Tagged: Mindy Newell

Marc Alan Fishman: R.I.P. Collect-ability

Marc Alan Fishman: R.I.P. Collect-ability

Fishman ArtA fine friend of mine – a comic shop retailer, convention promoter, and all around great geek – tasked me with a topic for the week: the death of collect-ability. As a collector himself, my friend postulated that “[It seems like] Marvel Comics no longer has any ongoing series, and everything they create now is a limited series.” Interesting thought, no?

For those paying close attention to the racks these days (which I admit I’ve not… but more on that later), they’d note that within the big two, no issue is numbered over the forties. Between Marvel NOW and the New 52, the industry has taken a shine to newness as the gimmick du jour. Gone are the long-running series that toppled in the hundreds before they were relaunched into new volumes. Serious collectors would amass each issue into their glorious bags and boards, stacks, and boxes.

Devotees of the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Action Comics, or Detective Comics would “ride the run” as it were. Through the high times and low, the collector made a simple statement: I want all of this. When the volume ended, a new line in the Overstreet is made and thus, said geek has the ability to opt out and move on. It might also be appropriate to hypothesize that when a volume ended, it did so not at the height of its quality or popularity. As my buddy Triple H might say? It’s always about what’s best for business.

Let us dive into that then, shall we? As a retailer, a #1 is a boon for business. It’s the universal jumping on point for a reader. Sales charts proclaimed that the New 52 was an initial success. As were several gimmicks revolving around funny numbers. Marvel NOW got into the same tactics, albeit under slower pretenses. At the end of the day though, all the ongoing series now sit in their infancy, and it is perhaps leading to an antsy fan base changing titles the way they surf the Internet. Keep producing #1s and you spark the base for a quick jolt of sales each time. The same way TV launches their seasons of new shows. The same way movie studio reboot and relaunch franchises when they want guaranteed money.

I personally am not getting any book with Wolverine in it. I freely admit though that when I see a new Wolverine #1 with a new team I stop and think “maybe I should get in on that kooky Logan business…” Hell, whilst driving home from the New York Comic Con, my Unshaven cohort declared that Matt Fraction was going to write a new Silver Surfer series. Given that I loved the new Defenders mini he did (which I bought, oddly enough, because it was a #1 and I was low on books to buy that week it debuted…), there I sat, hands on the wheel thinking that it’d be worth a try. By the way, I hate the Silver Surfer. He defeated Kyle Rayner in Marvel Vs. DC in the 90’s and I’ve never forgiven him. Yet, the allure of a #1 and a creative team I like is enough to sway my snarky heart. Scary, no?

My unnamed pal noted his sadness that his newer customers would “never get to experience of watching a series / character / creative team grow”, and those words ring true. Ron Marz’s run on Green Lantern anchored my teen years. By watching Rayner grow from a newbie ring-slinger to the true torchbearer of the corps, I built a life-long love of the character. Do I feel the same way about any character I’ve read in the last several years? Hardly.

I love the Superior Spider-Man right now, but I know that love is entirely fleeting. Much as I’d hoped Dick Grayson would hold the cape and cowl of his mentor for more than a hot minute, I knew that the industry I wallow in is one of transitory entertainment. Nothing lasts longer than the sales figures allow them to. When Walt Disney’s petulant corpse and the unseen Brothers Warner loom in the darkness with gluttonous desire, the idea that a paltry four dollar rag be given years to find a voice and mature is as impossible as a mouse actually piloting a steamboat. It’s a small world after all, and it doesn’t run on dreams and candy. It runs on movie and merchandise revenue. Comics these days serve their purpose more for maintaining rights, and collecting otaku for monetary tribute. The business model for doing that simply doesn’t take into account anything more than a bottom line in the black.

One thing I’d be remiss to mention here is how my very own studio has thought of production. Our Samurnauts concept was built to be presented as a maxi-series of mini-series… if that makes any sense. Knowing our audience as we did when we started, it was hard to not want to make everything last only long enough to make it into a trade. Then slap a new #1 on the next mini, and make everyone start back at the beginning. Simply put? When I walk past an indie table, and see a series past even four issues? I’m already walking past for fear of the costly barrier to entry. While the series itself may be absolutely amazing, as a fan, I freely admit that I’m always less likely to buy-in when I know there’s a backload of material to catch up on. Comics aren’t seasons of shows on Hulu or Netflix; they’re commitments of dollars, and as such I’ve ended up becoming a slave to newness.

