Tagged: Mindy Newell

John Ostrander: Crossover Mania!

ostrander-aet-130915-145x225-5846587Into every comic book writer’s life – certainly if he or she works at all for the Big Two – some crossovers will fall. Maybe quite a few of them, especially these days. If you’re writing a series, it’s going to interrupt whatever storyline that you’re working on. Or you may get hired to work a fill-in connected to the series as I’ve done with the Forever Evil event over at DC with the Cheetah one shot running in Wonder Woman’s space. It’s totally deserving of your support to the point where I urge you to buy multiple copies. Give them out at Halloween to the kiddies.

Erm. Maybe not. It’s a tad violent.

Anyway, I know about crossovers from having had a series interrupted by them to having written the main event. They’re a special breed and have special demands and I’ve run hot and cold with the concept. I can’t dis them because they’ve done me good overall.

I plotted the series Legends which was the first DC company wide crossover following Crisis on Infinite Earths. The series, by design, served as the launching pad for several new series including the Wally West version of the Flash, a new Justice League of America, and Suicide Squad. Along the way I was asked to write a two-part crossover in Firestorm, then being written by series creator Gerry Conway who wasn’t interested in doing the tie-in issues. The theory was that, since I was plotting the miniseries, I would know what was going on and thus be able to better co-ordinate.

I was eager for the assignment. As I said, I was plotting Legends but this would give me the chance to plot and dialogue and get my foot in the door for more work. I knew Suicide Squad would be launching from the crossover but I hadn’t yet actually dialogued any DC characters.

Denny O’Neil had just come over to DC and was the new editor on Firestorm and that made me nervous. Denny was, and is, a legend in the industry and I was still pretty new and green. What could I possibly come up with that he wouldn’t think was lame? We met at a Chicago Comic Con and I took him out to a lunch at a vegetarian/organic restaurant (Denny likes those) and he was amenable to anything I wanted to do. He figures I was a pro (albeit a new one) and knew what I was doing. One less worry for him (although I’m certain that if I had sounded like a dolt he would have let me know).

The result? He was pleased enough at what I did to offer me the book when Gerry Conway left a few issues afterwards.

Crossovers can be a pain. Millennium, with Steve Englehart as the scribe, was published weekly and the concept was that every other comic published that week would tie into it. My week had both Firestorm and Suicide Squad in it and all the books that week were supposed to attack the same place (a Manhunter Temple in Florida). I asked what was the purpose of the temple and was told, “Anything you want it to be.” That wasn’t the question I was asking and it seemed to me that the five or six books that were out that week needed to be coordinated so we were all on the same page or we’d all look like idiots. So I came up with a plot for our week that would work with everyone else and we came off pretty well. I think DC also slipped me some extra cash for doing it and that was nice.

Invariably, the crossover is not going to be the best story in a given ongoing series (with the notable exception of the Cheetah one shot coming out very soon which I would really hate for you to miss) but there are reasons as a writer on a series connected to the event that you want to do good things with it. Sales can go up on those issues (I’ve had royalty checks – pardon me, incentive or participation checks – that tell me that) and there is the possibility of attracting new readers who may be sampling the book for the first time. You want them to have a good experience and come back. Anything that increases readership is a good thing. You want to make the story accessible enough for the potential new readers without alienating or boring your regular readers.

You also need to be flexible. Details and story elements in the main event can change as other editors chime in on it and/or publishing or even marketing. Those changes can radically alter your tie-in. It’s more work and it’s usually not more money and you have to hope he changes are not going to affect what you have planned for your own story further down the road. You need to roll with the punches and make the story work. Treat it as a challenge and an opportunity to make the story even better. In theory. Showing you’re a team player can make you more valuable and get you more work. Again, in theory.

Every story you write, especially for the Big Two, has parameters. You’re expected to make each one a good story, one worth the money that the reader is paying. Crossovers just add a few more parameters. The basic rule still stands – make it the best story you can.

That’s the job.




Marc Alan Fishman: Life Is A Pitch

Marc Alan Fishman: Life Is A Pitch

This past weekend, the Unshaven Comics crew split our duties (heh heh). Kyle traveled to Cincinnati, where he single handedly crushed records, and declared himself Lord of the Sale. Matt and I (along with our pretty, and amazing, and totally-not-looking-over-my-shoulder-as-I-write-this wives) returned to Charm City for the Baltimore Comic Con. Again we took in the sites, the fine food, and the amazing fans. But of all the new memories made on this sojourn across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland… it was the impromptu brainstorming session that will stick out as the best part of the trip.

