Monday, August 14, 2017

REVIEW: Creepy Presents Alex Toth

I’ve written extensively about Alex Toth, one of my favorite cartoonists. He was never closely identified with a single character or series—the closest perhaps being Bravo for Adventure (for which he produced a total of two stories) and a relatively long run on the Zorro comic-book—and primarily drew genre stories for various companies throughout his career, elevating them through his artistry and storytelling skills. (Another chunk of his career was spent doing character design and storyboarding for animation, most notably, Jonny Quest and Super Friends.)

Over the years, there have been numerous collections of his work, particularly his romance and war comics work at Standard, DC and other publishers from the 1950s and ‘60s—as well as in the definitive three-volume illustrated coffee-table biography, which I have reviewed.

So I was happy to come across this definitive compilation, Creepy Presents Alex Toth, collecting his little-seen horror work in the pages of Creepy and Eerie magazines from Warren Publishing, dating from the late 1960s, ‘70s and early ‘80s. (Creepy and Eerie were black-and-white magazine-sized newsstand comics, inspired by the well-regarded but notorious EC Comics of the 1950s.) The stories in these pages show that Toth always worked at the top of his game, even in his later years.

The collection shows a different side of Toth. An old school romantic, Toth greatly enjoyed doing romance comics. Aside from the occasional gem, the stories were often formulaic and arguably beneath someone as talented as Toth, though Toth’s work invariably gave them some emotional heft, raising the writing and stories to a higher level.

So it is interesting to see Toth drawing stories that are a little bit more cynical and grittier, exposing a darker side of the human condition and imagination. While I have never been much of a fan of horror, the work in this collection are of the O. Henry type, usually with an ironic or twist ending consisting of retribution or poetic justice. And even with occasional depictions of grisly horror, they still feature Toth’s penchant for strong graphics, crisp storytelling and great framing and cutting.

I was expecting to dismiss the stories as schlock but was pleasantly surprised that the stories were uniformly well written and high concept. It helps of course that Toth is paired with some great writers, such as the legendary Archie Goodwin, which no doubt inspired Toth in turn.

Toth is often referred to as an “artist’s artist” because other artists study his work—and this volume too is a great classroom for cartooning and comics storytelling. But the stories are entertaining as well as short story pieces, so anyone interested in seeing what all the fuss is about with Toth would do well picking up this collection.



Tuesday, August 8, 2017

REVIEW: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate


Though Al Franken so far insists that he’s not interested in running for president, like many such political biographies, Franken’s latest book, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate, despite its cheeky title, seems to be a perfect vehicle to position him for such a run. (Frankly, I wish he would!) The book describes his professional journey from funnyman, to activist, to “giant of the Senate.”

Franken, of course, began his professional career as a comedian, primarily as a writer and performer for Saturday Night Live—he was a writer at its debut and, having personally watched the show as an adolescent from its very inception, I can say I’ve seen much of his journey. In fact, I can say this connection came full circle in 2011 when my family and I took a trip to Washington, DC and saw Franken in person, along with other tourists, when we visited the Congressional chamber which was empty except for Franken presiding in the otherwise empty chamber (presumably for some reasons of protocol). It was quite a treat to discover him, of all people, sitting there when we walked into the gallery!

Following SNL, Franken gained prominence as a writer, radio host and activist in support of progressive ideals. Early books, Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right and Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot: And Other Observations (which I’ve read) were best sellers—aside from being hilarious, they were very cogently written, expertly tearing apart the arguments, tactics and misrepresentations of the far right fringe.

Following his career on SNL, Franken got involved in efforts to counter the lies he saw emanating from the right through outlets like his books and the Air America radio network. After the tragic death in 2002 of progressive Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, a personal friend, who died in an air crash with members of his family and staff while running for re-election, Franken in 2008 decided to run for the seat himself against Wellstone’s successor, GOP candidate Norm Coleman. He acknowledges it was partly to spite Coleman, who he felt had disrespected and capitalized on Wellstone’s death, though Franken soon recognized the important responsibility of holding office.

Franken describes his run for the Senate and the learning curve he went through to during the race, including the use of the “dehumorizer” by his opponents, which they used to great effect by taking his work as a comedian out of context to portray him as unfit for office. (Franken won by a razor-thin margin and was not even seated until about 8 months into what should have been his first term due to continued challenges by his opponent.)

The book then speaks about his orientation into the Senate and includes many funny anecdotes about his experiences and Senate colleagues. It then segues into his accomplishments, as well as his disappointments, as a U.S. Senator.

