Posts Tagged ‘Superman’

Remember When Comics Smelled Like…Pot?!

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Remember when comics smelled like newsprint?

Not anymore!

If you haven’t heard, DC Comics plans to publish a Harley Quinn comic book that smells like cannabis. It’s true! You can read the story here.

What the hell are they thinking?!

I will never understand the marketing geniuses at DC Comics and their complete disregard for the respected value of their intellectual property.  When is their parent company, Warner Bros. Entertainment, going to reign those idiots in?

Without getting into a deep discussion about comics now appealing to a more mature audience than those that many of us grew up with, let me remind everyone that DC Comics and all of their characters represent a significant brand that is largely responsible for Warner Brothers Consumer Products being the fifth largest global licensor. They lag not far behind number one, Disney, who has been bolstered greatly by their  acquisition of Marvel and Star Wars and who will probably remain top dog forever.

When will DC understand that the strength and value of a company’s intellectual property is based solely on the public’s perceived value of that brand.

Forbes describes it this way{

“Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.  It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic).  Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it.  It’s fixed.  But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.”

Entrepreneur says:

“Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.”

Both of these well informed marketing resources feel that the concept of branding can be “simply” defined, yet DC and Warner Bros. apparently have no clue or they wouldn’t be intentionally making and promoting comic books that smell like pot!

DC’s characters have achieved their brand value over their seventy plus year history based on a universal appeal of what the general population considers wholesome, heroic characters. This is why their images are available on everything from baby toys to shot glasses, They are safe (socially innocent) and have wide appeal.

What is the theory behind potentially damaging that brand by associating it with cannabis,  an illegal  Schedule 1 substance under US federal law?  Are they just daring a Dr. Wertham wannabe to stir up another witch-hunt on comics or the superhero genre all for the sake of a publicity gimmick?

Could you imagine Disney making or licensing any product  that intentionally smelled like pot?

“Get your Pocahontas Peace Pipe with realistic cannabis smell!”

Just wrong on so many levels!

Disney famously and aggressively brought down The Air Pirates for publishing an underground  parody comic where their characters imbibed in the weed and other nefarious deeds! They go after everyone, big and small mercilessly to protect their brand under all circumstances.

Just ask Deadmau5.

Only porn companies seem to be immune from big entertainment companies like Disney and Warner Bros., but there has to be more to that story.

Protecting a brand and its public perception is paramount to most large corporations. This is why we often hear of sports stars and actors losing endorsement deals because they did something stupid or illegal.

Even NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodel, one of the most powerful men in professional sports, has come under fire for his mishandling of the recent Ray Rice domestic violence case.

Companies are pulling endorsements left and right from NFL teams for public backlash stemming from ongoing disclosure of similar instances and many are asking for Goodel’s resignation.

By those standards some jackass at DC should be out of a job already.

DC has been treading on thin ice for years now, slowly chipping away at the shiny veneer of beloved characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman,  trading them in for a darker, grittier, more sinister fare.

Will the cannabis scented comic book finally be the tipping point? I doubt it, but they are seriously pressing their luck.

What’s next? Micro dot variants?

Don’t be surprised if the Comic Code Authority gets reinstated over this one.

We will all have DC to thank.

Gerry Giovinco



Trademark Deadmau5 Trap

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Joel Thomas Zimmerman, the EDM DJ/musician best known as Deadmau5,  has just encountered the world’s best mouse trap: U.S. Trademark Law.

Nobody keeps the mice away better than the Disney corporation when it comes to protecting their trademarks especially when it comes to defending Mickey Mouse and that famous pair of ears.

Canadian born Zimmerman, whose stage schtick includes performing in an oversized, robotic looking mouse head,  has flown under Disney’s litigious radar for the last decade, successfully trademarking a graphic of his mouse head in countries throughout the world. Now that he is attempting to register his trademark in America, Disney is challenging the mark claiming that it is too similar to their iconic symbol and may cause them harm by confusing consumers.

The trap is triggered, but does Zimmerman get out a Deadmau5 or a live one?

Some will argue that Disney has no basis in their contention. Deadmau5 poses no competition for Disney big focused on different markets. Deadmau5 can be interpreted as a parody and protected by fair use laws. The Deadmau5 logo is different enough. A nice piece in the Daily Trojan titled “Disney’s legal battle with Deadmau5 has no basis” does a good job defending the argument.

But when it comes to copyright or trademark issues, the solution is never that simple.

The problem with U.S. Trademark law is that the advantage is almost always on the side of the big guy. Why? Because it requires a trademark to be continuously defended or risk losing it. Unless you have deep pockets like Disney, who can aggressively afford to go after  every potential infringer?

Should a trademark be challenged for any trivial reason by a giant corporation like Disney who can drag you through the courts endlessly in a legal battle that will exhaust all of your financial resources. Your attempt to trademark is doomed because you will be bankrupt before a judge ever tries your case. Most settle or give up. Those that don’t usually end up as a bloodied “example.”

This system assumes that the public is too ignorant to recognize distinguishable differences in any graphic or other form of trademark. It is compounded by companies that manipulate their trademark constantly to intentionally blur the line. This is why a simple graphic like Disney’s Mouse Silhouette or DC’s Batman logo, #6 is presented in so many different ways including shapes and colors. It is now impossible to to create a simple mouse or bat logo without incurring retribution.

