Lou Scheimer, a visionary!

Lou Scheimer has passed away. Scheimer is an unsung hero of American entertainment and animation. So often, people like Walt Disney steal that limelight, but Scheimer helped keep American animation alive through the 70s and 80s while other production companies turned to cheaper overseas studios. Scheimer had an imagination, a talent with voices, and the ability to lead and feed a team of dreamers and artists. Five years ago, I interviewed Lou over the phone several times for a book I was working on. Lou was warm, gracious and full of stories. I know he had been struggling with his health for some time. By strange coincidence, I have been re-watching He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and realizing that the man behind one of the most prominent voices in that show is now gone, a man so kind to me, is hard to take. He will be remembered by all fans of American animation as a visionary!

Enemy of the World is one of Troughton’s Best!

Doctor Who Enemy of the World art

On October 11, 2013, the BBC announced that 11 episodes of Doctor Who, 9 of those missing from the archives for over 45 years, had been returned, restored and made available over iTunes. Discoveries of missing episodes are rare, and there are still 97 missing from the Black & White era of the classic sci-fi show. However, I’d like to say that contrary to popular opinion, I think the better of the two stories returned is Enemy of the World and not Web of Fear. While both stories give us an ascendant 2nd Doctor at the height of his powers, it’s Enemy that is worse for wear. Enemy showcases Patrick Troughton’s range, gives an entertaining adventure / suspense story, with quality acting and plenty of twists and turns.

Doctor Who Web of Fear cover

The story also gives us VERY strong female roles, in the form of Mary Peach as the female James Bond of the piece Astrid Ferrier. Astrid is easily a sex symbol, not only for her fashionable beehive and leather / PVC outfit, but the way in which she is never treated like a powerless victim. Instead, she is an emancipated heroine who retains her feminine qualities. She is a great model for future companions and would have made a great replacement for the terrified and out-of-her-league screamer, Victoria. Unusually for the period, a black actress is given a prominent role in the form of Carmen Munroe as the jaded and vengeful food taster, Fariah. She is one of the stars of the story, with her dialogue and performance hinting at her exploitation at Salamander’s hands. Both characters are delightfully interesting and real, but thankfully are not alone among this serial’s selling points.

Web of Fear follows on directly from this story, and while Troughton is excellent, along with Colonel Lethbridge Stewart and the action packed battle in episode 4, Web flops about a bit with padding, irritating cultural stereotypes and hammy possession acting toward the end. Nevertheless, later in the series, Troughton began playing the role more for humor and became a little predictable and less inspiring, so I’m therefore very pleased to have two of his best stories available again to the masses!

Enemy of the World is the underrated gem here, and I hope now that it’s fully available, more people will revise their opinion of the serial and place it among this era’s very best. Leanne and I were both surprised how much more we enjoyed it and how well it held up to our previous viewing.

Doctor Who Web of Fear cover

We have watched the entire classic series together, from start to finish — including fan made recons. Over the years, several of the stories perceived to be classics have lost some of their shine after viewing them more objectively. Fury from the Deep for example, is a solid story, with plenty of little moments, but it is not as exciting as some of the others. Frequently I see Web of Fear top the charts ahead of Evil of the Daleks on people’s lists, yet in recent years I’ve come to appreciate Evil of the Daleks far more. Here we see Jamie and the Doctor’s relationship at its most engaging, and Victoria is where she belongs — a guest character. And for the record, Web of Fear episode 4 was at the top of my list of episodes I wanted to see returned because of the action segment involving Lethbridge-Stewart and the Yeti in London. Having been a fan for going on 30 years of my life now, I am still blown away by the fact we have just received a windfall of missing episodes to enjoy like fresh new stories. I got chills watching them live once again. But on our previous viewing we also noted how good Enemy of the World appeared to be, and the recovery of the episodes has confirmed and reinforced that. In my opinion, Web, the story most revered, while riveting, can never sit comfortably on the pedestal upon which many fans have placed it. Power, Evil and Enemy are just too good for it be there alone.

The BBC Shop will be releasing two commemorative t-shirts in November with original artwork for both stories. These are available to pre-order now. The more money the BBC makes out of these recovered episodes, the better treatment for possible future releases. I know I’ll be getting one.

Here’s hoping my personal favorite, Marco Polo is in the works…

America’s Cup thoughts: New Zealand’s Youngest Sibling Syndrome

America's Cup 2013

Other than the unspoiled, dramatic landscapes, there are two things New Zealand is known globally for. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and the All Blacks international rugby team. They put NZ on the map. Made people aware that, metaphorically, there’s a quite handsome kid standing in the shadow of Australia. But a good deal of NZers seem to think there is a third: the America’s Cup. And they are wrong.

Most people over here in the USA don’t know what the America’s Cup is. In the last month, it seems practically the whole of New Zealand have suddenly become huge sailing fans again, so long as it looked like we would win the America’s Cup yacht race over the last couple of weeks. The fact is that when Emirates New Zealand lost to Oracle Team USA the other day, it was the first time it even got any air time on the radio over here, and that is simply because of the amazing comeback which is impressive from a historical sporting point of view. Outside of San Francisco, the America’s Cup is almost completely unknown.

My mother called me from NZ last weekend. She told me that while she was shopping at a department store, the music was interrupted by an in-store announcement that Team New Zealand had won the latest race. A cheer went up throughout the store. New Zealand is obsessed. But why?

It’s a sport for yuppy yachting circles. The NZ government had to pitch in to just compete with the American sponsors of Team USA. Although Emirates played a financial part too. It’s not a particularly noble or heroic stage to gush with national pride over. The perception that NZers seem to have of this being a prestigious event that shines a global spotlight on NZ is really misplaced. Perhaps, my being outside of NZ for so long has helped me see that. But what pisses me off is the attention this fair weather fandom takes away from other, more deserving things. It sucks the air out of the room.

Our boys, the All Blacks, are over in Argentina for this weekend’s clash, and South Africa a week later. In Argentina we build NZ and rugby as a brand, and continue to build on worldwide audiences who tune in to watch the cream of the rugby crop. These guys represent NZ on a global scale and carry the brand of NZ on their backs, and have been doing so since 1903. Rugby is a global sport and the All Blacks are NZ’s ambassadors. Working men, whose blood, sweat and sacrifice both on the field of play and the field of battle in World War I, should command more respect and admiration than a yuppie yacht race ever can.

I get that yachting is another area of expertise to be proud of, but the America’s Cup is elitist, no matter how much you try to play up the “little man” aspect of Team New Zealand. Money was spent on both sides. Lots of money.

NZ crew members were counted among both Team USA and NZ, so perhaps the patriotic nod is in name only. NZ’s maritime engineering, essential to the design of both yachts, has won big, and that’s all that really matters. Part of me is glad NZ lost so that all this hype and expectation can get a reality check back home. I think this groundswell of bandwagoneering is really shortsighted. NZ needs to stop craving attention like the kid waving his hand at the back of the crowd and realize that some battles don’t earn the accolades they believe.

Baltimore Sun Darkroom interview

baltimore-sun-rod-and-leanne-hannah

Baltimore Comic Con 2013 was our most successful show to date. Although we weren’t pushing Once Upon a Caper, when I did get talking to attendees about the comic almost all that I spoke to were very interested and asked to buy a copy. Almost a sell out with no real promotion! The encouragement that experiences like this bring is heartening and lets both Leanne and myself leave the show inspired and eager to get back to work.

I was interviewed by the Baltimore Sun’s Darkroom contributor, Carrie Wood. You can read the interview and see a couple of photos of ourselves, the table and our fellow creators in the Baltimore region.

Making Comics – Part 5 – Comic Conventions

Comic Conventions

Want to sit behind a table and promote your book to the foot traffic in Artist Alley? Artist Alley is the name for the section of a comic convention dedicated to lower cost tables for artists and writers to sell copies of the books, prints and merchandise. The price of a table is usually a lot less than an exhibitor booth, but the larger the convention the more they charge for a table. Small local shows are your best bet when you are starting out and learning what works and how to make the most of your investment. You need to consider your audience before jumping into a table registration.

Anime conventions work pretty much the same way as comic conventions, though you’ll find the attendees are much more open to independent comics. That is the drawback to comic conventions, the audience is a mix of families, teen geeks and older generation geeks, usually with a heavy investment in the Marvel and DC super hero universes. Few independent comics command the sort of loyalty from these readers of major titles like Batman, X-Men and so forth. If these readers have to make cuts to their comic book store pull list, then they are most likely going to prioritize their monthly fix of core Marvel and DC titles. Indie comics just don’t get as much engagement from this audience as they deserve. That’s why Anime cons are such a revelation for creators like Adam Whithers and Comfort Love, creators of Rainbow in the Dark and the Uniques. They were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and interest of attendees at these shows.

