in the money or left drowned by lines, crowds, and cheering… and find ourselves in Bone City. Luckily for us, Marvel erected a large wall across from our table. This houses their crowds well enough, and allows us ­­– with a little strain ­– to be heard. And when we have someone’s ear, according to my data, we’re 40% likely to get that sale. We love those odds. And suffice to say since we learned to upsell our typical single comic to a four-book pack (which includes some freebie swag we’re willing to lose profit on to bolster a larger book sale), we’re seeing far more than the 10% growth in books moved that we seek as a baseline for a return con visit.

Down: Pitches!

Data is Unshaven Comics’ friend. It allows us to transcend anecdotal feelings, and instead supply ourselves with factual evidence when it comes to figuring out if a convention is doing us well or kicking our keister. With that being said, I am sad to report New Yorkers aren’t the nicest people we’ve dealt with. In the same amount of time spent on the show floor, Unshaven Comics is pitching about 20% less than we did at C2E2, or Wizard World Chicago. NYCC boasts traffic on the floor greater than both Chicago shows combined. The simple fact is that people are on the move at this convention. More movement means less fine folks to pitch to.

Up: New Fans!

As I mentioned above, seeing such a high closing rate is compounded by the fact that 90% of our sales are to new faces. New faces to me, proves several fun notions. It stands to argue that seeing new folks continually buy our li’l rags proves our product (and likely our passion and pitch) are worth their mettle. It also stands to consider then that the audience for sequential fiction isn’t on the outs like some would have you believe. While yes, I’m sure DC and Marvel and the like aren’t thriving on the racks like they used to, with the continuing growth of the convention scene, we’re seeing a real change to the shape of the market at large. While fans may not flock to the local comic shop every Wednesday as we’d all hope… New York Comic Con continues to instill in me the idea that maybe the fans are just more apt to explore and sample when they can meet creators face to face.

Down: Our Old Friends! Buses! The Price of Tater Tots!

OK, call this my little rib and stick at those we know and love (and New York at large). We’re two days into the convention, and no one save for Media Goddess herself, Martha Thomas, has made pains to say hello. While our editor Mike Gold dined with Debutantes and Dames at the Puck Building Party, and other East Coast Corroborators did whatever it is they do, they’ve not even waved a “Hi, and go ­hug­ yerself!” to we bearded lads. And on top of it, tonight I paid two dollars to upgrade my fries to tater tots, only to be given five of them as a serving. Sorry New York, Chicago understands portion size. And before some crazy Yankees fans point me to Manny’s or what-have-you, Mid Town and sore asses aren’t conducive to jaunts elsewhere. But I digress.

Ups, Down, and All Arounds:

Ultimately, New York Comic Con thus far has been everything we’d hoped it would be. Our sales are tracking on point as desired. Matt and I have enjoyed a few commissions. Our tablemate Jim is learning some valuable lessons (and apparently eating a hell of a lot better than us). And our hosts, the lovely Glenn and Brandy Hauman have been nothing short of perfect inn-keepers. We remain hopeful with two days left on the show floor, the best is yet to come.

Once again, Unshaven Comics would like to remind you they are at booth 1361, and could sure use some extra business to make life dandy. Stop by and mention this article? And Marc will personally thank you, and toss in some free swag with your book purchase.


Marc Alan Fishman: Paper Is Dead!

For those uninitiated to my writing process, allow me to be transparent: I write my column Tuesday evening. This is helpful for many reasons – mostly all revolving around having a full-time day job, a family, and Unshaven Comics. With that being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t come clean.

Today, I’m sure there were a bevy of topics I had on my mind (whether the Sonic Screwdriver is really just a magic wand, the appeal of Attack on Titan, or why fantasy football renders my mind numb)… and then I watched Apple’s keynote. With the unveiling of the Apple Watch (sans i?!) and the new iPhone 6, I am sadly forced to deal with my Mac-ness once again.

