On the Scene: Denver Comic Con 2013, Then and Now

Denver Comic Con is one year old. When it opened in 2012, the con directors hoped for a total of 12,000 attending to make the grand effort worthwhile, but might have been content with less. Instead, they clocked in at roughly 26,000, leaving plenty of room for astonishment and a critique of exactly what had gone right. This opening figure made history for comicon openings. In initial numbers, this still stands as the largest number for a first con ever recorded. But to give you a little insight into what substructure supported what seemed like such instantaneous success, one of the strongest factors was, and continues to be, the charity organization Comic Book Classroom.

IMG_5569This non-profit funds free after-school programs in the Denver area to instruct kids in reading, writing, and comic art and also provides them with free comics. When Comic Book Classroom began to grow rapidly with increasing demand from local schools, founding a comic con, a feature lacking from the region, seemed like the best way to raise funds, and a portion of the proceeds from DCC continues to go to the program. Panel talks and discussions, as well as a wide variety of featured activities for kids at the con also stem from the program. Raising funds for Comic Book Classroom through DCC in 2012 was immensely successful, allowing the program to expand. That was then.

This year, DCC knew that things were going to get bigger, and learned from the challenges of larger than expected numbers last year by expanding the con floor size and number of events. From 26,000 last year, the organizers began to realize as con weekend approached that they were expecting 40,000 or more. They were prepared for this, but still surprised by such a jump. The nearest big con in the region is in Kansas City, after all, and it seems that will a little encouragement, comics culture is prepared to come out of the woodwork and rally to such a big social event. Contingency plans were also in place. Though Stan Lee was originally scheduled as their major “gold pass” draw at DCC 2013, when he cancelled a couple of weeks before the con (due to filming a cameo, not due to illness), the con organizers went straight to William Shatner, explaining the situation to his agent. Remarkably, Shatner went out of his way to make time to appear at short notice at the con based on his reaction to hearing about Comic Book Classroom and its immense service to the Denver community.

IMG_5570The first day of DCC, a Friday, was set to open at 3PM in the Colorado Convention Center, a truly massive complex serving the state, and featuring immense swaths of glasswork to make use of the natural light in the region. Pick up for passes started at 1PM (and though there had been early pick-up times scheduled, there had been some postponements necessary). Lines to pick up passes were negligible, and everything inside the massive space seemed to be humming along nicely. In fact, the space at the Convention Center on three and a half levels is so vast , that it’s almost a challenge to decide on how best to use it to greatest effect. Set on the edge of the accessible city center full of restaurants and amenities, nearby hotels offered special rates for the con, and in the case of the nearest hotel, free wifi and con t-shirt clad staff.  When I returned at 3PM for the floor’s opening, I saw from a block away an alarming crowd snaking through several rows and down the city street. It was past 3 and I wondered what the back up could be letting people onto the floor. Only when I approached more closely did I realize that none of the people in line were wearing lanyards. In fact, this was the line for pass pick-ups, nothing more. On top of that, it moved fairly quickly and facebook posts from the Con gave attendees advice about how to shorten their wait-time.

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For those who had already picked up their passes, all entries were open with no lines anywhere, and several different access points to the upper level and floor. Based on my initial impressions of accessing DCC 2013, I would offer only one point of concern. Despite the very large floor area, designed with several key features in a highly original way, all access was blocked except through one narrow bank of doors. Accompanied this narrow area, which lay at the end of a fairly narrow walkway, were metal turnstiles, letting in no more than three guests abreast at a time. On Friday afternoon, it was fine, and moved briskly, but by Friday evening when the con began to see much larger traffic, it was becoming a noticeable slow-down. It will be enlightening to see if this set up is altered on Saturday, most likely the biggest day of the con, or if it continues to be manageable under greater numbers. One of the reasons for this narrow entry point is almost certainly increased security in the wake of the Aurora shootings in Denver, in response to which staff carefully checked all bags carried onto the con floor before admittance. If that is the main reason for the narrow approach and turnstiles (through which one must also exit with the same strictures), then it’s a fair price to pay for safety.

IMG_5629The layout of DCC 2013 is highly original, with the large Comic Book Classroom area set aside for children’s activities and events near the entry point, and the vendor area and publishers area flanking the entrance, giving way toward the far end of the hall to a large “Artists Valley” that’s roughly 2/3 or more the size of the vendor’s section. This is nearly equal to the proportions set out by heavily comics-friendly cons like Baltimore and a greater emphasis on art than the bigger cons usually provide. But while regional cons, as they expand, may seem to become highly similar to one another, losing their identities over time, Denver still has a very strong local accent, and this seems to take the form of highly engaged geek culture in terms of artistry.

A prevailing sci-fi tone has marked the con floor so far, and it’s expressed through remarkable inventiveness from intricate lego models to special effects sets for photo ops featuring Star Wars costumes and perambulating R2D2s. There were also a wide variety of handicrafts available with scifi and geek themes from Doctor Who to Manga, and even the well-represented cosplay veered toward sci-fi themes but displayed plenty of home-made ingenuity.

IMG_5583 All of this suggested that in Colorado, fans like to be engaged with pop culture directly, and take a hands-on approach rather than settling for mass-produced products or rental costumes. It confirms what the success of DCC so far has suggested: they take their pop culture seriously in Denver. This bodes well for the future of DCC. It remains to be seen whether big numbers the rest of the weekend will place greater stress on the structure of DCC, but for a con that has sprung up from 0 to 40,000 in one year, they are allowed a few growing pains and certainly deserve plenty of applause.

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Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.

Comics History in Photos: Stan Lee and Jenette Kahn at Temple University in 1978

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In 1978 Stan Lee was the publisher of Marvel Comics, and Jenette Kahn was the publisher of DC, and together they made a speech at Temple University on the occasion of the oversized epic Superman Vs Muhammed Ali, which was termed of equal value to the Sistine Chapel. I like that comic, but even I wouldn’t go that far.