I open the argument to you, the people of the court. Are Marvel and DC doing you wrong by continued experimentation, relaunching, and ADHD production? Or do you like the idea that you’re never too far away from a jumping on point? Do you find the pulp of today to be too transitive, or do you like to consume your sequential fiction one micro-series at a time?

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

 

John Ostrander: Are You Artistically Experienced?

Ostreander Art 131013Last week I wrote about seeing The Wizard of Oz again on the IMAX screen and how, once more, I really enjoyed the film. Since then, I’ve reflected on how my attitude towards the film has changed over the years.

The first time I saw Wizard was in the 50s on a relatively small black and white set. To be honest, I was not very taken with it. I was probably about eight or ten and The Guns of Navarone was far more my speed. Also, as I said, I saw it all in black and white and so the moment when the film transitions to Technicolor was lost on me until we got a color set. That’s when I got it and started to appreciate the film more.

What has really changed over the years has been what I bring to the film as I watch it – or any other film I see again or any book I re-read or piece of music that I listen to more than once. The work itself, in those cases, doesn’t really change. Oh, it might be restored or, in the case of The Wizard of Oz, blown up for the IMAX and have a few 3D effects tossed in. However, the fundamentals of the work do not change. I have changed.

To give an example, when I was in 8th grade at St. Jerome’s RC Grade School, I watched and was taken up with the TV version of Going My Way. This wasn’t the Bing Crosby movie, which I didn’t see until much later. This one starred Gene Kelly in the Bing Crosby role and Leo G. Carroll (previously of the Topper TV series and later of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) in the Barry Fitzgerald role. I was very taken with it and with the idea of being a parish priest, so much so that I signed up for the seminary.

My “vocation” (as such things were called) didn’t last more than my freshman year but that year in seminary had a profound affect on my life and has been highly influential in my writing. It all stems back to that TV series version of Going My Way. I doubt very much it would have the same influence on me today because I’m a different person. I would bring a different self to it. I might find memories – ghosts – of who I was back then but seeing the series again wouldn’t have the same effect on me.

Any artistic work is like a light switch. The potential is there even when the switch closed. However, it takes the person encountering that work to flip that switch so that the electricity flows. That’s when the work is truly experienced. Part of the magic is no two of us experience that same work in exactly the same way.

The work created has the artist’s intent and exists as his or her self-expression. It has a life of its own, often independent of the creator (witness Sherlock Holmes). The experience, where the work really lives, happens only when someone encounters it, takes it in, brings his or her own life to it, when they really participate in it. A good example are comic books – a comic book page exists in a static form but the reader somehow uses the gutters to “see” and experience the action move from one panel to the next.

This essay exists whether you read it or not but it only reaches its full potential when you read it and, even better, it affects you. Then we shall have shared thoughts, feelings – an experience.

So – was it good for you?

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Marc Alan Fishman: New York, New York

Fishman Art 131012After a quick li’l jaunt across the lovely Midwest, Unshaven Comics has arrived in fabulous New York City. Well, technically, we’re in New Jersey. Is it as fabulous? Time will tell. At very least, our swell hosts have shown us nothing but the finest hospitality. Is it New Jersey tradition to spit in your guests faces and declare “Welcome to Jersey, fuck face!”?

So why the long trip? Well, we’re about to embark on the second largest convention in North America. The New York Comic Con boasts an audience five times the size of the largest con we’ve attended to date. While we’ve been conning for over five years now, NYCC will perhaps show us what an audience of serious mass will look like. Our game plan isn’t any different; we stand, we pitch, we smile, we sell. And we’ll be doing it alongside our ComicMix cohorts. Suffice to say, we’re excited.

New York is not just a city. It’s the city. Marvel has built its entire comic continuity around the damned city. Except the West Coast Avengers, and well, who cares about them? They don’t even care about themselves. And why not?

What I saw on our trip, in-between bouts of getting lost on one of the 7,986 turnpikes in the area, is beautiful. The NYC skyline is a thing of beauty. It’s no Chicago mind you, but hey… this is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. So says Jay Z. Chicago only has R. Kelly and Kanye, and well, I’ll take Hova over them any day. But I digress. (note: I’m taking complete credit for ComicMixers coining this phrase. I stole it from my choir director in high school, and in turn they stole it from me. Nyah nyah boo boo.)

