San Diego Comic Fest ’17: 25th Anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series with Arlen Schumer

San Diego Comic Fest ’17: 25th Anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series with Arlen Schumer
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Arlene Schumer and his book “The Silver Age of Comic Book Art”

As a cartoon loving kid of the 90’s, chances are the Batman: The Animated Series was on your “must-watch list.” It’s hard to believe that the iconic show is hitting its 25th year anniversary. But what really made this show stand out so much in our minds, even now as adults? Aside from the writing that didn’t belittle the intelligence of its Saturday-morning audience, Arlen Schumer decided to discuss the show’s elements at this year’s San Diego Comic Fest. He spent a great deal praising the artwork of Bruce Timm, who gave us a look for the iconic Batman that still perpetuates to this day, and much more.

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” is what’s known as Murphy’s Law, which Schumer invoked as he watched the convention’s technical support trying to get his laptop to display on the projector. Fortunately, a friend of his who has worked as an animator for twenty-some years and who I only caught the first name of Lance, entertained the audience with talks of the lack of quality-diversity in that of superhero cartoons. “In the early 90’s, even in the business, there was a massive revolution [in animation]. To see a cartoon that you not only wanted to work on, but you wanted to watch, didn’t exist… In my opinion Johnny Quest was the greatest, until this show… Batman, well I’m not going to step on Arlen’s toes. In his lecture he’s going to tell you how it was such a great show-“

“No I’m not!” interrupted Schumer just as his computer woes were almost solved. “Don’t put your words in my mouth,” he added cheekily.

Lance continued. “I’m just going to leave off with that when I first saw Bruce Timm’s art, I didn’t say ‘This is a great artist,’ but instead ‘This is an important artist.’ Bruce has influenced so much that has followed, but he still hasn’t been equaled.”

Now in full control of his laptop thanks to the “techie gods,” Schumer urged the audience to give his friend a round of applause (to which they did) and dove right in to “visualecture.” He began by showing the opening animation for the Batman cartoon (which still gives me goosebumps to this day). Schumer pointed out the first instance of the cartoon’s version of the Batmobile and the connection to the late 80’s movie adaption.

02170220sdcf_0022“And of course we have the animated series’ Batmobile in full color, from the opening that we just saw. That was actually more-or-less based on the Anton Furst design for the 1989 Batman film, which really was because of the success was the impetus for the animated series to be given the green light.” Adam West’s 1960’s Batman television show was a large part to why it took the success of a major-motion picture to get the cartoon approved. The “caped-crusader’s” image was overshadowed by the early show, making it hard for people to take the character of Batman seriously for some time.

To dissociate from the 60’s television show, Schumer pointed out the similarities to past superhero cartoons and the Bruce Timm Batman. “Look how different Bruce Timm’s animated Batman was [compared to the live-action show]. But again, if you know your comics and you know your Alex Toth, and you know your animation, Space Ghost which appeared in the fall of 66… you have Batman in space,” pointed out Schumer as he compares an early sketch of the Space Ghost character compared to Bruce Timm’s Batman. “The dictum [Toth] was given by Hanna-Barbera was, ‘Give us Batman in space.’ And that’s what Space Ghost is.”

Another large reason to why the animated series is still firm in our minds and can even stand up to the likes of even today’s cartoons is the visual architecture displayed in the shows premise of Gotham City. Arlen Schumer attributed the art-style used by Bruce Timm to that of “Russian Constructivism”. “If you look at early production art by Bruce Timm or some of his other artists that are working to his style, you can see all of the influences in these early images that [he] did,” said Schumer as he pointed to sketches and artists renderings of Gotham skyline and building architecture. Another reoccurring theme in the series is Bruce Timm’s use of red sky throughout the series, which Schumer also points out, “The whole red/black motif itself comes out of Russian Constructivism.”

It would be safe to say it’s hard to imagine the cartoon without Bruce Timm’s influence. But where did the artist come from? “[Timm] was an animator in the late 80’s,” explains Schumer. “Working for Warner Bros. Animation, working on Tiny Toons. But he was a big Batman fan. Perhaps for years, maybe even a decade, before he got the Batman job, he had [Batman] sketches posted around his cubicle… From his early sketches, you can already see the influences that would make it into the show; the more exaggerated and more extreme characteristics… You can see how much of it survived in the version ten years later that made it to the screen… And here’s the show, where it’s tone down and more stylish/polished, but it’s there!”

