With Further Ado #114: Give Comics Hope Promotes Modern American Optimism

With Further Ado #114: Give Comics Hope Promotes Modern American Optimism

The Thrill ISN’T Gone

The weirdness – and tyranny –  of COVID-19  wasn’t supposed to last this long. I will admit I thought It would all be over by this fall.

I miss in-person comic cons. The lack of conventions is a drag. I always enjoy pawing through long boxes and looking lost treasures. I love seeing the cool vintage collectibles and new toys. But what I really miss are the people. I miss the buzz of the fans. Their unique, positive excitement is, I would argue, unique to Geek Culture. It’s different from fans going to a concert or a big sports game. Although each of those types of events have their own enthusiastic fans, it’s an entirely different flavor than what you would find at comic conventions.

Maybe people are nicer to one another? Maybe they are more excited? Maybe it’s that shared joy that comes from finally finding your own tribe?  I’m not sure, but whatever it is, I miss it.

I miss the old normal of comic shops too.  In my neck of the woods (The Finger Lakes Region of New York State) they are all open again. Finally. But there’s still a stilted caution that is a part of every visit. Everyone’s a little more cautious. Everyone lingers a little less. Everyone finds some excuse to cut short their visits.

Publisher’s schedules are getting backing to normal. I’m hearing positive news, anecdotally, that some publishers are actually doing pretty good right now. That’s encouraging news.

On the other hand, so many comic shops are still struggling. They’ve had to pivot, to adapt and to get ready for the new reality, and it hasn’t been fun.

Give Comics Hope is a new initiative that’s looking to make a difference.  Their premise is straightforward:

Give Comics Hope is an ambitious charitable initiative that calls on all members of our community to rally together to provide vital aid to comic book shops. Continue reading “With Further Ado #114: Give Comics Hope Promotes Modern American Optimism”

Weird Scenes #108: What The Hell?

Weird Scenes #108: What The Hell?

He is the president but wants to be the king / Know what I like about the guy? Not a goddamn thing / I want to know, how can four years seem so long? / Lord have mercy, what the hell is going on? — What The Hell?, written by Elvin Bishop, 2020

It’s not Trump. History tells us most dictators and despots are deposed after a while, one way or another. Mental and emotional basket cases in major positions of power such as our president have been a dime a dozen. Unfortunately, they’re like Kleenex. Pull one out, the next one pops up immediately.

This is because a certain percentage of our population is weak and incapable or unwilling to think for themselves. They possess a powerful need to feel superior to others, so they buy into a system of venomous bigotry that marginalizes and sub-humanizes various groups of people they deem inferior because they do not possess the same skin color, religious philosophies, sexual orientation, gender and/or ethnicity as “real Americans.”

I used to think humans were basically good. Sure, we’ve all got our foibles, and there are a small handful of true deviants out there that require observation, but overall I’ve been pro-humanity. I stuck to this for two-thirds of a century. Silly me. I have been the great native naïvitist.

Then, about 63,000,000 Americans voted for Trump. “Say what?” I said. It doesn’t matter that Clinton received three million more votes than Trump. America is not and never has been a democracy. We are a republic and republics can be manipulated quite easily. The proof is in the White House right now. The proof is at the Trump rallies, the Republican QAnon fanatics running for office, the Bugaloos and their fellow agent provocateurs, and on the Supreme Court — the “highest” court in the land even now, 120 years after the Court stopped serving itself cocaine wine.

The fact is, Donald J. Trump could be shot dead at high noon on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue (instead of the other way around, which, you will recall, Trump said he could do without suffering any consequence) and we would still be left with those 63,000,000 paranoid goose-stepping hating cowards marching around this nation supporting the murder of Black people by police, the religious totalitarians who believe their so-called values and only their so-called values are kosher, the environment is doing swell, the Covid virus is a Democratic Party hoax, the liberals are going to confiscate your guns, and the people who think everybody on welfare are thieves and people not wealthy enough to afford health care deserve to die.

Yeah. Herd mentality, indeed.

The America we were taught to love and respect in school and in our houses of worship and on television barely existed on its best day. That’s what an experiment in progress is all about. It’s time to put the lie to that one. We’ve had our moments, but today America exists only as a fool’s paradise.