What’s most surprised me about Franken’s book is how seriously and deeply he respects the traditions and history of the Senate, and the spirit of innate civility and partnership that is essential to the body and effective government. While he acknowledges how he is compelled to counter the values and ideas espoused by his GOP colleagues, he also reveals how he bonded with them, even people like Mitch McConnell and Jeff Session,s often through humor or shared interests. At one point, for example, he tells a story of how Sessions, after noting how dedicated Franken was to his work as a fellow member of the Judiciary Committee—gave him a head’s up to ease up in his questioning that was beginning to alienate his GOP colleagues, which Franken appreciated.

One of the most striking anecdotes involves how bad he felt after obviously rolling his eyes while McConnell had the floor. Apparently, this is very much contrary to the norms of collegiality in the Senate and, in addition to getting dressed down by McConnell, he felt genuinely awful by this breach of conduct and did his best to personally apologize—which McConnell, in turn, graciously accepted.

For me, however, this respect for tradition, office and decorum contrasts starkly with the conduct Franken recounts of people like vile Congressman Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson, Sr. (South Carolina), who famously yelled “You lie!” during a televised address by President Obama. Franken uses this anecdote not only to show how brazen people in public life have become, but also to show how such behavior today is REWARDED, usually in terms of fundraising, which only further encourages such conduct. So while I appreciate and admire Franken’s respect of his office and colleagues, it nevertheless is frustrating to see others constantly break those rules with impunity at the expense of the values and soul of the country.

Nevertheless, Franken is clear in identifying the enemies of progressives and the interests of most working folks—indeed, one of those chapters is focused just on Ted Cruz, who is widely despised by both parties. (Senator Lindsey Graham famously opined in 2016, “"If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”) And Franken doesn't just speak of people on the other side of the aisle, but also about the corrupting influence of lobbyists and money/fundraising—particularly as typified by the infamous Koch brothers, whose threats to pull patronage from politicians are apparently enough to have many of them support bills like the Republicare act despite it polling at under 20 percent among their own constituents. For these reasons, Franken makes a convincing case for the need to control the influence of monied interests in the political process, perhaps through federally-funded elections. (One illuminating chapter focuses on the amount of time he and other officials must spend raising money—often, full eight-hour days are devoted to these efforts.)

With writing partner and fellow performer
Tom Davis on SNL
Franken makes clear that people run for office for different reasons. As for himself, he states outright that during his journey he discovered what made him suitable for the job was he likes people—Franken is clearly a gregarious personality, who genuinely respects his hard working constituents, regardless of political stripe, and doing his best to represent them and advance their interests. Remarkable from someone whose career was built on the folly and silliness of his fellow humans.

Given the number of pages spent in the book on our discouraging, polarized political process, Franken surprisingly ends the book on a positive, optimistic beat, encouraging readers to remain engaged and exercise their rights as citizens in a democracy and placing his trust in the wisdom of its voters.

It’s not like I read a lot of these kinds of books, but I must say that above all Franken has written a book that is not only funny, entertaining and a breezy read, but also provides a great “nuts and bolts” behind the scenes look at life in the Senate and Washington, DC and what it takes to survive, get along, and legislate.

Friday, July 28, 2017

2017 San Diego Comic-Con Wrap Up

Below is my report on the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con, held this year July 20-23. Scroll down to see some select photos or click here to go straight to the photogallery! Thanks to my brother for allowing use of his photos here as well.



My thanks to everyone who visited the WCG Comics booth at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con and made this year another success. As I hoped, the special comicon issue of Rob Hanes Adventures (#18) proved to be a draw to even those not familiar with the series. As always, it was fun to meet new fans and have longtime readers stop by to say hi and pick up the latest issue.

I approached this year’s show feeling somewhat more relaxed than past Comic-Cons, primarily because for once I completed the new issue, as well as put the finishing touches on my new trade paperback, well in advance. It was quite novel to not be burning the midnight oil to complete an issue and get it to the printer in the weeks leading up to the show.

This year’s Comic-Con featured a few firsts for me as well:

  • I refreshed my old PVC-pipe booth banner, which I had been using since 2012, with two, simpler retractable vertical banners, featuring fresh pieces of art from the new issue (18) and the next (19).
  • I made an effort to be more present on Twitter and Facebook prior to the show.
  • For the first time, my tween-aged son joined me on my pre-dawn drive down to San Diego! My family usually follows me separately later in the day, so he was quite excited to get a glimpse of Comic-Con behind the scenes before it started.