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Arlen Schumer (right) and his buddy “Lance” (left)

Soon after the green light was given for the animated series, Jean MacCurdy who was president of Warner Bros. Animation from 1989 to 2001 began looking for someone to head the cartoon. “She sees those sketches by Bruce Timm, and he and his partner Eric Radomski are asked to put together a pilot.” The original pilot, once redone with the shows “polished” look, became most of what the opening sequence was.

Eric Radomski was the one largely responsible for the cityscapes in the show. “They called them “dark-deco,” instructed Schumer as he pointed to a paused section from the pilot. “Again, we see that red sky in the background.” It was more than the sky that made the look unique. Radomski was influenced a great deal by the look of the 1989 movie in which at first greenlighted the animated series. However, the movie’s long, dark, and foreboding look came from that of the 1927 black-and-white movie Metropolis.

“Now influenced who first?” asked Schumer. “It was the American architect Hugh Ferriss. With these monumental images of buildings that are just literally the blueprint of everything to come… Look how [Bruce] Timm in his early presentation production artwork took a Hugh Ferriss drawing and look at how he adds Batman directly to that Hugh Ferriss background. Look how this Hugh Ferriss typical, monolithic building is echoed in one of Eric Radomski’s background images for the animated series.”

Unfortunately, Schumer wasn’t able to go through his full presentation due to time constraints. What he was able to go through however spoke volumes about the animated series, its artists, their influences, and how it all came to be a great show that would forever mark itself among Batman and cartoon fans for perhaps as long as its comic predecessor. The show is a subject that could be analyzed and discussed in the likes of a college course.

To learn more about the lecturer, artist Arlen Schumer, visit his website at www.arlenschumer.com. Also, check out his 2003 released book “The Silver Age of Comic Book Art.”

San Diego Comic Fest ’17: Spotlight on John Semper, Jr. – Talks Spider-Man lore and Marvel Woes

San Diego Comic Fest ’17: Spotlight on John Semper, Jr. – Talks Spider-Man lore and Marvel Woes

 

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John Semper, Jr. – Producer and writer of “Spider-Man: The Animated Series”

John Semper, Jr. holds an ever growing list of credits, ranging from his work as a screenwriter, producer, and story editor. His body of work is mostly invested the in the field of animation, where he is most remembered among cartoon and comic fans alike for his work on the much watched 90’s carton Spider-Man: The Animated Series. His work on this series helped not only the movement of many a plastic toy from store shelves to homes, but perhaps also contribute to the revival of the Marvel brand.

 

At this year’s San Diego Comic Fest, moderator and Comic Fest Chairman Matt Dunford introduced Mr. Semper. Dunford’s moderation is not without cause, for the Chairman confesses that it was the animated “webslinger” that further helped to pull him into the orbit of the comic book industry.

“That show absolutely blew my mind,” said Dunford. I had been reading Spider-Man comics as an avid fan. I had learned to read from them. As soon as I saw that show, I just entered ‘freak-out mode’. I begged my mom and dad to take me down to Toys-R-Us where I picked up my first Spider-Man action figures.”

Semper for his part began by “clearing” some myths regarding his work. As moderator Dunford began to speak about an opening sequence in the first episode of the show where Spiderman is seen high on the side of a building casually talking to a gargoyle statue named “Bruce” and alluding to the possibility that it was named after “Bruce Wayne” (aka Batman), Semper jumped in; “Bruce the gargoyle… well let me go back. In the industry, people are frequently trying to take your credit… They’ll give you all the money you want, but they’ll argue about the credits. So having people attempt to take my credit off of things, I got into the habit of putting all my friends’ names into everything I did… My friend was a film editor named Bruce Heckler. We had started our carriers together. And Bruce the gargoyle is named after Bruce Heckler.”