As our wives listened to their iPods, or slept, Matt and I did what we always do. We talked extensively about the Bears, about toys, about movies we loved… and then we started brainstorming about The Samurnauts. I know, I know. I talk about them a lot. But you know what? I love my creations with Unshaven Comics. One of the honest-to-Rao best moments of my weekend was hearing Mike Gold say to another publisher “I really love what those guys (Unshaven) are doing.” And the best part? I didn’t even have to bribe Mike to say it. I know as we’re all “co-workers” or whatever here on ComicMix, but facts are facts. Mike Gold’s résumé in comics,= and his discerning tastes are that of legend. And to be given a nod of approval from an editor like that? Well, it made my beard tingle. But I digress.

So, somewhere between Ohio and Pennsylvania, Matt and I turned the radio down, and started spit-balling. “You know we should do?” “What?” “Take that joke commission of Lucador Samuranuts and actually, you know, do it.” What proceeded after that, was several hundred miles worth of ideation. From a single jokey-dare to a fully fleshed out idea complete with Aztec gods, nomadic kung-fu monkey masters, and a five-on-five tag team tornado match to save the world. The best part? We weren’t done.

“Well, that’s cool. But you know what we could never do… Disconauts. Like… The Samurnauts of the 70’s.” “Yeah, I know. But like… if we did…. maybe they’d each have their own vehicle.” “Yeah, and those vehicles would be like M.A.S.K., right?” And so on, and so forth. Suffice to say, by the time we reached Baltimore, we’d created two completely new mini-series ready to be outlined, sketched, and built.

I related this all to Mike at our goodbye dinner where Mike and I dominated the conversation of our four top, letting Marc Hempel and my wife smile and eat their crab. No sooner did I finish telling him about our Luchadornauts did a smile creep across his face. And as he’s prone to do, he launched into a story of his own. He related to me the time he and John Ostrander took a walk around a lake close to his house, and came up with the pitch for Wasteland. And it was there, in a beautiful restaurant in the suburbs of Baltimore, with a crab cake the size of my face plated before me… did I find that first true connection with Mike Gold that did not relate specifically to good BBQ or amazing conversation. Here was a guy who with his good friend, found a camaraderie not just in opinions and shared experiences… but in an idea and creativity.

Since we were kids, Matt and I founded our friendship on just that. The spark of creation more than anything else… binds us as brothers-from-other-mothers. And just like icing on a cake, cream filling in an Oreo, or crab cakes bound with bits of smaller crab (bless you, Baltimore), Kyle joined our menagerie and completed our circle. We creators of sequential fiction are a curious sort. And my generation – the one bred by toy commercials and Nintendo – was onslaught by our elders to never have to be creative again. Why create when TV, comics, toys, movies, and then the truly evil Internet, is right there awaiting your procrastination. But there, on the road surrounded by small mountains, rest stops, and snoring wives… I was reminded of who I am, and why I do what I do.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Fashion Statements

My good friend Martha Thomases, as usual, wrote an interesting column this week on her way to the Baltimore Con. She wrote about choosing what to wear at the Con and that, in turn, set me to thinking and provided grist for my own essay mill. Some weeks I need a lot of grist.

Something that’s important in comics and too little discussed is the importance of clothes. The fashion choices made by a character says something about that character. What you wear makes a statement about who you are even if that statement is, “I don’t care.” As often as not, my criterion still is, “Is it clean? Is it clean-ish? Does it at least not smell? Does it not smell too badly?”

However, I can dress up. I clean up fairly well, to be honest. I’m not keen on wearing ties but I know how and when to do so. I like hats, especially fedoras, although the Irish cloth cap works well on me. One wonderful fan made me a beret like GrimJack wears and I like that a lot and can be seen at conventions with it.

Some people dress for success. Some people dress to be invisible. Choices are made even when it appears to be a non-choice. If you say, “I don’t care how I look; I don’t think it’s important,” that’s a choice. It says something and don’t bother maintaining that it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter. It does. We make up our minds about people right away depending on how they appear to us. They do the same with us. Assuming the phrase, “Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.” Is true, why is it true? The answer is we want people to perceive us in a certain way even if our goal is not to be perceived, to blend in.

When I was working with student artists, I wanted them to look at different source materials for the way people dressed. Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne would be more likely to dress out of GQ whereas Peter Parker might dress from the Old Navy store.  Here’s an extra-points question – how would Tony Stark dress differently from Bruce Wayne? Bruce’s suits are a costume for the playboy image he plays whereas Tony’s wardrobe is who he is (and, yes, I’m including the Iron Man costume).

Certain costumes can be a short-hand to who the character is – in Westerns, it used to be the good guys wore the white hats and the bad guys wore the black hats. Made things simple – an oversimplification, really. Clothing and costumes can describe a character but they can’t be substituted for characterization itself.