Watch the next five weeks as what’s left of the Republican Party lies, cheats and steals its way to cementing their dictatorship. One nation, by the people, for the wealthy, one nation under Trump and his cackling puppeteers.

I’ll vote because I haven’t missed an election yet. It’s a habit. Voting used to be an act of optimism but, today, voting is an act of rebellion. Maybe some good will come out of it; clearly, it’s worth the shot. It might be our next-to-last bullet in the chamber before that second Civil War starts.

So. Riddle me this. Who was worse, Hitler or Trump?

That one is easy. When the chips were down, at least Hitler had the decency to commit suicide.

Spotlight SquadCast Interview with Comic Writer and Artist Andrew Pepoy, Creator of Simone & Ajax

Spotlight SquadCast Interview with Comic Writer and Artist Andrew Pepoy, Creator of Simone & Ajax

Welcome back to another spotlight interview. In this session, we spoke with comics writer, artist, and inker Andrew Pepoy.

Andrew has been working professionally in comics for over thirty years. He has worked for Marvel, DC, Archie, and Bongo Comics, among others. He is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for his creator owned property Simone & Ajax. Simone and Ajax has been around for over twenty-five years, and Andrew is working on collected edition of four new stories, plus extras and it looks fabulous.

We talked about the series and what Andrew is looking to deliver in this project as well as his history in comics. This interview is a great discussion of what is possible in the comic medium.

You can find the audio recording of our discussion below, and we transcribed a big portion of it for you as well.

We hope you enjoy the conversation.

Pop Culture Squad: Let’s talk about Simone & Ajax. The Kickstarter is live as of the publication of this interview even if we are recording it prior to the campaign launch. How long has this new project been in the works for you and what can we expect in the Kickstarter?

Andrew Pepoy: Well there is a longer answer and a shorter answer. To give you the short answer, I have been planning this for about the last year, and really focused on it for much of this year, 2020.

The long answer is that in some ways, some of the stories in here are stories I have been wanting to tell for twenty-five or thirty years since I first created the characters.

Continue reading “Spotlight SquadCast Interview with Comic Writer and Artist Andrew Pepoy, Creator of Simone & Ajax”

With Further Ado #113: The History of Comics in 3 Easy Steps

Well, if this column’s title doesn’t win the award for “Overpromise of the Year”, I don’t know what will. But the truth of the matter is that from anyone’s own personal vantage point, we are all able to see the broad scope and history of this unique medium on any given trip to the comic store.

That’s certainly not the same for other arts. You can’t envision the history of cinema during a trip to your local movie theater. (Let’s assume that we all will be able to go to the movies again soon.). You can’t get a sense of the broad scope of music at one live concert.  One might even argue that on any trip to a library, you can’t really get a sense of the history of publishing or of books.

But comics are different. The old and the new, the nostalgic and the cutting edge, all exist shoulder-to-shoulder at any comic shop or comic convention. (Again, let’s look forward to the time when we can all attend conventions again.)

Step One: New Fun

DC Comics just published a reprint of their very first comic: New Fun Comics #1.

My colleague Mike Gold wrote about this fascinating new book here.  It’s an oversize reproduction of the 1935 issue that would become DC Comics’ first comic.  It’s great fun and a virtual time machine you can hold in your hands. Continue reading “With Further Ado #113: The History of Comics in 3 Easy Steps”

Weird Scenes #107: Seditious or Insane?

Weird Scenes #107: Seditious or Insane?

Trouble with you is / The trouble with me / Got two good eyes / But we still don’t see / Come round the bend / You know it’s the end / The fireman screams and / The engine just gleams — Casey Jones, written by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, 1970

People really are little more than complicated machines. We’re made of a different type of material, but we are the result of an assembly of various parts that combine to create a unit. Now that we’ve got robots making robots, this analogy is all the more appropriate.

Eventually, all machines break down. Some vital part is going to go blooie just when you’re changing lanes on the highway. Your keyboard is going to meltdown when you’re on deadline for Pop Culture Squad. Your scalpel is going to break when you’re half-way through posterior cerebral artery. I am not trying to minimize that pain when I quote the most famous bumper-sticker of all time: “Shit happens.”

When a machine breaks down we take it to a mechanic. When a people breaks down we take it to a doctor. These days, the major difference between is the amount of liability insurance they each needs to carry.

In Manhattan yesterday, a subway train derailed after a 30 year-old man allegedly tossed metal tie plates, a.k.a. D plates, onto the trackbed right before the A train pulled into the 14th Street Station. Thankfully, no one was injured and the approximately 150 passengers were able to exit through the rear car. The front cars wound up looking like an accordion after a Gallagher concert. The miscreant was seized on the platform and held for the police to take him into custody.

Tens of thousands of passengers throughout the subway system were inconvenienced, many massively, due to the rerouting of the four different lines that use that station and the resulting back-ups on other routes. Were it to have happened today, Monday, hundreds of thousands would have been late to work at the very least. Since I’m writing this on Sunday, it’s possible repairs won’t be complete by Monday’s morning rush, so this could happen anyway.

The New York Daily News, which appears reasonable only because the other daily New York City newspaper is owned by Rupert Murdoch (the New York Times is a national newspaper having about as much to do with NYC as the Wall Street Journal has to do with Wall Street), referred to the suspect as “a laughing homeless saboteur.”

I’ll concede the “laughing” part as there were witnesses. “Homeless” was a label hanged around his neck by his appearance; there was no way to know his status at the time of arrest but “homeless” is often seen as evidence of a crime. Perhaps he was homeless, but at the time of the incident that was a presumption. The issue of who he was went unanswered.

But “saboteur?” Really? Are we being told when this man woke up Sunday morning and decided to go to the subway station at 14th Street and Eighth Avenue with the intention of screwing up people’s lives by tossing loose D plates onto the tracks? If so, why? Are we certain of that? What do we really know? Where are the confirming quotes from those who could knowledgeably comment on this seditious behavior?

The seditious part would please Trump’s weasel-shill William Barr, but the claim he was a saboteur was without justification. Did he look like the stereotypical late-19th century bomb-tossing anarchist that’s all the rage these days?

All this is very presumptuous and that’s not the way I was taught back in journalism school. Then again, very little of what I read today follows that training. Who-What-When-Where-Why? Feh. It’s so much easier to jump to clichéd conclusions. There are few fact checkers left to tell editors what a fact checker does.

Let’s take a different look at this. Perhaps this guy was not a saboteur. Perhaps he was suffering from a mental illness. His actions indicate that possibility, and rather strongly. But we rarely treat mental illness unless the patient is white and at least fairly well-off. We just toss them in prison to satisfy our morally bankrupt sense of justice which is merely a euphemism for revenge and does little to make our planet safe.

According to the American Psychological Association, at least half of those in our prisons suffer from mental health issues, and between 10% and 25% have serious mental health issues. We’ve got 2.3 million people incarcerated; you do the math.

Between our lack of journalistic ethics and our lust to jump in order to pass judgment without the tedious tasks of due process and fair play, we have reduced America to a gaggle of nattering nabobs of negativism; busybodies who want to lock our problems behind bars instead of dealing with them.

The saddest part is, this analysis explains a hell of a lot about what’s going on in America these days.

Weird Scenes #106: COVID Don’t Give A Peep!

Weird Scenes #106: COVID Don’t Give A Peep!

We had time and space and freedom, / We had love and peace to spare / Though we ran out of things to smoke and say and eat and wear / And the morning of the avalanche / The Yeti kidnapped Blanche / And took her to his cave up in the Rockies. – Colorado, by Christopher Guest, Sean Kelly, and Tony Hendra, 1973

I will concede most of us are going crazy from the COVID lockdown. For a social Darwinist like me, though, is there is a bright side. Those who are not going crazy are out infecting and being infected by their fellow science deniers. As my father often told me, “you always gotta learn the hard way, don’t you?”

Uh-oh. There goes another chunk of my bleeding heart liberal street-cred. Well, easy come, easy go.

