With Further Ado #059: Isaac Bidwell of Pickled Punks

With Further Ado #059: Isaac Bidwell of Pickled Punks

One of the coolest Finger Lakes entrepreneurs I’ve gotten to know is Isaac Bidwell.  Sometimes he refers to himself as an artist, but he’s really so much more. He’s created a company, Pickled Punks, that evokes a bygone era of Halloween and spookiness, all with a charm and panache that forces you to exclaim, “More, please!”

The official listing for Pickled Punks talks about how this innovative company creates artwork, plush toys, coloring books and apparel based on Cryptozoology, Sideshow, Spook Show and Halloween. They sell online, but also travel around the county doing various events from craft shows to horror festivals, committed to educating people (young and old alike) to the wonders, mysteries and folklore of the past. 

I caught up with this busy guy and had a lot of questions for him!  Continue reading “With Further Ado #059: Isaac Bidwell of Pickled Punks”

“So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man” #046: “Gotta Catch Em All, Or Not”

“So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man” #046: “Gotta Catch Em All, Or Not”

With but one major convention left on the docket for Unshaven Comics in 2019… I had a bit of a panic attack. Dragon Con is a mere less-than-half-a-month-away, and everything I thought we Unshaven Lads would have done is no where close to it. Welcome to me digitally cleaning out my closet, so you too can enjoy what it means to have a semi-professional business.

After leaving Denver’s Pop Culture Con in the spring happier-than-clams, Unshaven Comics took to a well-needed breather. Our long car ride home energized us for the multitude of tasks to complete before hitting Atlanta come Labor Day Weekend, yet here I sit — procrastinating by-way-of writing to you, my huddled dozens of fans. See? This is your fault.

Nah. It ain’t. It’s wholly ours. And while I’d love to sit here and tell you any completely believable excuses as to why our backlog of to-dos is still not-do’ed, it’s honestly a waste of both our times (for me to list it, and you read it and honestly not care). Beyond the simple — ordering posters, dry cleaning and pressing our table covers, and getting all our mise en place — a personal to-do bubbled up to the surface nary a week ago. And it rhymes with kvelling my soul. Gotta catch em all…

A little over a year ago, I had a complex desire: sell a product at the Unshaven table that wouldn’t compete for the attention of our comics, be easier to fulfil than commissioned sketches, and ultimately net me enough money per con-day to pay for dinner that same night. What I came up with has become a sullen obsession as of late. The notion: mash-up Pokémon with popular cartoons and characters in different universes. I started small, with the big three of both the Poke-universe, and the always-popular-now, Marvel Universe. I mashed Iron Man with tiny fiery dragon Charmander. I smooshed Captain America with water turtle Squirtle. And then I took Spider-Man and married him visually to the only-in-Japan-does-this-make-sense lizard-flower hybrid Bulbasaur.

I took those three designs, along with some My Little Pony mashups, and Teen Titan mashups I’d completed (for earlier commissions, now repurposed with permission by the original requester) and ultimately produced a set of collectible postcards. They were affordable for me to produce in small quantities, easy to display (literally put them on my third of the shared Unshaven table-space), and easy enough to price-to-move ($3 for 1, $10 for 5). After a little test-or-two at some smaller shows, the idea went gangbusters for me. Over the course of the year (2018), I expanded my repertoire eventually to 11 Poké-Vengers (and the stalwart ponies and titans as wonderful filler). And happily for my wallet, the cards have provided me exactly what I’d set them out to do, and very little more (equally an important notion — as it’s not my desire to become a shiller of commoditized parodies-for-profit).

Yet here I was just a week ago sweating bullets over forgetting my note-to-self post-Denver; to expand my ranks yet-again to truly lean in to the gimmick and see how far down the rabbit hole goes. Soon after Denver I’d purchased myself a beautiful tabletop spinner rack especially built for my cards. But the rack boasts 24 available slots. Given that I’d since run out of my stock of Ponies, and my Titans were never the sellers I’d longed them to be… I’d given myself the homework to complete one new Poké-Mashup a week between the Mile High City and Hotlanta. A week ago? I’d completed zero new designs. Panic button pushed.