Although it’s hard to make out the text of the article, we’re guessing that somewhere in there it suggests that comics aren’t for kids anymore.

Via Hannah Means-Shannon and Christopher Smith on FB

On the Scene: Sex and Violence? “Blame it on New York!”

A group of New York City inspired comics creators descended on the Soho Gallery for Digital Art on the 17th of April to discuss the good, the bad, and the strange elements of the city that have influenced their lives and works, including Al Jaffee of MAD Magazine fame, Peter Kuper of Spy vs. Spy and the upcoming DRAWN TO NEW YORK, Dean Haspiel of CUBA: MY REVOLUTION and BILLY DOGMA, R. Sikoryak of MASTERPIECE COMICS, Bob Fingerman who created MAXIMUM MINIMUM WAGE, and Miriam Katin of WE ARE ON OUR OWN and LETTING IT GO. The evening was hosted and moderated by former Marvel editor, author, and educator Danny Fingeroth, who, like Haspiel, is a Manhattan native.221778_10200511679530997_1681142325_n

The event’s first “victim” was godfather of New York comics Al Jaffee, who conversed with Fingeroth about his life in comics accompanied by slides, many of which were biographical illustrations Jaffee created as original content for his biography Al Jaffee’s Mad Life. Jaffee described his wanderings, from early life in New York, followed by several years with his mother’s family in a Jewish enclave in Lithuania, to his all-American return to the city at age 12, before taking up his place in the first graduating class of New York’s High School of Music and Art. “The only thing that I had going for me throughout my life”, he said spryly, was, “the ability to draw funny pictures”. His “constant competition” with childhood friend and classmate Will Elder kept him on his toes, Jaffee narrated, often relating very humorous anecdotes about their antics. IMG_5461

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On the Scene: Unpacking comics history at the Asbury Park Comicon 2013

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by Peter Sanderson

While WonderCon, one of the nation’s largest comics/multimedia conventions was going on in Anaheim, last Saturday New York and New Jersey area comics fans were listening to comics greats speak in the more intimate setting of the Wonder Bar at the Asbury Park Comicon, now in its third year.

The convention took place in Asbury Park, New Jersey, along the celebrated Jersey Shore. Founded in the 1870s, the town still has picturesque Victorian architecture. But the town is now most famous for its prominence in popular music history from the 1970s on, most notably the early career of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band.

Only a year ago founders Cliff Galbraith and Robert Bruce held the Asbury Park Comicon in Asbury Lanes, a combination music club and bowling alley. But this year the main venue for the con was the grand old Asbury Park Convention Hall, part of an enormous complex that includes the Paramount Theatre and was constructed in the 1920s on the boardwalk along the beach. Exhibitors filled two floors of the Convention Hall. The theatre and arcade are connected by an arcade, where a 1960s style Batmobile and a Back to the Future DeLorean were displayed; the arcade was also the site of the Comicon’s cosplay competition. If anyone wanted to take a break from con activities, they could gaze out the windows to see the light glittering on the Atlantic Ocean on a beautifully sunlit day.
Panels were held across the street at the Wonder Bar, decorated with images of Tillie, a grinning cartoon figure who is an icon of Asbury Park history. Starting roughly forty-five minutes after the Comicon opened at 10 AM, the remarkable line-up of panels ran until closing time, with the Beat’s own Torsten Adair as master of ceremonies. This was a pleasant venue, with a stage on one end, but food and drinks were being served at the other end of the tavern, and the noise from people talking down there rose in volume during the course of the day, becoming a problem by late afternoon.

First up was “Of Clerks and Comic Book Men.” Asbury Park is not far from Red Hook, New Jersey, the location of Kevin Smith’s comic book store Jay and Bob’s Secret Stash, the setting of AMC’s reality television series Comic Book Men. Present on this first panel of the day were Ming Chen, Bryan Johnson, and Mike Zapcic, all regulars on the show, and Brian O’Halloran, the lead actor in Smith’s films Clerks, Clerks II, and the forthcoming Clerks III. The panelists bantered entertainingly, sometimes aiming funny but affectionate insults at one another, while reminiscing about how they first met Kevin Smith. It came as something of a shock when it was pointed out that the original Clerks is now nearly twenty years old. Asked how he got the role of Dante in Smith’s film, O’Halloran started by claiming he “had some provocative pictures of his [Smith’s] mom,” but then told the story seriously, how he auditioned to be an extra and unexpectedly ended up getting a lead role. As for Clerks III, which Smith is now writing, O’Halloran said that from what he knows about it, “I think it will be one of his best written pieces.” Johnson pronounced it “pretty amazing” and “really funny.”

Asked about Stan Lee’s appearance on Comic Book Men, Johnson noted “how nice” and “cool” Stan is. Then he recalled how when he was riding in a limousine with Lee during the making of the episode, he asked Stan “if he was that excited about always getting comic book questions.” After getting an unexpected response, Johnson said, “I swore to him I would not tell his answer.” Was it “shocking,” he was asked. “A little bit,” Johnson replied.

Then came the Comicon’s keynote address by Michael Uslan, an executive producer on all the Batman live action movies from director Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman onwards and author of the memoir The Boy Who Loved Batman. This keynote was a variation on Uslan’s familiar, well-crafted presentation, recounting his life starting with being a young boy engaged in the then lonely hobby of collecting comics, who saw the debut of the 1960s Batman TV show, was appalled that it was a comedy, and vowed (not unlike the young Bruce Wayne, as he says) to devote his life to showing the world that Batman could be done as a serious hero. And then Uslan recounts how he achieved his dream, teaching the first academic course on superhero comics, becoming a writer at DC Comics, and after ten years of struggle to make a serious live action Batman film, finally triumphing with the Burton blockbuster.