Clothing can reveal character: who the individual is, how they think of themselves, how they present an image of themselves. We do it (deny it if you want) and so characters do it as well. What’s true in life should be true on the page.

A very fun aspect of this in the past few years has been the rising importance of cosplay (costume playing for those of you who don’t know the term) as part of fandom. Fans become the characters they see in the comics or on the screen. The costumes can be elaborate or silly or elaborately silly or anywhere in that spectrum. They’ve become fixtures at most conventions these days and are often stunning. They’re a merger of the person who is wearing the costume and the character they represent.

Whether it’s in a drawing or in prose, clothes can make the character and if you want to work as an artist or a writer, you’d do well to remember that.



Marc Alan Fishman: Age – It’s Not Just A Number

fishman-art-130907-150x171-5750892I know that amongst many writings for ComicMix, I am essentially still in diapers in their eyes (and I’m guessing, so too, perhaps is Emily). And as much as I don’t want to make that a jab at their graying hair, and preference for dinner around 4 PM, I can only assume that when they see the whipper-snapper trying to make a point about time and wisdom they might bruise a hip from chortling at the thought. But I welcome their guffaws… Because they know as well as I, that what I speak is the truth. It’s a simple truth, of course, but a necessary one to restate every now-and-again.

As folks my age rage against the MTVs and their kin, I choose to take a step back. Miley Cyrus gyrating on teddy-bears is exactly what a 20 year old with all the money and none of the responsibilities of life should be doing for attention. She’s an artist the same way any of us may have been at 20. She has the chops, but for now, none of the wisdom needed to produce something of value. John Mayer, now 35 is really coming into his own on his albums. No longer fluffy songs about “making love,” and growing up… now he turns inward, and deftly pushes outward his wry humor, and seamless guitar playing.

So too, do artists in our field of comics perform much the same. Mark Waid, as amazing as he’s been for years, seems to only gild his bibliographic lily with each passing issue of Daredevil. And where young buck artists for Marvel and DC are chugging away at their boards in an effort to ape the house-styles of the day, soon they will see that taking a risk on what they actually want to do will end up paying their rent just as well if not better. And screw you, I’m am optimist.

I dawned on this fact over this past weekend. Matt (my Unshaven Cohort) and I were invited to do a workshop on how to create comics for a batch of wonderful kids at a local art gallery. Their ages ranged from 6 to 14 (I believe), and we had a ball. One of the first things I did was ask each kid in the class to come up with an idea to draw out. Ideas ranged from showing Sonic the Hedgehog becoming “Dark Sonic” to a chicken facing an existential crisis. I was floored, if only because the young man who pitched it to me was so crystal clear on the concept. Why did the chicken cross the road? To die, of course. Later this spiraled out into the zombie chicken apocalypse, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The longer I thought about those kids, and their concepts, I was brought back to my own childhood. I can clearly recall in elementary school I created a trio of crime-fighting, mystery-solving kids (“The Cool Kids”), who I would draw over and over and over. I never actually got them into any unwieldy adventures, nor intricate mysteries. I’d spent all my time perfecting their look. Eventually (as in, a year later), I’d met Matt in class, and soon thereafter, moved into creating a complex continuity of comic characters. Matt and I bathed over entire teams of ‘original’ heroes. I’m nearly certain it took mere days for us to combine our cadres into a single cavalcade of crime-fighters. And amongst all of those long-lost creations, I can still pitch “The Human Blade” to you as the metal-made-man of true justice.

In my head (as I’m sure within those fine minds we melded with at the gallery), there were complex stories at the waiting. Emotional journeys, epic battles, and small character moments to be had. It is only now, with years of toiling at the art table (and blank script pages), do I finally feel like I have the tools to produce something of value. It’s not that I haven’t made product prior, mind you. But as with all artists, it’s time that has taught me that everything before right now is only as good as it could have been. In lesser heady terms… with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes a superior piece of art. Every comic Unshaven Comics has put out has clearly shown a progression of our styles, our scripting, and our abilities as story-tellers.

In more than one of the reviews we received back from fans of The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #2, we heard that there was “real progress” from issue 1. Not that they didn’t like issue 1 (and our sales to date are a testament to that…), but there was a clear and present evolution of our art within the 36 pages. I know for myself, I really pushed myself to get feedback throughout my creative process – something a younger me was too prideful to do. It was as if the passage of time (and the experience of doing it several times before) made me more able to produce something with nuance and an attention to craft. Preposterous, perhaps, but true none-the-less.

