Beyond the toys, eggnog and family time, a nostalgic part the Yuletide season for me are books about comics. When I was growing up, there were just a few : Batman from the 30s to the 70s, Les Daniels’ Comix, Stan Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics. But boy, did they make an impression on me. Today there’s a plethora of spectacular books available. Here’s a few of the best ones for your gift list consideration:
But there’s two sides to every story, and that’s the approach that John Morrow took in this brilliant book, STUF’ SAID. This book serves up a detailed step-by-step, quote-by-quote walk through the early days (and beyond) of the Marvel Universe. Morrow analyzes the roles of not only Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but so many of the creators involved with the birth of Marvel.
For longtime fans, there’s a lot of nostalgia and new information. For new fans, it’s a balanced look at the real-life characters behind the fictional characters they love.
Books are great, but when you throw in a toy or two they are even better. Eaglemoss’ thorough book, STAR TREK SHIPYARDS is a chronological history (even though it’s all about the future) of the Starfleet starships. This edition includes a specially packaged with a die-cast collectible, the iconic U.S.S. Enterprise.
This book has it all – from the most obscure ships to the recent additions to the mythology from the STAR TREK: DISCOVERY series.
Written by Tom Peyer, Art by Chris Giarrusso and Richard Case. Cover by Richard Williams, AHOY! Comics
As Tom Peyer says, this collected edition is “Twice the colons! Half the Thrills”. HASHTAG: DANGER is a wickedly funny take on adventurer comics, like Fantastic Four or Challengers of the Unknown. Peyer, always acerbic and witty, starts at “11” and turns up the dial from there. At the same time, he is somehow able to let his authentic love of the source material shine though. The humor never seems mean-spirited.
Richard Williams, the celebrated MAD artist, brings an element of pseudo realism liberally mixed with kooky absurdity to the covers.
This trade paperback collects all the irreverent HASHTAG: DANGER stories from issues #1-5 of the AHOY! Comics series, plus the back-features from other AHOY! titles like HIGH HEAVEN and CAPTAIN GINGER.
Nick Parisi’s Rod Serling biography isn’t only for fans of The Twilight Zone. It’s also for fans of early television, scriptwriting and Planet of the Apes. And somehow, Parisi finds a way to celebrate Serling as a persistent entrepreneur – both winning and losing creative and economic battles. A great read!
Written by Phil Hester Art by Ryan Kelly, Aftershock
Phil Hester’s written a lot of great comics over the years, and Stronghold is another great one. It’s a quirky, creepy take on the Superman legend. This thriller reveals a clandestine organization that monitors the world’s most powerful man. This series blends a conspiracy feel mixed with an us-against-the-world vibe to create a compelling series.
FRESH HELL IN FITS
by Steve Cerio, Psychofon Records
Steve Cerio, a creative innovator and gallery artist who blossomed as part of the old NYC Comix scene, is back with another trippy book. His newest is subtitled “A False History of The Residents”, but the imaginative illustrations appeal to art lovers beyond that band’s fan base. Fresh Hell in Fits is also available as a special signed collector’s edition (only 33 copies) complete with extra goodies.
by Andrew Farago and Gina McIntyre, Insight Editions
This is the type of the book that you start in the morning, and when you look up again it’s getting close to bedtime. This lovingly thorough history of Batman touches all the bases, provides new information and is loaded with goodies. I must admit it’s a thrill to be reading about the Batman mobile from 1950s comics, and then to fold-out a set of blueprints.
$75.00 various levels 400 pp. • hardcover • ISBN-10: 1683834372
The Eisner Awards were handed out last Friday, and I have to say, I’m feeling just a little bit smug.
No, I didn’t win anything. There is no Eisner Award for the Best Procrastinating by a Writer. However, quite a few of the prizes went to people and projects that I championed as an Eisner judge this year, selecting the nominees.
I’m not going to tell you which ones I’m talking about because to do so implies that I met with resistance. (You’ll have to get me drunk the next time we’re together.) As I said before, talking about the selection process the committee used, “I can say that none of us got all of our first choices, but all of us got some of them.” In other words, we had different tastes and different criteria, and that is as it should be. We talked, calmly and respectfully, about why we liked the things that we liked. We worked it out. You should send us all to Congress.
But a lot of my tastes and criteria meshed with those of the people who voted for the final awards. And that makes me feel like I have my finger on the pulse of Pop Culture Fandom.
So many different kinds of books won awards. Some of this is a result of the categories because a superhero story isn’t going to win a best nonfiction award, nor will DC or Marvel win an award for Best U. S. Edition of International Material. The inclusion of several different categories for younger readers means that there will be prize-winning books for children.
Although I might not know you, Constant Reader, I feel confident in saying that there is at least one book on this list that you’ll enjoy.
This expansion in the audience for graphic story-telling is a wonderful thing, decades in the making. It should be an opportunity for all sorts of publishers. You would think that DC and Marvel are in the best position to take advantage of this since they own characters known to the entire world. They should be, but, according to this, at least one of them does not. The link describes a panel at SDCC with DC’s Jim Lee and Dan DiDio, talking about how they plan to navigate the future of comics.
They say a few things with which I agree. There should be excellent graphic novels about the characters that customers might know from the movie. These books should contain stories that are accessible to new readers, people unfamiliar with decades of continuity. I’ve been arguing such a position for decades, so I’m glad to see that there is at least lip service in that direction.
However, when DC actually publishes a book like that, Jill Thompson’s Eisner-winning Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, there is very little promotion when it first comes out, and it isn’t included in the ads that tied into the movie release.
Lee and DiDio also think that resurrecting the Watchmen universe and integrating it into the DCU will draw in newcomers. Leaving aside the morality of this (given series co-creator Alan Moore’s resistance), and only talking about it in marketing terms, I still think this is a terrible idea. The movie is nearly a decade old and does not seem to have been successful enough to earn out. The characters require a lot of explaining, which is only a disadvantage if you’re trying to sell them to people who don’t read a lot of comics.
If I had been a new comics reader today, I’d have problems wading into the Big Two waters. It would be much more appealing to me to check out Valiant or Lion Forge if I wanted a connected universe because I wouldn’t have so much to catch up.
I still think the way to draw in audiences who want to sample comics after seeing the movies and television shows is to create multiple imprints. There can be a line for geeks like me, who’ve been reading comics since the Fifties, and a line for younger readers and a line of self-contained short stories. There can be all sorts of other lines that I haven’t yet imagined. These can be tested through digital sales, to keep development costs down, and then published in paper if there is demand.
And, yes please, a line of Super-Pets.
• • • • •
Flo Steinberg died this week. She was part of the original Marvel Bullpen, Stan Lee’s assistant back in the days when that was the best job a woman can get in comics.
I met her soon after I moved to New York in the late 1970s, and since I wasn’t a big Marvel fan, I didn’t know enough about her to be intimidated. To me, she was the kind of kooky New York character I’d moved to New York to meet. She had a funky cadence to the way she spoke (at least, to this Ohio girl), and she was outgoing and enthusiastic in a manner discouraged by the prep school I attended. Flo was one of the best people you could invite to a party.
My two favorite Flo stories don’t have much to do with comics.
1) When I worked in the events department of a New York department store, I had to hire extra people to be entertainers during the holiday season. One job was to dress up like a Teddy bear. The costume was really hot and smelled after a while, but the job paid $20 an hour, a fortune back then. I was able to hire Flo for this gig a few times, and from her, I learned how many children like to punch costumed characters in the chest. Also, we called her “Flo Bear,” the kind of joke Ivory Tower elitist East Coasters love.
2) A few years later, I had another job, and I was telling her about a place I would go to get lunch. They had a salad bar, and every day, I would stare at the barbecued spare-ribs, tempted by their dripping sauce, but too worried about the fat and calories. Really, I would dream about these ribs. Finally, one day, I ate one. Later, talking to Flo, I confessed my sin. It went like this:
Me: So I finally ate one of the spare-ribs. It wasn’t very good. Definitely not worth it.
Flo: Well, at least you tried it.
Because that is who she was. She didn’t talk about life in terms of denial and defensiveness. She talked about life as something worth trying.
Was that a sigh of relief I just heard? That means you’re back. All you San Diego Comicon pilgrims. Bags stuffed with loot and a different kind of bag under your eyes because the lack of sleep will do that to you. Knees sore from being forced into space obviously meant for a Lilliputian? An autograph bestowed by your favorite demigod while you actually stood there in front of him breathing the same air!
You’re home now.
I’ve gone to a lot of these shows, probably somewhere north of 20 and my feelings are mixed, as they often are. At best these San Diego affairs are a grand gathering of the tribes, a place to re-meet professional colleagues and fellow hobbyists, folks who may not live on the same continent as you do but who share your zeitgeist and are nice people, besides.
At worst…oh my. Too much! Noise and crowds and frantic scurrying to get a glimpse of an admired celebrity before said celeb vanishes whatever alternate universe the convention organizers must make available to these Big Names to hide in between appearances… And if one of them actually speaks to you, well… oh, my! It happened to Marifran a few years ago and she might tell you about it if you ask sweetly.
For some conventioneers, it’s business. They’re looking for work and will settle for a civilized conversation with an editor, and no complaints here. And there are the editors themselves who are looking for… talent, I guess. I never actively searched for possible contributors when I attended cons wearing the ol’ editorial guise but if I found someone whose portfolio had exactly what I needed or knew that I was going to need soon, I didn’t shoo the person away.
So, some seek employment, some want to network, some might be searching for congenial company, and for some, the bigger cons – and San Diego is the biggest in the country – are a chance to don bizarre finery and compete in costume contests or be happy just to rove around looking cool. I’ve enjoyed myself just sitting in hotel lobbies watching the passing parade.
Everyone should have the San Diego Experience once. Maybe once will be enough, unless you have a fondness for heat and noise and traffic or you’re looking to buy stuff – a Star Trek uniform, anyone? – you might have trouble finding elsewhere, in which case, get yourself to the edge of the continent, live long and prosper.
I didn’t go this year. The convention staff has treated me particularly well in recent years, and there is fun to be had. But the crowds, the noise, that stuff… I can pass unless there’s a compelling reason not to.
This year, I’m particularly glad I skipped the trip because I would have returned to sad news. Flo Steinberg, a woman I met when she was Stan Lee’s assistant and whom I’ve known and cherished for a half-century, died of cancer. Maybe I’ll write about her sometimes, or maybe I’ll be satisfied with memories.
The lovely Joan Lee, Stan’s wife for over 60 years, died recently and this morning Marifran learned that Leroy A. Martin, with whom we used to double date in teen years, has not been with us for a while now. Teen years and innocent years fraught with nostalgia and maybe apt to prompt somber thought.
Yep, the world sure has changed, since I met Joan in the 1960s and since Lee Martin and I drove through Forest Park on the way to… somewhere. The changes weren’t predictable, not by us, and the science fiction crowd didn’t do so well either.
Which brings us, believe it or not, to graphic novels. Back when Lee and I were cadets at a military high school – hard to believe, I know – and later undergrads at a Jesuit university, novelists were kings of the literati. Many of them wrote for readers and not classrooms, and did that job well enough for their work to qualify as literature. Sometimes their stuff hit the bestseller lists and made pretty serious money and, yes, by some criteria, a few of them were celebrities. All that adds up to Success, at least by the standards of the times. Money + Fame = Success. Add literary respectability and, well…all Hail!
As to what this inky royalty produced, these whatchamacallems… oh yeah, books – hey, bub, this isn’t your American Lit 101 class (and never will be) and so I won’t attempt to define our subject. Novels. They come in many sizes and shapes and formats and tell stories sometimes seasoned with history and philosophy and autobiography and even religion… let’s end the catalog here, okay? You get the idea. Big book. Lots of words. Amen.
Some of the heavy lifting traditionally done by novels has been assumed by other, newer media. The specialty channels widely available on television – Netflix, Amazon and the like – can deliver intricate stories that require ten or more hours of playing time and deliver them unriddled with commercials. These may have the same amount of content as novels delivered using a different system.
But let’s not lament the loss of our beloved print formats just yet. Novels are still being read, but if – due to time warp? – our teenage selves saw them we might not recognize them as novels. Because some of them, the ones with lots of pictures, are sold as “graphic” novels” and that’s pretty much what they are: stories with more complexity than what’s found in the average comic book, but narrated using comic book techniques. Even the august New York Times, a validator of respectability, is serializing an autobiographical graphic novel in Sunday editions. (For some reason, the form seems particularly suited to autobiography.)
All this is further evidence that we live in a bitter and divided nation, culturally we’re blessed. Lots to enjoy and some of it really didn’t exist when…oh, say, Marifran and Dennis took in the Friday night flicks.
There’s no single moment in the creation of the comics that I make that cement the driving feeling of accomplishment more for me than finalizing the lettering on a page. When it comes time to build The Samurnauts, my studio (Unshaven Comics for the uninitiated) subscribes to a combination of the so-called DC Style and the so-called Marvel Method.
The DC Style such as its short-handed via various wikis and whatnot is a full script treatment. This means that the writers produce a script that outlines every bit of information to be in a given comic – from the panel descriptions, to the actual laid out dialogue, caption boxes, and onomatopoeia.
The Marvel Method is often the cited style of the stalwart staple of Marvel Studios, Stan Lee. Stan provided his artist collaborators the basic structures and story beats. He’d allow them to lay it all out as they saw fit. He then would come back to the final art, and add in all ‘dem fancy words.
To note: it’s likely in comics today that neither DC or Marvel actually adhere to these methods full-stop for the glut of writers they employ. It’s most likely down to individual preference, editorial management, or some combination of the two. And neither company originated these so-called styles.
Unshaven Comics utilizes both of these styles when it comes time to create an issue of The Samurnauts. Kyle Gnepper (resident writer and sales machine) is the full-script aficionado. As to why he prefers that style is an article I implore him to write on his own. What we’re here for today kiddos is to explore why I’m so enamored with the extemporaneous creation of the words that land on the page of the books that bear my name. Ya dig?
As I draw the pages, the script of my portions of The Samurnauts is always playing in my head like a Saturday morning cartoon. When we Unshaven Lads plot out an issue, we furiously take notes and debate on the outline. We create scenes, and story beats we want to hit on. We envision large set pieces, and tropes we want to pay homage to. When it’s time to translate those musings to actual actions? Well, for me, it’s all a matter of staring at a blank page and letting the story play out. I’ll layout panels (Adobe Illustrator is my medium of choice), and I’ll scribble near visually-illegible gestural drawings in the panels – my outline nestled in the margins of the artboard. From here, I typically bounce the final sketches to my artistic cohort Matt Wright. His keen eye for dynamic shots and action always set me up for logical-yet-exhilarating moments to capture in my final art.
By this point, I should make clear: my goal is to show more than tell. The immeasurably keen and kind Brian Stelfreeze once told me “A great comic book page can tell a story without a single word,” and I’ve long made what attempts I could to visually communicate as much as I could in the panel. This often translates to capturing my models with numerous poses, facial expressions, at different angles. My comic-making process is essentially a cartoon on mute for the first half of production. My end-goal always being to tell the entire story through the artwork first.
After the digital penciling, inking, flatting, and coloring, I’m left with a page ready for the final layer. Per the same conversation with Stelfreeze, I vividly recall him pointing out that “The words that appear on the page need not tell me what I’m already seeing. They need to fill in the gaps between the panels.” And so, with the page visually telling me one portion of the story, I add in my captions and dialogue in response to the action already on the page. With each blurb of text, I ask myself what am I communicating here that adds to the depth of the story? I’ll end on a recent anecdote:
On the first two page spread of the forthcoming The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #4 the action is clear as day; the Dreadnut dreadnaught (natch) reigns a hail of laser fire at the feet of the now-Delta-Wave Samurnauts, blowing them towards us (Power Ranger style!). Set in panels beneath the action we see their sensei, Master Al (the immortal Kung-Fu Monkey) imprisoned aboard their nemesis’ ship. We pull in on his pained expression.
When I outlined the scene, I knew that the action in the major portion of the page would not need to have a ton of dialogue – keeping in mind the sound effects of the lasers would be a key visual on top of the art. Pairing that action with the introspective moment by Master Al offered me the opportunity per Stelfreeze’s advice. The ability to counterpoint said action with narration that dives deeper into Master Al’s backstory (setting up Kyle’s five-page flashback on the following pages) becomes that thing that adds a layer to the artwork. By pairing reflective and solemn narration over the explosions creates a deeper experience – one I think that is best celebrated via the medium of a comic book. There’s no fancy star-wiping here, just a juxtaposition of incongruous actions that taken together tell us more than if they were presented more plainly.
And as I’d started saying at the top of this article, it’s here in these moments… when my unadorned artwork lays before me, I let Jesus take the wheel. Funny enough, I’m Jewish. I kid, I kid. Without a fully-developed script – paired with Kyle’s completed piece in front of me – I’m able to craft a more cohesive comic. One where my words set the table for Kyle’s, while still advancing the story in my portion of the book. It’s a balancing act that is the single most important selling point of The Samurnauts. Without that singular vision that marries the past to the future, our book is a mismatched mélange of wholly dissimilar action, save only for a monkey. Walking that tightrope, without a script to catch my fall is the kind of adventure that truly pays off when I’ve finished the last word balloon on the page and hit save. I reread the entire page, and play back the cartoon running in my mind. If it gels? It sells.
This past weekend was the Big Apple Convention at New York City’s famed Hotel Pennsylvania. Fellow ComicMix columnist Molly Jackson joined me in attending this show as she has for the past four years now. Boy, time really does fly, huh?
The Big Apple Con is a show I’ve been going to for many years. For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is a con run by Mike “Carbo” Carbonaro who has had more close calls with retirement than Cher. I don’t *think* he was retiring this time, but I could be wrong.
Anyway, his shows tend to attach some big names from the old guard in comics like Jim Steranko and Ramona Fradon, as well as young up and comers like Mindy Indy and Stan Chou. In the past I’ve gotten to meet people like Herb Trimpe, who is no longer with us, George Pérez, and Chris Claremont back before he was charging for signatures. That’s not a crack on Claremont, by the way. Nearly all the X-Men comics at this point and many of the movies are in part or entirely based on his work so if you can’t shell out a few bucks for a signature you might be trying to flip on eBay anyway, then you can get by without his signature on your comic. I’m pretty sure a firm handshake is still free with most creators, but don’t get carried away.
This year the big draw was Stan Lee. Well, it was supposed to be Stan Lee. He unfortunately fell ill and had to cancel. We all wish him a speedy recovery. Stan regenerated into Jim Lee, who flew in for a signing on Saturday, and Frank Miller was the big cheese for Sunday. As disappointed as I’m sure some comics fans were that Stan Lee couldn’t make it, if Jim Lee and Frank Miller aren’t enough for you on top of everyone else who was there then I just don’t know what to tell you.
Molly and I only attended Saturday of the show. Previously, the Big Apple Con was a one day show and we figured we could get almost everything done that we wanted in one day. As much as I would have liked to see Frank Miller, I’m sure another opportunity will arise. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pay that much for an autograph this past weekend either.
We had a nice time overall. Yes, we agreed we liked it best the one year it was at The New Yorker Hotel down the block and that it’s hard to walk around some parts with the crowd congestion, but Molly and I together make pretty good nitpickers. Some of the highlights for us were picking up original art from Ramona Fradon and getting to chat with her briefly. I’ve got a couple of sketch covers done from her over the hears, but I splurged on a nice piece she brought from home. Molly picked up a couple of smaller pieces herself. As a side-note, Ramona is an incredible pop artist whose influence can be seen in comics right through to today. If you’re unfamiliar, please consider picking up The Art Of Ramona Fradon digital book or the hardcover and learn all about her career and see so much of her gorgeous art.
The Art Of Ramona Fradon includes a long form interview with her conducted by Howard Chaykin who was also in attendance this past weekend. I’ve gotten to meet Howard a couple of times before and this time was no less interesting. Previously he had recommended the prose novel It’s Superman by Tom DeHaven at a Q&A which I read and absolutely loved. This time the topic of conversation would be deemed controversial to most. I’m not going to tell you what it was about. You’ll just have to go to a con he’s at and maybe if you’re good (not nice – good) he’ll tell you a good (not nice) story.
We got a chance to catch up with Stan Chou at the show and see what he’s been up to. He was previously at Double Take, but since they wrapped up production he’s been doing more freelance work. He gave me a copy of a comic he put out with writer Patrick McEvoy, The Darker Region. Basically, the premise is classic horror movie monsters in space and contains three different stories. What really stands out here in that Stan Chou goes out of his way to make the art style different in all three stories contained here. If you’re not familiar with Stan’s work, the link earlier goes to his Twitter page. Check it out.
Molly and I ran into a lot of other people including Mindy Indy, Todd Matthy, Dennis Knight, Bob Camp, Reilly Brown, many of the people we’ve seen waiting in line with us at signings over the years, and more. It was a good day all around. If you only go to the big shows, it’s worth checking out some of these smaller conventions. And if you’re the type that’s more into the indie comic zine fest scene, there are plenty of indie comics creators at a show like Big Apple Con that need support too.
The 2017 convention season is really just kicking off, so start looking up shows, marking your calendars and putting money aside if you can. There are a lot of shows to come and this is sure to be an interesting year ahead of us.
The Los Angeles neighborhood of Westwood is home to The University of Southern California, better known as U.C.L.A. It’s a trendy area filled with upscale shops and expensive restaurants.
I’ve never been a fan of Westwood U.C.L.A or trendy, expensive restaurants. I doubt if I ever will be. But because God gets a kick out of such things my new Viacom offices were in Westwood, the reference library I was compelled to use was at U.C.LA, and a trendy, expensive restaurant was where I was on my way to have lunch with Stan Lee.
Stan was kind enough to bring with him Jack Kirby… and the Black Panther.
Together the three may have saved my ass.
Showtime Networks and Marvel Productions were both housed in the same Westwood high-rise. I was just moving into my new offices at Showtime; helping me do so was Adah Glenn.
Adah is a fantastic artist I met some years before. She used her considerable wits to land herself a gig at Motown Animation when I was not hiring. That I assure you is no easy feat.
Adah was placing a box on my desk with one small problem. She missed the casually.
Crash!!! The unmistakable sound of breaking glass when the box hit the floor filled the room.
“I hope that wasn’t my Tiffany lamp,” I said.
“I think I just saw Stan Lee in the lobby” she said, not hearing or not caring about my statement. I gazed over to the box then to her. I did that repeatedly knowing she would get the hint and pick up the box.
She didn’t get the hint.
Instead, she looked at me with no indication whatsoever she’d dropped the box.
“I wish I’d thought of something to say to him. Do you know Stan Lee?” she asked.
Flipping my eyes back and forth as fast as I could I told her; “Yep.”
Nothing. It was like the girl was in a trance, and I’d had enough.
“Ya wanna pick up that box you dropped?”
She looked down and was surprised to see the box at her feet.
“I do that? My bad.” She bent down to pick up the box and said; “Mike, do you know Stan Lee?”
“I know Stan pretty well…”
When later that month I was sitting down with Stan over lunch I recounted that story. He has a hard time believing anyone would react that way. I had a hard time believing Stan didn’t know how he rolled.
I’d met Stan as a fan in the 80s. Although it was a while before we became friends, it was memorable when it happened. I saw Stan walking across the San Diego Comic Con Convention floor in 1993, the first year Milestone had a booth.
“Hey Stan Lee! come on over; you’re the first contestant on The Price Is Right!” I yelled. Why? I meant just to say “hey Stan Lee come on over” but the rest just came out.
Stan, much to my surprise, came over. “What do I win?” He said with a huge smile. The Milestone partners all scampered over and said hello to Stan who gave Denys Cowan a “There he is.” When shaking Denys’ hand acknowledging to all there he and Denys knew each other. That made Denys BMOC (big man on campus) and HNIC (ask a black person) for a bit.
That is until Derek Dingle asked Stan “How do you know Michael?” Before he answered I chimed in with “Stan and I were in the Crips together.” Stan co-signed with; “Those were the days.”
Those were the days indeed.
Stan and I had just done a drive by when we decided to ditch the car and ran into the woods. It was dark as such we were taking care not to make any noise less so we were not discovered. At one point Stan whispered “Something just landed on me.”
It took my eyes a second to adjust to the darkness, but once it did I saw what it was and informed Stan; “It’s a spider…man.”
That’s when I created Spider-Man, but Stan will never acknowledge that or his illegitimate son Spike.
That’s how I opened the Stan Lee Roast at a 1994 convention event. By that time Stan and I were on a friendly basis. In 1995 Stan was kind enough to come by the Motown Animation booth at SDCC to wish me well and take some photos.
“You drive that thing on the street?” Stan asked as we stood in front of the Motown / Image Comics Van. The way he asked the question was so funny I couldn’t answer from laughing so much.
Stan and I talked about our history among a great many things over lunch, but mostly we talked about my new venture at Viacom. Since the deal closed the feeling I had made a major blunder was growing. “I gave up my golden parachute to follow a dream, and I’m beginning to think it was a mistake.” I said to Stan.
I told Stan about the comic book reading program.
“That’s a good idea but a hard sell.” He said.
“It’s sold, but now I’m not so sure it’s a good idea,” I responded.
“It’s a great idea. I should know because I did it when I was in the army,” Stan said. Then he told me how he produced the line of instructional comic books for the armed forces. Years later when at Marvel he tried to get comics in the school system but couldn’t crack that market.
Stan Lee couldn’t crack a market? I’m thinking gethefuckoutofhere!
I was convinced he told me that to make me feel better. He assured me he was serious and explained how it was a big deal to get into the schools.
He told me following a dream is rare for most people and said my dream was a noble one because it involved making something to benefit others namely kids with problems reading.
“You unquestionably helped a million kids with a problem reading I’m sure. You certainly helped me.” I told Stan that and how in the fourth grade he and Jack Kirby almost made me kill Ronnie Williams when I slammed a metal backed chair over his head.
“Why on earth did you do that?” Stan inquired through his huge grin. I explained how Ronnie took my copy of Fantastic Four # 73 and I wanted it back. Jack Kirby and he (and some advice from my mother) gave me the strength to get it back.
“Don’t forget the chair.” Stan deadpanned.
I realized this was a good a time as any to tell Stan something else he helped me with, my self-esteem. “Thank you for creating the Black Panther. How much flak did you get back in the day?”
He looked at me for a sec and then said; “Some, but it was the right thing do we thought.”
That may have been the understatement of my comics career. The Black Panther was all my comic book buddies, and I could talk about when we discovered him. Then it was the Falcon, Luke Cage, the Prowler and on and on.
It goes without saying Stan and Jack paved the way for Brotherman and Static, inspiring black creators of today with black heroes from our yesterday. I don’t know any creators of color from my generation who would not give those Lee and Kirby creations at least a nod.
Stan and I made lunch a pretty regular thing while we were both at that Westwood high-rise. Stan moved on launching Stan Lee Media where I almost ended up heading “Stan Lee Kids,” but that’s another story. I moved on not long after Stan left the building.
Stan was right. Comics in the schools were a good idea. My Action Files over twenty years later is still in schools. Some time back they started selling on Amazon (without the Teacher’s Guide), and to my knowledge, the program is still the only curriculum based comic book reading program sold in American schools.
In my mind, Stan has a real place in the history of current black comic characters. Those who don’t think so are welcome to that opinion.
The sheer guts it took to create the Black Panther during the time Jack Kirby, and he did so is enough for me.
They didn’t have to, but they did because ‘it was the right thing to do.’
The last time I saw Stan, it was bittersweet. He was the same old Stan holding court in the lobby of the Marriott. But when I shook his hand and looked into his eyes it was evident my Stan was gone. He didn’t remember me.
“Stan is pushing 100. He can’t remember everything and everybody” I was told this by one of Stan’s entourage who meant well but dropped me even to a deeper sadness. As I started to turn and walk away, this young lady must have seen the grief on my face and touched my arm stopping me.
She said; ” With age, God wipes away many things to lessen our burden. His long life may soon be over that’s not a bad thing he must be exhausted. He may leave us, but he will be at peace.”
… Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Black Panther take me to lunch!
This article features part one in its entirety. If you’d prefer to skip it scroll down to the paragraph break CORE BUSINESS- it’s all caps and in bold. If you can I’d like you to read this from the beginning. I’ve made some changes albeit small ones I feel were warranted.
My apologies for the long delay.
The Black Panthers were at one time the number one target of the FBI in the 60s. They were viewed as terrorists and J. Edger Hoover the longtime leader of the most powerful police force in the world was hell bent on getting rid of them by hook or by crook.
Yep, hook or crook.
It’s no secret the United States Government from time to time will ignore the law. It’s fair to say it goes on often and as far as we know it goes on all the time. When caught those, who swore to uphold the constitution offer apologies for actions that dismissed the law like Trump denies any negative press.
But it’s all bullshit.
If not caught these people may have stopped breaking the law, but it’s doubtful they would have been sorry. I gather few are sorry for wrongdoing that benefits them. How many people have you seen come forward to admit how sorry they are for gaming the system when they have no incentive to do so?
The FBI broke all sorts of laws to accomplish their Black Panther agenda. As always don’t take my word for it Google that bitch. Unless you’re blind to the truth backed up with a few court rulings the war on the Panthers was a one-sided American tragedy fueled by a lie and driven home by a liar by the name of J. Edger do I look fat in this dress Hoover.
Yeah, I can talk a lot of shit from my cozy little home in suburban Los Angeles. I can talk smack because I’m secure in the knowledge I’m protected by:
First Amendment Right Freedom of Speech
What I wrote about the F.B.I was true.
I’m just not that important, and neither is ComicMix or Bleeding Cool to anyone in power that may object to my point of view.
I’m not as naïve as the above list would suggest. I’m fully aware my rights are subject to the will of the arresting officer and temperament of the D.A. regardless of my innocence if arrested for a crime I didn’t commit.
Been there had that done to me. Twice.
My circumstances notwithstanding in 2017 there exists a reasonable chance that someone may be believed if they claim police brutally or unjust treatment.
In 1966 the odds of a Black person being believed, slim. I would wager a Jewish person would face the same type of incredulity and given what happened to the three Civil Rights workers in Mississippi June 1964 the same dangers.
In June 1964 in Neshoba County, Mississippi, three civil rights workers were abducted and murdered in an act of racial violence. The victims were Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner from New York City, and James Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi.
All three were associated with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and its member organization the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). They had been working with the “Freedom Summer” campaign by attempting to register African-Americans in the southern states to vote.
This registration effort was a part of contesting over 70 years of laws and practices that supported a systematic policy of disenfranchisement of potential black voters by several Southern states that began in 1890.
The three men had been arrested following a traffic stop in Meridian for speeding, escorted to the local jail and held for some hours.  As the three left towns in their car, they were followed by law enforcement and others. Before leaving Neshoba County their car was pulled over, and all three were abducted, driven to another location, and shot at close range. The three men’s bodies were then transported to an earthen dam where they were buried.
Two of the three men killed for trying to do the right thing were Jewish.
In the 50s and 60s, certain parts of the deep south were deadly. Those who sided with Black people treated as if they were well, Black people often that meant death. It’s one thing to risk your life for your rights another thing indeed to do so for another’s.
In my mind, that’s the textbook definition of noble. That takes a whole other level of balls and commitment.
In 1966 the F.B.I was on a mission to destroy the Black Panther Party and woe be on to those who got in their way.
Marvel Comics was all the rage on college campuses in the 60’s. Stan The Man Lee was the captain of one of the hottest pop culture ships to ever set sail in the ever changing 60s sea. His first mate Jack King Kirby navigated just as much of the Marvel boat as Stan, together they ruled comics, campuses and cool.
Stan wasn’t content to just cruise. He continuously looked to change the comic book landscape he had already transformed. DC wasn’t without some cool stuff, Wein and Wrightson’s Swamp Thing, Adams and O’Neil’s Green Lantern / Green Arrow were a stellar addition to the cool that Stan ushered in. Alas, those came in the late 60s / early 70s.
DC held its own in sales, but in the cool department they were outclassed at every port. Seen by most as still just for kids DC may have sold as much or more but Marvel was- to use 60’s slang- where it’s at.
Put another way, DC was the Good Ship Lollipop… and Marvel was the ever-loving Titanic.
Like the actual Titanic, Stan and Jack faced an Iceberg. Unlike the doomed ship they looked for that potential death dealer on purpose. Those two Jewish guys were about to take a stand and strike a blow for civil rights. Not for themselves for African Americans and doing so rather they knew it or not chuck a serious fuck you to Hoover and his crew.
A Black Panther with a serious attitude showed up in New York and preceded to win over the masses with his message. If J. Edgar wouldn’t wear white after Labor Day, Hoover wanted to do something he was powerless to do it.
That’s because this Black Panther wasn’t real. Stan and Jack made him up out of thin air, or did they? In 2017 it’s hard to imagine meeting someone who had not heard of Donald Trump’s:
Take your pick.
The Black Panther Party was a regular item in print and broadcast news. The year was 1966 what you read in the newspaper or watched on TV was damn near (for many it was) gospel.
Ya think Lee and Kirby just happened to create a character with the same name as the most wanted radical group this side of the Weather Underground with no knowledge that group existed?
Stan was as tuned in to what American college kids were doing as anyone over 30 could be. He spoke at many universities, and Marvel’s mail was an endless stream of hip American youth feedback.
The question is, did Stan, and Jack create the Black Panther to make a buck or a difference?
I know the answer because I asked my man Stan and his reply affected me… but not in any way you may think.
Part 2: CORE BUISNESS
In 1996 I left Motown Animation Filmworks where I served as President CEO and started my development deal with Viacom companies. My goal was to develop content across the many media businesses Viacom-owned.
Among Viacom’s holdings were Paramount Pictures, MTV Networks, Simon & Schuster, Nickelodeon and more.
My deal was structured under Simon & Schuster where my first project was set up was 20 years in the making. Developing a comic book reading program with a universe of characters I created had been a dream of mine since high school.
Comics in the classroom sounded like a no-brainer. I thought I was a 17-year old genius when first I had the idea. How no one thought about this idea before I did was beyond belief.
It took me another 20 years to find out why.
While at Milestone I put together an overview and presented it to the partners. Derek Dingle, co-founder and President of Milestone, had final say on any new business and he said it sounded like a good idea.
He also maintained we should revisit it after the launch. He was right; many new ventures fail for various reasons, but chief among them is not paying attention to the core business.
Put another way; when you start your comic book company do the best comics you can before deciding to put significant effort into other media or enterprises make sure to handle your core business.
As for me, life is what happens while… you know the rest.
If you don’t know that Lennon quote do yourself a favor and Goggle it. Truer words are rare to find my friend.
Life is what happened to me as such; by the time the books launched Milestone was in my rearview mirror. When our books premièred I was still at the company but had already begun to think outside the box determined to avoid another DC bullet.
Doing so meant I was going to keep my school idea to myself.
At Motown Animation & Filmworks, where I went after leaving Milestone, I put the idea on my short list produced another up to date business plan and was about to partner with a mainstream publishing company.
Then core business reared its ugly head yet again.
Motown’s core business is music my film and television division although successful in the two plus years we were there was doomed. At the time Motown’s parent company was Polygram and the powers that be decided Motown would return to core business despite having its best year ever.
Motown Animation was doomed, but I was very much alive with options. Chief among them: I had a sweet golden parachute.
A golden parachute is an agreement between a company and an employee (usually upper executive) specifying that the employee will receive certain significant benefits if employment is terminated. Most definitions specify the employment termination is because of a merger or takeover, also known as “Change-in-control benefits” but more recently the term has been used to describe perceived excessive CEO (and other executives) severance packages unrelated to change in ownership (also known as a golden handshake). The benefits may include severance pay, cash bonuses, stock options, or other benefits.
I could transition over to Polygram Films for the remainder of my contract. If my deal were not extended at terms end, my golden parachute would still be honored.
I could sit out the balance of my contract watching All My Children at home and still receive full salary. However, that also came with a non-compete.
A non-compete means I could not work with another company doing what I was doing at Motown.
“You’re a fucking idiot!”
That’s what my agent at the William Morris agency told me when, like Captain Kirk, I changed the rules of the game.
I opted for a third option. I left. Left the deal, left the Golden Parachute, left the Polygram job. Left it all for a long shot at a dream. It felt good for about two days until it became clear I fucked up with a capital Fucked Up.
First, William Morris dropped me… followed by my manager and entertainment attorney.
Just that quick I went from Playa to played.
I was told later William Morris may have stood by me if I had not responded in kind when called me a fucking idiot. Really?
Hollywood is very much like the movie. Some (not all) people think because they have a certain amount of power they have the right to belittle you when the feeling hits them.
I’m a grown man and unless I’ve done something to warrant you addressing me like I’m a child the odds of you getting away with talking to me like I am are zero.
On the other hand, I’m not perfect and on occasion have been a fucking idiot indeed and deserved to be called on the carpet. However, me making a hard decision about my life isn’t one of those occasions.
This has cost me both money and opportunities and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regret my actions in some instances. That said, I can’t see myself continuing to deal with someone who berates me for no other reason except they can.
I don’t cast judgment on those who tolerate it. I just don’t.
The Los Angeles neighborhood of Westwood is home to The University of Southern California, better known as U.C.L.A. It’s a trendy area filled with upscale shops and expensive restaurants.
I’ve never been a fan of Westwood U.C.L.A or trendy, expensive restaurants. I doubt if I ever will be. But because God gets a kick out of such things my new Viacom offices were in Westwood. The reference library I was compelled to use was at U.C.LA, and a trendy, expensive restaurant was where I was on my way to have lunch with Stan Lee.
Stan was kind enough to bring with him Jack Kirby and the Black Panther.
Unshaven Comics has offered me too many moments of pure Trump-level pride. Selling hundreds of copies more than our friends at various comic cons through the sheer force of Kyle’s will. Breaking bread with industry legends. Seeing Stan Lee be escorted by Playboy models so he could roast the great John Romita while giving an award to his son. But none may be greater and pride-filling than officially teaching our first “Comic Book 101” class for our local park district.
In the not-too-distant-past, we’d offered a one day workshop for local kids through a small gallery. For a few hours, we broke down how comics are made and then sorta turned the kids loose to aimlessly draw and ask us questions. It was quaint. But we had bigger dreams.
After a fruitful meeting with our local Parks and Rec manager of classes, we pitched something far more comprehensive. A pair of two-hour classes where the entire process of comic book creation is explored in-depth, with interactive lessons at every step. They were elated. We were excited, and parents were notified
Smash cut to a week ago, when 18 smiling children (and one very curious and excited adult) showed up, bristling with energy.
Matt and I presented a worksheet packet of our own design as we walked through our creative process. From the conceptualization phase — where pie and coffee meet monkeys and robots — straight through to outlining plot, thumbnailing a page, and penciling. Our class ranged in age from 8 to 14 or 15 (and the one lone 57-year old), but everyone shared a common love of the medium; even if their actual knowledge of the form was in its infancy.
What struck me beyond any other point during class, came when Matt and I made rounds to speak to each student about their idea they wanted to draw. My expectations of simple “Captain Amazing beats up Doctor Weird Beard” were decimated by complex and deeply-imagined universes of characters. Our students regaled us with winding plots and characters they’d had in their heads, just awaiting an opportunity to burst out on to the page.
And while we had some fights to draw out, I was astounded to hear several students describe heady, dialogue-driven pieces. Fathers taunting their sons to join their evil legions, party-girls dealing with their poor life-choices, and students and teachers connecting over bully problems. To hear the breadth of ideas being explored really made me appreciate that our little group cared more about the narrative than learning how to render the perfect punch.
As the students worked on their turnarounds for their characters, I overheard their conversations. Civil War came up, and lively chatter about it ensued. It hit me like a splash page: this generation is literally growing up in the golden era of comics going mainstream. They have over a dozen perfectly adapted comic stories as multi-billion-dollar movie franchises. Between cartoons, they also have live-action dramas on multiple networks that draw directly from the pulp and paper. And now, in their backyard, a pair of indie comic creators are breaking down the process of building a page from soup to nuts. A golden era, indeed.
Teachers often comment on how the kids really teach them. I can say without a doubt just how true an adage that is. As we let kids loose after the first class completed, I could see their energy as they showed their moms and dads the work they completed. One parent stepped over to me, smiling ear to ear, before ushering his son out of the classroom.