"But, if you have a moment, if your heart is big enough to spare a moment, give a nod and a smile for all the good ones who spent their lives making great art and small art and even entertainment. When they're gone, there's only one way to tell them you miss them... Send them a moment of kind thought right now. The beam will pick it up and carry it across the stars to them where they wait. I've been sending good wishes to the ones I miss all evening. Now it's your turn."
Mid-Ohio-Con 2006 was one of the best conventions I have ever attended, this despite my being the show's program director and not getting to spend nearly enough time with my friends, the fans, and our wonderful guests. Sadly, this event was book-ended by terrible loss. On Thanksgiving, just two days before the show, Jerry Bails, the father of comics fandom, passed at the too-young age of 73. On Sunday, as the show was winding down, we learned that comics artist and fan Dave Cockrum had died at the even-more-too-young age of 63. Both were dear to me and countless other comics fans.
Jerry was at the forefront of just about every important event in the early days of comics fandom: fanzines, newszines, adzines, the first comics apa (amateur press association), fan awards, etc. What he didn't originate, he would participate in with enthusiasm, knowledge, and an unfailing generosity. As I was packing for Mid-Ohio-Con, it hit me that I wouldn't be going there if it weren't for Jerry. I wouldn't be communicating with fans in person, or via postal mail, or online if it weren't for Jerry.
He had a profound effect on the comics industry. I don't know if I would have pursued a career in comics without having been part of comics fandom as a teenager and there are many professionals who came from the same beginnings.
My correspondence with Jerry was sporadic, but he was always ready to answer my questions and share his vast knowledge of comics and comics creators. In the past year, it has been my great joy to have been a member of some of the same online groups as Jerry. In them, I learned he was as brilliant and generous and progressive and thoughtful about the issues of the real world outside comics as he was about issues of the comics he loved. I was learning from him right to the end of his life and I suspect I'll continue to learn from him to the end of mine.
Dave Cockrum was more or less a contemporary. From the moment I saw his drawings in the fanzines to which we both contributed in the late 1960s, I knew he'd make it to the "big leagues." Everyone knew it. He was that good from the get-go.
Dave was an extraordinary artist, but he was an enthusiastic fan as well, and, to those of us lucky enough to have known him, a great friend. He was a guest at Mid-Ohio-Con a few years back and every fan who met him, every member of our con crew who worked with him, loved him madly. If you couldn't love Dave, your brain just wasn't made right. When we lose someone like him, we lose not just an amazing talent, but a damned fine human being.
I'm a comic-book guy, maybe a mite on the simple side. I like to think there's something pretty spiffy beyond this world of ours, someplace where we can joyously continue the passions of our lives. I imagine Jerry having access to all the comics creators he never got to meet and all the information that eluded him in this world. I imagine Dave creating all the great comics he never got to create in this world. It's a small comfort compared to the loss, but it's a comfort nonetheless.
Jerry, Dave, thanks for all you shared with us.
It is an enormous conflict of interest for me to "review" Mid-Ohio-Con in these pages. Feel free to savage me for this shocking breach of ethics when I run for president next year. The American people deserve to know the truth.
Promoter Roger Price always puts on a great show. This year, the first held in Battelle Hall at the Columbus Convention Center, was no exception. The guest list was incredible, the size of the hall allowed fans welcome elbow-room when chatting with the guests or shopping with the exhibitors, and the - ahem - panel programming showcased a variety of talents and topics.
Matthew "Feedback" Atherton made his first comics convention appearance since winning Stan Lee's "Who Wants To Be a Superhero?" Sci-Fi Channel competition last summer. He was everything anyone could want from a guest: enthusiastic, friendly, and great with the kids who flocked to see him. With artist Matt Haley, who drew the art for the TV series, he hosted our "Superhero Trivia Challenge." And he's definitely one of us. Comic books, action figures, etc. Batman asks where Feedback gets his wonderful toys.
The fans and contemporary comics creators got to hang out with a quartet of legends: Dick Ayers, Al Feldstein, Gary Friedrich, and Herb Trimpe. Gary and Herb were first-time visitors to the show; both were amazed by how many fans came to their tables to express admiration for their work and get comics signed by them. This was Gary's first convention in decades and I never got tired of seeing him grinning with delight. He's hoping to attend more conventions this year and make a return visit to Mid-Ohio-Con.
Small-press and self-published comics creators were a big part of the show, as they always are. There were also celebrities from "TV Land," including Marcia Wallace, Joyce DeWitt, Mira Furlan, and Corin Nemec. I don't know how many comics, media, and other guests were at the show, but my guess would be over 150.
