Thursday, November 30, 2023

Some thoughts on Artist Alleys and the New York Comic Con


Comic book conventions have gone through a few different iterations since I've been attending them since (gasp) the mid '90s. I've seen them morph from niche, comic-centric affairs in hotel basements to popular media-saturated extravaganzas held in some of the largest indoor and outdoor spaces in the world. Both can be great, and I find that I've enjoyed both in equal measure, because comic conventions give fans a chance to celebrate the things that they love and interact with others in what, at its best, is a welcoming environment.

I think that some conventions are still trying to find their way back from the pandemic, which affected, among other things, the ways in which we think about crowded spaces. The New York Comic Con is a good example of this, I think, as over the last decade it has been an incredibly well attended show both in terms of overall engagement as well as in the sense of let's see how many people we can possibly fit into this space at once time. I've said this before, but one of the big differences between NYCC and the San Diego Comic-Con is simply that there's a lot of room to spread out in San Diego, and in New York, you pretty much have the Javits Center to work with.

2023 was another big year for the show in New York, but there were some changes at the convention that I think were at least curious, and perhaps were a sign of different things to come in the future.

I attended the show on both Friday and Sunday, so I didn't see everything that happened over the four-day event. When I was there, it didn't seem like there were quite as many vendors as in some previous years (certainly pre-covid), but it was the placement of these vendors that really stood out to me, and in particular, how this affected the show's artist alley.

Artist alley at NYCC has always been a weird experience, at least for me. In years past, the show has experimented with the area's location. Before the convention center's recent renovation, you'd have to walk through the main hall and down a corridor before entering the artist alley location, and because of this, it always seemed to me that this was a separate part of the show. During and since the renovation, artist alley has been on the bottom floor of the main hall, which has produced good, bad and weird experiences.

One of the things that stood out to me about the main exhibit floor at NYCC was the lack of major comic publishers. Marvel had its regular spot, but I didn't find booths for publishers like Dark Horse, Image/Skybound or DC (which, to be fair, would sometimes show up in previous years and sometimes not). Smaller publishers like MadCave Studios and Z2 did have spots on the show floor, but not seeing many of the larger comic book publishers was a little strange. Was the cost of a premium booth that prohibitive for a big publisher? Did it finally get to the point of diminishing returns?

When I went downstairs to the artist alley section, I found IDW parked at the entrance of the floor, with a smaller and relatively pared-down version of what their booth has been in the past. ComiXology, if I remember correctly, was in this spot or a similar one in 2022. 

I walked through the aisles and something else stood out to me. Calling pretty much any comic book creator famous is pretty relative, of course, but there were more than a few well-known current and former creators in spaces that used to be occupied by independent and up-and-coming creators. Chris Claremont, the popular X-Men writer, for example, had a booth in artist alley this year. Seemingly whole rows were bought up by studios or agents, so every artist in a given space had the same representation and the same backdrop.

I think that this was a result of fewer publishers on the main floor. Where in the past, A-list creators would spend their time on the show floor, signing books and doing interviews at publisher booths, their best opportunity to sell some of their books and art this year was to set up in artist alley. This, I think, had the unintended consequence of squeezing out some of the lesser-known and more independent creators. This might not seem like a big deal, but I know that a lot of lesser-known creators use shows like NYCC to become...better-known creators, and I can't help but feel that the whole industry benefits when someone with talent and drive but not a lot of hype is able to show off his or her stuff at a big industry show like the one in New York.

Another consequence, and one that I'll gloss over fairly quickly, is that prices in artist alley this year were pretty steep. I don't begrudge any creator for getting paid as much as he or she can. But I saw some folks selling headshot sketches for $400 (and more) at tables and man, there was some sticker shock on my part. Again, if an artist can get that, I certainly don't begrudge him or her for it. But "well, I guess I won't be getting anything here" was a common refrain for me over the weekend.

I hope that there's a better balance in the future, where artist alley can really be a place where professionals and hopefuls can meet and collaborate. I think it's best for the industry. There's a place for a company like IDW at any show, I think, but I don't think it's taking up space in artist alley. And if companies like Dark Horse and Image choose to skip a big show like NYCC, then I think it's fair to question whether or not the show is really representing the industry as best it can.

