Tagged: New York City

The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #414


Let’s say you’ve done something really stupid. No, let’s say I’ve done something really stupid; that’s more realistic. There are many answers I could give when someone asked me, “Why did you do that?” However, I presently subscribe to the theory championed by no less a personage than Harlan Ellison. The best answer is, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Sometimes, however, not even that answer – which, unlike me, is direct and to the point – will suffice. There are some stupid things for which the answer, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” will not work because they are so monumentally stupid that they could never have seemed like a good idea at any time. Things like Clippy, New Coke, and X-Men Gold #1.

No I’m not saying the idea of publishing X-Men Gold was stupid. I’m saying that something that happened in X-Men Gold #1 was of the so-monumentally-stupid-that-it-could-never-have-seemed-like-a-good-idea variety.

After the X-Men Gold team saved Manhattan from an attack by former Galactus herald Terrax – Why did Terrax attack Manhattan; it seemed like a good idea at the time – they went back to the new Xavier Institute for Mutant Education and Outreach to have one of their relaxing Softball games. They were met by the City Register for New York who presented current X-Men leader Kitty Pride with the invoice for the first six months’ rent and property tax for the parcel of land on which the Mayor of New York agreed to let the X-Men relocate their school. Kitty was shocked when she read the bill. It was for eighteen million dollars. That’s eighteen million. With an eight.

Turns out the X-men relocated the Xavier Institute to the middle of Central Park.

And that’s what was so monumentally stupid that it could never have seemed like a good idea at any time. For both the X-Men and New York City.

Judging from Kitty’s shock at seeing the invoice, I can only conclude she signed the lease without reading it first and ascertaining how much the rent and property tax was going to set the team back. And there is never a time when signing a lease without reading its terms – especially its rent terms – could seem like a good idea.

Thirty-six million dollars a year in rent and property tax isn’t just steep, it’s pushing Sisyphus’ rock up a right angle. Unless every oil sheik and internet billionaire in the world has offspring in need of mutant training or Kitty can get a copyright on the word “The,” I don’t see how the Xavier Institute will ever earn enough money to pay rent and property tax that’s so x-orbitant.

And speaking of monumentally stupid ideas, which we were, who in the Mayor’s office thought it would be a good idea for the Xavier Institute to relocate to Central Park?

Central Park is home to a zoo, a castle, a carousel, a concert shell, several playgrounds, baseball fields, skating rinks, fountains, a boat house, several theaters, statues, gardens, a world-class restaurant, several other restaurants, even more hot-dog carts, jogging trails, horse-drawn carriage rides, a memorial to John Lennon, lakes, ponds, and enough trees to make Robin Hood, his Merry Men, and every dog in the tri-state area happy. It is the fourth most-visited tourist attraction in the world with forty million visitors every year. And this is where the Mayor of New York agreed to put a school that’s attacked so frequently its got a training facility called The Danger Room?

Your Honor, have you heard of “collateral damage?” In case you haven’t, collateral damage isn’t what the 2008 housing bubble burst inflicted when people got their collateral foreclosed on. It’s what happens to innocent people when they’re hanging around major battlefields.

Mr. Mayor, the X-Men have villains with names like the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Mr. Sinister, and Apocalypse. These are not nice people. They would think nothing of attacking the X-Men in their home. A home you just allowed them to put in Central Park. If even one percent of those forty million visitors get hurt the next time someone attacks the Xavier Institute, you’ve just opened your city up to about 400,000 lawsuits. I practiced criminal defense law for 28 years and don’t know a tort from a torte, and even I would know how to file the complaints for the class action suits that are sure to follow.

Mr. Mayor, you may have thought renting Central Park to the X-Men was a good idea at the time. You might have even thought it would be a win-win situation. And it will be. For the plaintiffs and their lawyers.

Martha Thomases: Pop Goes New York

Howard ChaykinMark your calendars. This is a date that will live in history. I just had a great time at a Reed Pop show.

The occasion was the first Special Edition NYC,  held last weekend at New York City’s Javitz Center. Now, the Javitz Center is one of my least favorite places, noisy at the best of times, somehow both isolated from the city and yet frequently jammed with people. I especially haven’t enjoyed the Reed shows there because they get far more people than the space was designed to serve, resulting in lines for the bathrooms that can take over an hour. At those times, I am grateful that I can no longer be pregnant.

Special Edition was different from NYCC (which, for the record, stands for New York Comic-Con) in that it was only about comics. No movies. No television. No games. Just comics. It’s a much smaller show, taking up just the northernmost part of the center. The panels, of course, were all the way at the southernmost part of the center, a distance of about four city blocks, or 1/5 of a mile.

My first impression on walking in was that it was so pleasant. I arrived on Saturday a bit after noon (doors opened at 10 AM), and there were groups of people walking in, but in a relaxed manner, because they weren’t being jammed together against their will. The security people checking badges were smiling and helpful, directing us down the corridor to the main room.

ATMsOf course, when I got to the main room, the first thing I saw was a row of ATMs. Because this is a ReedPop show, I thought to myself.

And then I walked onto the floor. The front half of the room had dealers and a few publishers (the largest, I think, being Valiant). The back half of the room was Artists Alley.

Artists Alley is my favorite part of the show. As someone who loves comics, its exciting for me to meet the people who create them. This show had a good mix of new (to me) people and respected veterans. The longest line I saw was for Jerry Ordway.

On Saturday, I didn’t get to any panels, although I had hoped to see this one. I commend Reed on hosting a panel on this topic, which is a tad more sophisticated than the usual “Women in Comics” cliches.

One reason I didn’t get to the panels on Saturday (besides my personal inertia) is that the panel rooms were not well marked. Despite having well-trained and helpful staff at the main room, it was difficult to find anyone to give directions to the panel rooms.

My favorite part was seeing Howard Chaykin, a man on whom I’ve had a schoolgirl crush for at least 35 years. The only other person in the business at whom I gush in the same adolescent manner is Kyle Baker who, alas, was not at the show. Howard was kind enough to put up with my fawning, and even recommended some books I might like to read.

It seemed to me that there was a smaller percentage of cosplayers at this show, and those that were there were mostly on-theme (in that they were dressed as comic book characters, not Doctor Who or Walking Dead). I also had a sense that there were fewer people behaving like creeps, not only to cosplayers but also to women and girls at the show. If I were to speculate (and I’m about to), I would guess that the assholes who attend the bigger shows are drawn to the movies, the TV shows, etc. and not to comics. Comics require the ability to read, and people who read, especially fiction, must occasionally consider the possibility that other people have feelings.

Or maybe the show wasn’t on their radar. This was the only hype I saw in the mainstream press.

I look forward to seeing how Special Edition New York develops. It is a great reminder of the fun and friendliness of comic books.

Mindy Newell: The Comics Community

“Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

Oprah Winfrey

Today, as I write this, is June 1, 2014. Here in Bayonne New Jersey there’s not a cloud in the robin’s egg blue sky, and from this window I can see the waters of New York City’s harbor sparkling like diamonds. It’s so clear that I can see the glint of car roofs speeding along Brooklyn’s Belt Parkway. The eastern tower of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge rises over the lush rolling hill of green… that is Staten Island.

It’s a day for being outside, not stuck here in the house writing this column. Perhaps that is why nothing is coming to me. My mind wanders to other memories of days like this, and I have to figuratively slap it to bring it back to attention. But still nothing comes.

So rather than writing about Iron Man 3 (which I watched again last night on cable and decided that it’s a pretty good movie after all), or writing about some bullshit which isn’t really where my head’s right now, I’ll just come out with it, tell you why I’m having trouble focusing…

Don’t worry; the end of the story is a good one.

I’m in what athletes call a slump. Only it’s not my batting average or my RBI’s or my pitching stats I’m talking about, it’s a financial slump. The kind that makes my stomach hurt and my muscles tense and my head ache. The kind of slump that makes it difficult to sleep. The kind that makes it impossible to think about anything else. The kind of slump that has me spilling out the jar of coins I keep on my dresser top and counting out the quarters and dimes and nickels and pennies.

Have you ever been there?

Scary, isn’t it?

I work hard and I bring home a pretty good paycheck. I don’t think I spend money frivolously; I can’t remember the last time I went shopping for new clothes or new shoes. I continuously wonder how I got here, even though I know it’s just an accident of circumstances, a – what’s it called in astrology? Oh, yeah – a conjunction of events.

Yes, in astrological speak, my planets are afflicted. I just have to wait for the next progression.

But, hell, I wish they would progress already! I mean, talk about the planets being in bad positions – Jeesh, yesterday I was supposed to be in a class for my CPR renewal, without with I can’t work, but instead of counting out chest compressions on a dummy I was stuck in traffic for three hours and never got there. Which means that I’m going to be in class on Tuesday so I’m going to be not at work and not earning the money I so desperately need right now.

I wish I had a super power that could fix this. Yeah, that’s it. A super power to coin money. I could call myself Mint Maid. Nah, that sounds like I pass out Tic-Tacs or Altoids or something. Well, at least I’m not thinking of being a super villain and robbing Donald Trump or Warren Buffet. That should count for something in my karma, shouldn’t it?

But there’s this thing about comics.

It’s a small world.

A small world with big people.

Big people with even bigger hearts.

I’m not going to say who it was who, upon hearing that I was – face it, Mindy – broke, without a moment of hesitation asked me how much I needed to get through this slump. S/he tsked-tsked at my embarrassment and my shame and opened up the wallet.

“We’ve all been there,” s/he said.

Yeah, there are lots of people working in comics today who are riding in limos, and maybe there aren’t many who would ditch the limo to ride on the bus with you.

But I know one.


REVIEW: The King of Comedy

15213160_201402150106There’s a scene early on in The King of Comedy where late night talk show host Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis) leaves his New York City apartment and walks through crowded midtown on his way to the studio. Fans greet him and kibbitz with him and Jerry, always on the move, waves, smiles, and tosses one-liners back at them. He gets waylaid at a corner by a woman on a payphone who gushes effusively—“You’re just wonderful. I’ve watched you your entire career. You’re a joy to the world!”—while he scribbles an autograph for her nephew, with whom she’s talking on the phone. Then, shoving the telephone at Jerry, she asks, “Would you just please say something to my nephew Morris on the phone? He’s in the hospital.” Jerry politely demurs, explaining that he’s late, and, in the blink of an eye, she turns from adoring fan to spurned maniac, screaming after him, “You should only get cancer! I hope you get cancer!”

king-of-comedyLater, wannabe stand-up comedian and obsessive fan Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) shows up as an uninvited weekend guest at Langford’s country house, unsuspecting girlfriend Rita (Diahnne Abbott) in tow, in an effort to get Jerry to take a look at his comedy routine in the belief it will lead to an offer to appear on Jerry’s show. An earlier, brief encounter that ended with Langford telling Pupkin to call his office in an effort to get rid of him had only fueled the wannabe’s delusions that he and Langford were friends. Langford angrily dissuades the clearly baffled Pupkin of that notion and, like the woman whose nephew Jerry wouldn’t talk to, Pupkin’s response to his inappropriate demand on Langford’s time is immediate and visceral. Neither fan can understand how Jerry Langford can treat them this way. “I’m gonna work fifty times harder and I’m gonna be fifty times more famous than you,” Rupert tells him. “Then you’re gonna have idiots like you plaguing your life!” Jerry snaps.

deNiroKingOfComedyIt’s an interesting coincidence that the Blu-Ray edition of The King of Comedy, Martin Scorcese’s 1982 comedy about fame and obsession landed in my mailbox the same day Archie Comics released the news that their flagship character, was going to die in an upcoming comic book story which I wrote. The news thrust me into a Warholian fifteen-minutes of online fame. On Facebook, people who had earlier praised my work were now denouncing me for “daring” to kill off a beloved American icon, or vilifying me for my creative bankruptcy in participating in yet another comic book death “stunt,” feeling betrayed by my treatment of the character (that the Archie who’s dying is not the “real” Archie, but a future/what if?/alternate universe version of the character either escaped their notice or would have just interfered with their righteous indignation; the “real” teenage Archie remains alive and well in Riverdale.) On the flip side, strangers whose only connection to me was that most meaningless definition of “friend” ever coined, i.e. “Facebook friend,” were claiming reflected glory by posting that their “pal”/”buddy”/”friend” was behind this event, while others didn’t find it in any way inappropriate to email me asking to be let in on the secret of exactly how Archie was to die, or even requesting insider information on sensitive corporate internal affairs.

