Tag: comics

With Further Ado #071: Rescued from the Bargain Box

With Further Ado #071: Rescued from the Bargain Box

Bargain Boxes! I love them!

My mom was quite the shopper. She’d always come home from the stores and provide a detailed account of the amazing price she paid for each and every item, detailing the sales she’d find and the arcane combinations of coupons she’d use. Looking back, I think she just wanted to my dad to say, at the conclusion of her sales presentations, “Gee Cassie, you convinced me – you couldn’t afford to not buy it!”

There is great love between the two of the them, and anything she wanted to do was just fine with my dad.

I think (worry?) I inherited some of this discount mania from my Mom.  And one way it translates is with Comic Shop Bargain Boxes.

In some ways, the jury is out on these boxes. Some stores don’t like them. One of my favorite shops, The Joker’s Child in Fairlawn, NJ has never had them, subscribing to the notion that they devalue the new, full-priced product that’s on sale.  Other stores, like Comics For Collectors, in Ithaca, NY, always has a few bargain boxes ( 5 comics for a dollar).  For them, it’s a great way to blow through old inventory, and provide an occasional treasure that adds to a customer’s in-store experience.  Continue reading “With Further Ado #071: Rescued from the Bargain Box”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #030: The Absolute Worst (PART 2!)

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #030: The Absolute Worst (PART 2!)

Last week, I detailed half of my “all time worst” villain portrayals in comic book movies. No one attempted to fight me… yet. So, let’s roll the dice and do it twice! Here’s my top five all time awful comic book villains as portrayed on film.

And in case you missed last week? Well, sucks to be you. Loser. Read it here. (Sorry, normally I’m a pretty happy guy. This list just frustrated the bejesus out of me. And I don’t take that lightly. Jewish dudes love Bejesus.)

5. Jamie Foxx / Electro — The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Jamie Foxx, after proving his acting chops across the board with amazing performances in flicks like Ray, Collateral, and Django: Unchained was largely met with fanboy glee at the prospect of de-morting an often mostly goofy Spider-baddie. But, by the looks of it, Foxx showed up to set having accidently time-traveled directly off the set of In Living Color. Take the nebbishy grease stain of Jim Carrey as the Riddler, combine it with the mumbling/grumbling nuance of Tyler Mane as Sabertooth, and then drown it in incoherent CGI, and poof: Blacklectro. Foxx’s take adheres closer to the Ultimate version of the villain — which is a smart choice. But his distorted digitized growl, and third-act “death by dubstep” set piece was so dreadful (especially when paired with yet-another-what-the-hell appearance by the Green Goblin) it axed the whole Sinister Six franchise. I’d be sad about it, but Tom Holland is a superior Spider-Man, and Michael Keaton’s Vulture is one of my favorite adaptations of a villain to date. So, suck on those watts, Foxxie.

 

4. Oscar Isaac / Apocalypse — X-Men: Apocalypse

Speaking of weird blue CGI-mashed up wastes of time, we land on generically brown enough to give us points in diversity, Oscar Isaaac. On loan from the Star Wars universe, to take a big azure dump on another X-villain, Isaac’s En Sabah Nur en sucks nuts. With a costume that immediately drew comparison to Power Ranger’s Ivan Ooze, and a performance that frankly makes me sleepy even thinking about it, this version of Apocalypse managed to mangle a decent follow-up franchise to the original Bryan “Now Pen Pals with Kevin Spacey” Singer directed. Isaac underplays a villain who is mostly known to only speak in yelling in the comic series. And he’s given no favors throughout the film, as his misplaced accent-by-way-of-whatever-the-fuck-sounds-ethnic-ish delivers wet-fart after wet-fart throughout the film. Whether it was a bad script, bad costume, bad effects, or a little bit of all of it… by the end of X-Men: Apocalypse all I could hope for was a quick nuclear Armageddon so-as to not tip off future aliens discovering our remains the thought that this was how we were entertained.

