Thursday, July 9, 2020

Planet Comics - now on Kickstarter!

Hey everyone! I've been working on a project for quite a while, now, and it's finally made its way to Kickstarter: the first issue of Planet Comics is on the way!

As you might know, "Planet Comics" is the title of a pulp comic from the 1940s and '50s. It's known for a number of things, but I'm most familiar with it because of its amazing, mid-century-chic covers. Check out this one, for instance:

Heck! Look at that beauty!

Anyway, I've wanted to do something similar for quite a while, and wouldn't you know, the title just happens to be in the public domain. I guess that's what being out of print for 70 years gets you.

I want my version of Planet Comics to be more than just a tribute to the original, but something that follows a similar sci-fi anthology format. I'm hoping to eventually publish four issues of the title, each one in an oversized magazine format that hopefully gives it a grand, impressive feel.

Right now, I'm planning on publishing three stories in the first issue. Not all of them are mine (though I'm editing and lettering the whole book), but the first story is - and it's one that I want to serialize through all four issues. It's titled "The Bulwark", and it's about a space-age hero who is somehow partially responsible for Earth's demise - and our main character has to find out if it's true, and why.

Here's the first page:

It's got art by Andrea Schiavone. Andrea is an Italian artist who is doing some amazing work on the story. I've really lucked out in getting to know him over the past few months, because I think we work very well together (and he's a nice guy). Like I said, I want this to be the "main" story in each issue, something that brings everything together, if that makes sense.

The next story in the book is by my friend and frequent collaborator, Jeff McComsey. Here's a look at one of his pages:

This story is titled "The Old Man and The Agean Sea", and yes, it's a new take on the classic Hemingway story. The story will be in color in the book - it's still in its early stages. I'm excited to see where it goes and I think that Jeff is doing some really nice work here.

The next story is titled "The Night Tanya Tucker Uncancelled Earth":

This one is by two of my favorite people: Jennie Wood and Duane Redhead. Creatively, they have opposite approaches to their art (at least in my semi-informed opinion), but I think that their styles mesh together in a fun and interesting way. I know that I'm excited to work with both of them again.

The book will be printed with two covers. The main cover, by Pietro, is at the top of this post. The Kickstarter variant is below:

This one is by Matthew Dow Smith - I must have caught him on the right day, because I really lucked into this cover, which I can't get enough of.

There's other stuff in the book, too: an essay on Lily Renée, artist on the original Planet Comics series, by Diana Krueger, and additional, secret-for-now stuff! The book will run at over 40 pages when it's all said and done.

I launched the campaign on Monday, and it's about halfway to its goal, which I'm happy about. I think it'll make it! I hope it'll make it! Oh no - what if I just jinxed it?! I guess it's possible!

I hope that you'll check the project out while it's running. Here's the link!

Tell your friends! PLEASE!

Now it's off to worry about this for the next four weeks. Hooray!

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Tick prop auction from Heritage

Oh, what a shame it is that Amazon's The Tick series has been cancelled. It had so much potential and I think its 22-episode run will be well remembered. I'm holding out hope that a broadcast TV channel picks up the series to show in the fall, as there won't be a lot of new, scripted content out there for the foreseeable future, and a channel like SyFy or Comedy Central or, hell, Fox, could do worse than showing a full slate of these episodes to folks who hadn't yet given it a try.

Bringing the series back for new episodes will be more difficult, of course, since the show's production company recently auctioned off a lot of costumes and props on the auction website Heritage. This happened back in May, and when I heard about it, I was naturally interested. Now that it's all finished, I thought I could write a little bit about the process and show a few pictures of the items I managed to buy.

I had never participated in a Heritage auction before - I was familiar with it, but it always seemed like a place that would sell, I don't know, Picasso paintings to blue bloods living in a Manhattan skyscraper. That is to say, it seemed from a distance like a place that would sell things to rich people, and let me tell you - that assumption was not incorrect. Some of the items sold in the Tick lot went for outrageous sums of money. Several of the costumes went for five-figure sums and a small collar charm, worn by Midnight the dog, ended up selling for over a thousand dollars.

I had my eye on a few items that I hoped might fly under the radar. I didn't want to break the bank, but I realized that this was probably my only, or at least my best, chance at getting an item from this show, so I went in and bid on quite a few items.