New York’s Comic Con is run by Reed, the same company who brought us (Unshaven that is) to C2E2. That convention, held in downtown Chicago, has been the toast of the town for three years running. While we’ve seen more production on our sales goals at Wizard World, to be frank, C2E2 gives us both decent sales and amazing exposure. Whilst here in the city that never sleeps (which makes sense, since the drivers are far more cranky than we friendly and amazing Chicagoans), we expect to see the best of both worlds. With expected attendance that dwarves R2D2, and a guest list that reads more like the old Wizard Top Ten lists of yesteryear, Unshaven Comics is getting access to the best fans we could ask for; people there to meet their favorite creators, with an open mind to find something new. Given that our east coast exposure has been limited to a pair of Baltimore Comic-Cons, we’re basically brand new to the biggest city in the world. And Unshaven Comics does well with being new.

By the time you read this, we’ll be in the thick of it. A four-day show is a major undertaking. We’ll be behind our table, hurling books left and right. If you’re still in the area, make sure you come out and say hello. Or you know… “Hello, fuck face!”

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Martha Thomases: Terry Crews, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Thomases Art 131011The fall television season isn’t the big deal it was when I was a kid, but it is still the time when a lot of new shows debut, a lot of old shows get a refurbishing, and a lot of Oscar-bait movies get advertised.

The rules have changed. The market is much more fragmented than it used to be, and the broadcast networks compete with the cable networks compete with programs on the Internet.

Still, September means it’s a new season. There is an equinox. Even astronomy knows it’s important.

There’s fun new stuff this season. I’m liking Sleepy Hollow a lot, and The Blacklist is better than I expected (and much better, so far, than Hostages, which I wanted to like so much more). I like The Crazy Ones because Hamish. American Horror Story: Coven began this week, promising a whole mess of strong women.

Naturally, the two shows that most interested me from the pre-hype are broadcast at the same time. Like a good geek, I was psyched about Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D  not only because it has Marvel in the title, but because it has lots of Whedons behind the scene. A superhero universe and snark? Come to Mama.

And, at the same time on Tuesday evenings, there is also Brooklyn Nine Nine, a sit-com with Andy Samberg (about whom I had no strong opinions) and Andre Braugher , whom I have loved passionately since I first saw him on Homicide: Life on the Street and have watched ardently in some pretty mediocre shows since then.

I didn’t expect to like Brooklyn Nine Nine. I thought I would just DVR it out of loyalty, and because maybe they’d someday let Pembleton back in the box.

But here’s the thing. I like it. I like it a lot. I think it’s not only well-written and well-acted, but it also passes the Bechdel Test. A workplace comedy that takes place in a police precinct in Brooklyn (go figure), the cast features a diverse crew that not only reflect the city (at least more than most television shows) but also talk like people, not like tokens. The October 1 episode featured a subplot in which the three women (two cops and a civilian) teach a class to local high school kids. None of it was about dating or sex or even shoes. The writers have become comfortable enough let Braugher’s character stop explaining how he’s an out gay in every speech.

Also, Terry Crews assembled most of a dollhouse. It was awesome.

The gender politics of S.H.I.E.L.D. are more complex, but I still think they come out okay. I seem to like it more than my sister suffragette, Mindy Newell. It’s taking me some time to get into the dynamic. which feels somewhere between The A-Team and Fringe. Also, the handsome hardcore alpha male agent keeps reminding me of John Barrowman, except he’s not a time-traveller nor a Big Bad on Arrow.

I got a lot of the complaints. There are a lot of generically good-looking Hollywood types on the show, and it can be confusing to tell them apart. So far, Clark Gregg is the only character with a really distinctive style of speech (or maybe the only one with the acting chops to sound distinctive). There’s a lot of expensive action scenes, but not a lot of character development.

There were similar criticisms for Dollhouse when it started, and I had a good time with that. I realized that the key to the show, at least for me, is to understand that Skye is the protagonist. She’s the fish out of water. She’s the one who doesn’t know what’s going on, just like the audience. Her discoveries are our discoveries.

While Hollywood continues to think that women won’t go to see movies with women heroes, Joss Whedon is going to prove them wrong. I hope he passes the Bechdel Test on his way there.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

 

John Ostrander: Back Over The Rainbow

Ostrander Art 131006I’ve mentioned before how I like going to see movies on a big screen and, when I can, on an IMAX screen which is about as large as you can get. I especially like seeing older movies on the big screen; you see them as they were meant to be seen. I still enjoy watching movies on TV although I can’t say I want to watch them on screens much smaller. I know that plenty of folks – especially them younger generation types – prefer watching them at home but I have (and still) argue that the experience just isn’t the same. To each their own.

