The world is changing quickly, but I think everyone always says that. Back in high school, my fantastic Latin teacher, Mr. Guido, had us read writings of Romans from 2 AD or something. The gist of it was “the kids these days… they have no respect.” Sounds like what my parents said about my generation (they were right) or what adults say now about the younger generation.
But one part of the world is changing rapidly, and that’s the world of retail. On one hand the stores I ventured into this Yuletide Season seemed really crowded. My wife, who works in retail, was working hard as well. And so my parochial experiences didn’t really prepare me for the dire national news about retail chains; specifically, that 100 Macy’s, 108 K-Marts and 42 Sears stores would be closing this year.
That’s a huge number. Having moved back to a smaller community from the Metro NYC area, I can see how a department store closing like this can fundamentally impact a small town.
When we focus the retail lens on Geek Culture, quite a few comics and cards stores ended up struggling during the last few months of 2016.
You’d think that with big movie blockbusters, TV hits, strong merchandising, card game growth and some of the most creative comics being published in years, comic shop retailers would have it made. But they don’t. It’s still a tough business. There are many reasons and they all are passionately discussed. To say that Marvel’s recent comic product has been underperforming is simplistic, but there’s no denying that it’s a piece of the puzzle.
Christy Blanch is an owner of Aw Yeah Comics store in Muncie, Indiana. But she wears a lot of hats. She’s also a comics scholar, an educator, a columnist at the13th Dimension and a comics writer. She shared her insights on it all.
“I am not really sure why comic shops are having such a tough time right now. It should be the opposite – we should be busier than ever,” said Blanch. “Maybe people don’t want to read about the characters they can see on the television and movie screens. I just don’t know because besides superheroes there are so many amazing books out right now. It could be that other places are selling comics or Amazon is so easy. But for me, the experience of comics is one that involves people. Checking out what’s new, talking to other people about what they are reading – it’s the touch and the smell and the visuals that get me. Comics shops are cultural touchstones – I believe that.”
And as comic shops are cultural touchstones, recent pop culture events spark conversations. “When Carrie Fisher passed, so many people came into the store just to mourn with us. It moved me,” continued Blanch. “People thanked us for being there. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I don’t plan on going anywhere. As Commander Peter Quincy Taggart said in GalaxyQuest, “Never Give Up. Never Surrender.”
Given these retail realities, I was especially impressed with Ross Richie’s recent Boost Your Local Comic Store campaign. Ross is the entrepreneurial CEO of Boom! Studios. He takes his job seriously and he takes the industry seriously, but he never takes himself too seriously. He’s a big, loud, smiling guy with both vision and a laugh that are both infectious.
Ross Richie must have had an epiphany (right before the liturgical Epiphany) and promptly sat down at his laptop and recorded an upbeat, call-to-action video. It’s not slick. It’s not overly produced. It doesn’t’ look like the executive team at Boom! Studios spent days and days planning it. It does look like one guy took the time be creative and issue a call to arms. The effort is called Boost Your Local Comic Store.
Via social media, it’s easy to see that this idea has caught on. Fans and collectors have been posting their additional purchases and shout outs to local stores.
Sparked by Richie, I visited two local comic shops last night: Larger than Life and Play the Game, Read the Story. During these visits, I bought a couple of comics for two co-workers: A Valiant Comic for a lapsed Valiant reader and Hawkeye #1 for a mom to give to her daughter, who likes archery. Gee, it sure felt good.
“I’m not sure how comic shops will survive but I know we have to survive, for the reasons I said above. Plus I’m not letting my kids live in a world without comic shops. They are the happiest place on earth. I love them,” added Blanch. “All I know is that I will do everything in my power to help comics shops, not just mine, but all of them, survive and hopefully flourish.”
A few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that physical books (and therefore, bookstores) were endangered species. All of us were going to get our reading material beamed directly into our various devices, if not our actual eyeballs, and there would no longer be physical books to buy.
Among the categories helping to sell hard copies of books (besides coloring books, and is that still a thing?) is graphicnovels. Sales of graphic novels were up twelve percent last year.
That is a lot.
A great deal of the credit for the book market success of graphic novels is Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series, which continues to sell and sell and sell. Raina Telgemeirer is another dynamo. Both are considered to create books for the children’s market (or young adult). While this market is not growing as quickly as it was a few years ago, it’s still a very profitable segment of the business.
However, kids’ books aren’t the whole story. All kinds of graphic novels are doing well. Why are they selling so many in the book market that isn’t necessarily kind to actual, physical books with pages? I have my theories.
For one thing, a lot of people (myself included) have not yet accustomed themselves to reading comics on a screen. It can be difficult to read lettering on a small device, and blowing up the image means you don’t get to see the entire page. To me, that diminishes the experience. Note that changing the size of the type in a prose book, especially the mysteries and thrillers I tend to pack into my Kindle to read on airplanes and in hotel rooms, makes no difference whatsoever in the experience.
People are busy. People have trouble unwinding at the end of a stressful day. A graphic novel, all things being equal, provides as rich and nuanced a reading experience as a prose book, but more quickly.
(Yes, I can think of a zillion exceptions. Please feel free to list your favorites in the comments section.)
Graphic novels are the new coffee table books. Along with collections of great art, great photography or great travel destinations, graphic novels demonstrate to your guests that you are a literate sophisticate who appreciates the finer things in life.
This is all lovely and satisfying to those of us who love the medium, but it isn’t all roses. While graphic novels are selling very well, individual comic books seem to be less successful. This means trouble for the comic book stores that were designed to sell individual comics to fans on a weekly basis. Now, I love my local stores, and I am a regular customer at several. It’s hard for me to pass up an opportunity to buy books in any form. However, I understand why a reader new to the medium might prefer to buy collected editions of comic book stories. It’s simply more satisfying as a purchase. The parallel case might be someone who prefers to binge on a whole season of a television show instead of waiting week to week.
This is where Amazon, which I generally love (they have everything!), gets to be a problem. Because they buy in enormous quantities, they can sell graphic novels for much less than your local shop. And if your local shop isn’t selling weekly pamphlets, and if it can’t sell graphic novels either, then it won’t be open for much longer.
I love my local comic book shops. They are places that understand me. And as the graphic storytelling medium has grown to cover more kinds of storytelling, they understand even more people.
Ross Richie of Boom! Studios has a solution. He urges everyone to buy a graphic novel from our local comic book shops.
It’s a great idea. I’m going to do it, even though it means that I will have to schlep a heavy book around with me all day. Along with yarn, water, money, glasses, pens, phone, tablet and all the dreck of modern life. It’s a small sacrifice to make to keep my pals in business.
As part of my ongoing series exploring today’s creators’ reactions to their comic creations’ successful crossovers into other media, this week I reached out to Steven Grant. His impressive career includes reviving Marvel’s The Punisher, creating characters like Whisper and writing the long running comics industry column, Permanent Damage.
Ed Catto: Your 2 Guns comic was a hit movie in 2013. Can you tell us a little about the process of bringing your comic to the movies, from your perspective as the writer?
Steven Grant: Getting a film made from a comic is generally a much longer and more arduous process than most people seem to think. I wrote 2 Guns somewhere between 1998 and 2001, and I had the idea for it much earlier than that. I’d tried selling it for years to various comics publishers, but selling a straight crime comic with no other genre aspirations is a very difficult thing. Finally I had a lull in my schedule and just didn’t want to let go of the notion, so I wrote it anyway. It took a long time. Still couldn’t sell it.
Finally, around 2006, Ross Richie, who I’d known for years, launched Boom! Studios, and he asked if he could publish it, though he couldn’t pay me for it at the time. I wasn’t doing anything else with it, so I said sure. I wanted to see it in print. It was published in 2007. This was right at the time Hollywood started paying a lot of attention to anything published in comics, and Hollywood was somewhat more open to the material – once it had seen print. Prior to that, I’d never been able to rouse any Hollywood interest in the story either, and I had tried – than comics was.
I wasn’t actively involved in any of this, but Ross kept me regularly apprised. Interest grew, studios got involved. I’m told there was something of a bidding war between Fox Atomic – I think it was Fox Atomic, it was one of the Fox sub-brands of the day – and Universal that Universal won, then the person who was involved in that at Fox ended up at Universal so everyone was happy. But even something like that doesn’t guarantee a movie.
A Hollywood deal is basically an unsecured promissory note. Putting a movie together these days is a complicated game requiring the right assemblage of what are now called “elements”: concept, a good production company (established track record preferred), a script by preferably a studio-approved screenwriter that’s good and interesting enough to attract actors with a reputation for “opening” a film (i.e. selling a lot of tickets the first weekend).
Prior to founding Boom! Ross had spent several years working in Hollywood and studying the mechanics, so with some help he was able to navigate the waters. Even at that, the script, cast and crew went through several iterations, and the studio came close to dropping the project a couple of times for Hollywood reasons that had nothing to do with the project itself. Things are always touch and go in Hollywood, even after filming starts.
I think ultimately that 2 Guns got made – and I’m not trying to diminish the many people who worked diligently throughout, like Adam Siegel and Marc Platt of the Marc Platt Co., our production company, who like Ross were also key and ceaseless champions of the project – came down to Mark Wahlberg, who we were lucky enough to land in one of the key roles and who made it his mission to get the film made, bringing in both additional financing when some of our financing fell through (also an incredibly common occurrence in Hollywood) and the wonderful Baltasar Kormákur when the previous director bailed. Baltasar brought such a great visual and stylistic tone to the film. It finally filmed in 2012, four years after the “bidding war,” and hit theaters a little more than a year after that. Trust me, if you’re invested in a film project based on your project, invest in a lot of Maalox because it’s a very bumpy road, and the road to 2 Guns was smoother than a lot of them.
EC: When you saw the movie, were you happy the finished product?
SG: I love the film, but why wouldn’t I? From the beginning, Ross, Adam and screenwriter Blake Masters, who’s a great guy, by the way, were determined to stick as close spiritually to the material as possible. There were changes of course, but you can do so much more in a film than you can on the comics page that I’d’ve been pretty disappointed if they’d stuck strictly to what’s in the book. I do think they kept everything that was important in and to the story. Blake in particular (and Baltasar later) picked up on 2 Guns being a very deadpan comedy. That’s how I always thought of it. Ross and I would have long arguments about that, but I wrote it so of course I was right. I think Blake did a wonderful job. Like I said, I love the film, and considering how many comics guys crab about what Hollywood did to their work, I can’t tell you how happy I am to be able to say that. I didn’t see the film until the premiere, and was terrified I’d have to lie my ass off about liking it afterwards, but thankfully it never came to that. I not only love the film and still find it tremendously watchable, I like their ending better than mine.
EC: In the ‘90s you created a character called X for Dark Horse Comics. What sparked the creation of that character?
SG: I didn’t create X. For several years, Dark Horse had been quietly developing a superhero universe concept in house, and X was one of their linchpin characters. What happened was a guy named Jonathan Peterson was an editor at DC and asked me to write some Deathstroke issues for him, then I started doing other work for him as well. DC was big into “reimagining” old characters, and they had one called Americommando in the ‘40s that I thought was both one of the greatest and worst names in the history of comics, so I created a political thriller concept around it that was probably a bit more left-wing than DC would’ve been comfortable with.
Then Jonathan left and, as is often the case, the projects he’d been setting up, including several of mine, evaporated. I retooled the concept, retitled it Patriot X and pitched it to Dark Horse, which had recently picked up the Badlands project I’d started at Vortex Comics before they hit the skids. Mike Richardson really liked the Patriot X concept, but asked if I could name it something else because they had this character X they were doing for their superhero universe. So I retitled that project Enemy, then Mike asked me to write X as well.
EC: I always remember X being called “the Batman from Hell.” Was that a fair assessment?
SG: Sort of. I didn’t create X but I did kind of recreate it. Their original concept for the character was – and this is badly bowdlerizing it into convenient shorthand – Batman dressed as a Mexican wrestler. I tuned him up into the relentless, fixated psychopath of the first X series. I don’t recall whether the “Zorro” gimmick – one strike as a warning, the second strike (completing the X) as death sentence – originated with me or with Mike, Randy Stradley and Chris Warner, the original architects of the character. Anyway, yes, Batman was key to their conceptualization of the character, but I tried my best to keep specific parallels to Batman beyond the unavoidable out of it.
EC: At one point it looked like X was headed to the Fox Network for a TV series. Can you fill us in on what happened and what where your reactions to that then?
SG: If X was ever a Fox pilot, I never heard about it. They were trying to get it done as a film for a while that I wrote a very bad screenplay for (I really didn’t know what I was doing at the time) that was quickly trashed. You might be thinking of Enemy. David Goyer and Columbia approached Dark Horse about getting the rights for a potential TV series after the book came out. I think it might’ve been David’s first producing job, whereas previously he’d just been a screenwriter. I could be misremembering. Mike was involved too as an executive producer, since he’d already had The Mask as a TV series. They pitched it to Fox, which paid for the pilot. I’ve seen it; I’ve got a copy around here someplace I’m not supposed to have. It’s okay. I’m not sure what happened. I know it was on Fox’s schedule for at least a few days prior to them announcing the schedule, but when they announced it wasn’t. I’ve heard various explanations from different people. It basically boils down to “It’s Hollywood.” Things are go, then they’re suddenly not go. Nothing’s real until it’s real.
Of course, I was thrilled they wanted to make a series. I had nothing more I especially wanted to do with the character. It was one of the first times I thought completely in terms of the story rather than a franchise, so a TV show meant I could make lots of money from it and they’d be the ones worrying about a franchise.
I doubt I’d’ve been very involved in it. Network TV didn’t pay much upfront then – not sure what the terms are these days but I doubt they’ve changed much – then you get a little chunk of change for every episode that airs (with some restrictions I forget), but as creator you don’t make a lot of money until the show goes into syndication, meaning it had to stick around for five to seven years, which are slightly better odds than winning the lottery, but not by a lot. But I would’ve liked to have seen it on TV in any case.
As it turns out, Mike and I have recently been in discussion and I’m probably bringing back Enemy at Dark Horse next year.
EC: You also created the Marvel super heroine, Mockingbird. What’s the ‘secret origin’ behind her creation?
SG: That was one of my early on things, when I first arrived at Marvel. When you go to a company like Marvel, everything’s niched. It’s very difficult to find something to put your stamp on. I wanted my own characters to play with, and to do that I had to create them. Mark Gruenwald, who I quickly became friends with because we both originated in Wisconsin, was assistant editor of Marvel Team-Up at the time – that book jumped back and forth between editors like crazy, if I remember correctly – got me assigned a bunch of fill-in issues. Marvel traditionally struggled with deadline problems, so they regularly assigned fill-in issues. I couldn’t get a regular book there but fill-ins kept me alive and taught me versatility, if nothing else.
Mark and I concocted a mini-series within Marvel Team-Up (which largely specialized in isolated stories) set in Los Angeles, and to wrap up that arc. Influenced by the mid-‘70s House investigations of illegal activities by the CIA, I’d pushed several times without success for a Nick Fury Vs. SHIELD idea, and wanted to incorporate that in a story suggesting SHIELD might not be quite the good guys they’d been made out to be. Despite my own failure, this obviously wormed its way into the creative psyche up there, as Nick Fury Vs. SHIELD was done some time after I was mostly divorced from the company.
I’d run across the Huntress character who’d briefly appeared in a Marvel magazine, but by then DC had a character named The Huntress, so Mark and I rechristened her Mockingbird and I retooled her shtick into something I could work with. The main response was fan outrage that Marvel Team-Up had debuted a character rather than team Spider-Man up with an existing one.
EC: I’m anxious to hear your reactions to seeing Mockingbird on the television show, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
SG: I’ve only seen the first couple episodes she was in – I have the rest on DVR but haven’t had time to watch – but loved her first appearance. Adrienne Palicki works fine in the part, and I thought the shtick was great, very much in keeping with the espionage angle I always wanted for her that Marvel had mostly abandoned. I take it all as vindication, especially if ABC puts her in her own series, which I understand is still a strong possibility.
A funny thing: when I created Mockingbird, I came up with the interlocking staves as her key weapons that could be used in various ways: individually as two-fisted clubs, as climbing picks, locked together as a vaulting pole, etc. I can’t swear by it but don’t recall that being a thing before her.
Now Mark, at heart, was always a DC Comics fan first, and had this dream of creating a Marvel Comics analog of The Justice League. In that scenario, he envisioned Mockingbird as Marvel’s Black Canary, and hooked her up with Hawkeye (Marvel’s Green Arrow) at the first opportunity. I don’t especially like the whole concept of analogue characters (re: X) and tried to keep away from it. So a TV version of the Black Canary shows up on the second season of Arrow, and what do I see? Her key weapons are interlock staves that can be used in various ways: individually as two-fisted clubs, etc… They lifted Mockingbird’s bit and gave it to the Black Canary. Full circle.
EC: Gerry Conway has detailed his frustrations with the corporate policies dictating recognition and compensation for characters he created for DC Comics. Can you reveal your own experiences, specifically as they relate to the Mockingbird character?
SG: They were nice enough to start crediting me on every episode she’s in, though they kindly don’t mention what anyone’s credited for. I haven’t seen any checks yet. Those are my experiences so far. We’ll see what happens. But I don’t question that Marvel/Disney own the character. I’m not sure yet what their policy on these things is.
EC: Do you feel today’s creators are better prepared to deal with creation of their characters and their possible success in other media?
SG: Probably not, unless they’ve had a lot of personal experience. I’ve noticed by and large comics talent all think they’ll be the exceptions, and don’t seem to get what a minefield media is. It can be navigated but in general it’s all hard choices and risk, and most don’t understand the process and have wildly unrealistic expectations to both extremes.
I’m not suggesting people should start out cynical – that’s as good a way to kill of good opportunities as any – but it pays to educate yourself on the risks and pitfalls, and find out how things are really done rather than swallow the snake oil usually peddled as “how Hollywood [or anything, really] works.” A good education in the workings of whatever field and realistic expectations are the best shields against disappointment and bitterness anyone can get, and the best ways to increase the odds of success.
EC: Great insights and stories. Thanks for your time, Steven.
It wasn’t too long ago that I heard Mike Gold exclaim “I’m really liking what you’re doing there.” He was talking to Ross Ritchie about Boom! Studios. It got me thinking. From one publisher to another, true respect shared between gentlemen. No snide jabs. No undercurrent of jealousy or malice. Just respect. And it’s that respect that made me realize that Boom! Studios is a shining example of what is going right with our industry.
A cursory glance at their site shows a publisher pushing boundaries in every conceivable direction. Where the brand was once known for either being Mark Waid’s playground or Stan Lee’s litter box, today they are producing comics in every genre under the yellow sun. They once clung to licenses from Disney in order to pay the bills. Without Mickey’s teets to suckle from, instead they’ve smartly chosen popular brands like Adventure Time, and the biker-beloved Sons of Anarchy in order to draw in more ‘non-comics’ fans to the shelves.
Boom! also has broken its brand into smarter sub-brands in order to focus efforts on different emerging markets. KaBoom!, its kid-centric brand, is of course anchored by the aforementioned Adventures of Finn and Jake. But they’re also branching out with other recognizable brands like Peanuts, Garfield, and the Adventure-esque Bravest Warriors. The fact that Boom! recognizes the kids market and pushes their line in order to draw the wee ones into a comic shop should be commended. And while a licensed kids book is nothing new in the marketplace… the fact that their books are not chained lock-in-step to their source material means kids will be able to see the comic medium as a place to explore the vastness of the worlds they may only know in cartoon form. It’s a small thing, that means huge ramifications as the li’l readers grow up.
Beyond that, Boom! recently realized its creative teams had more to say and show. So much so that they’ve chosen to branch out even further, with the newly dubbed BOOM! Box imprint made for experimental comics. Not happy to place these potentially “indie for indies’ sake” titles into Boom! Town, or its newly acquired Archaia lines… the box will house the weirdest of the weird. The idea being of course that comic creators who would otherwise choose to self-publish short runs of books that might be too crazy for even a “B” or “C” publisher like Boom! to consider… are given the carte blanch to actually give it a go anyways.
As an indie publisher myself, I’m of two minds on that. One mind says “kudos to Ritchie, Gagnon, and Watters for having balls!” The other mind morbidly declares “Yay! One more sub-publisher with money behind them to tell Unshaven Comics they’re cute for trying!”
These days a cursory glance over my newsfeed on Facebook shows normally at least several daily references to what DC or Marvel is messing up. DC way more than Marvel, if you’re tallying. It’s a bit hilarious to me, given my recent rekindled love of professional wrestling. Because when one steps back to see the forest for the trees, they’ll eventually see the cyclical nature of the continual soap opera that is male-fiction. With Boom! taking the role of the babyface… We crave a heel, and DC is glad to play the role right now. Can’t stand Villains Month? Keep blogging about it! Think Man of Steel crossed a line? Put it on a tee-shirt! Think Dan DiDio is secretly behind it all, and should be fired? Make a god-damned hashtag, and tag him in every post you write for a month! Guess what? There’s no such thing as bad press. Case in point? I’m DVR’ing Dads tonight on Fox. Do the math. I’ll wait for you to catch up. But I digress.
Boom! is doing it right. They’ve branched out beyond the capes (while still putting out some decent-if-not-mind-blowing cape comics) to compete with Image for the Comics With Original Ideas the Big Two Won’t Touch (and face it, Vertigo isn’t near what it used to be, and Marvel never even tried to compete there). They’ve made kids comics that matter again, and in doing so, have ignited passion for our media in the next generation… buying us soon-to-be-old-farts at least another few years to do what we love. The old adage is true; big risks equal big rewards. Boom! for the time being is reaping plenty of rewards.
We fans, bored of the Big Two are now seeing a true third leg of the market arise. Small(er) presses are proving profitable. Hollywood is even catching wind of it. And when big money backs small(ish) companies, it seems that the money may be headed not only into the coffers of secret investors… but back into the comic medium itself. It’s a grand day to be a comic fan, kiddos.
BOOM! Studios, the comics and graphic novel publisher, has acquired indie label Archaia Entertainment. BOOM! Studios will be the surviving company and the Archaia brand shall be maintained as a distinct imprint of BOOM!.
The addition of Archaia positions BOOM!’s catalog of intellectual property as the largest independent company-controlled comic book and graphic novel library, behind only industry titans DC Entertainment (Warner Bros.) and Marvel Entertainment (Disney).
BOOM! Studios was co-founded by Ross Richie and Andrew Cosby in 2005, and is known for Irredeemable, various licensed properties like Planet Of The Apes, The Muppet Show, Farscape, and the upcoming Sons Of Anarchy, their KaBOOM! all-ages imprint with Adventure Time, and their BOOM!Town imprint with various literary comics. Archaia, established in 2002, is known for graphic novels Mouse Guard, Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand, Rust, Spera, Cowboy, and Gunnerkrigg Court.
BOOM!’s foray into feature films launches this summer with Universal’s August 2 release 2 Guns starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, based on industry veteran Stephen Grant’s original comic. BOOM!’s also prepping to shop two more Grant properties in the works: Damned, Grant’s 1997 miniseries with Mike Zeck which BOOM! is re-releasing in July, and new comic The Deceivers which boasts a set-up akin to 2 Guns with spies. Meanwhile BOOM! is currently prepping its next feature Jeremiah Harm, based on the comic book by Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, and John Mueller, which Timo Vuourensola (Iron Sky) will direct. Archaia also has a number of titles previously optioned or in development including Rust (Fox), Lucid (Warner Bros.), Bolivar (Warner Bros.), and Feeding Ground (Pressman Films).
So it came to my attention by way of an amazingly nice lass that some forward thinking teacher-types are slowly coming around the bend. Yup, they are looking toward comic books, those evil things, as potential fodder for their classrooms. Gasp! And, as it would seem, this very nice girl asked me – little old me – to give my two cents on the matter. And because I love killing two birds with one stone, I figured this outta make a great li’l rant to share with you, my adoring public. Of course, I realize now I admitted to the glee I feel when I commit aviaricide. Well, there went my fan-base. Tally ho!
I know back in the olden days, comics were largely seen as kitchy wastes of ink and paper. Kids buried in them were potentially violent sociopaths just waiting to commit crimes of laziness. But by the time I was in school they were starting to be called graphic novels. Thanks in large part to the artsy works of Art Spiegelman, Joe Kuburt, and Will Eisner, the medium as a whole was slowly pulling itself out of the low-bro.
That being said, I was never assigned a graphic novel to read for a class. Nor was I able to select one for independent book reports or the like. Even within the realm of studio art classes I was nixed the ability to cite Alex Ross as a major influence without scoffs. But as Bob Dylan sings, “The times, they are a changin’.”
If I were to suggest opening up a classroom to comics, well, it’s a simple issue – do it. Comics are easily one of the best gateways to literacy I can think of. Truth be told, the first books our parents read us (and I’m reading to my own boy now) are gloriously illustrated. Dr. Seuss, a one-time newspaper comics guy, is just panel borders away from sharing shelf space with Daniel Clowes. In the earliest of classroom settings I’d start with the recognizable. Art Baltazar and Franco’s Tiny Titans is as accessible a comic as I know of. But more than just being kid friendly, the book is funny, bright, and charming. So much so that I was an avid reader of it long before I was even married, let alone a father. And because it uses semi-recognizable super hero sidekicks, it’s easy for kids to relate, and learn to read.
Tiny Titans aside, there’s always Jeff Smith’s tome of toonage, Bone. The long running series blends laughs, mysteries, and adventure. If kids can’t find something to love there? Well, then I’ll eat my hat. Come to think of it, I don’t own hats anymore. Note to self…
Beyond the early readers, the always-tough-to-please nine year olds (perhaps through 13 or 14?) are going to start dividing themselves. Girls have cooties. Boys are messy. The division of the sexes may make many a teacher feel like comic books will degrade into the capes and cowls for the boys and leave nothing for the girls. Nay, I say. Nay! Both the boys and girls can take heed that I myself grew to love comics at this tender age due to the long-running Archie series. And Archie, unlike his more heroic counterparts, seems to have found a way to stay with the times, without diverging into the too-real, too-gritty, or too-angsty. Consider also the Adventures of TinTin. Long before it was a computer-animated movie, it was a comic. A great comic. And don’t we all laugh a bit when we recount the Scrooge McDuck comics of yesteryear? That book was doing Inception long before Chris Nolan was firing up the vomit-comet to film anti-gravity fight scenes.
The real meat and potatoes for me though come right at adolescence. Here, our kids are primed to learn that comics are more than just good fun. The Pulitizer Prize-winning Maus (by the aforementioned Spiegelman), Jew Gangster (by the late and beyond-great Kubert), and A Contract With God (by Will Eisner) all help teach that the medium of comics transcends the super power set. And sure, they all hold quite a bit of Jewish lore to them… so allow me to expand beyond Judaica.
Mike Gold himself turned me on to Stagger Lee by Derek McCulloch and Kings in Disguise by Dan E. Burr. They are both amazing reads. And please, don’t get me wrong – comics at this tender age need not be without a twinge of the supernatural. Watchmen might as well be a high school freshman class in and of itself. Frank Miller’s Sin City and or 300 are far better on page than on screen, and on screen they were both pretty amazing.
And let’s not leave Marvel out of this. Kurt Busiek’s Marvels singlehandedly brought me out of a four year freeze of comic book reading. It’s insightful, and a beautiful take on super heroes from the human perspective. And I’ve little column space left to suggest even more here… Empire by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson, Astro City, Batman: Year One, RunawaysandY: The Last Manall spring to mind. But I digress.
Suffice to say, introducing comics to a literature program shouldn’t be that hard to tackle. The fact is the medium itself makes open discussion far easier to instigate. More work to enjoy than watching a movie, without the scariness of endless pages without something beyond words to look at means less barrier to entry. For those learning to read (or who have trouble with it) comics are a gateway drug to amazing new worlds. For those already well versed in literature, comics offer an endless string of independent authors bringing original takes on the world that combine their plots with art that tends to force us to stop and appreciate. Akin to indie films, comics at any age offer more than the commercial world. Thanks to a bit of knowledge gained at this year’s Harvey Awards (thank you, Ross Ritchie), I leave on this thought:
“The French codified it well: they call it “The Ninth Art.” The first is architecture, the second sculpture. The third painting, the fourth dance, then there’s music, poetry, cinema, and television. And ninth is comic books.”
Now, the question is: if it is indeed the ninth art of our world, comics should not be considered for the classroom. They should be compulsory.
Yeah, I know. The illustrious Mike Gold has already written at length as to why the Baltimore Comic-Con is an amazing experience. But Mike’s career in comics is older than I am. I had thought, for only a second, that maybe I should just move on and try another column to piss people off. But here I sit, and man, I still can’t stop smiling. So, screw it, you’re gonna hear (again) about the Baltimore Comic-Con. Maybe you’ll get a different perspective. This was my first trip to the Charm City, and I think Mike may have underplayed just how awesome this shindig is. Oh Baltimore Comic-Con, how do I love thee… Let me count the ways.
As many here have read my recent tirades about the Wizard Conventions may know… I have been seriously duped. I was raised on a convention where I honestly believed that in order to make it successful, one needed the publishers (especially the big ones) to anchor the show. How wrong I truly was! BCC was a show where the publishers were truly secondary to the main draw – the creators. In one of several walks I took away from our own table, I realized I was feet away from a litany of personal heroes. Brian Bolland, Cliff Chiang, J.G. Jones, and Gene Ha only to name a few. And while there were publishers there, they were in non-monstrosities that made them feel a “part” of the show, not the driving force behind it. The driving force truly was the community of creators. And given that I was amongst them? It was one of the few times in my five years as one I felt comfortable owning the term.
Far cooler though was the chance to truly “meet” Mark Wheatley, Marc Hempel, and ComicMix’s Emily S. Whitten. Over an amazing dinner (joined by my amazing friends/Samurnauts Erik and Cherise Anderson, Unshaven Sales Machine Kyle, and the always tall Glenn Hauman) we swapped stories, histories, personal politics, jokes, and more. And sure the crab cake was some kind of life altering experience… but just the chance to be at that dinner table in the suburbs of Maryland was some kind of amazing that I’ll be chasing for years to come. I know this is not an experience one gets simply by being at this con… but this was one perk of writing for this site that certainly is continuing to pay off in spades – even if it’s in food and stories alone.
As Mike already mentioned, the show was the perfect length. No “preview night” to force an extra day’s parking money out of the creators… just a packed weekend of festivities. It was almost as if the show runners knew that the creators who got into town early might find one another prior, and take the responsibility themselves to find a good time in the city. Preposterous!
What Mike didn’t mention (mainly because he wasn’t there to sell…) was the positively unending crowd. For two days the traffic at the show was never sparse. Our booth was literally in the last aisle of the convention center, and there was rarely a time where there wasn’t a nice gaggle of comic fans walking past our table. Unshaven Comics walked into the con with a “it’d sure be nice” goal of 150 books over two days. On Saturday alone, we netted a personal record: 137 books sold. And Sunday helped us tip the total to over 200. That makes me beyond proud to announce with three more conventions still left on our schedule, we met our years’ goal of 1000 books sold. For three guys making books in their basement, selling only on the convention floor? I’d say Baltimore put the icing on a cake made of success.
And how about those Harvey Awards? Well, all points from earlier in the week stand true: We were in awe in attendance of living legends. Phil LaMarr was an amazingly hilarious host who proved that beneath all the funny was a legit fan. Ross Ritchie proved that beyond the Gutters’ continual assault on his character, he’s a humble and very passionate man. His call to action only cemented further Unshaven Comics’ love of the medium. And hey, the 30-pound gift bag they let us leave with was nothing short of super. It’s more than possible that it will take an entire career for me to get one, but mark my words: Unshaven Comics will take home a Harvey before we retire our pencils and Wacoms.
Suffice to say, the Baltimore Comic-Con showed me exactly what Wizard is missing in it’s conventions: comic book creators. We’re not a sideshow or a footnote to be hidden on the con floor. We’re the reason this industry exists – from the billion dollar movies we create to the never-ending stream of ideas. The BCC knows how to elevate and celebrate this fact.
As a creator and as a fan, I was (and am) awestruck at what I was witness to this past weekend. And sure it took a twelve-hour car trip to get there, but it was truly a small price to pay for a head full of memories I’ll be hard-pressed to replace…
I like comic book conventions, although I’ve been pretty hard on them lately. These days most conventions have little to do with comic books. They have a lot to do with pop culture and celebrities and movies and autographs and promotion, but over the past decade or two comic books have become the ugly stepchildren within their own temples.
Except for a handful. Mid-Ohio Con has been consumed by the dreaded Wizard ogre; that one used to be a favorite. HeroesCon in North Carolina is high on my list of the exceptional; I wish I could get there each year. There are plenty of great small shows, usually held in hotels and attracting people from about a 200 mile radius, if the weather is agreeable. And, as I’ve incessantly proselytized to the annoyance of thousands, my absolute favorite: the Baltimore Comic-Con.
First and foremost, the Baltimore Comic-Con is about comic books. The panels are about comic books. The exhibitors are about comic books. The awards ceremony is about comic books. In short, it is a comic book convention.
Second, it’s only two days: Saturday and Sunday. The burnout rate is low and people tend not to leave as early on Sundays. You can get as much done in those two days as you can elsewhere in three… or four. Third, the staff is well-trained, efficient, and so damn polite if you’re from New York your skin just might peel off in strips.
I’m happy to say I’ve got a hell of a lot of friends who go there. It’s one of the few shows Timothy Truman attends. Mark and Carol Wheatley both put me up and put up with me year after year; my daughter and ComicMix comrade Adriane Nash gets to stay in Mark’s breathtaking library and studio. Marc Hempel joins us at the Insight Studios booth. Great folks like Gene Ha, Brian Bolland, Amy Chu, Andrew Pepoy, Denis Kitchen, Jack C. Harris, Walter and Louise Simonson, Joe Rubenstein, Larry Hama, Matt Wagner, John K. Snyder III … we don’t have the bandwidth to name a tenth of the people I hang out with at the show. Even the (fairly) recently liberated Paul Levitz showed up as a freelancer.
Better still, the ambiance of the Baltimore Comic-Con allows me to make new friends, something that’s almost impossible to do at the largest shows like San Diego, New York, and Chicago. This year I was exceptionally lucky, spending memorable time with Phil LaMarr and Ross Richie.
ComicMix was there in full-force: Vinnie Bartilucci, Glenn Hauman, the aforementioned Adriane Nash, Emily S. Whitten, and the non-alphabetical Marc Alan Fishman – who was there with the rest of the Unshaven Comics crew, Matt Wright, and Kyle Gnepper, where they managed to sell out of their excellent indy comic, Samurnauts.
Probably the highlight of the Baltimore show each year is the Harvey Awards dinner, and this year was no exception. Phil LaMarr served as master of ceremonies, keeping the three and one-half hour show moving while keeping the audience in stiches, Ross Richie delivered an inspiring keynote address, and as usual Paul McSpadden did his usual amazing job coordinating the whole event.
The Hero Initiativehonored Joe Kubert with its Humanitarian of the Year award – a decision made before Joe’s passing last month – and Dr. Kevin Brogan delivered a moving tribute to the late cartoonist and educator. As it turns out, Joe left us one more graphic novel. Their annual Lifetime Achievement Award went to John Romita Jr., in a presentation made by the team of Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.
I particularly enjoyed seeing Marc, Kyle and Matt there for the first time – being sequestered in that room with most of the above-mentioned folks as well as with Stan Lee, John Romita Sr. and Jr., Mark Waid and so many others seemed like a heady experience for our pals, who, I think it’s safe to say, were in fanboy heaven. Pretty damn cool. I’m proud to say our own Glenn Hauman helped in the IT end of things, and ComicMix joined Insight Studios, DC Entertainment, Boom!, Comixology, Richmond Comix and Games, ComicWow!, Painted Visions, Bloop, Captain Blue Hen, Cards Comics and Collectibles, and Geppi’s Entertainment Museum as sponsors.
And I managed to sign up a new columnist for this site. I mentioned the name above somewhere (good hunting), and this person will start out as soon as we iron out scheduling issues and the usual start-up stuff. I’m very excited about this, and you will be too when you read this person’s stuff.
We also went apeshit covering the cosplay scene. Adriane posted about 100,000 pictures on our ComicMix Facebook page, all to the obvious enjoyment of the masses. We’ll be expanding our cosplay coverage considerably, while at the same time polishing our alliteration.
On behalf of the whole ComicMix crew, I want to deeply thank Marc Nathan and Brad Tree for once again putting on the best show in comics, and to thank my dearest of friends Mark and Carol Wheatley for being our personal sponsors. We-all had a great time!
Universal must like what it sees in its upcoming thriller “Contraband,” as the studio is in negotiations to reteam helmer Baltasar Kormakur with the pic’s star, Mark Wahlberg, on the actioner “2 Guns.”
Pic follows a DEA agent and an undercover naval intelligence officer who unwittingly investigate each other as each steals mob money.
David O. Russell rewrote a script penned by Blake Masters, who adapted Steven Grant’s graphic novel.
Marc Platt is producing with Boom! Studios’s Andrew Cosby and Ross Richie.