Retailers? Man, were there great comics and great buys to be found at Mid-Ohio-Con this year. I was shopping for a good friend in England and I still can't believe the rare comic book I scored for him. I never thought I'd even see a copy of that one.
Would that I had the space to give you a happy-moment-by-happy moment report on Mid-Ohio-Con, but I've already blown any pretense of impartiality by writing this much about it. If I dared rate it as I do the other items I write about in this column, I might well exhaust the magazine's supply of "Tonys." So let's just leave it this: I had a terrific time this year and I expect to have an even more terrific time next year.
And this three-word hint for next year's program:
Maggie. Thompson. Roast.
One of the highlights of Mid-Ohio-Con was an evening screening of Hero Tomorrow by co-writer/director Ted Sikora. This indy film belies its low budget as it tells its engaging tale of a comic-book creator getting too close to his creation and the spiraling impact this has on his life and the lives of those around him. I've seen the movie a couple times now and I'm always impressed by how good it looks. The story is solid, the comics-related stuff rings true, the acting is never less than good and often superb. The direction and cinematography hold the film together very well. The surprises - character and plot revelations - are surprising, but they never come out of nowhere.
Perren Henderson's portrayal of the struggling comics creator David is excellent, revealing the character's passion and problems. David's creation is actually a pretty good super-hero; I could see an ongoing Apama comic. With a hero inspired by Native American culture, such a series could have a nice "urban animal" feel to it. I'd be interested in reading it.
Jocelyn Wrzosek is the cast's stand-out performer. As Robyn, David's girlfriend, she pushes darn near every emotional button you can imagine. She's got what it takes to be a genuine comics fandom heartthrob. Other exceptional performances include Shelley Delaney as Robyn's mom, and Ray McNiece as the owner of the Hero Tomorrow comic-book shop. In fact, my favorite scene in the movie, running during the end credits, is a hilarious vignette between McNiece and a sharp-talking Texan with rare comic books to sell.
Note should also be made of the many comics creators who made their characters and comics available to Sikora and co-writer/co-producer Milo Miller. Comics fans will delight in the mentions of Kurt Busiek's Astro City, The Frankenstein Mobster, Hip Flask, El Mucho Grande, and others. Full disclosure demands I mention that I get a "thanks" in the end-credits, though all I did was let some comics people know Ted and Milo needed help and have the good sense to turn down Ted's offer to cast me in the movie.
Hero Tomorrow is not currently available on DVD, but you can get a taste of the movie at:
Me, I'm hoping some movie distributor catches this review and signs up Sikora and Miller. Their film is definitely worthy of a wider audience. On our usual scale, Hero Tomorrow earns an impressive four Tonys.
One of the gems I got at Mid-Ohio-Con was James Bama: American Realist by Brian M. Kane [Flesk Publications; $34.95] with introduction by Harlan Ellison and foreword by Len Leone, the art director and vice president of Bantam Books for over 30 years. This hardcover study of the career and works of the great artist is downright, literally mesmerizing. If took all the will power for which I am legendary to take my eyes off Bama's paintings - of which hundreds have been included in this tome - to read the illuminating text or even turn the page to look at the next amazing canvases.
Bantam's Doc Savage paperbacks were my introduction to Bama, but, had I more money and time than was allotted to me as a high-school student, I probably would have bought every book with a Bama cover. Even now, looking at the covers displayed lovingly on page after page, I want to leap from my desk and go to every used books shop in the state of Ohio. Bama did hundreds of paperback covers; surely not all the copies of those books can be in the hands of his fans. There must be some left for me, right?
Kane, who teaches at the Columbus College of Art and Design, does a first-rate job leading readers through Bama's achievements without losing us non-academic types. Ellison expresses the sheer wonder of Bama's artistry while Leone reveals the professionalism that went hand-in-hand with Bama's genius. Quotes from artists and writers, liberally sprinkled throughout the volume, make clear the reverence with which Bama and his work are held. But the paintings are the heart and soul of this book. They are powerful, emotional images with a sense of reality so strong that you think you could reach out and feel the heat of the Arizona plains. Or the fires of brutal combat. Or the softness of the Bama women. Or, if you were so inclined, the rippling muscles that lay beneath that eternally ripped shirt of Doc Savage.
The Hero Initiative, the first-ever federally chartered not-for-profit corporation dedicated strictly to helping comic-book creators in need, was at Mid-Ohio-Con. From them, I bought a copy of Actor Comics Presents Vol. 1 [$10]. It's a 152-page collection of stories by a bevy of fantastic talents, including Stan Lee, Paul Dini, Joseph Michael Linsner, Dave Sim, and many others. Courtesy of Marvel Comics, two of the dozen or more tales feature Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk.