This week, me and my Mary played hooky to run off and see The Wizard Of Oz remastered for 3D and IMAX before it departed the theaters. I had some apprehension going in. Would the film get stretched to meet the IMAX screen? I’m not always nuts about the results of a film that was not meant for 3D that is manipulated after the fact to make it 3D.

Bottom line – I had a great time. I’ve seen reviews for the BluRay/DVD/kitchen sink combo pack but this is about seeing it in the movie theater, specifically an IMAX theater. So, the images were sharp, the background was a little muddy here and there but I suspect that was in the original and not so much the transfer. It’s more about how the movies were made then than they are now.

How was the 3D? Meh. It didn’t detract but it didn’t add much as far as I was concerned. I guess I was hoping for more. The twister sequence has always been one of the best (if not the best) in films; it’s truly scary. I was hoping 3D would add even more; there was a bit more dust and stuff floating around but that was about it. On the other hand, they didn’t try to add stuff to the sequence and that was a blessing.

I also was hoping for a little more from the attack of the flying monkeys. It did gain some clarity; the images were sharper and that made the flying monkeys even weirder and scarier. They always weirded me out and this edition made that impression stronger.

What really worked for me was the sound quality. IMAX’s sound is almost always superior; immersive, surrounding, and clearer. That was really the case with Wizard Of Oz. The songs, the background music, the cackle of the Wicked Witch, the growls of the Cowardly Lion – all were so crystal clear that it made it as though I were hearing them for the first time.

In fact, that’s what the IMAX version of the film gave me and that I was hoping it would give me – a sense of seeing it anew, of how it must have been when the audiences first experienced it in 1939. Judy Garland’s singing “Over The Rainbow” was stunning; her image fills the IMAX screen and the sound is pristine. It is simple and direct and strikes right to the heart; all the more amazing since it was very nearly cut from the final version of the film. I’ve seen the film many times. Including on the big screen, but never as a big a screen as the IMAX and I saw it with fresh eyes and heard it with new ears.

There are many, many scenes that stood out in this new version: the Munchkinland sequence, with one great song after another, had a sharpness and clarity I had not experienced before. My favorite heroic moment in the film, when the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion march into the Wicked Witch’s castle to go to (so far as they knew) certain death to rescue Dorothy as the score grows (you know the moment – O-EE-O, EE-ORUM!) had me bouncing in my seat, ready to cheer. I think My Mary was very glad there were so few people in the theater for that matinee.

I wish I could’ve told you all about this while you still had a chance to experience it yourself but we very nearly didn’t make it. All I can say is – I’m glad we did. It took me over the rainbow and the experience was very much about the reason I still go out to the movies. As our Brit friends would say, it was Wizard!

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Marc Alan Fishman: The Diamond Exchange

Fishman Art 131005The other day I was conversing with a friend on the ol’ Facebook chat (can I call it the ol’ Facebook chat?), and he lamented to me that he recently took on a pro-bono position designing a video game largely due to the inspiration of me and Unshaven Comics. I was floored. I was touched. I had a hard time not laughing. Not in jest mind you, but because after seven years of making books… it doesn’t feel like I’m in all that different a place. Why? Well, let’s look at the cold hard facts:

Unshaven Comics sells its wares exclusively at conventions. It’s not to increase the collectibility either. It’s because we couldn’t possibly afford to tackle the direct market. At all. Don’t believe me? Well, about the only way one can get their books offered on the racks of the local comic shop is to be in the Previews catalog put out by the Diamond Comic Distributors company. Diamond makes it insanely easy to do this. A publisher simply makes up a preview (heh!) of their issue they want to solicit in the catalog, and submit it, alongside some paperwork, to their headquarters. Then, the publisher sells their stock, wholesale, to Diamond with 60-75% discount off of the cover price. How many issues? Well, Diamond doesn’t say exactly… but you must ultimately meet their sales expectations in enough time in order to continue working with them. And that’s only after they approve your application. Still with me?