Hey, let's look at a few pictures I took at the show!

I love the design of this Spider-Verse Doc Ock. I love most of the things the Spider-Verse did.


Did Wolverine sneak up on Magneto while he was sleeping or something. Wolverine is made of metal, Magneto. I feel like the least you could do if you were any kind of supervillain would be to keep the metal person away from you.


I love themed costumes that go beyond just the regular iterations of a character. Congrats, tennis Daisy and Peach!

I asked this guy what version of Spidey 2099 he was supposed to be in this adaptation of Miguel's second costume. Was it a video game version that I wasn't aware of? No, he told me, he made the alterations himself because I thought they looked cool. Hats off to this guy for looking great.

After the show on Friday, I went to Midtown Comics near Times Square and waited in line for a Skybound signing. I think that this was Skybound's biggest presence at the show. I bought some comics and got to chat with a few creators, like Daniel Warren Johnson, who's creating a great Transformers comic for Image, and Tom Reilly, who drew last year's absolutely amazing Thing mini-series. I told Reilly how much I enjoyed the book; he sighed and said, "I'm glad that at least someone liked it." Was this series not immensely popular? Was it not the best book on the stands? I will not hear anything to the contrary. The Tom Reilly-drawn Thing series was comics at its peak.

The signing was on the upper floor of the comic shop, so everyone had to move through the small space pretty quickly, but I still enjoyed getting to do this little event away from the convention center, and everyone in line got a new ashcan comic just for being there. It was a great experience.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Palisades Park and the Batman Slide


Let me tell you all a little about Kennywood Amusement Park. Wedged somewhat uncomfortably into the Homestead area of the greater Pittsburgh region, Kennywood is nevertheless a premiere amusement park for Western Pennsylvania. With more than 120 years of history, Kennywood has roller coasters both old and new, from wooden rides like the Jackrabbit and the Thunderbolt to steel coasters like the Phantom's Revenge and the Sky Rocket. And, like any self-respecting Pittsburgh-area institution, there's also a healthy Steelers presence in the new-ish Steel Curtain ride. It's a destination attraction for the area, and a great mid-level amusement park all around.

When I moved from Pittsburgh to the eastern side of the state a few years ago, I knew that I wanted to visit some of the nearby New York City-area amusement parks, namely Luna Park at Coney Island and Palisades Park. I had Coney Island in mind because it's a world-famous park and a real slice of Americana; why not visit somewhere that's been immortalized in different forms of media over the last several decades?

I've since checked that off my list. I've rode the Cyclone and enjoyed it, though I've yet to ride the Wonder Wheel. It's a park that's quaint and quite overpriced, though it's a place I'd recommend seeing at least once, and it's directly off of NYC's most popular beach, south of Brooklyn. I bought a hot dog there! I got the whole experience.

Palisades, New Jersey is located near the George Washington Bridge, across the river from northern Manhattan. It's definitely a town for people who want to live in the city but don't want to pay a million dollars to get a condo there. The commute across the bridge is a relatively easy one.

There were two reasons I wanted to check out Palisades Park: the first is, okay, the 1962 Freddy Cannon pop bubblegum hit of the same name:

Can I just say that "I gave that girl a hug/In the tunnel of love" is a pretty awkward attempt at a rhyme? Anyway, the second reason is that I've gotten used to seeing the following ad in old copies of certain DC Comics:

Any amusement park that's good enough for Superman is good enough for me, right? So I thought that the park would be fun to check out.

This particular ad comes from 1967's Green Lantern #56, which features the second appearance of Charlie Vicker, the actor who played Green Lantern on TV and was deputized as a real GL when his brother was killed (revenge being a central tenant to wielding the ring). This half-page ad also comes with a coupon for the park to (gasp) cut out and use for a free admission:

The coupon was also good for one trip on the Batman slide! Now, one might wonder why Superman is the only figure in this ad and not Batman, if the ride was named after the Dark Knight, especially since the extremely popular Adam West Batman show was on the air at this point. But I suppose you just have to accept that Superman is a world-renowned character and just go with it.

One thing I learned while planning a trip to the semi-world-famous Palisades Parks is's been closed since 1971. Over 50 years! In its place now sits, would you believe it, a high-rise apartment complex, which, okay, now that I type it, I can very much believe it. I'm sure it remains prime real estate.

So what WAS the Batman Slide at the forever-closed Palisades Park? From the information you can find online, it seems like it was a pretty standard slide tower, rising to heights of about 20 feet; kids would take a burlap mat up a flight of stairs and slide down while riding it, just know...just like Batman. I found a video that briefly shows the slide, complete with the Batman logo. Here's a grainy screenshot!

I suppose my dream of riding the Batman slide has been forever dashed by the fact that this park closed down before I was born. To be honest, though, they probably wouldn't have accepted my coupon, anyway.

Interestingly enough, right after I snapped the picture of the ad, I sat down to read a copy of Marvel's Sleepwalker #1, a new and possibly masochistic purchase. Where does Rick and his best girl go on date night? To Coney Island, of course. Let me know if the Wonder Wheel is worth it, Rick.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Planet Comics #4 on Kickstarter - and the San Diego Comic-Con!


Hello once again, internet. I'm here to tell you that the campaign for Planet Comics #4 is currently up and running on Kickstarter! Let's take a look at what this new issue has for us all.

There are two covers! Jake Smith drew the main cover.

And Mark Welser drew the Kickstarter exclusive cover. What is going on here? Is this a reference to a deep-cut Weird Al song? Who can say?

My four-part Bulwark story comes to an end! Co-creator Andrea Schivaone provides the lovely art for this one!

Jennie Wood and Erin Dodge have a new, eight-page story titled "Nightmare Girl" in this issue! I'm really looking forward to this one.

Duane Redhead and I have finished the second of a two-part Teddy and the Yeti story! What fate awaits our protagonists?

Diana Krueger pens a new essay on Golden Age comic creator Jackie Ormes!

Plus there are more stories from Jeff McComsey, Benito Cereno, Jorge Correa, Jr., Guillaume Deloizon and more! There are lots of rewards and add-ons for this issue. I hope you'll check it out! The campaign runs until the middle of August.

The 2023 San Diego Comic-Con starts tomorrow! I haven't packed yet! But I will be there! I'm sharing some space at booth 2200 with Ian Nichols and others. I'll have Planet Comics, The Illustrated Al, mini comics, pins and more! If you come and visit, I'll give you a trading card! I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Thing sketchbook, part 26

Has this Thing sketchbook approached legendary status yet? I think so. We're all anxious to see the next sketches of Benjamin J. Grimm, so let's go for it:

Franco - New York Comic Con 2019

Franco and Art Baltazar shared a table at this show, and I was able to get very fun crayon sketches from both of them. The simple lines make it look effortless.

Steve Becker - New York Comic Con 2019

I caught up with my pal Steve Becker at his booth at NYCC. He asked to see the sketchbook, then agreed to draw the Thing in exchange for a new orange marker, which is a deal I'll take any day. Steve actually drew this menacing-looking Thing on a sticker, which he then stuck to the page. Note the street sign signature at the top left!

Craig Rousseau - Rhode Island Comic Con 2019

I was lucky enough to get an invitation to appear at the 2019 Rhode Island Comic Con, where I met Batman Beyond and Impulse artist Craig Rousseau (who, as it turns out, is also a big Weird Al fan). Craig's got a style I really enjoy and I think it stands out in this head sketch.

Howard Chaykin - Rhode Island Comic Con 2019

Howard Chaykin is an industry legend, and I had to build up the courage to ask him to draw in the sketchbook after sitting near him for most of this show. He delivered with a classic Thing. I also love his signature.

Rafer Roberts - 2020

This barely merits mentioning, but 2020 was a tough year on a lot of people. At the time, I couldn't have known that RICC in 2019 would be my last show for quite a while. With most of the country on lockdown and comic conventions naturally on hiatus, I took a chance with the USPS and mailed my book out to a few people that I felt I could trust not to lose it.

First on my list was Rafer Roberts, a pal and a writer/artist who has seen some much-deserved comic book success in recent years. I knew that Rafer's style was suited to a different type of Thing, and so I asked him to draw the character as he appeared very early on, as a lumpy, misshapen monster from the first few issues of the Fantastic Four title. The trench coat, angry stare, no teeth and "Bah!" word balloon bring this all together for me.

We're deep into this sketchbook now. Look for more installments soon!

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Fantastic Four: Trapped in the Data Vortex original art by Allan Patrick and Marcio Loezer

I have a soft spot for promotional comics. Most of 'em are cheesy and silly, but every once in a while, one surprises you and ends up being a sought-after book. Fantastic Four: Trapped in the Data Vortex is...absolutely not one of those books, but since it stars the FF, I naturally grabbed it when I could. A few weeks ago, all of the interior artwork from this eight-page story popped up on eBay, and I managed to get two of the pages. So let's take a look!

"Trapped in the Data Vortex" was published in 2011 as a promotional comic for Hitachi Data Systems. The story is about what you'd expect: the company is highlighted throughout the book, and the superhero action is just a thin cover for company promotion. The art, though, really stood out in this story. Publishers usually send in the B (or C) teams when packaging something like this, and books usually suffer as a result; even though Allan Patrick and Marcio Loezer aren't names I'm familiar with, they really knocked the art out of the park for this short story. Industry mainstay Greg Land provided the cover for this short comic.

The better of the two pages I got is the last page of the story, where the team (with indispensable help from Hitachi Dada Systems!) wraps up their mini adventure. Ben, Sue and Johnny return from the Data Vortex to find that Reed has taken care of things in this dimension by dispatching M.O.D.O.K. and some AIM henchmen.

Even though I've got a decent number of original Fantastic Four pages, I don't often get pages with all four main characters on it, and to get a nice, half-page splash of some "off into the sunset" superhero action really adds to the deal. Plus, Johnny is on fire, Reed stretches, Ben, uh...smokes a cigar...and they all ride off in a Kirby-designed "flying bathtub" Fantasticar. It's a win all around in my book.

Here's how the page was published. Some of the middle pages were printed with a 3-D effect (whilst inside the Data Vortex, of course). My copy of the book didn't come with 3-D glasses, and I'm not really sure how those were distributed in the first place.

Even though it's not quite as impressive, I was able to add the first page of the story for almost nothing, so I grabbed it as well. At some point, the first panel was cut off and replaced with a second, finished version.

Although there's no Fantastic Four on this page, there is a really nice shot of a menacing M.O.D.O.K. Look at how surprised this office worker is! I sure hope that Hitachi Data Systems can get him out of this jam.

The establishing shot at the top of the page clearly shows the Baxter Building, which made this page worthwhile. The water in the distance doesn't really mesh with this being 42nd and Madison, but I'll let it slide. The Data Vortex messes with perspective sometimes. 

Pencils for this story were drawn by Allan Patrick and inks were added by Marcio Loezer. They gave it their all on what might otherwise be a throwaway promo story that not many people outside of the company have read. The line work is fine and detailed, and the FF are all on-model in their classic suits. I'm definitely glad to add these two pages to my collection.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

I have entered the Spider-Verse with Burger King's Spider-Verse Whopper

I'll start off by saying that I'm a sucker for movie tie-in food. There's something about the ephemeral quality of Burger King's "Across the Spider-Verse" themed offerings that make me excited about things that I wouldn't normally do, like actually go to Burger King for the first time in years. I don't eat a lot of fast food, and I actually think that the last time I ate at Burger King was during a Fantastic Four promotion in...2005?? How is that possible? Where has the time gone? Anyway, now Spider-Man has a hamburger. So I tried it out.

Burger King's menu for this promotion didn't take a lot of risks. The chain is only offering up a few spider-themed items, and at the forefront is the Spider-Verse Whopper, which is just a regular Whopper with a red bun and black sesame seeds.

Also on the list is a Spider-Verse Sundae. I walked into a local BK and saw some of the branding all around the store.

Miles and Gwen were also on the kid's meal menu, but I couldn't figure out if there was a Spider-Verse toy that came with those meals.

Rebranded crowns were all over the restaurant. Someone must have gotten bored before opening, because this location had maybe 100 piled up in different areas. Did I grab one? Yes! Did I wear one? Also yes.

Let's look at the burger. It came in this branded wax wrapper, which was, okay, pretty great. I should've asked for an extra one.

And here we have the unwrapped final product. It didn't present quite as well as in the advertisement. But the bun, which, I guess, is the main feature here, is red. It's very red. How much food coloring went into this recipe? What do my insides look like after eating it? Did they make the sesame seeds black by using a magic marker? These are all good questions.

Taking the top off, we can see the rest of the toppings, such as mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, ketchup, pickles and cheese, all on top of the hamburger patty.

And then I ate the thing. I thought it was pretty good! It's obviously not any different than a regular Whopper that Burger King sells every day of the year, but coloring the bun and slapping a Spider-Man logo on it got me to try it out.

I also picked up the Spider-Verse sundae to try out, as it was the only other uniquely Spider-Man branded item on the menu. This is vanilla ice cream with red and black candy toppings. It is also tiny. Anyway, I didn't know what to make of the toppings when I ate them; they had a texture like crisped rice that you'll find in some chocolate bars. After I ate them, though, they started cracking and popping like pop rocks. This was unexpected and a little disconcerting at first. I guess they're supposed to simulate what it feels like to get spider powers? Like tiny little bursts of spider energy? We'll go with it.

The verdict is: it was worth it. Even if my organs are now coated in red dye. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Let's take a look at "The Illustrated Al" from Z2 Comics!

Every once in a while, two great things converge. Sometimes the result is ranch dressing-flavored ice cream. But other times, two great things coalesce into a somehow perfect combination. Even more infrequently, I get to make the dang things. So here we are at today's much-anticipated blog post about The Illustrated Al, Z2's "Weird Al" Yankovic graphic novel, inspired by Al's catalog of songs.

As an aside, would you look at that picture at the top? I'm going to be buried with it. Anyway, let's move on.

The Illustrated Al is a collection of graphic adaptations of a number of Weird Al songs, mostly focusing on his original material from various albums over Al's decades-long career. I was contacted by Z2's EIC in May of last year asking if I would like to participate to this project, to which Al himself was overseeing. I've loved comics only slightly longer than I have loved Weird Al, so I naturally agreed and picked my contribution from a list of pre-selected songs. Wouldn't you know, my all-time favorite Weird Al song, "Good Old Days" from the 1988 "Even Worse" album, was available, so I jumped on that and contacted my friends Jeff McComsey and Mark Welser to help me make this short story. Folks, I gave it my all, and I'm happy with the results.

I knew from the beginning that I didn't want to just adapt the song in a literal way. First of all, "Good Old Days" is a very dark and violent song when taken at face value; making a comic about this means that right away, we're lacking the accompanying James Taylor-like musical track which adds half of the humor to the song. I could go on about how the combination of those two disparate elements creates a pitch-perfect package.

What I tried to do was create a narrative around the lyrics that centered around the story's main character looking back at his life and all of the havoc he's created. He's at the end of his life and he wants it all to mean something - he wants to perform his biggest and most terrible act yet. So he's a pretty much a serial killer, which is an idea that is, in some ways, so difficult to accept as a concept that it lends itself to hyperbole from the beginning. Then I set it in outer space, because I like outer space.

Over the course of creating and submitting the story, I got a few notes from Al, his manager, and Z2's editorial team, but the story was mostly accepted as we made it.

I'll let the story speak for itself, but there are a few things that I want to call attention to. The panel above is from a sepia-toned flashback scene, where we meet the song's Mr. Fender ("who ran the corner grocery store"). There's only one line of dialogue in this story, while the rest of the lyrics are presented in dialogue boxes, which seemed more appropriate. This one line gave me the opportunity to use a different font, and I felt that I should probably use it to include my newly-minted McClellafont. Really, if there was a reason I made the thing in the first place, this was it.

Let me also point out that I did add several Easter egg-style references to some of Al's other works and the like in this story. A few people have found some to this point, and there are some in this very panel. Most of them are pretty obvious, though maybe not all.

In addition to lettering, I tried my hand at color separations (or flatting) for the first time with this story. This is the process of adding color to the image that a traditional colorist will refine later. I will say that this process didn't take a lot of skill (perfect for me), but it did take a LONG time to do. It was very time intensive. I did what I could.

In true form for the modern comic book industry, the hardcover volume was released with a few different covers. The main cover is on the left and has art by MAD Magazine's Drew Friedman. On the right is the limited Local Comic Shop Day exclusive cover by Mark Fredrickson, also of MAD fame. It's interesting to note that the LCSD version of the book was actually the first to be released in late November of '22, while the proper, wide release version didn't come out until early this year.

The back cover actually has my name on it (and they spelled it correctly, too!), alongside some real comic book heavyweights. You might notice, along with myself and Jeff McComsey, a few Planet Comics contributors in this list such as Hilary Barta and Weird Me creator Kelly Phillips.

"Good Old Days" is located toward the end of the book. It's surreal to see it printed in this fine collection. Oh, and I also feel like mentioning that I created the 3-D title effect in Illustrator specifically for this story.

There was also an oversized, super deluxe model that came with a slipcase, a cover by Mike and Laura Allred, and a bunch of extra stuff like trading cards, coasters, a turntable dust cover and a print set. There's supposedly a miniature accordion still in the works that got delayed in production. This version is really extravagant and it seems like a real collector's item that some folks will keep for years.

I mentioned Planet Comics earlier - issue #3 ran this ad in the back, which I believe is the only print ad for the book out there. I contacted the folks at Z2 and they put this ad together. I suggested they use the line, "give meaning to your boring, miserable life," which is along the lines of something Al would say about his songs and concerts in the past, and they went with it.

In the very back of the Z2 hardcover, we find this page, which was probably created to fill some blank space at the end. Am I implying that this sequence made it into the book because of my ad copy suggestion? I am outright speaking it into existence, my friends. You are all welcome.

Once the book was widely released in January, Al and the Z2 staff went on something of a mini promotional tour, talking with a number of comic book and mainstream entertainment outlets about the collection. I get how these work: so that a bunch of sites can claim that they have exclusive looks at the book, giving them an incentive to promote their interviews and by extension the product being sold, creative talent will talk about certain things with one site and other things with other sites. Cynicism aside, it was still very gratifying to see my name pop up at a few of these outlets, such as Entertainment Weekly.

This was, and is, a pretty big deal to me, and I'm really grateful that Al noticed the story and some of the effort we put into it.

A lot of this coincided with Al's 2022 tour and the release of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story from the Roku Channel. And speaking of effort, I got to play "Weird Al Jeopardy" at the Pittsburgh tour stop and I cleaned up. Don't worry that one of the individuals I beat was a literal child.

After the show this night, I got a brief opportunity to speak with Al. Without any prompting (I promise), he told me how much he enjoyed the Illustrated Al story that I worked on. I realize that he is both a professional and an actor, but he seemed genuine and I choose to believe that this was a truly spontaneous moment. It is - without a doubt - a moment that I will remember for a long time to come, and I really appreciate his words.

Around this same time, I got to attend the premiere of Al's movie in Toronto...

...and I found a seat at the Weird panel at the New York Comic Con...

...where I bought this "Fat" portrait from artist Clay McCormick.

At the very end of the year, a radio station in Wisconsin changed their format to all Weird Al, all the time for a brief period. Suffice it to say, 2022 was a big year for Weird Al, and a big year for me and a few different Weird Al projects.

I walked away from this project with some really great original art, too, starting with pencils (and a book of thumbnails) from Jeff McComsey.

I also managed to grab the title page image from Craig Rousseau, who put together the "Melanie" adaptation in the book.

Danny Hellman drew the trading card art that was also included as a set of pinups at the back of the book. I got this one, drawn on vellum, of the absolutely incredible "Living with a Hernia" piece. I'm debating on whether or not I should frame this one.

This was an incredible experience, and it was something to which I took a lot of pride contributing. I'm eternally grateful to Al and his team for considering me when this project was just starting out, and to Z2 for their work in putting the book together.

The book itself has had a pretty wide release, and you can find it at comic shops and bookstores worldwide, as well as online on Z2's website and the usual places like Amazon. I'm hoping to grab a bunch more to take to conventions with me this year.

I think I've made it clear on this site that I'm a really big fan of Al and his music, so this was a really big deal to me. And in case I need to show off my nerd cred even more, check out these stage-worn boxer shorts I just bought that Al rubbed in someone's face while singing "One More Minute:"

Take care, all.