What made this version of his speech different were his many references to the Jersey Shore. As a boy Uslan lived in nearby Ocean Township, but regularly came to Asbury Park. “It is so cool to be back home,” Uslan declared. It was in “a place twelve miles from here,” a flea market called Collingwood Auction, that Uslan said he began amassing his colossal collection of Golden Age comics, paying only a nickel for each. He also recalled driving around “the Circuit” in Asbury Park in the late 1960s, trying to pick up girls; unfortunately, Uslan said he wore a Batman helmet to try to look cool, and “it didn’t work.” Uslan said that the last time he had been in the Wonder Bar, where he was giving his speech, was when he had his very first drink!

At noon comics historian and publisher Craig Yoe, introduced by Torsten Adair as “the Indiana Jones of comics archaeology,” interviewed cartoonist Bob Camp. “I have him up on a pedestal,” Yoe said about Camp. “And I’m afraid of heights,” replied Camp, setting the tone for this witty look back at his lengthy career in comics and animation.

As for just when he started cartooning, Camp said, “I don’t remember not drawing. It’s all I ever did,” joking, “It’s why I have no other skills.” He was fascinated by animated cartoons as a boy, especially Warner Brothers cartoons, but also “any cartoon I could watch,” singling out Famous Studios’ Herman and Katnip series and Terrytoons’ Gandy Goose and Sourpuss. Camp likened Gandy and Sourpuss to two famous characters he later worked on, Ren and Stimpy., “One mean guy, one happy-go-lucky guy, and they’re both gay.”

Camp talked about learning his craft by drawing caricatures in Provincetown on Cape Cod. He said he knew nothing about comic books when he started working at Marvel. “Blame Larry Hama,” he said, since Hama hired him, and Camp began cartooning for Marvel’s humor magazine Crazy. He also did art corrections in Marvel’s Bullpen, where, he said, he learned to imitate the styles of every 1980s Marvel artist, including John Byrne and Bill Sienkiewicz. Camp also confessed that editor in chief “Jim Shooter scared me,” and reminisced about the stories inker Vince Colletta would tell about crime.

Camp then segued into recounting his career in animation, talking about working with animator Bruce Timm on The Real Ghostbusters, working alongside “the greatest guys in animation” on Tiny Toon Adventures, and meeting animator John Kricfalusi, leading to their collaboration on Ren & Stimpy. But, quoting Charles Dickens, Camp referred to his time on that show as “the best of times, the worst of times,” describing what he saw as Kricfalusi’s self-destructive relationship with the Nickelodeon network and his own falling out with Kricfalusi.

Camp ended by talking about his current work, including a Kickstarter project that he and Larry Hama have launched for an animated cartoon called “Hard Heart an Strong Arm.”

Next, at 1 PM, came “Al Jaffee: 57 Years of Going Mad.” Jaffee, now 92 but as sharp as ever, provided his characteristic snappy answers to the far from stupid questions put to him by comics writer and editor Danny Fingeroth. “I have never hosted a panel in a bar before,” Fingeroth began, adding, “Is everyone drunk?”

Fingeroth and Jaffee explored Jaffee’s life going back to his childhood in Savannah, Georgia. “I think I started cartooning a day after I was born,” Jaffee said. His mother took him to live for years in what Jaffee called “the Siberia of Lithuania.” There comics proved to be “critical” to his survival, Jafgfee said, explaining that “It was like the 18th century where I lived in Lithuania,” but his father sent him a collection of Sunday and daily newspaper comic strips from America every six months. “My brother and I spent hours copying all the cartoons.”

Returning to America “in the depths of the Depression,” in 1936 Jaffee entered the High School of Music and Art, newly founded by New York’s legendary (and comics-loving) Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. “I think he saved all our lives,” Jaffee said, whose best friend there was future Mad co-worker Will Elder.

Unable to get work from advertising agencies, Jaffee and other artists turned to comic books instead, and Jaffee started by selling his idea Inferiorman, which he called “a shameless takeoff on Superman,” to Will Eisner, who put him to work in his studio.

Then Jaffee started a long relationship working for Stan Lee at Timely Comics, the company we now know as Marvel. “Stan was 19. I was 20. I immediately saw what a firebrand Stan was. He had just taken over from Simon & Kirby” as editor of Timely Comics. For Timely Jaffee wrote and drew Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal, and later took over Patsy Walker. Under Fingeroth’s questioning, Jaffee also recounted how he took over another Timely funny animal series, Super Rabbit, and gave the character believable problems, even “fits of depression,” and Fingeroth pointed out this prefigured Spider-Man. Jaffee said his “relationship with Stan Lee was not close, but it was warm,” and Lee never edited him, giving him a free hand.

Referring to the Senate hearings condemning comic books as causes of juvenile delinquency, Jaffee declared “In my opinion the U. S. Senate was causing juvenile delinquency,” to applause from the audience.

Jaffee began discussed his work with Harvey Kurtzman, whom he called a “strange genius,” on the short-lived magazines Trump and Humbug, and then his going to work for editor Al Feldstein on Mad. Fingeroth and Jaffee went through the familiar and surefire stories of how Jaffee created his best-known Mad features, “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” and the Mad Fold-Ins. Jaffee had thought his first Fold-In “was a one-shot gag,” and believes that if Kurtzman had still been editing Mad, there never would have been a second one, since Kurtzman was always looking for new ideas. But Feldstein directed Jaffee to come up with a second one. “And that was 49 years ago,” concluded Jaffee, who has been doing Fold-Ins all during those years, and teased the audience by telling them the set-up for the one he is woking on now—but not the punch line.