Rodney Dangerfield didn’t find his voice, truly, until he was well into his forties. Jack Kirby helped define an entire era of comics, at about the same time in his life. The older my personal heroes such as Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino get, I’ve found their works to mature with them. It’s a fact of life, perhaps, no? With age comes wisdom and foresight. And for we, the creatives, so too does our work evolve. Age is not just a number, kiddos, it’s a state of our well-being when we put our pens to the paper.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Secrets

Ostrander Art 130901Everyone has secrets; lots of them. As I said in my column about the TV miniseries Broadchurch, “…what gets revealed to whom, when, and how and is that a good idea really drives narrative and character. The revelation of secrets may answer some questions but may raise more.”

Some things you can tell about a person by looking at them: what they look like, ethnicity, gender, rough age and so on, but these days of social media such as Facebook, even that may be a secret. Are those pictures really of him/her? Those can still be secrets.

There are levels of secrets and not all of them are deep and dark. Your name, for example. Unless you’re wearing a name badge, it’s not immediately apparent. If you’re asked for your name, you usually give it. Some situations may alter that – women in bars may not give their real names or phone numbers, often with good reason. If a cop asks you your name, however, you’d better be prepared to share it.

There are secrets that you share with different groups of people. Acquaintances, co-workers, teachers and so on, people on Facebook perhaps, know more of your secrets than someone just passing by. There are those who are your actual friends and even within this community there are levels, some friends being closer than others. A level of trust is involved which means that you have usually have shared some secrets with them and they have proven worthy of that trust.

Family presents a parallel and often deeper level of secrets. I’ve joked in the past that parents often know how to push your buttons because they’re the ones who installed the wiring. I’ve been in situations around a family table where the adult children are telling stories of growing up and a parent will look bewildered and say, “I never knew about any of this!” They didn’t because the siblings kept those secrets. In my family it’s been joked as I grew up that if my twin brother, Joe, did anything wrong, sooner or later you’d find out because he would just blurt it out. Of me it was said that if I did anything wrong – well, maybe a decade later I might share it if I thought you were ready to deal with it. Yeah, I have a sneaky side.

There are the few people we let in very close. Deep, long time friends or, even more, the person that we love. Even they, however, don’t know all our secrets. There are some secrets known only to ourselves, that we don’t choose to share with anyone for whatever reason. Deepest of all are the secrets that we keep from ourselves, truths we don’t choose to face.

If all this is true in our own lives, and I submit that it is, then it needs to be true in our writing. A writer must know his/her characters’ secrets, especially the ones the characters hide from themselves. How the secrets are revealed, when, to whom, under what circumstances, and whether it was a good choice or turns out to be a good thing – all drive the narrative.

Sometimes the secret will be revealed to the audience before it is revealed to any character and that’s fine as well. It creates a deeper involvement with the audience and greater suspense; the audience has a vested emotional interest in what happens with the secret.

Nor do secrets need to be told all at once. This secret can be told or shown here and maybe that one there. Maybe part of the secret it told at one point and the rest comes out later. Secrets drive motivation and motivation drives the characters and they in turn drive the story.

And who doesn’t love a good story … or a good secret?




Marc Alan Fishman: Random Access Maladies

Fishman Art 130831I figure that many of my ComicMix cohorts will be scrutinizing one or more of the topics I had in my head to discuss with you, my adoring public. I also figure that everyone else on this site is way more important than I am. With that being said? What better way to ride on their coattails, and waste precious column inches then with a numerical list of things I want to get off my chest? Nothing! Nothing I say! Without further ado…

1. New Lobo Design
Filed under the “What Did DC Do Wrong This Week” file… DC released a new design and story direction for The Main Man. Seems the Lobo we all knew and loved, err, tolerated in Rob Liefeld’s New52 Deathstroke wasn’t actually the main Main Man. The newly designed slim-n-trim Lobo is the real thing, and he’s potentially chasing down the impostor for obvious reasons. DC top brass (Bob Harris) was quoted as saying “Ken [Rocafort] updated Lobo’s facial tattoos and weaponry by adding laser edges to his blades and gloves that’ll give him extra strength with their mechanical usage. In the end, Ken transformed Lobo into a lean, mean killing machine.”

So… what’s the big dealio? Well, the new design is like the rest of the new designs of the New52. That is to say it’s reeking of the 90’s excess I’d hoped was just a long lost running-gag by now. Fans via social media dubbed Rocafort’s Lobo a “Twilight-Esque” attempt. Many of the fans of the original character are obviously up in arms. I assume they’re also mounting cannons to their hogs, choppers, and baggers. They might even be visiting Home Depot for some last-minute chain purchases. But I digress.

Simply put, this is merely a continual symptom that is part of a far larger problem. The New52 continues to wow the world with these new and fresh takes on our favorite characters. Apparently they never got the memo that nothing was wrong with the DCU pre-Flashpoint. And I’d be hard-pressed to look at some numbers that could back me up on that. Suffice to say… you can thin down, emo-up, and photoshop effect all you want DC… but until you worry more about the quality of the stories first? You’re just wasting the time of those who buy your books in hopes “this is when they turn it around.”