Despite the number of attendees, it’s no secret that Comic-Con can be a challenge for exhibitors. Over the years, the profile of attendees has evolved, meaning not everyone who attends the show necessarily is interested in comics, which is much different than when I first began exhibiting at the show back in the 1990s. And, of course, the sheer number of exhibitors vying for attention and dollars adds to the challenge.


As I have noted in the past, some small press publishers and exhibitors have resorted to other means to boost sales. This sometimes involves selling prints, t-shirts or other items featuring characters and properties that are usually unauthorized and unlicensed. I overheard one small press publisher admit to another that his Bob’s Burgers items flew off the table while he “couldn’t sell a $3 comic-book.” When I mentioned this to a fellow small exhibitor, he told me that some companies were looking into ways to start cracking down on such practices since they felt the conventions themselves weren’t stepping up. (I recall years ago there being exhibitors who sold bootleg VHS and DVDs of rare and hard-to-find cult films and TV shows, but these disappeared long ago, no doubt due to a crackdown.)

Nowhere was the changing face of Comic-Con more evident than in the decision by Mile High Comics to skip this year’s show after a 44-year run, as well as that of Bud Plant Books to move to a smaller booth at a different location from the space it traditionally occupied on the main floor in prior years. Both used to be prominent anchors on the main floor, occupying prime locations along with other notable comics dealers. While there are still traditional comics dealers on the floor, they are not at the level or standing of Mile High or Bud Plant—in some ways, like the entertainment and Hollywood booths that occupy the north end of the hall, Comic-Con seems increasingly dominated by publishers and companies that now try to connect their brands and artists to fans directly, rather than through the “middlemen” of retailers and distributors.

Sales were steady for me throughout the show, not marked by the kind of long lulls that sometimes struck my booth in past years at various times during the convention. I am not a natural salesperson or self-promoter, but I have learned it helps to put myself out there a bit, if just to break through the glassy-eyed stares that invariably strike attendees overwhelmed by the show’s sensory overload. Sales on Sunday, the last day, were also surprisingly strong and brisk, with people seemingly ready to buy after four days of activities and panels. Of course this no doubt varies publisher to publisher, but I found that others had similar experiences to mine.

Along with some personal and professional connections I made, it was overall a great show.

Practice Makes Perfect


New vertical banners introduced at this year's Comic-Con
As I always do, I packed my car the night before with my luggage and booth material, and departed before dawn, at 4:50 a.m. I do this not just to beat the traffic, but also to get a prime parking space directly beneath my booth at the convention center (the parking pass itself was purchased months in advance). My departure was actually just a tad later than usual but I still made it to the convention center from L.A. by 6:40 a.m. (In contrast, it takes my wife anywhere from 2–3 hours later in the day to make the drive.)

I actually enjoy the early morning start and being on the road at sunrise—and as I mentioned earlier, my son joined me, who was quite excited to join me. My brother, as he does every year, flew in from Northern California and was also at the convention center by 8 a.m. My car was fully unloaded and my booth set up by 9 a.m., which then allowed me to pick up my son from Comic-Con's exhibitor's daycare and get a nice breakfast. Then it was off to the hotel for early check in.

The banner retired this year
This year, through the hotel lottery, we were at a hotel a bit further out at Hotel Circle—during the show, Comic-Con has several shuttle lines running throughout the city running 24/7. I have to give credit for Comic-Con because, in my experience, even though the departure times for the shuttles are supposed to be 15-20 minutes, whenever the lines got really long either at the convention centers or on the route, they would run multiple buses almost immediately. It's pretty amazing and says much about Comic-Con's commitment to keep fans happy. Taking the shuttle from a little farther out than my usual and preferred hotel near San Diego's Little Italy really wasn't that much of a difference, other than leaving a little extra time—the shuttle stops tend to get a little more crowded in the mornings, but as an exhibitor who can get in before the doors open, I was leaving the hotel by about 7:15 a.m.

On the last day of the show, I actually always drive my car from the hotel to the convention center before dawn, again to be parked so that I can load up my car at the convention center as soon as the show ends. Those round-the-clock shuttles sure come in handy, though of course there's also the option of a taxi (or, nowadays, Lyft or Uber). But at that hour at the convention center, there are already people on line.

The Floor


Since I feel obligated to remain at my booth for most of the show, I only occasionally get to check out the floor or attend panels. For me, the best time to simply see things, is the “magic hour” before the doors open each morning when things are more peaceful and people are getting ready for the morning onslaught of attendees.

Some of my favorite places to visit are retailers like Bud Plant Books and Stuart Ng Books (Stuart actually visited my booth and picked up some recent issues of my book); publishers like IDW, Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly; Artist’s Alley; the areas selling original art and prints by talented artists as well as established names like Neal Adams and Michael Golden.