At 2 PM one of the Comicon’s organizers, Cliff Galbraith, interviewed underground cartoonist John Holmstrom, who in 1975 co-founded the magazine Punk, which chronicled the punk rock movement in its heyday.

Then at 3 PM it was back to the Golden Age of Comics, with Fingeroth back onstage, this time interviewing another of the few survivors of that period, artist Allen Bellman. In 1942, when he was a teenager, Bellman started working for Timely Comics, as Marvel was known in the 1940s, drawing backgrounds for artist Syd Shores’ work on Captain America. Bellman was hired by artist Don Rico and did not meet Stan Lee until two weeks later. His initial image of Stan was as a young man following around his uncle Robert Solomon, the brother-in-law of Timely publisher Martin Goodman. Bellman recalled that the Timely Bullpen was divided into two separate rooms, one for “the animators,” his name for the funny animal artists, and the other for “the illustrators,” the superhero artists such as himself. The first series that Bellman drew on his own was The Patriot, but he also worked on Marvel’s trinity of stars, The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, and Captain America.

Perhaps surprisingly, Bellman never met Jack Kirby and never met Joe Simon until 2007. At the Comicon earlier that day Bellman was reunited with Al Jaffee. “I was so happy to see him.”

Bellman was one of the hundreds of comic book professionals who were forced to leave the business thanks to the outcry against comics in the 1950s. Referring to Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, Bellman said, “That book put me out of commission.”

Bellman is well aware that he is one of the few survivors left from the Golden Age of Comics. After reminiscing about the late Gene Colan, Bellman commented, “There’s not many of us left.” And at the end of the panel, asked about his former colleagues, Bellman said simply, “They’re all gone but me.”

Following at 4 PM was “Marvel Days,” a panel surveying the history of Marvel Comics from the 1960s onward. Moderated by Christopher Irving, the author of Leaping Tall Buildings, a book of interviews with comics creators, the panel also included Sean Howe, author of the recent history Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. However, the discussion was dominated by Herb Trimpe, longtime Marvel artist who started collaborating with Stan Lee on The Incredible Hulk back in the Silver Age of the 1960s, and Papercutz editor Jim Salicrup, who rose from messenger to editor at Marvel, where he became best known for editing the Spider-Man titles.

Oddly, both Trimpe and Salicrup had anecdotes about Stan Lee’s hair. Trimpe said that when he first worked at Marvel, Stan, who was in the process of undergoing a hair transplant, “hated” Trimpe’s thick hair. In recalling his early days at Marvel as a messenger, Salicrup recalled going on a mysterious mission to an East Side town house to pick up an equally mysterious package, which turned out to be Stan’s toupee!

Salicrup got his foot in the door at Marvel by sending in a postcard and getting hired by Roy Thomas, just as Marvel was starting a massive expansion in the early 1970s; as Salicrup observed, it is hard to believe that anyone could get hired this way by today’s corporate Marvel. “I loved it when Stan was there, for the first ten years I was there,” before Lee moved out to California to promote Marvel properties as potential TV shows and movies.

Trimpe explained that the “problem he had at Marvel” was that he considered himself a artist more in the cartoon-like style of Jack Davis, who instead had to try for a “classic look” like that of Marvel mainstay John Buscema. Trimpe turned to the work of Jack Kirby. “As far as I know, Stan never ordered anyone to copy Kirby’s stuff,” Trimpe said. “Kirby’s stuff had a language to it” that was “very powerful stuff. He is the central comic book artist.”

Asked about office politics at Marvel, Salicrup said that he was aware of it at the time, but preferred to avoid it. “Marvel was big enough that I could easily get lost in it,” he said. “I was just enamored about being a kid from the Bronx who was in this Oz-like place like Marvel Comics in the 1970s.”

Questioned by Irving, Salicrup gave his take on the now familiar tale of how Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s “The Dark Phoenix Saga” evolved, and how editor in chief Jim Shooter ordered that the ending be changed so Jean Grey would die, thereby, in Salicrup’s view, transforming the saga into a classic.

Salicrup also spoke of Shooter’s emphasis on “clarity of storytelling” and noted that nowadays “some DC and Marvel books can be very hard to read” for newcomers to the medium, such as the kids who read Salicrup’s Papercutz comics. Hence, Salicrup said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m deprogramming” artists from Marvel and DC, by “having to explain the real basics of storytelling” in comics, like leaving enough room for the word balloons!

Finally, from shortly after 5 PM till the convention’s closing time, Jon B. Cooke, editor of the magazine Comic Book Artist, interviewed Jay Lynch, a leading member of the original generation of underground comix creators. In 1968 in Chicago Lynch launched and edited Bijou Funnies, one of the pioneering underground comix. He was also one of the principal artists for Topps’ Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages.

Lynch recounted how he first saw Harvey Kurtzman’s original version of Mad in 1953. “When I saw Mad, I decided to be a cartoonist.” But Lynch said he initially did one-panel gag cartoons. “I didn’t start doing comix until Zap came out,” Robert Crumb’s landmark underground comic. Lynch likened underground comix to other cultural phenomena of the 1960s, including the Free Speech movement and the taboo-breaking comedy of Lenny Bruce. Lynch recalled how he, Crumb, and another underground comix pioneer, Gilbert Shelton, would trade their comic books, with each other. Thus enabling them to keep in touch with each other’s work. Lynch also explained that President Richard Nixon launched a pornography investigation that made publishers nervous about possible prosecution, thereby sending sales of underground comix into decline.
Turning to Lynch’s work for Topps, Cooke asked, “Is that what you’re best known for—Garbage Pail Kids?”

“No,” replied Lynch, “I think my performance of Swan Lake.”

Nowadays, Lynch said, he is doing paintings which he sells on eBay.

