Tagged: Neal Adams

Mindy Newell: Labor and Comics

LaborLabor Day. It sounds like a day when we all should be out there laboring our asses off – or, if you’re an expectant mom, the day you give birth. (Now that’s labor!) Instead, it’s a national holiday on which we all un-labor.

The United States Department of Labor defines the holiday as Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

There’s no mention of the bloody Chicago Haymarket Square Riot on May 4, 1886, or of the Pullman strike in that same city almost exactly eight years later, or of the appalling conditions in which ordinary workers, i.e., laborers, had to struggle to make a living wage. Three-day weekends? Are you kidding me? As the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) of Downton Abbey asked, “What’s a weekend?” Not only were there no weekends, there were no 40-hour weeks, no overtime, and no benefits. The unionization of industries was looked upon as a plot of anarchists, communists, socialists, and “foreigners” intent on destroying the fabric of American society.

It wasn’t until 1935 and the National Labor Relations Act that the right to organize and bargain collectively, i.e., to unionize, for better wages, hours, and working conditions, especially the safety of employees, had the bulwark of the U.S. government behind it. But immediately corporations en masse fought against the Act – which was progressively weakened until, in 2009, the corporate community used modern media tools and millions upon millions of dollars to create new lobbies, with “New Speak” names like the Workplace Fairness Institute and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. The bottom line is that these national lobbies and individual state “right-to-work” laws have effectively killed unions in this country–which claimed that any legislation protecting the right of unions to exist would take away workers’ right to vote for or against unionization in a secret ballot.

And then there’s outsourcing…a product of President Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA). Everybody knows that the manufacturing industry has fled the United States. Basically, the corporations said, “if you can’t join them, fuck ‘em,” and moved their operations to countries where:

  • The minimum wage is $3.00/hr;
  • There are no child labor laws;
  • The work week is expanded to whatever the corporation decides;
  • Health and safety laws are non-existent;
  • Unions are banned; and
  • Environmental protection laws do not exist.

So. What does all of this have to do with comics? Well, there was an effort to unionize, back in 1978.

In that year, a group of then A-list writers and artists banded together as the Comics Creators Guild – which is sort of like a union, but for freelancers who are given work but not on an on-going basis. Led by Neal Adams, the group included Cary Bates, Howard Chaykin, Chris Claremont, Steve Ditko (which I admit is surprising to me since he was a follower of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism), Michael Golden, Archie Goodwin, Paul Levitz, Bob McLeod, Frank Miller, Carl Potts, Marshall Rogers, Jim Shooter, Walt Simonson, Jim Starlin, Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman.

Janelle Asselin of Comics Alliance wrote on May 11, 2015, One of the things the group did was put together a list of recommended rates for publishers.” These rates were (and thanks to Janelle and Comic Book News for this):

Fees for First North American Publication Rights

  • Art Work, per page: $300.00
  • Script, per page: $100.00
  • Lettering, per page: $40.00
  • Coloring, per page: $70.00

Fees for foreign first publication rights were to equal 25% of the first North American publication rights, and fees for reprints would be 50% of the first North American publication rights. In addition, any work used in licensing agreements would result in payment to the “talent” equal to the first North American publication rights.

Janelle wrote, (and thanks for doing the math, Janelle!) that adjusted for inflation, these rates would be $1080.00 for artists, $360.00 for writers, $144.00 for letterers, and $252.00 for colorists. I am assuming that these are “entry-level” rates, by the way.

I remember talking about the Comics Creators Guild with Paul Levitz and Marv Wolfman when I worked at DC in the 80s; I never really understood why it failed, except that perhaps it is because that, on the whole, creative types are ornery loners. And that there are – despite the growth of other markets and web comics and independent press – still hosts of eager-beaver young talents willing to accept pittance and give up any rights to their work in order to write, draw, letter and color Marvel and DC’s four-color heroes. Still, Hollywood, that bastion of creativity in America (say that with a smirk on your face) is a union town. In fact, you cannot work in the television and movie industry without a union card, and that includes extras, or a guild membership.

Which led me to this thought:

Now that Marvel and DC are firmly in the land of La-La, perhaps the fact that Hollywood is a union town will influence and lead to today’s (and future) comics creators to form a union that lasts. Or perhaps one of the unions and guilds already established will take them under their wing, such as the Writers’ Guild of America – West.

We’ll see. Because, for at least right now, Hollywood is just about the only place in America where unions still have real power.

Ed Catto: Batman’s Empty Nest


Batman 1It’s back to school time and even though it comes around every year, it always surprises me at how quickly it sneaks up after a fun summer. This year, we’re sending our last child off to college, and that’s made me think of a classic Batman story. Face with an empty nest, I’m seeing a familiar story in a totally new light.

Batman coverToday we’d call the October 1969 issue of Batman, #217, a reboot. It’s hard to conceive of it now, but in this story, they stripped the character down to his very basic elements. No more Wayne Manor, no more Robin, no more Batcave and no more outlandish villains. Of course, they all came back eventually.

The time was right for a change. The Batmania of the sixties, fueled by the TV show’s camp craze, was over and done with. By 1969, the TV show was like an embarrassing memory from a party where you had too much to drink. Oh sure, it was fun at the time, but then you need to sober up and leave that tomfoolery behind you. And back then, no one ever dreamed that one day in the future Batman would be bigger than ever and there’d be a whole new wave of Batman ’66 merchandise. And to even say that you could actually own every episode, and watch them whenever you wanted, seemed crazy.

bm30to70Back in 1969, comics in general, and Batman in particular, were taking big steps to position themselves as more than juvenile kiddie fare. Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams led the brigade of creatives who took a more serious, more grown-up approach to Batman. He’d no longer be a silly buffoon in tongue-and-cheek adventures.

