Valiant Summit ‘17: The “Little Comic Company That Could” Boasts of Record and More

Valiant Summit ‘17: The “Little Comic Company That Could” Boasts of Record and More
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Hunter Gorinson, VP of Marketing and Communications

2017 has brought about the 3rd annual “Valiant Summit,” where Valiant Entertainment teases some of the titles they are most excited to release in the ongoing year. Valiant is one of those independent comic companies that prides themselves more about the quality of work and the amount of dedication that goes into every book, rather than the rise and fall of sales figures. Don’t go thinking that I’m claiming they don’t care about sales. Any company that wants to stick around for the long haul does, but they don’t let numbers dictate what they feel makes a great story.

IMG_20170417_102737This year, the Valiant Summit was hosted by the guys at Hyper RPG, in the bowels of Los Angeles, California. Delivering the goods were Valiant’s CEO & Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani and Editor in Chief Warren Simons. Also, playing as moderator was Valiant’s own Hunter Gorinson, VP of Marketing and Communications. The three opened the summit with the announcement that their X-O Manowar #1 comic had just hit more than 90,000 copies sold. “X-O Manowar just launched this last March 22nd, and since has become the best-selling single comic issue by an independent company!”

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At this announcement, Matt Kindt, New York Times best-selling writer and writer for X-O Manowar, joined the Valiant crew and talked of this new series. “Aric has just been one of those characters that I was excited to work with,” he said. “Getting him back in ‘Barbarian-mode’ was one of my favorite things… Then getting him into an alien planet that felt real, has its own histories and peoples that we hadn’t seen before…We built this new world from the ground up.” For Kindt, he has major plans in the works for the character of Aric. As the first issue came with the word “Soldier” underneath the main title, it was revealed that the writer intends the character to rise up the ranks of this alien world throughout the series, eventually gaining the title of “Emperor.” “It’s going to be really interesting to see his evolution of character.” Looking ahead, Kindt reveals that there will be a separate story in issue #10 of X-O Manowar entitled “Bounty Hunter,” following a collection of alien bounty hunters. The story will also provide extra character development for Aric of Dacia in his storyline progression to the role of Emperor. This issue will release in December of 2017.

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Continuing with the writing talents of Matt Kindt, another new comic named “Rapture #1” will bring together both the recognizable characters of Ninjak and Shadowman. “This is going to be The Lord of the Rings for the Valiant Universe,” said Kindt of his new Rapture series. Of what Dinesh, Warren, and Matt hinted at, part of this story will explore the question of if the rather possessed Shadowman will eventually be redeemed or if he’s beyond redemption. The ninja and “soul-man” will invade store shelves this May.

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In other Valiant news, the story of Britania will be continuing with a new series; Britania: We Who Are About to Die #1. Written by Peter Milligan and illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp, this story will follow both the familiar Antonius Axia (“the world’s first detective”) and a new female gladiator who must both fight in the arena and survive plots made against her by the empire. This story will keep with the crime and mystery solving of the previous series, all the while presenting a thrilling tale of its own. Britania: We Who Are About to Die #1 will be on sale April 26th, 2017.

The month of May will be set aside especially for that of “Free Comic Book Day,” on which a special X-O Manowar Free Comic Book Day 2017 Edition will be available. Mark calendars for May 6th.

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June will see the likes of Valiant favorite “Livewire” in her first standalone comic. Secret Weapons #1 will be written by the Oscar nominated screen writer Eric Heisserer. The series will follow the likes of various “rejects” who find themselves being hunted down in the light of their existences. Some of their powers include: making objects glow, talking to birds, and making one’s skin harden. As Warren put it, “Think ‘Island of Misfit Toys.’” Definitely not belonging to any “A-Team,” Livewire will round up these “non-sequentials” and build them into an effective fighting force as to save the day and their very lives. Making a return will be the classic Valiant villain “Rexo.” “There’s a new plan for him,” said Dinesh. “A new program for him to follow that explains why he is back.”

For collectors and avid fans, Secret Weapons #1-4 will be available in “Pre-order Edition Bundles.” They will boast 8-pages of behind the scenes content and 4-expanded, 40-page issues. As the name implies, they will only be available for those who pre-order. See your local comic-book dealer for more details.

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2016 was a big year for both the comic Faith and its writer, Jody Houser. Fans fell in love with the voluptuous Faith and her “can-do” attitude when it came to saving the day. “They told me to take a look at Harbinger and see what characters stood out [to me],” said Jody. “[Faith] was the one that stood out to me… It’s been so much fun putting her optimism to the test.” Following her further, the new comic Faith and the Future Force #1 will bring together other superhero characters from the Valiant universe. Not only will the comic retain the writings of Jody Houser, but will also see the artistry of many artists, such as: Steven Segovia and Barry Kitsen. Not too many other details were made known, but Dinesh commented, “I know we’re being coy for now… but this is a book we’ve put a lot of time in with.” Faith and the Future Force #1 will be out July 2017.