Lynch wound up the panel by recounting an anecdote which captured some of a sense of the good and bad sides of the 1960s. It was the day that the Beatles’ White Album came out, Lynch was working for Topps, and “everyone on the subway has a copy of the White Album.” Lynch went to see fellow underground cartoonist Spain Rodriguez, who was living in a building in an area ridden with crime and drug addicts. Lynch went out and bought pizza for both of them, but on his way back was accosted by thugs, who asked him what he was carrying. Lynch lied and said it was the Beatles’ White Album, whereupon one of the thugs, impressed, said, “Okay, we’ll let you go.”

Photo © Danny CenturyMany more photos of the con in the link.

Marvel’s #1 to be Announced at SXSW

Marvel have been teasing a new project called #1, which has been suggested to be a weekly comic, or some kind of compendium, or… well, who knows. At any rate, a new teaser has surfaced, revealing the creative people who will be featured in the project, as well as the news that the announcement for #1 will come next weekend, at South By Southwest. There are plenty of names involved —

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Stan Lee is back on the scene and bringing joy to the children with his new kids comics line

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Although Stan The Man Lee has been missing a few appearances of late—we’re told due to the flu—he was well enough to appear at an event this weekend to mark the launch of his Stan Lee Kids Universe Line of comics. This is not only welcome proof that The Man is still alive and kicking, but a super rare coming to fruition of one of the Many Pacts of Stan Lee.

The Kids UNiverse is produced in conjunction with 1821 Productions and thus far includes two titles: the very promising sounding KITTENS VS MONSTERS by Dani Jones and a game for the ioS platform called GOOBEEZ: PIRATE ADVENTURE.

The STKU event was held at Giggles N’ Hugs in Century City, and was hosted by actress Jamie Pressley. Events included a reading from Stan, a face painting competition, and a variety of arts and crafts games. Hope everyone used lots of hand sanitizer!

MONSTERS VS. KITTENS by Dani Jones is available both in hard cover and soft cover editions. A Digital e-book edition is also available on iBooks and Kindle. An audio/visual digital copy of Stan Lee reading the book to kids is available from A Story Before Bed (www.astorybeforebed.com/stanleeskidsu)
 
GOOBEEZ: PIRATE ADVENTURE follows Peg Leg Mcgee and his band of pirates land on Goobeez Island looking for lost treasure, but instead they find the mythical Goobeez who inhabit the island.  The pirates kidnap Goobeez and have taken them to their ship, the mission is to save the Goobeez and help them escape the pirate ship and get them back to land. GOOBEEZ: PIRATE ADVENTURE is available for download now on iTunes.


 
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Stan and Jack seen together c. 1964

One of the holy grails of the blogosphere (at least this blogosphere) has been a picture of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby together to run whenever one of those “Stan did this” or “They made another movie based on Jack Kirby’s characters” comes up. Up until now, this semi-obscured photo from a San Diego Inkpots banquet was the only thing we had:

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Although Stan looks like the Stan of today, you can hardly see him behind Jim Steranko’s hair—admittedly a common hazard.

Thanks to Marvel: The Untold Story author Sean Howe, however, many more photos of the Stan and Jack duo have been put online—and at the height of their powers. Here’s one: Stan Lee, age 42, and Jack Kirby, age 48.

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That would be 1964 just when things were taking off—the duo had just co-created Spider-Man, the Avengers, the FF, the X-Men, The Hulk, and Iron Man. Wow. This Stan is hardly recognizable, however: a receding hairline, meaty chin, and lack of aviator sunglasses as effective as disguise as Batman’s cowl. The Stan we know and love is a product of the second half of his life—which began when he was nearing 50. So rebranding can be done later in life, if you have the verve and longevity of a Stan.

As for Kirby…well, looking at photos from his entire life, it’s pretty clear, he was always Jack Kirby. And always will be.

Stan Lee’s Verticus IOS game is FREE today!

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Has Stan Lee ever stopped pacting? The answer is no, and here is the fruit of one of his pacts, a game for iPhone and iPad called Verticus which is FREE today only, so you might as well give it a whirl. The game normally sells for $1.99.

The game involves a mission to save the earth from the Obliterators. To do this you must manipulate Verticus in a free fall to catch power-ups, coins and tokens, while avoiding missiles and bombs. Eventually you get to the surface of the earth and have to plummet right to the earth’s core where you must…do something. We wouldn’t know because you haven’t made it…yet.

Your mission commander is none other than generalissimo Stan Lee, and yes, he reads out all the captions you see on the screen.
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So this morning we heard a lot of “I don’t like quitters” and “you can do it!” from Stan. For those who need to hear Stan Lee enjoining you to press on daily, this game is for you.

The game mechanics are pretty hard to learn, at least for this fumblefingers; one thing we don’t like, you need to pay in-game coins to get more lives, and eventually you need to pay real world money for the same. That’s standard issue for apps, but it would be nice to continue the game without paying.

Also: get that armor right away or you will die all the time.

Although not credited, we’re told the artwork is by Matt Haley.

Sean Howe’s MARVEL: THE UNTOLD STORY Draws a Crowd of True Believers in Brooklyn

By Hannah Means-Shannon

Marvel’s an enigmatic company. It’s an underlying paradox that goes hand in hand with their media-active public image with Stan Lee at the pop-culture helm. Sean Howe’s book on Marvel’s history, MARVEL: THE UNTOLD STORY, generated a lot of gossip and speculation long before review copies were circulating and an active Facebook and Tumblr presence treated fans to lots of amusing, shocking, and often long-forgotten images of now-legendary Marvel staffers and significant and/or wacky comics pages. This set the tone for a celebration of Marvel as much as an inside look at the mysteries of behind one of the biggest pop cultural phenomenons of the twentieth and twenty-first century. Howe’s book launched in eye-catching orange hardcover at Powerhouse Books on Tuesday night, accompanied by the author in conversation with a closer friend and fellow writer Chuck Klosterman. The Facebook events page suggested nearly 90 people were planning to attend, and the numbers didn’t disappoint.