“One Bullet too Many” by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, was first published in ’69, and later reprinted in the classic collection: Batman from the 30s to the 70s. This tale was a part of a long re-energizing of the Batman mythology.

In this story, Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Robin the Boy Wonder) is preparing to leave for his freshman year at Hudson University. Dick gently teases the saddened Bruce (Batman) Wayne and their butler, Alfred about his imminent departure for college. He then brings his two (!) suitcases to the front door. I guess Alfred didn’t need Bed, Bath and Beyond’s College Registry/Pack and Hold in those days.

Astoundingly, Bruce and Alfred don’t arrange to drop young Dick Grayson off at school. Instead, Dick casually hops in a taxi as the adults glumly watch from the front doorway. Can you imagine a parent hailing a cab to take their child to the first day of college today?

Batman 4Long before I started my freshman year of college, I read this Batman story and thought of how I’d be like Dick Grayson one day: bra
vely leaving for college with equal parts of excitement/hope and homesickness/apprehension.

(Of course, Animal House and my father’s fraternity stories painted an entirely different picture of college, but that’s another story.)

So while I identified with college freshman Dick Grayson so long ago, now I find myself looking at this story in an entirely different way. As we venture to drop our daughter off at a college majestically overlooking the Hudson River, it sure seems like the fictional “Hudson U” to me. So I now find myself identifying with the crestfallen sadness of Batman and Alfred. And I now see this tale as the quintessential empty nest story.

As soon as young Dick’s taxi drives off, Bruce tells Alfred to pack it up, and that they’re getting outta town. “Take a long, possibly last look, Alfred,” says the Caped Crusader. “We’re moving out of this suburban sanctuary.” I guess there wasn’t a need to stay in the Gotham school system with Dick in college. He’s decided they’re moving to the city and he’s going to start a new business. The venture was called V.I.P. (Victims Incorporated Program), but it was essentially a “second act” start-up, by today’s standards.

Kudos to Bruce Wayne for his courage. Good for him, and Alfred, for closing down dusty old Wayne Manor and the Batcave to bravely start the next chapter of their lives. I’m overly sentimental, and, I’ll admit I am having trouble making the transition that decisively. Packing up our Wayne Manor and starting a new business isn’t quite as easy for me, but I get the idea. It’s good advice. Leave it to Batman to show me the way. Again.

“I can’t bear to look back, Master Bruce! “ whined Alfred.

Bruce Wayne resolutely respondsed, “Don’t, Alfred, the future is ahead!Batman 7


Ed Catto: The (Not Quite) Secret Origin of Pacific Comics!

1047384-vanity_1_0001Just a few decades ago, astronauts, presidents and cowboys and were some of our cultural role models. But today’s cultural heroes are the brave souls who pitch their ideas on Shark Tank. So it’s not a surprise to find an entrepreneurial high school (or middle school) student who has created a cutting edge product, service or app. That’s why the subject of this week’s column is all the more impressive. In the early 80’s, two teenage brothers launched a their comic publishing business, showcasing talents like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams and Dave Stevens. At that time, they didn’t have any role models. They didn’t have weekly comic conventions in various cities. They were on the frontier with no maps or guidebooks.

That’s why I’m so pleased to present my recent conversation with Bill Schanes. He’s a great guy who’s accomplished so very much in his career. Conversations with him could fill up several of these weekly columns. But for now, I will focus on the early days, and the origin of Pacific Comics.

Kirby PacificEd Catto: Pacific Comics, as a publisher, was preceded by your mail order business, several comic shops and even a distribution business. How did you decide to start publishing Pacific Comics?

Bill Schanes: Since my brother Steve and I had several different but related businesses going at the same time, we noticed that there wasn’t very many “new” releases when it came to new comic books from the New York publishing houses. (It’s important to remember, the only mainstream publishers at that time were Archie, Harvey, DC and Marvel.) There were a number of “underground” publishers putting out books, like Print Mint, Rip-Off Press, Last Gasp, Kitchen Sink and others, but there just wasn’t enough new periodical releases to drive consumers into our stores on a weekly basis, so we decided to give it a try.

We first published a black and white comic book called ONE, which was part photo/illustration, and part traditional comic book style of artwork. We did this to make sure we fully understood how the whole editorial production cycle worked, plus we felt ONE had enough potential on its own to reach a wide range of consumers.

Most people don’t know this next tidbit, but we intended on our first major release to be a project Gil Kane was working on at the time – Blackmark.

Steve and I had also been involved with the San Diego Comic-Con since its second year (only missed the very first show), and during those early years, we got to know a number of the writers and artists who were the big names at the times, plus a wide range of new and upcoming talent as well.

EC: When you launched Pacific, the comics industry was very different than it is today. What are some of the major differences between the industry, then and now, specifically as it relates to publishing a new line of comics?

alien_worlds1BS: As I mentioned previously, there were very few mainstream publishers releasing books at that time. The idea of a graphic novel or a trade paperback just wasn’t even being contemplated, except for a couple of exceptions.

Those early days were very innocent, as there really weren’t any rules or boundaries at that time. Competition was limited in the “superhero’ genre to DC and Marvel only, so we felt there was a fairly large gap into what we thought the market would respond to, which was to break out of the mold, and introduce new concepts that featured the creative teams as much, if not more than the character name, as any characters that Pacific Comics would be introducing would be brand new to both retailers and consumers.