It astonishes me, honestly, when my back is up against a wall, how well I can both manage my time and produce a litany of work. With a literal week until an internal deadline would be reached (where I’d not incur extraneous rush-fees to produce the final postcards and have them shipped-and-in-hand prior to wheels up for Atlanta (wheels up being a joke, kiddos, because we drive it)… I created enough new-and-pretty-sweet mashups to fill out my aforementioned spinner rack. Granted as of this writing, I’m not done yet. But let me take you through my insane work-flow:

  • I listed out all the current cards I’d had in my collection, and figured out I’d need to fill 13 spots with designs to have each slot in the rack with its own design.
  • I turned to the hive mind in my Facebook friends list to vote on how best to fill out the ranks (be it with a “stick to what brought you to the dance” and go all-Marvel, to split Marvel with “they still should be loved” DC, or to do a little more Marvel, a little DC, and some famous video game characters as a why-the-hell-not bit of fun. The votes overwhelmingly demanded that last option.
  • Knowing I had 3 commissioned cards (that originated digitally) I obtained permission from my customers to reproduce the cards for my set (because I think it’s only fair if someone gives me an idea to draw for them they should have a say if I care to profit from their idea after giving them what they paid for). 13 due now became 10.
  • I listed out each of the major characters I wanted to mash up, to ensure I didn’t duplicate any previously made mashup (because it’s not cool to just make a dozen different Pikachus to me)
  • Each night over the last 5 nights prior to this article being written, I inked 2 characters… bringing me to the 10 needed within a week.
  • I hired my Unshaven Comics color production assistant to flat each of the new 10 cards.
  • From here, as he completes them, I will color correct his work, add in backgrounds and a few special effects, and call it a day.
  • Then all that is left is placing the order and praying I get it in on time to have it printed and shipped to my door without any hefty rush charges.

Of course, I wish I could append this article with the big reveal of what all will hit my spinner rack in a few short weeks. But much like my stand-up comedy… I believe in the power of the moment. As such, I’ll let the fine folks of Atlanta get first gaze on my menagerie. Stay tuned, my friends… because next time? I’ll choose you (to see the cool stuff. I was trying to end on a poignant reference. Nailed it?)!

 

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #037: Charitable Contributions

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #037: Charitable Contributions

Photo by Carole Sharwarko of the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle

For those that know me well? I am a big fan of the long game. It’s why after Unshaven Comics took the better part of a year and a half working on our very first graphic novel (The March: Crossing Bridges in America, thank you very much…) my inclination wasn’t to immediately cut ties to the insanity of comic book production and just focus on my video game skills. No, I sat down with my brothers-from-other-mothers and said “we need to do this again!”. I dated my now wife for over eight and a half years before popping the question (and at least five years after the gem in her hand started glowing red!). And we waited to have our first kid several years after getting hitched. So, yeah. Long game.

Which is why it was so satisfying after sitting on the news for the better part of a year, I was finally able to share with my community a charitable donation I shilled for, to the tune of $1000 donated specifically to my home school district earmarked only to be used for the visual arts. Let me take you back… Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #037: Charitable Contributions”

Kickstarter You Should Be Backing: Mark Wheatley’s Giant… Songs

Kickstarter You Should Be Backing: Mark Wheatley’s Giant… Songs

I’ve known comics creator and illustrator Mark Wheatley since he emerged from the pupae stage. We were handed a proposal for a project called Mars – “we” being the late and lamented real First Comics. Said proposal was given to art director Joe Staton and production manager Bruce Patterson. Joe and Bruce were raving; this, in and of itself, was nothing new but they were raving about this specific project. So I read the proposal, and as the kids say, I immediately green-lighted it.

Mars was the work of Mister Wheatley and his studio-mate Marc Hempel and they were advocating a story that was unlike anything I could remember in American comics, and they were telling that story in a manner that was equally unique. Silly businessman that I am, that’s exactly the sort of venture that I find most appealing. No, I have never thought about being wealthy enough to retire. As work progressed and we started to promote Mars, the head of one of the largest comic book distributors (there were many back then) asked me, quite politely, if I were out of my mind.

Well, if I wasn’t sufficiently excited before that moment…

A couple years later, Mark and Marc pitched a project called Breathtaker. By then I was at DC Comics, still ignoring my savings account. My feelings about Breathtaker were like those I had about Mars, and I pitched it to DC. They agreed, but “they” did not include the publisher who was not part of that approval process. She thought we were somehow making fun of concentration camp inmates. Decades later, I’m still scratching my head over that one, but I was comforted in the knowledge I was still upsetting apple carts. And I maintained those feelings some time later at the premiere of the first graphic novels exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum, where Mark, Marc and Breathtaker commanded the real estate of an entire wall – and sundry staff curators came out with copies for us to autograph. Pretty heady stuff for a bunch of comics guys.

I’ve worked with Mark on various projects ever since, and we’ve maintained a friendship that no one can rend asunder, unless that person is disgusted by puns. Mark and I can flip them back and forth with a fervor that could empty out Camden Yards.

I’m not involved in Mark’s current project. Perhaps it was something I said. Or didn’t say. You can ask us April 12 – 14 at the Windy City Pulp show in Lombard Illinois; we’ll both be there, but the part you’ll enjoy is gawking at Mark’s massive… exhibit.

So… what, you might ask, is this brand-new project of Mark’s? How can you become part of it? And why did I bury the lead so deeply?

Mark has just launched a new Kickstarter called Song Of Giants: The Poetry of Pulp – Illustrated. It’s got 72 pages of “mind-blowing illustrations by all of Fame artist Mark Wheatley,” as the back cover so intriguingly states. He’s limited himself to three such giants: Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H.P. Lovecraft. Oh, yeah, them again!

Of course there’s a website in addition to the Kickstarter page. Grow up! It’s 2019! It’s like gravity! Check it out for more info and even more pretty pictures.

Mark’s also coming out with an audio book, and he’s teamed up with noted producer / voice actor and all-around swell guy Mark Redfield. What can I say? He’s got a thing for guys named Mark. Or Marc. Yup, this is an audio book of a book of illustrations. Mark is still boldly going, I see… In these difficult times, it’s nice to see that somethings do not change – abruptly.

Check out the Kickstarter. Help make it happen. Tell ‘em Groucho sent you, particularly if you’re happening by a DeSoto dealership.

Brainiac On Banjo #021: Raymond Loewy, Jony Ive, Bill Maher, and Stan Lee… by Mike Gold

Brainiac On Banjo #021: Raymond Loewy, Jony Ive, Bill Maher, and Stan Lee… by Mike Gold

Back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, from time to time my friends and I would gather in the schoolyard and call out the makes, models and years of the cars driving by. You could do that back then, as damn near every car had its own identity, its own look and style. They were so distinctive that I think we could have ID’ed most of these cars by their silhouettes, as though we were World War II Civil Defense car spotters.

Between The Great War and The Great Vietnam Fiasco, the concept of “style” was critical to our culture. Movie theaters weren’t simply big rooms with white sparkly screens – many were cathedrals of film designed to inspire you to appreciate the entirely of the moviegoing experience. Drug stores had soda fountains that were overrun with chrome-plated art deco machinery. Designers unleashed mountains of energy defining the environment shared by four generations, led by the brilliant Raymond Loewy, who created the look of cars, refrigerators and other household appliances, furniture, corporate logos and packaging, and airplanes. In fact, he teamed-up with President John F. Kennedy in 1962 to design Air Force One.  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #021: Raymond Loewy, Jony Ive, Bill Maher, and Stan Lee… by Mike Gold”

With Further Ado #017: When Steve Rude Almost Saved Christmas

With Further Ado #017: When Steve Rude Almost Saved Christmas

Back in the early 90s, we needed to save Christmas and I almost got Steve Rude to do it.

I was in brand management when I was starting out my marketing career. I had the great fortune to be assigned to Nabisco’s OREO brand.  It was a lot of fun.  I worked on the launch of Mini OREO, introduced the Halloween OREO and a Christmas variant with red crème.  In those days, changing anything about Nabisco’s brand was a serious exercise only undertaken with the most serious thought and planning.   This is in stark contrast today, when every season there are several more flavor variants to the brand.

Christmas and cookies always go together, and one of the annual traditions for the brand was to create a collectible OREO tin. These were tins with a wistful, family-focused Rockewellian painting that would be sold with a 16 oz.  package of OREO inside it.  From a marketing perspective it served many purposes: it was one more reason for someone to buy OREO, the retailers had an excuse to build a display and we even had fans who collected them each year.

We typically hired a commercial illustrator to provide the painting of a family eating OREO cookies by the Christmas Tree. They were perfectly fine, but I had the idea that I wanted to step it up with one of my favorite artists.

Steve Rude had burst onto the scene the decade before with his brilliant Nexus series and other comics work.  His work was always exciting and fun to look at fun to look at, but one couldn’t help but be struck by both his brilliant design sense, and his ability to render expressive figures.  Many of the covers would be painted, while the interiors would showcase his impressive traditional comics work.  His paintings are what sparked my idea.  Continue reading “With Further Ado #017: When Steve Rude Almost Saved Christmas”

WIth Further Ado #005 Why Don’t You Know About Emanuele Taglietti?

WIth Further Ado #005 Why Don’t You Know About Emanuele Taglietti?

Here in the US, in the late 70s and early 80s, we were reading comics like Marvel’s The Human Fly. But there was something entirely different going on in Italy. The ‘sexy fumetti’ craze had taken hold. This fad put the the scariness of horror films and twisted humor into blender, and then topped it all off with another dollop of unabashed sexiness.  Some people have called them “the most shocking comics ever produced”, and I say that’s an understatement.

A counterbalance these lurid, prurient comics is the outstanding art of Italian master Emanuele Taglietti.  He painted over 500 covers for many comics including Sukia, Magnum 44 and Ulula.  Each painting has a sense of urgency combined with an off-the-charts level of skill.

Korero Press has recently published Sex and Horror: The Art of Emanuele Taglietti.  Clearly, it’s not for the faint of heart or the prudish.  Even liberal thinkers probably need to take a deep breath before reading this one.  Continue reading “WIth Further Ado #005 Why Don’t You Know About Emanuele Taglietti?”