Since comics are allowed to be “cool” now, it was every Marvel fan for himself, crowding Powerhouse’s repurposed church pews and step seating. Howe and Klosterman took their places with vista of visual culture-geared books behind them, and that seemed only appropriate since Howe’s book is taking up its place in cultural history as the currently most expansive in-depth look at life working for Marvel Comics.

Klosterman, an “outsider” to comics took up a position of trenchant inquisition about the whys behind Marvel comics fandom. His expressed ignorance of comics helped bridge the gap between the audience members who might have read Marvel comics since kindergarten and those who were more familiar with the colorful eruption of film incarnations breaking box offices. Howe fielded questions as basic as why he values Marvel, say, over DC, and whether he thinks the superhero films do justice to their long comic book histories, but also revealed a great deal about his own mental processes when it comes to chronicling the human stories behind his most beloved comics. His often self-effacing attitude in the presence of the weighty Marvel mythos was appealing, and fans applauded when he assured them that his four-year saga working on the book, or the less glamorous information he uncovered about Marvel has still not “turned him off of comics”.

Howe was originally attracted to a universe where characters “bumped into each other” and formed an interlocking system. The complexity drew him in and formed a “tapestry” for him as he learned more about the artists and writers beyond the comics. Like many readers, he was particularly transfixed by the Bullpen Bulletins and the literary “voice” of Stan Lee connecting with fans. Howe made no bones about it; Marvel comics, he said is the “most complicated fictional narrative in the history of the world”. It’s history forms a “snowball” with increasing size and momentum and the company’s internal workings illustrate by extension the basic principles of “how pop culture works”. The “grand story” inside the comics appealed to him, the one wherein artists and writers contributed to the glory of the Marvel Universe, but essentially had no control over its future other than their contributions. The history of Marvel is essentially one of “crass commercialism” married to an often surprising depth of metaphor and meaning.

Klosterman turned the subject toward Stan Lee as perhaps the “main character” of Howe’s book and Howe took an unusual approach to Lee’s career, commenting that though he is highly regarded as the “face of Marvel”, his work in Marvel’s early days as a writer, editor, and even “talent scout” is often  “undervalued”. Questions from the audience turned back toward Lee and his level of involvement or cooperation with Howe’s research. Howe interviewed Lee by phone, he said, but wasn’t able to arrange a follow-up interview as he had hoped. Marvel, on the whole, Howe explained, has been neither hostile nor enthusiastic about his project. He chose the phrase “casually cooperative” to describe Marvel’s attitude. The greatest direct contributions to his research came from former employees, while “a couple” of current staffers lent a hand, including Tom Brevoort, in particular. The audience wanted to pick Howe’s brain about drama at Marvel concerning Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko, prompting a few former Marvel staffers present in the audience to chime in with their anecdotes, including former editor at Marvel and current editor of Papercutz, Jim Salicrup.

The Q and A was wide ranging and took in Marvel superhero films, Disney’s role in the films’ success, and a few favorite characters like Spider-Man, who Howe described as the Marvel character to “change the most over time”.  If Howe was treated like a walking encyclopedia by the True Believers present, it was because his replies opened even more alluring avenues for discussion. The interaction clarified Howe’s position, and that of the comics fans attending: while True Believers may still treat the complexity of the expanding Marvel Universe like something sacred, it doesn’t prevent them from wanting to at least sneak a peek at its internal mysteries . Howe, it was clear, has seen more than most and still kept the faith. For the rest of their answers, the audience would have to consult his extensively annotated text. They marched into long lines for Howe to autograph their copies and flooded Powerhouse books with lively conversation until closing time. There was a definite sense that everyone was going to race home and immediately dive into THE UNTOLD STORY for themselves.

Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.

Stan Lee gets a pacemaker, recovering

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Turns out those concerns over Stan Lee’s recent show cancellations weren’t entirely unfounded—The Man announced he just received a pacemaker:

“Attention, Troops!

This is a dispatch sent from your beloved Generalissimo, directly from the center of Hollywood’s combat zone!

Now hear this! Your leader hath not deserted thee! In an effort to be more like my fellow Avenger, Tony Stark, I have had an electronic pace-maker placed near my heart to insure that I’ll be able to lead thee for another 90 years.

But fear thee not, my valiant warriors. I am in constant touch with our commanders in the field and victory shall soon be ours. Now I must end this dispatch and join my troops, for an army without a leader is like a day without a cameo!”


Lee will be 90 in a few months, and as we all know, keeps up an insanely busy schedule for anyone, let alone a man his age. With his new, electronic heart, he’ll probably keep chugging along for another 30 years. Best wishes to a speedy recovery for Stan.

Stan Lee is "totally fine" and drinking a milkshake

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While Stan Lee’s canceling of some appearances has led to all the anxiety and speculation that one might expect for a man his age, the Facebook page for the Comikaze Expo, which he owns, has some information from closer at hand: [Read more…]

Stan Lee cancels near future appearances, including Wizard World Ohio

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An email from Wizard PR notes that Stan Lee’s management has informed them that “Stan would be unable to attend any upcoming appearances for the near future, including the Ohio Comic Con, as well as the “Authors Authors” Toledo-Lucas County Public Library appearance set for this Thursday, September 27th. We will let fans know more as we know more details.” Wizard is issuing refunds for all VIP, Photo Ops and Autograph Tickets that have been prepurchased.
[Read more…]

Con Wars 2: SoCal edition

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While the indie comics world was swooning over Chris Ware in Bethesda last weekend, yet another assault was being made on tapping the LA comic-con market with Stan Lee’s Comikaze. It was by most accounts an enjoyable show in the nerdlebrity mold, with comics pressed up against Adam West and Elvira. Having Stan Lee running around didn’t hurt, of course.