While we had a general idea as to what we wanted to publish, we didn’t have a formal business plan at that time (silly looking back on it now).

It’s also important to remember that in the late 70s and early 80s, there weren’t thousands upon thousands of comic book specialty retailers. Pacific Comics was also the largest wholesaler/distributor of comic books on the west coast at the time, so we had a very good relationship with the vast majority of the comic book specialty retailers out west. We felt that they would treat us as one of their own, as DC and Marvel were those New York guys, who really hadn’t established any type of retailer programs yet.

Pacific Comics was the first “mainstream” comic book publisher who exclusively sold into comic book specialty market retailers (no newsstand), so the retailers really responded positively to this via very large initial order commitments. We combined key creators (Kirby, Ditko, Adams, Wrightson, Jones…), with what at the time was cutting edge color separations (blue line/grey line), upscale paper stock, which allowed for higher quality reproduction, and heat set printing. This basically means that once the ink was applied to the paper, the ink “set” on top of the paper. This is opposed to the traditional cold press printing method of the previous 40+ years, which the ink absorbed into the paper, and also transferred to the readers’ hands fairly easily.

Adams PacificEC: The roster of Pacific creators reads like a who’s who of comics – Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, Dave Stevens, Sergio Aragones…the list goes on and on. Which creators are your favorites and why?

BS: We were very fortunate, as at the time Pacific Comics was going into the publishing of comic books, DC and Marvel had just come off one of their worst periods in regards to creator/talent relationships. We were also very lucky to have a number of very bright people working for us at the time, including David Scroggy (now at Dark Horse running their merchandise program), Jon Hartz (former original Valiant EVP), Bill Lund (one of the original founders and 1st chairman of the San Diego Comic-Con), and many others.

I had played with the idea of “ranking” the talent/creators based on sales of the books they had worked on over the recent past few years (somewhat similar to sports stats). At that time (before excel), I put together a grid of sales stats (on a large oversized graph paper), broken down by writer, penciller, inker, letterer, colorist, editor and any other individuals involved in the creative process. Each month, I’d update the data to include the most recent sales. I also put a “point value” on each sales level for each category of creator, so when we wanted to put together an editorial team, we wanted to make sure that each new book or story within a book would have a “point value” which we felt would represent the best opportunity to achieve sales of previous books they had worked on. While it wasn’t 100% scientific, it proved to be pretty helpful.

Now to get back to your question, after weren’t able to come to terms with Gil Kane on his Blackmark project, we said we might as well go with the biggest names in the business at the time. That meant that the #1 on our list, and one of all of our personal favorites was Jack Kirby. Jack had left the business for a while to work at Hanna-Barbera; mainly because he was dissatisfied with the work-for-hire concept that was the standard in the comic book business at the time, as he felt he should retain ownership and be entitled to royalties versus just a flat page rate with no back end compensation.

We also wanted to work with Neal Adams – who wouldn’t want to? – as well as some newcomers, like Dave Stevens. When we first saw the Rocketeer concept and early pages, we were left speechless, and knew immediately that Dave was heading to be one of the brightest and biggest names in the business (Dave was lost far too early, so sad).

We were aware that both Jack and Neal had long fought for creator rights, and we wanted to work with both, to show the creative community that Pacific Comics was a new type of comic book publisher, one who wanted creators to work with us versus having creators work for us.

pacific-comics-edge-of-chaos-issue-1EC: Which projects or series were your favorites?

BS: Personally, I really enjoyed almost all of the books that April Campbell and Bruce Jones packaged for Pacific Comics. April and Bruce put together a series of fantastic titles, with all star talent involved. These included Twisted Tales, Alien Worlds, Pathways to Fantasy, Somerset Holmes to name a few. Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Berni Wrightson, Barry Winsor Smith, Tim Conrad, Art Adams, John Bolton, Joe Chiodo, Bo & Scott Hampton, Brent Anderson, and a host of others, plus April and Bruce wrote the majority of the stories, which lent to wonderful continuity along the whole line.

I also enjoyed the Elric series by P. Craig Russel (Mike Friedrich – from the then famous StarReach Productions) brokered this project with the creators.

Mike Grell was just in the middle of his fantastic run on Warlord, and we were really pleased to be able to publish his book Starslayer.

EC: And as a follow-up, which comics were you most proud of publishing?

BS: It’s hard to say anything other than KIRBY! The King had returned to comics and Pacific Comics engaged him on a creator ownership deal, whereby Pacific Comics licensed Jack’s titles from him, paid him a page rate, royalty from copy one, and at the end of the day, Jack owned 100% of his titles. (As it should be, as far as we were concerned).

Loved Dave Steven’s work on The Rocketeer.

April and Bruce were incredible to work with.

Steve Ditko did some back up features for us – I felt especially proud we were able to get Ditko back into the business (as we had done with Kirby).

SERGIO – need I say more! Sergio was, and is to this day, one of the nicest guys in the business. Sergio had done signings at our retail stores in the early 70’s, and was an absolute pleasure to work with (along with Mark Evanier).

pacific-comics-groo-the-wanderer-issue-4EC: I’m especially intrigued by the Somerset Holmes series by Bruce Jones and April Campbell, and their Hollywood struggle. What do you remember about that one?

BS: Somerset Holmes was a series put together and packaged by April Campbell and Bruce Jones (a really terrific team). April was the main “model” for the lead character, and my wife at the time (Cynthia Lee Vice) was also involved in the photo shoots for reference materials used later on.