Utilizing Your Space

The table is usually about 6′ ft long and bringing a table throw is a simple way to improve the presentation of your work and improve your table’s appearance. It’s a good idea to raise the eye-line a little, for example with a display stand for your books, or signage on table stands. You can also buy a vertical scroll banner, or create a PVC tube display stand to hang your banner or display your prints. I personally think artists at anime shows get a little too carried away creating a wall of their prints to hide behind. Much better to have a table that stands out from the rest than tries to hard and just becomes a blur of color.

My advice, don’t stand there yelling at passersby like you’re some mad circus ringmaster. There’s nothing more annoying than a loud mouth salesman trying to rope you into some sort of purchase or forced conversation. Let your signage and display catch their interest (put in the effort in your presentation) and if they make eye contact with you, then engage them with a smile and greeting and gesture at your work on the table with a wave of a hand. No pressure, just a friendly and quiet offer for them to check out your table on their own terms. Sometimes its good to look busy, sort through your supplies under the table or talk to your neighbors. This also seems to help attract passersby to take a peek without the threat of an immediate sales pitch. In fact, try not to be a salesman at all. Instead engage attendees at your table in friendly conversation about whereabouts they’re from and whether they are interested in your genre. No one wants to talk to an asshole or an uber-nerd, so as Han Solo would say: “I don’t know… Fly casual.”

Cons have hidden expenses. Food, travel costs, hotel costs, merchandise costs. It can be hard to make your money back at a larger show. Sometimes it might be better to think of such shows purely as a marketing / promotional investment. Your job is to get your name and your comic out there. Free flyers or promocards from OvernightPrints.com are one way to do that. There’s usually a table near the entrance where people can leave business cards, flyers and promo cards. Keep an eye on that table through the day as others will dump their cards over-the-top of yours as the table becomes full. You can correct this and makes sure yours are still visible by checking once or twice a day.

Hopefully, those people you meet will tell their friends and you will have tuned more people into your project for future online sales. Make sure you include your web address on everything.

Networking

After the show is over is often the best time to chat to fellow comic creators at the hotel bar or at dinner. It helps to get to know your table neighbors as well as other creators going through many of the same experiences as yourself. You can learn a lot and find ways to help each other. I usually like to get to the show to set up early and then have a quick wander through artist alley to see who else is there and what work they’ve brought with them. You usually get at least an hour or so to set up before the doors are opened to the general public. As for networking during the show, if you have a trusted friend who can watch your table for a short time (30 minutes to 1 hour) then you can scope out some of your fellow creator’s work and pick up a copy to support them.

Try not to leave your table for too long though. That one person who came to the show just to see you might miss you, plus it doesn’t look that great to leave your table unattended.

Survival Techniques

An easy way of transporting your gear (displays, table throw, art supplies, prints, books) from the car or hotel to the convention hall table is a wheeled-suitcase. However, as you become more experienced and ambitious you can buy a hand truck to wheel your supplies to and fro. If you have a table throw then you can hide the hand truck under the table when you’re done unloading. This is now just about the only way I can transport everything due to my spine issues.

Among those supplies, buy a six-pack, or larger, of bottled water. Also, bring snacks like crackers and cheese dip, cereal bars or sandwiches if possible. Convention catering is EXPENSIVE and usually not the best. Finding time to leave your table and run out to buy the food can also be difficult. Unless you have friends helping out, you may have to endure a very long day without a proper meal until dinner, so make sure you have those snacks.

Convention flu is real and often unavoidable around so many people. Let’s be honest, some of the attendees are going to have really poor hygiene and you just shook their hand. You can bring antibacterial hand soap along or just remember to wash your hands regularly. I know it sounds weird having to point this out, since most people seem to think they are immune, but having come back home with con flu in the past, you either heed the warning or learn it the hard way.

Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – The Harsh Realities
Part 3 – Making Webcomics
Part 4 – Promotion

I will be more than happy to answer any questions and ammend this article to help flesh out areas where I have been too brief. So feel free to comment or email me.