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Matt Dunford (left) and John Semper, Jr. (right)

The other myth that Semper cleared up was the one regarding what FOX allowed the animated series to get away with. In trade shows and conventions years ago, Semper use to read some of the notes that “Standards and Practices” would leave for the writers and editors, as a laugh he said. Those that don’t know what Standards and Practices is, they are a department that makes sure the network (being the client) will not get into trouble by the F.C.C. by anything that the show may depict. “I think what happened was, so many people out there did not know that we had any censorship at all, and here I was, the first person revealing this. Point-in-fact, every cartoon show on the planet… we were all under the same umbrella in terms of what we could and could not do… This kind of became a part of this ‘Spider-Man’ lore, that we had lots and lots of censorship. Which we never did. We never had more than anyone else.”

As to why we never saw Spider-Man hit a “bad guy” in the face, Semper continued. “It’s twofold; First was I personally didn’t believe in modeling behavior for children that involved people ‘whacking’ each other in the face. That’s just my own personal thing… And then the second thing is with Spider-Man we have webbing, which was much more interesting. So instead of a guy running around and socking people in the face… I just had him do interesting things with his webs.”

Semper got his start as a writer, as he put it, “from the bottom up.”

“My first real job in the industry was as an apprentice fill editor. I was working on a movie called D.C. Cab… and I was freelance writing for Hanna-Barbera. And we sold so many scripts primarily to ABC and Scooby-Doo… that [ABC] said ‘Well who is this John Semper guy?’… They made me an offer to come over as a staff writer… So then I went over to Hanna-Barbera… Then got taken over to Marvel Productions… There was a guy in the back-corner office who I would go back to and hang out with him, and his name was Stan Lee. Stan was very frustrated at that time because we weren’t doing any Marvel stuff. We were doing a lot of Hasbro. Nothing but Hasbro, and a lot of other silly stuff.”

Unfortunately for Semper, Marvel Productions eventually closed, leaving him and his writing partner in a limbo of sorts. His partner eventually left the industry and Semper found other work. It was when FOX was having a lot of trouble getting their animated show, Spider-Man, on the air that Semper was given the position of producer and head writer.

“At that time, Avi [Arad] owned the rights to the Marvel characters.” As Semper pointed out, this was a spot in the Marvel company’s history where they were financially in trouble. Avi Arad, one of the owners of the then company Toy Biz, purchased the rights to the Marvel characters in an attempt to bank on their deep pre-existing character lines. However, this wouldn’t do well if the kids didn’t know who these characters were. “So Avi just bought the rights to the characters, but what he needed was to get a lot of TV shows on the air so that he could sell the toys to kids… And Spider-Man was one of those characters.”

spider-manAmidst the trouble of getting the Spider-Man cartoon up and running, Stan Lee called up Semper and asked him to help. Eventually he came over to Spider-Man and managed to get out a preview episode before Christmas, saving Avi Arad’s toy deal. “He was actually on the verge of losing a whole lot of money if he rolled out a toy line with a character that no child in America knew who the character was.”

Ultimately the plan worked, but in more ways than one. A young audience got their toys, but they also became familiar with Marvel’s webslinger. New possibilities then opened for the comics, where Marvel was able to take the episodes later on and translate them back into the comic form where Spider-Man came from. “A lot of what we did on the show eventually turned around and went into the comics,” said Semper.

Presently, the writer is currently involved in the DC comic Cyborg. Much like Marvel’s predicament with the Spider-Man cartoon, Semper was asked to head the comic as DC felt that the “part human, part machine” character needed to be built up before being introduced in the Justice League movie. Semper had been busy at work with his successfully crowed-funded project, War of the Rocketmen, when he had gotten the comic gig. What Semper thought would be a one issue a month comic turned out to be a two issue per month comic. After six months of working tirelessly, the writer expressed his relief to the crowd present that the comic would soon be tuning it back to a one a month deal, freeing up time to get back to his work on War of the Rocketmen.

Thanks to San Diego Comic Fest for spotlighting John Semper, Jr., and thank you Mr. Semper for taking the time to speak to a crowd of some avid comic and Spider-Man fans! Please visit Mr. Semper’s website, at www.johnsemper.com

San Diego Comic Fest ’17: Interview with SDCF’s Founder, Mike Towry, covers Jack Kirby and the Future of the Convention

San Diego Comic Fest ’17: Interview with SDCF’s Founder, Mike Towry, covers Jack Kirby and the Future of the Convention
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Found Mike Towry (right) and Chairman Matt Dunford (right) on opening night.