This has cost pop culture some great works over the years. Among the many casualties, Captain Marvel was crushed for his supposed similarities to Superman, and Howard the Duck was never the same after Disney challenged him compared to Donald Duck. These were innovative and dynamic characters that had their feet swept out from under them in their prime because of the trademark trap.

Imagine what the world would be like if Pat Sullivan, the producer of Felix the Cat, would have challenged Disney’s trademark, siting that Mickey Mouse was so similar and heavily influenced by the famous feline who had predated Mickey on film by nine years and was, at the time, the first and most successful cartoon character of the era. It was an image of Felix, after all, that was the first cartoon character star of television.

Imagine a world with no Mickey Mouse and possibly no Disney. Mickey Mouse  managed to escape the trademark trap and, in doing so, ensured that nobody else would get out alive.

Deadmaus, however, may have a leg to stand on because Disney has not been a good little mouse either. Zimmerman has countered with a copyright infringement allegation, claiming that Disney used his 2009 hit “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” without his permission and payed no fee for the use of it. Disney claims otherwise but has yet to prove it.

This could be a life or death struggle for the career of Zimmerman. According to Billboard,  the battle has already “cost him dearly”
A victory for Deadmau5 would give a lot of little guys hope, but not everyone is ready to chew off a leg to get out of a trap.

Good luck Deadmou5, I hope your stage name is not your prophecy but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Gerry Giovinco



DC Comics’ Participation Plan – Magical Mystery Money

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

It is no surprise that, with the Supreme Court considering listening to law suits brought by the heirs of  Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster as well as legendary Marvel creator, Jack Kirby in an epic battle over creators rights, DC Comics is attempting to preemptively save face by offering a new Participation Plan.”

Their timely effort is boorishly intended to make them look good in the public’s eye pending any fallout from a potential legal hell-storm that has already attracted support from every creative guild in Hollywood.

Their new “incentive” (as Marvel calls it) will share with creators net profits generated across all distribution networks including digital sales. As an added PR bonus, colorists will be included in the profit sharing for the first time, following Marvel’s lead.

Everything looks rosy!

Depending on who you believe…

Chuck Dixon, Steve Bisette

For every creator, like Chuck Dixon who has had nothing but a positive experience regarding how DC reports shared revenue there is a disgruntled one like Steve Bisette who feels that he is treated like a second class citizen.

As  outsiders, who are we to judge? Contracts are and should be private agreements and presumably they are negotiable and often different for each creator. History, however, has proven that these agreements, no matter how good they may seem or are intended, can often be subject to reinterpretation and malignment on favor of the corporation. Just ask Alan Moore who’s great Watchmen deal went sour fast.

Gerry Conway

Gentleman Gerry Conway has a very polite perspective on policing DC’s approach to participation packages that should raise an eyebrow or two. Imagine that in this day and age, DC admittedly cannot track the use of all its properties and accurately pay out without the support of its aging creators, many of which are far from tech savvy.  So they say.  Yet, in a heartbeat,  they can shut down a sculpture of a dead boy wearing a Superman shirt in Canada before bowing to social media outrage.

The bottom line is that DC is part of a huge entertainment company that specializes in cooking books when it comes to sharing revenue. This is not an indictment of Warner Brothers but of the practices of Hollywood accounting in general.

Anyone that has ever signed on to a royalty arrangement will tell you that, unless you are willing to march into the accounts payable office with an expensive auditor by your side, your relationship with the company paying you is one of blind faith.

DC is playing with magical mystery money when they tell a creator that they will combine net profits from all channels of distribution. These numbers are tabulated over a period of months and are calculated by an algorithm that would make Sheldon Cooper’s head spin! Most comic creators are just not equipped to challenge their word and are willing to accept what they get or be prepared to move on.

Alan Brennert and Barbara Kean, co-created with Dick Giordano

Combine this mystery math with vague language that can arbitrarily define characters as “derivitive” and suddenly there are creators like Alan Brennert campaigning for a moral victory over a $45 payout that is hardly worth a legal battle let alone sitting on hold for a half hour waiting for the problem to be addressed.

This is why contracts are important. Spell details out in black-and-white to eliminate the questions, provide all the answers and provide proof of the agreement.

Wait for it…

Now, DC says all transactions and agreements will be digital only!

Kiss that paper trail goodbye!

Can anybody say Comixology?

“I’m sorry, your digital contract was somehow erased from our server but don’t worry we will reinstate you with our current (and less favorable) Participation Plan. Any questions?”

Time to look for an Indy Publisher comic creators. At least you will own your work.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Dixon and Rivoche: Critical of the Right

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Give Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche a lot of credit. They certainly stepped outside the box in an effort to promote their new book, a graphic adaptation of Amity Shlaes’ THE FORGOTTEN MAN, by attacking  comic industry liberals in their Wall Street Journal OP-ED piece, How Liberalism Became Kryptonite for Superman.”

They managed to generate a lot of interest  and even had the opportunity to tout their book, published by Harper Perennial, on FOX NEWS!