EC: After Pacific Comics, you started working at Diamond Comics. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about, and what your responsibilities there were initially?

BS: After Pacific Comics wrapped up its various business entities in 1984, I took a few months off from returning to the workforce, just to recharge and see if I still had enough in me to give another run. I was 26 at the time, started Pacific Comics with my brother Steve when I was 13 and Steve was 17.


Sometime in the late summer of 1984, I had taken a few months off, and felt I could re-enter back into the industry that I loved so much. I reached out to Bud Plant (the largest wholesaler/distributor on the west coast), Russ Ernst (one of the largest mid-west distributors – Glenwood), Milton Griepp and John Davis (Capital City), and Steve Geppi (Diamond). These four interviews were all somewhat unique, as we both interviewed each other in regards to help to fully understand if we’d be a good fit together. They each had a long list of questions and talking points, and I also had put together a detailed list of questions and thoughts based on each of their individual strengths.

After these four interviews, I felt I could have the most impact by joining Diamond, which I did on November 11, 1985. I moved my family, dog and exotic African Macaw from San Diego to Baltimore via a semi-truck. I drove all 3,000 miles for the first time in that semi-truck.

When I got to Diamond, there were only a handful of employees at the “home office”. I originally handled customer service, sales, order forms (no Previews catalog yet) and “other duties as called upon.” Within my first week, I was attending a trade show in Chicago, with the instructions to meet with the largest accounts in the Chicagoland area (this included Moondog’s, Larry’s Comic Shop, Joe Sarno’s Comic Kingdom and Carl Bonasera’s Amazing Fantasy Comics.

EC: Looking back on your experiences with Pacific, is there any learning that you could offer to new publishers starting today?

BS: It seems to me in order to be a successful comic book publishers today, you need to do a number of things very well. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Personal vision
  • Business plan
  • Dedication to honoring your word with both creators, comic book specialty retailers, media, and other 3rd party partners
  • Relationship building
  • Publishing on time, every time (leave no doubts that your serious about your publishing plans, and do what you say)
  • Flexibility to change direction quickly
  • Define what niche you are good at, and stick to what you know
  • Financially ability to fund the start-up, building of, and continuing of your publishing business – over a 2-4 year time
  • Treating creators (writers, artists, colorists, editors) and creator rights (outside of licensed books from major intellectually property owners like Warner Brothers, Disney, Fox…) with ultimate respect.

EC: Bill, great insights, stories and advice. What a treat! Thanks so much.


Mike Gold: Gerry Conway, Freedom Fighter

I’ve been reading Gerry Conway’s new Amazing Spider-Man mini-series (or whatever; contemporary comic book numbering would even baffle the ancient Romans who had no concept of “zero.”) and I’m enjoying it… but not in the way I expected. I expected Classic Conway, which is fine. What we got was a solid Spidey story written in a very contemporary style.

But that’s not this old dog’s only new trick.

Gerry’s been very busy standing up for creators’ rights; obviously, including his own. His efforts have earned praise from Neal Adams, the medium’s worthy and long-time leader in the ongoing battle for creators’ rights. Most recently, he’s been commenting on DC’s latest talent-relations habit where they would bonus comics talent for extra-media use of characters they created. If the creation was at all derivative, DC no longer feels the need (non-contractual obligation based upon decades of precedent) to write a check. For example, Gerry Conway created Power Girl – with artists Ric Estrada and Wally Wood – but, because Power Girl is “derivative” of Superman, no bonus. One would think the character is derivative of a certain soon-to-be-televised Marvel superhero, but that’s a story for a different legal team. DC can define derivative any way it wants, but the end result is that money that once went into creators’ pockets now stays in DC’s.

The fact is, any character created for the DC Universe is derivative at least in part simply because it must exist in the DC Universe and honor the DCU’s laws of physics. The old bonus thing is now meaningless because the creator has no recourse except to complain. There is no incentive to trust DC with your new creation because they feel you’re lucky to walk away with your page rate intact. Maybe.

From this point forward, only an idiot or a newbie would create a character for the company. The DC Universe, perpetually fighting eight decades of staleness, is going to continue to press the Reboot Button like some crack monkey in a lab.

This is hardly Gerry’s first rodeo at the Freedom Fighters’ Ranch. Way back in 2014, Gerry wrote a very impressive piece that was reprinted in Forbes Magazine about how Amazon’s acquisition of Comixology hurts comics creators.

This is so important that I’m actually putting it in a separate paragraph and italicizing it:

What hurts comics creators hurts comics readers, and hurts the entire comics medium.

I must make two disclaimers. First, I’ve known Gerry for, oh damn, almost 40 years. That’s frightening… for Gerry. Second, Gerry Conway has created or co-created the Punisher, Firestorm, Steel, The Deserter (my favorite; sadly, it fell victim to the DC Implosion), Killer Croc, Tombstone, Man-Thing, Killer Frost (if you watch The Flash teevee show, that would be Caitlin Snow) and just under a zillion others. So, yeah, it’s his ox that’s being gored, but when you’re right, you’re right.

And Gerry Conway is right.

By the way, you’ll note I called Gerry an “old dog” up in the second paragraph. For the record, he’s two years younger than I am. So I mean “old dog” in the nicest, Scoobie-Doo sort of way.


