WonderCon ’17: Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman Share Touching Memories of Jack Kirby

WonderCon ’17: Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman Share Touching Memories of Jack Kirby
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Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman

This year marks the 100th year anniversary of legendary comic book writer and artist Jack Kirby’s birth. The artist’s influence has undeniably touched the comic book industry, helping to change and shape it forever. Of many that have personally met the icon, they would say he was always friendly, took the time to talk to them, and was very encouraging to those who said they were trying to become artists themselves.

Of those that knew him best, long-time assistants and friends Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman have made it their life’s duty to keep Mr. Kirby’s memory and legacy remembered and alive. At this year’s Anaheim WonderCon, both these men, accompanied by Rand Hoppe (executive director of the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center), Paul S. Levine (attorney to the Jack Kirby estate), and Scott Dunbier (Special Project Editor at IDW Publishing), were eager to share stories of the comic book icon.

“While I was downstairs on the sales floor,” began Mark Evanier, “I was asked ‘Why do you celebrate Jack Kirby.’ I just stared at them and said ‘Jack Kirby is our industry.’ And then looking around, at just about every booth I could see his influence… So much of [it] is what Jack did.”

On the large projection screen in the room, a black-and-white image flicked into life. In the center was a sitting Jack Kirby, flanked on each side by a young Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman. “This was shortly after Jack moved to California,” instructed Evanier, himself seventeen at the time and Sherman twenty. “Steve and I formerly went to work for him in 1970. At the same time, we were entrusted with the information that he was leaving Marvel for D.C… He need people that he could rely on. It probably took us half-a-second to tell him ‘yes.’”

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Rand Hoppe and Paul S. Levine

Throughout the years, Evanier, Sherman, and later attorney Levine had to watch and weather the denial of Mr. Kirby’s co-creator status and credits. “He wanted only two things,” explained Evanier. “He wanted acknowledgement for what he had done and that his family would be financially secure.” Sadly, it took years after Jack Kirby’s death until this would be realized.

Many efforts have gone into the archiving of Jack Kirby’s work and legacy. Scott Dunbier with IDW has had a large hand in seeing special works of Mr. Kirby getting produced in large and lovely artists editions. “In conjunction with the ‘Jack Kirby Museum,’ IDW came out with last December the Jack Kirby: Pencils and Inks Artist Edition,” said Dunbier. “When we started doing the artists editions, I was so happy. I use to be an art dealer, and so when I would see these small prints, I would feel they didn’t do the art justice… Kirby drew in 12.5” by 18”, and these artists editions are printing in 15” by 20”, showing every detail, including the edges of the paper he worked on.”

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Paul S. Levine and Scott Dunbier

The next Jack Kirby artist edition, Forever People, will be coming out sometime next month, and then later the second Fantastic Four book. All those who are part of the Jack Kirby estate have been pleased with IDW’s work. “Scott made sure to stay in contact with the estate,” said Levine. “Him and IDW have been very respectful.”

For Rand Hoppe, he’s had a hand in the preservation of Jack Kirby’s work for a number of years now. “At some point, I had the weird idea to learn how to create a website. I decided it should be on Jack Kirby.” With some help by John Morrow, who co-founded the Jack Kirby Collector magazine, Hoppe used the now-very defunct service “CompuServe” to create a Jack Kirby online art archive. “Currently, we have 5,000 original art scans and 7,500 photo copy scans.” Hoppe also currently educates students on Jack Kirby and his work.

Steve Sherman chimed in with his own memories of Jack Kirby. “Jack was a wonderful guy. He could connect to anybody. He was just interested in people… Always gave people the time.” Here he recalled the time that Evanier and himself were at the second house that Mr. Kirby moved into when he lived in the Thousand Oaks area. “The house had a big section of gravel in front of it. In comes Joe Kubert (a comic book artist who worked at DC) and his family in the largest R.V. that I had ever seen… The next day, Jack had drawn what looked like a huge R.V. with thrusters on the side of it and put it into the comic he was doing at the time… He just could take anything that he found fascinating and incorporate them into his stories.”

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The entire panel went this way, with Evanier, Sherman, and Levine sharing stories of Jack Kirby and his work. There were more stories than I could possibly fit into this article. The entire experience was both educational and very fascinating. Before the panel ended, Mark Evanier told the audience to be sure to attend San Diego Comic-Con. “I really can’t say a lot, but if you look at the cover of the San Diego Comic-Con souvenir book, you’ll see Jack Kirby in a big way there.” He had also mentioned that there would be something “very special” planned for Mr. Kirby’s 100th birthday. “Everyone will be very surprised and happy.”

