Category: Books

Brainiac On Banjo #069: Breathtaker – Now It Can Be Told!

Brainiac On Banjo #069: Breathtaker – Now It Can Be Told!

In my career as a comic book editor-provocateur, I have had the privilege of assisting the birth of several remarkable projects. Two such projects were offered to me by the same team: writer/artists Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel. Oh, sure, they went on individually to do brilliant stuff such as Blood of the Innocent, Tarzan, The Sandman, Gregory, Frankenstein’s Mobster and The Escapist, but all that happened after I received their pitch for Mars.

I was editor-in-chief at First Comics, and I was specifically looking for a project that was completely original and produced by “newcomers” (quotes are due to that “overnight sensation” thing). Joe Staton and Bruce Patterson, our art director and production manager respectively, tossed the Mars proposal onto my lap and said “read this.” Not “read this, please” or “I think this is what you’re looking for;” nope, just read this.

I did, and then I called Wheatley and Hempel. As I recall, their agent was noted comics writer, marketer, publisher, and all-around swell guy Mike Friedrich. Quite rapidly, we had a deal.

After the first issues were finished and we started our promotion work, one of the major comics distributors – there actually used to be over a dozen! – told me I was making a big mistake. Nobody heard of these guys. I pointed out that nobody had heard of Mark Twain until he got published. I was told the story lacked commercial appeal. I responded, “how do you know they aren’t mutants?” Yeah, back in those days I could be quite stubborn or, as I prefer to think of it, an asshole for the cause of good.

We published the series and it became a cult classic. My definition of a cult classic was a highly regarded comic book whose sales were outflanked by the comp list. Mars did well enough and if it sold in those same volume today it would be a twice-weekly book, but the numbers weren’t likely to confound Alan Turing. It had enormous word-of-mouth going for it as well, and that inured to the benefit of the First Comics legend.

Flash forward six years to 1990. Despite the fact that Hempel was hospitalized during his time on Mars, they pitched me another project. By this time, I was a group editor and director of editorial development at DC Comics, and my job was to boldly acquire weird shit that no one had acquired before. I heard their pitch for Breathtaker in a backroom at some huge comics convention. I went for it in a heartbeat, my boss Dick Giordano was ecstatic about it (Dick had a great eye for weird shit), and we produced and published Breathtaker… Despite Hempel’s return to the hospital.

But that’s when things got dicey. Our publisher, Jenette Kahn, a fine person who had earned my respect several years before she got into comics, took one look at the cover and said it seemed like we were mocking concentration camp victims. It’s 30 years later, and I still don’t get that. But word got out that Jenette didn’t like the book. Well, that’s not true. She didn’t like the cover, and she could have called for a new one, or she could have canned the book outright. She did not, but our crack marketing department saw the onus as clear as day.

DC’s marketing director had a reputation for not putting much muscle behind comics that didn’t have a batcape and didn’t kill off anybody important. When Breathtaker was released the only people who knew about it were Wheatley and Hempel’s relatives and those friends of mine who remained amused by my incessant bitching. Despite this, the books sold well, and it got itself a trade paperback collection, which I believe went through a few printings.

Still onus-laden, Mark and Marc got the rights back – eventually. We reprinted it over at IDW in 2005, which was about the time something really interesting happened. The Normal Rockwell Museum was putting on an exhibition of some two dozen graphic novels, and Breathtaker was among those selected. We had an entire wall in their truly breathtaking museum. We were invited to the opening and they even threw us all a wonderful feast – after which many of the museum curators brought out their personal comics for us to sign.

From time to time, the museum put together a travelling version of the exhibit, and it’s still going on. According to the press release,

“Wheatley and Hempel’s Insight Studios Group will mount the “Breathtaker Exhibition,” which was created by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and will appear at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. With more than 90 original works of art, the exhibition explores the creative and physical processes that were undertaken during the original production … The exhibition will be on view August 24, 2020 through October 30, 2020.”

I should point out that McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland is just outside of Baltimore, near the abodes of the Breathtaker creators. That is sweet.

I should also point out that Breathtaker is being rereleased in collected edition by my old, old buddy Nick Landau (thanks for the sexy Hitler comic, Nick!) and his Titan Books imprimatur. Oh, and while I’m at it, I will point out that Titan is issuing an all-new companion comic, I guess for those of us who have all-new companions.

For me, this is seriously cool. Mark and Marc have been two of my closest friends, and I remain in awe of their work. If you haven’t read Breathtaker, Landau is about to make it easy for you to correct that.

Brainiac On Banjo #065: Got A Light?

Brainiac On Banjo #065: Got A Light?

Time once again to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear – well, my thrilling days of yesteryear. You know I like to share.

A half-century ago there was a place where all the hippies met. Well, there were lots of such places: the just-referenced South Street in Philadelphia, St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan, the Haight in San Francisco, and the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, among many others. Gentrification runs deep, and into the hippies’ lives it crept like a summbych. We’ll catch up to present-day “reality” by the end of this piece.

The heart of Lincoln Park hippiedom was the intersection of Fullerton, Halsted and Lincoln streets. Festive little places like head shop Head Imports, our community restaurant the Feed Store, the Army-Navy store which sold the finest hippie clothes at affordable prices – as well as gas masks, which came in handy from time to time. The underground paper where I planted my roots, the Chicago Seed, moved to the neighborhood after being Nazi-bait across the street from the Moody Bible Institute, the place where Bettie Page went to school. The neighborhood grew into a formidable Weed of Destruction and I remain a very proud Seedling. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #065: Got A Light?”

With Further Ado #070: 2019 Yuletide Gift Guide

With Further Ado #070: 2019 Yuletide Gift Guide

It’s been a busy year and it’s time to either (a) help spread the word or (b) reward yourself for getting through another year.  And either way, my Annual Yuletide Gift Guide  is here to help. Here’s a few ideas for you to chew on, after you’ve chewed on your turkey.

 

BATMAN: THE DEFINITIVE HISTORY OF THE DARK KNIGHT IN COMICS, FILM AND BEYOND

By Andrew Farago and Gina McIntyre

Insight Editions

This is the type of the book that you start in the morning, and when you look up again it’s bedtime.  This lovingly thorough history of Batman touches all the bases, provides new information and is loaded with goodies.  I must admit it’s a thrill, for example, to be reading about the Batmobile from 1950s comics, and then to fold-out a set of Batmobile blueprints.

$75.00 • 400 pp. • hardcover  • ISBN-10: 1683834372

 

A MARVELOUS LIFE: THE AMAZING STORY OF STAN LEE

by Danny Fingeroth

This one might be the comic-lovers go-to gift for the 2019 season.  Danny Fingeroth takes readers on a deep dive into Stan’s life, stuffing this book with balanced analysis and long-lost stories. It’s a page turner and there’s something for everyone inside.

$29.99 400 pp. • Hardcover  • ISBN-10: 1250133904

 

 

 

Continue reading “With Further Ado #070: 2019 Yuletide Gift Guide”

With Further Ado #068: Stan the Man by Dan the Man

With Further Ado #068: Stan the Man by Dan the Man

I’ve had a problem with the recent biographies I’ve read. They have left me feeling a depressed. I understand that we’re all just people, and no one is perfect.   

But, after reading Zoglin’s Bob Hope Biography, I was really bummed out by Hope’s infidelity, and the disastrous results it had on the lives of some his girlfriends.    Jay Jones’s insights into the life of Dr. Seuss in Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination, were fascinating, especially when viewing his creative output through the lens of entrepreneurism. But again, I had a sourness left in my mouth as I learned about the ending of Geisel’s first marriage. Florent Silloray’s Frank Capa: A Graphic Biography left me confused about the paths taken by a man with such a great creative talent.

So, you can understand how I was I was especially worried as I jumped into Danny Fingeroth’s A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee, fearful this biography too might be a downer.

The stakes were, in fact, high for this book. Sometimes it seems like there are two extremes for comics (or Marvel) fans. There are those that hold Stan Lee in the highest regard for his incredible creations.  On the other hand, there are those that hold him in great contempt as a privileged, boastful promoter who ended up wealthy while so many of his collaborators were not able to benefit from their creativity and hard work.  Continue reading “With Further Ado #068: Stan the Man by Dan the Man”

Spotlight Interview: Talking Comics and Geekdom With Writer Amy Chu

Spotlight Interview: Talking Comics and Geekdom With Writer Amy Chu

Picture copyright Amy Chu

If you are not familiar with comics writer extraordinaire Amy Chu, you should be. If you are, then we will endeavor to share with you some great tidbits about her writing, current projects, and other passions.

We were able to catch up with Amy at Awesome-Con in Washington, DC back at the end of April. In the past five years, she has exploded into comics and has worked for DC, Marvel, Dynamite, Lion Forge, and more. Her titles include Girls Night Out, Poison Ivy, Red Sonja, Dejah Thoris, The Green Hornet, Summit, KISS, and more.  Recently, Sea Sirens, her original graphic novel with Janet Lee was published by Viking Books.

Amy has also just been announced as part of the faculty for the Kubert School starting this fall. You can see the press release here.

Besides comics, Amy Chu has led an amazing life that included suing her school under Title IX to be allowed to play on the boys’ soccer team in high school. She holds degrees from both MIT and Harvard. She is also the mother to two wonderful boys. [I’ve met them. They are good kids.]

Amy is regular on the comic convention scene. We often wonder how she has time to do all she does, and yet she manages to do it all. If you see her at a Con, she will most likely appreciate coffee and donuts, as her Twitter motto these days includes “#DonutKiller”

Continue reading “Spotlight Interview: Talking Comics and Geekdom With Writer Amy Chu”

With Further Ado #044: Treasures… from a Used Book Sale

With Further Ado #044: Treasures… from a Used Book Sale

In Ithaca NY, there’s a “famous” twice-a-year used book sale. The Friends of Thompkins Library convince local book lovers to donate about a zillion books and then sell them to other book lovers for peanuts.  This generates revenues for the library because there’s an incredible volume of books, magazines, comics and calendars that change hands.  A guy like me, who loves old mysteries, men’s adventure paperbacks and comic-related books can always stumble across treasures at this sale for just a buck or two.

They are always treasures to be found in “them thar hills”.  Continue reading “With Further Ado #044: Treasures… from a Used Book Sale”

With Further Ado #041: Making Comic Cons Look (Big) Easy

With Further Ado #041: Making Comic Cons Look (Big) Easy

Just about every year, I spend a week in Louisiana.  Sometimes I get over to New Orleans, but most of the time I’m with old friends in New Iberia parish.  My pals are folks like Dave Robicheaux, his daughter Alafair and his best friend Clete Purcell. They are good people, but boy, do they get into a lot of trouble.

My visits are facilitated by author James Lee Burke, and he’s been writing about these characters for years.  He’s prolific and his novels never disappoint. Have you read a James Lee Burke story yet? Ostensibly they are thrillers. He’s superb at ratcheting up the suspense each and every time.  Beyond that, Burke also has a way to peer into humanity’s soul and wrap it all up in poetic prose. His brilliant writing is achingly beautiful.

I just finished the second most recent one, called Robicheaux. His newest, which I should read soon, is called New Iberia Blues. Burke also writes other books outside of this series, and I’ve been enthralled by them too.  I’d strongly suggest you give them a try.  Continue reading “With Further Ado #041: Making Comic Cons Look (Big) Easy”

With Further Ado #037: Stepping into the Twilight Zone with Nick Parisi

With Further Ado #037: Stepping into the Twilight Zone with Nick Parisi

In one of those summers of my youth, my buddies and I would always wrap up our nightly mischief so that we could get home in time to watch The Twilight Zone reruns at 11 pm. The next day, my buddy David Locastro and I would eagerly ask one another, “Did you see that one last night?”  With our utmost fanboy authority, we’d begin to dissect the most recent episode.

Fast forward to late March when the 44th Annual Ithacon hosted Twilight Zone expert and Serling aficionado Nick Parisi. His recent book, Serling, His Life, Work and Imagination is a fascinating and engaging work. As Rod Serling was a professor at Ithaca College and Ithacon was exhibiting treasures from the Serling Archives this year, it made perfect sense to invite Parisi as a guest.

The show was great fun but, as all shows are, it was also a blur of activities. So, it was after Ithacon that I caught up with Nick to speak more about this book.

Ed Catto: So many of us grew up with The Twilight Zone and we all have our stories.  For me, I have fond memories of watching it on WPIX out of New York City. What was your interaction and how did you become so much of fan that you’re now an author and expert?

Nick Parisi: Ed, I have similar memories of WPIX. I started watching TZ on WPIX when I was nine or ten years old and I still remember the nightly schedule: The Odd Couple at 11, The Honeymooners at 11:30, Star Trek at midnight, and The Twilight Zone at 1 am. I would do my best to stay awake and I would usually make it! The show mesmerized me pretty much immediately and I became a fanatic for it pretty quickly. Then Marc Zicree’s Twilight Zone Companion came out and it kicked my fanaticism into another gear. That was a truly revolutionary book.  Continue reading “With Further Ado #037: Stepping into the Twilight Zone with Nick Parisi”

Brainiac On Banjo #032: Stream On, It’s A Crazy Feeling!

Brainiac On Banjo #032: Stream On, It’s A Crazy Feeling!

Most likely you have noticed the shift from static broadcast and cable television and movies to streaming services such as Netflix and DC Universe… to name but two. This stuff is growing like amoebas on steroids. In the relatively few years since this all began, it has knocked the poo out of the free media industries.

Unlike their cohorts in cable and terrestrial broadcasting, theater owners saw this coming and, in order to protect their investments, started offering new experiences such as larger, more comfortable and more adjustable seating, a wider range of unhealthy overpriced foods and snacks, new screens that can be viewed from the International Space Station, and sound systems that will deafen you. Great fun!

For the moment, at least.

The American comic book industry jumped on this concept out of the same cultural-shift that affected these other entertainment industries. Peculiarly, American comic book publishers have not shown much in the way of innovation over the past 86 years; the last huge improvement came when Major Wheeler-Nicholson decided to commission new work instead of relying upon newspaper strip reprints. That happened a mere 84 years ago.

When comixology came along offering comics new and old to their subscribers to be read (but not stored) on computers and tablets, as well as on cellphones for those who enjoy squinting, most publishers were quick to embrace this new means of distribution. Since then, the quantity of such material has skyrocketed and now DC’s stream-liner, DC Universe, is claiming they will be offering damn near every DC-owned comic online as part of that service. It’s also available on your television set, assuming you enjoy squinting but doing so on your smartphone requires too much effort.

That’s cool. Technology marches on, and the side benefit is that we’re saving a lot of trees, creating more oxygen and using fewer fossil fuels to distribute pretty colors printed on the corpses of saplings. Some people, not all of whom are nostalgia-soaked geriatrics, don’t like this and that is completely understandable. Just wait until they must move their comic book collection to a new abode. With two-terabyte thumb-drives available and heading towards affordability, you can put a copy of every comic book ever published in America on maybe four such drives and drop them in your purse or pocket.

So, last week Apple announced their new Apple News+ program which will stream more than 240 newspapers and magazines into the ethersphere for $10 a month. Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue… lots of stuff, with the promise of more to come. Well, that sounds convenient, particularly to those of us with tablets, and even more so to my fellow geriatrics with growing vision issues. That 13” iPad is looking better to me all the time, and I haven’t subscribed to this new service – at least not yet. Several more daily newspapers of note would be nice.

Immediately and quite predictably, the naysayers started screaming nay. “This will kill magazines and newspapers,” they say. Oh, yeah? If you live within a convenient walk of a retailer who offers more than 240 magazines and newspapers, consider yourself very lucky. Most people do not. If you want to choose from a variety of publications, you better be ready to drive out to one of the rapidly-dwindling big box stores such as Barnes and Noble and then pray for the best. This distribution method, pioneered by Apple with iTunes, saved the music industry. Is FYI still around? How about Borders? Ya wanna get this stuff somewhere.

If there’s but one rule that pervades Earth history, it’s that change is constant. Maintaining access to editorial content must adapt. If you lust for the smell of old paper – and I kinda do myself – pull apart one of those CGC clamshells and take a good snort.

(A tip of the hoodie to Buddy Holly for our headline this week)

With Further Ado #035: Same Bat-Time

With Further Ado #035: Same Bat-Time

Jim Beard is a passionate and industrious writer who has a new project in the works called SAME BAT-TIME, SAME BAT-CHANNEL.  It’s a collection of essays focusing on the first season of the 1966 BATMAN television show.  Contributors include folks like Will Murray, Robert Greenberger, Paul Kupperberg, Keith DiCandido and more. I’m also involved with this project, but I wanted to get the big picture from Mr. Beard.

Ed Catto: This sounds like such an amazing project, Jim, can you tell me the genesis of it?

Jim Beard: It’s a way to “get the band back together” from GOTHAM CITY 14 MILES, but without repeating the same setlist. I want to keep the chat going about the show, but in a different way, which led me to hit upon the idea of episode reviews with the GC14M set-up of a group of writers tackling an entire season.

EC: You seem to write so much, both fiction and comic-based articles. You sure seem busy. How have you fit it in?

JB: Well, some days very poorly! I seriously don’t know how I’ve ever finished any project, as scatterbrained and unorganized as I am, but somehow the spirit of the characters I write about lend me their strength and it all comes together.

EC: And I know you just started a podcast too. Can you tell me about that?

JB: Yes, it’s called the Comic Chaos Podcast and my co-host is Toledo, Ohio radio personality Fred LeFebvre. We’re talking about comics and pop culture and everything in-between, and as chaotically as possible. And we’re having fun, which is important.

EC: What has the past response to your bat-projects been like?

JB: For GOTHAM CITY 14 MILES? It’s been nearly ten years of warm welcome and many, many great conversations. For the new book, we haven’t even gotten warmed up yet!  Continue reading “With Further Ado #035: Same Bat-Time”