2. Batfleck / Breaking Luthor
So we’re all pretty sure it’s official that Ben Affleck is Batman and Brian Cranston is Lex Luthor in the forthcoming Man of Steel sequel. Rumor-mills also denote that they might have signed multi-picture deals, akin to that of the House of Mouse across the street. Many fans and nerds took to the net to cry out in fear, shame, and rage over Batfleck. At the time of this writing, only Rolling Stone was saying Cranston had Luthor’s role under wraps… but I’m fairly certain nary a nerd (save perhaps for my own best friend and cohort Kyle Gnepper of Unshaven Comics) finds this to be troublesome.
In my lowly opinion, first and foremost… who the hell cares? A casting decision in mind means almost nothing until the script is written and filming begins. For the naysayers of Big Bad Ben, there’s a plethora of films that I could cite that prove his acting (and directing) chops. It’s been years since Gigli and Daredevil. He is a humbled actor, who can step into the cape and cowl without a problem in my eyes. And lest we all forget? No one wanted Heath Ledger as the Joker now, did they? Affleck, Cavil, and Cranston on screen could be a big deal. And if Snyder eases back on the disaster porn? We may get the Dark Knight of the Superman series. I for one could not be more excited about that. Call it seeing ‘dem apples’ as half-full, if you will.

3. Miley Cyrus Twerking
Seriously? Did it bother you that much when Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera, or Madonna decided it was time to act like a slut on national cable television? It did? Oh, ok. Well then, go ahead. Be angry. Comment about it. Rant about it. Hell, write an article on how she’s single handedly bringing back the minstrel show with a side of misogyny while you’re at it.
Now realize you’re doing exactly what she wanted you to do in the first place. Everything on the MTV Video Awards was planned in boardrooms, months in advance. And every rant tweeted, touted, statused, or plus-oned was just another dollar bill landing squarely on Miley’s front porch. Which is good, because she’s gonna need to by some new solid gold teeth, and tongue extensions soon.

4. Cartoons ain’t like what they used to be…
Here’s a quickie: The CW now has a block of old(ish) cartoons they’re packaging on Saturday mornings. And though I own the series, it’s still amazing to catch an episode of Justice League Unlimited. I fear that there will never be as complex, action-packed, or mature a cartoon series in my own son’s life. Lucky for me I will practically punish him into enjoying them. Not really mind you, but… yeah, really.

5. Indy Pop Con looks like it’s doing it right.
One more thing… Unshaven Comics was asked to be a part of the inaugural Indy(napolis, baby) Pop Con in 2014. I am astounded at how on-the-ball the show promoters are. They’ve built their site, started planning legitimately interesting events, panels, and discussions, as well as snag some top tier talent. You know, aside from Unshaven Comics. Indianapolis already hosts an amazing nerd-con with Gen-Con. Here, they are placing it at a time when no other cons are competing, in a town that has a bustling nerd-culture. They are putting the right amount of money into it to ensure a solid gate. And they are communicating with fervor to all the artists, and guests of the show. Simply put, they’re doing it right, and I’m very proud to be a part of it thus far.

OK kiddos, that’s my braindump for you. No doubt I’ve enraged you several times over. I implore you to let me have my comeuppance in the comments below. Go on. I dare you. My ego can take it. Plus, next week, I’m redesigning myself. I’ll be slimmer, with 80% more unnecessary lines on my shirt. So, there.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Broadchurch Secrets

Ostrander Art 130825Ordinarily, I wouldn’t “review” a TV miniseries or movie until it was completed. You should know the story before you comment on it. I know this is heresy these days but I feel you should know something about a topic before you drop an opinion bomb on it. I have no use for those who have decided they don’t like something without having bothered to experience it. That’s lazy and presumptive. I fully admit some things I have not sampled based on what I know of it, but I don’t render an verdict on it. If I hate something it’s because I tried it – like broccoli. Yuck. Broccoli.

However, I’m currently watching the BBC miniseries Broadchurch on BBC America. I’ve just seen the third episode of the eight part series and I think it’s incredible. I want to tell people about it. The series is set in a small coastal English town and follows the investigation into the murder of a ten-year old boy and the effects the murder and the investigation has on everyone – including the ones investigating.

The series was created, written, and executive produced by Chris Chibnall. ComicMix readers might know of his work on Doctor Who and Torchwood, among other things. Other Who influences include David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) as the lead inspector and Arthur Darvill (Rory) as the local pastor. I’ll be honest, it was Tennant that first drew me to Broadchurch; I’ve been interested in seeing what else he could do as an actor although, being honest again, I was not crazy about his performance in another BBC miniseries, Spies of Warsaw. His performance there, to my mind, was very one note.