 

3. Arnold Schwarzenegger / Mr. Freeze — Batman & Robin

Ahhhnold’s portrayal of the ice-hearted Victor Fries is brought to us by the same team that ruined the Riddler and Two-Face… and ups the ante to go gayer. Like, To Wong Foo levels of gay. With comedic pun-powers by way of Shecky Greenberg and the Borscht Belt Review. Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze is repetitious rapscallion whose only duty on set was to don whatever BDSM costume director Joel Schumacher was jonesing to see that day, and read off 5-10 cold-based puns the writers room from the Larry Sanders Show threw out from the night before.  Then, Joel would yell “Cut!”, the production crew would spirit gum icicles from It’s a Small World’s Antarctica on to pieces of the set and extras, and they’d roll camera just in time for Mr. Olympia himself to stare directly down to lens to a pant-less Schumacher before exclaiming “Ice to see you.”

Compare this to chilling voicework of Michael Ansara, over the design work of Mike Mignola in Batman: The Animated Series and their version of the character, and you’ll wind up like me; cold to the idea that two other portrayals could possibly be worse on this list.

 

2. Wes Bentley / Blackheart — Ghost Rider

Let’s go ahead and say that no one was ever going to be able to out-act Nic Cage is a movie where he transformers into Ghost Rider by cackle-laugh-cry-screaming, bug-eyed, directly into the camera for 45 seconds. But to have cast the weird emo-d-bag from American Beauty to phone in the same performance, but with CGI fart clouds and inverted irises as the nemesis to Cage is perhaps a thing of beauty. I could envision the executives now… as Cage describes their need to spend 12 million dollars to digitally burn him alive (after they convince Cage that they can’t afford the insurance to do it method like he wanted)… “But what about the rest of the cast, Mr. Cage?” And just as he’s about to call in a favor from John Travolta, Wes Bentley comes into the room — to remove the trash from the bins and check if anyone wanted a bagel or scone from downstairs — and Nic hangs up the phone. “You there, boy. I’m going to make you a star.” And with the remaining $12.75 left in the budget for the film, good old bag-cryer Bentley snarls and mumbles his way though another forgettable villain in what could have been a decent excuse for Nic Cage to scream a lot.

 

1. Ciarán Hinds / Steppenwolf — Justice League

I saved this top spot for an actor, who perhaps, is undeserving of my ire. Truly when asking nearly any comic book fan who might show up on this list, nary a one could even name Mr. Hinds. You’d then need to mutter “he was the voice of Steppenwolf in Justice League” for said fanboy to even register the thought that an actual human being lent anything to the “performance” of the bad guy that united the seven. Hinds’ Steppenwolf was given an unsurmountable task of being the harbinger of actual bad guy Darkseid in the DC movie-verse. Whereas Joss Whedon utilized Loki and an army of CGI-expendables to bring together the Avengers (which worked in spades, because, duh), Joss as would-be Cyranno could not convince Zach Snyder and his army of slow-fast-motion-mustache-erasers to replace the wooden non-starter that was Ciarán Hinds and his portrayal of an Apokolyptian war general.

It also helps that with all the money saved for the film’s “fully CGI villain, see, we can do it too, Marvel!” was spent instead removing mustaches and dyeing everything to burnt umber. Steppenwolf looks like a lifeless stand-in for final effects throughout the 82 hours the flick drones on. Combined with his creepy mewling of “mothaaaaa” every time a motherbox appears on screen, and boy howdy, do you wind up with something special.

Justice League was a trainwreck of a film, weighed down by a metric ton of problems. For many it was the brooding. Or the sepia-toned-everything. Or that as hawt as Jason Momoa was, is, and forever will-be… no amount of his bro-screaming was going to cut through the cynicism. Or maybe it was Henry Cavill’s weird CG-baby mouth. But for this writer? It was mostly shouldered by the worthless antagonist in the film. And while Movie-Steppenwolf isn’t that far off from his comic counterpart (both are generically forgettable also-rans) here he was shouldered with being a threat worthy enough to pull together arguably the most recognizable team of superheroes (plus Cyborg) in order to save the day. And what exactly did Hinds give us? Sleepy British snarling. The exact same sleepy British Snarling Professor Lupin gave us in Wonder Woman. So close, in fact, methinks that it’s likely Snyder wanted David Thewlis to reprise his Ares for the League, but after looking over his budget declared “…then get me his non-union Mexican equivalent!”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #029: The Absolute Worst (PART 1!)

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #029: The Absolute Worst (PART 1!)

With the litany of comic book characters now living second lives as movie characters, we nerds now have an ability to truly start compiling the bests and worsts translated from pulp to digitally projected bric-à-brac. This week, I’d like to do what all great bloggers of the day do: make a top ten list to anger my readers.

So, here is my definitive (for now) list of The Absolute Worst Portrayals of Super-Villains in Movies.

The rules: We’re going to set the line at all comic book movies debuting after Superman (1978). We’re judging the main antagonists in the film (Lucky for you, Eddie Izzard in Mystery Men). My criteria takes into account the overall quality of the film, the on-screen portrayal, the distance between the on-page characteristics of the baddie, as well as how they matched against their nemesis throughout their on-screen performance. Sound good? I don’t care. My list, my rules. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #029: The Absolute Worst (PART 1!)”

With Further Ado #025: Who put the words into my comics?

With Further Ado #025: Who put the words into my comics?

Just a few years after Marvel re-licensed the rights to publish a science fiction property – Star Wars – there’s been another minor hullabaloo about Marvel re-licensing another old property – Conan the Barbarian. I decided to jump into it all and enjoyed the first issue.

I really didn’t care for the new logo, but everything else about Marvel’s new Conan the Barbarian #1 was fine. To be fair, the bar for this comic has been set so high by so many stellar past creators: Thomas, Windsor-Smith, Buscema, Jusko, Waid, Kane, Adams, Truman, Dixon, Alcatena, Nord…the list is long.  In fact, one of my guilty pleasures is picking up old issues of Savage Sword of Conan with stories featuring Rudy Nebres or Alfredo Alcala inks over John Buscema pencils. Those are spectacular.

One very pleasant surprise in the new Conan comic was the prose story excerpt. It’s an adventure called Black Starlight by John C. Hocking, and will be serialized over the next 12 issues. It seems to be part of integrated promotion with publisher Perilous Worlds.

For a bookworm like me, there’s something special about reading prose in a comic.  It extends the experience and allows one to enjoy the comic longer. There’s also that element of it making it seem like a better value.  Continue reading “With Further Ado #025: Who put the words into my comics?”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #022: Runaway with me?

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #022: Runaway with me?

Hulu’s answer to Netflix’s recent run of freshly canceled Marvel Knights series — from the potent Daredevil to the barely passable Iron Fist — is the teen drama Runaways. Based loosely on the Brian K. Vaughn series penned alongside artist Adrian Alphona in 2003, it’s essentially Riverdale-level drama playing lightly on the edge of the Marvel universe. Is this series related to the aforementioned adventures of Matt Murdock, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, or (barf) Danny Rand? Well, your guess is as good as mine after 2 solid seasons. But that’s neither here nor there. With 23 episodes come and gone… the question I’m still trying to answer remains: Is it any good?

Admittedly while I was a big fan of the original digest-sized graphic novel series, by the time I clicked on the show, my knowledge was limited only to broad strokes. I remember the characters and their powers… albeit vaguely. Above all else, I’d remembered so much of the series banked on a very quick cold open scenario — of a group of friends coming to discover their parents were a super-villain cabal, and shortly thereafter being on the lamb. Hilarity, teen angst, and super-powers followed in a delightful romp.

Upon booting up the pilot, everything I’d recalled began to click into place. The cult meeting. The friendly banter. The — gasp! — evil machinations. Powers are discovered. A dinosaur. Aliens. The whole kit-and-caboodle. As the episodes starting ticking off, I noticed how any semblance to the source material seemed to fade off into the Los Angeles smog. What I was left with was a show that seemingly had an amazing budget, a writers room familiar with the original treatment, but an awkward fear to leave their comfort zone. As if, perhaps, the show was being thought of as a broadcast serial versus a binge-worthy show-for-the-millennials. As such, as often as I’d find myself enthralled at various plot points and character moments… I’d find an equal number of times where my eye-rolls were audible.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #022: Runaway with me?”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #014: Shameless Self-Promotion, Part 2!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #014: Shameless Self-Promotion, Part 2!

Back in August, I lamented about the giant gamble of crowd-funding your way into comics. But as of late — with a deluge of projects bombarding my social media feeds these days — I’ve felt the urge to revisit the topic and dive a bit deeper into the nooks and crannies of shameless self-promotion. Get your pat of butter and jam ready, kiddos. Let’s make breakfast.

The truth of the matter is that being an indie publisher/creator/distributor of original content means having to navigate the choppy waters of branding, marketing, and relating to your public… all in order to keep your doors open and the money flowing to keep the drawings a’comin’. Simply put: you’re not going to be able to draw without also becoming a draw to would-be patrons. Especially if you opt to crowdfund your way into building the capital necessary to produce a product. Because of the nature of the beast, that often necessitates having to promote yourself early and often to the masses.

The how, of course, is the hard part. Because of the advent of social media, it’s easy (to a point) to build up a solid network of friends, fans, and family. But once you’ve amassed your following… stoking the fire becomes a balancing act between pride in your work, and desperation to see it pay off.

Shameless Self-Promotion to me is that balancing act of shilling for your passion projects without fear of sounding desperate. And there’s no greater time to act shameless, when you’re crowdfunding. Why? Because Kickstarters are built on the principle of all or nothing. With that in mind, setting the bar high and then needing to clear it or else will mean having to ask every family member, friend, and fan to support you. A lot. Repeatedly. And in doing it, maintaining a tone that comes with the confidence that your product is high quality, while you’re literally begging them to back you for a few dollars… comes with its own set of problems.

And the million dollar question is… When do you cross the line from acceptable hustle to annoying shill?

Truth be told: I don’t believe there’s an easy answer here. Every independent promoter I know is inherently tied to their brand. As such, one fella’s hourly update of his funding numbers may incite a truly positive groundswell as his fans rally to his aid… and another’s once a week crying vlog of happiness may get the job done just as well. So, what follows here is wholly my personal opinion, and nothing more.

As a friend/fan/contributor to a project, I don’t want more than a single touch a day from a given campaign (and to be clear: if a campaign is broadcast to multiple pages I’m receiving? No biggie!). The fact is, any more than that — save wholly for significant milestones or other worthy interruptions — triggers my “I’m caring less and less about your success” feelings. Having been on the other side of the equation, the data supports my leanings. No spikes in backer-dollars-in came due to incessant needling by way of over-posting.

More often than not, backers come in very few flavors. Those who know you and know they will back you — where their decision really relies on “how much can I afford to help you this time” really is the deciding factor. Those who stumble upon you by way of someone specifically sharing the project with them, or searching for something in the space your product is sitting. They are sold perhaps by your video, write up, rewards, or most likely some combination of all of the above. And the only elusive group we’re talking about here… those who know you but have no need to support you.

My last Kickstarter saw about 150 people back the project. I have 1,100 friends on Facebook. Unshaven Comics is liked by about 3,000. So, you can tell a considerable chuck of either subset represents that untapped potential customer group.

