Tagged: Mindy Newell

John Ostrander: Time and Space and Remembrance

Ostrander Art 131124An unusual convergence of historical dates of different emotional resonances for me occurred this weekend – the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and what would have been the sixtieth birthday of my late wife, Kimberly Ann Yale.

Like many Americans, I remember where I was when I heard the news of JFK. I was in my history class at Quigley Preparatory Seminary North near downtown Chicago. The word that the President was shot came over the loudspeaker used for school announcements, followed a little later by the news of his death. I was stunned, in denial. I remember little else of that day. I think school was closed and we were sent home.

Kim’s dad was a Navy chaplain and they were living on-base at the time. She later told me how she was at school off-base and had to hurry back. The base was going into lockdown after the assassination and if she was outside when the gates closed, she wouldn’t have been able to get home. That was her tenth birthday.

For me, I place the days of my youth between two sets of gunshots – the ones that killed JFK and the ones that killed John Lennon on December 8, 1980. I was 14 for the former and 31 for the latter. Both gave me a slightly darker sense of the world around me and the country in which I lived. Both events inform my writing to this day.

The day after Kennedy was killed, a new TV series was launched over in the UK – Doctor Who. The series tells of the adventures of a time-traveling alien Time Lord and his (usually) human companions through time and space. When William Hartnell, the original actor playing the part, became too ill to continue the series, the producers came up with a key concept to the longevity of the series: when a Time Lord faced the death of his mortal body, it can “regenerate” into a wholly new form and, even more significant, a different character. Most important, there’s a whole new actor with a new interpretation of the main character. That, I think, has been key to keeping the series fresh and vital.

I met Kim through Doctor Who. I loved the Doctor and wanted to be the Doctor. I also knew that the odds, then or now, of an American ever playing the part was virtually non-existent. However, I was an actor in Chicago and a sometimes playwright and less often a producer. So I conceived of an idea of getting the rights to put on a play version of the Doctor in Chicago.

I managed to arrange a meeting with show runner John Nathan-Turner during a combined Chicago Comic Con and Doctor Who Convention (sometimes referred to as the Sweat Con since the hotel’s air conditioning unit proved inadequate to the number of people attending and outside it was a 106° Chicago August day). John Nathan-Turner brought along Terry Nation (creator of the Daleks for Doctor Who) and Mr. Nation brought along a lovely young woman with big eyes, curly hair, and a megawatt smile who was his assistant for the Con. That was Kim.

To describe Kim as a Doctor Who fan doesn’t begin to describe it. She was also very knowledgeable on all things Time Lord and I used her an a consultant as I developed the script. Nothing else developed at the time; Kim was married and I don’t fool around that way.

We became a couple only later, after the play project had folded and her marriage had broken up. My romantic life at that point was, if anything, even worse than my theatrical career. I’d given up dating; I hadn’t seen anyone in almost two years. It just seemed too painful to try. Kim and I had kept in touch and she was also a big fan of my work on GrimJack, the comic book I had created for First Comics.

I should note here that Doctor Who was an influence on creating GrimJack. It might seem that the two couldn’t be less alike but one of the things I loved about Doctor Who was that you could do any kind of story. They did horror, they did Westerns, they did everything and I wanted to do that with GrimJack. In that sense, he was my Doctor. Later, we showed he could even reincarnate. There is a darkness to the series that I can, in part, trace back to the assassination of Jack Kennedy.

Kim wrote to me about a specific issue of GrimJack that had affected and resonated with her; I found it a little strange that she would write since we lived less than a mile apart and she had my phone number. I told her this and she replied that some things were best expressed in writing. What can I say? I’m a writer; I understood that. Kim was a writer as well. That night was the night our relationship changed. That was the night we started to become a couple.

It’s just coincidence, I suppose, that the three dates are in such proximity to one another. We assign meaning to dates, both as a people and as individuals. It’s an accident that the significant anniversaries of the assassination, Kim’s birthday, and the launching of Doctor Who are in conjunction this year. The connections that I see, that I feel, among them are mine. We are all the results of the various events that have happened in our lives and none of them occur in a vacuum. This weekend, I remember and honor three that were significant to me.