Thank God that most of the hardcore conservatives that pay attention to these narrow-minded resources couldn’t care a rat’s ass about comics or they would have seen through the thin veil of deception that is so brilliantly dissected  by Janelle Asseline in her Comics Alliance piece, “Superhuman Error: What Conservatives Chuck Dixon & Paul Rivoche Get Wrong About Politics In American Comics.”

In their effort to be Uber Americans by defending the Political Right, Dixon and Rivoche tread on one of the most valued American liberties that comic creators have fought decades for, the right to freedom of speech and expression which is protected by the First Amendment.

Their endorsement of the Comics Code Authority, which was a direct product of McCarthy era conservatism and possibly the most strict code of censorship of any American medium, flies in the face of anyone who truly loves and values the most basic and fundamental principles of freedom set forth by the founders of this country.

It was particularly odd that both gentlemen conveniently ignored the comics history of the 1980′s where creators rebelled against the big publishers of superhero comics  and defined the potential of the Direct Market by working with Independent publishers that defied the rules of the Comics Code Authority.

Both Dixon and Rivoche saw their first works published by Independent publishers in 1984. (not the 1970′s as stated.)  Chuck Dixon’s EVANGELINE which, originally published by Comico, told a tale about a nun with a gun that was an assassin for the Vatican.Canadian Paul Rivoche illustrated Mister X published by Toronto based Vortex. His story was about a mad scientist that induced his own perpetual sleeplessness with a fictitious drug. These were not comics that any of the Code publishers would consider touching at the time!

It is ironic that these pioneers of “moral ambiguity” in comics should be so vocally opposed to its current existence in the medium!

The success and proliferation of similar independent projects eventually led to Marvel and DC’s softening and ultimate departure from the Code. This was  an orchestrated effort to compete with and eradicate Independent comics publishers  who had gained substantial  market strength.

The market dictated the newfound liberal mores with which comics were created! If audiences did not clamor for these new “left-minded” ideas we would all be reading comics with the seal of approval on it today. Worse, comic books would most likely have faced an inevitable extinction.

The comics of the 90′s that the two chose to credit with the moral departure were created by a  wave of young talent that cut their teeth reading comics and being inspired by the likes of Dixon and Rivoche. These upstarts recognized that it was time for a jailbreak and sought to distinguish themselves as the New World Order in comics.

Dixon and Rivoche are among many creators moderately associated with the old guard, despite their groundbreaking achievements, to be trampled by the inmates intent on running the asylum, finally free of the restraints of oppressive censorship (a page torn right from Dixon’s own Batman stories.)

Jerry Ordway has similar gripes but does not blame left leaning politics in his plea for work, Life After Fifty.
For many, like Ordway, it is rather an overwhelming lack of respect and appreciation for the contributions of creators that in the past would have been revered industry-wide.

Fortunately the Independent movement (not just of the 80′s and 90′s but that of the 70′s  Underground Movement, the Web Comic  Movement of the 00′s and the current Digital Movement) has solidified the rights that creators have to express themselves freely through the medium of comics. There is a now place  and an opportunity for any kind of comic regardless of “right” or “left” leaning politics. This is good for everyone, especially those with idealistic American values.

Without this new, expanding market for comics there would be no publisher that would have been interested in THE FORGOTTEN MAN, a comic not about superheroes and not targeted specifically at children. That would be a real shame.

Dixon and Rivoche should have remembered their true roots and celebrated their masterful execution of their own creative rights rather than endorse a close-minded, faux conservatism that could potentially crush other creators’ rights to freedom of speech and expression in a new witch-hunt reminiscent of the one perpetrated by Dr. Fredrick Wertham that led to the development of the restrictive Comics Code Authority.

Dixon and Rivoche need to ask themselves which Right is more important; the creatively inhibitive conservative views of the Political Right or our Inalienable Right to free speech and expression that has given comics the opportunity to flourish?

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



A true, capitalism-endorsing conservative would let the market decide.

Rocket Raccoon Not Rabid as Expected

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

The battle over fair compensation for comic book creators whose creations have generated enormous profits for the corporations that now own them is almost as old as the industry itself. In most cases the fight is futile since most comic creators simply do not have the economic clout to legally go after companies as mighty as Marvel or DC and their parent corporations, Disney and Time/Warner.

Shame is the greatest tool that creators have found to expedite justice and it seems to work. Neal Adams relied on it heavily when he publicly shamed DC into settling with Superman creators Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster who were living in poverty prior to the release of the first blockbuster SUPERMAN film.

Creators are gaining an upper hand these days thanks to shame. It is much easier to demonstrate to the public the gross disparity of a struggling, aging and infirm cartoonist as opposed to a monolithic corporation who is potentially making billions off of their creation.

Behind closed doors settlement deals are finally being made and creators are being reigned in before the shaming begins and apparently it is working hopefully for the benefit of all since deserved creators are suddenly falling silent on the issue.

Advocates for comic creators rights have been foaming at the mouth ever since it was revealed that the Rocket Raccoon would be a driving force in the impending bonanza that will be the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY film to be released this summer. Rocket Raccoon’s co-creator Bill Mantlo was the victim of a horrible accident in 1992 that has left him brain damaged and institutionalized in a nursing home ever since.  Surely Bill Mantlo would be the perfect poster boy for comic creators rights if he were not to get fair compensation and credit for his contribution.