And I certainly tried every guerrilla marketing technique in the book to sell to them (such as it was, in the long-long-ago). Posting morning, noon, and night (being sure to self-deprecate about my frequency of shilling whilst still being positive and excited about the project). Making up daily contests. Begging people to share the project even if they couldn’t afford to assist. Posting to groups. Posting literally in any corner of the internet where people might stumble upon us. Asking all backers to “just increase your bid by X and we’ll make it!”

And in the end, we succeeded, but in the wake of the campaign, I personally felt hollowed by the experience. While the goal was met, and my little studio’s graphic novel dreams would now come true… It was hard to step back and feel if the support was earned or pitied. On some days, I feel bulletproof, and proudly declare that a win is a win. But more often, I’m left questioning if the naked neediness of shameless self-promotion hasn’t cheapened my brand. And at the end of the day… isn’t the value of your brand the most important of all? In the wide breadth of those I know in the indie market, it’s hard for me to separate the shill from the salesman at times. We’re all hustling — and next week, I’ll explore our specific brand of shameless salesmanship at Unshaven Comics — but again: there’s a line between over-confidence and wild desperation. To know where it is, is to live in that lucrative sweet spot.

I don’t have the answers as to where it is, of course. But when I figure it out, I’ll be the first one to sell it to you.

WIth Further Ado #012: 3 Girls – Under Cover

WIth Further Ado #012: 3 Girls – Under Cover

During the Halloween season, I always think of the three witch sisters from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They were very similar to the Three Fates of classic mythology, those sisters who wove the destinies of every individual. And even if you don’t know anything about either of those sets of sisters, you probably know about TV’s Charmed sisters.  They are in the midst of a reboot that has lead to a backlash.

In my own family, the “three sisters concept” is a big deal. We are blessed with the 3 girls. (We do have one great boy too!)  These girls thoroughly embrace being part of their little sorority of three. So much so that I am always cognizant of a set of three girls and especially dads with three girls.

And that brings us to Brian Bendis and some new comics.  Continue reading “WIth Further Ado #012: 3 Girls – Under Cover”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #013: Sell Out!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #013: Sell Out!

It’s been rattling around my brain for too long; this endless debate that begs a simple question: What makes one a sellout?

The term itself is often overused. It’s shorthand for labeling creators as lesser for any number of reasons — typically revolving around the notion that a creator acquiesces to changes in their work as demanded by a corporate entity to ultimately shave the edges from their output so-as to allow the end product be more appealing to a broader audience.  We also label those artists who choose to license their original work for use in commercials and other sundry productions with the same term… but in the specific case of my thoughts this week, we’re focusing on the former, not the latter.

When I’d heard the term bandied about through my youth, I immediately jump to a pair of performers in the music space; Jason Newsted of Metallica (at the time), and the entirety of 3rd wave ska band, Reel Big Fish. When asked if Metallica sold out, Newsted slyly smiled as he stared down the lens of the camera. “Of course we sell out — (he waits a solid and bitterly pregnant pause) — every seat in every arena we play!” And of course, Aaron Barret and his motley crew of California skankers received their first taste of widespread radio play with their hit Sell Out, wherein they joke about how “the record company’s gonna give me lots of money and everything’s gonna be alright.”

Upon hearing declarations like this, I’d felt an immediate kinship with those that ironically scoffed at the notion. That reaching a wider audience to seek better fiscal gains by way of a reduction of harder-to-understand nuances wasn’t inherently sinful. It was merely means to an end. And as an adolescent, my heroes all seemed to live and thrive living right in that sweet spot. Their work somehow seemed above completely shameless schlock, where the slick shine of heavily edited production and marketing did its job to make Enter Sandman or The Mask palatable to both me (suburban metal-tyke / comic-book-smart fan) and someone ten to twenty years my senior. And why would that be so bad, damnit?  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #013: Sell Out!”