Speaking of coy, when the month of August came into question, the only thing that Dinesh in Warren had to say were, “August is Classified… You got to wait and see.” Whether this was a silly way to tease a large title or just a cheesy marketing ploy, we’ll just have to do what they say and “wait and see.”

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Keeping with the theme of returning characters, September’s Bloodshot Salvation #1 will feature that of “Bloodshot” and the introduction of his daughter, Jessie. Jeff Lemire will be lending his writing talents to this project, in which Warren was most enthusiastic about. “I’m excited that Jeff has already written a year into this 15-issue comic, all with various arcs.” Hunter also added that, “There is nothing in this that is an accident… [Jeff Lemire] drawn a treasure map.”

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Valiant is greatly utilizing the writing talents of Matt Kindt, as we see him again in October for another new series: Eternity #1. “It takes off right after Divinity 3,” says Matt. “But now, there’s a baby!… But really, Divinity has a kid, and then loses him. He tries to use his powers to try to locate him, but finds that he can’t.”

No, this series shouldn’t be regarded as a continuation as Hunter pointed out. “It’s not ‘Divinity 4.’ Eternity uses Divinity 3 as a jumping off point… What you should also know is that ‘Eternity’ is not a person, but a place.” This ‘place’ is subtly hinted at being a science based universe. “We’re definitely going more cosmic,” said Matt. “I’ve been doing so much research on pocket universes, only to find that it’s a real thing.” Pocket universe, you say?

The color palettes for this comic appear to be plush with neon, resembling something of Jack Kirby’s New Gods. This appears to be intentional, as Dinesh, Warren, and Matt all acknowledged the likeness to Jack Kirby’s work. In all, the three men had a great deal to say about this project. “This is the most ambitious thing in comics that anyone is talking about,” said Warren.

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Valiant and their fans apparently love the character of Ninjak, as he has flit in and out of some of their various comics since his modern day appearance in X-O Manowar (2012) #5. Is it because he’s “Bit of a dick” as Warren Simons points out? But what of the ninjas that have come before him? What of the program that recruited him as “Ninja-K”? In November, we will see Ninjak as he tries to seek out the person or persons responsible for the murder various people connected to the Ninja Project. Ninja-K #1 will feature writer Christos Cage with the story periodically visiting those of Ninjas A through J, all spanning from World War I onward. Warren and Dinesh boasted that this comic will run 40-pages long and be a tone unlike that of any other Ninjak comic. “If you’ve never read Ninjak before, this won’t affect how you’ll enjoy Ninja-K,” said Dinesh.

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Finally reaching the end of the year, Valiant will be giving us the return of the outrageous and lovable likes of “Quantum and Woody.” Quantum and Woody! #1 sees the once buddies now no longer on speaking terms, only meeting once per day for the required slamming of their metal wristbands, because you know…the whole going to dissolve thing. This comic about the two adoptive brothers will delve into what happened to cause their falling out. Let’s hope it ends with a reconciliation, because you know…the whole going to dissolve thing. Expect Quantum and Woody! #1 out this December. And yes, more goat is in store.

At the end of the summit, Hunter, Dinesh, and Warren had one last teaser to give. “I know some of you might be asking yourselves, ‘What about Shadowman? Aren’t we going to get another Shadowman comic?” said Warren. “Nope, nope. Absolutely note,” answered Dinesh. This is not the case however, as on the display screen a familiar face with the terrifying image of hands literally pulling away at their face was shown, above emblazoned in red numbers was the date “3/28/18.” “That has always been a special date for Valiant,” said Dinesh, “and we always make sure something special happens on it.” Hopefully more information will be released as we reach the end of the year.

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This year’s summit had a great deal of announcements, planned releases, and a lot of Matt Kindt. Thank you Hunter, Dinesh, Warren, the various writers and artists of Valiant, and those of Hyper RPG for hosting the Valiant Summit this year. If Valiant holds up to everything they’ve promised during the summit, it’s quite possible they will be hitting more milestones like they did with X-O Manowar #1. For information on Valiant, visit their website at www.ValiantEntertainment.com, and for Hyper RPG, visit www.HyperRabbitPowerGo.com.

 

 

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: 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.

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!

San Diego Comic Fest’s Matt Dunford on the Convention, Jack Kirby’s 100th Birthday, and of course Comics.

San Diego Comic Fest’s Matt Dunford on the Convention, Jack Kirby’s 100th Birthday, and of course Comics.
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Matt Dunford, newly appointed chairman of San Diego Comic Fest

2017 will bring us yet another new year of comic conventions. When one thinks of San Diego and comics, it’s not difficult to summon images of San Diego Comic-Con, one of the largest celebrations of comics and popular media in the entire world. But there’s more to San Diego than just Comic-Con.

This year signifies the fifth year of San Diego Comic Fest. Just what is Comic Fest? As their website states, Comic Fest is:

…the friendly comic convention with a casual atmosphere and an intimate scale that allows fans to mingle directly with professionals and exhibitors. It’s the place where you can indulge your love of comics, science fiction, and films, and meet an outstanding array of professional creators without high-priced tickets, crowding, or long lines.

Not only is this “casual, comic-convention” celebrating its fifth year, but also the appointing of their new chairman, Matt Dunford. I had a chance to sit down with the Comic Fest chairman in San Diego’s Lestat’s Café on University avenue, which I might add is appropriately decorated with posters depicting iconic superhero franchises if they were played by legendary Hollywood stars and starlets. We spoke of himself, sharing his background in comics which legitimizes his appointment of chairman, and as well as Comic-Fest itself.

How long would you say you’ve had comics in your life?

I would say all my life. My recollections are that I started off with picture books; mainly the likes of Doctor Seuss type stuff, Little Critter, and a lot of Disney picture books, even before I could read. I remember I was always into the visual aspect of comics. There was this drive in me saying, “I need to see what they are saying… I need to be able to do this on my own… I don’t want my parents to keep reading this for me.”

The thing that really motivated me to read was back when I was about four or five years-old, I was a hardcore “Lego-pirate” fan. There was this comic book that came with a Lego set, called “Captain Redbeard and the Lost Golden Coin.” It was a Lego-pirate story adapted in comic form. I was so excited for it that I literally learned to read just so I could read this comic. Sometime after that, I was in Toys-R-Us with my dad. I think it was 1992. He wanted to find something for my “newly acquired reading abilities.” Then I saw it; This beautiful, shiny-holographic image of “Spider-Man” on this comic set. It was thirty comics that you could buy because it was the thirtieth-anniversary of Spider-Man. I just fell in love with it. It was my first time reading Spider-Man. I just read those issues until they were practically shredded. That’s when you could really say that my true comic book fandom started. All because of Spider-Man.

Over the years, how many comics would you say you’ve acquired?

At my peak, I would say maybe between fifteen and twenty-thousand issues that I’ve had over the years from just buying and buying; From garage sales, to comic stores, just buying on a weekly basis. Though I don’t really have that many in my collection anymore. I’m in the process of donating a lot of them to public facilities like Little Fish Comic Studios and of course to the pop-culture library at “San Diego State University” which is curated by Pamela Jackson. I’ve realized that they’re not doing me much good in storage. I’ve had my fun with them, so I rather that someone else can have their fun with them now.

But I understand your omnibus and absolute collection is still one to be rivaled.

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Matt Dunford next to “Marilyn Monroe is Power Girl,” by Joe Philips

Oh yeah. I’ve been told that I have one of the most impressive hardcover, graphic novel collections out there. The single-issue stuff I just read casually, but I just like the convenience of being able to pull a book off of the shelf and showing it off. I collect all the big-hardcover ones, the hundred-dollar ones, the absolute editions from DC Comics, the omnibuses from Marvel, and all the Dark Horse library editions. For me, those are the books that I want to line my walls. I would say that there’s between seven-hundred and eight-hundred giant, oversized-hardcovers that fill my room and my apartment. They just flood the place. I just can’t tear myself away from these stories.

You spoke earlier of Little Fish Comics. You’re very active with not only them, but you were also involved very much with Club Cosplay, and now of course Comic-Fest. What has motivated you to get so involved?

Little Fish is definitely one of the biggest moments that I had in terms of breakthroughs. It’s really where my activism in comics started. But it really began earlier. It was when I was at UC Santa Barbara and finishing up my degree when I decided to swing down to Meltdown Comics for the day for a talk that they were doing when the “Watchmen” movie was coming out. They had notable writer Len Wein, co-creator of “Wolverine” and “Swamp Thing,” and editor of Watchmen [comic]. He was talking about the editing of Watchmen as a process, and it was the first time I remember hearing what an editor does. I thought, “This is awesome. This is so cool. An editor just has to be a ‘know-it-all’ about comics and just sits there telling the writers and artists how to improve the story?’ It really fascinated me. So I just kind of made that my goal of fixation.

As I researched more about editors, I discovered the career of “comic book historian.” Again, I was like, “Wow. This is really good, too.” This then sparked my interest in comic history; Not just the stories themselves, but what goes into the stories, the people behind them. This was around 2009. At that year’s [San Diego] Comic-Con, at the Jack Kirby tribute panel, there was a professor there named Roger Freedman who was a professor of physics at, oddly enough, UC Santa Barbara. He was talking about how he was one of the founding-fathers of Comic-Con back in 69’ and he spoke of this great history.

After that, I would go up to his office during office hours at UCSB and just talk his head off all day. He would tell me these great stories from the sixties and the Comic-Cons of the seventies and about hanging out with these great icons and gods of the comic book industry. Eventually when it was my finals week, as I’m scrambling to get all my projects done he emails me and CC’s comic-historian Mark Evanier and cartoonist Scott Shaw, two of these gigantic figures in the realm of comic books. He was asking if we could come up with questions for a student at UC Santa Barbara who was actually getting his PHD in “Superhero-ology.” This thing was unheard of to me. So I took time off of my schedule to come up with some questions. When I sent my questions out in the email correspondence, Mark says, “These are actually spot on. I really wouldn’t change too much about it.” And Mr. Shaw said, “Who the hell is this Matt Dunford guy and why have I never heard of him?” And that’s when Roger first gave me my title of “Matt Dunford: The World’s Youngest, Comic Book Historian.”

comicfest-2017-comiccon-posters-18x24-1Steering towards the topic of Comic-Fest which of you are now the chairman, this is its fifth year, correct?

Yes, this is the fifth year for San Diego Comic-Fest.

How long have you been involved with Comic-Fest?

When they first made the announcement of it five-years ago, it was put together by Mike Towry and Richard Alf, who were in essence the founding-fathers of the San Diego Comic-Con. They wanted to bring a feel of the original Comic-Con way-back from the 1970’s when it was small and intimate. They tell a story often about when they invited Jack Kirby as their first guest of honor back in 1969. The first Comic-Con had about two-hundred and fifty attendees back when it was “San Diego’s Golden-State Comic Convention.” The second year, it attracted about five-hundred people. Jack being “the Da-Vinci” of the comic world said, “Look at how big it got! Look at this, it’s huge now. Soon it will be the place where Hollywood comes to show off the movies that they made last year and find the films that they’re going to make next year.” Everyone just laughed at Jack, saying that it would never get that big.

So, the mission of San Diego Comic-Fest was to bring the small environment of comics and comic-fandom into a place where you could interact with its creators and where it’s just not the hustle and bustle of two-hundred thousand people at a convention, but that small-intimate setting where you can meet the people and interact with them; Just hang out with them. It provides a different dynamic. Of course I do love San Diego Comic-Con in all its huge-glory, but I also think it’s a good change of pace. Where we can have this one-on-one with these creators.

What should we expect for this year’s Comic-Fest?comicfest-2017-comiccon-posters-18x24-2

Oddly enough I’m already planning for the 2018 show. I like to think big. I like to bring in guests that have an established past in the history of comics, but are still working on new contemporary projects, so we may have something for the older-crowds who may not be reading contemporary comics, but can still embrace the old stuff.

What we are going to be mainly doing this year, since 2017 is the centennial birthday of Jack Kirby if he were still alive, is a strong focus with a lot of programming towards him, the “King of Comics.” If you don’t know him, he is the co-creator of “Captain America, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four,” basically the majority of silver-age Marvel; We will be celebrating his history. There are certain other figures in the comic realm who get a little more credit for creating these characters, and I think we should be embracing Jack’s side of it, because he is a real unsung hero.

We also have a lot of other special guests. Since we are not just so focused on comics in general, we also have a science-fiction room. We will be bringing in science-fiction special guest of honor David Brin, who has won Hugo and Nebula awards. We will also be bringing in special guest authors Greg Bear and Gregory Benford.

On the comic side of things, we have Vivek Tiwary, author of the graphic novel “The Fifth Beatle,” which tells about the life of Brian Epstein, the Beatles then manager. Epstein took them from an underground band to the biggest pop-culture sensation on Earth. It’s his tragic story of being a gay, Jewish man in the 1960’s and his struggles with drug addiction and trying to stay in the closet. On the animation spectrum, we will be bringing in John Semper, JR., who is of course the writer of my all-time favorite cartoon, the 1990’s “Spider-Man: The Animated Series,” which pretty much skyrocketed my Spider-Man fandom to levels unknown. We also will have Liam Sharp, a UK comics creator, currently the highlighted artist on the widely-acclaimed “Wonder Woman.” He’s just been doing the best work of his career right now with that comic. With every issue, my jaw basically drops. There will also be Mike Royer, Jack Kirby’s inker for most of his artwork throughout the 1970’s. He’ll talk about those years and then his years as an animator with Disney on the “Winnie the Pooh” cartoon.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “X-Men” cartoon, we will have some of show’s creators, including Eric and Julia Lewald and Larry Houston. An finally to top things off, we will be celebrating our guest of honor Jim Valentino of Image Comics, highlighting Image’s 25th year anniversary.

Thank you, Comic Fest’s chairman Matt Dunford, in taking the time away from your busy comic-laden schedule. San Diego Comic Fest will be next month, February 17th to the 20th. Everyone interested in attending, check out their website: www.sdcomicfest.org