As always, it was fun briefly catching up with colleagues, friends and fans. These included new Mad Magazine executive editor Bill Morrison; comic book writer, artist and creator Mark Wheatley; Usagi Yojimbo writer and artist Stan Sakai; fellow cartoonist Batton Lash (Supernatural Law) and his wife, Jackie Estrada, who has run the Eisner Awards for years; and First Comics News journalist Rik Offenberger, who recently helped arrange an interview with me that ran just prior to the show.

It’s difficult for me to get away for panels as well—indeed, while taking a somewhat leisurely lunch on Sunday, my wife sent me a frantic text telling me that people were showing up at my booth looking to see me!

This year marked the birth centenary of one of my comics idols, Will Eisner, but I unfortunately missed a panel retrospective of his work. (This year also marked the great Jack Kirby’s centenary and Comic-Con prominently honored the legacy of both artists at the show.) On another day, I did catch a panel of another cartoonist I admire, Wally Wood. Members of my family tried to attend panels on Bob’s Burgers and Rick and Morty, but the wait turned out to be too long and the chances of getting in slim.

Print by MAD Magazine cartoonist Tom Richmond

Off-Sites

As Walking Dead, Blade Runner 2049, Westworld, Netflix and Stranger Things, The Tick, the History Channel, and others abounded downtown and were made even more apparent to me by the fact that even at 7 a.m. in the morning, lines were forming for them. (In fact, that was a consistent theme both in the hall and outside downtown—there were lines for something related to Comic-Con everywhere!) Apparently, some even featured immersive experiences for visitors.
I’ve reported in past years, a growing trend for Comic-Con has been off-site activities and pop-ups. Some rent out storefronts for the show while others create pop-ups in the downtown area adjacent to the convention center. Again, I have little time to check out these off-site venues, but I certainly saw them. Sites for

Cosplay


Print by cartoonist Neal Adams
Like last year, I felt the cosplaying was a little less evident this year. Of course, there are still plenty of people in costumes (as evidenced by my photogallery), but it just seems less frenzied. You can take this with a grain of salt, of course—I always point out that being at my table through much of the show likely gives me a narrow view of the show and, like everyone else, I have to depend on news sites and social media to know what’s going on. I noticed this year that the registration areas were moved to the upper floor, leaving the large open areas in the main lobby once occupied by these booths to cosplayers to gather and pose for photos.

I still take plenty of photos of cosplayers, and I particularly enjoy those that are a little more obscure or clever. Many of the cosplayers also really get into their roles, staying in character when they pose for photos. Among my favorites were a series of different cosplayers from different Wes Anderson films, including the Lobby Boy from the Grand Bucharest Hotel, Team Zissou from the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Suzy from Moonrise Kingdom (unfortunately, this last shot I missed!)

As expected, Wonder Woman and Rey from Star Wars proved to be popular cosplayer choices. Another trend I noticed this year was a lot of guys cosplaying as female characters! Rick and Morty, from the animated television show of the same name, was also a very popular choice this year.

Hollywood Glamour

From a media site
Aside from cosplaying, a feature of Comic-Con that often receives plenty of attention is the star quotient at Comic-Con. Though reports noted a slightly reduced studio presence in Hall H compared to previous years, the casts of the upcoming Justice League movie, led by Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck, as well as the cast of the Black Panther, created quite a stir on the floor when they respectively appeared for signings at the DC Comics and Marvel Comics booths.

New trailers for Justice League and Thor: Ragnorak also premiered at the show, shortly before being released online (I caught them on Twitter at my booth).

One evening after the show, on the way to dinner, I inadvertently also ran into a crowd of fans milling about the side entrance of the Hard Rock Hotel across the way, that suddenly began screaming and filming as a side entrance opened and a party of people, surrounded by security, were escorted to waiting limos. It turned out the Hard Rock was the green room for VIPs appearing at the show and Ben McKenzie, lead actor of the television show “Gotham” had just emerged.



The show invariably ends in a whimper—when the announcement is made, cheers go up, but people often still go about their business as security slowly starts to get unauthorized people out the door. It's amazing at how quickly everything starts to be torn down, almost immediately. Since I have a smaller booth, it's easy for me to strike down my booth, pack everything up and, with the help of my brother and a buddy, pack up my car, using the stairs rather than the elevator to the parking garage which has long lines of people with larger boxes and booth pieces to bring down.

Writer and blogger Mark Evanier writes in his summary about the show that "Comic-Con has an odd way of always being too long but at the same time, not long enough."

