Author: Marc Alan Fishman

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #086: A Year of Unshaven Cons

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #086: A Year of Unshaven Cons

On the weekend of October 28-30th, 2023, Unshaven Comics rounded out its year in convention exhibition at the Winnipeg Comic Con. For those of you following the ebbs and flows of my little studio, I wanted to take time out here in my little corner of the internet to dish on all things Unshaven in 2023. From our wins, losses, pure data, to our anecdotal musings about those wins-losses-and-data. Sound good? Well, I don’t care, I’m writing this as much for me as I am for you. So… strap in, Sally.

Before we dive deeper into the year for us overall, let’s talk about why Winnipeg. At the tail end of the pandemic, with a house of trade paperbacks and serious cabin fever… Unshaven Comics crossed the border in 2021 to go to the Fan Expo Canada comic convention in Toronto. It was one of the best shows we’d ever done — even with a limited sale of fan tickets. So much fun was had, we returned the following year (sadly only with Kyle and myself going, with Unshaven Matt Wright stuck at work). With a “full force” fanbase? It remained an amazing show for my little company. Knowing that we’d not have anything new in store for the following year, I asked a rhetorical question: was it Toronto that loved us… or was it Canada being just that awesome. We opened up Google Maps and found the only other drivable city for us in Tim Horton’s home country to attempt to answer that question.

Winnipeg, Manitoba. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #086: A Year of Unshaven Cons”

So Long, and Thanks for the Fish, Man #084: Punk You!

So Long, and Thanks for the Fish, Man #084: Punk You!

Run a search of my musings here at Pop Culture Squad — and I admit there’s not as many as there should be — and one name will pop up more than anyone else. Phil Brooks, AKA CM Punk. If you’re new to this site, or new to me? He’s a professional wrestler. My favorite professional wrestler. Well, perhaps I admit here now, dejected, my former favorite professional wrestler. Let’s not dilly dally around the obvious.

Of course, I should give the requisite mansplanation of Punk 101 here, to spare you from beleaguered googling. Here’s the skinny, as svelte as I can make it:

CM Punk was an “indie darling” garnering small-but-growing fame by way of very small wrestling promotions across the country from 1999-2005. Eventually, the indie scene faded and Punk made way to Stamford to be with the biggest pro wrestling, er, sports entertainment company there was (and is): WWE. Punk worked in the WWE until 2014. He won the World Heavyweight title in one of the most memorable storylines in modern pro wrestling history — all stemming from his infamous Pipe Bomb promo. And after getting burnt out on the road, and due largely to the way WWE was run… Punk quit cold turkey.

Over the next seven years Punk dabbled in everything his heart desired. He wrote comic books. He made a horror movie. He got his clock cleaned in UFC. Twice. And he landed a little role on Steven Amell’s Heels on Starz.

And then? Phil unretired. I was over-the-moon. I wrote about it at great length. Here, read about it if you want.

To sum that article up though? I’ve loved Punk since the Pipe Bomb promo. He broke rules I’d never seen broken. He wasn’t a roided-up mass monster like most of the WWE roster. He was different in a literal sea of sameness. And he could be a good guy without being the pandering robot John Cena chose to be. No offense to John, but c’mon… Punk never felt the need to have “the orange shirt era”. But I digress.  Continue reading “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish, Man #084: Punk You!”

Another Smart Marc Wrestling Podcast Episode# 002: WrestleMania 39 Nights 1 and 2

Another Smart Marc Wrestling Podcast Episode# 002: WrestleMania 39 Nights 1 and 2

Hey wrestling fans! WrestleMania 39 is in the books. That means it must be time for another episode of the Another Smart Marc Wrestling Podcast.

Join Marc Alan Fishman and his special guest Jeremy Lieb for snarky fun around the biggest night in wrestling!

Marc and Jeremy go way way back. Mainly because they’re cousins! Join these two smart marks as they break down all 207 matches and segments across the WWE’s grandest stage of them all. What rocked? What sucked (besides Omos)? It’s all pomps and no circumstance for the second episode of Pop Culture Squad’s “Another Smart Marc” Wrestling Podcast!

 

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #083: Creative Devolution

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #083: Creative Devolution

In a few short weeks, Unshaven Comics kicks off our 2023 convention season with a trip… home. After applying and failing to gain admittance to C2E2’s Artist Alley, our FOMO kicked in, and we grossly overpaid for a small press booth. For those coming out to the show who’d like to rub it in? We’ll be at SP12 — in the small press area between Artist Alley and the autograph lanes. 

Here’s the funny part — to me at least. I was the one who felt the biggest pangs of pre-regret when the small press table contract was sent to us. I was the one who all but told my Unshaven mates “we’re doing this show even if we break even”. This knowing we’re still a few months away from a new Samurnauts issue being ready. This knowing all we have new is the awesome Blooms: Heist on the Magical Girl Vault that Kyle completed last year with Stephanie Mided. 

Nerf gun to our collective heads? Unshaven feels like this show won’t feel like some amazing homecoming. Especially because Blooms did debut in Chicago… Last year. At the massively underwhelming Fan Expo Chicago (the mutated carcass of the original Chicago Comic Con, aka Wizard World Chicago). We moved 43 copies at that show, and honestly, that was pretty good all things considered. So, we waltz into C2E2 praying that the fans walking in did not attend Fan Expo last year — or if they did, they somehow missed us.

So, knowing that we’d need to hit decent-to-awesome revenue numbers at the show to make back our booth cost, enter desperation! 

With limited time and maximum flop sweat, I looked to my personal cash cow — PokeMashups — to hopefully give us a little buzz.. Since I started offering these silly things, I’ve personally seen continuous exponential growth. 

Before I talk about our hail Mary for success…A bit of backstory for the uninitiated. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #083: Creative Devolution”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #082: At Home With House.

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #082: At Home With House.

Is there a German word for when you finish a rather “heavy” show via streaming, where you just need to consume something lighter or familiar? Maybe it’s gutentelestreamafunk or something. Well. That was me not too long ago. After making my way through a rewatch of Better Call Saul from the very beginning, the most recent season (now I fear last) of Doom Patrol, and catching up on Barry? My mind was mush. It didn’t want new in spite of my long list (and yes, I have a google doc of series to catch). My noodle craved comfort food. And as strange as it would be for anyone to say it? House is like a plate of chicken tendies and fries for my cerebellum.

I wasn’t a House fan when the series began in (goes to look it up…) 2004 (so, you know, almost 20 years ago. Yikes.). It was an accidental taping of the show that kickstarted me on the series in the first place. You see, no cap kiddos, I had set out to tape the upcoming WWE Smackdown program on our local Fox affiliate. But my DVR was an idiot — and opted to tape the 4th season premiere of House instead. When I’d denoted then that I wouldn’t get to enjoy a 15 minute match between the demon Kane against Montel Vontavious Porter that would end in a disappointing disqualification… I decided to employ a bit of advice gleaned from the twitter feed of comic book stalwart Erik Larsen:

Every comic book is a jumping on point if it’s good enough.

So too, might one apply that ethos to a television show, right?

I knew nothing of House save only that it starred a British man doing his best American snarky accent, playing a mean version of Sherlock Holmes, but as a doctor. Also, I knew my wife liked the show, and she certainly has good taste. She married me! But I digress.

The fourth season of House was the one (for those who don’t remember September 28th, 2007 as well as I do) where Dr. House has lost his previous team of diagnosticians (two quit, one was fired out of spite),  and decides to lean into the then-still-fresh notion of reality TV to hire himself a new team to replace them. Now, for those waiting to call me out? The fourth season premiere of House doesn’t actually “feature” the cavalcade of cohorts House whittles down into the main cast until literally the last shot of the episode. The rest of the episode itself is fairly typical for the show’s main structure — a patient is introduced in the cold open, and throughout the course of 40ish minutes of content, House barrages said patient in test after test while weird and strange symptoms further complicate the issue. Right before all hope is lost, someone mutters something, the music abruptly shifts, and Gregory House has solved the seemingly unsolvable case. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #082: At Home With House.”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #081: Tired of your Marvel Malaise

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #081: Tired of your Marvel Malaise

The murmurs and mumbles of mediocrity started as early as Thor 2: The Dark World. They got louder with Black Widow. Louder still with Eternals. Then came the ire and fanboy rage over She-Hulk. And now it’s perhaps getting a bit too loud over Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

I’m sick of it.

In my day (shh, Mike Gold. Shh.) comic book movies were — at best — loud, kitschy affairs. For every Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or ’89 Batman… we also got Howard the Duck, Superman III and IV, and Captain America. In the 90’s, Batman plummeted in quality, and was met by early CGI nightmares like Spawn, or obnoxious barely-based-on-their-source popcorn flicks like Judge Dredd or Tank Girl. And while these films were watchable… they were hardly of a caliber that one could present opposite more lucrative blockbuster sci-fi and action romps.

And then came Marvel.

It started unassumingly with Blade. Unlike so many neon-lit counterparts released prior… Blade felt like a horror action-movie. It was clearly inspired by the comic book origins and broad strokes of the character, but made smart choices in costuming, sets, and the watered-down plot. It wasn’t hokey. It was a blueprint.

1998’s Blade begat Bryan Singer’s X-Men. Similar to the vampire hunter… these were well-dressed (“what, you’d prefer yellow spandex?”) superheroes with well-thought-out effect work that made their mutant abilities feel believable. Combine this with the gravitas and star power of Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan, and slowly but surely, the zeitgeist was changing. 

Take a side-step from the mainstream, and you could see Hollywood begin to lean into the pulp and paper world. Ghost World, From Hell, Road to Perdition, and my personal favorite American Splendor showcased that comics beyond the punchy kind would also be applicable to mainstream (if a bit arty) America. But I digress.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #081: Tired of your Marvel Malaise”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #080: “FOConMO”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #080: “FOConMO”

rejection from comic consAs I age like a fine wine, I’m realizing my anger is receding into solemn contemplation. Not unlike Bruce Banner? I’m always angry at something. Be it the GOP and their unending campaign against logic and reason, to more simple things… like my four year old refusing to poop in the potty. But I’m not writing this week about poop, the potty, or the GOP — which I’d like to point out is quite interchangeable these days. No folks, today my idling ire is aimed at comic cons. More specifically? Juried comic cons.

It never fails: with a solid third of my social media follows dedicated to the pulp-and-paper-pals I’ve made in my semi-career in comics, on any given weekend, my feed becomes choked with con content. This morning, as I cracked open Adobe Illustrator to begin working up some new PokeMashups, I also checked in to Facebook to see what’s shaking. The Northwest Indiana Comic-Con (NWI) kicked off, and in six pulls of my scroll wheel, no fewer than a dozen posts shared out photos and optimistic words signaling the masses to head out to Schererville, Indiana for a day of fun. And with that deluge of content, I closed Facebook in an immature huff. 

To know that there’s a comic con not twenty minutes from my house that Unshaven Comics will never* attend grinds my gears. Doubly so when I see other south suburban cohorts proudly tabling. So why the asterisk? Well kiddos, I admit: we didn’t apply to the show this year. So, I’m being half-cheeky half-angst-filled over my assertion. For all I know? Had we applied for a table, we would have been welcomed with open arms. But you know what George Bush Jr. says: fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #080: “FOConMO””

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #079: “Dear Dwayne”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #079: “Dear Dwayne”

Dear Dwayne,

I know you prefer to be called by your full moniker,  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but I want to speak to the person behind that particular mask. Put the eyebrow down. Send your posse on a 20 minute break. Place your phone on airplane mode, and place it face down on the table in front of us. It’s just you, me, and the millions (AND MILLIONS) of my fans reading this. Cool? Cool. 

You need to stop it. Seriously. C’mon, man. You know what I’m talking about. Really? You’re going to make me say it out loud? Fine.

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

We loved when you dabbled your toe into acting. That turn as your own father in That 70’s Show? Great. Playing an alien version of yourself in Star Trek: Voyager? Uhhh… let’s come back to that.. And hey… your first trip to Saturday Night Live? Pitch perfect. Seriously. Better than any “sports stars” they featured prior. You then took the summers off in 2000 so you could become the Scorpion King (which, I assume was why you were on SNL). Like many fans… I actually went to the theater to catch your first starring role. Because it would either be good, or we’d have something to replace that one flick where Hulk Hogan made a dude crap himself.

And hey. It was fine. 20 something years later? I can’t recall a single scene, line of dialogue, or action sequence. But I do recall you fighting the late Michael Clark Duncan, and thinking it was cool. 

After that? I really want to commend you. You started taking interesting roles. Get Shorty. The Rundown. Walking Tall. Southland Tales. Were you “generic badass tough guy” in most of them? Sure. But the scripts were smart. And because of it, you looked smart. Not just catchphrases and stuntman body slams. Versus previous wrestler-turned-actors — Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Jesse Venture — you seemed to have more depth, better comedic timing, and pathos (when called for).  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #079: “Dear Dwayne””

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #078: “2022 Wrestling Review”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #078: “2022 Wrestling Review”

Consider it my own New Years Resolution to be more verbose on this site in 2023. As it stands, I wrote a whopping (goes to check) one article. Egads. Mea culpa my friends. Well. Let’s double my output before 2022 is laid to rest!

When it came to the year in professional wrestling, as a fan, I’m going out on a limb to say it was one of the best years we have had collectively. A lot of moving and shaking. A lot of false finishes. And more than a few memorable matches, stars elevated, and rivalries built. With that being said, let me ring in the new year with a wrap up on my personal top ten moments of professional wrestling of 2022. 

Let’s kick it off with a bang.

Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #078: “2022 Wrestling Review””

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #077: “CM Punked?”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #077: “CM Punked?”

A little over a year ago, I wrote a love letter to Phil Brooks on this site. My feelings for CM Punk then are the same as they are now. He remains the reason I returned to pro wrestling fandom. He’s my favorite pro wrestler. Full stop. Cool? Let’s go.

First, let’s get the “facts” out here so we can get the the personal-opinion-penguin (which, trust me, is why you’re here):

On Sunday, September 4th, 2022, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) threw a pay-per-view, “All Out”. The main event saw CM Punk face Jon Moxley for the AEW World Championship. 

The story thus far? This year, Punk won the belt originally in May from Hangman Adam Page. 3 days after winning, Punk announced he had shattered his foot, and needed to take time off. AEW doesn’t have champions give the belt back. Rather, they hold a tournament to crown an interim champ. Say hello to Jon Moxely. Upon Punk’s return… the belts were unified in an impromptu match that saw Mox decimate Punk after a single botched kick seem to show that Punk came back from injury too soon. 

With no opponent to face at the pay per view, Moxley left a signed contract on the mat the next week. CM Punk’s long-time friend and coach Ace Steele marched to the ring, grabbed the contract, and later in the show… slapped the taste out of Punk’s mouth to “re-awaken” the Second City Saint. Smash cut to Sunday, Mox — the younger, meaner, current champ… now facing an underdog Punk (fighting from underneath is kinda-sorta his MO, after all). After a bloody battle, Punk became a 2-time champ — crowned in his home city of Chicago. A whole bunch of storyline stuff happened (another article, I promise), and the show goes off the air to uproarious applause.

After the show is why we’re here. As part of the presentation of these pay-per-views, AEW owner Tony Khan throws these odd “Media Scrums”. Faux-press-conferences where various show performers come out to answer questions from the pro wrestling media. Let’s go ahead and stop right there.

Reread that as many times as you need to.

During the scrum, newly crowned champ CM Punk — bloody, battered, and hungry for muffins (no, seriously…) — took his chair. He shot a barb or two at the assembled bloggers, podcasters, and pro-wrestling journalists as things settled. Without a single question asked, Punk began a deluge of word-vomit that started with his current relationship to fellow grappler Colt Cabana and ended with a five paragraph monologue about AEW’s EVPs/on-air talent the Young Bucks and their friend the “anxious millennial cowboy” Hangman Adam Page. In short: Phil Brooks loathes them all for any number of reasons… all of which are outside the purview of the on-air character of professional wrestler CM Punk. By all accounts (and you’re welcome to pull up the video on youtube yourself… I’m not linking it for many reasons), this airing of grievances burned down the fourth wall between storyline, and “dirtsheet” journalism. For the uninitiated, “dirt sheets” are pro-wrestling tabloids; backstage accounts of real politicking and drama behind the stage personas. Shortly thereafter, Phil Brooks left the stage. The ghost of CM Punk never seemingly entered the scrum.

Reports of Punk and the Young Bucks getting into a physical altercation following the presser dropped. Countless wrestlers, media members, and fans all took to the social media streets to give their opinion. It’s “Punk vs. AEW” in the locker room. Following the real fracas, AEW owner Tony Khan was forced to strip CM Punk of his title, as well the Young Bucks of their newly-won Trios belts — won on the same night with their bestie Kenny Omega. Punk, if the same dirtsheets that he glowered at are to be believed… suffered from a very real torn tricep during his match. So, even with a belt, Punk’s now staring down months of recovery… putting AEW and its fans right back to where it started in May. 

But unlike then, with a sullen-but-committed CM Punk vowing to come back stronger than before… now we were treated to a tirade of a tween having a hissy fit over mulled-over stories and unseen backstage peacocking. The once self-proclaimed “voice of the voiceless” suddenly self-immolated. The fans (myself included) left scratching our heads as to the why of it all. 

Personal-opinion-penguin time!

In my heart, I want to believe this is a scripted, Kaufman-esque storyline. With 7 years of downtime, and a deep love of comic books and pro wrestling in his heart? Punk is master storyteller. I could easily see him behind closed doors with Kahn and company concocting this whole affair. The “Punk who can’t stop smiling” act would eventually wear out its welcome. What better way to let Phil Brooks’ creativity loose than a supernova heel turn. Perhaps feeling the tricep injury post-match (assuming the adrenaline kept Punk going and he was unconvinced of an injury during the actual match) led to unleashing this self-destructive angle that seemingly removes the shine from the apple. I fear however, this is me swinging at any theory my mind can concoct to explain away the awfulness of it all.

If this is indeed a shoot? I’m disappointed in Phil Brooks as a professional. At 43 years old, he knew better (again: leading me to think this is all some concoction of fiction). During his electric comeback speech, he laid it out:

I’m back. And I’m back for you. I’m not gonna lie, I’m back for me too, and I’m back because there’s a hell of a lot of young talent that I wish I was surrounded by 10 years ago. So insane that I sit back and I say, well, hell, they’re here now, so why aren’t you? Here I am. I’m back, because I want to work with that young talent that had the same passion that I had stamped out. I’m back because there’s a couple of scores to settle in that locker room. I’m back for the young guys.”

And for the better part of a year? Punk was back for those young guys. He wrestled solid matches with Darby Allin, Powerhouse Hobbs, Daniel Garcia, Lee Moriarty, Wardlow, Max Caster, John Silver, and of course… an unforgettable series with MJF. The latter, of course, the heir to the throne that Punk’s sat at for so very long. Following that series, he transitioned to his match with Hangman Adam Paige, took the title, and well… here we are now.

What happened to Punk while he rehabbed his shattered foot? AEW’s ratings didn’t significantly shift up or down. Matches and angles remained as decent as they’d been with Punk actively competing — save anything as dynamic on the mic as his MJF feud. It’s hard to imagine Punk sitting at home and seething over things essentially remaining generally positive; save perhaps a scenario wherein he rages against the notion his absence was missed but not detrimental to the overall brand. The rarely-to-believed blogosphere seems to believe Punk’s diatribe was premeditated. That’s even more baffling to me; because going into business for himself by way of backing up the bus over beloved roster members would only wind up with everyone losing. “It’s them or me” seems shallow for someone who had nothing left to prove to the fans that loved CM Punk.

In the wake of the fracas, fans like me sit in idle. AEW’s television this week pulled an amazing WWE-esque smoke-and-mirrors show. Punk removed from the opening video packages and graphics. No mention by name, save only for MJF referencing that Moxley “went to sleep last night” and mimicking Punk’s taunt. YouTube news channels like What Culture and Cultaholic now have multiple reports daily, and think-pieces lending to their view count. The dirt sheets lap up every muffin crumb to drive click-baity BS while the fanbase sours. Social media is now choked with memes and carefully chosen video clips that rewrite Punk’s history to show him the villain of the piece all-along. 

Was this what he wanted? Like many, the line from The Dark Knight lingers in my mind. “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” It’s deflating to think that after deciding to return to the ring with nothing left to prove… Punk became so self-absorbed that he became blind to the irony his bang-the-table preening was no better than those he mocked during his pivotal pipebomb promo that pushed his career forward (and soon enough to its then-end). How could he not understand that publicly airing his dirty laundry with his coworkers was a better way to solve a problem then sitting down like adults in the back away from cameras and civilly discussing the issues at hand? We’ll likely never know.

I’ve met Phil Brooks. He was nice. Genuine. Dare I even say… a sweetheart. I wouldn’t want to believe the guy who snapped a shot of my birth announcement comic to send to his wife and was elated to be given a copy (because my second son happens to be Colton Mikel Fishman, aka CM Fish)…had grown so bitter — especially over so little. For better or worse… I believe in the long game. When Punk heals up, I pray for a return. An explanation. An angle. Anything to retcon or relight this dim ending to the brightest spot in my (and many others’) wrestling fandom.

CM Punk. Phil Brooks. You’ve said of yourself… you are the best in the world. Well, sir? Prove it.