For this year’s San Diego Comic Fest, it had a great deal on its plate; A fifth year, a new venue, the announcement of a new Chairman for next year, unseasonal rain, leaking roofs, Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday, X-Men: The Animated Series 25th anniversary, and more. Amid all this, the convention is chugging along. Not only that, but Founder Mike Towry allowed me to pull him away from his busy schedule and sit down for a quick chat.

For your first time in a new venue, since all the previous years have been at the San Diego Town and Country, I feel really bad that it’s been raining so much this weekend. That aside, how do you think Comic Fest is going?

It’s going really well. People seem to be having a great time, we like the new venue, and it’s nice to have everything more together. It’s our first time here, so there are some learning things like where things work best [at the venue] and the hotel also is learning how to “deal” with us. The convention seems to be working out really well.

I know parking has also been an issue for convention goers.

It was actually a surprise that we filled the parking lot. Yesterday some people were able to park at the “National University” across the street, but today they’re having an event there, so the hotel actually helped us out with a parallel street where there’s a lot of parking, so they’re running a shuttle actually from the hotel and picking people up as sort of an “ad-hoc” solution. That’s something we’ll definitely look at for next year if we’re here, where we would get in contact with National University and see if we could use their parking, and also set up the shuttle with the street parking an all that. But you know what, it’s a good problem to have if it means that we are having all these people coming.

What kind of fan would you say you are? What are your interests?

I love comics and science fiction. I read a lot of science fiction, when I can. It’s funny; I spend so much time doing Comic Fest things that I don’t feel like reading the things that I like as much.

Are there any writers or artists that you would call your favoites?

Well Jack Kirby as a comic artist is without question my favorite, but also as a person. I met him when [I was a] kid. We had just moved to Southern California and he was so nice to us and always willing to spend so much time when we came to visit. He would just take the day off and talk, which was amazing because he had this terrific work ethic that he would just work days and days in; day after day doing his comics. He would stop just because some fans were there to talk to him. He was a wonderful person, as well as an amazing artist.

Look at the things that have been in Heavy Metal recently, The Lord of Light stuff that he did; it’s just amazing. Mike Royer, who was his favorite inker, is here [at Comic Fest] this year and was at a panel yesterday. [He] said that that was the best inking he had ever done, The Lord of Light, and he was just thinking about why that was. He said that he thought it was because it had meant a lot to Kirby and that Jack Kirby was approaching it really seriously; Putting so much into it that [Royer] just felt like “Oh, I better not mess this up.”

But you know there have been so many great comic artists. We’re having a Wally Wood program tomorrow. He was a great artist. Neal Adams a couple years ago was our Guest of Honor. He saved Batman, you know, when he started doing those great Batman covers. After the 60’s Batman show with Adam West, which was fun, it kind of made Batman a joke. Neal Adams just brought back the “Dark Knight.”

With science fiction, two of our guests this year are Greg Bear and David Brin. I’ve heard a great deal about their work. Jonathan Mabery is a local writer. He didn’t get to come this year, but he came last year. I read a lot of his stuff.

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Founder Mike Towry having a laugh while surrounded by Jack Kirby covers in the makeshift Jack Kirby cafe. 

For San Diego Comic Fest, where would you like to take it going forward? Are there any special plans in the works?

There’s a lot of work that I would like to see get [done]. Matt [Dunford] is going to be our new Chairman for the next Comic Fest, so I hope that with his help this will free me up to look at some other things. It’s our nonprofit organization that puts on the fest and there are some other things that I wanted to do through that, which I think would be helpful [in time] to Comic Fest. There are some things with international appeal that I want to see happen with international comic book fans, like more connections to Mexico since we’re here in San Diego. It just makes sense because we already bring up other comic book artists from Mexico and I would like to do more of that, because comics is a world wide phenomenon. Everybody likes comics, of one sort or another.

It’s wonderful to see all the hard work that yourself and all the volunteers have put into Comic Fest. I can really see how much everyone cares for the convention and are real fans themselves.