I feel sorry for the kids, although most have made out pretty good. Every politician claims the kids are desperate to go back to a real school. Yeah, you betcha. I have no doubt a small group of tiny freaks do feel that way, but the rest are just pissed off they’ve run out of things to do and friends to do it to. It’s the parents (certainly not the teachers, as they tend to value life) who want real school to start. They feel they have earned the right to chose sanity over safety. But parents already knew they made that sacrifice the day they decided to have kids, so um tut sut, mofos. You people brought these beings into this world, and you are obligated to keep everything kosher until they are old enough to change your diapers. Revenge is a dish best served old. Continue reading “Weird Scenes #106: COVID Don’t Give A Peep!”

With Further Ado #111: Wheatley’s The Witch of Everwhen

With Further Ado #111: Wheatley’s The Witch of Everwhen

Some people are just overflowing with talent, and when it spills over to other media, it’s a truly wondrous thing. Mark Wheatley is one of those people.  You may know him as an award-winning comics creator, a frequent exhibitor at San Diego Comic-Con & Baltimore Comic-Con, or as an industrious entrepreneur.  Knowing all those things about him, I was even more impressed when he told me about his newest project, a song & music video called The Witch of Everwhen.  Checkout the teaser trailer:

 

 

Wheatley is working out the details for the full-fledged Witch of Everwhen video debut. The announcement should be made soon, and you can keep up with it all here at the Mark Wheatley Gallery.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because he’s created music videos before for previous projects like Dance with Your Brothers , Surrender and Earth’s Farewell.  But nonetheless, I had to find out more.

Ed Catto: This is a fascinating project – tell me how The Witch of Everwhen came about!

Mark Wheatley: I have been composing and recording music for as long as I have been writing and drawing comics professionally. In my early days looking for work in New York, while I was beating the pavement to show my portfolio to art directors and editors, I was also sending demo tapes to A&R reps at the various music companies. I was doing this right up until I landed my first monthly comic series, MARS.

The only musical “success” I had during that period was one of my tunes was picked for airplay on WNEW and one of their DJs was calling me to brainstorm how I would get more attention for my music. But when Marc Hempel and I signed our MARS contract [with First Comics], I decided that the time required to write and pencil a monthly comic was going to eat my life, and I stopped recording and sending out demo tapes. So, of course, two weeks after I signed the MARS contract Capitol Records offered me a three record deal, and I had to turn it down. A few months later, Columbia Records offered me a one record deal. Both of these offers would require me to also hit the road for live tours, so it was just impossible. After that, aside from recording some soundtrack music for radio and TV commercials, my musical efforts were limited to recording theme songs for my comic book creations. Continue reading “With Further Ado #111: Wheatley’s The Witch of Everwhen”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #069: Cobra Kai Has No Mercy… For My Love

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #069: Cobra Kai Has No Mercy… For My Love

I know I don’t write often much these days; the pandemic has a way of making me feel like time is both infinite and unending. Is that vague enough an excuse? Unlikely. But much like the fists flying in faces throughout Cobra Kai, the snake has awaken my desire to act once again here on Pop Culture Squad. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #069: Cobra Kai Has No Mercy… For My Love”

Weird Scenes #105: Zombie Fires!

Weird Scenes #105: Zombie Fires!

Talk with your mouth full / Bite the hand that feeds you / Bite off more than you chew / What can you do? / Dare to be stupid — Al Yankovic (Weird), 1985

When it comes to wildfires, we here in the States tend to think of California… as well we should, particularly right now. This year’s deadly conflagrations have spread to Oregon and Washington State. Or, as President Tang says, “those antifa anarchist states.” Wildfires have done a world of harm to Australia as well. And, now, Russia.

But… the arctic circle? And… zombie fires? ZOMBIE FIRES IN THE ARCTIC CIRCLE?

Wow. That one didn’t even make it into the bibles. And they sadly shit-canned the revered Weekly World News, so you might not have heard of zombie fires.

According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic Program Director Peter Winsor, a zombie fire is one that starts in the permafrost layer. Those things consist of frozen soil, silt, gravel, frozen plants and animals and sand bound together by frozen water. Such layers can be hundreds of meters thick – or, in midtown Manhattan terms, about two blocks thick, which is deeper than many Broadway potholes. A good place to find permafrost is in the arctic circle, where its less likely to break down due to lower warming conditions. Those last two words are known in the writing racket as “foreshadowing.” Continue reading “Weird Scenes #105: Zombie Fires!”