Tagged: Unshaven Comics

Marc Alan Fishman is Looking for Inspiration

Thanks in part to a very mystical social media maven, Unshaven Comics has recently enjoyed a bit of a renaissance on our Facebook page. With an increase of likes and, more important, engagement, I’ve been able to hold some really great conversations with our glut of fans. Most recently (as of my writing this), I brought up the question of our favorite artists. I did so because, to me, nothing immediately draws us all into the world of comic books before the art… pun wholly intended.

It’s the depiction – be it overtly bright and heroic or gothic and moody – of worlds impossible to live in that ultimately usher us into the pulp. The writing may, in turn, drive us further into our individual fandoms, but I’ll always believe that the visuals of comic bookery are inherently tied to our collective appreciation. Individual artists will hold our attention more than others. As such, I wanted to share with all of you a collection of these illuminated illustrators of whom I have felt a deeper connection to, that ultimately led me on my own long and winding path to being a creator myself.

Alex Ross

When tracking my love of comics, no artist comes to mind for me personally before Alex Ross. While I may have seen plenty of amazing illustrators in my youth prior, it was Ross and his affinity for the photorealistic that stopped me cold and forced me to enter into my now life-long love affair with sequential fiction. To see Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern per his brush, I was able to bridge the gap that had long stood between what felt like toy-box fodder and an art form. Not to dismiss the pantheon of amazing artists before him mind you. It was merely seeing heroes and villains in a new medium that opened my eyes to the potent pulp of Kirby, Ditko, and the like. Alex Ross makes the impossible seem possible, and because of it, his work on Marvels and Kingdom Come still remain my go-to examples when asked how best to break one’s self into the medium as a fan.

It was Alex Ross’s use of photo reference that calmed my own shaky nerves when it came time for me to dive into interior art. Knowing that I could use the tools of my fine art upbringing to help me build the worlds of the Samurnauts, I was able to overcome my lack of a skillset in creating something from nothing. It had long prevented me from ever trying to make comics. Seeing how Ross walked the line from a photo to a finished panel helped me, in my own meager way, do the same.

Mike Mignola

And let’s just go ahead and leap to the antithesis. Mike Mignola is one of those artists that captivated me the second I saw his angular and moody artwork. The way he balanced his awkward forms with garish shadows and minimal detail helped me see how an artist could make a world alien to our own even more alien. And because his work is most often simply colored, he helped me find an affinity for a less-is-more approach to a comic. While I myself can’t say that I see any of his influence in my own work… I oftentimes find myself with a comic or two of his on my side-table when I am in the very beginning of planning a page. And while someday I may trust myself to push my own style into a Mignola-esque direction, until then, I can simply enjoy the work he produces.

Mike Allred

Like many of my specific generation, my honest-to-Rao first look of Allred’s work was the animated intro to Kevin Smith’s Mallrats. Mike Allred’s simple-retro-hipper-than-thou art leaped off the movie screen far better than the dialogue deluge of Smith’s Generation X stoner flick ever could. Subsequent deep dives into the X-Statix, Madman, X-Force, and others only deepened my considerable admiration. And above Ross or Mignola, Allred’s work is presently on the tip of my own tongue – artistically speaking.

Mike Allred’s clean lines, kinetic figures, and throw-back style is 1000% what is pushing me towards my newest endeavors in the medium. With my forthcoming submission in Mine! to the subsequent spiritual sequel in the Samurnauts series, I am working hard to push my style into a similar vein. At present, my odd mashing of photo-realistic figures with overly fussy coloring served its purpose; continuing to revisit Allred’s work is forcing me to do what the best artists do… reinvent myself to become more myself such as it were.

Next week, I’ll be focusing on the yang to the artist’s ying. Excelsior!


Marc Alan Fishman: Facing My Fears

As I noted last week, Unshaven Comics’ trek to Hotlanta for the annual Dragon Con had me face down several fears all at once. As Unshaven Matt Wright was sidelined due to a babysitting emergency, the biggest fear for me was knowing that our terrific trio was reduced to a dingy duo. Beyond that, there was the continual fear that our little shtick will finally reach the point that it doesn’t garner the excitement we count on to close sales. Add that ennui to the more concrete fear that a ten-hour trip in the car while completing the Whole 30 diet – one that forced me to give up everything but lean protein, fruits and vegetables – would make what is normally a doable drive become something more akin to the trek undertaken by a ragtag fellowship of adventurers trying to ditch a silly ring.

Backup just a wee bit further and I was dealing with the fear of finishing our comic. In what was our second year without a new book to bring out to shows, the creeping horror of attending a show yet again without anything new to our names had forced me to use vacation time from my day job – and then working 12 hours a day to ensure we limped across the finish line. But once production was done on the digital end? Well, then came all the tiny nightmares: getting gigs of data over to our printer intact, checking proofs, correcting errors, and then awaiting the full order for Atlanta to be printed, cut, and stapled.

All of those fears aside, I also decided that life isn’t worth living unless you’re burning the candle at every conceivable end. Upon our return from Dragon Con, the awesome editors of Mine!, Joe Corollo and Molly Jackson were kind enough to allow me a chance to contribute to the book. I had a plan in place – to work hand in hand with a friend of mine very close to the cause, to produce something original and funny (a specific request by said editors). But life never works exactly as we plan, right? My collaborator went on an impromptu vacation, and I felt the pinch to produce my script sans net. This, above production woes or travelling drudgery scared the bejesus out of me.

For the last five years or so my comic series The Samurnauts has been a comfortable and fruitful universe to play in. The rules had been well defined by myself and my Unshaven cohorts. Our stories had been written and everything stayed right in my wheelhouse. That house, you ask? Taking those things I loved growing up, and putting a new twist on them to produce something that kids would enjoy, but adults could appreciate the layers built below the surface of the shiny comic action. But Mine! is a beast far outside the realm of immortal Kung-Fu monkeys and zombie-cyborg space pirates.

So there I sat with the blank screen blinding me. No collaborator to bounce ideas off of. A deadline perilously perched at the precipice of my palms. And no alliterative allegories alerting me to an able-bodied antiphon. If Sinestro were real? I could charge his ring from the sweat forming on my brow. Here, with this opportunity to be a part of a book alongside living legends (too many to mention), did I actually have a leg to stand on… or was I destined to tuck my tail between my legs and just scamper off to make some toys tussle with one-another.

In all of these situations, I am lucky now to be a father. To see in my two sons how fear (and the reaction to it) molds who we are. Be it my younger, Colton, timid and terrified of a two-foot tall Domo I was making wave, or my older, Bennett, scared to even open his mouth for a patient dental hygienist. In both of them, I see myself. Scared, and frozen as I try to check-down the possibilities. Would Unshaven Comics not sell well? Would Samurnauts simply remain forever incomplete? Would I have an original idea to sit in the same book with the likes of Mark Waid, Neil Gaiman, John Ostrander, or Brian Azzarello?

The answer came from one of the biggest mentors in my high school days. Dean Auriemma, my fine arts teacher, instilled in me the keys to overcoming my fear. Sadly, he didn’t know Hal Jordan from Michael Jordan, but I digress. The memory here is preserved like the dino DNA in Jurassic Park. There I was, sitting, mouth agape, at my drawing board. Before me strewn a hastily fastened together still life from which we were to create our work. Mr. A sauntered up behind me, and gruffly asked “What are you doing? Waiting for it to draw itself, buddy?”

I stammered back (not unlike Bennett when asked about the evil dentist) “I… I don’t know.”

Mr. A leaned back on his heels, and dropped a truth bomb that has resonated with me ever since:

“Just start doing what you know. If you wait for the answer to come, you’ll be waiting forever.”

And so too did every recent fear in my life fell before me. I put my head down and finished our comic. I stood up, and sold to every passerby in Atlanta. And damn it all, I started writing my script for Mine! By leaning in to what I knew, and soon thereafter, my script came together – as did Molly and Joe’s approval and acknowledgment.

It turns out we have nothing to fear but fear itself – in our brightest days … and darkest nights.

Marc Alan Fishman: “When Are You Going To Stop This?”

As I placed the final piece of the puzzle into the floppy copy of The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #4 (ironically it was an ad for ComicMix, what synergy!) a fleeting thought tripped me up. Throughout the production process of creating Curse, Unshaven Comics has faced one teeny-tiny nagging question from a few people very close to our hearts. This single question – phrased and rephrased in both passive-aggressive and totally-aggro ways has come to represent a choke point for me and my l’il studio.

“When are you going to stop this?”

For the sake of clarity? The question was posed to us by close family members – none of whom share room and board with us. All three Unshaven Lads are beyond lucky to have wives (and children) who are always fully in-support of our indie comic dreams; so long as we work hard to be good husbands and dads… which we are.

This gentle nag comes out of place of love mind you, and it bears some defense. Making comics, attending comic conventions, and running a small business takes time, energy, and money. Three things none of the Unshavenauts have a plethora of. And as girlfriends became wives became mothers of our children, all three resources continued to become even more important. Imagine leaving a frazzled new mother with a screaming infant while her pie-in-the-sky-publishing-father-of-the-doomspawn traipses across the country to go sell comics for just enough money to afford going to the next show. When you phrase it that way? Well, me and my brothers-from-other-mothers are downright villainous, aren’t we?

But we’re not villains.

The nagging question comes fully loaded with the bigger picture in mind; to what end did we envision all this comic bookery doing for us?

When we began… perhaps it was hubris and optimism that made me think it’d land us on the doorstep of a great publisher like Boom!, Avatar, Image, or Dark Horse. As issue 2 and 3 dropped, that dream shifted a bit towards even larger goals like licensing and multi-media expansion. When we launched our Kickstarter, the promise of a graphic novel brought with it this feeling of making a statement – that we had arrived, and soon Samurnauts would morph into a vehicle to break us away from our normal day jobs, and allow us to live the life we’d spitballed about during those lengthy drives across the country.

And those dreams, shared with our friends, family, and fans eventually came full circle. Here we are on the verge of actually collecting together the graphic novel (and finally fulfilling our promises to our now-rightfully-mad-as-hell backers), no longer hell-bent on stardom or fame. The journey has been the reward staring us back in the face all along. Money would be great; but a big break comes much like love does. Always be open to it and ready for it… but never demand it or expect it.

So…“When are you going to stop this?”

It’d be so easy to quit. While our nemesis enjoys the ending of his biographical comic by way of a now-viral-sensation and we see plenty of our compatriots releasing more material than we ever could in the same amount of time, I can’t lie – the not-so-secret jealousy of their good fortune (well-deserved as it is) makes it feel like perhaps we missed the boat on that next level we aspire to be at.

Like I said, it’d be easy to turn the lights off and walk away. A single graphic novel that represents the very best of what we built together, ultimately delivered to the fans we made along the way. It sounds great on paper, right?

As it stands, the Unshaven Lads have all taken on extra work to keep our home-lives comfortable. One of us moved a state away (yeah, it’s like two hours away from us, but that can feel like half a country some days). And our kids aren’t getting easier to keep a handle on. To spit in the wind triumphantly and declare “This is just the beginning!” Would feel like the prattling optimistic idiocy we blurted out to Mike Gold the very first time we met him. We’re older now. Wiser. Exhausted.

Forgive me now, as I ascend my last remaining soapbox. And I know I’m being a bit long-winded about all of this. But fuck all, I don’t care.

The Samurnauts to date has seen the toil, sweat, and tears of over a thousand hours to produce from stem to stern. We have sold over ten thousand copies of them from Chicago to New York… and this is before we release the final issue of the first series at the upcoming Dragon Con in Atlanta. Beyond delivering what we promised to our 125 backers, we owe thousands of people the conclusion to this first story. And damn it all, they will get it. And after the dust settles on the graphic novel production to come here in the forthcoming month (collecting 4 comics and bonus materials doesn’t just happen overnight), guess what?

We’re starting three more Samurnauts series. This doesn’t end. This will never end. The drive to create… the bond built over 20 years with my best friends who I would take a bullet for each… the bonds made with all our fellow creators sharing in the same experiences on the road… the smiles on the faces of random kids and adults who hear our pitch and buy our book. That’s a drug I refuse to ween myself off of.

“When are you going to stop this?”

Never. Samurnauts. Are. GO!

Marc Alan Fishman: The Light At the End of the Tunnel

For those of you who follow my li’l studio Unshaven Comics on Facebook, you’ll note a recent ramping up of delightful sharing. As pages get completed in The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #4, I’ve been too excited not to immediately share them with our fans. As such, I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on a book that has taken more than a year beyond what I’d intended to see it be ready for release.

We’re not there yet, but the end is truly nigh.

For those sticklers who like details: three of us presently are mashing on the necessary color work – with about 20 more pages that need final effects. Everything is lettered. The book file is built. Literally, 20 pages need some over-the-top TLC, and they will be pushed into their final form. To ensure we round third base and dive for home, I’m even taking this coming week off my normal day job to only work on the book. By the time you read my article next week, I should be sending the book off to the printer – and likely attempting to gain back a weeks’ worth of lost sleep.

Not that I’m counting our chickens before they are hatched. Within these last pages is the crux of the issue – if not the entire four book series. Fight scenes dissolve into bigger fight scenes and culminate in a space fight that will push me to my limit with meticulously placed texture maps and Photoshop glow effects. Every single page matters. Every panel needs polish. If this is to be the culmination of five years’ worth of nights, weekends, holidays, and everything in between, there will be no half-measures.

If I am to speculate that my work is successful, I will look forward to those final steps to see the book become a physical, sellable object. The book is pressed into a high-res PDF and is carefully transferred to our printer. A proof is produced, and we spot check every page to ensure the trim doesn’t cut into any major details or words. Then, issues will be printed, cut, bound, and boxed. We’ll pick up issue #4 along with a hefty helping of issues 1, 2, 3, and the not so secret origin and make the 12-hour drive to Dragon Con in Atlanta. And there lies the grail of emotion I truly seek at the end of this process.

For five years, we have minted a minor (very, very, very minor) fortune by uttering a pitch that takes less than 20 seconds to complete. I’d say, “you already know it by now,” but if you know me then you know I’m not missing my window to boldly brand:

The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts is a team-action adventure about samurai-astronauts, led by an immortal Kung Fu monkey… saving humanity from zombie-cyborg space pirates!

And for the last five years, one burning question had remained deftly unanswered by our growing amassment of wonderful fans…

“Is this everything?”

Now, we can now look them dead in the eye, and place the entire series in their lovely mitts. A complete thought (plus a wonderful upsell if they want that origin tale) that took over a thousand hours to piece together across the birth of four kids, the marriage and subsequent moving of one Unshaven lad to Wisconsin and over 102 individual mortgage payments posted. Now for a single Andrew Jackson, the fruit of all of that labor is handed over with glee.

The light at the end of the tunnel represents more than just the culmination of a comic book. It’s the lighting of the torch that announces the next phase to Unshaven Comics. The only place to go from here is up. And now… it’s starting to feel like it’s actually true.

Marc Alan Fishman: A Con-nundrum

This weekend finds the Unshaven lads amidst the fine folks adjacent to our hometown at the Anime Midwest convention at Rosemont’s always-lovely Donald E. Stephens Center. The show itself marks our fourth time attending. I’d be lying if I said this particular anime show was our top choice; Anime Central for all intents and purposes is a bit larger fish by comparison to this mid-summer affair. Getting a table at A-Cen however, is like getting a job with the city of Chicago. As my Uncle Howard once lamented: “You have to know someone, owe them a favor, and then hold on to it for dear life.”

Uncle Howard’s version of that quote was far dirtier than presented. But I digress.

This show itself is fine and dandy – boasting an always energetic crowd who attend with money in their pockets and a song (that we can’t identify) in their hearts. That it’s our fourth year attending should no doubt quell any lingering fear of us being tepid on purchasing a table. And with no small press areas to be dubiously placed you won’t hear me complain about any sundry logistic issues.

No, instead you’ll hear me complain about an issue brought to our attention that has me in a dilly of a pickle.

Anime Midwest, along with a collection of several other mid-sized similarly themed conventions are helmed by one Ryan Kopf. I would like for you to go ahead and google “Anime Midwest Ryan Kopf.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

See where things get prickly?

For those too lazy to google, I want to tread lightly here. Suffice it to say, Mr. Kopf sets off more than a few alarm bells when placed into the ole’ search engine. He is connected to a large trail of word salad the includes creep, stalker, and several more I choose not to repeat here. Neither I nor anyone in Unshaven Comics knows Mr. Kopf personally. None of us, to our knowledge, have even met him. The folks we’ve worked with in conjunction with the con have always been genial and easy to work with. As attendees, they have given us access to a con suite with free ramen noodles, and their volunteer staff has always been helpful and friendly. But beyond those niceties comes now this blow to our decision to attend the show.

The sheer amount of anecdotal evidence that places Kopf in a litany of angry and spiteful feelings are enough to make Unshaven Comics think twice about attending this show – be it this year or any other in the future. Sadly, the table is paid for, the books ordered, and merch ready to go; to not attend is to derail necessary cash flow into our always-by-the-bootstraps-budget of our li’l studio. We have to be here, and you better believe we’ll sell the hell out of our wares until the show floor closes tomorrow afternoon.

But beyond that? We’ll be ghosts in the wind. Next year, when it comes to Chicago-based Anime Conventions, it’s A-Cen or bust.

The conundrum to this all… what irks me most… is the Devil’s Advocate that sits on my shoulder. Kopf is merely a piece to a puzzle that works without him. And should all that surrounds him be as accurate as my gut tells me it is (suffice it to say whilst doing research this week, several folks I know who know the man are quite clear in their agreement with much that Google identifies), well, can’t Unshaven Comics enjoy a good show in spite of him?

Certainly, the attending public either don’t know or don’t care. Converging with one another to enjoy a convention is one of the truest joys in comic bookery. Take Dragon Con; despite plenty of now-documented-and-accurate police action taken on the former leader of that Con, Atlanta’s crown jewel of geek fun continues to be a dominant gem for conventioneers abroad. One man, no matter the level of entrenchment he has at an event, necessarily sullies the entire show. The show goes on. Attendees come, revel, make memories, and leave without a single worry of who necessarily takes home the bag of cash at the registration desk.

It is my hope that Anime Midwest may seek to oust their would-be show-runner in much the same fashion as the aforementioned Dragon Con. There’s a gaggle of good people connected to this show Unshaven Comics absolutely wants to see happy and throwing one heck of a show every year. Conventions are hard business. It would be a shame to see one fall because a single bad apple sits at the top of an otherwise fine tree.

But as I said above: between my personal connections to those who vouch for the nature of Kopf, and the, shall we say, Bill Cosby-level of indictment that swirls around the man, Unshaven Comics need not argue with the Devil to make up our minds. There are plenty more fish in the sea. And until this particular piece of chum is removed from the hull of the show he created, our lines will be cast in cleaner waters elsewhere.

Marc Alan Fishman: My Five Best Comic Book Meals!

Life is about balance. After last week’s screed on my personal health journey, it’s only fair I balance things out with a very gluttonous listing of my most favorite meals whilst being an indie creator. You see, a life in comics — part time, at least — find folks assembled around a table to break bread more often than you’d think. When logging in considerable hours at a convention, creators often will nibble here and there, and then run out of the expo hall in a mad dash for food when the con floor closes. Great minds have met over bowls of pasta and pizzas, whilst inking deals on Batman or the X-Men. Here are, in no particular order, five meals that remain stuck in between my teeth:

Miller’s Pub with Mike Gold

The first time ComicMix honcho Mike Gold asked Unshaven Comics to meet him for a meal, he chose Miller’s Pub in downtown Chicago. Prior to the lunch we shared, Mr. Gold was a fleeting presence at the Wizard World Chicago where we made our debut. The lovely late Linda Gold had stumbled across we Unshaven Lads, dying a slow and panicked death in Artist Alley. She listened to our pitch and promised to bring Mike by. After briefly meeting us, Mike and I exchanged e-mails post-show. When the opportunity arose to find Mr. Gold back in the Chicagoland area, he proposed a meeting of the minds. Over hot sandwiches and the first round of name-dropping stories we would succumb to hear on a yearly basis, Mike looked us in the eyes (as we demanded Unshaven Comics pick up the check) and said the kindest thing we’d ever hear in our careers: “Boys, I will do whatever I can to see you doing well in this business.” And let me tell you, nothing has ever tasted sweeter.

Breakfast Buffet with John Ostrander

A few years back, John asked us to pick him up at his house and drive him down to the Detroit Fanfare comic convention. We were more than happy to oblige. The next morning, he asked us to join him for breakfast. Amidst pans of bacon, lukewarm pancakes, and runny scrambled eggs, John waxed poetic about all sorts of things. Star Wars, the Suicide Squad, playwriting in Chicago, and even the secret origin of Wasteland all came tumbling out from John’s timid timbre. Matt, Kyle, and I sat in awe of an industry legend as he treated us as friends… not the drooling fanboys we were. And not to be undone by Mike Gold, John heaped a bit of praise on us (as we picked up the check): “Seriously, I don’t know how you guys do it. You have everything planned out to the nines. I’m in awe of you.” Not bad for the cost of a few plates of breakfast meat.

The CowFish with The Samurnauts

Unshaven Comics got greedy in 2013. Figuring we could sell tons of books by splitting up and covering more ground, we sent Unshaven Salesman 2000 (Kyle Gnepper) off to a show in Cincinnati whilst Unshaven Matt and I covered the HeroesCon in North Carolina. Knowing that sans-Kyle we’d be without our real power, our blue and yellow Samurnauts (Cherise and Erik) joined our menagerie to bolster our abilities. While we learned that four of us couldn’t match a single Gnepper, we did find something redeeming about the lackluster show. Unshackled from Kyle’s more predictable palette, the Samurnauts, Matt and I found a burger/sushi restaurant in a neighboring town. I could spend literally an entire article simply remarking about what all we ordered… or I could simply say we loved the place so much, the manager gave us coupons if we’d consider coming back the next night. And we very much did.

Brandy Hauman’s Homecooking

When Unshaven Comics makes the 14-hour trek from Chicago to New York (or, in fact, Homewood to Weehawken), ComicMix’s Glenn Hauman is always the most gracious of hosts — opening his home to us for the price of a few bottles of hooch. As the New York Comic Con sits on the single piece of New York real estate devoid of decent food, we often wind up at la Casa del Hauman for some real New Jersey takeout. But last year, Glenn’s amazing (talented, beautiful, funny, and charming) wife demanded she make us a home-cooked meal. A nice roasted chicken and some sides — but it was served over a table filled with laughter, embarrassing stories, and friendship. With this past NYCC our fourth journey to the city that never sleeps, this single meal stands out as a testament to the best part of the tri-state area: the people who you make friends.

Some BBQ joint in Stamford, CT

I’ll end here on the most sincere memory I have in regards to comics and food. As mentioned above with the meal at Miller’s Pub, with this meal Mike Gold quickly morphed from a coveted mentor to both a mentor and a mensch. When my wife and I got married in November of 2009, we’d invited all of the ComicMixers we knew — knowing that the gesture was largely symbolic given the distance any of them would have had to travel just to see a then super-fat Marc stomp on a glass and yell L’chaim. As it would turn out, the newly minted Mrs. Fishman and I would take our honeymoon out along the East Coast (we didn’t quite google that Cape Cod is really a summer town). Mike was quick to demand that on our way home, we move our route to swing down his way. There, not far from the WWE headquarters, Kathy and I would be greeted by Glenn, Mike, Linda, and a smattering of other ComicMix friends for a BBQ lunch. As with much of this list: I don’t remember the food as much as the feeling that I’d made friends I’ve held on to ever since. That these oddballs would welcome me and mine into their family has cemented that my life in comics has been filled with some of the finest meals a man could dine on.

Marc Alan Fishman: When the Words Come!

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.

Excelsior, indeed!

Marc Alan Fishman The Power of the Personal Brand

When Prince Adam of Eternia would raise his mighty sword above his head, he could exclaim “I… Have… the… POWER!” and with it transform into He-Man. This would turn his pink and maroon body suit into merely a manly loincloth and pec-harness combo. He would be granted a physique that would make Vince McMahon want to give him the main event at Wrestlemania. Most important, he was now the mightiest mortal on his alien world – able to dispense of evil with but a flick of a forearm, and nary a tussle of his pageboy haircut.

When Marc Alan Fishman, Kyle Gnepper, and Matt Wright want to transform from slovenly suburbanite husband-dads into cantankerous comic book creators, they hold up their mighty laminated sign that reads “Can I tell you about my comic book?” and look mildly pathetic. But much like Prince Adam, that singular phrase has bestowed upon the lads a power unlike any other on their alien world; the power of a personal brand.

Making it in the indie comic scene is not unlike those mythical tasks undertook by Hercules. Unless you have untold fortunes lying around, the burden to even create original work (more specifically, comic books) comes with the unfair disadvantage of essentially committing to a second fulltime unpaid job. Once work is actually created… it’s time to market it. That in and of itself is somehow even harder than the act of creation!

From the very start of our first show (Wizard World Chicago, 2008), Unshaven Comics has committed to a very long game. We staked a claim to a table in artist alley, placed our first book on the table – along with some silly and snarky signs we just knew would get us plenty of attention (and they didn’t, not at all) – and sat with arms folded, awaiting untold riches.

And so we sat. And sat. And sat some more. Our smiles faded. Our fingers tapped. Our eyes darted to our neighbors in adjacent rows. How are they surviving this hellacious landscape of scavengers?! Soon thereafter, our neighbor took pity on us. “You have to put yourself out there. Just ask people as they pass by. I mean, what’s the worst they could say… No?” It was perfect advice to our green ears and yellow bellies. Kyle stood up. He asked the next con-goer sheepishly. They stopped! From there we launched into our pitch, and desperately tried to become their new best friend.

And then, perhaps out of actual interest, or perhaps pity, they bought our book.

And therein lay the rub to it all. The indie comic scene is built on the backs of personal brands. When virgin eyes and ears traipse across the convention floor, our wares are signal flares in the sky. As lookie-loos take a chance to hear us out, we not only pitch the pulp we put in their paws. We serve up a slice of our personality to boot. Each indie creator comes with a unique mystique that pairs to the work they make. For Unshaven Comics specifically… we’re unabashed in our formula:

We are brothers-from-other-mothers, who have a 25+ year friendship. We each bring separate skills that simmer in a singular pot, and present as a single brand. We are cheesy, but not ironically so. Our books are all-ages, not because we have a crucial need to appeal to the largest audience possible, but because the stories we want to tell are genuinely relatable to just about anyone who loves action and adventure. We are upfront and passionate about our product.

Whereas Kyle is always the most energetic presence at our table, I am working too; scanning the crowd, crunching the numbers, and spreading the word socially. And Matt anchors the table with his incredible and versatile art – attracting people to stop and enjoy his take on everything from superheroes to Cenobites. We are a singular machine, with a simple purpose. We promote what we do. We love what we do. And we need the world to see that and go all-in with us.

Look over each artist at a show, and you’ll see how they cultivate their own brands. Like Katie Cook and her mini-paintings that eventually landed her official Star Wars, My Little Pony, and Marvel gigs. Or Dirk Manning, whose mouthless maw has marketed his macabre books with equal parts solid professionalism, and DIY attitude. Or even perhaps Victor Dandridge Jr., “The Hardest Working Man in Comics!”, who started off with a single hook – an eight-bit art challenge – and has built a litany of indie comic series and convention-panel-emcee gigs that make him a well-known name across the Midwest comic circuit. Or, dare I ever forget my own frenemy Dan Dougherty, who has built his own brand by way of building up not only his own newspaper strip-style series Beardo into a brand, but a half-dozen other pieces in collaboration with his carefully chosen cadre of cohorts (including the aforementioned Mr. Manning from time-to-time).

Beyond the con floors though, you’ll find us all building those brands brick-by-brick. Be it on a day like today, where we’ll each be sitting in on Free Comic Book Day at our local comic book stores to promote our work. Or on social media, where we host live videos to interact with our homegrown fanbase. Or in our handcrafted newsletters. Or when we host classes at local park districts and libraries; teaching the next generation that the best way into comic books is to forge your own path. It all boils down to the simplest of truths…

To build our brands takes honed skill, patience, and determination to succeed. Without all three working together (be we islands-unto-ourselves, or three-headed bearded monsters), there is no brand to build. While any of us strive to stumble over, we’ve each committed to that aforementioned long-game. Cultivating one earned fan at a time, and hopefully producing enough to keep them on the hook until our dreams turn into reality.

We have the power, because we make the power.

Marc Alan Fishman: The Art of the Con

This past weekend saw the eighth annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Exposition. You likely know it as its Star Wars designate, C2E2. Unshaven Comics, my li’l studio, has never missed this show. It’s always been profitable for us. To get to the nittiest of grits, it fell to the middle of the pack in terms of the serious sales numbers. We’ll get into that minutiae in a bit.

This year marked a very special metric for my wee company: it was the second time in a row where we saw falling book sales and fewer potential customers. This comes in spite of ReedPop – the owners of the con – boasting continually increasing attendance. In the nine-years Unshaven Comics has attended comic conventions, we’ve never seen a disappointment such as this.

So, what gives?

My first fear was that our series, The Samurnauts, was no longer appealing to the glut of pulpy purveyors in attendance. But data shall always set us free. Our closing ratio – the rate at which our cold pitches to new fans turns into a sale – has remained steady. Our lifetime average sits at 40%. C2E2 2017 clocked in at 37%. All in all, that’s well within reason to figure that our book is still of interest to all within earshot. Consider that fear squelched.

The next fear: Attendees are being more frugal. A cursory conversation held with numerous cohorts located in the Artist Alley and/or the vendor area disagreed with that concern. While some said the show remained on par with previous year metrics, just as many boasted increases in their sales. C2E2 usually hits shortly after tax time, so plenty of people walk in with money to burn. Fear two, forgone.

This leaves me in a lurch, as the culprit seems dutifully apparent. It if wasn’t our pitch, nor the pesos in pockets that left us plinking for purchasers… then the blame falls squarely on the specific location from which we tried to cultivate sales.

The layout of a comic con floor could be debated ad nauseam by any number of qualified debaters. ReedPop slices their floor into simple(ish) sections: Exhibitors, Vendors, Small Press, Celebrity Autographs, Artists, and Crafts-folk (“The Block”). To be fair and clear, Wizard World, the only comparably sized menagerie of conventioneering, fields mostly the same sections – save only for smashing together the craftspeople and artists into a single alley.

At this particular show, ReedPop placed the small press folks at the very foot of the con floor. When you entered the show you walked right past us as you made your way into the exhibitor area. Many cohorts in the Artist Alley were instantly jealous of the prime real estate. “You’re right at the front. Everyone will see you!” they exclaimed to us in yellow-bellied jealousy.

Oh, but, the Mephistos in the details, kiddos.

At the beginning of each day, con attendees enter the show floor with the bloodlust and fervor akin to nothing else on this mortal coil. When the torches were lit to allow entrance, a wave of humanity gushed into the hall racing towards the four corners of the massive McCormick Place. Large swaths of nerds sprinted toward the autograph area to queue up. Other groups walked in and immediately bee-lined towards Artist Alley, to secure those autographs. Whoever was left – the groups without Orange Lantern avarice in their immediate milieu – strolled briskly by our row.

“Folks! Can I tell you about our comic book?” Unshaven Kyle would beckon.

“Sorry, we just got here. We really need to see the whole show first!” the masses would reply (mostly kindly, I would note).

By the time we’d see those folks again, it’d be after they’d done exactly as they said. But having taken in the entirety of the show – including all the other areas opposite the exhibitors who sold goods – were simply on their way out, with their arms already full of the days’ haul.

Now, I could write a screed seven articles long as to why Unshaven Comics was… coerced to capitulate toward Small Press instead of our preferred Artist Alley. I could divulge dirty details that would paint ReedPop in a light far less-than-desirable. I could even continue to lay blame on anyone or anything save for Unshaven Comics itself. But, that simply isn’t necessary. As the WWE VP of Talent and Creative might say, it’s not what’s best for business.

The truth of the matter is that Unshaven Comics was not alone in having a less-than-perfect show. Whether it was the specificity of our booth location, or any number of other factors not yet discovered, reality is what it is. We left the show having sold enough product to pay for the print run of books brought. When we tally the cost of parking, food, and the table itself, it’s more than likely the show placed us severely in the red.

What happens from here? Well, we lick our wounds. We crunch the numbers and we match our passion for making comics to the logic of how to best profit in the long run. There’s no pithy conclusion to reach this week, my friends. Just sober numbers, and sober planning going forward.

Stay tuned. The best is yet to con.

Marc Alan Fishman: How To Plan A Successful Con(vention)

As Unshaven Comics prepares for the annual C2E2 mega-Midwestern-super-pop-culture-show in late April, it dawned on me this might be still another one of those rare opportunities to share the creative process – or in this case business process.

It’s widely known (to our seven fans) that Unshaven Comics runs a tight table. We have well-manicured wares, a quippy answer to every response to our pitch, and an approach to conventioneering that even the mighty Gene Ha was in awe of. But here and now, prior to hitting the show floor, we’re introspective.

This show will be a very big one for us. Perhaps the biggest in our careers. Why? Because we’ll finally have a finished series to pitch. The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts is set to be completed by the skin of our chins (underneath the beards, natch) and debut at C2E2. Four issues of Samurai-Astronauts, led by an immortal kung fu monkey, defending humanity from zombie-cyborg space pirates. And now we have means to see the whole kit and caboodle, and even top off the package with their secret origin issue #0 if we need a double upsell. But with that book finally hitting our wire rack, there’s much to consider.

First and foremost, tabling at a con is a business venture. With a set price that includes the table itself, and the materials to sell at said table, there’s a distinct need to profit. Meaning we not only need to cover those costs, we need to have money in the till when the last fan leaves the hall on Sunday. This money then allows us to attend the next con. With that in mind, there’s a conundrum to cover.


As I’ve ranted here before selling poster-prints is the single easiest way to make scads of dirty dollars on the con floor. A great poster could take a decent artist 10-20 hours to complete. It costs less than a dollar to print (unless you are somehow convinced fans care about archival paper and environmentally safe inks). They are then sold for ten bucks or more (on average), typically without a single haggle. In contrast, The Samurnauts will have taken 1000 hours of work split between three guys, costs us $2.85 to print, and sells for $5. We’re in the wrong business. But it’s the business we choose to remain in.

So, it circles back around: How do we do our voodoo at our table? Simply: we offer a large variety of products… but we sell just one at a time. Notorious as it may be, our schtick remains intact: A simple, laminated 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper asking “Can I tell you about my comic book?” held up. It stops people long enough to laugh, and before they can really think of a solid excuse… we’re pitching them!

While they flip through our issues and gab with Kyle (The Sell-o-Tron 5000 of Unshaven Comics), Matt Wright and I draw live at the table to attract other looky-loos. Our own small set of poster prints hang over our heads. With a handful of fun parody prints, mashups, and a few politically zingy pieces… we will grab a fair share of passerby purchasers. With cheap posters (we only charge $5, or 3 for $10), we bank good money while Kyle closes on great purchasers – readers who will (if we’ve done well in our books) will return to us year-in-year-out.

So what will differ Unshaven’s table this year versus last? Perhaps not much on the surface. Our pitch will remain the same; it’s really about closing the sale on issue #1. But when they linger, we’ll mention that the whole series is available then and there. We’ll juice the sale with a sticker or poster. If there’s a taker to the upsell, we may even take it a step further, adding in that aforementioned issue #0 and tossing in all our stickers and a poster. $25 for 200+ pages of comics and a bag of swag? Sounds like a deal to me. And if it does to this penny-pinching tribe member, perhaps, maybe, it will to game comic con crowds.

Next week, we’ll dive into the physical space we occupy. Oh, that’s right kiddos. We’re going trilogy here!

Unshaven Conventions: The Beards Strike Back in one week!