Can A Comic Creator Run A Comic Convention?

Okay — some time has passed since   I launched the Asbury Park Comicon. And at some point I’ll write more about what went into making it a reality. I could say it was a lot of work or it was hard, but there’s no way to measure that, and hard compared to what? We’d just come off of Hurricane Sandy — I think what the victims of the storm were going through was hard, what we went through was a challenge.

But with everything that life, nature, and city politics put in our way, we did reach May 30th, 2013 and the fans showed up. As did the talent. It was a glorious, if not frantic day. Friends from as far back as high school visited to wish me well (brought together through the magic of social media), as well as family, neighbors, old employees from my screen printing days, and the comics community.

We invited some great guests, some who’ve turned into friends. I especially had a great time with Ren & Stimpy co-creator Bob Camp and punk artist John Holmstom.
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At one point at dinner with them, I laughed so hard I though shrimp would shoot out of my nostrils.

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Other than that, the day was a blur with interviews, autographs, a costume contest judged by my neighborhood celebs Bryan Johnson, Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen of AMC-TV’s Comic Book Men, and Brian O’Halloran of the film Clerk’s.
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Oh, yeah — and here’s MAD Magazine’s Al Jaffee a week after turning 95 with me on the Asbury Park boardwalk. When I originally invited him 6 months earlier, he said, “Cliff, I’ll be there if I’m still alive.” To which I replied, “Me too, Al.” And a month later I was hit by a car. So never kid about that shit.

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And it was Judie’s birthday and someone made her a special gluten free cake!

I have a lot more to say about this event, with Allen Bellman, Danny Fingeroth, Herb Trimpe, Evan Dorkin Sarah Dyer, Jim Salicrup, and will ad to this soon.

Digital Comics and Comic Shops Not A Zero Sum Game

I don’t believe the proliferation of digital comics sold on tablets will destroy brick and mortar comic shops. I didn’t used to, but I’ve changed my belief on the subject of the demise of the comic shops. Comic shops are not record shops, which they’ve been compared to and may not suffer the same fate. Many experts and fans have predicted that as MP3s decimated the CD retail market, so too the comic shops will fall because of comic apps. While there are similarities in their shared participation in the digital revolution, they are also very different markets. For one, comics are a much smaller industry. CDs had become wildly overpriced and many consumers grew to despise the record industry, feeling no guilt in stealing music from greedy corporations. Here’s a few reasons why I feel comic shops won’t be wiped out by apps:

1. Use: Relatively few people own the tablets to read comics on apps. Up until just recently, a tablet cost a minimum of $500. With the introduction of the Kindle Fire, the price drops down to $200, but they’re not for everyone. They’re buggy, awkward, and only 7 inches, which is too small to comfortably read a comic compared to the iPad. It will be several years until the devices are ubiquitous and as elegant (if ever) as the iPad.

2. Price: comics on tablets are not cheap. Unlike, MP3s, they are not perceived as being fairly price. Unlike ebooks, they’re not cheaper than their physical version.

3. Portability and Ownership: Digital comics can’t be moved from one app to another. They can’t be shared, and we don’t really get to own them, again, unlike their cousins the ebook.

4. The Artifact: So much of the activity at comic conventions has to do with signings. Many comic shops also have signings. Physical books are required for these signings to create a documented interaction between the fan and the book’s creator. The artifact, in this case a comic book, becomes a cherished item, a memento of a moment shared between the fan and the artist. There is a bond with the creator that many fans experience, which never fades. It is a connection with someone they admire, and they will remember it and speak fondly of it over decades. They can reach for the artifact, and show it to friends or simply look upon it in a quiet moment by themselves and recall the events that led to them attaining the prized signature. There is no such interaction with an app based comic.

So what’s wrong with so many of America’s comic shops? For one, they’re not in the comics business, they’re in the super hero business. The super hero business is strangling the comics business. Most comic shops (not all) in America are focused disproportionately on super heroes. Believe it or not, there are many people who don’t give a rat’s ass about anything that Marvel and DC are publishing. There are a lot of people out there who’d rather read about history, humor, fantasy, crime, mystery, sci-fi, young adult, horror, romance etc. While Marvel and DC may touch upon those categories, their primary thrust is super powered, costumed characters.That leaves the vast majority of potential comic readers with little to no reason to ever enter a comic shop.