Let the shaming begin!

What? Not so fast?!

Bill’s brother and legal guardian Mike Mantlo boldly called off the dogs by releasing this statement:

“FOLKS, FOLKS, FOLKS…..please, enough of the hating on Marvel. Marvel has compensated, is compensating, and will continue to compensate Bill well into the future for anything that he’s entitled to compensation for. Please don’t spread false or malicious rumors, gang. Bill’s relationship with Marvel is EXCELLENT, and I wish for it to continue to be so. And all the false or exaggerated “facts” being tossed around about his accident (he was NOT in a coma for “years”, and the family was NOT put into financial ruin or destitution, among other WRONG “facts”). Yes, Bill was the victim of a horrible and tragic accident. Blowing everything out of proportion does no one any good. You guys (ALL OF YOU) have been a Godsend to Bill for these past 22 years by keeping his name & reputation alive, and by continuing to champion my cause of helping him improve his quality of life in whatever way I can, and I thank you ALL sincerely for that. Please, let’s try some positive energy for the fu! ture, so that BILL MANTLO WILL RULE FOREVER!”

In another release he states:

“Folks, on behalf of Bill I urge everyone to SUPPORT the “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” film, and help it have TREMENDOUS SUCCESS. That will benefit Bill Mantlo more than anyone could ever imagine”

Give Marvel and Disney some credit for recognizing that they were not going to be able to compete with the public hazing generated by support for a severely handicapped writer in a wheel chair that is responsible, along with artist Keith Giffen, for what looks like will be the fuzzy, break out star of the summer, Rocket Raccoon, who would have surely been a rabid thorn in their side if they had not struck preemptively.

Thank you!

It will be a pleasure to watch a Marvel film for a change without experiencing some kind of guilt for knowing that a creator or an heir (Most notably, Jack Kirby and his family) has been left unfairly compensated.  If only this could be the fundamental business practice of the comics industry from now on.

Let’s keep the ball rolling!

Maybe the big guys have finally realized that he positive PR generated from treating creators fairly is in everyone’s favor including their own.

Like Mike Mantlo, I sincerely hope that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a monolithic success. I know that because of Bill’s situation, he will never truly be able to enjoy any measure of profit that is generated by the film, though it will surely benefit his care.  The comfort is that ,in the shadow of the film’s great success , his personal story will become such a high profile subject that he will be immortalized in the pantheon of comic book and pop culture history where he belongs.

Bill Mantlo is a reminder to us all that though money is important it does not last forever and it is purely materialistic. Being recognized and acknowledged for our contributions and creations is what seals a place in history and in the hearts of all that enjoy our work.

Acknowledgement and acceptance is what creators, regardless what art they practice, truly live for.

So when the credits role by, and should you hopefully see Bill Mantlo’s name, jump out of our seat and cheer so loud that he feels the warm tremor as he sits in his nursing home beaming with pride because he knows in his soul that he is loved for something he created.

Gerry Giovinco

Fans of Bill’s work can follow updates from his brother on the Bill Mantlo facebook group .

Make donations here.

or mail Bill cards and well wishes to:

Bill Mantlo

c/o Queens Nassau Nursing Home

520 Beach 19th Street

Far Rockaway, NY 11691

The Alternate Reality of Dark Horse Comics

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Mike Richardson, the publisher of Dark Horse Comics made it very clear that winners do attempt to rewrite the history books, creating an alternate reality that would make any comic universe proud when he made this statement:

“I don’t know if anyone understands today that we spearheaded the creator-owned movement. Image was years away, and any kind of company that offered those rights and those freedoms hadn’t happened yet. We spearheaded that, and I think that fact has been lost over the years.”

Mike Richardson

People that know anything about creator owned comics and especially those that actually care about creator owned comics definitely do NOT understand the point that Mr. Richardson is attempting to make because it is a complete fantasy with no basis in historic reality, whatsoever.

Dark Horse does not even have the longest history of publishing creator owned works of current comics publishing companies. Hell, even Marvel and DC were writing creator owned contracts and offering royalties to creators before Dark Horse even opened its doors! The Big Two had to in response to a gang of Independent publishers that were successfully producing creator owned comics that posed a significant threat to their market share while siphoning away top talent.

Creator ownership is a simple concept. You create it, you own it and that is how copyright law works. Since 1976 the creator owns the work from the instant it is created wether it is filed and registered or not. This excludes, however anything created work for hire in which case it belongs to the company that commissioned the work on their behalf. If you open a comic book or any other work and it says “© Joe/Jane Creator” it is creator owned.

What you do with your creation after you create it is a different story. In the comics industry it was common practice for a creator to sell the entire rights of their creation to a publishing house. This was usually done in the hopes of getting steady work and in the case of some of the more savvy creators a small stake in royalties. Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to Superman for $130 while Bob Kane, reportedly, always held some small stake in Batman.

This practice of buying properties outright was unlike typical book publishing where authors retained their copyright and were paid an advance by publishers for the rights to publish their work then paid royalties on each book sold. This publisher/creator  relationship would endure for a specified term outlined in an agreement which would also include termination clauses and opportunities for revision of rights to the creator.

So this concept of creator ownership has never been anything new, it was just outside of the business tradition that had been established by comic companies who argued that the low price of comic books made them such a low yield product royalties would be negligible.

A quick history lesson for Mr. Richardson since he obviously missed it:

It was the Underground Comix movement in the ’60s and ’70′s that proved that creators could self publish and develop markets to sell their material in. If anybody spearheaded creator owned comics it was this group.

Just a few Creator Owned comics published before Dark Horse existed

When the Direct Market was created by Phil Seuling in 1972 he created a distribution system that was user friendly for creator owned comics. Bud Plant’s Comics & Comix published some early creator owned comics like The First Kingdom by Jack Katz which began in 1974 the same year that Mike Friedrich began publishing Star*Reach. Mike was a huge advocate of creator ownership and represented a number of great comic talents as their agent. By 1977 Heavy Metal hit the racks with creator owned material while Aardvark Vanaheim and WaRP Graphics were self publishing Cerebus and Elfquest respectively. Dean Mullaney formed Eclipse in 1978 and we witnessed the first defectors from Marvel when Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy create Sabre which was also one of the first graphic novels.

Just a few publishers of Creator Owned Comics

The floodgates opened in the 1980′s and a strong wave of publishers all with creator owned contracts poured on the scene, Pacific, First, Comico, Capital, Aircel, Vortex, Fantagraphics, Continuity, Mirage and others all produced creator owned projects well before Dark Horse showed up.

These publishers refined the model that Dark Horse adopted. ADOPTED! Dark Horse may have spearheaded survival in the volatile comics market that sank most of those early publishers by the middle of the ’90s but they certainly did not spearhead the concept of creator ownership.

Each of the publishers had their own way of exploring the terms of the contract with creators. I can only speak for what we did at Comico and we were always proud of how creator friendly and generous our contracts were. Comico paid full page rates that were comparable to those paid by Marvel and DC. In those days that averaged about $200 a page for writing, pencils, inks, lettering and coloring. We paid royalties after each issue broke even which was roughly after 30,000 were sold at which point we split the net 50/50! In those days it was not uncommon for an issue to sell between 60,000-100,000 copies so creators did quite well and they completely owned their property.

I have always been impressed with Dark Horse. They became the company that Comico was always intended to be. Comico discovered new talent,  worked with established pros,  had success with licensed properties and was highly innovative and focused on quality, but  unfortunately made mistakes that led to the company’s failure. When I look at the success of Dark Horse I see confirmation that Comico had many of the right ideas as did most of those early independents that made for one of the most exciting eras of comics history.

It is an insult to see those accomplishments dismissed by a respected guy like Mike Richardson who obviously did his homework but rather than give credit where it is due, chooses to rewrite history to benefit his latest marketing plan.

He is not alone, Image shares the same glory complex, as if they were the first Independents, the first pros to walk away from Marvel and DC but they never would have had the chance if it were not for a host of others that did it over a decade earlier and built a viable market for them to succeed in.

Acknowledging history goes a long way towards gaining the respect you desire. Why waste energy and goodwill fabricating history when you should be focused on making and celebrating your own.

Out of respect I did leave a voicemail for Mike Richardson with his administrative assistant, hoping to get a better insight to why he believes his position but as of this writing the call has not been returned. I guess it got lost in the alternate reality of Dark Horse Comics where the accomplishments of true pioneers no longer exist.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



There’s a Brave New World on Bergen Street

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Imagine walking into a comic shop and not seeing any comic books published by Marvel or DC. The shelves are void of Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman, Bat Man and Wonder Woman. With few exceptions, there are no superheroes, no men and women in tights and capes with bulging muscles and exploitive, break-back poses. The shelves are not overwhelmed with reboots of the same characters that we have been reading for the last seventy-five years. Seriously, how many times can you read a retelling Superman’s origin story before it gets old?

Imagine, instead, that what you find is shelf after shelf of unique and amazing comics that are created by an array of talented artists and writers that is always expanding. Comics are arranged by subject matter, social interest, artist and writer. There are comics for everybody; children, teens, adults, men and women, alike. Entire families can walk into the shop and discover comics that interest each member individually as they peruse the inviting corners of an elegantly and respectfully designed shrine of the comics medium, finding surprises at every turn.

Welcome to Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn, New York where co-owner, Tom Adams recently announced that the store will stop shelving most titles from Marvel and DC. Adams explained on Twitter that the decision, “Will enable us to better serve our customers. Strength of self contained, creator controlled comics will let us move away from double shipping, editorially driven, artist-swapping, inconsistent, tied into events/gimmicks comics. Trying to keep this a going concern/think long term.”

Bergen Street Comics will celebrate their fifth anniversary this spring. In their relatively short history they have firmly established themselves as a supporter of independent comics publishers and have hosted many creator signings and art shows including CO2 Comic’s own Steve Lafler as he toured promoting his graphic album Ménage à Bughouse.

Steve Lafler at Bergen Street Comics

Bergen Street Comics demonstrated their commitment to Independent publishers that night when they, on extremely short notice, opened their doors to Steve when his scheduled engagement at MoCCA was suddenly canceled due to unforeseen circumstances. Their graciousness and hospitality exceeded our expectations and established an impressive standard of customer service that we will never forget.