WonderCon ’17: Industry Artists Give Insight on How to Draw for Action Scenes

WonderCon ’17: Industry Artists Give Insight on How to Draw for Action Scenes
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Left to right: Jessica Tseang, Hope Larson, Andy Park, Marguerite Sauvage

Many an artist of the comic, graphic novel, and manga format will cringe when the respective writer they work with asks for the dreaded “action scene.” Perhaps more confusing than the rendering of hands, the action scene can easily confound any veteran artist; Do I go for a side-profile view, or over the shoulder? Is this running scene supposed to be blurry, sharp, or just vague lines of direction? How the heck do I make this choking scene look believable? To discuss this, moderator Jessica Tseang (comic book historian and founder of Little Geek Girl) gathered industry artists Hope Larson, Andy Park, and Marguerite Sauvage.

 

Tseang started the ball rolling by asking, “Has your style changed over the years?”

Hope Larson who has produced the webcomic series I Was There and Just Returned, worked on a graphic novel adaption of A Wrinkle in Time, and has her own publishing imprint called Tulip Tree Press, was first to answer. “Oh yes. I’ve been [drawing] action for about five to six years now… And now, I am working on Batgirl,” she said.

Andy Park, Korean comic book and concept artist who’s worked on the Tomb Raider comic and on the Visual Development team for Marvel Studios, also agreed that his art has greatly changed. “I don’t think there isn’t anyone who’s style doesn’t change over time.”

Marguerite Sauvage also chimed in, having the unique position of being an illustrator who later found herself getting into comics. “I’ve been in the comic book industry for three years now,” she said. “As I use to be an illustrator, it was a big change to do full page narrations… [For comics], you have to think of the story you want to tell with the action.”

The depiction of action through writing or art almost come from two different mindsets. On this subject, Larson said it was “about the emotion” that the art can illicit. Park said it was like the “concept art versus creature design” in which he has to deal with during visual development. “For Sony Pictures and Marvel I have to do ‘key frames,’ which mark the beginning and end of an action sequence. My comic book past really helped me a lot with this… like [when I worked] on Tomb Raider.”

Especially for aspiring artists, the thought of “color or black-and-white” will eventually arise. “Sometimes it’s good to do everything in grayscale to get some texture,” said Sauvage. “To me, color just seems like a luxury.”

“I think it works both way,” chimed in Park. “These are tools after all… they can add or detract.”

Perhaps one of the most prevalent questions a veteran artist will be asked is, “What advice can you give to find one’s style?” To this, Sauvage said, “By digesting influences. When I was young, I copied everything that I liked… It’s a long process to find that balance. As if to clarify this, Andy Park added, “Jim Lee was my number-one artist. I wanted to be like him. I’d copy in the beginning [of my art] and study. I really emulated more than copied… I never wanted to be [Jim Lee’s] clone, and didn’t really concern myself with finding my style. I just drew. It should come naturally. Just trust that it will come.”

“You’ll have your own quirks that you’ll lean into,” said Larson still on the subject. “That’s part of your style, so make sure you incorporate them.” And like the others, she added, “It’ll come naturally.”

Getting back to the idea of depicting action, the three artists shared some tips to keep in mind. The most common and basic words of advice they had were to study action, know anatomy, watch videos on fighting like MMA, expand the panel to two or more if what you’re trying to convey is too involved, and to of course read comics or watch animation. “There’s a thing called the ‘One-hundred and eighty degree’ rule,” instructed Andy Park. “What it says is to not switch back between one point of view to the other. If you have to do it, maybe have a transition panel to break it up.”

The idea of conveying quickness is another action detail that varies from artist to artist. Should it be uniform across the board? “It depends on the scene,” said Hope Larson. “Having a preference is why writers work with specific artists,” responded Park. To this, Larson added, “That’s why I like working with a writer who’ve I worked with many times before. It’s not that I don’t like working for other writers, but with those I’ve worked a lot with, I know what they want.”

Lastly, the three artists discussed the validity of changing one’s style purposefully to fit a particular writer or market. “I feel they hire me because of my style,” said Marguerite Sauvage. “If I change, I feel like they would say, ‘What have you done!?’”

Andy Park said, “In my job as a concept designer for film, we are encouraged not to have a style… I feel like I have to take [it] out if I find it creeping in.”