It’s a terrible disease, kiddos. One that strikes me every few years. There was a time, in the long-long ago, when I was stronger. I was raised on a Compaq Presario, and the PC age. I openly mocked Appleites with aplomb. “My mouse has two buttons! I can upgrade my computer without voiding the warranty! And it’s so much cheaper!” I’d yell at them. And always, they would snicker, look me right in the eyes, and whisper “You’re right, and I still don’t care.” Not a semester into college, and I buckled. That is to say I forced my parents to buckle. Don’t worry. I paid them back. And funny enough, that first iMac I own still works, and still lives in my house. Natch. But I digress. Apple is great, and I love them, blah blah blah.

After seeing the debut of the iPhone Phablet (or 6 Plus if you’re being obvious) the never-ending death of paper consumed me. With each passing generation of digital technology being released to the public,  tangible media and products continue to become more artifacts of history. Even a decade ago, the notion that we’d be able to call up one of a million movies and beam it to our television instead of renting or purchasing the special edition DVD was somehow laughable. And even five years ago, could you honestly convince Johnny Average that he could cut the cord on his local cable provider and his home phone and just exist with amazingly cheap subscription services and a hefty data plan instead? I doubt it.

With each of these arguments, the last bastion of the printed form – the comic book – continues to hide in the dark recesses of specialty shops and tiny convention halls (stop snickering).

For those ready to flame me for forgetting books, just look at the sales figures for all digital publications, and count how many Barnes and Nobles still exist. You’re welcome. As screens become permanently affixed to our wrists, hands, and eye-wear, the notion of a printed piece is truly novel. As with all digital distribution models, eventually a price and delivery system becomes ubiquitous to the public at large, and eventually, the physical media is reduced to the collector’s market alone.

DC, Marvel, and the lot of mainstay publishers have all adopted digital practices. Readers of Mike Gold here on ComicMix no doubt know about how certain digital only pieces are trumping the quality of their printed brethren. As with everything else, it’s only a matter of time until our medium at large is thought of as digital first. Scary, no?

No, in fact it isn’t. With the eventual death of paper comics – aside from the collectors market (akin to how the music industry is moving back to vinyl) we’ll soon be privy to something new and amazing. Instead of odd motion-comics, or narrated comics, we’ll soon be able to purchase truly interactive comics.

Think of it. A cover with a well-rendered animation to draw you in <http://www.buzzfeed.com/adamclement1/30-animated-comic-book-covers-that-are-downright-h-il8v>. Single panels on a page being able to be instantly full-screen-zoomed so you can relish in the artwork. Interactive commentary on particular moments. Editorial annotations that actually call up the other issue in question. The possibilities are endless (and yes, some of them are potentially true now, and I don’t know it). And all of it could eventually be monetized in such a fashion that a subscription-based model could provide an unwieldy catalog of back issues for a price that feels like stealing. The best part of all, all of this could happen in another five years or less. The future is here, and its battery life mostly sucks.

Suffice to say, I’m a bit of an early adopter. But I also see the forest for the trees. Those trees needn’t be cut down en masse to make way for new comics. As I’ve explored in the recent past (Freakanomics, anyone?), we know the major publishers are likely not sweating over per-issue sales so much as potential licensing opportunities. As the appeal of moving away from ink, paper, bricks and mortar… so too will our industry look more like the music and television models.

Paper is dead my friends. And you can pay for that on your iPhone too.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s always next year.


Welcoming Peter Capaldi

Peter Capaldi Doctor Who“And his name is The Doctor. He has saved your lives so many times and you never even knew he was there. He never stops. He never stays. He never asks to be thanked. But I’ve seen him, I know him… I love him… And I know what he can do.” – Freema Ageyman as companion Martha Jones

My geek is in overdrive.

Doctor Who’s premiere is on August 23rd on BBCAmerica this side of the pond (that’s the premiere date for much of the rest of the world, too) I’ve been hitting BBCAmerica’s website for news and sneak peeks. I’ve binge watched Matt Smith’s last seasons as the Time Lord. I’ve held off doing something else – like raiding the refrigerator or even going to the bathroom – during commercial breaks while watching the channel in case there’s a new teaser. And I switched my ringtone from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to the show’s opening music.