Like I said, we’re nonprofit and nobody here is getting a salary. Everybody is doing it, as you just said, because we just love this stuff. We even have our wonderful registration staff here; They like science fiction and such, but they sit at the registration table the whole convention. They don’t even get to see the programs. [They do it] just to serve their fellow fans so that they can get their badges and all that. It’s a special and different thing. I’m not going to knock anyone else’s convention, but we’re a nonprofit convention where people are doing it out of love of the comics and the science fiction, and just because they’re fans. It gives a completely different vibe, I think, to the event.

Is there anything else we should know?

Next year is the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so that will be our theme for the next Comic Fest. Also, since Frankenstein was the first major “undead” character, the zombie aspect too will be present. We’re going to be developing both of those for the comics, the writings, the novels, films, and animations featured here; That should be a lot of fun.

On behalf of The Beat and fans, thank you Mike Towry for talking to us, and for putting on another year of San Diego Comic Fest.

If you wish to learn more about SDCF and their nonprofit organization, visit www.sdcomicfest.org

San Diego Comic Fest ’17: Up and Early for Social Fandom for Geek Properties

San Diego Comic Fest ’17: Up and Early for Social Fandom for Geek Properties
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(Left to right) Jonathan Tavss, Jenny Stiven, Matt Dunford, and Anina Bennett.

Bright and early on a Sunday morning, collected in San Diego Comic Fest’s make shift “Kirby Café” panelists Jenny Stiven, Jonathan Tavss (working in digital and social fandoms for over 20 years), Anina Bennett (once editor at First Comics and co-author and co-creator of Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel and the science fiction series Heartbreakers), and Matt Dunford (Comic Fest Chairman and President of Little Fish Comics) gathered to discuss the ever present and growing area of social media in regards to creators and fans.

Stiven began by recapping what was discussed during last year’s Comic Fest as to where the concept of “social fandom” came from; “…From the late 80’s where people gather on bulletin boards and talk about what their favorite creation was,” she said. “It was a great way for geeks to get together and talk online from around the world.”

Nowadays, the options are plentiful for this “social-fandom culture” to connect, share interests, and for better or for worse give their own comments. This growth in connectivity has given rise to what wasn’t possible before; Creators and intellectual property (I.P.) owners are now taking extreme notice to what fans are saying. Shocking, right? In the same realm, these creators are also reaching out to fans to let them know they are being heard.

“The power shift has really gone to the fans online,” continued Stiven. “The fans really started to drive some of the conversation for the publishers, for the studios with their ‘geek’ properties in a way that hadn’t happened before.” Of such examples, the Dealpool movies is one of the most recent and strongest. “That is a fan driven movie that came to be after a multitude of times that FOX said ‘no.’”

“I think what social [fandom] really does well is fill a number of huge gaps,” said Tavss. “One is that there can be feedback now for creators as an opportunity for those ‘2nd and 3rd tier’ creators to connect it a way that they couldn’t before because they couldn’t get the support of the major publishers.”

The power of these fan-driven conversations fueled by social media has also allowed the “smaller presses” to find fans, connect, and gain traction. For a time, only the “first-tier” presses and recognizable names were getting notoriety and winning awards. Now, we are seeing a greater diversity in what and who are getting nominated for awards, as Bennett discussed. “It used to be that way more superhero tales were getting nominated, and today it’s much more likely to be creator owned and creator driven comics that are nominated for the Eisner’s.”

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No one can deny the power of social media and thus the social fandom that has risen from it. The internet has provided a great platform for fans and creators to stand on. However, the panel also warned against creators delving too precariously into it. There are a great many social platforms now; Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat to name a few. “When you’re getting too concerned with finding the time to consistently post, no one is going to care,” warns Stiven. This means that creators should first focus on creating. From there, they should then find that fine-balance when they should post to social media as to keep their communities involved and interested.

Related to this idea of “too much” is deciding what platforms to use. Stiven said on the matter that, “It really comes down to the creator and what they’re comfortable with.” She also added, “Fans are the best people to have test these platforms as they have nothing to lose… Also, look to other creators and see what is successful to them.” Also, never underestimate the power of a traditional website. Fans will still want to see what you are up to and what you are currently creating.

The dangers of social fandom also extends to the very fans that keep it running. Matt Dunford discussed a story from a creator he knew that could have turned ugly. “He was about to confront someone that said his work was crap.” As Dunford explained it well, the best thing that a creator can do is to simply thank the commenter for reading and to ask what they didn’t like. “Be the bigger man… The trick really is being nice… You do not want to be that one person that someone says you’re a jerk… You cannot believe how fast a story can spread that can sabotage your career.” And you never know, valuable commentary might lead out of being the nice guy.

There’s no denying the power of social media and the power that it has given to fans, allowing social fandoms that can take the helms of conversations regarding major I.P.s. As a creator, you need to keep your fingers on the pulse of what fans are saying about you and also to you. Try to engage with them, listen to them (with a grain of salt) and be ever courteous. If you disrespect your fans, you may not like the wraith the internet can enact.

San Diego Comic Fest ’17: Arlen Schumer Pays Tribute to Jack Kirby and Denounces Stan Lee

San Diego Comic Fest ’17: Arlen Schumer Pays Tribute to Jack Kirby and Denounces Stan Lee
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Lecturer Alren Schumer with his book The Silver Age of Comic Book Art

Artist, illustrator, writer, and in a way Jack Kirby historian are a few of the titles that Arlen Schumer would claim for himself. The man of many talents is hard at work at this year’s San Diego Comic Fest, giving four “visualectures” throughout the convention weekend. Since SDCF is paying special tribute to the 100th birthday of the famous comic artist and writer Jack Kirby this year, it’s only fitting that one of Schumer’s lectures entirely revolves around Mr. Kirby.

The lecture was very comprehensive and chalked-full of Kirby history and facts. Before he began, Schumer apologized and said that to do Jack Kirby justice it would take more than the one-hour allotted time. In fact, the lecture ran to an hour and thirty minutes, where Schumer afterward admitted he still rushed through some parts. This indulgence was only permitted because Chairman of Comic Fest, Matt Dunford, was in the audience. “I’ll allow this,” said Dunford. “I’m the Chairman!”

“Fifty-years ago in the Fall of 1966, in Esquire Magazine, it was the first time a major magazine featured Jack Kirby’s Marvel characters,” says Schumer in his opening lines. “And [in the center] is Captain America, the character that Kirby most enjoyed drawing over his career.” What’s important about these lines, aside from that a majorly publicized magazine acknowledged a comic artist and his characters, is the fact that Captain America is front row and center in the image. In a large way, the character created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon embodies much of Jack Kirby’s early life and his hopes for this country.

mattdunfordheadshots201651Jack Kirby, born Jacob Kurtzberg, grew up in the lower-eastside of New York city, an educated son of Jewish immigrants. Early in his career, Kirby was a cartoonist for the black and white Popeye. Not satisfied with being an “in-between cell drawer,” Kirby sought to join the growing market of comics and began to contribute to the growing pool of “superheroes” after fledgling DC Comics debuted Superman. Jacob Kurtzberg and his partner Hymie Simon, who changed their names to Jack Kirby and Joe Simon respectively, began to produce their own “Superman knockoffs” as lecturer Schumer put it.

Their focus however was not entirely centered on the Superman clones. “They were more concerned with what was happening in Europe in the late 30’s and early 40’s,” points out Schumer. “They were two-young Jews who wanted to raise the consciousness of America, on what was happening. America didn’t want to fight Europe’s war; We were very isolationists… So what were two Jews to do? They created the most recognized American icon with Captain America.”

The “iconic-captain” became a sensation among readers in a time of war. Many kids and adults bought comics just so they could see the “evil-forces of Europe” getting their teeth knocked in. “Before you know it, punching Nazis’ and Hitler was a thing,” point out Schumer remarking on both the trend in copycat comics at the time surrounding the legendary image of Captain America punching Hitler, as well as the recent political and social climate within our own country at this moment.

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After the war, comic books began to lull in their sales and content. “There were no more Nazis to punch,” pointed out Schumer. Jack Kirby had to work on projects that he wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about, ranging from romances, to mysteries, to westerns. Not only did the content become questionable, but Kirby was fighting some battles in his own career. He had left Marvel comics and jumped over to rival DC Comics, a startling change that upset many comic fans even to the point of giving up comics altogether. This was not permanent though, as Kirby jumped between the two companies a number of times over the span of a few decades.

What becomes a heated point in Schumer’s lecture is that of the “Stan Lee vs. Jack Kirby” debate. Schumer himself didn’t hide that he is entirely in Jack Kirby’s corner, which ultimately makes sense. As an artist, Schumer symptomizes and relates more with the legendary Kirby. Where I stand in the issue, which still continues to this day, I won’t remark because this article isn’t about me. What I will say is that I agree with Schumer in that Kirby deserved more credit (in a legal standpoint) with creations of very iconic Marvel characters. It may be the writer who gives the character a soul, but it’s the artist who gives them a body.

mattdunfordheadshots201652The remainder of the lecture surrounded that of Kirby’s influences in both comics and other popular media. Whether intentional or not, Kirby’s clean and highly intricate art style can be seen mirrored in comics that are to follow, one of which being the “Kirby Krackle” that has become a staple in the industry. In Disney fashion, Kirby designed and proposed a theme park that was to rival that of Disneyland, featuring in the proposed renderings large structures based on the many gods that lived in in the artist’s mind. When it was apparent that that idea wasn’t going to be, Kirby decided to take what he had already made and adapt it for a movie, a movie with a script that was to rival the then popular Starwars; it was called Argo. In an odd twist of fate, the movie was purchased by the U.S. government in a plot to rescue U.S. citizens during the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis. As made known in the 2012 movie also named Argo, the U.S. faked a mission to scout for proposed sites to film a movie using the real script and Jack Kirby’s renderings to help the fictitious story. Though they did help to save American lives, which I’m sure the Captain America creator would be proud of, sadly Kirby’s movie ideas would never see the silver screen.

I feel bad that I can’t fit everything that Schumer discussed into one article unless I want it to be the size of a novella. The one thing to ultimately take away from the lecture is that this legend among comic book artists stretched his hands into many fields, and though he passed more than two-decades ago his presence and memory still lingers in the world of comics and if you look close enough, the world at large. To read more in-depth comic history check out Arlen Schumer’s 2003 book, The Silver Age of Comic Book Art. Also, check out his website at www.arlenschumer.com

San Diego Comic Fest Kicks Off with a Heavy Storm and Jack Kirby

San Diego Comic Fest Kicks Off with a Heavy Storm and Jack Kirby
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Founder Mike Towry (right) with Chairman Matt Dunford (left) dealing with last minute preparations.

As the winds howled outside and rain beat against the roof of the Four Points hotel by Sheraton, one thing was blatantly obvious: bad weather won’t stop dedicated comic book fans.

You’d think San Diego Comic Fest organizers and staff would have been disheartened by a stormy opening night, but everyone seemed to be in positive (albeit frantic) moods. Of course, there were the typical last minute hiccups; Registration staff searching frantically through their rolodexes for names while still setting up computer equipment, the promises of start times going thirty minutes beyond when they were intend, artist alley booths trying to find that fine line of where to set their tables far from the outer walls as the building informed them all while staying out of range from the leaking sunroofs above.

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Moai statue that greets everyone who enters the lobby.

After some preliminary photos, I waited in the registration line only to find that my pass was somewhere upstairs. “We don’t have the names yet for press. You’ll have to find Mike.” After a run upstairs (Oh, Mike isn’t here. He’s running around somewhere downstairs), then a run back downstairs (Hey, I’m Mike. I need to go upstairs to get the press stuff), I found myself going back up and then down again to the front desk registration with the elusive Mike where I finally got my badge. *Link’s obtaining of item music plays in background*

The great thing, however, is that none of this mattered. Waiting attendees merely waived off all the road bumps while they resumed their talks how they felt there was no need to adapt their favorite cartoon into a movie or how a good story and practical effects trumps CGI every time. Amidst this comradery of fandom, even I couldn’t stay upset.

As one enters the main lobby, the large “Moai” statue greets everyone. Off to the left of that there are signs pointing to the outside pavilion for vendors, which will be open as of the next day. The right offers much more; a bar area converted into the “Jack Kirby Café,” not yet opened at the intended 7 PM time as they put on some finishing touches. Beyond that, we have the all ages gaming area, the artist alley guarded by a T-Rex head, a live-art demonstration area guarded by “King Kong,” and (my personal favorite) artist alley.

Once the Jack Kirby Café is finally opened, we are greeted by walls plastered with covers of his comics. The bar features Jack Kirby inspired drinks such as “The Darkseid,” all created by Little Fish Comics founder Alonso Nunez.

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Alonso Nunez of Little Fish Comics discussing his drinks as Mike Towry looks on with thirst.

Here in the café is where the kickoff party began for SDCF, first with the introduction of Mike Towry, founder of San Diego Comic Fest and one of the original people responsible for San Diego Comic-Con. He welcomed everyone for attending the Comic Fest’s fifth year. “This year we are celebrating Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday,” he said. “He had a big influence on my life… that’s why we are celebrating him for this year’s Comic Fest.”

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Digital Lizards of Doom

Afterwards, Towry introduced Alonso Nunez who helped with preparations, and then afterward introduced the incoming Chairman, Matt Dunford (Uncle Dunfy to those who know him best). “As you can see,” said Towry remarking on the suited chairman, “we’re really bringing some class in here.” Dunford laughed it off and talked about the past Comic Fests thus far. “I remember when I attended the first Comic Fest five years ago,” he reminisced. “I thought it was pretty good… last year I felt that the convention had finally found its groove. It was the best so far! And now, I’m really excited for [this year’s].” After applause and cake for Jack Kirby’s 100th, the DJs named “Digital Lizards of Doom” greeted us to an 8-bit rendition of the Indiana Jones theme and other popular tunes with a charming nerdy twist.

Looking passed some “opening-night jitters,” I thought everyone was very charming, giving some promise for the next few days of San Diego Comic Fest. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Does San Diego need both San Diego Comic-Con and San Diego Comic Fest?

san_diego_comic-con_international_logo-svgOnce upon a time, there wasn’t a San Diego Comic-Con.

Some would mark this period as “The Dark Ages of Conventions” (those being myself). It was in this “long-long ago” (1970) that a collection of comic, movie, and science fiction fans came together and formed a small and intimate convention that would someday grow to become Comic-Con International.

Why am I speaking in fairytale talk? It’s rather befitting given the grandness of San Diego Comic-Con now. It is hard to imagine one of the largest popular media events of the year, which takes up almost all of downtown San Diego and boasted an attendance of roughly 167,000 people in 2015, as once fitting it’s then 300 attendees into a small section of the U.S. Grant Hotel. The mustard seed that was San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Con since then has sprouted into the gigantic San Diego Comic-Con.

The story doesn’t have an entirely “happy-ending” though, mostly because there isn’t an ending. The convention has indeed prospered and grown, but much of the same fans who have watched it expand over the years have expressed their displeasures with it as well. From complaints ranging anywhere from the heavy “Hollywood” presence to the sheer numbers of attendees, they feel like they have lost something once intimate. To them, the original focus of Comic-Con is long gone.

comicfest-2017-comiccon-posters-18x24-1It was from this pining for the early days of San Diego Comic-Con that Mike Towry (early co-founder of SDCC) and other fans agreed that something was to be done. This something was the beginning of San Diego Comic Fest in 2012. The “second convention”, produced by fans for fans, has placed an emphasis on the personal interface between creators and fans, as well as fans with other fans. Since then, the convention has been growing steadily.

Do we really need a “second – Comic-Con” though? Comic Fest may not boast the large exposure, big names, and huge crowds of Comic-Con, but in the same realm Comic-Con doesn’t have the intimate, personal connection that Comic Fest offers. I’ve been sad to witness over the years the small vendors and artist alley itself shrinking little-by-little at Comic-Con. Each of the conventions provide something that the other lacks. And let’s face it, Comic-Con isn’t for everyone either. That doesn’t mean fans should be turned away from celebrating what they love. Comic Fest is that experience to simply be a fan.

This year marks Comic Fest’s 5th anniversary, and to celebrate the date the fan-run convention has a number of things planned. During SDCF’s days of February 17th to the 20th, the convention will celebrate Jack Kirby’s centennial birthday with special programming and a “Kirby Café”, salute the 25th anniversary of “X-Men: The Animated Series”, feature Guest of Honor Jim Valentino, and more.

Whether you’re a fan of the early-years of Comic-Con, wish to relive how it would have been, or want to connect personally with creators and other fans alike, don’t miss out on this weekend’s 5th annual San Diego Comic Fest (and yes, now we lived happily-ever after).

Visit www.sdcomicfest.org for more information.