Tag: Joe Staton

Brainiac On Banjo: To Ramona

Brainiac On Banjo: To Ramona

I’ve heard you say many times that you’re better than no one and no one is better than you. If you really believe that you know you have nothing to win and nothing to lose, from fixtures and forces and friends your sorrow does stem that hype you and type you, making you feel that you gotta be just like them. “To Ramona,” written by Bob Dylan

Back in the post-WWII days when 10 cent comics cost a mere 10 cents, there were but a handful of ongoing superheroes, all of them were published by DC Comics, and each had a very distinctive look. Not the razor-sharp nearly photogenic linework of artists like Curt Swan and Carmine Infantino, but highly stylized and not quite real-world: Wayne Boring’s Superman, Dick Sprang’s Batman and Robin, Russ Andru’s Wonder Woman, George Papp (and, briefly, Jack Kirby’s) Green Arrow, and Ramona Fradon’s Aquaman. They maintained and advanced the standard for comics’ most enduring characters.

Of course, this was seven decades ago. Time seems to move on and, now, the last of these famous artists has left the building. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: To Ramona”

Brainiac On Banjo: The Real Clown Prince of Crime!

Brainiac On Banjo: The Real Clown Prince of Crime!

Why do you want him? Why do you want him? Why do you want him? Why do you want him? — “Why Do You Want Him?,” written by Billie Joe Armstrong, John Kiffmeyer, and Mike Dirnt.

No doubt you’ve heard about this “internet” thing. It’s a place where we all go to show everybody else just how clever we are. For example, I’m doing that right now.

My guess is you have seen the Trump “Batman Villain” memes that have popped up all over the internet within minutes of the former Bastard-In-Chief getting fingerprinted and mug-shotted in a toilet of a Georgia jail a couple days ago. I understand the shock of this killed Harley Quinn, and that really sucks. But it’s understandable.

Legendary writer Mindy Newell and I got into a conversation about all this, and I took the position that The Joker is a better person than Trump and, for that matter, The Joker wears less makeup. Somehow that discussion boiled down to the best Trump meme would have him look like Davros, the classic Doctor Who villain who created the Daleks — and, to make a long story short, became one. I think he went to the Stanislavsky School of Villainy.

Be that as it may, the true winner of this debate is the rock group Green Day. They created, according to their Instagram post,

“the ultimate Nimrod shirt is available for 72 hours only. Limited edition shirt proceeds will be donated to T̶h̶e̶ ̶G̶i̶u̶l̶i̶a̶n̶i̶ ̶L̶e̶g̶a̶l̶ ̶D̶e̶f̶e̶n̶s̶e̶ ̶F̶u̶n̶d̶ @greatergoodmusiccharity, which brings food to those affected by the Maui wildfires.”

That meets my definition of humanity’s greatest ability, the know-how to be given shit and to turn it into a shit soufflé. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: The Real Clown Prince of Crime!”

With Further Ado #253: Now, That’s How You Throw a Comic Convention

With Further Ado #253: Now, That’s How You Throw a Comic Convention

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get down to HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC. At Bonfire Agency, I used to do a fair amount of work with comic shop retailers and attended a lot of comic conventions.  Shelton Drum’s comic shop, Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find (great name, right?) in Charlotte was always regarded as best in class and the convention he runs, HeroesCon, was always very well regarded.

Last year, I finally made it to his shop, and this year, I finally made it to his amazing convention.

HeroesCon 2023

There was an electric-but-easygoing buzz in the air. HeroesCon was full of so much excitement and optimism but with none of the crowded drama that all too often accompanies big conventions.   My family and I got our badges and made our way to the convention floor in record time. It seemed like all the workers were smiling and happy at each and every step.

This show brands itself as America’s Favorite Comic Convention, and I think they are right.  The focus at HeroesCon is on the comics themselves, less so movies, gaming and all the other amazing fandoms that typically find a place under the large tent of Pop Culture.  The exhibition floor was full of so many comic book dealers, comic book publishers (A Wave Blue World and AHOY Comics) and a ton of brilliant comic creators.

A few of my highlights included: Continue reading “With Further Ado #253: Now, That’s How You Throw a Comic Convention”

First Comics 40th Anniversary at C2E2

First Comics 40th Anniversary at C2E2

This year is a momentous anniversary at Pop Culture Squad. The independent comic book company First Comics launched forty years ago  and published its first issue in March of 1983. Mike Gold, one of our key contributors at PCS, was the founder and editorial director at First.

First Comics was the little comics company with some of the biggest stars in comics before comic superstars was a thing. Names like Mike Grell, Howard Chaykin, John Ostrander, Timothy Truman, Jim Starlin, Mike Baron, and Steve Rude are just some of the comics greats who were regulars at First. It was fertile ground for independent creator-owned comics. The genres included superheroes, science-fiction, space fantasy, spy thriller, political satire, humor, and more. The publisher produced interesting comics that challenged the larger publishers to adapt. They innovated by producing the first digitally created comic in Shatter, by Peter B. Gillis and Mike Saenz and bringing the manga title Lone Wolf and Cub to American readers. Continue reading “First Comics 40th Anniversary at C2E2”

Brainiac on Banjo: Bond… Hoagy Bond?

Brainiac on Banjo: Bond… Hoagy Bond?

Have no fear, look who’s here… James Bond… They’ve got us on the run… With guns… And knives… We’re fighting for our lives. – Casino Royale, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

The US release of the first James Bond comic book.

Sherlock Holmes. Tarzan. Superman. James Kirk. James Bond. The public’s continuing appetite for heroic fantasy superstars has long been well established, and ever since communication went mass they have been at the center of the most prevalent form of entertainment worldwide. This is a truth that validates our low-brow culture: it turns out that both boys and girls just want to have fun.

Not all such characters live forever. Tarzan, like The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, Bulldog Drummond and many other superstars of action, are in serious danger of being relegated to the storage stacks of cultural history. Of course, that death need not be permanent: Doctor Who, Star Trek and several others have been successfully resurrected and modernized without destroying the fabric of their creation.

When it comes to one of the most successful heroes, at the present we are on hold. Daniel Craig has retired as the latest James Bond and, even though the next Bond flick is just entering its development stage I can’t help but wonder how they’ll pull off James’ inevitable resurrection. Continue reading “Brainiac on Banjo: Bond… Hoagy Bond?”

Brainiac On Banjo: Tits and Boobs and Breasts… Oh, My!

Brainiac On Banjo: Tits and Boobs and Breasts… Oh, My!

“‘Tits’ doesn’t even belong on the list! That’s such a friendly sounding word. It sounds like a nickname. ‘Hey, Tits, come here, man. Hey! Hey Tits, meet Toots. Toots, Tits. Tits, Toots.’ It sounds like a snack, doesn’t it? Yes, I know, it is a snack. But I don’t mean your sexist snack! I mean New Nabisco Tits!, and new Cheese Tits, Corn Tits, Pizza Tits, Sesame Tits, Onion Tits, Tater Tits. ‘Betcha Can’t Eat Just One!’ That’s true. I usually switch off.” – George Carlin, The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television

Of course there are a lot of things going on in this world that confuse me, and I suspect that might be true with you as well. Much of that confusion comes from America’s new environment of interpretive truth. To be fair, that is exacerbated by our politically correct atmosphere — that which the Christian Nationalists, dullards and assholes call “woke” because they can’t cope with five extra syllables.

One of the things that confuses me, and it has for quite some time now, is the proper euphemism for breasts. Oh, c’mon. It’s not like we don’t all have them. I realize the holy-moly rounders are not allowed to say “breasts” unless they’re in a Chick-fill-A and their hunger overwhelms their religious angst. Yes, I’m looking at you, Mike Pence.

From watching television commercials these days, it is clear that the word “boobs” is the current preference. Some find the word “tits” to be rude or even outright disgusting. Whereas boobs sounds like it’s more fun than tits (which is nonsense; they are equally fun), I don’t quite get it. The Oxford Dictionary defines boob as “a foolish or stupid person” and, second, as “an embarrassing mistake.” The whole breast thing is noted further down the listing. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: Tits and Boobs and Breasts… Oh, My!”

Continued After the Next Page #022: Planning Panels and Conventioning in the Windy City and Ithaca

Continued After the Next Page #022: Planning Panels and Conventioning in the Windy City and Ithaca

In the “before times”, people would come to the gathering place and wander the concourse taking in the sights purchasing shiny wares with no fear of deadly disease. That was three years ago. Are we back to that point? Probably not, and probably not for a while still, but we are getting closer.

Comic convention season is back in full force. That break in con scheduling that we normally have from before the December holidays until late February didn’t really happen this year. Most people seems to be willing to return to the circuit with little concern for the pandemic creating coronavirus. The best part of this is that my social media feeds are not filling up with tales of infections or even the dreaded con-crud.

All of this has me even more excited to begin my 2023 convention season in a couple of weeks. Your intrepid correspondent will be part of the press contingent at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, more commonly known by its geek friendly acronym C2E2. I will be walking the floors all three days talking to exhibitors and fans and checking out some of the interesting panel programming.

However, the most exciting panels, in my not so humble opinion, will take place on Sunday April 2, 2023. I will be hosting two panels a Reed event for the first time in my career, and I am beyond excited. Continue reading “Continued After the Next Page #022: Planning Panels and Conventioning in the Windy City and Ithaca”

Brainiac On Banjo: The Wolfe In Creep’s Loathing

Brainiac On Banjo: The Wolfe In Creep’s Loathing

A brave man once requested me to answer questions that are key. Is it to be or not to be? And I replied, oh why ask me? — “Suicide Is Painless,” lyric written by Michael B. Altman (age, 15)

For 89 years, one of the more reliable cultural stalwarts in the global pop culture has been the adventures of private detective / gourmand / orchid-raiser / fussbudget genius Nero Wolfe. His fictional history encompasses 33 novels and 41 novellas and short stories written by mathematician and pro-labor, pro-New Deal, pro-Roosevelt, anti-fascist Rex Stout through 1975. Wolfe has been featured in a gargantuan number of movies, radio shows, television series, stage plays and postage stamps produced all over the world.

As careful readers of Brainiac On Banjo (et al) may be aware, I am among Rex Stout’s many rabid fans. What appeals most to me is the dialogue between Wolfe and his assistant / legman / tormentor Archie Goodwin — quite frankly, I have found these particular scenes (of which there are many in each novel) to be among the best and more entertaining exchanges of words in the English language. A decade after Stout’s death the Wolfe series was and has been continued by Chicago Tribune journalist Robert Goldborough, who, to date, has written 16 more Wolfe novels including an origin of the Wolfe/Goodwin “team.” Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: The Wolfe In Creep’s Loathing”

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.