I was one of those who was sincerely pissed off and sincerely mourned the passing of the torch by David Tennant to Matt Smith – Tennant was just so superb (and sexy!) as the Time Lord; he brought so much to the role; humanizing (if you’ll excuse the expression) the alien. I wasn’t ready for him to leave – and as Tennant so brilliantly played his regeneration scene, it was obvious that his Doctor wasn’t ready to leave either. When he said, “I don’t want to go” in “The End of Time – Part 2,” I parroted (along with millions of fans, I’m sure), “I don’t want you to go, either.”

And to be honest, Smith’s premier episode, the one with the “fish and custard,” really didn’t do anything for me; Smith was so different, and the whole “going through this kid’s refrigerator” scene felt forced, not funny. But of course, Matt more than proved himself to me, so much so that I still feel that his Doctor was cheated out of a truly emotional regeneration scene – well, okay, Karen Gillian’s cameo as Amelia Pond (“Raggedy Man, good night.”) was brilliant and definitely teared me up, but overall too much time was wasted on destroying the Daleks…again *snnnnore*. Smith – and the fans he brought in, fans who made the show a truly worldwide phenomenon – deserved so much more.

But I did love Peter Capaldi’s first words (“Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?”) and Jenna Coleman’s – as companion Clara Oswald – horrified “what the fuck?!” look.

I didn’t know that much about Peter Capaldi – not that it bothered me, because I didn’t know Tennant or Smith either before their respective runs as the Time Lord. Well, let me rephrase that. It was more one of those “I know I know Peter Capaldi, but from where?” type of deals. Meaning that I didn’t recognize him as the actor who played the British Home Secretary John Forbisher in Torchwood: Children Of Earth. I didn’t realize that was he playing Caecilius in the Doctor Who season 4 episode, “The Fires of Pompei.” And it took a Google search to discover that he had been in one of my favorite films, 1983’s Local Hero, which starred Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert. But I have been watching and mucho appreciating him as Cardinal Richelieu in this summer’s The Musketeers on BBCAmerica (Sundays at 9:00 P.M). In fact I think he’s brilliant in the role, and it’s whetted my appetite for his debut as the 12th (13th?) Gallifreyan.

So I’m ready to love Peter Capaldi, if no other reason that I don’t want the show to go away, to be cancelled, to end.

But I don’t know how the younger fans, most of who came in with Matt Smith’s Doctor, will react to him. Will the show lose that part of its fan base? My niece Isabel’s first words about Mr. Capaldi after seeing him for those few moments as the end of “The Time of the Doctor” were quote “He’s so old!” unquote.

Isabel will be fourteen in August.

I remember Mike Gold saying to me once, “Everybody loves their first Doctor best.” Or something like that. And it’s true. My first Gallifreyan was Tom Baker (I thrilled and tingled when he made a cameo appearance at the end of “The Name of the Doctor.”) My first companion was Elisabeth Sladen. (I loved her return as Sarah Jane Smith during Tennant’s run, and how she immediately recognized him despite his changed appearance,) It took me a long time to “catch on” to Jon Pertwee, who, although he came before Baker, was my second Doctor. (It took me even longer to get hip to a new companion – not until Billie Piper. That’s a long time.)

So I get it, Iz. Matt Smith was your first Doctor. And he was cute and funny and resourceful. You’ll always have a special place in your Whovian heart for him. You’ll naturally feel some resentment to Capaldi for daring to take the controls of the TARDIS.

But remember, Iz, without regeneration, you and me, and a whole generation or two, would never have even met the Doctor, never would have traveled in the TARDIS, never would have known Sarah Jane Smith or Rose Tyler or Amy Pond and Rory Williams, never would have known the Daleks or the Cyberman or The Master.

And remember, Iz, like I told you that day, and as I reiterated here, I didn’t like Matt Smith at first. But I grew to love him.

So, Iz, give Peter Capaldi a chance.

I will.