To share the negative side of changing one’s style, Hope Larson had this to say; “I’ve been working for so long that I feel like I get approached for my style. I’m actually working on a book right now where I want to change my style, but when my publisher saw it, they told me I can’t. That if I didn’t do it in my usual style, no one would know it was me.”

More or less digressing into a panel surrounding one’s style than depicting action, the three artists still had valuable advice that any beginning or struggling artist should take to heart.

WonderCon ’17: Annual End of Con Talk Back with John Rogers Hits Record

WonderCon ’17: Annual End of Con Talk Back with John Rogers Hits Record
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John Rogers: President of Comic-Con International

Marking the end of every WonderCon and San Diego Comic-Con, John Rogers, Comic-Con International President, sits alone at the raised table and readies himself for what is typically a slew of questions and comments. As is also customary, he greets the room and asks for patience while he takes notes during each question. “Often, people think I’m ignoring them. I just take too long with writing my somewhat-legible notes.”

It’s worth mentioning that WonderCon made a brief visit to Los Angeles last year, as the Anaheim Convention Center was unable to accommodate due to construction to the structure. The fact that WonderCon was for now back at Anaheim was praised by a few people who took to the microphone. “It makes me really happy to see that it’s back here this year.”

Among the annual comic conventions, WonderCon is the darling of con-goers, evident by how many positive things they had to say today. This is undoubtedly due to the organizers’ steady planning and continuous communication with the facility managers. “This is a well-run convention… The exhibit floor was amazing; Easy to navigate, stand, sit, etc.” John Rogers and everyone else involved with the convention’s organizing has had the benefit of “cutting their teeth” with San Diego Comic-Con, seeing what works and doesn’t work, and applying it to WonderCon. You might be asking, “If that’s so, then why are there so many complaints every Comic-Con?” Simply, Comic-Con is a much larger event compared to that of WonderCon. Also, as John Rogers said a couple years back during one of these Talk Backs, “San Diego Comic-Con grew too fast, making it difficult to control now… with WonderCon, we made sure to slowly grow, letting us have a better handle on it.”

Again bringing up their flagship Comic-Con, one of the major issues with the convention usually revolves around the handling of ADA services being too disorganized. However, WonderCon appears to not have this issue as one convention attendee claimed. “Handicap services are fantastic… There was great crowd and line management, and a great job done with the aiding of ADA attendees… I have someone with me that is in a wheelchair. She told me that she feels safe here, and yet she never feels safe at a place like Target!”

TalkBack_1This year’s extent of complaints were very minimal, one of which dealt with the parking issue that occurred on Saturday. “Friday and Sunday went very well for parking, but Saturday was bad,” meaning that both finding available parking was difficult, and that there was a lack of direction of where to park instead. Another attendee seconded this, saying that there had been no mention by anyone that only people staying in the hotels could utilize their paid-parking structures. The same person also added that he wished there was someone giving direction at the Arena. “When I got out of there, I had no idea where I was going or how to get back. I just sort of had to wander around for a while.”

Another issue was that of inadequate seating for a few panels that had higher attendees than was expected, and a lack of direction with a couple of the panel’s guests and moderators.

Overall, the Talk Back was nearly all positive feedback and praise, finishing just under ten-minutes! A record as far as WonderCon goes, and an unheard of thing for that of Comic-Con, which is lucky if it can finish within the designated hour allotment.

Another great WonderCon is in the books, and president John Rogers says news of next year’s WonderCon will be coming soon. Stay tuned!

WonderCon ’17: How to Write Great Dialogue for Cartoons and Comics

WonderCon ’17: How to Write Great Dialogue for Cartoons and Comics
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Marv Wolfman and Craig Miller

Ever wondered what the differences were for writing with a book in mind versus that of animation or comics? Are you an aspiring writer who feels they could use this sort of delineation in their writing? At the 2017 Anaheim WonderCon, writers Marv Wolfman, Craig Miller, Ernie Altbacker, and Holly Huckins all discussed the important distinctions that all animation and comic writers should keep forefront in their minds, as well warned of the pitfalls of inauthentic dialogue.

Craig Miller, long time writer and producer, having worked on such shows as The Smurfs, Beast Wars, and The Real Ghostbusters, was the moderator for this panel. He began by saying he originally envisioned only discussing the topic of animation writing, but chose to open it to comics as well to accommodate his friend and fellow writer, Marv Wolfman. Some of Wolfman’s credits are the 1968 Blackhawk, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the 1984 four-part story line Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. “Today, we will focus on an aspect of writing,” began moderator Miller. “Primarily this was intended for animation, but we will talk some comics as well.”

Recalling a time from when he worked on Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, he shared a moment where actor Harrison Ford yelled at George Lucas regarding a piece of dialogue that he was supposed to say. “You can type this [stuff], but you can’t say it!” What this alludes to is dialogue that reads pretty, but is unnatural to say in regular conversation. “You may think you can write pretty and may want to show off those skills,” said Miler, “but you need to write dialogue that seems natural and real… what you would [normally] say.”

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Holly Huckins and Ernie Altbacker

A recommendation on how to make sure what you write is “natural” sounding is trying to say it out loud. Each of the writers agreed that this a great method. Holly Huckins, mostly a writer for comedy animation who’s worked on Rugrats, Recess, and Totally Spies!, says she either gives it to someone to read or tries to be present when the voiceovers do their readthroughs. “It’s hard for people who didn’t write [the dialogue] to read it.” If you need to explain how to read it, it might need some revision. As a last comment on this topic, Wolfman added, “Your job as a writer is to communicate. Don’t try to show off what you think you can do. Try and make it something that you could see yourself speaking.”

Craig Miller shared another story about poor dialogue, this time going even further back in television history. “After the I Love Lucy Show, in one of her many off-shoot shows, there was a part where she’s trying to open a door, but having a difficult time doing it. Then, someone comes in saying ‘Just jiggle it a little, it’ll open,’ but faster than he should of for the line. Of course, Lucy can’t understand this, and another person comes through, saying the exact same thing with the same speed… This must have been a jab at one of the writers, Lucy showing just how ineffectual the writing is in everyday language.” He laughs at this, then tells the moral of his story. “We think we can write just because we are taught it in school. But what we learn there is proper grammar, which in everyday talk we certainly don’t use.”

Another topic for discussion was the manner in which an individual character would speak, from their word choices, intonations, and even their accents. “Every character should sound different; even if you can’t see a face or hear their voice, you should know that [their dialogue] would be something they normally say,” said Miller. Wolfman responded to this, saying, “You need to know about your character inside and out… even if that means making a character sheet for them. A trick that I tell all beginning writers is to think of someone who exists and use them as a template as you figure [your character] out.”

For comics, the art of balancing the amount of dialogue in one frame can be very difficult. “Every panel is like a snapshot,” said Wolfman. “Write out that snapshot, and if it somehow doesn’t fit, cut it into halves, and then cut it into quarters if you need to… You have to get it too fit so it works in the box with the art.” Ernie Altbacker, writer for cartoons and kid shows such as Justice League Dark and the recent animated adaption for Teen Titans: Judas Contract, said that a writer needs to ask themselves, “’What do I need to do to carry the story along with the least amount of information,’ because again, we don’t talk that way.”

At the end of the day, what these veteran writers are trying to impart is that dialogue for animation and comics must sound “natural,” or rather, “authentic.” If it’s how you would see yourself, your friends, your family, and your work mates talking, then it will be both understood better by the people reading/listening to it, and to the voiceovers who have to speak it if you are writing for animation. Don’t get overly involved, but stay true to your characters, true to the story progression, and true to everyday language.

WonderCon ’17: Comics Change the World: A History of Activism in Comics

WonderCon ’17: Comics Change the World: A History of Activism in Comics
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Alex Cox of CBLDF

If you are familiar, or in the least semi-familiar, with the early history of the comic medium, images of fit men flying and punching everything in sight while wearing tights might blip through your imagination. Perhaps to your surprise, comics in the early 1900’s were diverse and meant for a broad audience. In fact, it was not unheard of for those comics to be used as political, social, and economic soapboxes for their creators. As discussed in room 208 of this year’s WonderCon by CBLDF’s Alex Cox, the history of comics and activism have come a long ways together.

“All the examples I have for you today were controversial in their own way,” said Alex while he prepped the PowerPoint he was going to present. He then looked over the crowd and gave an apology. “I’m working with a hundred years-worth of material here, and I didn’t know just how over my head I was until I started putting this lecture together.” He added that if anything, this was to be the lecture’s first “test run,” where certain omissions were to be expected. Eventually, when the odd bits and crooked corners were straightened out, he said it would be posted on their website. “I also left out [our] work from this. It seemed like the humble thing to do.”