Not so here. This time, he plays Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, a haunted depressed man with secrets of his own; there are levels in his performance that show his talent and skill.

He is matched by Olivia Colman as Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller. (That’s another Who connection; in Matt Smith’s first outing as the Doctor, Ms. Colman plays “Mother” – one of the identities that the villain of the piece assumes.) DS Miller comes back from vacation expecting to be promoted to DI, only to find DI Hardy – an outsider – has gotten the job. And the best friend of her own son has been murdered.

For me, the biggest star is the writing. Everyone has secrets in this small town and they are gradually peeled back, revealing deeper and deeper levels of characterization. Grief is real and palpable. The mystery so far deepens with each episode and, at this writing, I have no idea who killed the boy or why.

There is a slight Twin Peaks vibe to the show – it’s deliberately paced and it has a slight undertone of supernatural in the person of a very odd man who claims he is getting messages from the dead boy. He seems sincere but – is he? Unlike Twin Peaks, however, I have the sense that the creator, Chris Chibnail, knows exactly where he’s going and how to wind it up. I trust him; OTOH, I also trusted the creators of The X-Files at the beginning. I thought they knew what they were doing; they fooled me.

The show isn’t simply about the murder, although that’s the engine that drives everything. It’s about secrets and that’s one of the most powerful narrative tools I know. Everyone has secrets and what gets revealed to whom, when, and how and is that a good idea really drives narrative and character. The revelation of secrets may answer some questions but may raise more.

It’s not only the secrets the characters reveal to one another, but the secrets that we learn as viewers, when do we learn them, what does that tell us. There’s more going on here than we initially know and it is only gradually unfolded to us.

The production values and the direction are all first rate. The acting is wonderful throughout. The show may not be to everyone’s taste – some might find it slow – and it demands that you pay attention but I’m riveted.

If you’re interested in the first three episodes (and I would not recommend you watch the show without seeing them), you can find them on BBC America On Demand, Amazon Instant Video and probably elsewhere. I’m certain it’ll also eventually be available on DVD and Blu-ray and such. I plan to own it when it does. It’s gotten excellent reviews both in the UK and the States. A second series of the show is reportedly in development and I’ve heard there are plans for an American adaptation.

For me, this is first class television and I can’t wait for the next episode. It’s not broccoli.




Marc Alan Fishman: Have Your CAKE and Eat It

Fishman 130824

So I was considering going on a long-rant/love-letter to the WWE, whose Summer Slam pay-per-view and Monday Night Raw this week were just fantastic. I was going to highlight how no other company producing week-to-week content for an audience of millions has the balls they do when it comes to allowing their villains to complete terrible acts without retribution for months on end. I was going to ramble on about how for the first time in the history of the company a truly undersized, under-utilized hero has emerged due entirely to his in-ring ability. But then I realized that while ComicMix is a pop-culture blog and news site… Comic is in the damned title. I might be better served bitching about something comic related. Which brings me to last night.

I attended a ‘Drink-And-Draw’ at a local(ish) watering hole. First and foremost? I was elated to learn just how many south-suburban Chicago comic book artists there actually were. Drinks were drunk. Poutines were consumed. Drawings were rendered. Conversations were had. I was lucky enough to flank my end of the table along with my frenemy Dan Dougherty (who I should mention has just released the second book in his Touching Evil series which could sit next to Revival for book-you-should-be-reading right now), and Wesley Wong, colorist to the stars.

Later on in the evening, Jon Michael Lennon, a compatriot, comic maker, and long-standing pal-at-the-cons moved a chair down to our end of the table, and we got to chit-chatting. Amongst the topics that came up was attending various sized shows. I then lamented that I wasn’t a fan of juried shows. Specifically the recent CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) con that Unshaven was unceremoniously denied entrance to for the second year in a row. Jon was quick to chime in. “Yeah. I didn’t get into the [expletive deleted] show either. And I was like, seriously? Have you seen my stuff? Man… [expletive deleted] them.” I’m paraphrasing, mind you.

Jon was right. As he’d go on to explain, he’d found out from those folks within the jury/selection committee/hipster d-bags who get off on being a figure of authority… that they weren’t looking to bring in a local artists whose purpose was ‘mostly to make money’, as far as he could ascertain. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The thing is, I know that Unshaven Comics is an indie brand. We put 200+ hours into every book to publish. We print in Lansing, IL, 10 minutes away from our homes. We sell only at conventions, and have to-date moved a whopping 10 books via our webstore, and those were to friends and family who simply can’t get to us. That being said? Our books are (now) all-ages, and envelop a style more attune to what might be considered traditional. I was, to-a-point OK with not being considered indie-enough for CAKE. If anything? I interpreted our denial e-mail to be a sign we were too mainstream for their con. Screw it, I guess we’re just knocking down DC and Marvel’s door any day now!

In stark contrast, Jon Michael Lennon and his Cheese Lord Comic imprint could not yell Indie any louder. His art style mixes influences of Robert Crumb and Daniel Clowes. His stories have given my nightmares daydreams. He is a boundary-pushing, down-trodden Harvey Pekar with an imagination that falls somewhere between Francis Bacon and actual bacon. I’m not doing him justice enough. Suffice to say: his work (specifically the Product of Society series he’s been self-publishing for years, as well as a handful of other short works in various other collections) are of the ilk that to me are akin definitively with alternative/indie/whatever-non-conformist label you’d ever give. I mean if you think a comic that questions the size of Jesus Christ’s penis is mainstream than maybe you and I should meet and get coffee.

Now, the idea that CAKE didn’t include Jon or Unshaven Comics, or dozens of other local folks I knew who also did not make it into the creamy filling of their convention resting on our collective desire to earn money for our wares…is perhaps a bit weak. If it is, in fact, true? Well, I’d never submit an application to them again, and I’d freely and happily do everything in my power to sway the masses from ever going to the show in the first place. More likely though, is that this ‘juried’ convention wanted to include those artists whose name and art style follow closer to the hip-and-with-it crowd of horned-rimmed readers who know names like Chris Ware, but couldn’t tell a Kirby from a Crumb.

The fact is that art is subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It’s how boy bands sell billions of albums, and singer-songwriters are left recording on youtube for pennies. For whatever reason, I’ve never had a problem with a fine-art gallery having a jury for a themed show. But a comic convention never crossed my mind as being a place where lines are drawn (natch) between what constitutes show-worthy and not. Comics have long been considered by the zeitgeist to be all-encompassing kitsch. The trails blazed by Crumb, Clowes, and their brethren seemed to dampen that universal lumping of our medium.

Call it a bit of black on black crime here kiddos, but I see a show like CAKE with its collection of like-minded creators to prove that within even this extremely small, extremely tight community of artists and creators… there’s still an undercurrent of ‘good and bad’ which leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Comics to me is all-inclusive. Juried shows, by-and-large, only breed seclusion. And if that is the case? Then I’m right where Jon is:

 [Expletive deleted] them.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


John Ostrander: Never Ending

Ostrander Art 130818 - LEFTOstrander Art 130818 - RIGHTIn the beginning, the Justice League of America on Earth-1 met the Justice Society of America on Earth-2 for an Annual Crisis and it was good. Usually it was really damn good. You waited for each yearly team-up eagerly.

And this begat Crisis on Infinite Earths and that was stupendous. A real game changer for DC. Continuity was never the same again. And this is turn begat Legends, a smaller miniseries that helped re-define the major DC characters and launched several books such as Suicide Squad, Justice League, and an all-new Flash. And it was good. Well, it was very good to me. It helped launch my career at DC and gave me two books, the aforementioned Suicide Squad and I would up taking over Firestorm. And those begat a lot more work for me and that was very, very good so far as I’m concerned.

These also begat a lot of sales and the lesson was not lost on Mighty Marvel and so begat Secret Wars, Secret Wars II, The Infinity Gauntlet, the Infinity Gauntlet Rides Again and so on. And all of these, both at DC and Marvel, begat tie-ins and spin-offs, selling books and making money but also increasingly disgruntling fans. And that’s not so good.

Okay, I’m not going to push the biblical phraseology thing any further because it stops being clever and just gets real annoying real fast. That’s my point – things get old quickly. These days, the “events” happen so much on the heels of one another that its gets hard to tell where one ends and another begins.

I can’t really complain – it’s getting me some work. I’m doing the Cheetah issue for Villains Month that’s part of Forever Evil and I was happy to get it (and – yes – to plug it). I also had some room to play with the character’s background and, I think/hope, the issue has wound up as a pretty good story. I don’t want to be a hypocrite – I can’t decry something in which I’m a participant.

I’d also like to suggest this – the main writer on a lot of DC’s events these days is Geoff Johns, just as Brian Michael Bendis has done on a lot of the Marvel Crossover Events. These are two top talents working at the top of their respective games. They both weave stories, working in plot threads that have appeared in other books leading up to the Event. It does give an epic quality to DC/Marvel’s respective canons.

However, I’m concerned that it could lead to Reader Burn-out. (Hm! The title for the next big crossover event – Burnout!) The books cost money and its not just the central core books of the event. True, most of the spin off books you don’t have to buy (except for the Cheetah one shot connected to Forever Evil; that one you really have to buy) but all the hype connected with any Event starts to numb the reader (IMO). I’m going to sound like a COF (Crusty Old Fart) but I really do think it was better in the old days when the JLA met the JSA just once a year. It was an event to which you could look forward instead of just lurching from one Can’t Miss story to another.

Maybe the point is sales and if the Events sell and garner a big chunk of overall sales that month, maybe that’s all they need to do. I have no objections to that.

Especially if it’s the Cheetah spin-off. Buy lots of copies of that. Buy spare copies to give to friends and family. Pre-order it now.

Hmmm. Maybe I understand Event programming better than I thought.




Marc Alan Fishman: The Con Con

Fishman Art 130817So after all that hemming and hawing, Wizard World Chicago came and went. Unshaven Comics saw record sales, happy fans, and well… that’s all we needed. The vibe itself of the show was tepid at best. Many many folks stopping by were quick to talk about their excited meetings with John Barrowman, Wil Wheaton, and Zach Quinto. Others simply said the show was OK, and that they were having a good time as always.

As always, the looming undercurrent of complaints crept around the edges. Full weekend passes cost nearly $100. The show floor itself (due to circumstances beyond Wizard’s control) was split between two floors, with significant bottlenecking of crowds throughout the day. And for those of us showing, Artist Alley seemed to have significant dead-spots – places on the show floor where traffic seemed to never pass by. Attempts to move (and move, and move) seemingly did nothing for the sales. I would guess that roughly a third of the exhibitors left unprofitable, and grumpy.

But I digress. I’m not here to give a thorough analysis of this particular con. Nor am I going to politely make suggestions on how Wizard might improve their exhibitions. I did that last year. And the year before that. I wave the white flag on Wizard’s practices. It’s clear that they want to be micro-San-Diegos in pop-culture-scope and have no desire to really cater to comic creators or the fans that-there-of. My biggest gripe found its way to my Facebook feed via the illustrious Gene Ha.

Gene caught a story over on The Beat that declared Wizard was moving in on comic-con competition in Minneapolis. It’s Wizard World Minneapolis show (a new one amongst their cadre of dates and locales) is scheduled a mere two weeks before the Midwest Comic Book Association’s already established SpringCon. Well, well, well Wizard. Good on you.

Once again, Wizard chooses to horn in on territory where locally owned and beloved conventions have scheduled. Just as they purchased Mid-Ohio Con in Columbus and took over the New York Comic Con in years past. When asked for comment (in case you didn’t read the link above) Wizzy just piddled in the corner… essentially blaming the convention center, and kicking the dirt by it’s boots like a child trying to lie, and failing. It’s maddening.

Wizard has deeper pockets than small comic-based shows. It’s a fact. They book bigger halls, bag bigger stars, and charge exhibitors considerably more. And the fact that Wizard Chairman John Macaluso himself commented that “Scheduling conflicts do no one any good,” he’s merely playing coy in my not-so-humble opinion. What Macaluso isn’t saying is that the conflicts are plenty good for him because the odds are in his favor. His shows snipe in dates weeks earlier than his competition, and brings in pop-culture stars from movies and TV… which invariably draw in a larger audience. And in a smaller city like Columbus or Minneapolis? The average con-goer will have little to no reason (or a plethora of discretionary funds) to attend one con right after the other.

In short, the little guy gets boned, unless they spend their time creating guerrilla marketing efforts such to undercut Wizard all in an attempt not to go under. Mid-Ohio simply caved. And now? The same Cincinnati/Columbus area will see three conventions within a six-week period: Wizard’s Mid-Ohio Con, the newly formed Cincy Comic Con, and the elder Cincinnati Comic Expo.

Is this the fate of Minneapolis looks forward to? Conventions fighting over guests and rolling the dice on their attendance? In the end, if that happens everyone will lose. And when the competition has a deeper wallet, the battle becomes that much harder to fight. We proud dwellers of the Artist Alley are left in waiting, trying to figure out what move to make. Especially those of us making the choice to venture beyond our hometown borders… Where profitability of these shows determines whether we’re eating a nice steak dinner after the show, or supersizing on our way home, with merchandise still in tow.

As it stands, Unshaven Comics this year alone has visited Dayton OH, Ft. Wayne IN, Novi MI, Charlotte NC, and the Chicagoland area several times. Later this year we’re going to Cincinnati, St. Louis, Baltimore, New York, Dearborn, and Kokomo. It’s our hope that Wizard takes a step back, and considers making the shows its known for good again… rather than simply expand it’s empire of bullying.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell