Tagged: small press

Marc Alan Fishman: Rejected!


This past week, Unshaven Comics was once again given the most sincere and polite brush off from a show promoter to be a part of the Artist Alley. The show was ReedPop’s C2E2, in Chicago.

For the record: Unshaven Comics has never missed exhibiting at this show. We consider it our home show. But a few years back, we were denied access to the part of the floor where we feel the most comfortable. We were faced with a hard choice — pay over twice the cost to have a table in the Small Press area, or forgo the show. We bit the bullet. We sold our beards off. And we still made profit.

For the record, Unshaven Comics is not a small press company in my estimation. We’re a studio that produces a single book, penalized for having the gall to want to share a single 8-foot table.

I’m not going to lie: I’ve been bitter ever since. Bitter still now, the third year in a row I have cut a check for a larger sum of money than I’d like, to ensure our localish fans know we still are alive and well.

Am I mad at the promoter, ReedPop? No. I don’t even fear repercussions for posting this op-ed. Reed isn’t concerned about the comings and goings of a speck of dust on the outskirts of the indie comic market. For as much as I’d like to inflate my resume of comic bookery, the simple truth is if Unshaven turned off the lights in the studio tomorrow maybe a few dozen people would really notice. I’m not saying this for pity. I’m just well-aware of the beast we’re trying to slay. In the land of content, he who can only produce (at best) a book a year, is not high in demand.

ReedPop, as all show promoters, are in business to do one thing: get butts in a building, spending wads of cash. And with the advent of on-demand printing, digital publishing, and affordable content creation tools out there, the industry feels choked to the nines with creators all vying for the same spaces. Granted, some of these artists are just trying for a quick smash-and-grab, applying a few filters and a few simple style choices to produce a litany of printed kitsch meant to attract the lowest common denominator. This is a topic for a whole other piece.

At the end of the day, show promoters must choose from those who apply for their space who will best attract those aforementioned butts. Whatever their selection process may be, Unshaven Comics must adhere to the same application rules as literally every other artist in line. Whatever boxes we check or don’t check off is all in the eye of the beholder. But this article isn’t really in defense of those choices. I am not a show-promoter. I know some amazing show-promoters. They have an unenviable job in my humblest of estimations. I write this week to tell you honestly how it feels to be told we’re not good enough.

But before I do, let me dog-pile on the pity party. C2E2’s rejection of Unshaven for their Alley wasn’t the least bit surprising to me. Since we’ve upgraded to the small press area the last few years, I believe we’re earmarked as suckers who they know will pay… and so we pay. And we still make it work. So it goes. It’s the combination of their rejection compounded on being recently turned away on a pair of smaller local shows that really shook me more than I’d honestly thought they would.

To hear from shows that are in my backyard declining to offer my studio a spot while I see literally dozens of my friends and colleagues being welcomed as guests of honor leaves me feeling truly rejected. On the precipice of finishing the final chapter in our Samurnauts mini-series (seriously… it’s being colored right now. We’re so close I can almost taste it.), 2017 is a do-or-die year for me and my bearded brethren. Every show counts. Every show is an opportunity to declare victory over a beast that has taken five years to slay. And to be told we’re not good enough, while our friends are lauded with social media call-outs is a gut punch I’m finding hard to shake off.

We have an amazing fan base. That I can include people like Mike Gold, Martha Thomases, John Ostrander, and Glenn Hauman amongst them is one of those little factoids that keep my heart beating and pen moving every night. That we still have fans — strangers met at conventions who have purchased our wares and continue to support us — clamoring for Unshaven to continue to fight our way into any show that will have us? Well, it’s the lit matches I’ll continue to use every time our fire begins to dim.

And I know right now, this article may be reaching any number of compatriots in the exact same boat as my little production house. Talented, driven creators being denied access to tens of thousands of potential customers… all so the guy who just sells posters of cheesecake pinups or indie darlings whose ‘zines aren’t worth the artisanal rice paper they’re printed on can hock their wares next to the same standby medium-famous artists and celebrities that are always there. Well, to you, I say be bitter with me.

We live in a gilded age, whether you believe it or not. There are more cons out there now than ever before. So, if ReedPop says no, so be it. Take the anger and the money you would have dropped on that show and find another. And another. Take your books to the local comic shop, and offer to do a signing. Do anime shows. Book shows. Craft fairs. Flea markets. Go anywhere and everywhere. And keep making your comics and art. The more you produce, the better you’ll become. The better you become, the better your product. And eventually, the better your product, the more people will notice. Those people have butts. And those butts wind up walking into big shows. And with that…

…you just might be see the acceptance you deserve. If you don’t believe me, be my guest and quit. More room for Unshaven Comics.

Marc Alan Fishman: The Road Less Traveled

A little over a day removed from the New York Comic Con, I found myself in a bit of an existential funk. My bearded brethren of Unshaven Comics and I had seen a whopping 40% increase in our book sales. On all accounts, we should have been cheering and rejoicing the entire 14 hour ride home. But, after our 36th hour in the car over a span of five days – with highway hypnosis beginning to creep around the edges of our vision – we turned to a game of “Would You Rather.”

This is one of those silly time-wasters stoners and the road-weary play to stay alert. One plays it by coming up with increasingly insane parameters from which each party member must choose. Generally this comes after an hour of Marry, Boff, Kill, which for the sake of this article, will not be discussed. But I digress.

Amidst choosing whether we’d “choose to suffer from an hour long seizure once a week”, or “have all our teeth removed without anesthesia,” I’d landed on a very controversial question. It’d been a query long-standing amongst us since the transition from our long-time friendship to a budding business venture. I asked, coldly:

Would you rather make it in comics, and know that the other two would never enjoy… or be in Unshaven Comics together and know we’ll never see the success we’re continually chasing with each passing year?

The question came to me after six years of attending conventions, with a résumé that still would appear no better than an intern’s after some time fetching coffee. Or, perhaps, far worse. To date, Unshaven Comics has produced a single commissioned piece, for which we were paid essentially Five Dollars an hour, to split between the three of us. Beyond that, we’ve been a solo show, self-financed long before the word crowdsourced was in the vernacular of today’s con-goer. As we were placed on the outskirts of the Small Press Zone of the NYCC, we had front row seats to Marvel, Boom!, Image, Dark Horse, and the like (DC apparently is so West Coast now they only sent some Batman suits). Forced to look at every publisher we Unshaven Lads had pipe dreams of working for left me thinking about those roads not traveled. It reminded me of Mark Waid’s non-joke about how breaking in to comics was like breaking out of prison – as soon as you figure a way to do it they seal it off. After six years in the trenches, I’m apt to believe it.

Before nodding off one of the late nights during the show, Matt lamented to me. His friend, now working as an inker for Marvel, was not much of a name when they went to college together. As he put it “he was just sort of there, and then, he wasn’t.” To see him now, with several variant covers, and the inking gig next to his name, Matt was remiss not to think why he hadn’t been lucky enough for the opportunity. When pressed, he recalled said friend landed at the House of Mouse by literally hanging around their booth so long they eventually threw him a bone. And like so many (so I hear) who actually make it, he took the assignment, completed it to satisfaction, and did so as fast as he could. Reliability is the secret sauce in the comic game, so I’m told.

Through the trials and tribulations of becoming an Indie Creator™, I’ve come to the conclusion that making it into the business (as in having one’s name under a known masthead, instead of a self-made vinyl banner) is akin to finding love. It’s not so much about desperately seeking it out, as much as being ready for it when it comes. If I’m to be brutally auto-biographical, I was a bleeding heart in high school (like many, duh). I was always in a constant drone on how woe I was over the fact that seemingly everyone was dating, kissing, and being in love… whilst I pined, and grew a pair of bitching sideburns. I moved on to college having only dated a very nice girl who in retrospect pity-loved me long enough to give me some semblance of confidence. After what I’d dubbed the truest breaking of my heart, I decided that I’d spend my time working on me instead of lamenting for my litany of lonely nights to follow. Less than two months later, I took a girl out to dinner. She’s now the mother of my son, and the love of my life. Natch.

But, back to that errant question. My brothers-from-other mothers did not hesitate in their answers; both opting to go down with our ship over the notion that there can only be one. I should note that Matt also started his answer with “Eh, don’t let the curb scrape yer’ asses too hard!” before digressing. It’s part of his je ne se quoi.

Their answers rekindled my waning spirit. After six years spent making great comics, and earning the respect of those who sit next to us in parts of the con floor the real publishers pity-date on rare occasion, I’m proud to declare I could give two farts in the wind if I never pen an issue of Batman or The Strangers. I’m making books that a continually growing base of connoisseurs plunking down their cash. I’m working beside two rare talents whose ambition, desires, and fit snuggly over my faults. Together, we’re not a lonely island. We’re a team built to succeed on our own terms. And six years of continually expanding sales numbers will build bridges elsewhere in due time. And if it never happens? Well, then I double-down on the ideology:

It’s not about where you’ve been. It’s about where you’re willing to go… and who’s willing to come with you.