Liz Ohanesian has a thorough report on the good and the bad: [Read more…]

On The Scene: Baltimore Comic-Con Day 1

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by Hannah Means-Shannon

The lines wound around the block, disappeared and reappeared again against the concrete of the convention center in the steamy, bright weather, but once they started moving it was orderly and brisk. The incoming flood lasted for at least an hour without sign of slowing, but the capacity was generous inside and even a crowded floor was manageable. A newcomer to the Baltimore Con flipping open the guide would immediately notice a unique feature in comparison to the New York Comic Con or Wizard World Philadelphia: artist’s alley occupied at least forty percent of the floor, more if you added in the range of side-tables along the walls also designated for artists. This didn’t mean that the convention was weak on the shopping fare that comics fans demand and expect, or the deals they are looking for on that one book missing from their collection, but it did create an interesting dynamic of two worlds in synergy, each working together for the event. [Read more…]

So Stan Lee once posed for a naked centrefold

By Steve Morris

SFW? NSFW? I suppose it all depends on if your boss has an alliterative name or not. Writer Sean Howe, building up to the October 9th release of his new book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, has been releasing snippets and previews via the book’s Tumblr page. And this most recent update certainly gives you something you’ve never seen before. Dare you risk the jump?

[Read more…]

HeroesCon proves thirty is fabulous

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Whoosh! HeroesCon just raced on by! We arrived late on Thursday, hit BarCon and the rest was just WHOOSH! So much fun, we barely had time to type about it at all. That isn’t to say there weren’t some snafus—all on our own part—but they came and went so quickly.

First off, hats off to Shelton Drum for running a show this long! It is, at this point, a beloved institution. Everyone knows Drum and the Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find staff treat the guests like family. From the shuttle that picks you up at the airport to the big art auction party on Saturday to the dead dog party at the store to the shuttle that takes you to the airport on Monday. It’s all so friendly and comics-loving. As mentioned in the previous post, this edition of the show was notable for there being NO EDITORS around. No one to buy drinks or dinner. Instead everyone bought their OWN drinks and dinner…and it seemed to work out just fine.

Although we never glimpsed Stan Lee he was definitely the main presence. As several con reports have alluded to, whenever Stan was doing something—signing, talking, facing front—crowds on the show floor seemed to sparsen. (Is that a word? It is now.) Sales slowed for some during the Stan-induced lulls, but it was still a great show for art purchases, and most everyone seemed to sell loads of stuff. The HeroesCon attendees appreciate art and like spending money on art—and luckily the local economy has some pep in it and they can still afford to do what they like.

I will admit one of the reasons the show whooshed on by was that I could barely spend any time on the show floor. Friday, I had a ton of work to catch up on so I got there late. Saturday, I had two panels, one of which lasted more than two hours…so again I got to the floor very late. Sunday, I had some personal business to attend to, and had to make an offsite…but I managed to cram as many meet-and-greets in as I could.

As for those panels, well this is where I managed to mess things up because I didn’t have as much time to prepare as I should have. One of the things I’ve learned about panels over the years is…the more you prepare the better they go. And when you DON’T prepare, it tends to show. This year I had to more or less wing it, because it was the best I could do, and all I can say is…the more you prepare the better things go!

The first one, Humor in Comics, was basically the same as last years, with Evan Dorkin and Roger Langridge from ’11 and Tim Rickard sitting in for Richard Thompson. I had prepared a slideshow but neglected to tell the show crew that I needed AV. We tried to set it up in the middle of the panel but…that is not a good idea. To avoid asking the same questions as last year I opened it to the floor, as it was a well-attended panel (not all were.) The talk veered to how hard it is to make a living doing humorous comics, which isn’t the world’s funniest topic. However, all the panelists were very smart and funny (especially Evan, but you all know that) so there were manny laughs. Still: LESSON: ALWAYS MAKE SURE THERE IS AV BEFOREHAND.

The next panel was the epic mega-panel “Echoes of 1982″ which was organized by Craig Fischer. This was truly an epic with a video package intro of comics that debuted in 1982, a segment on Jack Kirby with more video, a presentation on Master of Kung Fu, a presentation on the influences of LOVE AND ROCKETS, a section on Warren Comics, and interviews with both Jaime Hernandez and Louise Simonson.To say that these two creators are as delightful as they are talented is an understatement. Ben Towle participated in the panel with a discussion on DESTROYER DUCK, the Steve Gerber/Jack Kirby benefit comic for Gerber’s lawsuit against Marvel. Over at his blog, Towle wrote:

I mentioned our “Mega Panel,” Echoes of ’82, in my pre-Heroes post, but the general idea was a look back at a few significant comics/events of ’82 (since it’s Heroes’ 30th anniversary). The panel went well overall, although it ran a bit long. Even cutting out my planned “Critic’s Favorites” talk on Pacific Presents #1, it went to a bit over two hours–which is probably a bit much. Next year, we’ll maybe trim things down a bit time-wise. That aside, the whole panel went really well and I’d have a hard time picking any particular favorite part of it. I was, though, really impressed with the thoughtful and impassioned talk that Heidi MacDonald gave on the Marvel/Kirby situation–especially since she said she put it together in her hotel room the previous night! I’d never heard Louise Simonson speak before (she was discussing Warren publishing, which closed up shop in ’82) and I was was really impressed with how well-spoken, smart, and charming she was.  Heroes Con panel organizer Andy Mansell gave a pretty fired-up talk about Master of Kung Fu. In an alternate universe, Andy is a “hellfire and brimstone” tent revival preacher.


Towle is extremely kind to my “presentation,” as I had some notes and just riffed…but I think my point got across: Kirby was a fighter from day one, and he fought to get his imagination taken seriously his whole life.

As I think I mentioned in my remarks, if you date the history of American comic books from 1938, 1982 isn’t the midpoint between then and now, but it’s certainly right smack dab in the middle of the industry’s evolution from pulp pap to more personal visions and self expression. The night before my talk I was lucky enough to have dinner with Marv Wolfman and Paul Levitz, who were both doing things and making decision in 1982, so I asked them for some pointers on the year. Paul, who will be teaching a course on graphic novels at Columbia in the fall, immediately launched into a post grad-level dissertation on the economic forces shaping the industry—falling printing costs, more flexible coloring, newsstand distribution changes and such things as an X-Men/Teen Titans crossover that went to the direct market. But the thing that Paul mentioned which caught my notice the most was that in 1982 Marvel and DC introduced royalties for the first time. It was also the year that Epic, Marvel’s creator-owned line, debuted.

Marvel or DC launching a line that creator-friendly would be impossible today for so many reasons. Without going into the Wayback Machine to read zine interviews of the time (or scheduling another dinner with Paul) I’d only have to guess at the reasons: competition from the upstarts like Eclipse and Pacific, surely, but probably also some residual guilt over the Siegel and Shuster case.

A lot of things happened in the ’70s and ’80s in both comics and society at large that would be unthinkable today, at least on a corporate level. (Can you imagine trying to pass Title IX now?) Progress isn’t a straight line, it’s more like a ziggurat.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed the presentations on the various topics of 1982, and Louise Simonson is a pistol. But my LESSON: IF YOU’RE GOING TO DO A PRESENTATION YOU NEED TO ACTUALLY DO A PRESENTATION.

My final panel on Sunday confirmed the most basic lesson of all: CHECK YOUR PANEL TIME. Yes I whiffed this one completely because I had the time screwed up, and I apologize profusely to the folks who were on the panel. I do have something in mind to make up for it but it will have to wait until after Comic-Con. And in a more meta sense I learned a larger lesson. I did have a lot on my mind over the weekend—a couple of illnesses in the family—and it was kind of a wake-up call not to get overcomitted. It’s so easy to say yes to something cool but actually doing something cool takes a lot of time.

I also attended the CREATOR OWNED HEROES panel on Friday in which Steve Niles, Phil Noto, and Kevin Mellon talked about their anthology comic, which also includes stories by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. Niles mentioned that he’d gotten more flak for this title than anything he’d ever done, mainly from other creators who didn’t like the actual title. There was also much talk of how important it is to be able to break away from the corporate characters for a while. Niles mentioned the Black Mask Comics thing briefly, but mentioned it is still being worked on.

The panel did serve as a sort of model for most of what I was hearing when I did hang out, however. It is a strange time. Since returning from the show, my chat line has been clogged with stories of people working at the Big Two who are unhappy with heavy-handed editorial direction. The Ed Brubaker interview certainly captured this feeling, as did the George Perez interview that surfaced:

“Unfortunately when you are writing major characters, you sometimes have to make a lot of compromises, and I was made certain promises,” Perez said in a recently released Q&A video from this year’s Superman Celebration, “and unfortunately not through any fault of Dan DiDio — he was no longer the last word, I mean a lot of people were now making decisions [..] they were constantly going against each other, contradicting, again in mid-story. The people who love my Superman arc, the first six issues, I thank you. What you read, I don’t know. Because the fact that, after I wrote it I was having such frustration that I told them, ‘Here, this is my script. If you change it, that’s your prerogative, don’t tell me. Don’t ask me to edit it, don’t ask me to correct it, because I don’t want to change something that you’re going to change again in case you disagree.” No no, Superman is a big character. I was flattered by the responsibility, but I thought this was getting a little tough.”

“I didn’t mind the changes in Superman, I just wish it was the same decision Issue 1 or Issue 2,” he continued. “And I had to kept rewriting things because another person changed their mind, and that was a lot tougher. It wasn’t the same as doing Wonder Woman. I was basically given a full year to get Wonder Woman established before she actually had to be enfolded into the DC Universe properly. And I had a wonderful editor Karen Berger who ran shotgun for me. They wanted me to recreate what I did from Wonder Woman, but it’s not the same age, not the same atmosphere, I couldn’t do it any more. And the writer who replaced me, Keith Giffen, was very, very nice. I’ve known Keith since we both started in the industry, he called me up when they asked him to do Superman to make sure I wasn’t being fired off Superman. And regrettably I did have to tell him no, I can’t wait to get off Superman. It was not the experience I wanted it to be.”


The days when editors ran interference for creators is long over, or at least in remission. At least one creator at HeroesCon mentioned how nice it was not to have a rigid schedule of publisher dinners and parties: “I can sit down with whoever I want.” The current editorial climate at the Big Two is a result of the times and deserves a blog post all its own, but…it is what it is.

Anyhoo, in all this I barely snapped any pictures, so I’ll just link to Beat Correspondent Jimmy Aquino’s Flickr set while noting most of the photos were taken by pro photographer Faren Kilpatrick.

So yeah HeroesCon, always fun, a great chance to hang out and talk about comics and life and all the rest. Special people I got to spend time with: Stephanie Buscema who is as nice as she is talented, and her partner, Rob Harrigan; the always entertaining Buzz; Justin Jordan; Maris Wicks and Joe Quinones, who turn out to have lived in the same small town in Maine that I once lived in; Kalmen Andrasofszky; Jose Marzan, Richard Case, Becky Cloonan…okay for sure I am forgetting dozens of people. It was that kind of show. As always.