And so wraps another Comic-Con. I have to say, for some reason, I enjoyed this year quite a bit, partly due to my increased engagement with social media that made me feel more connected to what was going on elsewhere at the show and the fact that I felt a bit more energized by the release of the comicon issue as well as what’s coming up next in the series—here’s looking to 2018!

Below are some choice photos from the show — or click here to go straight to the photogallery!














Print by MAD Magazine cartoonist Tom Richmond





Aquaman photobombed by... Aquaman!

















Thursday, July 6, 2017

SDCC 2017: New at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con for WCG Comics and Rob Hanes Adventures

A new issue featuring a comic convention murder mystery, a new poster, and a new trade paperback compilation will all debut at Comic-Con

For additional images, visit WCG Comics’ online media room

NEWS RELEASE – For Immediate Release

Poster to be released at Comic-Con
Cartoonist and self-publisher Randy Reynaldo, who has been plugging away on his breezy action-adventure series, Rob Hanes Adventures, since the early 1990s—surely making it as one of the long-running indy titles still going—announced that he’ll again be exhibiting in the Small Press Area of the San Diego Comic-Con, scheduled July 20-23, 2017.

He’ll be at the same location he’s held in recent years, Booth K1 in the Small Press Area (up aisle 1500 on the main floor), under his WCG Comics imprint. Reynaldo has been a regular fixture at the show since 1993, the year Comic-Con introduced the Small Press Area, and 2017 marks his 19th appearance at Comic-Con.

In addition to debuting new booth displays, Reynaldo will have several new items for sale at his table, including a new poster, issue 18 of Rob Hanes Adventures, and a new trade paperback, Rob Hanes Adventures, Vol. 1, the first in a projected series of volumes collecting the title in trade format. (Click here to see the original press release about issue 18 with sample pages and here for the announcement about the trade paperback.)

“Given the large backlist of issues now in the catalog, it was time to make it easier for people—especially new readers—to begin collecting the series,” said Reynaldo.

Issue 18 promises to generate particular interest at Comic-Con since the issue takes place at a large (but unnamed) comics convention. Titled “Death at Comicon,” Rob is hired to protect a valuable, rare and highly sought-after comic-book. However, when the issue is stolen and a respected comic-book artist is murdered, Rob investigates and uncovers the sordid underbelly of fandom and the comic-book collectibles market! The issue features cosplayers, cameo appearances, and a climactic scene that takes place during a comicon panel.

The issue also includes a bonus backup story, “Prufrock,” which serves as a teaser for issue 19 that will take the series in a startling new direction, when the U.S. government nationalizes Rob’s detective agency, Justice International, turning it into a private police force and intelligence agency for the higher reaches of the government. Rob Hanes Adventures has often featured stories “pulled from the headlines” and upcoming issues will reflect the polarized political landscape of modern-day America.

More about Rob Hanes Adventures:
For those new to the series, Rob Hanes Adventures is an action-adventure series about a globetrotting private eye and troubleshooter from Justice International who travels the world on assignment, facing adventure, intrigue and romance at every turn. Over the years, the story has enjoyed playing in a variety of genres with good humor, and with every issue a stand-alone story, it’s very easy for readers to jump in with any issue.

Launched in 2000, and preceded by a zine and a comic-book series that ran four issues titled Adventure Strip Digest, Rob Hanes Adventures is one of the longest-running indie comics series still going! Inspired by classic adventure comic strips like Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer but set in the modern day—with dashes of light-hearted humor reminiscent of Will Eisner's Spirit—readers and fans have praised Rob Hanes Adventures for recapturing the spirit of the classic adventure strip and updating it for modern day audiences.

Though themes and characters recur in the series, every issue of Rob Hanes Adventures is self-contained. The entire series remains in print, including 17 issues to date and two trade paperback collections of earlier work. For more information about the series, previews and to purchase back issues, visit the WCG Comics website at wcgcomics.com or facebook.com/rhadventures.

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Scroll down for images from these publications.

Images accompanying this press release may be used for review purposes, with additional downloadable art and images from the comic-book series available in our online media room. All art © by Randy Reynaldo. All rights reserved.

For additional information or interview inquiries, please contact WCG Comics.


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Where to find us on the floor (full map with detailed map following):


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Map Detail (Hall B):


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Cover and interior art from Rob Hanes Adventures, Vol. 1 trade paperback and Rob Hanes Adventures #18:



Cover to Rob Hanes Adventures, Vol. 1 trade paperback


Cover art to Rob Hanes Adventures #18 to be released at the show