Bergen Street Comics's inviting interior is devoid of clutter and dorkyness.
Bergen Street Comics's inviting interior is devoid of clutter and dorkyness.

Recently, I visited two comic shops that had a very small percentage of comics about super heroes — and the shops were busy, packed, thriving. The owners were friendly, enthusiastic, talkative, helpful. They carried graphic novels, trade paperbacks, obscure comics, weird comics, funny comics, comics for kids, comics not suitable for kids, arty comics, mini comics, indie comics, hardcover collections, comics by local artists, comics from abroad… Wow! I’m speaking of course of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics and Bergen Street Comics — two very different stores in appearance, presentation, and offerings, but similar that they both operate under the assumption that super heroes are only a tiny portion of what the public wants when it comes to comics.

Desert Island Comics's light-hearted interior.
Desert Island Comics's light-hearted interior.
Surprising exterior of Desert Island Comics retains the sign of previous inhabitants.
Exterior of Desert Island Comics retains the sign of previous inhabitants.

While there are many innovative comic retailers around the country, these are the creative ones I’ve recently seen firsthand. I’ve been in many of the old model: dirty, sloppy, poorly lit, with their narrow-intrest inventory, and the sweatpants-wearing retailers who believe showering is optional. These shops are the sad temples of the all-boy’s club of nerd world. The artform of comics has been monopolized and ghettoized by the dorks for the past 30 years. It’s exciting to see pro-active shopkeepers re-inventing comic retailing for a new era of expanded customer base. One where females feel welcomed in by an attentiveness to detail and variety of genres. Where nerds and normals can shop under the same roof. Where comics are treated as literature rather than collectables.

It is the Bergen Street’s and Desert Island’s who are cultivating a clientele for the comic shop of the future, where super heroes are only one category in a wide variety of comic book offerings. Along with a customer friendly environment, special events, and ever changing displays and stock, these places become much more than comic shops. They are a part of a community, dare I say a scene. Super hero comic book sales in shops will diminish, and the smart retailers won’t try to make up for it with T-shirts and toys, they will make up for it by selling more comics to more different types of shoppers.

Sonic Youth vs Jack Kirby

sonic_kirby1 I heard Sonic Youth’s 1990 hit “Kool Thing” the other day, and it stayed in my head all weekend — what an absolutely brilliant tune from an exciting time in music. Around the same time, I was looking at original Kirby pages on http://www.whatifkirby.com/, when I came across a few pages of Princess Zanda attempting to seduce The Black Panther. And then I heard the line “Kool thing, walking like a panther…” I showed Kirby’s art to my wife Judie while playing the song and we laughed about inserting the lyrics into Kirby’s art. And here’s the video to the song:

A New Comic Project

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I’d hoped to have had this one ready for MoCCA Fest in April, but we changed the name and well, you know how it is. Or do you? Inspiration comes and goes. Ideas seem great, then days later they don’t. Characters take time to develope  — I found some notes for this story, and only one out of the original five names or characters survived.

Also, I’m collaborating on this with my wife, Judie this time. It’s based on a concept she had many years ago. It made us laugh back then and we began noticing things and phrases that would go into here story. A few years ago, I was looking for an animated project to work on, so I started conceptualizing her story ( some of it was posted here about two years ago). A lot of it is based on our days in New Brunswick , NJ where we met.

So here’s the cover. One things for certain — this is a lot easier than those damned Rat Bastard pages. Well, not easier, just simpler. After all, none of this is actually easy.

Rat Bastard Speed Painting

A quick one one of Rat Bastard
A quick one one of Rat Bastard

That’s what they call it these days, right? A speed painting? A color study, a comp, a preliminary drawing or painting, an idea. This is done with Photoshop — no pencils, no paint, no paper or board. “No muss, no fuss” as the commercial used to say. There’s about seven layers in this Photoshop image, so the shadows are on one layer, the background is on another, etc. It’s sheer play.

There Once Were Zines

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Back in the 90’s, I billed myself as one half of the Huja Bros. Tim Bird and I wrote stories for the comic Rat Bastard under that name, and I drew as well. Here’s a cover I did for Gimp Magazine. At the time, music scene snobs like Tim and I despised bands like Bush, Oasis, and No Doubt, so I sicced the martians on them in this piece. I always dug Mad Magazine, and wanted to give it that feel.