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Marc Alan Fishman: The Shoot Promo on Comics

Fishman Art 131123The professional wrestler C.M. Punk truly made his mark and broke free of the shackles of mid-card obscurity by way of his infamous pipe bomb shoot promo. For those not in-the-know, a shoot in wrestling is an interview (or soliloquy some of the time) wherein said grappler breaks the fourth wall. As relived in this week’s WTF podcast, Punk was vivid in saying that this promo was done because he was at the end of his rope.

With the WWE wanting him to resign for three more years and Punk decidedly against continuing to not be the guy on the roster, Vince McMahon allowed him to air his grievances live on their Monday night broadcast. If Punk captured the zeitgeist, he’d be a made-man forever in wrestling (which, by my count, is a little over two years). If he failed, he’d be gone, buried back in VA halls wrestling for gas money, and be nothing more than a footnote in WWE’s now 50-year history.

The shoot worked. Punk resigned, and ruled the company with an iron fist until he literally could give no more. The glass ceiling was shattered on the “norm” of the product, and wrestling now is forever changed. Well, maybe not, but I’ll circle back round that idea in a bit.

Why do I bring this up? Well, for one, because it’s topical to me. I was just listening to the podcast on my way home from work tonight. Beyond that, it dawned on me that with all the coverage and snark that exists in the world of comics… there is no C.M. Punk. There is no shoot promo to cut, on any live broadcast. There’s only guys like me; indie creators and op-ed columnists chasing windmills and yelling into the wind. But this here is my stage. This here is my time. So, allow me to speak ill of the industry I wish every damned day I was a part of, but know full well I’ll never actually see.

The WWE’s CEO lives a double life as an on-screen performer. He enjoys his product not only for the money it makes but for the crafted product it actually is. Warner Bros and Disney are just faceless boardrooms ruled not by the glee in little kids’ faces, but cold hard cash. Their publishing branches exist for one reason, and one reason only: to keep the movie and TV machines churning. Don’t think for a second that your issues of Batman mean any more to the execs in Burbank than a roll of teepee. It doesn’t. That rag in your hands? The one that has the blood, sweat, and tears of a dozen hard working men and women broiled into its pulp? It’s an incubator of ideas for a movie or cartoon show. It’s a crockpot keeping the license warm. It’s a mosquito light that keeps the most vocal fans distracted. Go ahead, post your death threats if we make Afflec Batman… but hey! Look over there! It’s Zero Year!

We all desire the notion that those behind the rich mahogany desks (being packed up in Midtown Manhattan in 18 months) lie overgrown fanboys and girls that just want to knock the socks off us, the ever-enduring fans of a dying medium. But it too is just a pipedream. The suits that run your comic book publishing companies are shackled to boulders far too big to drag up the mountain. Beyond the goodwill garnered by our little niche market, and the fervent fans that exist at comic cons lie those aforementioned suits in bigger boardrooms that still demand that at the end of the day everything be profitable. Profits occur when sales increase. Sales increase when gimmicks, #1s, and creators that draw a crowd are given the top spots. When a book stops earning what meager profits it can when it’s hot, it’s tossed out with the bathwater and things start again. The era of continuity is long dead. All hail the retcon.

The closest thing we had to C.M. Punk in comics was Robert Kirkman. He took his indie prowess and love of the craft and turned out The Walking Dead. Now, Kirkman is a suit. Behind a desk. Of a multi-media empire. He won the championship belt, and didn’t even have to work for the man to do it. Now, he is the man, and no longer a voice of the voiceless. Like so many though, atop his mountain of money many years ago he gave birth to his manifesto wherein he challenged the industry to veer towards creator-owned projects. Hey Robbie! Trickle-down economics don’t work in real life or in comics. If every known talent jumped off their pedestals at Marvel and DC to come make indie books at Dark Horse, Image, and Boom! the line to replace them would still be wrapped around the vacant Midtown offices and land somewhere in the opposite ocean. Everyone is replaceable when the end goal is product. Not good product. Just product.

The fact is this: After he changed the world and held the WWE title for longer than any wrestler in the last two decades or so, Punk took a much-needed break. When he returned, he was just as our resurrected Jean Greys, Steve Rogers, or Hal Jordans… a hero to be celebrated for what he was, not who he is now. A long and listless program against his on-screen mentor, and Punk is now booked right back in the mid-card where he started. The comic book industry has no panacea to cure itself of the ills we rally against. Just as the WWE fans buy their John Cena Fruity Pebbles Lunchboxes… so too do we comic fans flock to every worthless gimmick they shove on the racks. We make our excuses, we plunk down our money, and we bitch about it on the Internet later.

The only way to make change, is to make it. There is no utopia. There’s only revolution.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

John Ostrander: The Chicago Pizza Way

Ostrander Art 131117Ordinarily, I’m a big fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. However, on last Wednesday’s night show, he took almost the whole second segment to castigate deep dish pizza, also known as Chicago-style pizza or just Chicago pizza. The whole flippin’ middle segment.

I’m from Chicago.

I love Chicago pizza.

I’d like to refer Mr. Stewart to Sean Connery’s speech in the Untouchables where he talks about “the Chicago Way.

I think it’s time to get all Rahm Emanuel on your ass, Mr. Stewart.

The main component of New York pizza is grease. There is more grease on a single slice of New York pizza than a school of teen-agers with severe acne who have just eaten New York pizza. New Yorkers act as if grease was one of the basic food groups. There is enough grease in a NY pizza to fuel Willie Nelson’s biodiesel tour bus twice around the country. There is so much grease on a slice of New York pizza that it will pass through your intestine without stopping. In Chicago, if you poop your pants it’s referred to it as laying a NY pizza.

BOOM!

The proper way to eat a slice of NY pizza is to fold it in half lengthwise. That way you don’t have to look at it. It’s also the only way to keep the cheese and sauce or whatever else they want to throw on it from sliding right off the slice onto your shoes. Hold it folded in one hand and hold your nose with the other and slide it into your mouth. Ah, that’s a good New York pizza!

BOOM!

Every place that sells pizza in New York City has to be named Ray’s – Original Ray’s, Famous Ray’s, Original Famous Ray’s. Famous Original Ray’s. Spam Spam Original Ray Ray’s and Spam, and on and on. It doesn’t make a bit of difference – they all taste the same.

You can make NY pizza at home. It’s easy. Get an unsalted cracker, squirt some ketchup on it, add some toe cheese, warm it under your armpit, and there ya go.

BOOM!

Chicago pizza you sit and eat and it’s a meal. One pizza can feed a family. It’s food. NY pizza is a lubricant.

and

Not content with defaming Chicago pizza, Stewart then went after Chicago hot dogs. Seriously? Those Anthony Weiners they serve from a sidewalk vendor’s cart? First, they dredge the East River, then put the dogs in that for three days, and then add a lukewarm stale bun, something yellow that’s vaguely like mustard, and a healthy dose of salmonella. The only place you should eat hot dogs in NYC is at Nathan’s and then only at the original stand at Coney Island and even that doesn’t quite stand up to a Chicago dog and you know why? Vienna Hot Dogs. The best places in Chicago use Vienna Hot Dogs with natural casings. Nothing else even begins to compare. Certainly not a NY alleged hot dog,

One area I think we can both agree. California so-called pizza is an abomination. Pineapple on a pizza? Really? No red sauce of any kind? Why even bother? So. how about a truce, Jon Stewart? I’ll hold down a California pizza lover and you can kick ‘em.

BOOM!

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Good Will Fishman

Fishman Art 131116This past week I was honored to be invited back to my alma mater, the Herron School of Art, to give a lecture on my journey “From Starving Artist to Comic Book Publisher.” I spoke for about 45 minutes and afterwards took a few questions, and then sold a few dozen books. All in all, it was a humbling experience, and perhaps the turning of a page in my book of life.

Artistically speaking, my prowess has always been largely introspective. In high school, as much as everyone was self-absorbed, I excelled at it. I took the angst and strife of not getting a date and watching my best friends dry-hump in the hallways and made haute art out of it. Come to think of it, I could have really amped my game up if I’d done a piece commemorating the near-daily visual of dry-humping.

Alas, I chose self-portraiture as my joie de vivre. The idea being that my life – that of a typical, mid-western, suburban, Jewish in name and Bar Mitzvah boy only – could be regurgitated lovingly on board and canvas as such to eventually be called fine art.

Moving on to college, as much as I continued to have aspirations of becoming a comic-book maker, the story of my life continued to be what I presented. In a manner of speaking, my art started to resemble an auto-mockumentary, turning my existence into high entertainment based solely on the fact that I was in fact that awesome. People got a kick out of it, and so did I. It was only after I graduated when the trough of life-events grew emptier, that I finally had the wherewithal to look beyond my very Jewish nose.

Here of course is where you know the-rest-of-the-story. Unshaven Comics is commissioned to make a book by a Chicago publisher. We do it. We learn from it. We decide to break out on our own. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Here’s the thing. In the time between when I formed the company to the time I commemorated it in a lecture in front of a packed auditorium, I got married, bought a house, and became a father. If ever there was a time for me to return to fine art, this would be it, no? Now, I have the glorious content my life was devoid of only years prior! But alas, dear reader… it is not.

Perhaps it’s the wisdom of the years passed that has granted me the maturity enough to know that my legacy will be far more than a worthless collection of portraiture denoted a life lived as many others before and after will lead. Instead, I realize my legacy is very much within the pages and panels of Unshaven’s pure fiction. It’s in my offspring. It’ll be in the heads of those I’ve touched in my time on this mortal coil. John’s piece this past week dealt beautifully with the complex emotions of life and death. I’d be remiss to that much of the reason I chose the arts was to deal with my own near-paralyzing fear of death.

So, it was there in the semi-darkened Basile Auditorium of Eskenazi Hall that I reached a catharsis. So much of my life story has been celebrated – in jest and in reality – such that here, some 10 years after I hung up my woodcut tools for a dayjob, I have in fact lived a third of my life without rampant documentation. I think it was the philosopher Bueller who said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Truer words may never have been spoken, Ferris.

It’s good to know in the next chapter of my harrowing tale, the best is truly yet to come. With my brothers-from-other-mothers, I will be able to continue to tour our country and make new friends and fans. With my ComicMix cohorts, I will glean sage advice in both publishing, and barbeque. With my son and wife, I will find joy in parts of my life relived through new eyes. And with you kiddos? I’ll continue to pretend I’m that damned awesome.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

John Ostrander: That Time of Year

Ostrander Art 131110The other night, My Mary and I were looking for something to watch on the tube. She had recorded Fly Away Home, the 1996 film by Carroll Ballard, starring Jeff Daniels, Dana Delaney, Anna Pacquin and Terry Kinney. We’ve watched it many times and I think we even own a copy of it. It’s wonderfully acted and beautifully shot; if you ever watch it, try to see it in wide screen. Some of the shots of Canadian Geese flying are breathtaking.

One of the things that struck me (again) was Mark Isham’s soundtrack and the haunting song that opens and closes the film, 10,000 Miles, sung by Mary Chapin Carpenter. (You can find it on YouTube, along with the lyrics.) It was one of the pieces of music that I played over and over again during that year of grieving after my wife, Kim Yale, died. Music was, and is, one of my coping mechanisms in life and hearing that song brought me back, not to Kim’s life or death, but that time of grieving, of learning to live without her, of starting my life again. Not to the grief itself but to the memory of that grief.

It’s that time of year. Here in the Midwest, the leaves fall from the trees, the days get shorter and darker, it’s colder as we head towards year’s end. Labor Day comes, signaling an end to summer. We lurch towards Halloween and All Saints Day (or Day of the Dead) with its skulls and ghosts and reminders of mortality. The harvest comes in and the fields look bare even as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Christmas is coming, yes, but so is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. The cycle completes as the old year dies and a new one begins.

It’s not grief I feel now but a rise of melancholy. It’s always a part of me and, I think, always has been. I’m not sure of its origins – I went to many wakes and funerals as a boy, seeing people in caskets who I had known when they were alive, and I know it made an impression on me. I wouldn’t say that I treasure my melancholy but I do value it. I’m aware of death as part of life and that, I think, has informed my work as a writer. I enjoy life immensely and I don’t wallow in melancholy. It is simply there, a constant, and it makes me value those who are there and the joys and pleasures of life. Knowing they will all pass doesn’t make me depressed. Shadows help define an object and my melancholies help define my joys.

Every morning, I see a photo of my Dad sitting atop a shelf that he made for me and my brother when we were boys and I say, “Hi Dad.” I remember him and I miss him and I still love him just as I remember and miss and still love my Mom and Kim and friends and relatives and even pets. I miss places that are no longer there. They all still live in my mind and heart and I still know their stories. They all still have a value to me and are still helping to shape me into who I am.

It’s that time of year to remember and feel, to harvest our emotions, and value what we have. That’s what I’ll be thankful for as we approach Thanksgiving – the shadows as well as the light.

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Marc Alan Fishman: How to Meet Your Heroes*

Fishman Art 131109*And not stick your foot in your mouth, come across like an idiot, or otherwise embarrass yourself.

The other day I hopped into Facebook because, you know, why not be pseudo-social, right?. I noted in my news feed that the show-runner from the Kokomo (Indiana) Comic Con was pleading to his friends, customers, and followers to help him live a dream – to secure Denny O’Neil for the 2014 Kokomo Comic Con. I figured since I shared column space with the living legend, I might be able to lend a hand. I made some introductions via e-mail, and well… the gentlemen are ironing out the details. Suffice to say, I love their con, and hope to see Denny there next year. Heck, I hope I see John, Mike, Michael, Emily, Martha, Mindy, Adriane, Glenn and everyone who reads my column there! But then again, like the aforementioned show-runner, I am a dreamer.

Several times throughout my life I’ve been able to meet men and women I greatly admired. And in every instance I wedged my foot so far down my mouth, I passed shoelaces. It’s taken many years, many opportunities, and a few lucky breaks to finally figure out the best way to meet someone I admire and come out of said meeting with my feet solidly beneath me. Consider this my three easy steps for not making the same mistakes I did.

Look where you are.

When you come across that special celebrity / comic writer / artist / C-List celebrity from a reality show you enjoyed back in 2008, do yourself a favor and look where you’re about to initiate a conversation. Are you bumping in to them in a coffee shop or are you in a receiving line at a convention? Context is key. If you’re running into them in a setting where they might be trying to live their life, be considerate. Yes, they may hold significance to you and your life would not be complete without telling them exactly how they’ve impacted your experiences as a night nurse in the Lackawanna County Jail… but let them get that cup of coffee. If they don’t look like they are in a terrible hurry, then go on, cowboy.

How did I learn this lesson? I ran into Mark Waid at the Chicago Comic Con about a decade ago. He was perusing some long boxes deep in the heart of the dealer room. Without warning, amidst hauling out a pile of Scrooge McDuck comics, I bolted up to him, and immediately started blabbing away. He smiled, gave me a curt answer to one of the 1,000 questions I stammered out, and pulled his focus back towards the dealer. I turned a brighter shade of red, and limped away. Flash Fact: Creators don’t walk the show floor looking to be interviewed. Sometimes they’re just enjoying being a fan.

Think before you speak.

I know it’s cliché. But it’s a long-standing piece of advice for a reason. A big thing we geeks tend to forget in mid-frenzy is that our heroes are in the industries we love… but that doesn’t automatically make them as fervent, opinionated, or as knowledgeable in the minutiae of their specific craft as we may be. I like to equate this to the person at the office party who bends his co-workers ears off about work. Your heroes are people. They have likes and dislikes that don’t always align perfectly with what they do for a living. While I myself love talking comics, I also love the Chicago Bears, haute cuisine, and the acoustic-stylings of the Barenaked Ladies. So too, might Wil Wheaton have more interest in the finer points of liberal politics over phaser settings.
Simply put, when you have an opportunity to have a little repartee with an esteemed person of note? Be original. Sure, you can tell them you love their work. But in the day and age of the Internet, Wikipedia, and social media, why not have a question about something outside of the norm? I’ve found that when I catch someone off guard with a question, comment, or anecdote they weren’t expecting? It breaks the ice, and moves the conversation beyond the normal small-talk that dissipates without even a lingering memory. My case in point: Pitching to Dan DiDio to buy my book because the stickers I threw in with the deal “are totally better than those ten cent rings you’re giving away for Blackest Night.” And you know what? He bought the book, and laughed.

Remember it’s not a pitch meeting, job interview, or investment opportunity.

When you come face to face with someone you admire, there just might be that catch in your throat… that little voice in your head that says “Hey, when will you ever have this chance again! Tell them about how you can save the franchise!” Obviously though, it’s not gonna happen. Trust me when I tell you this: I’ve spent the last five years finding every way possible to dance around the idea that I’m one joke, one conversation, one chance blurb away from landing that big gig I’ve always wanted. I’m now older, wiser, and weary; conventions are where deals get started, yes, but not because you want them too.
I’ve been lucky enough to have breakfast with a CEO of a company I would shave my face to be a part of. I broke literal bread with the man. I was witty. I listened attentively. I asked leading questions. I even got an industry veteran to vouch for what good work I was doing. And you know what? I’m not working with that company now, and can safely say it’s not on the horizon either. Lucky for me, the breakfast was damned tasty and the next time I saw that CEO he waved hi and asked me how Unshaven Comics was doing.

Sorry for going a bit long today, kiddos. I’m just looking out for you. Next time you run into that retired wrestler, cosplaying sexy Spongebob, or Kevin Smith at the Quick Stop? Remember: look where you are, think before you speak, and don’t waste your opportunity to make a memory in lieu of begging for a job they don’t have the power to give you on the spot. Shake their hand. Tell them why you love their work. Ask about their favorite album released in the last year, and then leave on a laugh. Those coveted creators and celebrities are just human, and as such, it’s worth it to enjoy making a human connection with them.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

John Ostrander: The New Breed

Ostrander Art 131103Last weekend I was at the Detroit Fanfare (which is why I wasn’t here) and I enjoyed myself immensely. It’s a good Con, well organized, and they took good care of me. I had a chance to say hello to old friends like Bill and Nadine Messner-Loebs, Paul Storrie, Howard Purcell, Norm Breyfogle and others and make new friends like Whilce Portacio. And, of course, talk with fans and sign books and stuff which, for me, is the main reason I go. I love meeting and talking with fans and having a chance to say “thank you” for their support.

I was ferried there and back by my cohorts in Unshaven Comics – Marc Alan Fishman (my esteemed fellow ComicMix columnist), Matt Wright, and Kyle Gnepper (the cute one). Marc drove and we blathered together in a wonderful fashion.

Da Boys (as I refer to them and, being from my home town of Chicago, they’ll understand) are indie comics creators, notably of the Samurnauts (which you can learn about and buy at their website here and they make the rounds of Cons, setting up shop, and hawking their wares at their booth. They do nearly a dozen a year and FanFare was the last one for 2013.

They were in a separate but adjacent ballroom to mine so I would touch base with them throughout the show and we had eats together. At the end of the Con, I wandered over while they broke it all down and packed it up. I was really struck with how organized they were and how compact it all became. Da Boys really know their stuff. Their book is wonderful but they also have a better business sense than I did at that time or have even perhaps now.

They sell their books, sure (and go buy them at the site) but I saw buttons and posters and cards at the table and they did (and do) sketches and so on. I looked around the room, which was mostly Indie folk, and this was a trend. My friend, Paul Storrie, who was nearby, also has a very professional set-up.

I don’t know but I suspect this is a trend among the younger creators. I suspect they wouldn’t sneer at work from the Big Companies but they have their own creations that they own and that they are hard at work selling.

You should also read Marc’s column from yesterday. Yes, I’m very flattered by the kind words directed at me – although if they eat with me a few more times I suspect they’ll get over the novelty – but what I was really struck by was how they evaluate which Con to go to. They know the numbers in terms of what they sell, of the costs of going to a certain con, the bottom line of each venture. They factor in the time away from family and having to go to their day jobs. They – and I suspect the other Indie creators – know their business far better than I did when I was their age. Hell, I’m not sure I had started writing comics when I was their age.

I salute them and I intend to support them. This is the future of comics, boys and girls. This is where the really good stuff, the fresh and exciting stuff, is coming from. So I’m going to urge you, next time you go to a con, to seek out Unshaven Comics and the other Indie producers, look at what they’re doing, sample the books, get the buttons, and be a part of something that is alive and vital in the comics industry.

As another innovator in the field was known to remark, ‘Nuff Said.

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Marc Alan Fishman: A Tale Of Two Cons

Fishman Art 131102This past weekend, Unshaven Comics closed its convention year out with Detroit Fanfare. In addition to the posh amenities of Dearborn’s finest hotel, we were also graced with the duty of completing a mitzvah: schlepping John Ostrander. Now, far be it from me to pelt you goyim with so much of the Jew-speak, but I’m finding myself a little verklempt. I’d ask that you talk amongst yourselves, but that would require you to skip to the comment bar before I have a chance to say something inflammatory.

Before we get to the meat and potatoes, I want to take a brief time-out to note just how awesome it was to drive John to and from the convention. Outside the small talk all near-strangers are prone to pelt back and forth, I’d like to think that even with as little as four or five hours in cars, or sharing meals, we Unshaven Lads got to know a hero and industry legend a bit more. Aside from sharing column space with the man and trading a few e-mails back and forth, my only other real experience with Mr. Ostrander was a few years back at Unshaven’s first foray at said Fanfare. We broke bread over the breakfast table one morning, and spent the majority of that ride home still convincing ourselves we’d had a meal with someone who took up significant shelf space in our private collections.

Aside from all the Ostrandering we did, Fanfare this year did as we’d hoped: it gave us an opportunity to see a sales gain from the previous year, meet up with old fans, make new ones, and spend just a little time making with the chit-chat amongst our fellow creators. That being said, I got more than a bit Jewy on the car-ride home, after we’d dropped off John. Matt and I, starving, stopped at a McDonalds on the way back to Chicago. Over fresh-from-the-fryer McNuggets (and screw it, real chicken or not, they are damn tasty when you’re starving), I looked over the hard numbers from the year. Specifically, the cost for our table verses the actual sales numbers we pulled down. And here is where the story gets interesting.

As per my witty title, it’s apropos that I open the lid on the jar of facts and figures for Detroit. Two times this year, Unshaven Comics made the trek to the Motor City. In the spring, we attended the aptly named Motor City Comic Con. Housed in nearby Novi, Michigan, the show boasts a large open convention center floor space and a multitude of celebrity guests. The big draws this year? Norman Reedus and Stan Lee. By the power of those names alone, the show suffered from what was later dubbed a humanity bomb, where fans literally waited hours outside the convention hall to even be able to walk in the doors. As creators, our table cost us $268. This was because the show-runners decided that each artist table would cover a single badge. Unshaven Comics’ trifecta-of-triumph required the purchase of two additional badges. By the end of the show, we’d sold 189 books. In 2012, we sold a scant 94 books. The increase of 101% in book sales was certainly enough to allow us to declare a stupendous victory.

Or so it would seem.

As noted, Detroit Fanfare is smart to wait long enough for fans to be hungry for con-goodness, some six months later. Also smart? The show opts to stay away from Detroit proper. The show takes over much of the Adoba Hotel and Suites. Far different from the Suburban Showplace, the hotel-centric con inhabits multiple ballrooms throughout the main floor. Media guests are also par for the course, with this years’ main delights including Billy West, John DiMaggio, and Tyler Mane, to name a few. Unlike Motor City, Unshaven detected no Humanity Bomb. All we really felt was a Walking Dead feeling to the fandom throughout the weekend. With multiple rooms to meander about, fans simply didn’t coagulate in waves like we’re used to in the big rooms. Instead, we simply saw a slow stream of passersby, many of whom were not in much mood to buy. That being said, we rounded out with 143 book sales, besting last year’s 126. Oh, and the table cost? $170, and that’s with the single extra badge we needed to purchase.

When I calculated the final costs of both shows – including gas, hotel, and meals – the numbers didn’t lie. The shows ended up netting Unshaven Comics nearly identical profit. Where Motor City showcased arguably larger stars and boasted a broader attendance, Fanfare’s more affordable table costs and attached hotel (with generous discount) offset a smaller audience. Motor City’s single-room show makes for better traffic flow, but Fanfare’s lower ticket price means fans more likely apt to purchase. At the end of the day, when Unshaven wants to work smarter, the devil is in the details. Fanfare occurs at the tail end of the year, when no other major shows tend to run. Motor City faces off against larger anime conventions and a few Comic Cons to boot. Now that we know we’ll end up with roughly the same amount of money from either? Well, I guess it’s just the best of times to be a lil’ indie publisher.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Mindy Newell: 60

Newell Art 131028Yes, this past Thursday I hit the big 6-0. Yeah, yeah, I know a woman isn’t supposed to reveal her age, but just who the hell would I be fooling? Not my family. Nor any of my friends. Not even those who read my comics back in the 80s and 90s and care to do a little homework and math – IIRC, the New Talent Showcase issues included bios by all the tyros whose work appeared in that book. Mine lists my birthday. And as long as I talking about that bio, for the record I was not particularly inspired by Star Wars or – with absolutely no disrespect intended, and I’m not saying I don’t love their work – to George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Gerry Conway, or Doug Moench. This is how I remember it happened.

Joey Cavalieri (who wrote the bios) asking me who my favorite writers were. “Edna Ferber, Herman Wouk, James Michener, John Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser… “ I said off the top of my head.

He laughed a little and said something about readers not getting that or caring or not knowing who they were. (Which I still find hard to believe.)

“How about Gerry Conway and Doug Moench?”

“Uh-huh,” I said. “They’re good, too.”

“How about movies?”

Again off the top of my head. “Oh, The Searchers. Bridge On The River Kwai. Sunset Boulevard. Casablanca.”

Joey didn’t seem too happy.

Oh, wait, I get it, I thought. And wanting to please, being the good little Jewish girl, I said,

Star Wars, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Alien.”

So after thirty years, I’m glad to get the chance to correct that little bio. Although if it was happening now, I wouldn’t be the “wanting-to-please good little Jewish girl.”

By the time you get to 60, you just don’t give a crap.

Oh, I still give a crap about a lot of things. This country and its future. (It doesn’t take a writer’s imagination to think that a second Civil War is not exactly out of the range of possibilities.) This Earth and its future. (Whether you want to call it global warming or climate change there is no denying that we, the population of this planet, have majorly bug-fucked Mother Gaia.)

And when I think of the future, I think of my niece Isabel and my grandson, Meyer Manual (who was five weeks old on Saturday) and I really give a crap.

And then I get really scared.

But then again…

We Baby Boomers have lived through temptuous times when many believed the end was nigh. The Bay of Pigs. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The assassination of Martin Luthor King. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. The social revolution of the 60s. The Vietnam War. Richard Nixon and Watergate. Jane Fonda workouts. Disco.

So fuck the Tea Party and fuck Ted Cruz and fuck all the racists who can’t believe a nigger is our President.

Yeah, I can’t believe I wrote that word either, but that’s the damn truth of it, that’s what’s really driving those bastard ignorant asshole Confederate punks and you know it as well as I do, only you won’t, but I will because I’m 60 and I don’t give a crap.

And if you think I’m feisty now…

Well, like a certain Whovian told me recently:

“60 years is nothing for a Time Lord. Just look out for Daleks.”

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis

 

John Ostrander: A Dark Glittering Intelligence

Ostrander Art 131020My favorite new show of the TV season is not Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as I thought it would be (although I like that show well enough). It’s The Blacklist… which is on opposite Castle. I loves me some Castle so I have to record one and watch the other live; so far, Castle is winning out but sometimes it’s a near thing.

The Blacklist is about Raymond “Red” Reddington, a master criminal who the FBI has been unsuccessfully hunting for some time. One day he surrenders and offers to help them take down other monsters on his blacklist but he’ll only work with FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen, whom he insists on calling “Lizzie”. She doesn’t know him and neither she nor anyone else at the FBI knows why Reddington has offered his help but they must admit he’s very effective – especially with criminals and terrorists they didn’t even know were out there.

The series is derivative and there’s a Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling vibe to it, but the main reason to watch it is James Spader as Reddington. He’s charming, charismatic, dangerous, and scary. He’s playing all sorts of games and what he’s really after is impossible to guess. Spader is obviously having a wonderful time with the part and is amazing in the role. Reddington is a killer but not a serial one; I’ve come to the conclusion that Reddington is less Hannibal Lecter than Professor Moriarity.

What Spader’s Reddington demonstrates is a dark, glittering intelligence and that makes him a fascinating character and, in that, he is like Lecter. Over the ages, this type of character, in different variations, has become a recurring character type. Hearth Ledger’s Joker falls into that category as well. So does Shakespeare’s Richard III. Something in our own atavistic reptilian brain stem gets drawn to them. Well, at least my atavistic reptilian brain stem does.

The trick is getting us to root for them although they’re monsters. Reddington admits to it. Why do we do that? There’s an appeal to our own dark sides. The monsters embody our dark urges on which we would never follow through. They’re our dark fantasies – unbound by social conventions. They appall us as they enthrall us.

We root for the anti-hero as well as the hero – if the anti-hero is done right. That’s the challenge for the creator. I’m guilty of it myself; in Wasteland, I once did a story from the serial killer’s point of view. The goal was to see if I could get the reader to identify with him. That would be where the horror part of the story really came in – when (if) the reader founds themselves identifying with him. Look to the recently completed Dexter or Breaking Bad. The popular success of those series – along with The Sopranos or The Shield – attests to the fact that we are willing to go there – to root for the bad guys. They need to know who/what they are, accept it, and don’t whine. That’s what we want and that’s what we love. If we’re honest, we like Loki more than Thor. Characters like that give us a delicious thrill.

Angels are beautiful, but the devil is sexy.

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten