Tagged: pop culture

John Ostrander: Forces for Change

By now, everyone has heard (or should have heard) about the sexual depredations of film producer Harvey Weinstein (and James Toback, Kevin Spacey and others of their ilk). This follows revelations of the sexual depredations of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly (seriously, what can you do that commands a $32 million settlement?). And everyone in all the other walks of life who have been playing predator.

The constant refrain that has been heard is that this kind of stuff has been going on out in Hollywood since there has been a Hollywood. Among the reasons that there have been so few direct accusations is that all the predators have been powerful men who could really exact retribution. And the fact that the women speaking out would be shamed, discounted, and not believed. And they would literally never work in that town again.

That’s changed. Women are coming out in droves, speaking up, making themselves heard. Makes no mistake – Weinstein, Ailes, and O’Reilly were extremely powerful individuals. The women have spoken up anyway and it’s the men who have, justifiably, suffered.

Why now? What makes this era different than eras in the past?

There are a lot of different reasons and possibilities but I would like to offer one that, at least in part, contributes. That is our own “pop culture.”

We have seen recently the rise of the strong woman hero or lead. Witness two Star Wars movies, both Episode 7 and the stand alone, Rogue One. Episode 7 not only centered around Rey but Princess Leia is now General Leia, a full and equal commander of the Resistance. And, behind the scenes, you have Kathleen Kennedy, who is head honcho of the whole Lucasfilm legacy.

Rogue One centers on Jyn Erso, the daughter of one of the principal designers of the Death Star and the main person responsible for obtaining the plans to the battle station that will enable the good guys to destroy it and save the galaxy.

And we have also had this year an amazing Wonder Woman, not only played to perfection by Gal Gadot but directed by Patty Jenkins. lt’s unheard that a woman would get the opportunity to helm such a big ticket film and Ms. Jenkins really delivered. Thank Hera both are returning for the sequel!

It extends these days to TV as well with Supergirl who not only gives us a Maid of Steel who may be stronger than her cousin, the Man of Steel, but shows women in so many different roles, including a very strong and positive lesbian couple.

I’m not forgetting Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games movies or Ripley in the Alien movies, or Hermione in the Harry Potter films or Buffy, the redoubtable Vampire Slayer and many others.

My point is this: seeing positive and strong heroes who look like you is important and they need to be seen on a regular basis. Will and Grace had gay characters in it and, because of the show’s popularity, they are invited into peoples’ living rooms every week. It normalizes meeting LGBTQ folk for straight people who may never have knowingly met one.

In the same way, movies and shows such as Wonder Woman or Star Wars or Supergirl gives us the image of women heroes who are strong, brave, resourceful and are examples to other women and to men as well. You need to see what you want to be, something the black community knows very well.

I’m not claiming that the pop culture examples I’ve given are the main reason that women now are speaking up against the Weinsteins of this world. However, I think they are a contributing factor. No single film or TV show alone but all taken together they contribute to the change. Make no mistake; “pop culture” is a potent force in our society. It entertains and bypasses our brain to reach the heart – and that’s where real change comes from.

Ed Catto: Household Brand Shows Its Geek

Campbells AdCampbell’s Soup has a winner with their latest campaign: Made for Real, Real Life. In one TV spot, two dads and their son have fun with classic Star Wars dialog as the family dines together. You can watch it here. It’s heartfelt and authentic, and after all those horrible Progresso TV ads, I think we’re all ready for some good soup commercials.

Campbell’s has been getting some flack for showing a family with two dads. That’s troublesome, but they aren’t caving. Good for them. And beyond the same sex couple aspect, I’m also thrilled that Campbell’s is flying its Geek flag high.

I’m encouraged that we’re getting to the point where a family with two same-sex parents is just “a family.” And while it’s not quite as big a deal, it’s still encouraging to me when brands also understand that Geek Culture is everyday culture. So many brands know that now is a great time to authentically engage in a little Geek Culture fun with consumers.

Everyone knows Star Wars, and everyone knows Darth Vader. But does everyone know the signature lines from the movies? I know that Campbell’s couldn’t have used this approach to sell to soup to my mom back when the Star Wars franchise was starting. And we were eating a lot of soup back then too. But today, it makes all the sense in the world.

New Jersey Ad Club Ed SpeakingI was invited to be a speaker for the New Jersey Ad Club’s Wake Up Call Seminar Series. Each month, experts on different subjects share information that’s important for marketing professionals to know. And for my presentation, called Pop Culture Marketing to the Passionate Fan Community, the attendees were eager to learn more about Geek Culture.

They wanted to know about comic conventions and comic retail shops. They wanted to understand the standard marketing opportunities available for their brands and the innovative opportunities that can be created. They wanted to know more about what Kentucky Fried Chicken did at the San Diego Comic-Con, how Guinness connected with fans at the Harvey Awards and why TNT spends a part of their marketing budget in comic shops nationwide.

Recently I saw a comic shop email newsletter that boastfully joked, “We were geek before geek was cool!” That strikes a chord with a lot of what’s going on at conventions, in retail shops, and with brands’ promotional campaigns. And especially during this TV season, with a plethora of new shows based on comics and graphic novels (after a summer of movies based on comics and graphic novels). The marketing community is essentially saying, “Wait, wait, we need to understand this better. This is important to our consumers so it’s important to us.”

No one wants to be late to a party. Besides, it’s all so fun.  Like so many geeks, I’m often the go-to guy for new fans as they begin to engage. For example, one suburban neighbor texts me Batman questions during Fox’s Gotham TV Show, my wife enjoys iZombie as appointment viewing, and a third neighbor just asked for tips about attending New York Comic Con. Geek Culture is a vibrant thread in the fabric of everyday life.

Ed Catto: Our Geek Economy

Aw Yeah

In recent years we’ve seen big changes in the Pop Culture retail landscape. Record stores are a thing of the past, of course. We all buy, own and experience music in very different ways than we did even ten years ago. Big toy stores like Toys R Us continue to struggle while small stores become as rare as Tickle Me Elmo was a decade ago. Independent bookstores have struggled, clobbered by online sales and the big chains. In fact, the remaining big retail chains are struggling too.

BookendsBarnes & Noble reported that revenue for its fiscal first quarter (which ended on Aug 1st – contradicting all those calendars they sell) at its retail stores and website fell to $939 million, a drop of 1.7% vs. the previous year. EBIDA (earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization) for their retail business fell $21 million, to $45 million, versus a year ago.

But independent bookstores that focus on events, such as author signings and book premiere parties, perform better. In my suburban community just outside of New York City, we have a fantastic bookstore called Bookends. When traffic is clogged in our little downtown, the first thought that comes to mind is “Bookends must have a big celebrity in today for a book signing.”

HagarAnd my cousin, Yamu, drove five hours to attend the Sammy Hagar book signing at Bookends.

Similarly, comic shops seem to be doing pretty well. The general media has done a good job reporting how comic conventions continue to grow, but the other half of the story is that comic shops, as specialty retailers, are doing pretty well.

Two FerI’m researching for more hard data, but there is an undeniable optimism in the air. One unnamed source at a leading publisher told me, ”I can also add to your anecdotal data from retailers by adding that in conversations I’ve had over the past two months with approximately a dozen retailers I have heard YOY gains ranging from 4-9%, and no downturns amongst those I’ve spoken with.”

There are undoubtedly a myriad of reasons contributing to the health of this retail sector. “Success has many fathers…” as the old saying goes. But I’m convinced that one of the key drivers is the ability of comic stores to provide those special events and moments that create memorable experiences for fans.

Three-FerSometimes a comic retail shop is like the proverbial office water cooler. Today, passionate fans come armed with their own opinions and news (so much is gleaned from the Internet) eager for the opportunity to share one-to-one.

Today, fans come with a clear expectation of what new products will be available, but are simultaneously ready for a weekly treasure hunt for new goodies. Today, fans come for author/artist signings or to buy tickets to conventions.

It’s so much more about the experience than it is about the accumulation of stuff.

The Brooding HulkVisits to comic shops are about seeing what’s out there, learning what other people like and finding out about upcoming movies, TV shows and products.

It was in 1998 when the Harvard Business Review published Pine and Gilbert’s Experience Economy article. They argued that American culture had started as an agriculturally based society, then morphed with the industrial revolution, shifted into a service economy and had blossomed into an experiential-based economy.

Hats off to the entrepreneurial comic shop retailers and to the fans that embrace Geek Culture for figuring this out and making it work. It’s a unique retail environment full of marketing potential and community building.

I’m looking forward not only to Local Comic Shop Day on November 28th, but to a lot more experiences in comic shops every week.

Marc Alan Fishman: Defending Wizard World


Last weekend, Unshaven Comics were the guests of ComicMix, sitting in their booth at Wizard World Chicago. ComicMix was more than generous to allow the squatting, and I figure it behooves me to publicly thank them here.

So, after treating an insane bout of con crud upon coming home, I’ve had some time to troll social media to see what the world thought of the 39th variation on the original Chicago Comicon. The consensus amongst most of my friends was largely positive. But a few folks took to their feeds to take Wizard to task and dog-pile on the once crown-jewel of Chicago-based comic conventions. Perhaps it’s the massive dehydration I’m working myself off of, but I’ll be damned… I feel compelled to defend Wizard World Chicago.

First, let it be said: I myself have taken to putting Wizard World on blast before. I’ve also given them helpful advice. Suffice to say, WWC is my home show. This was the first con I ever attended as a fan. This was the first con I ever showed in as a creator. I have a love/hate relationship with it, as it is for so many cherished memories of our youth that don’t hold up upon later scrutiny. But somehow, within reading the dour thoughts of a random Facebook friend left me desiring to stand over the limp body of WWC and shout “leave her alone!”

Let’s be honest with ourselves: The advent of the Mega Con has mutated what was once the Comic Con. The big publishers now save their budget for San Diego, New York, and maybe a small handful of others. Why the Chicago snub? Same reason I assume they aren’t showing in Austin, Seattle, Baltimore, or a handful of other large metropolitan shows: It’s expensive, and thanks to the marketing of the TV and movie brands, the need to remind people they publish comic books isn’t as needed as it once was. Erecting a large booth, paying the travel and hotel costs of big named talent, and hosting panels with executives (who should be back bean-counting, and figuring out ways to enrage the internet) just doesn’t make sense when balancing the books at the end of the year. Obviously I could argue that the millions of dollars of profit earned for those TV and movie licenses might otherwise bankroll a larger convention showing – especially in America’s third largest city – but even if that were true, the big boys would sooner show up at C2E2.

So, without the big named publishers (or, really, any named publishers), Wizard World Chicago has opted instead to promote its contractually obligated appearances of a litany of celebrity guests. Because of this, my wife got to meet Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Renner, and Brett Dalton – all of whom were super nice and gave my wife lasting memories and keepsakes. A large showing of fans making their way to WWC come primarily for these meet-n-greets. I was once amongst those who bashed this concept. Spending potentially hundreds of dollars for an opportunity to take a picture with someone, to me personally, seems like a complete waste. But on the same token, taking into account how many hundreds of dollars I once used to purchase comics, graphic novels, statues, and other miscellanea leaves me at a stalemate. Autograph seekers are a part of pop culture as much as comic book collectors. And as much as it pains me to say it: Nathan Fillion will bring far more paid attendees to a convention than the promise of that one penciler on that book you like.

Wizard World Chicago has been a show in flux over the last few years. Call it growing pains, if you will. The shift from being a show that celebrated comic books first and foremost to the more general pop culture has left some in a state of bitterness. I myself was one of them for a long time. But hindsight is always 20/20. Comic books are a part of pop culture. Wizard is a business, and as such, pop culture is larger than comics alone. The shift to truly becoming a pop culture show means larger attendance. More vendors. More exhibitors. More panelists and programs. To decry the death of the Chicago Comicon because of Wizard is to blame San Diego, Reed, and the other convention giants around the country.

Wizard World Chicago is many things to many people. So long as comic books are at least some of those things? Then, leave WWC alone. It will never be what it once was. But if it continues to draw a large crowd willing to checkout the always-expanding Artist Alley, then who are we to judge? For those seeking the old-school Comic Cons of yesteryear, well, there’s still plenty of fantastic one day shows. Wizard, simply no longer is one of them.


John Ostrander: The Power of Pop

Uncle Tom's CabinI had reason a week ago to watch Ken Burns’ classic documentary The Civil War – part of the research for Kros: Hallowed Ground, now fully funded at Kickstarter, thank you very much.

Briefly, the series mentioned Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the famed novel written by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in 1852. It was the most popular novel of its day and is credited as a cause of the Civil War. Lincoln supposedly told Ms. Stowe on meeting her after the war started, “’So this is the little lady who started this great war.’” The story is apocryphal, according to most historians.

Pop culture has the ability to change the society of which it is a part. Mind you, that’s not always its intent or even aim. Sometimes a comic book is just a comic book. And maybe it doesn’t change things as overtly and dramatically as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I do think, however, that pop culture has considerable power.

Pop TV, by featuring black characters and, later, gay and lesbian characters, helped normalize the unknown to the wider audience. People who didn’t know (or realized they knew) or were friends with anyone who was black or gay or lesbian now welcomed them into their living room. Part of the sense of betrayal that people feel with Bill Cosby is that they thought themselves friends with Cliff Huxtable. It was as if they suddenly didn’t know him.

Roots also had a profound effect on the American audience at large. White people found themselves identifying with generations of African-Americans. The show was a phenomenon.

Hillary Clinton, in a semi-private discussion with members of BlackLivesMatter, recently said, “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts, and change some systems, and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them.”

In many ways, I admire what she said. I thought it was far more direct, far more candid, than what you ordinarily hear from presidential candidates.

However, I disagree with it.

I think you do change hearts with the arts and especially pop culture. A show, a song, a movie, a play may reach people and open up their minds a bit because it first opens the heart in ways that arguments, sermons, speeches and so on cannot. In those cases, we’re a bit more guarded. We anticipate our thoughts, our beliefs, our biases being challenged and we may have our defenses up. These days, I post far less political stuff on my Facebook page, not because I believe in certain things any less but because I don’t see any of the discussions/arguments changing anyone’s mind – not mine and not with the person with whom I am having that discussion/argument. That becomes, to me, a waste of time.

I think the way to change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate is by opening the mind and that is done by first opening the heart, by creating a groundswell of demand within the population for that change. Pop culture can do that by skirting the defenses; after all, it wants to entertain us. It must do that first in order to have a right to speak its mind. Our defenses may be lowered and we may be more receptive.

I’m not saying that Pop Culture is the most important agent of change. It’s not Rosa Parks, it’s not the March on Selma, it’s not the Stonewall Riots, it’s not Harvey Milk, or any of a thousand other events that changed our world. However, it is a part of that change or, at least, can be. Sometimes. It reflects where we are, it shows where we can go. To make a change you first have to imagine and visualize that change.

As I said, Pop Culture doesn’t always do that and often, it’s not trying to do that. Sometimes, however, it can. Mrs. Clinton’s view is very pragmatic but, if she wants to win, if she wants to govern, she needs to engage our hearts as well as our minds. She needs to take a few lessons from Pop Culture.


Ed Catto: Read ‘em on the Beach – I Dare Ya!

Ed Catto Daughter

Pop Culture, especially that unique Pop Culture flavor of comics and graphic novels, validates itself with massive box office wins (Avengers: Age of Ultron is the 4th best performing movie ever), television triumphs (The Walking Dead, Gotham and The Flash are amongst the most watched shows on their respective networks) and licensing successes. When even a character like Ant-Man is a licensing juggernaut you know the business community and the world at large is noticing the spending power of Pop Culture.

It wasn’t always this way. For a long time, passionate fans knew that comics opened the floodgates of the imagination with fantastic writing and artwork. But we simply couldn’t convince the rest of the world. So instead, fans learned to leverage the concept of collectibility and value as a means of validation. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, celebrating an impressive 45th anniversary this year, helped to start it all. Fans could point to the astronomical values assigned to rare comics, like Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1 or Spider-Man’s debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 and say “See? This is important! Someone is willing to pay a lot of money for this!”

One downside is that an entire generation takes their comics too seriously. And I admit I’m one of these folks. It’s difficult for people like me to read a comic and then roll it up my in back pocket. I can’t seem to bend back a page, for fear of the dreaded spine roll. And while I love to read on vacation – taking a comic to the pool or the beach is risky business. What if they get splashed? Any defect might cause the potential value to plummet. Today’s “mint condition” treasure could become tomorrow’s “poor grade” loser simply because of an irresponsible reading experience.

Logically, we all know that that most of the comics we read won’t increase in value to astronomical heights. Ever shop the $1.00 comic bin? Seems like every store has one. And many fans can’t bear to sell their collections, so their collections will never attain a real market value. But still – the need to preserve a comic’s condition is baked into our collector’s DNA.

Well, it’s time to unlearn that! I’m working hard to prune my oversize collection, but that’s a whole ‘nuther column. It’s time to unlearn the tyrannical tradeoff of keeping comics in pristine shape, especially if the trade-off means enjoying them less.
So for the past few summers, I’ve made it a point to bring Silver Age comics, some of my favorites and prized classics from the sixties, to the beach. I read them in them in bright sun. They might get sand blown between the pages. Fingers greasy from suntan lotion might leave an occasion stain. Some of that wonderful Jersey Shore ocean might even inflict water damage on them.

And it’s just fantastic.

I’m still not 100% there. It takes a little while for me to get used to the idea. But I’m getting better.

Today I’m issuing my Summertime Comics Challenge. I want you to read some comics on the beach, at the campsite, by the edge of the pool or even just in the backyard by the grill. Forget about the bags and boards. Forget about the condition. Forget about the collectibility – just enjoy them. And send me a picture. I’ll publish the best ones here at the end of the summer. I’m looking forward to seeing some genuinely happy faces… if you too can unlearn collecting habits and enjoy your Pop Culture a little bit more.

One more thing: you can send your pix to me at Ed.Catto@BonfireAgency.com, and don’t be shy about sharing them with #SummertimeComics .


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.


The Point Radio: TAXI BROOKLYN Rolls To NBC

Luc Besson’s popular TAXI movie franchise is now an NBC TV series called TAXI BROOKLYN. Actress Chyler Leigh talks about the challenges on taking a big hit to both a new medium and a new country, plus Nickelodeon star, Elizabeth Gillies (VICTORIOUS) reveals why she is stepping out of her comfort zone and into a new horror film.

THE POINT covers it 24/7! Take us ANYWHERE on ANY mobile device (Apple or Android). Just  get the free app, iNet Radio in The  iTunes App store – and it’s FREE!  The Point Radio  – 24 hours a day of pop culture fun. GO HERE and LISTEN FREE  – and follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.

The Point Radio: THE BETTER HALF Slices Up Real Life

The Better Half is a successful web series that this summer moves to the newly launched Pivot Network. Real life couple Lindsay Hicks and Amy Jackson Lewis, talk about their quest to make their relationship work, and how they love sharing it on the series. Plus the Tony Award Winning Jersey Boys hits theaters this week, and director Clint Eastwood (yep) talks about how he decided to helm this one.

THE POINT covers it 24/7! Take us ANYWHERE on ANY mobile device (Apple or Android). Just  get the free app, iNet Radio in The  iTunes App store – and it’s FREE!  The Point Radio  – 24 hours a day of pop culture fun. GO HERE and LISTEN FREE  – and follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.

The Point Radio: Mary McDonnell Gets Back On The Case

Oscar and Emmy nominee, Mary McDonnell is on the case for a third season of the TNT Crime Drama, MAJOR CRIMES. She talks about what’s coming up on the show and the things that took her from BATTLESTAR:GALACTICA to another series. Plus someone’s finally paying attention to Ant Man.

THE POINT covers it 24/7! Take us ANYWHERE on ANY mobile device (Apple or Android). Just  get the free app, iNet Radio in The  iTunes App store – and it’s FREE!  The Point Radio  – 24 hours a day of pop culture fun. GO HERE and LISTEN FREE  – and follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.