It takes roughly six months between the time a publisher first contacts Diamond to when you actually receive monies back from an order. Now, in simplest terms, this means Unshaven Comics would have to have the capital to pay for whatever orders come through the Previews catalog and then wait another month to see about 40% of our cover price come back in the door. And for those not familiar with printing these days, allow me to be blunt: Unless you’re printing thousands of books, your per-book price for a full color, 36 page book, where you charge a fan $5, leaves you with less then half of that coming back as profit. Suffice to say, we put out comics because we love connecting with fans, and are hopeful that it will one day lead to something bigger and better. If we tried to go to Diamond with our current printer, we’d see about twenty-five cents for every comic we sold.

And we haven’t even talked about marketing and promotion! Just because your publishing company is accepted into Diamond does not mean you get a big flashy full-page ad in Previews, enticing comic shops to order. In fact, we would have to sell 2000 books in order to break even with the smallest possible ad. It’s a sad fact: A comic shop in LA, New York, or hell… even our own damn backyard (Chicago, baby) wouldn’t have any clue who we are. We’re not a name to the common comic shop frequenter. While we’ve attended about 40 – 50 conventions in the time we’ve been a company, there’s no chance in hell we’ve saturated even the pit stains of the market. And that translates into the cold hard truth: A comic shop that hasn’t heard of us (even with an ad) is unlikely to purchase anything from Previews from us.

So now, in order to sell to those retailers, we have to market ourselves to them as well. If we took out a small bank loanand marketed ourselves properly, we might just stand a chance.

Are you as excited about all this as I am?

The reality is this: Almost a decade ago, I attended the then-beloved Wizard World Chicago show. I waited until the end of the DC previews panel and boldly walked up to Dan DiDio and asked what it would take in order to write for him and DC. He smiled and said “Well, get noticed. We don’t really look for writers.” I figured a great way to get noticed would be to capture the zeitgeist on my own. Well, seven years later, and that still feels far out of touch.

That being said, Unshaven Comics is not without the teeniest bit of clout. We’ve grown our gross sales by 86% in the past year. And the year before that? 69%. That’s actual calculated growth. We’ve been to the largest conventions in the Midwest, and in another week we’ll be at the second largest convention of the nation – New York Comic Con (at the ComicMix table, nyuck, nyuck, nyuck). We successfully funded our own Kickstarter. All in all, we’re doing pretty well for ourselves, even if we are in fact a spec on a blip on a fart cloud somewhere around the outskirts of the industry we love so much. And we’ve done all of that without tackling the only player in the distribution game.

It’s nothing to hang a beard on, but it’s enough to inspire our friends to do great things. I don’t think we could ask for more.

If you want to help Unshaven Comics, do us a solid by voting for us in the Intuit Small Business Big Game Contest. If we win? We actually get a commercial about us during the Super Bowl! No e-mail hoarding. No registration necessary. Just click here for a vote.

 SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

John Ostrander: Happily Never After?

Ostrander Art 130929There was some discussion when the creative team on DC’s Batwoman, J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman, resigned after editorial decided that the title character, Kate Kane, would not be allowed to marry her fiancée, Maggie Sawyer. DC has tried to clarify that they are not anti-gay marriage but anti any marriage. Dan DiDio, DC co-publisher, stated at the Baltimore Con that heroes (at least in the Batman family) shouldn’t have happy personal lives, no marriages. They sacrifice personal happiness for the greater good. That’s what makes them heroes. Or so we’re told. DiDio said, “That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand.”

That’s one viewpoint.

I can argue it both ways. Comics are fantasies and fairy tales tend to end with “And they lived happily ever after.” It is assumed that, after that point, the story gets mundane. It becomes about the ho-hum aspects of living day-to-day. The romance is gone. The tension of “will they/won’t they” no longer exists.

That has not been my experience. The living together, the commitment to one another, gets challenged all the time. The percentage of marriages that end in divorce or infidelity, according to some, is about 50%. Happily ever after is not a given.

I’ve discovered part of the challenge is seeing past who you thought the other person was and to see who they actually are. You discover much more about the person you love after you’ve become a committed couple. In addition, that love you share grows and changes (or changes and declines) as the people in that relationship grow, decline, and change. The love the two feel, for better or worse, may not be the same five years in. All of that can be very dramatic.

However, it’s not something pop culture tends to show. Most TV shows resist having their romantic leads become a couple, and certainly not married. Moonlighting famously teased about its two leads becoming a couple for way too long. Castle, of which I’m a big fan, is dealing with that now and we’ll see how that turns out. Every once in a while, you get a show or series that counteracts that – the movie series The Thin Man, based on the characters of Nick and Nora Charles created by Dashiell Hammett, were sexy and funny and had a wonderful marriage. They are, also, the exception in pop culture.

Marvel can be no less guilty of this than DC. The decision was made to have Peter (Spider-Man) Parker and Mary Jane Watson not just no longer married but to make it so they were never married. In order to do that, they had to employ the devil. That’s sort of convoluted.

I dislike DiDio’s edict because it is just that – an edict. It doesn’t allow for a story to follow through. It is dogma applied instead of thought, creativity and imagination. It’s the same rationale that the Roman Catholic Church applies to celibacy in its priesthood: that the priest/hero sacrifices their own personal happiness to better serve. It’s codswallop in both cases. The RC rule ignores the fact that other denominations have married clergy and it actually works out mostly fine.

Look, I can certainly see that Batman has no time or perhaps inclination to be married. That makes sense within the confines of who the character is. There were and are different circumstances for others like Batwoman. In storytelling, one size does not fit all.

I’ve been doing some work for DC and I hope to do more and when playing in their sandbox, I’ll respect their rules, even if I disagree with them. However, Williams and Blackman had the rules changed on them at the last moment and I respect their decision to walk. I’d like to think I would do the same.

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Kickstart Your Life, Beg For A Fortune

Fishman 130928I hate to start an op-ed with a big ole’ caveat, but screw it, I’m not in a good mood. Folks, I was sacked the other day, and apparently I burnt the bridge and salted the Earth on my way out. The best part? I don’t know how I did it. Since I’m not prone to experimenting with gamma-radiation, nor have I proved my Kryptonian lineage, I figured it best not to stand my ground and attempt to fight. Suffice to say, I’m in a funk right now… and it’s straight up Parliament in this mutha’.

Like a good cry though, I’d rather dive head first into this bad attitude and ride it out. You only live once – unless you’re Hindu – and as such, I figure it’s good to feel something different every now and then. For now? I’m feeling pretty mean. With the whole job situation running amok in my mind, I took some time to daydream. On TV, or in the movies, this would be where I – the leading man (played by Zach Galifinakis) – would consider breaking the shackles of working world to finally make a living doing what I love. There’d be a tearful exchange with my wife where she says she’ll support me. Then a nice dramatic montage of me furiously drawing at my computer. Then some heroic music as my comics take the world by storm, and suddenly I will have “won” at life.

Back to reality, son. Fact is that making a living in comic books ain’t easy. And when that living has to support a lovely wife and toddling son? Even harder. The fact is, even with a pair of day jobs my household isn’t rolling in dough. Heck, we don’t even have time to roll dough. But I digress. I’ve noticed a trend as of late for my fellow creatives to turn towards Kickstarter (and other sundry nest-egg-gathering sites) with pie-in-the-sky dreams. They’re asking the world for a small fortune to pursue their comic endeavors, and I’m always apt to help where I can. But I’m here to piss on the parade, and plead (not with those already entrenched in a campaign, but those considering it) to carefully consider the cache of cash sought.

When it’s done right, Kickstarter (in my humble opinion) is meant to kickstart a creative project into fruition. Take for example The Gutters or Aw Yeah Comics. Both asked for an amount enough to get their projects up and running. In the case of the Gutters, they’re actually looking to get themselves back and running, but again I digress. This is how I see crowd-funding being done right. Solid rewards, and an attainable goal. And in both cases, stretch goals existed should the zeitgeist deem the idea über-worthy.

In other cases, I’ve seen folks turn to the world with pockets out and idea in hand all with the hope of realizing an actual dream. Take for example the recently unearthed Mutant League license seeking to reanimate itself as a game. Truth be told: I loved the cartoon series. I’d kill for Unshaven Comics to create a comic about it. I’ve given to the Kickstarter literally on the first day it was announced. But asking for three-quarters of a million dollars is almost laughable to me. I’ll restate: I want this to succeed. But the site is called Kickstarter, not Sharktank.

While Mutant League is perhaps an extreme example (heh), I’ve seen similarly hyperbolic goals set by friends and colleagues pop up from time to time. It hurts when I see them go live, and proceed to turn their social media pages into 30-day PBS plead-a-thons as they try to reach for the gold. And it hurts worse when they don’t come close to reaching those goals, and are left kicking the dirt. When Unshaven Comics took the leap, our real goal was to afford a complete set of film-grade costumes for the Samurnauts. We opted instead to seek to afford one. And we did it. I say this not to brag, but to make a point. We sought the crowd to help us start something cool… not become our angel investors.