One of the things that surprised me about this auction was just how it was conducted. Bidders were able to browse and bid for around three whole weeks on the main Heritage site. And at the end of the bidding period...everything went to a live auction, with the previous high bids setting the opening marks for the items. This seemed rather superfluous to me - why not just jump right into the live bidding? What was the point of bidding early at all? But I'm sure it served to increase the overall sum that Heritage and the production company ended up with. Still, I maintained a steady level of anxiety the entire time the items were listed online.

I managed to win three items, when it was all over with. No, I didn't win any costumes or any of the bigger pieces, but I'm still happy with what I got. Let's take a look!

First up is a notebook used in a season one flashback scene with Dr. Karamazov, who invented the growth ray that created the Very Large Man. I got this for a really good price, probably because the main image for this item was just that of a simple brown notebook cover.

When the book opens up, can see a lot of mathematical and science-y equations and drawings.

And they go on for a number of pages. These aren't hand drawings, unfortunately, but stickers made to look like notebook paper, stuck onto the existing notebook paper. They repeat in sequence eventually. Still, this is a lot of detail for a notebook that barely made it into one scene of the show.

I'd love to know who drew the original images for this. I'd love to think it was Ben Edlund, though I'm sure that's not the case.

Up next is an item I paid considerably more for. It's a "surveillance device" that Arthur used to spy on Miss Lint in the first season.

The opposite side had a sticker on it that is no longer there - I have no idea what it once was. I will probably try and get a case for this item, which has the benefit of being very display friendly. Maybe something with a small stand for it to rest on? I guess we'll see.

Lastly, here's an item that I couldn't let get away. These are two chair backs from on-set folding chairs. I will admit (with only a small amount of shame) that I almost stole one of these on the day I got to visit the set in Brooklyn. I thought better of it, thankfully, but it would've saved me almost $300 if I had. There were three of these lots that were auctioned off, and I bought the second, after the first sold for quite a bit more. This was one of the few branded items being sold, and I'm really happy to get one. Maybe this would look good framed, hanging above a door? I'll think about it.

Each item came with a certificate of authenticity, which will be helpful when someone sees these things and says, "what the hell is this?". The back of each is branded with the show logo. I guess these might be the last "official" items to use this logo?

Here's the other side. They're all signed (okay, I guess) and they include a description and picture of the items.

In all, it was a weird experience. I felt a little out of my depth to begin with. I know the ins-and-outs of eBay, but I had never tried to use this auction site before. One thing that will stick with me is the amount of unseemly fees that Heritage slaps onto everything at the end. I understand that the company is going to get its cut - or else they wouldn't be listing the items in the first place. But in addition to a 25% fee added onto the final bid, they also charged sales tax and INCREDIBLE sums for shipping and handling. I expected my items to arrive on the back of an elephant with how much I paid, but in the end, they came in a simple cardboard box shipped through the post office. It also took over a month for me to receive my items.

This is all to say that I won't be a frequent Heritage bidder - but as I mentioned earlier, I realize that I'm not really the type of client they're trying to draw in.


The Free Comic Book Day issue of The Tick is still on its way - Diamond recently announced that the issue will be released on August 5th in comic shops, along with a few other free books, like Invincible and Lumberjanes. I don't know if New England Comics has anything planned for that day, but as it's only about a month away, I have to say...I doubt it? But I'm glad that we'll all be able to read the book in just a few more weeks. I hope you'll all (safely) grab a copy in August! 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Requiem for DC's Walmart 100-Page Giants

So the rumors are true - DC's 100-Page Giants line is no more. The once Walmart-exclusive titles that became shared comic store books with new stories have been replaced with pre-packaged collections of existing titles. I went to my local Walmart a little while ago and, for the first time in almost two years, found no new Giant titles on display.

I don't know why this bums me out so much - the overall quality of the Giant titles wasn't exactly stellar, and I'm not really old enough to be nostalgic for the first run of 100-page DC books from the '70s. I suppose that I was enamored by the potential of this line: a small run of titles for a good price point with new material and reprints sold in a popular retail chain - what's not to like? Comic companies don't do nearly enough outreach, and this felt like, for the first time in a while, someone was doing something to pull in new readers with a fun new format.

It's especially a shame that the books had to end like this, because many titles finished up mid-story. May's Batman Giant #5, Flash Giant #5 and Swamp Thing #5 became de facto Walmart exclusives, because those books won't be printed for the direct market, as previous issues had been. And Superman Giant #5, scheduled for June, won't come out at all. I'd imagine that DC will publish the new stories meant for that issue digitally, but it's a shame the titles won't at least make it to their respective sixth issues, when all of their storylines would have presumably wrapped up.

DC's new offerings are cellophane-wrapped four-packs of previously published comics, with, I think, some new covers. This is similar to what Marvel is doing with their shelf space at Walmart, and it feels a bit lazy to me. I never thought that DC would end up following Marvel's lead in this, as opposed to the other way around (I would have killed for a Fantastic Four equivalent of a 100-Page Giant title). The new collections are $9 items as opposed to the $5 Giant books, so they're not the same type of impulse buy I imagine the Giant books were.

Even the display, which was one of the cooler things about the Giant line, is smaller and more subdued. 

This is not to say that I don't remain a sucker for comics in retail stores, as I picked up the five offerings for June.

Part of me is somewhat relieved, I suppose, as my "to read" pile grew considerably over the last two years, mostly due to the Giants line and how I was adding the equivalent of around 20 books to my stack each month after I added titles like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Swamp Thing to all of my regular comic shop titles. Now I'm able to make a dent in some of the books that have been piling up, but I'll still miss these fun titles that always felt special.

Batman Giant, it seems, wins the race for most issues published at 21 between two volumes, just edging out Superman Giant by one issue. I've got complete runs of most of the Giant titles; when the books lost their exclusivity in 2019, I cut back on some books, but now that they're all done for good, why not grab those extra issues of Wonder Woman and Aquaman?

I hope that, if nothing else, DC helped comics claim a little bit of shelf space in Walmart (and the same goes for those two Target Giant comics, too) for the future, and I hope that they don't let the opportunity go to waste. Comic shops are the backbone of the retail industry, but putting comics in high-traffic areas like the Walmart checkout line can be nothing but a good thing, in my opinion.

Here's a picture of the display as it looked in July of 2018. I remember how excited I was to see these new books in a new location. Oh, and I, uh, eventually took the display home with me (but not until they replaced it with a new version). Here's hoping for new and better things in the future.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Whatcha reading? Part 2!

The comic book distribution shutdown is over, and comics are slowly making their way back to stores on Wednesdays once again. Things have changed, though - DC has left Diamond completely and will ship Tuesday-arriving books independently; Marvel is only shipping new comics every other week; both Marvel and DC are skipping their comic shipments for a week in late June; many small publishers won't be shipping any books at all until at least August. These are unprecedented times in the comic book industry.

About a month ago, I made a post about some of the books I have been working my way through since I've now actually got time to read them. With the slow trickle of books that have come out since things started up again, I find that I'm still working my way through my big stack of unread books. And since I had fun making that first post, I thought I'd make at least one more and show you just what I've been keeping busy with while I am making progress with my "to read" stack.

Even though comic store distribution came to a halt throughout most of April and May, the Walmart DC Giants have shipped on schedule. I usually get these three titles through my local comic shop, but it seems that the direct market versions of Swamp Thing and the Flash might be cancelled? When I read this, I drove out to Walmart and grabbed the mass market versions of all three...just in case. The novelty of this line has yet to wear off for me.

Next up on the list are two back issues, Thor #200 and Weird War Tales #93, with the first appearance of the Creature Commandos. They were both interesting Bronze Age books!

I grew up reading the Death of Superman storyline, but I never picked up more than a few issues of Batman's Knightfall saga. These issues aren't too expensive to find, but with Knightquest and Knightsend added on, there are a lot of issues out there. I still need to find just a few Knightquest issues, but I have finally made it through the big Knightfall story, culminating with Batman #500. The issues got pretty repetitive after a while, but I enjoyed it - though I'm sure I would've been mad about DC replacing Batman at the time.

Right around the time of Heroes Reborn, JM Dematteis had a fairly long run on the Silver Surfer title in which ol' Norrin Radd has adventures with (and space-dates, I guess) Alicia Masters. I managed to get all of those issues a while back but only recently got a chance to read them. There were some real moments of brilliance in this run! Plus the Thing showed up in a few issues, which is always a plus!

Next up on my list are two issues of Marvel's Shogun Warriors book, both guest-starring the Fantastic Four. I do not have high hopes for these! But I had to get 'em anyway.

If you're looking for some digital comics to read, why not try out Bad Karma from Panel Syndicate? Art on this new title is by Black Terror artist Ryan Howe!

Lastly, I found this RoboCop vs. Terminator series for a good price and picked it up few weeks ago. Firstly, the concept looks like a no-brainer, and secondly, it's by Frank Miller and Walt Simonson! Let me tell you - it did not disappoint. These two comic book creative giants are at their prime in this four-issue series from Dark Horse. I'm not even necessarily a really big fan of either franchise, yet I loved every page of this gem.