The presentation began with a look at 1912, with comic legend Winsor McKay, best known for his eternal Little Nemo. “Windor McKay was deeply political and a pacifist,” said Alex as he showed strips entitled The Victor and Three More Days of the Suffrage Hike to Washington. 1913 had the likes of Nell Brinkley. “She was a very modern woman of the time,” said Alex. “She began to cartoon at the age of sixteen, and eventually caught the eye of William Hurst, who supported the arts.”

The 1920’s brought about socialist ideas surrounding President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” a response to The Depression. Harold Grays used his comic Little Orphan Annie to express his dislike for President Roosevelt’s program. “[Grays] worked at the Chicago Tribune and got a lot of support from his boss, who also disliked Roosevelt’s New Deal.” On the other side of that, comic icons Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster loved the program. “Superman was partially due to the New Deal; An alien to planet Earth who works his way up in life… Early on he fought dishonest stock brokers, slum lords, corrupt politicians… He was a post-depression hero.”

War marked a great deal of the 1940’s. With it, comic publishers used their properties as pro-war propaganda. Jack Kirby, another comic legend, co-created Captain America during this time. Iconic is the image of Captain America punching Adolf Hitler in the face. “G.I.s were buying these types of comics by the truckload,” said Alex. The Little Orphan Annie comic had also became pro-war, asking for the sale of war bonds and urging aluminum drives.

After WWII, the 1950’s saw a rising again in the approach to social issues. “EC Comics, started by William Gaines’ father, use to be educational, geared toward religious studies… After his father died, Gaines turned it towards entertainment.” EC Comics is important because it introduced “New Direction Magazine,” which didn’t shy away from hard-hitting social issues. One comic that Gaines tried to push was one called Judgement Day, which featured an African-American astronaut. “The Comics Code kept rejecting the comic for various reasons… finally saying they would not publish it do to the black-main character.” In response to this, Gaines just about shut down every one of his company’s projects out of spite, except for a little magazine you might know called Mad Magazine.

The 1960’s became a time for the rise of women’s issues in comics, especially with the likes of Wimmen’s Comix.” “It was the first comic to feature an out lesbian,” said Alex. Afterward, the 70’s became marked with more cutting-edge satirical comics, with the likes of National Lampoon, a far different entity to how we know it today. It wasn’t long after this that Mad Magazine followed suite and increased their level of satire. Another important work of the 70’s was 1973’s Abortion Eve. “On the heels of Roe VS. Wade, this educational comic was released as a way to discuss women’s issues. Of course, it was also very controversial.”

Throughout the next couple decades, we got the likes of Blume County, Bill the Cat, Dykes to Watch Out For, The Boondocks, Love is Love, and many more comics regarding activist stances. However, with time running out on the panel, Alex Cox had hardly any time to thoroughly discuss them.

If we are to take at least one thing from this lecture, is that the comic medium is a great place for artists and writers to express the ideas and concerns that they feel are important for today’s world. Though it has a booming entertainment side, comics are also a refuge for activists and hopeful people who want only to bring about positive change in our society.

WonderCon ’17: News of Comic-Con Expansion Looking Unsure and Sales Floor Preview

WonderCon ’17: News of Comic-Con Expansion Looking Unsure and Sales Floor Preview
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David Glanzer: Chief Communications and Strategy Officer

*As a foreword, this was meant to post for yesterday. But still great news inside!*

Returning to Anaheim this is year is the “fan-loved” WonderCon. For those who attended WonderCon last year, the highly-adored comic convention brought to us by none other than Comic-Con International was temporarily held in Los Angeles last year due to scheduling conflicts with the Anaheim Convention Center. To my joy, it has returned to Anaheim (for now at least).

 

Early on this Friday morning, Chief Communications and Strategy Officer David Glanzer met with various press outlets for a quick welcome and rundown of WonderCon history. “Thirty-one years ago, WonderCon began in Oakland,” he said. “…When resources weren’t there, organizers asked [us] to take over… WonderCon was a fun show and a great vibe, and it was felt that if it ended, it would send a negative message about the validity of comic conventions.” After some deliberation, Comic-Con International took over WonderCon, consequently seeing moves to San Francisco, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and of course this year back to Anaheim.

What may overshadow this convention for me, however, is what David Glanzer said at the end of his quick press meet and greet regarding the fate of San Diego Comic-con. “Comic-Con International does it’s best to listen to it’s fans,” he said. “We want to stay in San Diego as long as we can.” He informed our small group that the greatest remarks that he hears every year by fans is the cramped confines of the San Diego’s Convention Center and the high-price of hotel stays. “We listen to our attendees very closely,” he reiterated. The frankness in his words was if he was beginning the setup of some really-bad news. “Home base is San Diego, but that doesn’t lock us in.” There were some words of hope though as Mr. Glanzer told us that the city of San Diego will hopefully discuss this fall making the convention center expansion “contiguous” instead of “non-contiguous.” As Glanzer explained it, the current hopes of a convention expansion appears doubtful as other users of the convention don’t feel the expansion will in anyway benefit themselves. “An expansion for just Comic-Con doesn’t seem plausible.” More hope is that if San Diego gets the soccer stadium that is currently being pushed, that venue will also utilize some space at the San Diego Convention Center, aiding the idea of the expansion.

Moving away for now with this troubling news, we have to remember the focus of this weekend is WonderCon. WonderCon always features great booths (vendors, artists, small publishers and large publishers) and fun panels (fan driven or studio held). Many colorful and fantastic booths were still being set up a mere two-hours before the convention’s start.

WonderCon_0030_1Disney Music Emporium stands out as a quaint throwback to a record store. Rob Souriall, Vice-President of Global Marketing for Disney Music Group showed off their wares that were being featured at this year’s WonderCon. “Disney Music Emporium focuses on physical, collectible music merchandise, as we are seeing them disappear from store shelves,” says Souriall. In our expanding digital world, Disney Music Emporium sells prominently vinyl records that are also art pieces, with each side fully-colored graphics. Featured are seven-inch vinyl records for Inside Out, a collection of five that feature different covers and a unique “Side-B” soundtrack. Using the Star Wars property, Disney Music Emporium has this year the “First Market Star Wars: Rogue One Vinyl Soundtrack,” by Michael Giacchino, original Star Wars music by John Williams. If you need something to play these records on, for $100 you can also purchase the Mickey Mouse inspired “Suitcase Turntable” by Crosley.

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WonderCon_0037_1In “geek-fashion,” Her Universe’s founder Ashley Eckstein is present to announce the release of her new line of workout clothing geared towards comic fans of the female variety. A collaboration of Her Universe and DC, this Kohl’s exclusive product not only was announced today, but also launched. Coinciding with the launch, Ashley Eckstein also made available a series of three workout videos all featuring herself. They are available for free online with each one themed with either Superman, Wonder Woman, or Batman inspired exercises. The Her Universe booth will also be selling a limited amount of signed “Ahsoka Funko POP! Vinyl figures.” This is quite fitting as Ashley was also the voice of “Ahsoka” on the Star Wars Animated show. Originally a Hot Top exclusive that quickly sold out, these figures are back for limited run with Her Universe only.

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WonderCon_0041_1San Diego based IDW has “a lot of great announcements this WonderCon,” says Steven Scott, IDW Publishing’s Public Relations Manager. At the IDW Publishing booth, the company will be selling a myriad of items, such as: A thirteen issue, limited run of Transformers VS. G.I. Joe, a story that was imagined as movie, then adapted as a comic. Fun part is that they just cut out the actual movie part; A Batman – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventure comic, a take on Bruce Tim’s Batman: The Animated Series if it met the mutated reptiles. Limited to 500 copies, it’s a black-and-white variant cover of the #5 issue; Unique to the convention, IDW has “Deluxe Packs”, which are guaranteed to have $40 worth of comics inside and a Wyonna Earp #8 comic with a signed insert by “Katrina Barrell,” actress of the show’s “Officer Nicole Haught” character. IDW will also have two signings of their hit Love is Love comic, a collaboration with DC that raised $160,000 for the victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, and more announcements at their panel which takes place later today.

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WonderCon_0045_1Valiant, the small comics publisher that has always strived for “quality-storytelling” is proud of their latest release, XO Manowar #1. Released on March 22nd, Matt Kindt of Valiant says that the comic is reaching “records.” He believes that it will even make it into the Top 10 on the comic sales charts, making it a first for Valiant. “It’s unheard of to have a small publisher like us make it on there.” Great things are instore this year for Valiant, including a multi-movie deal with Sony, release of Secret Weapon (a comic featuring the character “Livewire” in her solo role), and a possible television series for one of their properties. Despite the branching into other media, Kindt reminds us that, “Despite the movie deals, we are still a comic company. Quality over quantity is what we believe in.”

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Overall, WonderCon seems as fun-filled and bright as it always does and I am looking forward to having another exciting year her. But with the introduction of some disheartening news about San Diego Comic-Con, it really puts a damper on this reporter’s weekend. More to come about WonderCon over the next few days.

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: 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!