The atmosphere at Bergen Street Comics will capture the attention of anyone the moment they walk through the door. This is a place that celebrates the comic medium as an art form. Framed, original comic art hangs on the rugged brick walls, displayed like fine art in a gallery. The fixtures, furniture and shelving all presented with a classic taste that invites their customers to respect and value the comics that they are about to buy.

It is not surprising that they would make this bold decision to no longer shelve Marvel and DC titles. Bergen Street Comics is a boutique that specializes in a gourmet product. They are the Starbucks of comic shops, refusing to sell a common blend of coffee that can be bought on any corner, watered down and stale from having sat in the pot too long.

People want to experience quality, variety and atmosphere. They want a special experience that they feel entitled to and they want to share that experience with others. Great comics deserve the opportunity to be presented this way, as a rich and robust medium that will tickle the taste-buds of the imagination leaving the reader wanting for more.

A store like Bergen Street Comics can offer some hope for comics in print, especially those that are produced with a particular aesthetic that extends to the entire package. Printed books can offer a viscerally tactile experience that cannot be equally matched digitally. Independent publishers that recognize this understand the power of producing a boutique worthy product and will be energized as more stores adopt the model that Bergen Street Comics has.

This is not the end of superhero comic books. There will always be a place where bland or bitter coffee is available for those with a less discerning tastes. But, Bergen Street Comics has demonstrated that finally it is time for a little Frappuccino with our comics in this brave, new world where superheroes no longer have to dominate the local comic shop.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Worlds Apart – Stan Lee and Alan Moore

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

A recent review by Bob Duggan of Clifford Meth’s Comic Book Babylon led off with the title The Real Heroes and Villains in Comic Books. It featured spot illos of a typically exuberant Stan Lee and brooding Alan Moore beautifully rendered by Michael Netzer.

The arrangement of the portraits beneath the title insinuates, at first glance, that Smilin’ Stan, with Spidey dangling in the background, represents the heroes and Scowlin’ Alan embraces the villainous dark side.

According to Duggan’s review, however, both Lee and Moore are described by Meth as victims that belong to a long list of creators that have been taken advantage of by the corporate comic book giants, Marvel and DC.

It is a huge stretch from most perspectives to imagine Stan Lee as a victim of the comics industry while Alan Moore could easily be anointed the poster child for the royal reaming that begets comic creators. This contrast added greatly to the irony of the header of the post and was a wonderfully divisive way to catch the attention of readers, especially those sympathetic and knowledgeable about creators rights issues.

Yet, Stan Lee and Alan Moore are a perfect choice to if not solely for their contributions as the most influential writers of superheroes in the industry outside of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. Where the creation of entire genre of Superhero comics rests on Siegel’s shoulders, Lee and Moore’s influence anchor pivotal changes in how superheroes were portrayed that redirected the entire industry at different points in its history.

Despite their similar accomplishments both men also took decidedly different roads regarding their creative achievements and celebrity. In many ways the two men are worlds apart from each other.

Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko

There is a strong argument as to how much creative responsibility Stan Lee had in regards to the creation of most of the Marvel Universe during its heyday in the early 1960′s. Lee himself readily admits the roles that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had in fostering the creation of Marvel’s most iconic characters that are now worth billions of dollars. But Stan is and always has been a company man and has held fast to the work-for-hire relationship that denies creators and their heirs, especially those of Kirby and Ditko from any royalties.

To his credit, however, Stan bucked the system by developing and marketing one character that no one could take away from him. He recreated himself. With the impending success of the new Marvel line of comics Stan quickly transformed from your typical clean cut, white collared middle aged editor with thinning hair to a flashy guy with a mustache, sideburns, toupee, shades and a polyester wardrobe indicating that his new image consultant was probably the young and attractive Flo Steinberg, Marvel’s own Gal Friday. He certainly wasn’t getting fashion tips from Sol Brodsky.

While he was busy scripting snappy dialog full of trendy colloquialisms that endeared Marvel characters to a hipper, slightly more mature audience and redefining the genre he was sure to build his own celebrity with his new look, lecturing at colleges, doing voice overs on cartoons, writing Marvel Origin books, and plastering his name on every Marvel comic that opened with “Stan Lee Presents.” Stan’s monthly Soapbox was exactly that, not just a tool to promote Marvel Comics but a forum to promote Stan the Man and was where his now famous slogan “Excelsior!” first buried deep into the souls of his fans.

Today at 91 years of age, Stan is as vibrant and famous as ever. He has managed guest appearances in nearly every Marvel blockbuster an tonight will appear on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.. He is worth over two hundred million dollars and in large part due to his own success at making his name synonymous with Marvel rather than royalties received from  each character he co-created.

Stan has done what he does best. He took care of himself and worked hard at it and though he has always been incredibly diplomatic, he has never stepped away from company lines regarding creators challenging the work for hire agreement. He never used his celebrity or leverage of any significance to correct or influence the draconian practices of the industry.

Alan Moore opened the doors for superheroes to engage a more mature audience. His work filled with complex themes and refined writing that raised comics to a level  recognized as literature. A true artist, his preference was to have his work speak for itself. Respect the work and you respect Alan Moore. Simple as that.

In the 1980′s when Moore’s work rose to critical acclaim and redefined the medium there was no question that he was the new Golden Boy. His trademark long hair and looming bearded persona always projected an image of the quintessential artist. His work has always spoke for itself and he is regarded by most as the greatest graphic novel writer.

For this reason alone it was with great celebration that DC penned a “creator owned” deal with him and Brian Bolland for Watchmen. A deal that would be manipulated and bastardized for decades to follow, culminating in a Watchman film that disregarded his lack of approval and the insult of a prequel series of comics titled Before Watchmen that mocked his authorship of the  greatest selling graphic novel of all time.

Moore has had a tempestuous relationship with publishers throughout his career that has led many to point fingers at him as the common denominator and has driven him into a personal exile from most comics and fandom.

Alan Moore, is a man who is more concerned about respect for his work than he is about money and has, as in the case of Watchmen, declined receipt payment as a matter of principle to protest his dissatisfaction. Few can understand how anyone could be so idealistic to reject the kind of money he has turned away, thus fueling the impression that he is an irrational man which he is anything but.

Moore, lately, has a new take on superheroes calling them a cultural catastrophe.’ The man that elevated the horizon for an entire medium is now denouncing the genre that he is responsible for transitioning. He is now receding from public life to work uninteruppted. In his wake is an entire generation of creators that are watching their greatest influence turn his back and walk away from them.

Alan Moore has been a high profile victim but he has often been in a position to capitalize tremendously despite his abuse. He has chosen retreat and rejection of compensation as his defense where he could have redirected that “tainted” money toward a fund to champion creators rights that seem dear to him, personally, yet he chose not to.

Stan Lee and Alan Moore both had the amazing ability to change the course of an entire genre. Their lofty positions gave them both an opportunity to make a difference regarding the rights of creators and neither took up the mantle. In Clifford Meth’s book, apparently they are both portrayed as victims of sorts, clearly Moore has received the shorter stick, but neither are in a position to cry poverty like so many others.

These are two men that made a career out of defining heroes but never found the hero in themselves.

This issue of creators rights is an important one in the comic book industry and should never be taken lightly by any fan or professional. Any book like Comic Book Babylon is a must read and Meth should be applauded for its compilation as well as his personal efforts in defense of the late Dave Cockrum.

In the end, this is a story about David and Goliath both with an opportunity to make a difference. As usual it is the Davids of the world like Clifford Meth that stand up and fight while the Goliaths like Lee and Moore draw all the attention but, in the end, are ineffectual when it matters most. Worlds apart in more ways than one.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Super Pope – Redefining the Hero

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

You have to hand it to Pope Francis! In just a few short months since he has been elected, he is redefining not just his role as Pontiff but also what it means to be a hero to millions of people around the world. His opposition to the vast inequalities between the rich and the poor,  his mandate to be merciful rather than judgmental and his inclusive attitude  has already gained him the title of “The People’s Pope.” Time Magazine and the leading gay magazine, The Advocate, both herald him as  “2013 Person of the Year.”

Amazingly, Pope Francis’ words and actions appeal not just to his Catholic constituency but to people of all denominations and level of faith.  His approval rating has soared as high as 69% among all people in the United States, 80% of which are not Catholic!  He is, without question, a Super Pope.

Is it fair to compare the Pope to a superhero? Probably as fair as comparing superheroes to Jesus Christ who the Pope is said to represent.

Zack Snyder’s film Man of Steel made no bones about comparing Superman to Jesus. Snyder was so heavy handed in his biblical analogies that he probably should have cast The Bible star, Diogo Morgado, instead of Henry Cavill to play Kal El.

In Man of Steel, Superman is sent to Earth by his father to be a god among us. He is raised by common folk, sports a beard, strikes crucifixion poses, walks on water, turns himself over to authorities and sacrifices himself to save the world. This all sounds too familiar to Christians until Superman snaps Zod’s neck and kills him for a reality check.

Comparing Superman to Jesus was previously left mostly to scholars analyzing literature, theology, and modern mythology, not hammered down our throats in comic books or movies.

Since his 1939 debut in comic books, it has been widely acknowledged that Superman’s young  creators,  Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were heavily influenced by their Jewish heritage and that Superman was their fanciful interpretation of the expected Savior that has been promised by God. This would  indicate to Christians, who believe Christ to be the Savior, that Superman is a metaphor for Jesus.

Jesus, however, did did not fly around in blue long johns and a red cape. Though He performed miracles, He did not  exhibit the ability to run faster than a speeding bullet, be more powerful than a locomotive or leap tall buildings in a single bound. He definitely did not kill anyone.

Pope Francis, like Jesus does not exhibit bombastic superpowers and, so far, no miracles have been attributed to him, yet.  (The Church is a strong believer in miracles that numerous Popes have been credited with.)

As for the colorful uniform, Pope Francis has denounced many of the gaudy Papal accessories that might actually associate him more closely  with Superheroes. The new Pope wears simple white garb instead of the lavishly ornate robes, hats and shoes of his predecessors. Instead of a golden throne, he sits upon a plain, wooden one. He has even traded in the famed, bulletproof Popemobile for a used 1984 Renault 4L.

Pope Frances is less like Superman and more like Clark Kent. This is where he redefines the hero. Pope Francis does not elevate the spectacular, he praises humanity. He focuses away from the rich and powerful and embraces that which is common. He recognizes and promotes the power of numbers that is in the hands of the less fortunate. He delivers a message of fairness and sharing that inspires hope more than the symbol on Superman’s chest.

A former nightclub bouncer, Pope Francis speaks the language of the street. He recently responded  to Rush Limbaugh’s “Marxist” charges with clever comments that rang around the world:

“The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

When targeting the abuse of Trickle Down Economics he is quoted as saying:

“The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor.”

Pope Francis speaks to all people in words they can understand and the people are listening. Does this make him a hero?

Heroes are born out of desparation. Superman was a wonderful remedy for the angst that was post depression, war era America. His popularity peaks in times of turmoil. Today, however, Superman has come to represent that which is all powerful. He is lead by the hand of corporate greed and is immune to the perils of the general population when cities are destroyed during one of his fictional epic battles and now he is willing to kill.  Superman has lost his humanity.

We are in desperate times. The global economy pits the rich against the poor in an ever widening gap that Superman cannot close.  A new hero is needed but this time he is not delivering a punch but a message. Pope Francis lets us know that the new hero is not among us. It is us! Our power is our humanity. That has always been the true power of all great heroes. Superman has lost this power but  it is definitely the power of this new, Super Pope.

Gerry Giovinco



SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 3

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Corporate Greed: There was a time when there was such a thing as the American Dream. It was predicated on the idea that if you worked hard, lived a good life  and saved your money you will achieve success. The American Dream manifested itself  differently in comic books where it was represented in the very beginning of the industry by downtrodden sons of immigrants during the Great Depression. Their vision was that of the meek attaining tremendous powers and using them to protect and serve their community. Their creations, which launched a genre known as superheroes, represented “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”

The recent PBS documentary Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle did a wonderful job bringing attention to these idealistic virtues of superheroes and comic books. What it neglected to do, however,  was show that superheroes of today also represent the continued victimization of their creators and their families and have become the iconic representation of Corporate Greed as the two monolithic media corporations Time/Warner and Disney, the parent companies of DC and Marvel respectively, seek to control, dominate, and protect their intellectual properties. They do this by the use of Draconian creator contracts, militant trademark enforcement of not just their characters but the word superhero itself, and by putting a stranglehold on the markets where other comics are sold and distributed.

This is what I see as the greatest failure of the documentary. That it supposedly represents superheroes as being a significant part of our culture. That superheroes are the modern American mythology. That superheroes represent Truth Justice and the American Way. That Superheroes are everywhere consumed by the imaginations of everyone. The documentary fails because it focuses solely on the superheroes represented by Marvel and DC and consequently  becomes a tool that empowers their domination and control of the entire genre.

Corporations are quickly corralling us all into a culture that is dictated by them. There was a time when culture would influence decisions made by a corporation but now media has such a firm embrace on our cultural psyche that they can manipulate our every whim. As corporations like Time/Warner and Disney seek to control trademark ownership of public domain characters from every fable, myth, legend, story and comic book they have a lock on each and every one of us that goes much deeper than our pocketbook. They control the extent our imaginations and the marketability of our creativity, personally and as a culture.

Superheroes were born from comic books for one reason. No other medium besides comics gives any person the opportunity to create so vividly a story that is so fantastic and so unimaginable about a person with incredible superpowers and their adventures. Comics let us deliver that idea to an audience in a precise and visually stimulating way with very little expense.

Imagine that the images that could be drawn on a page by a poor immigrant teenager with a pencil and ink were so fantastic that it required over forty years of technological development before they could be made believable on film! Today, it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make a superhero action film but a superhero can come alive in a comic for next to nothing. The creator of the next great superhero could be a young kid publishing that story right now for very little cost on the internet, reaching millions of people around the globe in an instant.

That is the power of comics. That is the power of unfettered culture. That is the biggest fear to these big corporations, that the next great superhero will fly right under their nose and take the world by storm and they will not own a piece of it.

So Corporate Greed does what it does best and attempts to create tunnel vision for everyone it can with documentaries like Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle. They create a new mythology that everyone is expected to believe, that the Marvel and DC superheroes are the only game in town.

If they get enough of our attention and enough of our money and can control enough of the distribution system (we are to believe there is only one real comic book distributor) maybe we won’t notice that there is a world of other comics and superheroes out there. Maybe we won’t notice that many are much more entertaining and original than the seventy-five-year-old rehash of Superman or that fifty-year-old not-so-fresh take on Spider-man.

It is our job as true fans of the medium of comics and the genre of superheroes to remain vigilant and to ensure that the wealth of accurate information about what we love is not forgotten because the true archives of the past is the fertile ground from which a fruitful future will spring regardless how much manure is spread on the dried up wasteland of lies that the corporations want us to believe.

Yes the title of the documentary got it right. When it comes to superheroes there is a never ending battle to tell the truth about the comics industry, seek justice for creators, and to not fall victim to corporate greed because what we usually get told in documentaries like this is just a pile of very pretty bullshit that panders to the big guys.

Previous links to my perspective on this documentary can be found here:

SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit

SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 1

SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 2

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco




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