Plus each issue came with a cardboard centerfold cutout! Yeah!!

If you have a chance to pick up this series or the subsequent collection, do it! It's well worth it.

That's it for now. I hope that everyone is well and has enough comics to get them through these tough times. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Marvel's 1994 X-Men/Captain Universe personalized comic

The above advertisement and mail-in form appeared in a lot of Marvel Comics in 1994; I remember seeing it all the time, but I never went ahead and placed an order. The ad was for an X-Men/Captain Universe crossover comic (officially titled "X-Men/Captain Universe: Sleeping Giants") that would be personalized for each and every order. If that weren't cool enough, the book had a cover by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt.

I probably never got this because of a combination of things: I was never a big X-Men fan, I didn't want to rip anything out of my comics, and at 13, $14.95 plus shipping seemed like a lot of money. Still, probably because of that dang cover, it was one of the various promotional comics that has managed to stick in my mind ever since I saw it.

Twenty-five years later, the book is relatively hard to find and usually not cheap, either, but after searching for a number of years, I managed to get a copy. It was a little beat up and didn't have the accompanying trading card, but at least I was able to get one for a price that wasn't too steep.

And then, of course, two weeks later, I found another, nicer copy for even cheaper. What can I say? The (Captain) universe is funny like that. So now I have two copies of this mail-in book, ones that once belonged to Josh Meinhausen and Allen Bechy. Josh's copy was more well-read, to be sure. I also get the feeling that the post office didn't take great care of these in transit back in '94. Nice copies are tough to come by.

Captain Universe is a relatively obscure cosmic Marvel character, which combines the "Enigma Force" (sometimes called the "Uni-Power") with a nearby host; the idea here is that Captain Universe is "the hero who could be you!" So in times of crisis, the power is granted to someone in need. That seems built in for a story like this, where folks could write in and get their name in an actual Marvel Comic.

From what I can gather, the trading card (also personalized) came stuck, face down, to the front cover when it arrived. Maybe the white strip had sticky stuff (official term) on it or something. Anyway, mine is detached, but it doesn't take anything away from the presentation. And the card is harder to find than the book, for obvious reasons. This also features Hildebrandt Bros. artwork!

Let's take a look inside the book. One thing that became obvious really quickly was that the book takes absolutely every opportunity to put the buyer's name in. It probably shows up, almost shamelessly, 30 times throughout the book. You're welcomed on the inside front cover with a letter from Stan Lee himself.

Allen Bechy's copy had text that didn't line up super well in the printing process, which I'm sure what a disappointment at the time. And the personalized text has a different weight and feel to it than the other, standard stuff, but it's still kind of impressive that this worked out at all on such a large scale.

The story is by Bob Budiansky and Jim Craig, both industry veterans if not stars. The plot is fairly generic: a kid (ostensibly you) travels to New York City where bad stuff happens. You're transformed into Captain Universe, team up with the X-Men (after a brief confrontation), and save the day. Everything about it is very 1990s, but it's about what you might expect from a comic like this from '94.

"Suddenly, I'm not plain old Allen Bechy anymore!"

The X-Men show up at the shopping mall where this all goes down. Wolverine is unnecessarily aggressive the whole way through.

See? Wolverine threatens to rip your lungs out. For no reason! Why did this make it into the book?

The mail-in form asked for your home town, for the purpose of tossing it out there a few times. So now we're closer to showing up at Allen Bechy's house in Utica, NY.

It also asked for a friend's name, as your character stops to make a phone call. Josh's friend was "Dad".

Well, it looks like Captain Universe saves the day! Here's some more poorly aligned text! Oh well.

On the inside back cover, you can get a personalized letter from Charles Xavier.

The back cover also folds out into a double-sided poster, complete with your name on both. These are also by the Hildebrandts, and are more satisfying to look at than the entire interior comic.

A lot of kids tore their posters out, as well, so I'm lucky that I was able to get a copy that was in good shape.

The very back cover - also personalized, as no space could go to waste - tells you a little bit about Captain Universe.

There are two versions of this book: one with a male Captain Universe and one with a female version. As you might expect, the female version of the book is much more rare and thus expensive. I don't know if I'll ever shell out $300 for that version, but I'm at least happy to have finally found a copy for myself. It was an ambitious and fun concept and I'm sure it made a lot of kids happy for Christmas of '94.