Norm Breyfogle, 1960 – 2018

Norm Breyfogle, 1960 – 2018

Several decades ago, my friend Rick Obadiah and I founded a little publishing company called First Comics. During our tenure together we printed some pretty decent work. Part of my business plan for editorial was to foster and employ new talent – priming the pump, as I told our investors. I knew exactly when and where I wanted to build this door, and if you’ll permit me to drop a few names I think that also worked out pretty good: John Ostrander, Timothy Truman, Julia Lacquement, Mark Wheatley, Linda Lessmann, Marc Hempel, Bill Reinhold and about a dozen others went through that door.

And then there was this guy Norm Breyfogle.

We were working on a creation of Steven Grant’s called Whisper. Eventually, as it must to most comic book series, it came time to bring in a new artist. Every editor in every medium gets more submissions than he, she, and they could possibly evaluate. Usually, the really good stuff gets noticed and the really great stuff gets remembered.

Norm Breyfogle was easily remembered. He was brought in on First’s fourth issue, and Whisper’s future was set. So was Norm’s, to nobody’s surprise. He went on to such projects as Prime (one of my favorites), Bloodshot, Life With Archie, and a very lengthy run on some guy called “The Batman.” In fact, it was his work on Whisper that got him the Bat-gig, and he stayed on Blue Longears for eight years. By that point I was in New York working for DC Comics and somehow lucky enough to share a large office with Batman editor Denny O’Neil. Synchronicity makes the world go ‘round.

Drawing Batman brought Norm’s life at the time full-circle. His first published art – a fan drawing – made it into Batman Family #13, when he was a mere 17-year-old.

Norm suffered a stroke in late 2014 that left him paralyzed on his left side – worse, he was left-handed. This ended his career, but he did seem to be improving, communicating with friends and collaborators and trying to develop his creator-owned properties. When the word came down on Wednesday, well, we certainly would have been shocked anyway, but we all had hoped for the day when he could get back a little to the convention circuit and receive the proper respect his brilliant work deserved.

Batman has attracted many an A+ lister artist, pretty much since day one, and Norm Breyfogle was on that hallowed list. Batman’s 80th birthday just won’t be the same.

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #010: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 10

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #010: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 10

The first comic book I ever bought was in fourth grade. It was an X-Men Adventures comic cribbed from the animated series, which itself cribbed heavily from a combination of Len Wein and Chris Claremont stories, published almost 2 decades prior. I bought it because I loved the “X-Men” animated adventures on Fox Kids, and figured the comic would further flesh out what I’d seen in the episode. It didn’t. But I still loved it none-the-less. After that purchase, I dove head-first into all manners of X-books. But I didn’t know the Brood from Bushmaster and called it quits nearly as quickly as I’d began my new hobby. It would take more than a few years after that to really be interested in comic books again.

My newly-minted best friend, Matt Wright, bicycled to my house in the freezing Chicago winter to deliver a hastily wrapped box with my birthday present tucked inside. A pair of #1 issues of my new found love of Malibu Comics’ Ultraforce and The Strangers — loved, again, because of my viewing of the soon-then-to-be-canceled animated series.

And from the moment I cracked open those books — sitting somewhere between homage and pastiche — I was adamant that I wanted to be in comics too.

With that in mind, after 9 weeks of helpful hints, tricks, tips, and too-green-to-be-called-sage advice? My last lesson is the only one that I can give you with trepidation:

Why do I make comic books? Because I have to.

Personal history aside, the fact of the matter is at my very core, I’m a communicator. Be it in print, in pictures, in song, or in actions… I strive constantly to be a vehicle of entertainment. Over the course of my life — however short or long you personally perceive 36 years on said planet to be — I have been a columnist, an artist, a singer, a stand-up comedian, a marketer, and a generally OK human being. The through-line to literally all of those mediums? That I’ve been entertaining in each; some funny, some heartfelt, some serious, and all existing likely somewhere in-between.

Of all those medium, the one I am proudest of? One guess.

No, it wasn’t stand-up.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #010: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 10”