Dennis O’Neil: After Changes Upon Changes…

Denny ONeil Neal AdamsWay back before your daddy was born – yes, it’s you I’m talking to – I wrote some superhero comic books that were based on real-life events and I guess they were successful. They got artist Neal Adams and me noticed and they’ve been reprinted and reissued in various formats and I still find myself autographing them at conventions. So yeah – successful. But I have two regrets about them.

The first is that the most of the problems they dramatized are still with us some 45 years later – the world has changed enormously but we still have racism and poverty and addiction and judicial malfeasance and especially climate disruption. I was worried about this stuff back in the day and I’m more worried now.

My other regret concerns my frame of mind when I was writing the stories. To me, it was obvious that what I was portraying was True and there was no doubt where Right and Wrong lived. None whatsoever. And I still believe everything I believed back then and I think I have better information and a clearer understanding.

But I wish I hadn’t been so righteous and certain. Most of the serious mischief – your wars and pogroms and the like – is and has been perpetrated by zealots. People who knew, absolutely, beyond any possibility of skepticism that their cause was just, that they were right, that, yes, God was on their side.

Sometimes they refuse service to gay couples. Sometimes they sponsor legislation that serves society’s predators. Sometimes they strap explosives to their chests.

So I wish that the person I was in 1970, the writer of those comic books, had allowed himself a few moments of doubt – allowed for the possibility, however distant and unlikely it might be, that he could be mistaken.

But…if that had been the case, would he have written those stories?

When they pass my hands I notice that they’re dog-eared and frayed and we climb to the top of he collection we notice that within their plastic bags evidence of yellowing and curled pages

Somebody’s read ‘em!

These are my people!

Pretty skimpy column. I could entertain you with hokey stories of trains and adventure but a lot of us is too lazy for that. We can hope, can we not?


Marc Alan Fishman: The New Breed of Con Goer

This past week, you’ve likely seen it: Denise Dorman, wife of “Famed Comic Book/Sci-Fi/Fantasy illustrator Dave Dorman,” decided to write an op-ed concerning the decline of sales she and her husband have been privy to over the last years. She has since posted a second response to make her points more clear.

Denise’s original piece began: “Privately, famed comic book industry personalities everywhere are discussing with each other whether to stop exhibiting at comic book conventions. There’s a fine line between being accessible to and pleasing the fans vs. losing money at these conventions.”

Unshaven Comics has been independently producing comic books and attending comic conventions regularly for only seven years or so. In no way, shape, or form do we come close to the level of fame and success her husband has enjoyed. But in the time that we have been active, I have never heard a single peep (and we in the Artist Alley tend to be a gossipy bunch to begin with) about this discussion. In fact, at the Cincinnati Comic Expo I attended this past weekend, with Mark Bagely, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Neal Adams, and Bob Layton I saw only smiling faces – even when lines weren’t incredibly overcrowded. And while I did hear from some folks around us that the show wasn’t bringing them tons of business, only our neighbors decided to cut ties early. And for those playing at home, Unshaven Comics beat our desired sales goal by over 25%.

At first, Bleeding Cool would have you believe that she blamed the Cosplayers. This is not true. In her second blog on the matter, Denise points blame to the “new breed of attendees who are there because someone said its cool to be there.”

To that point: Comic Conventions weren’t founded with the expressed concern of making creators money, they were ways to bring a community of fans together for the opportunity to commiserate, a way to trade and purchase issues to build budding collections, and meet those would-be creators who were the reason the conventions were created. These conventions were small – starting out in gymnasiums, VFW halls, and hotel ballrooms. This new breed (and those who specifically come to the new larger shows), per Denise, are hangers-on to the fad; those who come because they think it’s en vogue. Those who show up not being card-carrying comic book fans.

Her column went on to note as sales were simply non-existent at ole’ Wally World:

“…You know, you start to get paranoid. You start to think, ‘Is it only us? Is Dave no longer relevant?’ So I began covertly asking around. Asking artists equally in demand, equally famous. No one I interviewed made money at that show.” Ultimately Denise falls back on her assertion that it’s these quasi-fans that are most likely the culprit to her husband’s decline in sales specifically at conventions. Mrs. Dorman continued “I have slowly come to realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, cosplay is the new focus of these conventions – seeing and being seen, like some giant masquerade party. Conventions are no longer shows about commerce, product launches, and celebrating the people who created this genre in the first place.” She’s absolutely right. And may Rao bless that fact from here to the next Crisis.

Comic book conventions have become less and less about comic books. On this, I don’t disagree. In addition to comic books, they now encapsulate science fiction (like Doctor Who, Star Wars, and Star Trek), fantasy (like Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter), and gaming (like Magic: the Gathering, and Warhammer). A cursory glance back at Mr. Dorman’s Wikipedia page celebrates that he has created artwork for Batman, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Star Wars… and Magic: the Gathering. Curious then that he’s not connecting to the larger audiences coming to these shows. But I digress.

The point made was that the flux of cosplayers and their subsequent fans are now taking away from the open commerce, Marvel and DC press release parties, and the creator-gushing of yesteryear. You might say that the conventions are becoming more about a gathering of a like-minded community coming together to celebrate their loves and less about dropping ducats on merchandise from people who now can be accessed via a personal website, or any number of social medias.

What troubles me is this: My table of artists (including me) who aren’t in demand or famous saw an increase in book sales upwards of 10% at the show (over last year) Mrs. Dorman most recently attended. This included a day where we set a single day record for total books sold – 225 of them to be exact. How would it be then, that a table of peons would somehow out-earn those who are known in the industry? Did our nefarious plan of installing a toll booth actually work? Someone better go back and get a shit load of dimes!

Denise went on to ask: “At what point do you start to wonder if – other than your faithful, loyal regulars who are like family and who find you every time – the general fandom population even gives a shit about the creators more than they care about their Instagram profiles?”

Allow me to answer in kind. The general population – those Instagram-obsessed fans – gives more than just a shit for those creators who take the time to reach out and communicate. I say this admitting freely I’ve never seen Dave Dorman. And we’ve exhibited at the same shows more than once. I don’t know how specifically Dave exhibits. But if he is like others I’ve seen over the last seven years… he may sit, smiling, awaiting those loyal regulars to come with cash in hand. In short, it’s not enough anymore. It hasn’t been that way in a long time.

For those new fans Dave needs to continue to be the celebrated creator he is, I ask how he chooses to engage them? Having not been a specific fan of his work (and yes, he is actually an astounding talent), if I were to walk past him, would he attempt to stop me and chat? I’m not selfie-obsessed, but I’m also not apt to make it a chore to check with every exhibitor at a convention. Especially if there’s a cool cosplay I need to post a picture of. It’s no longer enough to rest on the laurels of a resume, or even the strength of a displayed portfolio. The market has evened out. All who exhibit are slowly becoming equals amongst the growing legions of fans flocking to the shows. And it’s clear to me, as it should be to all creators: If you’re not making money… it’s not the fault of the fans, or the rising ticket prices, or food costs. The blame doesn’t get to be shuffled anywhere else but on those who make no effort to change with the rolling tide.

The fact is that the newest generation of fans that frequent comic conventions are coming first and foremost to celebrate their love of the media. That love need not be via purchases in the digital era. A comic on my table is considerably less than a commission a known artist offers at their table. When one faces a sea of new faces (heh), the easy money is on the short sale – be that a celebrated or loathed fact. Never once in my time behind the table have I heard from legit fans (including those in every conceivable generation) that the cost of a ticket, a hot dog, or an autograph prevented them from purchasing a comic or print from my table. Cons are costly, I’m not denying that. But at the end of the day, the fans are coming on their own terms, not by the financial needs of those of us behind the table.

Mrs. Dorman’s original post ended “…at what point would YOU cut bait and stop attending these shows? How do we satisfy the fans in a way that makes sound financial $ense ? ? ?”

To be blunt, here are my answers: I won’t cut bait, ever. We earn our fans one at a time. I assess the marketplace. I exhibit within my means. I analyze my sales data. I adapt to a changing market. I work my ass off. And I don’t wait for fans to come discover me. I make them discover me. I don’t want to be an instigator, or one to throw a punch at an undeserving target. The truth of the matter is that the conventions of old are dwindling, if not dead. If Wizard and their ilk don’t offer comped tables to creators who are there to turn profit, then those creators must accept that the shows are now not there the fans’ need to connect to creators. For good or bad… They’re there to connect with each other. If you want that to change… It’s not about cutting ties or holding conventioneers responsible. It’s about getting your hands dirty and figuring out how to make the change yourself.


Mindy Newell: I Owe It All To Television

When television is good, nothing – not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers – nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials – many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.” – Newton N. Minow, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, Speech at the National Broadcasters Association Convention, May 9, 1961

This week both Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide published their fall TV preview issues. Among the many new shows vying for an audience and a pick-up for next season are The Flash, a spin-off of the CW’s Arrow, and Gotham, a “crime serial” (as described by EW) which takes place in DC’s mythic city a decade or more before Bruce Wayne first dons the cowl of the Batman. Constantine, based on Vertigo’s occult anti-hero, aims to make us all forget Keanu Reeve’s frankly horrid movie – um, we don’t need any help in erasing that mistake from our memory – and, at least from what I’ve seen in trailers on the web – will not miss its mark. Returning genre-oriented shows (meaning including elements of fantasy and science fiction as well as directly linked to comic books) are the afore-mentioned Arrow, Grimm, Under The Dome, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Vampire Diaries, Once Upon A Time, American Horror Story, Supernatural, The Originals, The Walking Dead, Resurrection, and Sleepy Hollow.

Whew! Did I miss any?

It seems to be a golden age for genre television, which I think is partly due to The Big Bang Theory, the success of which has helped out the millions of geeks in this country and around the world; it’s now cool to be a geek, and while the networks, including cable, may have been a little slow in noticing, they’ve got their eyes wide-open now.

…but there’s been plenty of science fiction, fantasy, and comic-based shows for as long as I can remember. In fact, I sometimes think that if it weren’t for television, my imagination might have been dimmed, that I might have not picked up that copy of Stranger In A Strange Land in the bookstore, that I wouldn’t have taken “Introduction to Science Fiction” as my English requirement in my first year of college, that I wouldn’t have been led to discover the magic words…

“What if?”

I was born in 1953, which means that I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the television’s Golden Age. In the late 50s and early 60s, the medium was still experimenting with this new entertainment and took a lot of chances. Which meant that, though I was frequently scared out of my mind, I watched The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

A few years later, thanks to the old Channel 9 in New York City and the national Million Dollar Movie franchise, I watched Godzilla trampling Tokyo and The Giant Behemoth not only trampling, but also irradiating London, while Rodan flew at supersonic speeds overhead. And years later in Psych 101 I totally got the Freudian concept of the id because of Forbidden Planet.

Yes, it was all there on the tube: Invaders From Mars. Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers. Them! Queen Of Outer Space. The Day The Earth Stood Still. The Fly. War Of The Worlds. The Blob. Mysterious Island. World Without End. The Time Machine. King Kong. When Worlds Collide. The Thing From Another World.

Though fifty years ago these were throwaway movies – probably bought for very little dollars and broadcast to fill what otherwise would be dead airtime, many are now lauded masterpieces – King Kong and The Day The Earth Stood Still, for example – while others still get their due as classics of the B-move genre: Forbidden Planet, The Fly, The Blob, Invaders From Mars, for example.

Well, okay maybe not so much Queen Of Outer Space or World Without End, though they are still two of my favorite “B-movies” of the genre, so much so that my cousin Ken Landgraff, a noted comics artist who worked with Wally Wood and Neal Adams in their studios before striking out on his own to help pioneer the independent comics movement in the 70s and 80s, made copies of them for me, which I cherish.

Yes, there were many if not classic, fondly remembered genre shows back in the day: My Favorite Martian, which starred Bill Bixby – my first “screen idol” crush – and Ray Walston. Bewitched with the gorgeous Elizabeth Montgomery (go, Team Dick York!). I Dream Of Jeannie, on which network censors forbade Barbara Eden to show her belly button and whose male star played an inept, befuddled astronaut – and didn’t he turn that around a few years later on a show about a Texas oil family. There were the first, black-and-white episodes of Lost In Space and the colorful Wonder Woman, which I think is not so much remembered for the show itself but for Lynda Carter, the Amazonian beauty who seemed to step right out of the pages of the eponymous comic. Bill Bixby returned to genre TV with his, yes, incredible performance as the lonely and cursed genetic scientist Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk. There was The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-off, The Bionic Woman.

And then there was Star Trek. Which begat Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. (“Uncle Martin” Ray Walston became a favorite recurring guest star on Next Gen and Voyager as Boothby, the Star Fleet Academy gardener – by the way, the character is first mentioned in the  fourth season episode “Final Mission,” in which Wesley Crusher leaves the Enterprise to attend Star Fleet Academy; Captain Picard tells him to look up “Boothby, one of the wisest men I have ever known.”

There were also shows like Farscape and the rebooted Battlestar: Galactica. There were Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel and Charmed. There was Stargate SG-1 and its descendents, Stargate Command and Stargate: Atlantis. Shows that never built a huge audience by network standards, but like Star Trek and its sequels, had devoted fans that built franchises that couldn’t be contained on television alone but led to self-contained universes that spawned conventions and books and websites.

And there were shows that tried but weren’t as successful: Shows like The Man From Atlantis and Sliders and Time Tunnel and Space: 1999. Some completely sucked. Some started out strong and got sidetracked. Some just never built the audience needed to stay on the air.

And there was Smallville. Which led to Arrow. Which is now leading to The Flash.

I’m wondering how long this bonanza of science-fiction, fantasy and “adapted from the four-color page!” on the small screen will go on. Will it flourish for a short time and then die in its season, only to be reborn ten or twenty or even thirty years from now? Will someday another columnist write a piece about how, when he or she was growing up, back then in the early 2000s, there was a cornucopia of television shows about super-heroes and monsters and fairies and princes and princesses and aliens and vampires, and how, because of television, he or she learned how to embrace those magic words…

“What if?”


Martha Thomases: Subversive Family Reading

Over the weekend, while all the cool kids were in Baltimore for the Harvey Awards and the convention, I was at a family wedding. As such occasions are wont to do, I ruminated over my life and times.

On Friday night, at the rehearsal dinner, I was talking with a cousin who remembered that visiting our house as a child was fun because we had comic books, which her mother didn’t allow. At that time (late 1950s to early 1960s), comic books were still accused of causing juvenile delinquency, disrespect for authority and Communism.

Certainly, they did that to me.

My cousin’s life is about as different from mine as I can imagine, given our demographic similarities (over 60, female, college educated, Jewish). I live in an apartment in Manhattan; she lives in a rural part of western New York State. Until recently she worked as a carpenter; I expect it to be front-page news when I successfully change a light bulb. I know more about the Democratic candidate for Congress in her district than she does.

We both have fond memories of sitting on the porch, a pile of comics between us.

Another guest, who was not a relative, had never seen a graphic novel. He didn’t know what the term meant, thinking perhaps it was a more polite way to say pornography. We talked about the kinds of books and movies he liked, and I recommended some titles that I thought would fit with his tastes.

Why does this still happen? It’s been more than forty years since Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams were written up in the New York Times Magazine for bringing a grown-up sensibility to comics with story lines “ripped from the headlines” (and much more nuanced than your average episode of Law & Order). Major bookstores at the mall have graphic novel sections. It’s one of the few growth sectors of the publishing business.

But random people still only know comics from their childhood, if at all.

They know about “comic book movies” as a genre, but think it means Batman, Iron Man, The Avengers and, maybe, Guardians of the Galaxy. They don’t know that it includes films as diverse as Scott Pilgrim and Road to Perdition and A History of Violence and Two Guns.

Why should we fix this?

Self-interest, at the least. We enjoy the medium. Some of us support our families by working in it. Because it increases the amount of interaction between the two hemispheres of our brains.

The world is better when there are lots of different kinds of comics, appealing to lots of different kinds of readers. We shouldn’t have to raise money for the people who made the medium more diverse and appealing. We shouldn’t need a movie to justify our enjoyment of the source material. We shouldn’t need to have to keep explaining that comics aren’t just for kids anymore.

How do we fix this?

I think most of the responsibility falls to us, the people who love comics, who write about comics, who create comics. We need to show that we are as varied as the people who love any other popular entertainments. We are old and young, conservative and progressive, queer, straight male, female and other. Some of us like to wear costumes for occasions other than Halloween, and some of us don’t even like to wear them then.

There is no more a typical comic book reader than there is a typical movie-goer.

(Note: I’m aware that there exist statistics that show younger people are more likely to go to the movies, but first, those statistics vary widely, and second, my point still stands. Nyaah nyaah nyaah.)

It’s a big task, and we won’t accomplish it overnight. However, it’s the kind of challenge that is most successful when a lot of people do simple, easy things, rather than a few people dedicating their every waking moment to the cause. For example, I often refer to a graphic novel I’ve read in conversation, as if reading graphic novels is something that educated people do (because it is). When I give out candy and money for UNICEF at Halloween, I include comic books as one of the treats.

Not difficult. Not earth-shattering. Way more effective if we all do it.

The wedding was lovely, by the way. The party afterwards was big fun, too. I only had to sneak away a few times to see if my pal was winning any Harvey Awards.


John Ostrander: Telling The Story

We distinguish “pop culture” from “High Culture” usually because the main objective of “pop culture” is to entertain while “High Culture” looks into the human condition. It can entertain and should. Tragedy should entertain but in ways that are different from, say, Guardians of the Galaxy. But that is not its primary purpose.

That said, pop culture can also look into the human condition, into the world around us, and “hold a mirror up to nature.” That line is from Shakespeare who is very High Culture now but in his day was disparaged by some as being “too popular.” He appealed to the groundlings – those in the cheap seats – and that is part of the reason, I believe, that he is still so playable today. He knew that to reach someone’s mind and heart you first had to get their attention. The best way was to tell them a story.

That was a lesson that was also taught to me by our own Denny O’Neil. He has been a large-scale influence in my life. I was a fan when he wrote some seminal stories in the Green Lantern/Green Arrow book. The Green Lantern series had low numbers at that point and he was given an opportunity to write it; I once read that he liked the assignment because it was no fail. If he saved the book, that was great. If it got cancelled anyway, management would assume that the book was in a downward spiral and couldn’t be saved. In a way, he couldn’t lose. So he added Green Arrow, got Neal Adams as artist, and took a new path.

That has also influenced my career path; I liked taking on the B list characters. You could play with them, change them, without too much objections by the Higher Ups. You could take chances you might not be able to do with flagship titles. Don’t get me wrong; I would have loved to get a crack at a regular Superman or Batman gig (I did write some stories with the characters but never a regular book) but I found The Spectre to be wide open and Tom Mandrake and I crafted over 60 issues of which I am proud. It’s been one of the highlights of my career.

While ultimately Green Lantern/Green Arrow did get cancelled, Denny set a standard. He taught me that you could write about important subjects, about the issues surrounding that time, and create something that entertained as well as make you think. He addressed racism, drugs, even the environment (among other topics); that wasn’t being done at the time. He showed me what the potential of the medium could be.

He’s never forgotten, however, that the purpose of Pop Culture is to entertain. We were working on a project together with me as writer and he as editor. The purpose of the project was very definitely to make a comment on the subject of guns and gun violence. His direction was very clear. He told me that, in comics, “You can say anything you want but first you have to tell a story.” This wasn’t a pulpit and preaching isn’t narrative. Our first job was to tell a good story. That’s what the reader was paying to get. That was the job. It still is.


Martha Thomases: Comics That Mean Something

Glenn and Mike gave me two issues of Strong Female Protagonist to read. Since they are the bosses of this particular sandbox, the ones who pay me the big bucks to do my thing here, I interpreted this action to be a strong suggestion, not a gift.

The series, available on the web at the link above (and in print) has a lot of elements that I like. Here’s the description from the website:

“SFP follows the adventures of a young middle-class American with super-strength, invincibility and a crippling sense of social injustice.”

Super-powers and social justice? I am so there.

It’s not easy to combine comic book storytelling and a political perspective. Let me amend that: It’s not easy to do unless that is the stated starting point. Underground comics were usually overtly anti-establishment, anti-war and pro-drugs. Wimmen’s Comix also big, big fun. It’s probably no coincidence that both were usually comical comics, not episodic stories.

The gang at World War 3 Illustrated carries on this fine tradition, although their emphasis is less on humor and more on inciting activism.

In superhero comics, the most successful (in my opinion, obviously) is the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams run on Green Lantern.

There have been overtly political comics created by people first known to American readers (or, at least, me) from superhero comics. The most successful, for me, are from Alan Moore. There’s a reason the Occupy movement appropriated the most powerful image from V for Vendetta, and that, even though it isn’t nearly as good as the book, the movie still sucks me in when I find it on television.

Another great book of his, written with Joyce Brabner, is Brought to Light, a non-fiction book about, among other things, American support for dictatorships and how many people have to bleed out to fill a swimming pool.

Moore’s stories work because, first and foremost, the reader (or me, anyway) cares about the characters. The minute the reader feels the action is out of character, the political position is exposed and therefore weakened. For me, this is most noticeable with Jamie Delano. I love his work on Hellblazer and in his creator-owned books. However, he lost me on his run of Animal Man even as I agreed more and more with what he said.

Strong Female Protagonist wears its heart on its sleeve, as its title character struggles to be part of the people’s struggle, not an isolated hero. It’s an interesting take on one of our modern dilemmas.

Or at least it is for those of us who care about such things.