What ultimately poops my Pampers is the notion that one would turn towards crowd-funding as a way to literally live to create. Because at the end of the day, I founded Unshaven Comics with my own money. I work(ed) every day to grant myself the pleasure of being able to pursue my dreams on my own dime. And one day, it will either come to fruition, or wither away in a whimper. Either way, I will have enjoyed the journey, and that’s really what all of this comic crap is about, right? It also doesn’t hurt that every person in the industry with good intention who told me they’d help me seem to forget they said those words. Lesson learned:

The only person you can safely rely on to see your dreams come true is yourself. Now Kickstart that.

Ha! I’m in a better mood already.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

John Ostrander: Realistic Fantasy

Ostrander Art 130922I’ve often maintained that the best fantasies are ones that have one foot firmly set in reality. We need something to which we can relate. We are asked to enter into a “willing suspension of disbelief,” as coined by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However impossible or implausible in reality an event in literature is, we accept it. Quite simply, we’re being told a story and we concede reality to get on with the story – up to a point.

When Superman first appeared in 1938 he was a fantastic character but, in those early stories, he fought real-life villains and situations – slums, gangsters, crooked politicians, corrupt cops and so on. The United States, like most of the world, was still deep in the Great Depression. World War II was looming. For so many people, the reality was that the banks had failed them, the courts had failed them, the police failed them, the system had failed them. With Superman, the Little Guy had a hero who worked outside that corrupt and broken system, working for them, working to achieve justice. Superman was originally very anti-establishment and that may have been his greatest power.

Then came the War and Superman was co-opted, along with the other heroes, to fight the Axis, to bring down the Nazis. Reasons had to be given why he didn’t just fly to Berlin and take down Hitler. That was the reality of the situation and the fantasy was having a harder time fitting in.

After the War, Superman became fully co-opted by the Establishment. His biggest concern was his girl friend, Lois Lane, learning his secret identity.

Marvel came along in the 60s and introduced a psychological realism – the heroes had neuroses, psychological problems, issues that they needed to work out. Spider-Man was the poster boy for the neurotic new hero and it resonated. After all, to put on a mask and go out to fight crime, you had to be a bit crazy. Peter Parker had money troubles, work troubles, girl troubles; he was bullied in high school and it was all compounded by his choice to be Spider-Man. However, he couldn’t stop. He was driven by the death of his Uncle Ben for which he held himself partially responsible. Great fantasy, solid reality.

The reality became more of a soap opera as time went on. What was once fresh became cliché. Like Mickey Mouse (oddly enough, since The Mouse now owns Marvel), Spider-Man went from being a character to being a franchise to being a product and a corporate symbol.

Marvel’s New Universe wandered in at some point and one of its claims was a new realism. One of the boasts was that, when their heroes or villains lifted up a building, you could see broken plumbing underneath. I ask for a little more reality than that and the line eventually folded.

Milestone Comics came in and it had a solid dose of reality, setting their heroes in the African-American community and reflecting that truth. One of my favorite books was the Blood Syndicate; one of the tags for it was “They’re not a team. . . they’re a gang.” That was different and reflected a new reality. Sadly, Milestone didn’t last long enough to get old.

DC has re-launched itself with the New 52 and Marvel has Marvel Now but both, to my taste, veer still more towards fantasy and soap opera. The storylines have gotten more convoluted and event driven.

And then there’s Art Spiegelman’s Maus – the classic hat adroitly combines both fantasy and reality. By using mice as Jews in Germany during World War II, Spiegelman heightened the reality and made what might have been unbearable to look at very readable and very compelling.

After 9/11, the comics industry spoke to the tragedy. More than one person wished that Superman had been real that day. Then maybe he could have prevented the planes from crashing into the World Trade Center. None of the books that came out of that horror, to their credit, tried to do that but, at the same time, they were one shots. There was no lasting effect in the books unlike New York City and our national psyche. Failing to do that made them all a little impotent. The Punisher continued to hunt and kill gangsters; wouldn’t it have been more realistic to have him go after terrorists at home and abroad?

Take a look at the real world around you. How much of it is reflected in your comics? What drove Superman in his earliest incarnations – a hero outside the system, working for justice that the Little Man can’t get – is as or more prevalent today as it was 75 years ago. Look at the news – is any of that reflected in the comics you read? How would a hero deal with terrorists? What if a superhero was a member of al-Quaeda? How can we pit our angels against our demons in such a way as would, as Shakespeare put it, “hold a mirror up to nature”.

I enjoy comics; I enjoy reading them and I enjoy writing them. I do. They can be good entertainment. They could also be more. They could stand, I think, a little more reality.

Or maybe that’s just me.

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Boom! Is! Doing! It! Right!

Fishman Art 130921It wasn’t too long ago that I heard Mike Gold exclaim “I’m really liking what you’re doing there.” He was talking to Ross Ritchie about Boom! Studios. It got me thinking. From one publisher to another, true respect shared between gentlemen. No snide jabs. No undercurrent of jealousy or malice. Just respect. And it’s that respect that made me realize that Boom! Studios is a shining example of what is going right with our industry.

A cursory glance at their site shows a publisher pushing boundaries in every conceivable direction. Where the brand was once known for either being Mark Waid’s playground or Stan Lee’s litter box, today they are producing comics in every genre under the yellow sun. They once clung to licenses from Disney in order to pay the bills. Without Mickey’s teets to suckle from, instead they’ve smartly chosen popular brands like Adventure Time, and the biker-beloved Sons of Anarchy in order to draw in more ‘non-comics’ fans to the shelves.

Boom! also has broken its brand into smarter sub-brands in order to focus efforts on different emerging markets. KaBoom!, its kid-centric brand, is of course anchored by the aforementioned Adventures of Finn and Jake. But they’re also branching out with other recognizable brands like Peanuts, Garfield, and the Adventure-esque Bravest Warriors. The fact that Boom! recognizes the kids market and pushes their line in order to draw the wee ones into a comic shop should be commended. And while a licensed kids book is nothing new in the marketplace… the fact that their books are not chained lock-in-step to their source material means kids will be able to see the comic medium as a place to explore the vastness of the worlds they may only know in cartoon form. It’s a small thing, that means huge ramifications as the li’l readers grow up.

Beyond that, Boom! recently realized its creative teams had more to say and show. So much so that they’ve chosen to branch out even further, with the newly dubbed BOOM! Box imprint made for experimental comics. Not happy to place these potentially “indie for indies’ sake” titles into Boom! Town, or its newly acquired Archaia lines… the box will house the weirdest of the weird. The idea being of course that comic creators who would otherwise choose to self-publish short runs of books that might be too crazy for even a “B” or “C” publisher like Boom! to consider… are given the carte blanch to actually give it a go anyways.

As an indie publisher myself, I’m of two minds on that. One mind says “kudos to Ritchie, Gagnon, and Watters for having balls!” The other mind morbidly declares “Yay! One more sub-publisher with money behind them to tell Unshaven Comics they’re cute for trying!”

These days a cursory glance over my newsfeed on Facebook shows normally at least several daily references to what DC or Marvel is messing up. DC way more than Marvel, if you’re tallying. It’s a bit hilarious to me, given my recent rekindled love of professional wrestling. Because when one steps back to see the forest for the trees, they’ll eventually see the cyclical nature of the continual soap opera that is male-fiction. With Boom! taking the role of the babyface… We crave a heel, and DC is glad to play the role right now. Can’t stand Villains Month? Keep blogging about it! Think Man of Steel crossed a line? Put it on a tee-shirt! Think Dan DiDio is secretly behind it all, and should be fired? Make a god-damned hashtag, and tag him in every post you write for a month! Guess what? There’s no such thing as bad press. Case in point? I’m DVR’ing Dads tonight on Fox. Do the math. I’ll wait for you to catch up. But I digress.

Boom! is doing it right. They’ve branched out beyond the capes (while still putting out some decent-if-not-mind-blowing cape comics) to compete with Image for the Comics With Original Ideas the Big Two Won’t Touch (and face it, Vertigo isn’t near what it used to be, and Marvel never even tried to compete there). They’ve made kids comics that matter again, and in doing so, have ignited passion for our media in the next generation… buying us soon-to-be-old-farts at least another few years to do what we love. The old adage is true; big risks equal big rewards. Boom! for the time being is reaping plenty of rewards.

We fans, bored of the Big Two are now seeing a true third leg of the market arise. Small(er) presses are proving profitable. Hollywood is even catching wind of it. And when big money backs small(ish) companies, it seems that the money may be headed not only into the coffers of secret investors… but back into the comic medium itself. It’s a grand day to be a comic fan, kiddos.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell