Tagged: Mindy Newell

John Ostrander: Making Apples Into Oranges

Ostrander Art 130505Well, this weekend Iron Man 3 opens here in the States after having conquered the world. (BTW, when did this become the norm? It used to be a film opened here in the US of A and then around the globe. Is the American market now the secondary market?) What started in one medium – comics – has become big in another.

There certainly are lots of reasons behind it, a principle one being less risk. Comics make great fodder for movies because they are relatively a cheap way of testing and ironing out concepts and stories compared to movies. The risk is lessened and if the product (as with John Carter) bombs, at least the executive who approved it can show it was not an unreasonable risk – in theory. Something new? From scratch? Not with our hundred million, buddy! So having a proven commodity in some form makes it a safer, surer, bet. In theory.

There’s lots of different sources – books, games, amusement park rides, television, even the theater. Joss Whedon’s follow up to The Avengers last year? Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Why? Because he’s Joss Goddam Whedon and The Avengers made bazillions of dollars which means that for his next movie he gets to do whatever the hell he wants… at least until the box office receipts on that comes in.

The problem is – not everything translates well. I recently finally saw the movie version of the musical Les Miserables which in itself is an adaptation of the novel by Victor Hugo. I’m a fan of the musical, having seen it several times on stage, so I looked forward to the movie.

I was… whelmed. I enjoyed it and I have a DVD of it (yes, I need to move up to Blu-Ray or whatever else is coming) and I’m sure I’ll watch it again several times. Hugh Jackman was fine in the lead and, in a year that didn’t have Daniel Day Lewis owning the Oscar for his performance in Lincoln (adapted in part from Doris Kearns Goodwin biography, Team of Rivals) would have gotten him the Oscar as Best Actor. Anne Hathaway did score a Supporting Actress Oscar for her work as Fantine. However, there were several miscastings. Javert – the antagonist-  should be intense, driven, formidable and ultimately tragic and Russell Crowe was none of those things. He was doughy. He was there.

Crowe was Oscar material compared to Sacha Baron Cohen who played Thénardier, the innkeeper. The character is a louse, a con man, a parasite but in every production I’ve seen, he (along with his wife, played in the film by Helena Bonham Carter, also badly cast) brings down the house in his songs. The character should be charming, a rogue, and funny and Cohen was none of that.

What really unsold the movie to me was the direction by Tom Hooper. Prosaic, uninspired, functional – it served its purpose, it got the basic job done, but I found no “wow” in it and the theater always gave me “wow.” The stage productions always swept me along; the movie version plodded.

That brings me to my central argument – maybe it couldn’t. Movies are often very literal. Les Mis on stage works because of its theatricality. Stage makes great use of suggestion, illusion, metaphor. It engages the imagination, makes you see what may not be there, makes you a partner in the production whereas movies have to show you and you become an observer. What was magical becomes pedestrian.

I’m not sure that something that begins as a stage musical ever translates well into film. Yes, Chicago was an exception but it found cinema versions to create a heightened reality that mimicked the stage production. It wasn’t a translation; it was a re-invention for the cinema – which Les Mis was not. Musicals that are created for movies fare far better, Wizard of Oz being a superb example.

Comics also work like musicals. The imagination must be engaged to fill in what happens in the gutters, in between the panels. The movies made from comics succeed when they re-invent them for the movies.  I don’t need them to adapt a specific storyline; they are most successful when they are true to the concepts but re-imagine them for the films.

That’s why Iron Man 3 succeeds and Les Mis just lies there. Apples into oranges, my friends.




Marc Alan Fishman: The Secret Origins of the Samurnauts

imagesEvery convention we attend, the same cadence occurs several times over.

“Sir! Miss! Can I tell you about our comic book?”


“Awesome. It’s called the Samurnauts. It’s about a team of Samurai Astronauts, led by an immortal kung fu monkey, fighting zombie cyborg pirates in space!”

“Jeez! What were you on when you created that!?”


And with that comes a wink and a nod from our potential customer. You see, they think we’re being coy. Here’s the kicker though – we’re not lying.

I make no qualms about why I make comic books. I am absolutely still a kid at my core. When I go to Wal-Mart or Target for sundries? I always walk through the toy aisle – and not for my son. My DVR is chock full of cartoons. Better than that? Matt and Kyle, my Unshaven Cohorts, are one in the same. When we Unshaven Lads take our show on the road, we fill literally hours of time discussing the minutiae of superheroes. We dissect the books we read, TV shows we watch, and of course… map out our own little corner of the great-and-powerful world of sequential fiction.

It really comes as no surprise to me why then we end up with a pitch as we do with the Samurnauts. It literally all started out at a Bakers Square – as most all of our creative jaunts do – just brainstorming. On one fateful occasion we came to discuss how we’d create the most marketable creation known to man. We pulled together the common threads of those cartoons and comics we loved so much growing up. The sage warrior/mentor of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The color-coordinated weapon-driven team action adventure of the Power Rangers. And the villains? Well, we just piled on as many adjectives as we could until we felt we had something. And we laughed. Because to us, this was just a joke. A flight of fancy so that we could make a fake ad to take up space in the next issue, that would become a huge in-joke to our growing fan-base.

And then, after tackling horror, and R-rated super heroics… with a third issue to complete our first series in front of us… we came back to that shared pie-experience, and faux advertisement. The Samurnauts was simply too good to pass up. Not because we felt like parodying commercial crassness (like TMNT and the Power Rangers), but because we’d literally thrown our own nerd-gauntlet in front of ourselves. Our brainstorming produced a pitch so insane, that to not do it justice would be a sign that maybe we shouldn’t be making comics in the first place. And then folks? We did what we Unshavenauts do best. We created a world, and treated it with reverence.

We make comics because we can’t stop building worlds. It’s not enough to declare we have a kung fu monkey. We have to know that he practices Hou Quan. We have to vet out that his hou gun is formed from the cosmically irradiated metal of his shuttle craft. We have to know that he was launched as Albert V, the fifth monkey to be shot in space, secretly, in April of 1950. And yes, we even have to know that the worm hole he travelled through carried with it the chronal energies that made him intelligent and immortal. I make comics because it’s those insane details that make our comic worth reading. Beyond the hilarious pitch that sells it… our comic takes itself seriously. It’s really perhaps the only way we can say with a straight face that we needed only a few slices of pie to give birth to something so crazy.

And it’s that respect we pay, in building a universe from a silly set of adjectives, that earns us our keep on the convention floor. When your pitch is as insane as the Samurnauts, the customer-in-waiting could quickly determine if our zeal is merely style over substance. Upon flipping the book open and seeing fully painted pages opposite completely digitally drawn portions, it’s clear that our tongues may be firmly in cheek… but our hearts are on our sleeves. Just as those cartoons and comics of our youth took themselves seriously, we too employ the power of not forcing the wink on the audience. When they see that we start with the tropes – the lantern jawed leader, or the bad boy with a heart of gold – we don’t shy away from giving them a little depth to boot. And when they see that we’re willing to not only have a kung fu monkey on the cover, but we have a real back story, and a generation-spanning tale to tell? Well it’s clear that we owe Bakers Square a debt of gratitude.

My intent here is not to necessarily shill my product to you. You’ll note I’m not even mentioning Unshaven Comics’ website has a store where you can purchase the Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #1. You’ll relish the fact that I’ve no need to mention we’ll be in Fort Wayne, Indiana on May 11th, or Detroit, Michigan on May 17th hawking our wares. At the beginning of this lil’ column, my only intent was to give you a glimpse inside the madness that is my collective mind with my bearded cohorts. Amidst the literally thousands of pitches we will hurl on convention floors this coming year… now you’ll appreciate it when we meet that knowing nod with a smirk of self-confidence.

“What were you on when you created that!?”

We’re on the best drug of all; a big toke of youth, and a friendship of 20 years.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

John Ostrander: The Art of the Fill-In

Well, it’s been officially announced: I’m scripting issue 20 of Aquaman for Geoff Johns and Company. It brings me back to my old DC stomping grounds and I’m both happy for the opportunity and pleased with the result. I hope everyone out there will feel the same when the book appears next month.

It also gives me a chance to talk about the art of doing a fill-in which has its own special skill set whether you’re a writer or an artist. Usually it’s a single issue although it can be for two.

If you’re getting a call from an editor of a given book for a fill-in, it will usually be on short notice. I once got a call from an editor on a Friday morning. He needed the fill-in script by Monday. The way that scripting usually works is that I submit springboards (one paragraph plot ideas and I usually try to give a few) and the editor decides which he or she likes. I then do a plot overview and then finally write a full script. Collapsing the time stream, that’s about a week. I had maybe four days from a standing start.

By early afternoon, the editor had the springboards. We talked on the phone, he picked the one he liked, I wrote up the plot outline by late afternoon. The editor approved it with his comments before the end of the day and I was off and writing. The script was in by Monday.

The question is not how creative you are (although you have to be that) but how professional, how disciplined, you are. How well do you know your craft? This goes for the artist as well as the writer. You get the job done.

Here’s why: The publisher has lined up printing time and there are only so many presses that print comics. They’re generally booked pretty full so if you don’t get the book to the printer on time, you miss your slot, you have to wait until one opens up and you’ll probably pay a fee for it. If the books ships late as a result, unsold copies can be returned (not the case with an on-time book). That costs money and the offending editor will not be held in high regard.

Here’s some things to remember if you’re writing a fill-in issue. It has to fit into the current continuity but not move that continuity forward (that’s the main writer’s job/prerogative). You might be given a few things that current writer wants to advance but don’t presume. You must know what that current continuity is in order to write the character as s/he appears in the book. You probably won’t be able to play with the supporting cast unless they aren’t in the current storyline or you are asked to use them.

Don’t rewrite the origin. Don’t recreate or reinterpret the origin (again, that’s the regular writer’s domain). Don’t kill off characters. The story is complete in that issue; no dangling threads. Don’t play with the regular writer’s dangling threads (so to speak) without permission. Don’t correct any continuity flaws that you may have perceived. Don’t base it on any trivia points that you know.

Did I forget to mention that the story also has to be wonderful? The reader is not getting the usual team on the book; you don’t want then to feel ripped-off. The comic book market is volatile these days and the publisher doesn’t want to give the fans a reason to leave. That said – fill-ins are just about inevitable. The crush and stress of doing a monthly book is tough.

Aquaman 20 is not the first time I’ve done a fill-in issue for the character. The first time I was asked, my initial reaction was, “Oh great. Aquaman. The blonde geek who swims fast and talks to fishes.” You know – a lot of people’s reaction. Current writer Geoff Johns, who has done a brilliant job of making Aquaman very readable, has cunningly used that perception in some of his scripts. So I had to find something in the character that would interest me or the script would just lie there like a filleted flounder.

I used that reaction I had to Aquaman to fuel the story. I used what I call an “oblique angler” to create the story. The story, in this case, would be about Aquaman using peoples’ reactions to Aquaman. It was a story about stories. I created a news reporter who is assigned to do a write-up about Aquaman; he has the same “talks to fishies” reaction I had when getting the assignment. The reporter then investigates and finds some first person accounts about Aquaman, giving us a variety of interps. In the process, the reporter himself grows and changes. It remains one of my own personal favorite stories.

“Fill-in” does not or should not mean “generic.” All the rules of a good story apply; it’s just that you have a single issue with which to do it. And that should be true whether you have a GN, a miniseries, a long run or a fill-in. You tell a good story. That’s always the job.



Marc Alan Fishman: Oh My God, I Like Drawing Again!

Drawing HandsA funny thing about Unshaven Comics: at the conventions I have always felt out of place. Kyle over the years has become a one man sales force. Matt? A commission-churning machine. Me? I used to laugh as say “I’m in marketing.” Mainly because like everyone in marketing… it meant “doing everything that isn’t actually selling.” I networked with other professionals. I people-watched. I tallied our money, made change, and added polite conversation when the paying customers wanted to chat (and Kyle, in complete shock to them, only wanted their money…The cur!). And then, as is his way… Matt threw down a gauntlet.

“Dude. Just draw something.”

On paper? Without my computer? And Wacom? And the internet to guide me? And no digital references? What kind of hell was he inviting me to!? And, as a joke, I drew Domo-Kun. Domo, a Japanese TV mascot and popular-with-the-hipsters-and-kawaii-crowd character. Everyone at the table giggled and laughed. They egged me on to do more. I however looked at the scribbling and felt ashamed. I would not do another Domo for at least a year.

For those unfamiliar with my life story (because I ain’t good enough fer’ a Wikipedia entry like everyone else on this site…yet.), I do actually know how to draw undigitally. I majored in print making. I took years of life drawing. But the allure of the bells and whistles of Adobe’s Creative Suite was a siren’s song I could not fight. Shortly after receiving my BFA, I’d all but forgotten by pencils and pens. And by the time Unshaven Comics had formed… my tool box was built not of plastic, but of pixels. And with years of rust forming over my natural line—smoothed over by implausibly perfect vector lines and filters—my return to ‘original art’ was much like my foray into sequential art: done with my kicking and screaming all the way.

Until a few weeks ago.

While attending our first Gem City Comic Con in Columbus, I got an itch to produce Domos again. Perhaps it was because the show offered me little to do “marketing wise.” Perhaps it was a way to pass the time a bit. Perhaps it was kismet. I doubt it, but hey, it could be. This time, I really took my time. I slowed down, and paid attention to the details. I forced myself to remember those skills I’d long ditched for an Intuos. And then something really odd happened. Someone walked up and wanted to purchase one. And then another. And another. Call it a boost of confidence on the smallest scale, but it did wonders for me. With C2E2 going on as you read this… I figured I’d “come out of the closet” as a full blown commission-taking Domo-Maker. I’d offer to draw more… but the fans on our Facebook told me no.

To that point: I started posting up my Domos on our Facebook. Since doing it? We’ve gained 117 fans at the moment of me writing this. Far be it from me to doubt when the Internet tells me to do something. Of course by that account my next 4 articles will be about Star Trek, Pro Wrestling, and 2 slamming DC Comics. But I digress.

This week, I put down my digital pen, and vowed to fill up my “example book” of trading cards, as well as work on actual commissions asked of me prior to the show. In doing so, I’ve been prescient of a change within me. During time at the ole’ day-job, I’ve found myself scribbling in the margins. A fad I’d long dropped in Junior High School. As I drove about town on errands, I found myself yearning to get back to the board to draw, ink, and color. An e-mail declaring a “half price sale” at the local art supply shop was not immediately spammed and trashed. Yes indeed my friends. A latent love of mine has bubbled to the forefront of my life again.

My name is Marc Alan Fishman, and I can draw again.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

John Ostrander: Flood of Opinion

imagesMy late wife Kim Yale had a very tender heart; if someone was critical of her or didn’t seem to like her, it would tear her up. She would take it very personally. I told her that not every opinion matters and sometimes it registered with her.

I think it was Steven Grant who I first heard say that opinions were like assholes; everyone has one. Opinions can also be a conduit for a whole lot of crap.

Not every opinion matters. Not to me. Do I listen to my fans? I should and I do but, as I’ve said to different people at different times, just because I’m not doing what you’re telling me doesn’t mean I’m not listening to you. Fans, as a rule, want the same thing again next time only different. If you try to give fans what you think they want, half of them will get angry because it wasn’t what they wanted. I once heard J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame say on a video interview (I’m paraphrasing but it’s close), “Should I listen to my readers? Absolutely. Should I allow what they say to change one word of what I do? Absolutely not.” QFT.

When I listen to readers, it’s because I’m looking to get an idea of what is effective in my work, what is not, what may be in it that I didn’t even realize, and – if they’re saying nice things – I like getting my ego stroked as well as the next narcissist. What I’m listening to is their impressions of what I’ve done. Often as not it will tell me more about the person giving that opinion than it will about the work itself.

If you’re a young writer or artist and you want someone to give you an opinion of what you’ve just done, be careful who you ask. Do you really want an opinion or do you just want them to tell you that the work is wonderful and so are you? Do they know anything about the work you’re doing? Is it an informed opinion or just a “gut feeling?” There are people that I trust, who I know, and their opinions matter to me. Others – not so much. I often have no context for the value of their opinions.

I was put in mind of all this by the recent death of Roger Ebert. Over the years, I read his reviews and I knew from experience that he could be a good guide for me. When it came down to Ebert and Siskel, I knew Roger Ebert’s opinion of a film would more likely be like mine than would Siskel’s. Ebert could alert me to films I might not have seen and warned me away from ones that would probably waste my money and my time.

The world is full of crap-filled opinions and the Internet overflows with them like the Deep Tunnel project in Chicago during this last week’s floods. A lot of times the opinions masquerade as “fact” but they really are just one person’s opinion and often a skewed one at that. Often, they are written by Anonymous or Pseudo-anonymous. How can I decide whether an individual’s opinion is worth anything to me if I know nothing about them?

It boils down to this – not everyone’s opinion matters whether be about work, about politics, about people, about art, about society – about anything. There’s wheat and there’s chaff out there – lots and lots of chaff.  Discern which is which for yourself and you’ll be a happier person.

In my opinion.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY: Emily S. Whitten


Marc Alan Fishman: An Open Letter To Bob Wayne

100_5476Dear Bob,

For as long as I’d been a stalwart attendee at the DC Nation Panel (or whatever you wanted to call it in yesteryear) wherein you and Danny D would layout the next quarter or two of books… you would always tell the crowd that “you vote with your dollars.” Or in other words… if there’s a character we’d want to see or not want to see in the pages of our favorite books, we need only buy or not buy material with them in it. For a long time, this was a satisfactory response for many of my quibbles with the direction of my then favorite comic book publisher. But as I sat this evening – stroking my beard as I do when I contemplate nerd life – I realize that this ‘line’ isn’t good enough anymore.

Perhaps in the 90s, prior to the world adopting the internet as the premium instant communication medium, voting with dollars was easier to swallow. The concept is sound. You like something, you throw money at it. The company who put it out gets richer, and spends its new found riches on making that thing again. Tada!

But, Bobbo, it’s 2013. We no longer vote with just money. We vote with our data. Our views. Our shares. Our opinions. It all adds up to a visceral tableau of reach. It’s how a company like Facebook became a billion dollar entity in the same amount of time it took you to reboot the universe. And while you could end up like Marvel – who probably could care less if their comics tank so long as their movies keep Mickey swimming in dough – your films are basically at break even right now. But I digress. Let’s only concern ourselves specifically to the books, and your knee-jerk retort.

At 31, I am simply not wise enough to connect the dots. I pray you help me. If I purchase an issue of Swamp Thing, and I loathe it, how has my money ‘voted’? I could then choose to not purchase the next issue of the book, but if you’ve changed creative teams (something you tend to like to do often), I’m apt to at least give it a try. Perhaps I’m not indicative of the average comic purchaser. More likely though? I absolutely am. Because as you’ll note above: I am a man of 2013. When I read a terrible issue of Swamp Thing? I tweet about it. I update my facebook about it. I create a vine video of me using the issue to clean up my son’s dinner disaster. And when I review it on MichaelDavisWorld, or ComicMix? I tell people that “I’ll remain on the series, to see where it goes, but I don’t have high hope.” And does that help or hurt your business?

Can you see the issue? Voting with just money doesn’t add up. As it stands, thanks to Diamond Previews and the Internet at large, much of your fan base is spoken for long before an issue hit the stands. And once a book makes it that far? The blogosphere/message boards help cement public opinion before your creators are hitting the bricks due to “creative differences.” The truth, Bob, is that comic readership remains largely “older” than you may want to believe. And the fact is we scour the interwebs day in and day out practically begging our favorite entertainment facilitators to listen to us. Now, we don’t get it right all the time… but I don’t blame the masses for formulating an asinine opinion now and again. I do blame the multi-billion companies that choose not to vet those opinions and marry them with spin doctors who know how to read contextually instead of literally.

In simpler terms: we vote with our voices. And you and DC editorial continue to choose to jam your thumbs in your ears while we grow hoarse. Your creators are out on the internet telling the truth everyday. Their fans grow legion, and only then do you backpedal. Last month the top 10 comics (in terms of sales; the language you speak)… only 3 were DC titles. You may think the forthcoming Trinity War will shift that around. It’ll boost sales for sure. And it may lure you into that trap that thinks we’re voting with our dollars. I sense I may be repeating myself. To be a jerk about it? You’re old. You’re hearing isn’t what it used to be. It’s time to look towards the future.

Hiring your C-Level staff to write your books, when there are literally tons of talented independent ones beating down your door? Promising creative control only to smash it into the ground before ink can even hit paper? Canceling titles, moving teams, and all the while watching only the bottom line? I vote no to all of the above.

It’s not how the world works anymore. If you want to fight Mickey Mouse anytime soon… you’ll have to look at more than the receipts coming in. You’ll have to look your fans in the eyes, and open your ears to what they’re saying. The will of the people, and the leap of faith to trust your talent is the way comics are succeeding in the marketplace.

And that Bob… you can take to the bank.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: A Little Less Funny

Ostrander Art 140414I was something of an odd kid growing up so it may have made sense that I liked odd comedians. My memory was that I was the only person in our household who liked Ernie Kovacs; I must have been about 7 or 8 when his TV show was on. I thought he was funny and just so damn strange.

The same must be said as well for Jonathan Winters who died Thursday at the age of 87. A remarkable improviser, he could become anyone or anything. Hand him a prop or a hat and he could do four or five characters one after the other, morphing from one to the next in a heartbeat. Famously, Jack Paar just gave him a stick and Winters turned in character after character , including a terrific imitation of Bing Crosby.

I have a memory of Winters on The Jack Parr Show simply taking it over. Parr couldn’t get him to shut up or get off the stage. Parr was one of many many comedians or entertainers who were huge Winters’ fans. Robin Williams really owes his career to him. He pops in on this interview that 60 Minutes did with Winters and it’s fun not only to see the two riffing together but also for some of the serious insights that Winters gave on comedy and being a comedian.

What may be interesting to ComicMix readers is that he studied cartooning at Dayton Art Institute, meeting Eileen Schauder who would become his wife. Makes sense to me; his act often had him becoming a living cartoon.

He was also upfront about his stays in a private psychiatric hospital for manic depression which was brave and may have cost him. You could dismiss his act as that of someone too wired and a bit crazy instead of as the comedic genius it was.

There’s so many ways you may have encountered Jonathan Winters. He was an actor as well as a comedian. One of my favorite films that he made was The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming playing as police deputy that may have been related to Barney Fife. More manic but not more competent. He was also one of the few things that was watchable in the comedic gang bang, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. He was the white suited garbage man on Heft commercials who had a refined accent and pronounced  garbage as “gahrbaj” – which I still use myself on occasion.

Winters, being a cartoon himself, also voiced cartoons, voicing Grandpa Smurf. Among the others were Tiny Toons Adventures (where he once voiced Superman!) and Fish Police – based on the comic book – doing Mayor Cod.

One of the most surreal (and with Jonathan Winters, that’s saying a lot) series of appearances was on Mork and Mindy where Winters was the son to Robin William’s Mork. As you may recall, Mork was an alien and his race aged backwards. It gave Williams a chance to work with his idol. It must have been easy to script; just point the two of them in a general direction and turn them loose.

One of Winters’ best known characters was Maudie Frickert who looked a bit like Whistler’s Mother and talked like Mae West. Maudie appeared everywhere, on all the variety shows, on the Tonight Show (Johnny Carson’s Aunt Blabby was, shall we say, a “direct descendent” of Maudie), and any place on TV that you can think. She had a career of her own. Maudie was just one of several recurring characters that Winters created.

When Jonathan Winters died this last week, all those characters, all those voices, died with him. They still live on videos and I encourage you to check YouTube and other places on the webby-web for them. He was an original, an antic mind, and with his death the world is a little less funny at a time when we need a few more real laughs.




Marc Alan Fishman: Merchenstein


Fishman Art 130413With the mighty C2E2 upon me and my li’l company, we were at an odd impasse. Due largely to biting off more than we could chew – an new issue of the Samurnauts containing a transforming motorcycle exo-suit, zombie cyborg pirates with jetpacks, steampunk Samurnauts, and an attack on the Crystal Palace of the 19th century World’s Fair – it would seem Unshaven Comics would hit a con floor without a new book to pimp. Now, working in our favor is the fact that C2E2 is a huge show, and last year, we did not have Curse of the Dreadnuts #1 (which we’ve had only since August of last year). So, at very least, for the folks who haven’t caught us elsewhere, there’s still something new to be had.

But what about all those who have seen us?

Well, at our weekly Unshaven meeting, I uttered words I truly never thought I’d utter. “Boys… it’s time we sold merch.” You could practically hear the thunder clap in the background. Kyle started crying. Matt bit his lower lip, and balled up a heavy fist… a stoic grimace crawled across his embittered maw.

For a good long time, Unshaven Comics was about one thing: original comic books. While yes, we have custom t-shirts (which we don’t stock or hock willy-nilly), and yes, our first few cons had us pelting the crowds with packed-in stickers… we’ve never been much for outlaying a table chock full of non-comic bric-a-brac. Not that we have anything against those that do, mind you. Simply put, we have always felt as a company that our best foot forward was, is, and will always be the comics themselves.

This year however, we have a new goal in mind. Money. And lots of it.

Not for nefarious purposes mind you. Our big goal is to get to Valhalla next year. Or as it’s more commonly known… San Diego Comic Con. And for three Chicago boys to get out west (with our very awesome wives) to party with Michael Davis? It takes scratch. And now, we’re back to the topic at hand. Our master plan? Expand our empire beyond the shores of books, to offer a myriad of crap that might appeal to our slowly growing fan base. I write this to you, not in hopes of shilling mind you; I write it because it’s a leap of faith for a small business owner trying to make sense of group of people I claim to belong to.

Comic Cons have slowly grown to appeal to a wide berth of those who would claim themselves nerd. And while my first convention was peppered with a retired wrestler, D-list sci-fi celebrity, or some sundry less-than-comic-related minutiae, now it’s simply par for the course to include it all. And with that expansion has grown a fan-base that is not driven by comic book lovers alone. As Unshaven Comics continued to add shows to our yearly calendar, we’ve come to note that it’s the expanded “non-comic fan” that is coming to our table. Beyond Kyle’s vaudevillian show to get people to stop, our pitch for the Samurnauts has slowly showed us that the appeal may travel beyond the boarders of the panel.

The Samurnauts as a concept was built, tongue firmly in cheek, to be merchandisable. Given it’s roots in our childhood – one built by intellectual properties that started out as toys – we thought it’d be a hoot to pay homage with a series that took itself serious even if we couldn’t pitch it without a smirk. And every show we went to, came with it the crack of the crowd. “Where’s the posters? The stickers? The tee-shirts?” We’d scoff, smile, and sell them the book. Faced now with the notion they’ll say “I have it. So now what?” we might as well let them leave with a bag full of Samurnik-naks. No?

For all intents and purposes, this is an experiment. The sundries we plan to offer are all custom designed. They are lovingly made. They are produced with vendors who have a passion for their products. In other words? We’ve found people who love their sticker/buttons/posters/tee-shirts as much as we love our comic books. If people buy them? All the better. If they don’t? We’ll have a ton of great pack-ins when the next issue hits the con floor. See you there. Bring a few bucks.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell









John Ostrander: Details, details, details…

OStrander Art 130407There’s a saying that goes “The devil is in the detailsl, but so is character, whether writing, drawing, or acting. I had the opportunity of teaching at the Joe Kubert School a few times (and the inestimable pleasure of getting to know not only the legendary Joe Kubert but so many others working at the school) and I had the maybe unenviable task of teaching writing to a bunch of art students. Some didn’t take to that right away; after all, they were there to learn how to draw. From talking to some of the graduates over the years, however, I think most found it worthwhile and I enjoyed it.

For me, everything in comics is about character and storytelling. Design to me means nothing unless it is tied to those two points. I’m not interested in a mask or costume whose design is simply “cool” or its what the artist wants to draw.  The character has chosen to make or wear a given mask, costume, or uniform. What does that tell us about him or her? Famously, Batman wants to invoke a bat because criminals are (supposedly) a cowardly and superstitious lot. He wants to invoke fear in them.

One exercise I gave the students was to create their own mask – not for a character but something that would express and freeze some aspect of themself. It would both reveal them and, because it was a mask, it would also conceal them. They were safe behind the mask. It was and was not them.

When the masks were completed, I asked them to wear them. Masks in many societies have power; often, they represent a god and the wearer (supposedly) channels the power of the god. I asked the students to let the mask act upon them; how did they act, how did they feel, how did they move? What – if anything – changed in them?

The purpose was to get them to understand the affects that the masks the characters they wore had upon the characters they were writing and/or drawing. Spider-Man, for example, certainly reacts differently than Peter Parker. Batman, on the other hand, becomes more of who he is when he wears the cowl; his true mask may be Bruce Wayne, as perceived by others.

We do the same thing with what we choose to wear. We say something about ourselves, about who we perceive ourselves to be, of how we want to be perceived by others. Even a careless choice – “whatever is clean” or “whatever I grab” says something. Even if the message being sent out, “I can’t be judged by my clothes; I’m deeper than that.” that is still making a statement. Maybe the message is – I don’t want to be noticed. That is also still a statement. That’s a choice being made and that tells us something about a person – or a character.

What kind of clothes does your character wear? Bruce Wayne may wear Armani; I asked my students if they knew what an Armani suit looked like. Peter Parker is going to shop off the rack. Which rack?

In movies and TV, they have a whole team of people deciding what the rooms look like. Bedrooms, offices, desks, kitchens – depending on the person and what room is most important to them, what are the telling details about them that personalize the space, that say something about the character?

As an actor, I needed to know what my character wore, how he walked, how he used his hands when talking (or did he?). What sort of shoes did he wear? I compared knowing this to an iceberg; the vast majority of the iceberg is under water and only the tip shows. However, for that tip to show, the bulk of the iceberg had to be there. (One of these days I’m probably going to have to explain what an iceberg was.) I have to know far, far more about a character than I’m actually going to use just to be able to pick the facts that I feel are salient to a given moment or story. When Tim Truman and I created GrimJack, we had a whole vast backstory figured out, some of which was revealed only much later; some of it may not have been revealed yet.

Generic backgrounds create generic characters. To be memorable, there have to be details. The more specific they are, the more memorable the character will be. That’s what we want to create; that’s what we want to read.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell



Marc Alan Fishman: Turtle Power!

Fishman Art 130406As a license, I have the utmost respect for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Since its comic debut in 1984, the property has been spun off into numerous animated incarnations, several movie franchises (both old and yet-to-come), and a bevy of merchandise unheard of unless you count Star Wars. And I have to give props where props are due: the IP as a whole has never been better. That being said? It could all go downhill very quickly. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

Let’s start at the top. Top of what I don’t know exactly. Let’s say comic books! IDW as of late has been deluging the market with TMNT titles. Ongoings, mini-series, epic crossovers, you name it. And while I’m sad to report that in my tenure as a fan I have yet to actually crack open a volume myself, it comes with great authority (a few of my good friends) that they are doing the characters justice. I will no doubt be jumping into the main book myself with issue #21. Per Comic Book Resources interview with Turtles’ Co-Creator Kevin Eastman, I was drawn into his description of bringing a level of reality (seriously) to the book with the titular teens having to learn new skills.

In so many words, Eastman was quick to note that the Turtles have generally been “ninja masters” and his intent is to remind us that the martial arts are an art form and artists never stop learning. It’s that kind of dedication in concept that sounds legitimately cool to me. Certainly cool enough to elicit a purchase once a month for the foreseeable future.

And what about the boob tube? Well, I’m happy to report that the current product being offered is now (thanks in large part to the CW canning Green Lantern TAS and Young Justice, grumble grumble), Nickelodeon’s relaunch of TMNT, is one of the best cartoons being offered today. won me over in less than a handful of episodes. The team behind it should be commended.

For many folks who don’t “get it,” the Turtles on the surface are merely a weapon and general personality trait. But the Bick show is smart to use those bullet points as inspirations. In the season that I’ve watched thus far, I’ve seen numerous attempts to flesh out each Turtle as an individual. Combine this with smart updates to many TMNT mainstays (Leatherhead, the Kraang, Shredder, etc.), and you get a cartoon that deftly plays to me as an adult while obviously targeting a whole new generation of kids. Compared to the hyper-Japanese-terribly-ported crap I’d seen trading spots with Spongebob? It’s a breath of fresh sewer air to me.

Now this of course brings us around the scary bend, that, of course, being the 600 pound explosive elephant in the room, Michael Bay. From the first utterances of news about his desire to create another abomination out of my childhood pleasures, so was I joined by other shellheads in our trepidation. Bay’s Transformers sits in my mind as one of the worst examples of modern merchandise-driven cinema. And let me be clear: I don’t mind for a second that some movies are built for action figures and bedsheets. But Bay’s adaptation was kinetic to the point of nausea, and riddled with near-racist portrayals of shallow predictable characters. And for whatever reason? It had pot-humor, John Tutoro in an increasingly baffling performance, and more military porn than my copy of Stars, Stripes, and Tits 2: Cannons Ho.

It’s these factors that weigh heavy on our minds. Especially given what little news seems to dribble out from the babbling brook of Bay. The Turtles will be from space? Megan Fox will be April O’Neil? And the title will just be Ninja Turtles? Suffice to say, with all that’s being done right with the brand, it might just take one explosion-riddled movie flop to ruin it all. Follow me on this:

The Green Lantern movie sucked and toy departments got stuck with tons of stuff that didn’t sell. Green Lantern The Animated Series was canned, due in large part to the lack of merchandise sales. Now, if Ninja Turtles tanks, it could take with it the whole property. Obviously the current Nickelodeon cartoon and comic are going to be well into their sophomore years when the Bay feature hits. But nothing like a bad day at the matinee to curb a kid’s appetite for their favorite amphibians. How do I know? Because I gave up on the cartoon when TMNT 3 hit the multiplex. And it took 10+ years for me to forgive them.

Until Bay blows up my childhood again, I’ll be happy to enjoy my new found love of Leonardo, my rapture for Raphael, my doe-eyes for Donatello, and my mania over Michaelangelo. With a potent toon on the tube, and a comic in my buy pile… it’s a good day to be a Turtle.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell