Author: Ed Catto

A voracious reader, Ed has been enjoying “books on comics” ever since he’d read Jule’s Feiffer’s classic The Great Comic Book Heroes a chapter at a time at a local book store. The cover price was $14.95 and he knew that he could never afford such an enormous sum to actually buy this treasure. Things changed, and Ed could eventually afford the books he loved. His reading, and history illustration and art has guided him through a life-long love of comics, collections and graphic novels. As a branding and advertising executive, Ed’s career has evolved to include a focus on entertainment marketing in many ways: A founding partner of Bonfire Agency, Ed helped establish the world’s first marketing firm focused on connecting brands, in authentic ways, to passionate and enthusiastic fans of comics, graphic novels, games and movies. Ed has also shepherded the rebirth of the iconic 60s toy, Captain Action, in collectibles, books, comics and even a national toy line. An animated television series is currently being shopped for development. A convention enthusiast, Ed helped develop Reed Pop’s New York Comic-Con (now the nation’s largest con) and is currently doing the same for Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con. 
Ed speaks nationally as a panelist and moderator at conventions, leading conversations on entertainment marketing and comics history. Ed has also appeared on CNBC’s Squawkbox, BNN Business News Network , and PBS’s Superheroes documentary. Ed recently started teaching at Ithaca College, sharing his experiences and enthusiasm for business and entrepreneurship to both MBA’s and undergraduates. As an artist, Ed also leads graphic novel classes for kids of all ages. In October of 2018, The Adventures of Captain Graves will mark Ed’s debut as an illustrator for publisher Airship27. Ed and his wife Kathe currently live in New York’s State’s Finger Lakes Region, enjoying the area’s local comic book shops and wineries. Between consulting, teaching and drawing, Ed continues to work very hard to whittle down the teetering tower of books on his nightstand.
With Further Ado #216: See You at San Diego – A Review

With Further Ado #216: See You at San Diego – A Review

This weekend a Central New York comics show promoter, Teddy Hanes restarted his long-running Syracuse Comic Con series. It had been about two years since the last one. Hosting comic artists like Joe Jusko and Luke McDonnell as professional guests made it great fun for all, but I think that the fans and dealers were even more excited to just see each other and search for treasures in long boxes. There were so many smiles and so much laughter; it was lovely to get this convention “back on its feet” and for folks to gather amongst their tribe again.

The smiles, laughter and comradery of geek culture and conventions comes through loud and clear in Mathew Klickstein’s new book: See You At San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom, and the Triumph of Geek Culture. It was just published by Fantagraphics, and it’s a treasure too. This oral history is about the size of a phone book (anyone remember what those were?), and it’s packed full of stories and photos telling the birth, and perhaps adolescence, of the San Diego Comic-Con. (Now also called Comic-Con International).

Mat Klickstein spins his tale using the oral history format. This allows the folks who were there from the beginning to share their memories of it all. It’s great fun, and although the format is new to me (I did just interview author Ed Gross about his excellent Star Trek oral history here), I just love it. It’s kind of like reading, instead of watching, a documentary. Continue reading “With Further Ado #216: See You at San Diego – A Review”

With Further Ado #215: A Tale of Three Treasures

With Further Ado #215: A Tale of Three Treasures

This past weekend we spent some time on the south end of Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes region of Western New York. We were just north of the town of Hammondsport, which is almost famous for the nation’s fourth oldest winery and as the hometown of Glenn R. Curtiss, the guy who actually flew before the Wright Brothers. As the story goes, the Wright Brothers got the patent first, and all the fame too.  (More info available at the Curtiss Museum.)

When were there, we spent most of our time listening to live music and visiting a few entrepreneurial start-ups. If you were to guess they were mostly wineries and craft breweries, you wouldn’t be wrong.

We visited some antiques shops too. (Don’t you dare call them junk shops.)  And I found some wonderful comic books, and comic-adjacent treasures.

There’s a certain charm to the last issue of a comic, especially when the creators realize the party is almost over. Charlton’s The Partridge Family #21 (Nov 1973) is a perfect example.

The Partridge Family was an early 1970s TV series about a single mom and the musical act that she and her kids created.  From my pre-teenage point of view back then, it was kind of like a slightly hipper version of the Brady Bunch. And like that show, it was on every Friday night.  As a kid, I was a bit interested in Laurie Partridge, played by Susan Dey. As an adult, it’s the mother who’s the most interesting of the bunch.  How did I ever get so old?

Anyways, I picked up a nice copy of The Partridge Family #21, the final issue of the series, for just $6 bucks. I was initially drawn to it because the cover artist, Don Sherwood, captured the actors’ likenesses pretty well.

But the surprising part is that just about the whole comic is a series of full-page portraits. Don Sherwood, bless his heart, draws portraits and a few girls in bikinis for the beach scene, and the Partridge Family’s version of their Batmoblie, an old school bus repainted to transport their musical equipment.  I don’t think there was ever a comic, even the most bombastic 70s Kirby issue, that had so many splash pages!

There is such an emphasis on drawing faces that stories leave out things like “the rationale” and “the end”. One story is clearly missing pages. But in the end, who cared? I gather this was meant to be a fan magazine so that young fans could cut out the pictures. Continue reading “With Further Ado #215: A Tale of Three Treasures”

With Further Ado # 214: Kill Me If You Can – Spillane & Collins Celebrate Mike Hammer’s 75th Anniversary

With Further Ado # 214: Kill Me If You Can – Spillane & Collins Celebrate Mike Hammer’s 75th Anniversary

Every once in a while, I check in to see what Mike Hammer is up to. It’s always so freeing to live vicariously through him. The fictional detective, celebrating his 75th anniversary in print, never worries about being politically correct or resolving differences in a genteel manner.

No, Mike Hammer is all about the opposite of all that. He’s about violent solutions and getting even and snarky jokes. It’s what originally made him a publishing sensation. In fact, author Mickey Spillane has sold over 225 million books internationally. It has made him so popular that he’s spawned so many literary descendants, like James Bond, for instance.

Max Allan Collins (one of my favorite mystery writers) is one of those guys who met his hero…and not only got along with him, but was asked to carry the torch. Collins has told the story many times how he met the larger-than-life author Spillane, and eventually developed a friendship and professional respect. Today, Collins collaborates with the deceased author by building upon the unfished stories and notes left by Spillane to create new books. Continue reading “With Further Ado # 214: Kill Me If You Can – Spillane & Collins Celebrate Mike Hammer’s 75th Anniversary”

With Further Ado #213: Leave Your Ego at the Door: Drawing From Photos

With Further Ado #213: Leave Your Ego at the Door: Drawing From Photos

Drawing from live models is a fantastic experience. There’s something about the sense of community and living in the moment.

When I was working in New York, I’d love to go the Society of Illustrators for their live model drawing sessions. The bar would be open, and then have a jazz quartet would be playing. Now that was the way to sketch models, let me tell you. It looks like they still do it, in fact!

And let’s face it, when models are in dramatic poses, even the best ones tend to droop and relax a bit after a while. There are real downsides to drawing from real life.

Today, so many artists find themselves working from photos of models instead of live models. And that’s where this wonderful new book from Korero Press comes in. Drawing from Photos is a masterpiece from fantasy illustrator Patrick J. Jones. If you’re not familiar with this amazing artist’s work, that’s a shame. But for regular readers of this column, I can assure you he’s “one of us”. In the forward, Jones talks about his influences of folks like John Buscema and Alex Raymond. He talks about his favorite cover artists – folks like Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, and James Bama. Continue reading “With Further Ado #213: Leave Your Ego at the Door: Drawing From Photos”

With Further Ado #212: Five-and-a-Half Questions with Devin Kraft

With Further Ado #212: Five-and-a-Half Questions with Devin Kraft

As part of our ongoing “Actual Comics at San Diego Comic-Con”, I’d like to you introduce you to Devin Kraft. I met him at a wild party at the Tiki Bar, hosted by publisher Bad Idea. He is the type of guy who is bubbling up with good ideas, and his current series, Neverender from Behemoth Comics is innovative and getting noticed. Enjoy my five-and-a-half questions with Devin:


Ed Catto #1: What’s your origin story, Devin? How did you ever start writing comics?

Devin Kraft: I’ve got a pretty amazing case of ADHD, so as a kid to keep me preoccupied my parents would give me legal pads and a pen. This helped me to both communicate visually and use art as a means of keeping out of people’s hair. I tend to move a bit faster than most people, so drawing in class helped me to slow down and not disrupt class as much.

I grew up on Archie’s Sonic line, and I’d make my own version of Sonic comics from time to time. Eventually I got hooked on Pokémon and Capcom’s various Marvel fighting series, and that led me to falling in love with anime and manga, and in seeking that out at comic shops I became interested in American comics – I’m sort of a student of both visual languages.

In high school, my friend (and incredibly talented artist) Logan Pack and I started to synthesize the Chinese gun-fu films we were enjoying into a neo-noir comic called Jabberwock. I planned on writing initially but started trying to hone my art during college – primarily during classes. Through a study abroad program, I was able to live in Japan for a bit and dive deeper into the wide variety of manga. I actually submitted a few manga to publishers, but my style was a bit more molten and my subject matter probably wasn’t what they were looking for.

I continued to create and self-publish indie comics throughout college, and for a short time I worked in the film industry. After saving a bit of money from a medical job, I went freelance in 2012 and ran Kickstarter campaigns for original comics pretty much yearly since, publishing Dragon Slayer (2012-14), Silence (2015-17) and the first two issues of Neverender (2019-2020).

EC #2: Neverender is such a cool premise. Can you give us the pitch and also let us know some of the main characters? Continue reading “With Further Ado #212: Five-and-a-Half Questions with Devin Kraft”

With Further Ado #210: More Actual Comics at SDCC – Powers Squared

With Further Ado #210: More Actual Comics at SDCC – Powers Squared

One of the most fun panels I participate in at San Diego Comic-Con is called How to Get News Coverage?.  This brainchild of Rik Offenberger (the mastermind behind the First Comics News and G-Man Comics) has become an SDCC tradition, and for good reason. This panel is very focused on giving up-and-coming creators real-world advice about how to build buzz for their properties. Let’s face it, creating a comic is a lot of work ….and then promoting the comic is a lot more hard work too.

During the panel,  I like to make an offer for creators to promote their comics in this column. We’ll feature one this week and another next week.

Let’s start with David Hankins. He  is an engaging, passionate creator who’s found a way to make creating comics a family team effort.  Here’s a look at his Powers Squared:

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The comic book Powers Squared tells the story of identical twins Marty and Eli Powers, who discover on their first day of college that they share superpowers that they had been granted when they were young. These powers originate from an encounter with a Kitsune, a magical fox yokai, whom the boys rescued from under a fallen tree branch. As the boys learn how best to use their powers, they have to deal with the evil Dr. Atlas, who believes they have a special compound in their bloodstream that he wants to synthesize and weaponize to create an army of super soldiers. Continue reading “With Further Ado #210: More Actual Comics at SDCC – Powers Squared”

With Further Ado #209: Actual Comics at SDCC

With Further Ado #209: Actual Comics at SDCC

There’s a certain number of critical conversations, many would categorize it as “moaning”, amongst longtime fans that San Diego Comic-Con isn’t about comics anymore.  Some fans of traditional comic get overwhelmed by all the media hype and complain that SDCC has lost its way.

Of course, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially when industry publications, like Adweek, celebrate all the Pop-Ups surrounding the convention center.  I’m not sure I agree with their “Top Nine” Activations/Pop-Ups, but their recent listing is here.

I’m fascinated by everything at San Diego Comic-Con. I love the big ideas presented and promoted at the show, as well as the smaller, oddball collectibles, original art, and back issues.

So, my best shopping was with a back issue dealer who had “reader copies” of comics priced for a dollar.  (Reader copies simply refer to comics that aren’t in the pristine condition that many collectors seek out.) What a deal! Each comic cost only $2.50.  Let me celebrate these treasures that I rescued, and maybe you will agree that San Diego Comic-Con, while not exclusively about comics, still is a great place for comics.

Around The World Under the Sea – This is a 1964 Dell comic is based on a movie I never heard of. But maaaaaan, I wish I could’ve seen it at a drive-in!  It’s kind of Jules Verne-y. But it starred Shirley Eaton, who the whole world will always remember from Goldfinger, so it is sort of James Bond-y too.  Here’s the trailer.  The cover has all those things that teenage me and my teenage buddies needed in a movie: Scuba guys fighting, sea monsters and a girl in a bikini.  I was crestfallen when I realized the interior pages were by Jack Sparling. He’s never been my favorite. In his defense, I will say he just nails the Lloyd Bridges likenesses. Continue reading “With Further Ado #209: Actual Comics at SDCC”

With Further Ado #208: Ok, So I Was Wrong – A Visit to the Comic-Con Museum

With Further Ado #208: Ok, So I Was Wrong – A Visit to the Comic-Con Museum

Whew! This year’s San Diego Comic-Con (officially called Comic-Con International) was a fun one. Lots of smiling people happy to be there. Mostly, you had to tell they were smiling by the look in their eyes – everyone was pretty well masked up. But I can’t tell you how good it felt to be in the middle of Geek Culture, celebrating creativity and watching everyone promote everything.

SDCC always “starts” on Wednesday night. It used to be called Preview Night, but now it’s really “Just another night full of crowds on the exhibition floor”. Maybe it’s more crowded than usual, in fact, because there aren’t as many other places (panels, off-site activities) on Wednesday for places to visit.