king-of-comedy (1)While my moment in the limelight pales in comparison with the plight of Jerry Langford, the experience did cause me to look at The King of Comedy from a very different perspective than I had in past viewings. I had always thought of the film as an indictment of obsessive fans, but it’s just as much a stark look at the price of fame. Rupert Pupkin is, in the very first scene, shown to be a member of the Day of the Locust-like swarm of obsessed, autograph seeking fans who haunt stage doors everywhere, but he holds himself above the hoi polloi. To Rupert, these aren’t just signatures dashed off by celebrities who probably didn’t even look at him while they were signing, but bonds of friendship between them.

king-of-comedy-2Later, on a date with Rita, his high school crush, now a bartender in a seedy midtown tavern, he shows off his collection of signatures, casually tossing out facts and personal observations about the stars, trying to impress the clearly unimpressed and disbelieving woman. But Rupert can only see himself through the eyes of others and only in the way he needs to believe others see him. If he were deliberately inflating his talent and his connections to the stars, you would say he was shameless. But the sad, creepy truth is that Rupert, a thirty-something loser who works at a dead end messengers job and lives with his mother in whose basement he’s built a set where he hosts his own “talk show,” complete with life-size cardboard stand-ups of the stars, believes every word he says and is genuinely baffled when others fail to share his warped view of reality.

King of ComedyJerry Langford’s reality is equally sad. He’s one of the most famous faces in the country, but his entire world is constrained by that fame. He can’t walk down the street without being badgered by everyone who believes that because he comes into their bedroom every night on their TVs he also belongs to them in person. Even a solitary dinner in his lonely apartment is violated by a fan who have somehow gotten hold of his telephone number and think it’s okay to call with their unreasonable demands on his time, attention, and, as we’ll see, love.

Aiding Rupert in their shared obsession with Jerry Langford is rich girl groupie Masha (Sandra Bernhard). But where Rupert wants Jerry’s fame, Masha wants Jerry himself, in body if not in soul. Where Rupert’s fanaticism seems constrained, at least at first, Masha’s is crazed and out of control; Rupert at least tries to see Jerry in his office even if his “appointment” is only in his head, while Masha stalks the star through the streets, forcing the frightened star to make a mad dash for safety. And, when Rupert finally accepts that Jerry will never voluntarily have him as a guest on his show, he enlists Masha as an accomplice in his scheme to kidnap the comedian and hold him for the ransom of a guest-shot on The Jerry Langford Show.

While it’s probably heresy to say, I prefer Martin Scorcese’s directorial efforts on films like The King of Comedy, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, After Hours, and Hugo over his gangster oeuvre. His humor is always dark regardless of genre, but it shines much brighter for me when I don’t have to wipe away the blood to get to it. And while his crooks and killers always brilliantly realized as the broken people they are, I have a hard time finding common ground with Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito or Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill no matter how real they are. But an ordinary guy like Griffin Dunne’s Paul Hackett in After Hours or the orphaned Asa Butterfield’s Hugo are relatable and, ultimately, have more to share with me as a viewer than even his greatest gangster.

While everyone expects high caliber performances from Robert DeNiro, it’s Jerry Lewis who steals the show here. As a life-long and unabashed Jerry Lewis fan (several of his movie posters and other paraphernalia decorate my living room) I am a bit biased in his favor, but, like many great comedians (Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Milton Berle, Robin Williams, to name a few) his dramatic chops are impressive, giving credence to the old line, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” Even while trussed up by kidnappers Pupkin and Masha like a mummy with tape up to his nostrils, Lewis is able to convey his entire performance with just his eyes. (The King of Comedy isn’t just a lucky one-off performance under the guidance a great directors either; Jerry Lewis delivers as well in dramatic roles in Raising Arizona and Funny Bones and turns in TV series such as Wiseguy and Law and Order: SVU.) And both actors are backed up a solid supporting cast, including Bernhard and Shelley Hack, and 1980s celebrity cameos ranging from announcer Ed Herlihy, band leader Lou Brown, Dr. Joyce Brothers, comedian Victor Borge, and Tony Randall, as well as Scorcese himself as Jerry Langford’s TV show director, and the then-Tonight Show producer Fred De Cordova as Bert Thomas, his producer.

The King of Comedy Blu-Ray is a nice package, featuring the fully restored and remastered film as well as the usual assortment of extras for those who like that sort of thing, including a Tribeca Film Festival conversation with Scorcese, DeNiro, and Lewis, a “Making of” documentary, some deleted and extended scenes, and the original theatrical trailer. For myself, I prefer a film to speak for itself without filmmakers and actors explaining to me how and why this or that was done or without wading through excised scenes or trimmed footage; if they were so important, they wouldn’t have been excised or trimmed in the first place.

The King of Comedy stands the test of time and then some. In fact, it’s even more relevant today with our cult of undeserved celebrity, fueled by the rise of reality TV starring non-stars like the housewives of wherever, Snookie, and Honey Boo-Boo, nobodies made somebodies by virtue of appearing on television. Maybe if Rupert Pupkin had known how easy it would one day be to become a star, he might have rethought his strategy. Or maybe come to the conclusion that in a world where everybody’s a “star,” it just wasn’t worth the effort.

Martha Thomases: MoCCA My Socks Off

mocca_logoAs a writer and a long-time nerd, I’m used to spending a lot of time alone.  Especially after the winter we’ve had, I can go for days not only not leaving my apartment, but not even wearing anything my mother would recognize as pants (sweatpants didn’t count).

And then, this weekend, just as the snow finally melts and the sun comes out, is the MoCCA Festival .  All of a sudden, instead of talking only to my cat (who doesn’t require much sophisticated banter), a lot of people I enjoy will be conveniently assembled in one place.

MoCCA is certainly a lot bigger than it was the first time I went, back in the days when the museum was separate from the Society of Illustrators.  Still, compared to the behemoths in San Diego, Chicago, and even across town at the Javitz Center.  Instead of Hollywood previews and video game demonstrations, MoCCA’s non-comics exhibitors tend to display hand-made crochet monsters or cal figurines.

I’ve seen people I admire on the floor of this show, just as I’ve seen people I admire on the subway and on the sidewalk. But celebrities?  In San Diego and New York, I’ve seen people like Robert Downey, Jr. and Whoopi Goldberg on the floor.  They are easy to spot because they are surrounded by bodyguards.  And they need to be.  Fans have to be kept away or the celebrity will be mobbed, even physically hurt.  This year’s MoCCA celebrity spotting?  Probably the most high-profile will be Macy’s Charlie Brown parade balloon.  Fans aren’t tall enough to maul him.

That’s cool.  At MoCCA, the books are the celebrities.  And this year’s assortment of new books looks especially wonderful.

MoCCA has books for kids and books for grown-ups without either feeling forced, because, for the most part, the people creating the books are creating what they want to read, not (necessarily) what they think the market wants.  MoCCA is fan-friendly in a way that doesn’t require special events for cos-players. Nor do they need security guards to protect women and/or children and/or queer people and/or other minorities from assault.

Sometimes the aisles get too crowded, and sometimes it’s too hot, but it’s a very friendly show, with plenty of good will.  I wish all comic book shows could be this pleasant.

In case that isn’t enough people for me, I’m also going to one of the two big benefits my family enjoys attending every year.  A cancer charity throws a big party that is attended by huge celebrities, like these from last year.

Come by, if you find yourself with nothing to do in the middle of MoCCA.

Martha Thomases: Female Pros and Cons, Part 3

Martha Thomases: Female Pros and Cons, Part 3

If you’ve been following my columns this month here and here, you know I’m on a tirade.  I don’t like it that women are still considered an afterthought in the comics industry, especially as our industry is represented at comics and pop culture conventions.

And so, I want to shine a spotlight on various shows, and discuss what they’re doing wrong, and what they’re doing right.

In my last column here, I wrote a lot about ReedPop, the folks who put on big shows in New York and Chicago, among other things.  They only had women creators as about ten percent of their featured comics guests.  Since then, several people have alerted me to the fact that C2E2 is highlighting their female guests in their advertising.  This is a great thing.  I commend them for it.

However ….


MOON KNIGHT #1 Brings ‘Weird Crime’ to Marvel

This March, illuminate the dark corners of the Marvel Universe with MOON KNIGHT #1 – from New York Times Bestselling writer Warren Ellis and red-hot artist Declan Shalvey! Moon Knight #1 will continue the exciting wave of All-New Marvel NOW! series with a fresh and sensational take on Marc Spector and his vigilante alter ego Moon Knight!

“The touchtone for this book, for me, has been ‘Weird Crime.’ Both ground-level action and high strangeness,” says Ellis in an interview with Marvel.com. “This is a take on Moon Knight that unifies all the previous takes, making the character whole and taking him forward into a new kind of crime fiction.”

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to finally have this book out in front of readers. Moon Knight is one the most fascinating characters in the Marvel library and the depths that Warren, Declan and colorist Jordie Bellaire are taking him to will guarantee this book fits perfectly alongside acclaimed books like Daredevil, Hawkeye and Black Widow,” says Editor Stephen Wacker. “This is the comic you had no idea you were waiting your entire life for.”

As a mercenary turned super hero, Marc Spector has faced down everything from werewolves, super villains to his own fractured psyche. Fearsome foes and gruesome threats permeate the darkest corners of New York City. Is Moon Knight ready for NYC? Better yet, is NYC ready for him?

Don’t miss one moment of the action when Ellis & Shalvey kick off the newest noir/horror thriller this March in the highly anticipated MOON KNIGHT #1!

MOON KNIGHT #1 (JAN140638)
FOC –02/10/14 On-Sale -03/05/14

Dennis O’Neil: Cold Weather Fans

O'Neil Art 140206Went into the living room this morning, looked out the big window and… what do you know? Snow! That was four or five hours ago and it’s still coming down: small flakes, but a lot of them. I guess we should be thankful that this weather wasn’t happening Sunday, because Sunday, as some of you may have heard, was the day of the Big Game, which was played at New Jersey’s Meadowlands, which is a quick drive to New York City (unless Governor Christie’s minions are conducting a traffic study) and New York City is a quick trip to where I’m sitting and so I’m guessing that the snow’s falling on the Meadowlands as it is falling here and if that had happened yesterday it might have interfered with the game. And wouldn’t that have been the worst, most horrific, most devastating, civilization-crumbling event in recorded history?

Oh sure, I guess the Meadowlands has guys who tend to the playing field and maybe they could have made it playable, but still… And imagine being a fan huddling in the stands. No matter how big your thermos full of hot coffee might be, you’d be cold! And being cold might have interfered with your enjoyment of the game and that might have wreaked psychological trauma upon you, leaving you a quivering shell of your former self.

The Broncos lost. That was the team I was rooting for, though not rooting very hard, because although I’ve visited both Seattle and Denver within the last year, I was in Denver most recently – ergo, the Broncs are my guys!

(By the way… Colorado recently legalized recreational marijuana and what happens? Their team gets clobbered in the Super Bowl. So the right wingers must be… er – right. Go ahead, quarrel with logic!)

But something’s wrong here…

Oh, wait, yes. Comic books. This column – hell, this entire website – is supposed to be about comic books. Not football, not Governor Chris Christie, not the lovely snowfall – comic books! So, could a canny blathermeister somehow mix football and comics? Well. I do believe that everything is related, but putting those two topics together in the same column might be a challenge. Comics have never been much about sports. There were a few sports-themed comics in the 40s – All Sports and Babe Ruth Sports, to name two – but not many. And later? The pickings are sparse. DC published six issues of Strange Sports Stories in 1973-1974 that, under the editorship of Julius Schwartz, conflated sports and science fiction. Let’s give it a “nice try.”

So why the de facto segregation? Maybe the stereotype is valid; maybe humans who enjoy reading aren’t often the same humans who enjoy violent contact games. Enormous generalization, sure, but maybe one with a grain of truth buried within it. Or maybe the creative folk never sussed out how to do sports in panel art narrative. Maybe the timing was never right. Maybe maybe maybe…

…I’ll write about something entirely different next week.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Martha Thomases: Love Your Friendly Neighborhood Comics Shop

thomases-art-131213-150x120-4698758Have I mentioned lately how much I like comic book stores? Even as more and more of my friends buy their comics digitally (and I buy more of my prose books digitally), I still like to get my comics in hard copy. I like to get them on Wednesdays when I can. I like to get a big stack and find a comfy chair.

And yet this morning, when I woke up with an uncharacteristic and bewildering tummy ache, I didn’t reach for a pile of singles to take with my to the bathroom, or to my comfy chair. Instead, I wanted to read original graphic novels.

So I was interested to read a conversation among comic shop retailers about how they like original graphic novels – or OGNs, as they call them.

If I might over-simplify, most don’t. I mean, they like them, but most of their business comes from customers like me, who buy single issues month after month. Some say that, even among their regular customers, the higher-priced items are bought online where the customer can get a bigger discount (often bigger than retailers gets from their distributors).

I get this. Stores find their customer base and then do their best to serve that base, providing the products they want and, with luck, also providing products they don’t know about but will love when they see them. A great store will look for ways to broaden its base, attracting more and more customers over time.

Perhaps I am inferring more than is intended, but I also sense that some of the retailers are saying that since OGNs don’t do well for them, that it is a waste of time for publishers to print them. And that kind of thinking makes me crazy.

When I worked at DC Comics in the 1990s, the marketing department spent a lot of time, money and effort working with the direct market. This makes sense, because it represented something like 85% of our sales. At the same time, to satisfy this market, we would often delay shipping books to other markets (that is, bookstores) so that comic book shops could have a month to six weeks to exclusively offer the product.

And this made me nuts.

I’d like to say it made me nuts for altruistic reasons, that I favored a free market or equal opportunity or something. Instead, my ire was selfish. It was hard to get critical attention for a book that wasn’t available in a bookstore.

Leaving the plight of publicists aside, however, there are lots of other reasons for publishers to offer OGNs. Comic book stores no longer serve every possible customer for graphic story. One retailer mentions Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, saying its a best seller for him, but not doing nearly as well as most collections. And yet, the longest line I saw at the Book Expo trade show this year was for Pope’s autograph, primarily booksellers and librarians.

Those markets also move a lot of books, frequently to an audience that wouldn’t go to a comic book store. Artists and writers (and publishers and publicists) should be encouraged to make money in every possible market available to them.

Which brings me to what I read today. I don’t think any of these are designed to be direct market bestsellers, but I bet they each have a sizable potential readership.

Rick Geary’s Madison Square Tragedy is the story of the murder of Sanford White by Henry Thaw, a story I was familiar with mostly because of Ragtime. Geary’s storytelling is straight-forward, full of detail that brings New York City in the early 1900s to life. With very few words but a deft use of faces and body language, he conveys the tensions among the high society of the time.

And then I reached for Harvey Pekar’s last book, Yiddishkeit, which is two years old but I’m just getting to it now. It’s a history of Yiddish culture going back to the Middle Ages, but my favorite parts are set in New York from the late 1800s to the present. There’s some chronological overlap with Geary’s book, but I don’t think any of the players knew each other. My knowledge of Yiddish comes from Lenny Bruce, Philip Roth, Sholom Alecheim and Isaac Bashevis Singer (whom Pekar loathes), but I loved this book. It reminded me that my people have a long tradition of fighting for social justice while arguing amongst themselves.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my tummy is better but it’s snowing out and that comfy chair is calling. I’m going to check out the highly recommended Cursed Pirate Girl. With luck, I’ll also have a cat in my lap.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander