Category: Columns

Brainiac On Banjo: Make Room! Make Room!

There once was a science fiction writer named Harry Harrison. He is best known as the author of “Make Room, Make Room,” which was turned into the 1973 movie Soylent Green, starring Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young, and that guy who says we can take his gun out of his cold dead hands now.

The story was about overpopulation and how there was no space for anybody to live, eat or, ironically, procreate. It was set in 2022. That’s 22 days from now.

Harrison also was a comic book and comic strip writer, and much of his artwork – for EC Comics and others – was inked by Wally Wood. He wrote the Flash Gordon comic strip in the 1950s and his s-f novel, The Stainless Steel Rat, was adapted into a long running series in the UK weekly comics 2000 AD.

I agree with his story’s message. In fact, I do not believe we have a shortage of any natural resources per se. I believe we have a massive overabundance of human beings. This planet wasn’t built to house and feed 7.9 billion people (as of November 2021). Indeed, the number of humans who stalk the Earth octupled in the past 200 years. Make room, indeed. And never forget: soylent green is people.

Not everybody agrees with me. For example, take Elon Musk, a man who has been dramatically unable to pull his rabbit out of his hat.

Yes, he’s the guy behind the Tesla, the wonderfully named, vastly overpriced and pathetically underperforming wondercar that is supposed to eliminate the need for both gasoline and drivers. Someday it might do that, maybe, perhaps… but thus far it is one of the most recalled automobiles of this century. Thus far, his six-figure four-wheeler has killed at least 221 people (source).

His SpaceX company appears to be more successful – unless you’re paying attention to Elon Musk. A couple weeks ago, he told his SpaceX employees that his Starship engine crisis is creating a “risk of bankruptcy.” Start updating your résumés, kids!

So it is with some amusement that I find Elon’s latest pronouncement that “so many people, including smart people, think that there are too many people in the world and think that the population is growing out of control. It’s completely the opposite. Please look at the numbers – if people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble, mark my words.” He said this at the Wall Street Journal’s annual CEO Council while he was promoting his newest baby, the Tesla Bot, which, according to Musk, is a “generalized substitute for human labor over time.”

More people but less human employment. This is a billionaire’s stickiest wet dream.

I should note Elon has six children. Well, at least he puts his, ahhh, dick where his mouth is.

The global birthrate fell by 4% in 2020, and it’s been slowly declining for the previous 60 years. To me, this sounds like great progress. Slow progress, to be sure, but slow enough to be in Elon’s comfort zone. Except it isn’t.

Musk also notes “it is important for us to die because most of the times, people don’t change their mind, they just die… If they live forever, then we might become a very ossified society where new ideas cannot succeed.”

I’m not exactly sure how he came to this conclusion as it’s not backed by anybody’s experience, but I can make an educated guess as to which orifice had incubated his speculation.

Bottom line: P.T. Burnum put on a better show.

With Further Ado #174: I Love a Parade

With Further Ado #174: I Love a Parade

It seems like it should be a rigorous process for a brand, or a character, to achieve the crowning achievement of being featured as a balloon in the Macy’s Day Parade. But it doesn’t work that way.

Way back when, when I was working in marketing for Lever Brothers on Snuggle Fabric Softener, I learned how it all really worked. It was simple economics. If you could pay, you could get your brand, or character, into the parade.

You might not see him so much now, but Snuggle was the cuddly bear mascot for the Snuggle fabric softener brand. In network TV commercials back in the day, we were forever throwing the Snuggle Bear into a pile of super-soft towels. They were so soft because, and you have already guessed it, the head-of-household had used Snuggle fabric with every load of laundry. You see, back then, parents expressed their love for their family through soft towels.

And yes, I know it all sounds silly now.

Anyways, Lever Brothers had created a Snuggle Balloon for the Macy’s Day Parade in 1989, and we ran it again in 1990. My firstborn was just a month old then, so I decided to forego the VIP seats. In retrospect, I do regret that!

Faster Than A Speeder Bullet

Still, I’m always surprised that Superman, who debuted in 1938, appeared as a balloon in the 1940 Macy’s Day parade.  According to the Macy’s Fandom Wiki, it was designed by the parade director, who evidently didn’t realize that Superman usually wore a red cape.  From the Wiki:

The colossal “Man of Steel” balloon was designed by a former Parade Director Tony Sarg and constructed out of neoprene coated rubber at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company  at Akron, Ohio headquarters. The “Giant Superman” measured 75 feet in height and 44 feet in width with 9,000 cubic feet of helium needed to help the superhero fly down the streets of Manhattan. A crew of 27 husky handlers helped guide the balloon down the street, all donning Superman-themed apparel. 

The original Superman balloon was retired after making only one appearance in the 1940 procession and was refurbished into Hugo the Football Hero the following year.

It really speaks to Superman’s instant, overwhelming success, that he could be in the Macy’s Parade so soon after his debut.  And by the way, who is Hugo the Football Hero?!?

But you may have seen Baby Yoda, although we call him Grogu now, in the parade last Thursday. He debuted in the 2019 Disney+ series The Mandalorian, and there he was in the parade, just two years later.

“Incredible!”, you say?  Maybe not. It’s not really the Star Wars character. It’s really the Funko version of the Star Wars character. This effort was driven by toymaker/collectible maker Funko, as detailed in this NYTimes article.

One more triumph for Geek Culture. And it also makes sense that this effort was a also a way to sell exclusive toys at Macy’s. From the NYTimes article:

For the occasion of the parade, Grogu Pop merchandise, including T-shirts, hoodies and figurines, will be sold at the Herald Square Macy’s and Funko stores.

“We’re beyond excited for the product to the hit shelves at Macy’s flagship store in a few days,” Jordan Dabby, Senior Director of Partnership Marketing and Media for Macy’s branded entertainment, said in an interview last week. “We expect the limited-edition Grogu Macy’s Parade balloon-inspired merchandise to go quickly.”

One can’t help but wonder what characters are in development right now for next year’s parade.

Mike Gold’s As Is: Everybody Look What’s Going Down!

“He don’t know me very well, do he?” – Bugs Bunny, “Rebel Rabbit,” 1949

I’ve been taking some time off from political proselytizing. The truth has been quite blatant and either you recognize it for what it is or you are so deep in the Rabid Right’s tank that reality testing is a waste of energy. There’s extraordinarily little middle ground anymore, and you don’t need this fool on the hill to tell you squat.

On the other hand, I’ve been pontificating since 1965 and this doesn’t feel like the right time to stop. As Bob Dylan said, “If my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” So I’m going to pundit on, with the proviso “he that pundits is verily full of shit.”

There’s been a great deal of talk about the 2024 presidential election. I don’t know why; political years are akin to dog years and there’s a lot of dogs to be wagged. But I do recognize what is missing from our uncivil discourse.

Everybody is acting like the race will be between the current president and the criminal poser with the giant Mussolini complex. I’m not as certain that’s the way it will come down. Both men are really, really old – several years older than I am, in fact – and one of them has a digestive track that is as rotted out as his moral compass. If, next year, the Republicans fail to take back the house, which is an if that is somewhat larger than those other pundits let on, our nation’s dipshit il duce will likely be under indictment if not in prison – unless he picks up an AR-15 and starts murdering Black Lives Matter Wisconsinites, which is now perfectly legal.

The current White House keyholder presently enjoys a popularity rating only slightly higher than his predecessor, so, of course, now the wags are predicting he won’t run for reelection and/or his party will dump him. Yeah. Um tut sut.

This reveals the Democratic Party’s overwhelming dilemma. It’s always something, but this time at this moment they’re completely screwed and those other soothsayers ain’t ponying up much in the way of revelation. Not me. I’m always the guy who farts loudist in the swimming pool.

People don’t like the incumbent as much as they did a year ago. Well, that will happen – but those running down-ticket don’t want to risk drowning in the undertow. As we learn time and time again, politicians love their phony-baloney jobs more than they love America.

But if they dump Joe Biden, or if he dumps himself, the pressure to promote the candidacy of Vice President Kamila Harris will be enormous. A whole lot of people went blue last year with that very understanding. The non-White vote will have a hard time backing another old White man – promises inferred are promises made. The non-male vote will have a hard time voting for any man. In politics, perception is reality and such “promises” are nothing more than perceptions.

So let’s say the Democrats back Harris. That will prove interesting. You might remember Barack Obama, the president who recently inducted Jay-Z into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. His election and his subsequent reelection empowered the Pathetic Right and titillated the big money monsters who want to keep all the loot they’ve stolen from what once was the middle class. These people either could not abide by the concept of a Black president or have profited enormously from the reaction one-third of Americans have to the reality of a Black president.

Just imagine how these liquored up bible-babbling assault weapon hugging democracy hating marionettes are going to react to the concept of a Black WOMAN as president! It’s like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton all rolled into one! The very prospect will make the little bigots crawl out of their heads. They will come out en masse to prevent Harris from ever putting her hand on any bible. They will do so more aggressively than they have been doing since The Great Pumpkin floated down his escalator informing us the Mexicans are all drug dealing rapists, Satanists, and Communists.

As the kids say, these people will lose their shit. You know, like they did, literally, when they invaded the Capitol building this past January.

In other words, the Democrats are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Roll on, roll on. Keep a happy thought.

And happy Thanksgiving.

 

With Further Ado #172: Five-and-a-Half Questions with Tyler Jennes

With Further Ado #172: Five-and-a-Half Questions with Tyler Jennes

Tyler Jennes is a newly minted comics professional who’s on a career rocket ride. He’s currently working at Modern Fanatic, but there’s so much more to what he does. I was so impressed with everything he was doing and involved with at NYCC that I just had to catch up with him. I think you’ll enjoy what he has to say.

Question 1:

Ed Catto: What sort of comics and pop culture things did you like before you became part of the industry, and how deep into it were you?

Tyler Jennes: Well, I did go to Ithaca College as a film major, so I was definitely trying to watch as many movies as I possibly could. Besides that, I know I watched a hell of a lot of sitcoms when I was supposed to be doing work, so I can always talk shop about the Norman Lear and James L Brooks output! And I’d like to think I was pretty deep into the comic book scene before I was ever officially in the industry! I would go to NYCC annually and try to meet as many creators as I could (some of whom I now have the pleasure of working with!). But in terms of avidly following characters, there was a period of time where I’m pretty sure I had read every Deadpool title ever published. Now I try to keep myself caught up on all the hot new titles for work purposes!

Question 2:

EC: At Ithaca College, you were very involved with Ithacon (the nation’s second longest running comic con). Can you tell me a little bit about it?

TJ: Like you said, Ithacon has been around for a WHILE. I’m pretty sure it was even one of the first conventions that Frank Miller ever attended. It has a deep, rich history in the comic world, and what makes it even more special is that it’s now student-run! Of course, they still have the original organizers around to supervise things, but the convention is now hosted at the Ithaca College campus, and the student put together the whole thing, from handling guests to setting up events to running booths. I’d also like to add that you can find some amazing stuff at these booths. I vividly remember looking at used comic trades and coming across a Superman collection signed by Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Julie Schwartz, and John Byrne. The seller didn’t even realize what he had on his hands, so do you know how much I paid for that? Eight dollars.

Question 3:

EC: There’s a general consensus that many professionals have got to find their own way into the industry -there’s no set plan (unlike a classic profession like, say accounting). How did you get involved?

TJ: I was a junior poised to go off for a semester in LA and start the production assistant grind many film students go through when the pandemic kicked in. At the time, I was in the class for Ithacon, gearing up to put all our convention plans into motion. Obviously, the con wasn’t going to happen that year, so to make it up to us, our professor, the one and only Ed Catto, started having industry folks join the remote classes every week to talk about the biz. These were folks like Rob Salkowitz, Paul Levitz, and even Dan DiDio. But one of those guests was an IC alum, comic editor Will Dennis, who was involved with just about every title Vertigo put out. During the class I tried to make myself stand out by asking a bunch of inside baseball-type questions. He had also mentioned being overloaded with work recently and probably needing an assistant. So, I crossed my fingers and contacted him afterwards, and the rest is history. I started working on Scott [Snyder]’s stuff with Undiscovered Country, and after about a year, I fully hopped on the Best Jackett train and I’ve been running with those two guys ever since. Continue reading “With Further Ado #172: Five-and-a-Half Questions with Tyler Jennes”

Brainiac On Banjo: How Many Batmans Does It Take To Screw Up A Catalog?

BATMAN. Don’t stop dancin’. Do it, do it, do it, do it. BATMAN, BATMAN, BATMAN. Don’t stop, don’t stop. Let’s do it. Don’t stop dancin’. Let’s do it, BATMAN. Let’s do it, BATMAN. Don’t stop dancin’. Don’t stop dancin’. No, damn it! Turn the music back up! You son of a bitch! – Batdance, written by Prince, 1989.

Between 1960 and 1993, Harvey Comics published (I could have ended the sentence right there) some 48 different Richie Rich titles. Screw Casper and Hot Stuff, Richie was the big breadwinner in the Harvey household. Whereas I’ve got way too short an attention span to plot this out on a spreadsheet, a great great many were released at the same time, over the same two-month publishing cycle.

Pumping out Richie stories was a tonnage operation because Richie Rich was that successful. It’s not as though most titles had an aura of individuality – aside from Richie Rich and Casper; that series was a lot of fun and, for that matter, pretty weird. Harvey Comics published whatever the newsstand market could bare at that time. I highly doubt anybody at Harvey ever said “Shit! Richie Rich $ucce$$ isn’t selling, so let’s hurry up and replace it with Richie Rich Gems.”

Artist Frank Brunner once quipped they needed a title called “Richie Rich’s Tax Shelters.”

Which brings us to the matter of Batman.

Take a look at DC’s product catalog for January 2022. The catalog is called DC Connect and it’s available at most comics shops and maybe your more refined pet shops and hardware stores. Count the number of different Batman titles. I’m including all the titles that prominently feature members of the Batman Family – including The Joker. Each of their Batteam books – Robins, Batgirls – count, as do those other teams that put a Bat on the cover. I’ll wait.

If my math is correct (and I’ve only got so many fingers and toes) DC Comics is releasing 31 different “Batman” comics titles in January 2022 alone. That’s roughly two-thirds the number of different Richie Rich titles Harvey Comics published over 33 years, but I repeat, DC is doing this in just one month.

Should you want to purchase them all – which will make your friendly neighborhood comics retailer very happy – all you’ll need is $352.72. Personally, I’d ask for a discount, but not all comics shops can afford to do that.

Apples to apples, in constant dollars using 1993 as our vanishing point, 352.72 dollars right now would have only cost you 184.27 dollars in 1993. But given this whole supply-and demand COVID inflation thing going on, you might want avoid stalling your purchase.

Can the marketplace handle 31 different Batman comics titles for the cumulative price of $352.72? Ask me again in, say, February. Take comfort in the fact that Batman is not appearing in The Peacemaker teevee series. Batman completists wouldn’t be able to make their rent.

Richie Rich has been unemployed these past several decades, although, really, when did he ever hold down a real job? Nonetheless, he’s got the money to go into any business he might like. Please note the Rich Family does not seem to be lining up to buy DC Comics.

Come to think of it, I might ask “Would Richie Rich spend all that money on a 10-minute ego trip to inner-most outer space? The answer is “I have no doubt he already did.”

With Further Ado #171: Come Fly With Me

With Further Ado #171: Come Fly With Me

I found this kooky little comic in a bargain bin at Ken Wheaton’s Empire Comic Fest last weekend. It’s a promotional comic for American Airlines, presumably given away to young kids to keep them busy during a plane ride.  This is the issue of Harvey’s AstroComics from 1975. Although sometimes they also spell it as Astro Comics.

I found it absolutely charming.

Despite the fact, that when you really think about it, one of the main characters is a dead child. I am not sure what Casper’s official origin story was at this point, or if he even had one.  But isn’t it kind of creepy to encourage a young kid (maybe it’s their first time on airplane) to read a story about a deceased little boy?

This promotional comic includes a team-up story with Richie Rich and Casper. I didn’t realize they shared adventures, but apparently they often did. In fact, Harvey published  a comic called Richie Rich & Casper that ran for 45 issues in the 70s. Kind of like Harvey’s very own version of World’s Finest Comics, I guess.

Of note: the team-up story is from Richie Rich & Casper #20, and most of the stories included are reprinted from past Harvey comics.

But Astro Comics #1 was designed to keep kids even busier with several innocuously fun American Airlines pages (i.e., corporate propaganda).  Things like a connect-the-dots activity page, a “Story of your Flight Attendant” text page, another text piece called “All about your Flight Crew” and an American Astro Comic Flight Quiz.  This quiz has questions like “Whose football team does Joe Namath play for?”*

The back cover might just be a milestone. I think it’s the very first Back Sketch Cover! Could it be? I do need to do a little more research before I wake up Overstreet’s J.C. Vaughn at 2:00 am with this amazing “find”.

But can you imagine if every kid on a plane got a free comic to read during their flight? Oh sure, they might rather play with their phone, but wow – what an introduction to comics that would be.

Hot Stuff

One more thing: I love this Hot Stuff cover!  One of my fellow faculty members, at Ithaca College’s School of Business has great memories of reading Hot Stuff comics. He’s not a “comics guy”, per se, but he got a few issues for his young son. I make it point to rescue any issues of Hot Stuff I find in bargain boxes at comic shops (like the excellent Heroes Your Mom Threw Out in Elmira or Wonderland Comics in Rochester) and pass it along to my co-worker. I recently grabbed a couple of issues with that in mind, but I love this cover so much I had to find a spot for it in my collection!


*The answer to this question ties into one of the American Airlines destinations, but you have to unscramble the answer.   It is listed as “weN rYko”.

Brainiac On Banjo: Burning Down The House!

Brainiac On Banjo: Burning Down The House!

Every year many bleeding hearts tiptoe through their keyboards decrying the spread of book banning in state and local schools and libraries. And by “every year,” I mean “well, actually, every couple of days.”

As we’ve seen this month, a huge part of the Virginia gubernatorial race focused on the horrific nightmares evoked from the work of author Toni Morrison. She was the winner of the American Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Nobel Prize in Literature, the National Humanities Medal, the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and over 100 other A list awards. Lord knows, that’s not the type of person whose work you’d want in your library, is it?

Nazis doing what Nazis do.

These lists often come out of Texas because their school library habits influence purchasing patterns all over this bigoted nation… and that’s because, when it comes to electing government officials, Texas is to fascism what Florida is to prostitution.

Therefore, every year I find myself dancing across my own keyboard bitching about censorship. Technically, that word only applies to works banned by a government, so it certainly applies here. But in a democracy – yeah, I know; stop laughing! – the government acts in the name of the people, so I subscribe to the overreaching definition of that term. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: Burning Down The House!”

With Further Ado #171: The Original Dracula is Back

With Further Ado #171: The Original Dracula is Back

The world changes quickly. It’s that time of year when Americans unite on the one thing they can all agree upon – to decry the early blitz of holiday marketing.  But it’s inevitable; Halloween gets swept away quickly and it’s Christmas time again – with just a passing nod to Thanksgiving.

But one holiday campaign, a celebration of that spooky stop motion classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas, reminds us that Halloween and Christmas “kind of” go together. Just like the way that Tokyo Pop and Cracker Barrell “kind of” go together with this wonky promotion. It turns out that Cracker Barrel will be distributing copies of a manga retelling of this story.

So, with all that in mind, I rationalize that its entirely appropriate to shine the spotlight, in a November column, on a new spooky book: Dracula: The Original Graphic Novel.

This one is the latest from Vanguard publishing, and it’s a beauty.  Dracula: The Original Graphic Novel is an impressive re-presentation of the 1966 Dracula Graphic novel by Otto Binder (with Russ Jones & Craig Tennis) and Alden McWilliams.

Publisher J. David Spurlock and Vanguard have done it again.  Dracula: The Original Graphic Novel presents this material in lovingly timeless fashion. Each illustration is big and bold, with plenty of room to marvel at the art. Too often, I find, when reading comic strips, I can buzz through them too quickly.  Keeping up with the story can take precedence over drinking in the artwork.

Thankfully, this book almost seems to whisper, “read it slowly” and “enjoy it thoroughly”. Continue reading “With Further Ado #171: The Original Dracula is Back”

Brainiac on Banjo: At Last!

Brainiac on Banjo: At Last!

You might have heard a soft chuckling sound wafting in the breeze a couple days ago. That would be me.

Last Monday, the staff at Image Comics voted to form a labor union – to be specific, the Comic Book Workers United. Their statement leads with the following:

For years, comics publishing workers have watched our professional efforts support creators and delight readers. Sadly, we have also watched that same labor be taken for granted at best and exploited at worst. Keeping our heads above water was the new normal before the pandemic and since its onset we have been expected to take on even larger workloads with fewer resources.

Our workforce, and the comic book and publishing industry as a whole, is overtaxed and undervalued. This is detrimental not only to general staff but also to the creators we are paid to serve and the audiences they in turn work to entertain. Our labor is integral to the comic book industry. It requires specialized skills, dedication, and makes quality publishing possible. We love what we do. But loving what you do doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t ask for improvements to your working conditions. It is with this in mind and with great hope for the future of Image Comics and the comic book industry itself that we announce our intent to form a union and request voluntary recognition. Continue reading “Brainiac on Banjo: At Last!”

With Further Ado #170 : Is Superman Jewish?

With Further Ado #170 : Is Superman Jewish?

In recent weeks, there was the hubbub about Superman’s sexuality that outraged, “Outraged”, I say,  much of the conservative media. Of course, the storyline they were focused on is how in recent comics, it has been revealed that Superman’s son is bisexual.

Editor’s note: See this article.

Somehow, trying to figure out if Superman is circumcised seems almost … pedestrian by comparison. But don’t let that fool you. Roy Schwartz’s new book, Superman is Circumcised?, published by McFarland, is an impressive work that is meant for hard-core, real-deal fans as well as the general public.

I’m reminded of the time when…

How the world has changed. Back when I was a kid, our family went to one of my dad’s college homecomings at Cornell.  Usually, the stop at the bookstore was an opportunity to buy Cornell swag, but I was perplexed and enthralled by one book on sale there. It was The Gospel According to Superman by John T. Galloway, Jr.  I had no idea who John T. Galloway, Jr was, but I could tell right away that the cover was illustrated by a “real” Superman artist – the legendary Murphy Anderson. Continue reading “With Further Ado #170 : Is Superman Jewish?”