Before Preview Night, however, we visited the San Diego Museum. I happened to be in town last month and tried to stop by then. Unfortunately, it was closed as they were gearing up for this show. And wow – did they ever gear up. This new museum is fantastic.

Continue reading “With Further Ado #208: Ok, So I Was Wrong – A Visit to the Comic-Con Museum”

With Further Ado #207: End of an Era

With Further Ado #207: End of an Era

San Diego Comic-Con, officially called Comic-Con International, is about to start up again as a live, in-person event. The past couple of years it’s sprung to life as Comic-Con@Home, and that’s been fun, but there is an eagerness amongst fans and professionals to get back to business.

Many changes are expected, and there’s been a lot of chatter about the big changes to the exhibitor line-up on convention floor. On The Beat and in Publisher’s Weekly, Heidi MacDonald’s reported on the absence of SDCC mainstays like Warner Bros/DC and Dark Horse. You can read more here.

For me, the one that “hurts the most” will be the absence of Graphitti Designs. Bob Chapman, called Chappy by many, is a guy who’s lived at the epicenter as a passionate entrepreneur and knowledgeable fan.

As a celebration of his extraordinary SDCC run, and the impressive business he’s built, I’d like to re-run this column. It was originally presented on ComicMix in 2016, right before that year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

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Ed Catto: Culture & Commerce – Bob Chapman’s Graphitti Designs

Over the past 47 years the SDCC has grown to become a pop culture behemoth. More than just a grand celebration of fan passion, it’s a driver of serious commerce. SDCC’s impact now makes waves on a national and international economic scale, far beyond the initial fan-centric puddles of the early days.

Bob “Chappy” Chapman is a fan and business owner who was part of the early days and is still actively involved today. He’s an energetic entrepreneur who’s built his business Graphitti Designs, catering to Geek Culture. Graphitti Designs has been creating fan-focused merchandise like T-shirts, statues, action figures, prints, books and more. And Bob has found a way to survive – and thrive – throughout the many iterations of SDCC over the years.

Bob is likeable, charming, infectiously enthusiastic, and effortlessly employs an extensive vocabulary. You just know he’s a big reader! He’s nostalgic, but always looking forward. As we prepare for the annual nerd prom that world calls SDCC, I was eager to learn how the convention got his business started and how it’s changed over the years.

The Secret Origin

All great superheroes have a great origin story, and Bob Chapman is no exception. Bob and his brother were rabid Silver Age comic fans and had accumulated an impressive comic collection. By the late 70s, they had become disillusioned with collecting and decided to sell their comics. They dutifully trotted their overflowing comic boxes to a myriad of dealers, but were shocked at how little money was offered.

In what would become a life changing decision, they decided that they could do better selling the comics directly to fans directly. They signed up for dealer’s table at SDCC.

(Hard to believe it was once that easy to secure exhibition space at SDCC.)

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” confessed Bob. But despite that, the brothers managed to walk away with several thousand dollars. And they made this profit by selling off only 10% of their collection. More importantly, they loved the comic convention culture, and they were in the thick of it with all their peers and favorite creators. For example, their dealer’s table was situated right next to comics legend Wally Wood.

The Creation

In the early days, there was a lot of camaraderie,” said Bob. He explained that they were all on a learning curve, and there were no official guidelines. “We all helped each other, learned from each other. It wasn’t contrived and was never articulated.”

When he started in 1982, there was no merchandise or specialty marketing. There wasn’t even a place for distributors. The direct sales market was evolving, but the marketplace was, at that time, still focused on the monthly sales cycle of periodicals. Evergreen products and licensed merchandise were rare and usually dismissed.

But in 1981, Bob developed a straightforward idea. He knew the screen-printing process, and he knew comics. He approached SDCC’s management team with an idea that was radical at the time, although it has become startlingly commonplace now: to make and sell official comic convention T-Shirts!

On the Frontier

That first shirt. Now in the Comic-Con Museum

In planning for this first T-shirt project, Bob told me how he was hopeful to work with one of his favorite artists, like Jack Kirby, or to use an iconic hero, like Batman or Spider-Man, in order to design a powerful shirt and logo. Instead, he was disappointed when the convention management team asked him to work with an up-coming-artist he hadn’t heard of and old comics character that hadn’t been published in years.

Crestfallen, he was determined to make it work.

The character was Sheena, an iconic super heroine (pre-dating Wonder Woman) and the artist was Dave Stevens. Bob soon met Dave and they hit it off. And Bob, like the rest of the world, would soon discover that Dave Stevens was a phenomenal artist. Together, they would create many gorgeous items for Bob’s fledging start-up. In fact, many of Graphitti’s “firsts” involved Dave Stevens. The first book Graphitti published was a Dave Stevens Book. The first cloisonné pin featured Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer character. The first statue Graphitti created was based on Dave Stevens’ artwork.

“He was our unofficial art director for all those years,” said Bob.

The Spirit of Entrepreneurship

The classic Dave Stevens shirt also in the Comic-Con Museum

As Bob talked about the business, he reiterated that he owes much of his success to all the kind people who wanted to see him succeed.

One particularly influential person was Will Eisner. The legendary storyteller and creator of The Spirit approached Graphitti to make Spirit T-shirts. “He allowed us to make Spirit T-shirts,” recalls Bob. “It had never been done before.” Looking back, this was especially important, as Eisner was also known as a very focused businessman.

Business Grows as Comic Cons Grow

Graphitti was, in many ways, the first specialty company to create statues and comics-focused hard cover books for the collector’s market. The entire collectible statue market can easily trace its parentage back to Bob Chapman’s efforts at Graphitti.
As a merchandising company, Graphitti blazed new trails and usually enjoyed first mover advantages.

“Now there’s a plethora of merchandise. I spawned some of that,” said Bob.

He’s practically a founding father of merchandising in the comic book industry.

“Not so sure how proud I am of that…it’s so saturated <now>,’ he muses.

Bob explains that they were “…a product of the times. On one hand… the timing was extremely fortunate. But at the same time, the timing was bad – as there was no guideline or framework. In hindsight, ignorance persevered.”

Graphitti was focused on being a champion for artists and comic artwork. “Being a facilitator to the vision is other is part of what gave us this look,” reasoned Bob.

“And now, we’re fortunate to be evolving back into creating books,” said Bob. He’s very pleased about that.

And Graphitti was purposefully small and was able to be malleable. They weren’t shackled to preconceived ideas.
In the beginning, Graphitti was the only game in the geek merchandise town. But things changed quickly. Bob had to learn how to juggle his money and still produce items.

“I had numerous opportunities to go out of business, and had to learn how to juggle air financially,” said Bob.

The Romantic Entrepreneur

Bob is a unique mix of the classic nuts-and-bolts businessman and the idealist romantic entrepreneur.

That’s evident in his love for the medium, and comics in general. But’s also evident in his staffing.

You see, Bob’s lovely wife Gina often works with him at the Graphitti Convention Booth. So much so, in fact, that she too has become a staple of the SDCC.

“I work more than I should,” lamented Bob. And to that end, he’s grateful that his wife often joins him on the convention circuit and at SDCC in particular.

“Sometimes it’s an asset to have such fresh eyes,” said Bob. “She’s not star struck and she’s a good sounding board. She makes the shows more enjoyable. It’s nice that she’s there with me.”

Standing Tall at San Diego Comic Con 2016

Bob makes it very clear about his relationship with SDCC. “I wouldn’t be here without it,” he said.

And he’s contemplative about the state of the industry. “We got what we wanted,” concludes Chappy. “The stink of comics from the fifties has dissipated.” But with the growth comes issues, and it’s a “double-edged sword.”

“I built Graphitti, but I didn’t do it properly,” Bob admitted. “I don’t want to be the poster child for doing it properly.”
As an entrepreneur, I just scratch my head and think that Graphitti’s amazing success, innovation and longevity all seem pretty proper to me!

 


Much of this article was published on ComicMix on July 11, 2016

With Further Ado #206: Conventional Fun

With Further Ado #206: Conventional Fun

You know how “The Holiday Season” starts right after Halloween and continues until a little while before the NFL playoffs? For comics, and geek culture, I feel like we’re in that time right now. We’re in the thick of convention season.

This past weekend, when driving home past Morristown, NJ, I decided not to stop at a convention there. It looked like a great con: with top guests like Louis Simonson, her husband Walter, Howard Chaykin and more. But you know what? I reasoned there were so many conventions, for me, on the horizon, and I kind of needed to get back home anyways.

Locally, this weekend in Rochester, specifically July 16th, there’s another comic convention. It’s the third Empire Comic Fest. They seem to keep getting better and better. These are fun shows run by professionals, like Ken Wheaton, who just love comics. And especially love back issues. Mike Grell is the featured guest and I’m sure he’ll be lots of fun. More info here.

Any visit to Jared Aiosa’s comic shop, Heroes Your Mom Threw Out, in Elmira NY is almost like a visit to a comic convention. Jared clearly loves comics, and boy, does he have a lot of comics for sale. Walking through this store instills one with a sense of wonder. Continue reading “With Further Ado #206: Conventional Fun”