There's quite a bit of variety in this anthology and too many great stories for me to name them. But I have to at least mention "The Day The Superheroes Quit" by the surprising pairing of Lee and Linsner; "My Hero," a Spider-Man story by Ron Marz and Dan Jurgens; the Roy Thomas/Dick Giordano's adaptation of Robert E. Howard's "For the Love of Barbara Allen;" and Mark Waid's scary "My Hand To God: True Tales of Horror From the Convention Trail."
Actor Comics Presents offers good bang for your bucks and it supports a wonderful cause. It earns five Tonys.
Jetta [Airwave; $9.99] is a must-have collection for fans of the great Dan DeCarlo. Jetta is a typical teenager...from the 22nd century...who appeared in a short-lived comic published by Standard circa 1953. The six DeCarlo-drawn stories reprinted in this trade paperback aren't as witty as their Archie Comics counterparts, but they're still great fun, as is the new Jetta story written by Chris Yambar and drawn by Richard Maurizio. Add historical text pages, the original covers, and pin-ups by Batton Lash, Tania Del Rio, and others, and you get a sweet package that easily earns a respectable picks up three out of five Tonys.
The Twerp and the Blue Baboon [Comic Library International; $8.95] by George Broderick, Jr. and Chris Yambar came out a couple years ago, but I didn't see it until Mid-Ohio-Con. It's 64 pages of suitable-for-all-ages delight wherein the smallest kid in school proves to be the biggest hero in the galaxy using villain-fighting equipment he bought from ads in comic books. Then there's the Blue Baboon, who is kinda like Peter Parker except he has a pink, fleshy behind. Yambar writes, Broderick draws, and you'll be laughing out loud at the Baboon-esque homage to the origin of Spider-Man. It's a great comic book and thus earns four Tonys.
Christmas will be several weeks past by the time this review appears, but I'm betting George Broderick, Jr.'s Christmas Eve, the First Lady of Yuletide Cheer [Cool Yule Productions; $5.95] retains its charm throughout the year. This is Broderick's first creator-owned full-color comic and it tells the tale of how three Christmas fairies created a new heroine for the holidays and of Eve's battle with the diabolical Black Peter. It's a great-looking comic book, all 52 pages of it, and it earns four Tonys.
Also Christmas-themed and also good-the-whole-year-round is my pal Thom Zahler's Love and Capes #2 [Maerkle Press; $3.95]. Mark (the Crusader) and Abby are celebrating their first Christmas as a couple, but Mark doesn't have clue one what kind of present to give Abby. On her end, Abby knows that, with all Mark's super-powers, he could get her any present she asked for and doesn't want to take advantage of that. Mark's solution to the gift conundrum is heart-warming. He may be the best boyfriend in comics.
I continued to be in awe of Zahler's work on this title. He gives great sitcom without being the least bit crude. His drawings and the pastel coloring combine to create as inviting a look for a comic book as I've seen in years. This is a mainstream-outside-of-comics sensation waiting to happen. Get in on the fun now so that, later, you can say you were there at the beginning.
Love and Capes #2 earns the full five Tonys.
Now that my good friend in England has received the rare comic book I bought for him at Mid-Ohio-Con, I can tell you it was The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #1 from 1952. Though the book was lacking a back cover, it was otherwise a pretty spiffy reading copy. In near-mint condition, if you can find it, this issue sells for over $1500. I got it for ten bucks.
On the Hero Tomorrow front, Ted Sikora sent along this good news:
Hero Tomorrow will have its hometown debut at the 31st annual CLEVELAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. This year the fest will be showing over 120 features and more than 110 shorts, representing nearly 60 countries. We are so honored to be included, and can't wait to get this cast & crew together for an ultra cool midnight screening.
...our entry can be found under the categories "American Independents," "Local Heroes," and "Midnight Snacks." Tickets are on sale now!
Check the festival website for screening times.
Finally, watch for Thom Zahler's Love and Capes #4 on Free Comic Book Day. For the first time I can recall, a publisher is giving away the actual next issue of an ongoing title on FCBD. For more information on the force of creativity and goodness that is my pal Thom, visit his blog at:
Near every Tuesday, I post new "Tony Polls" questions for your balloting entertainment. Earlier this year, you were asked to vote on your favorite publisher of 2006. As you saw in yesterday's TOT, DC swept that question last week. So I removed them from the list of choices and asked it again.
Whose comic books and other items did you enjoy the most in 2006?
Since I voted for Marvel over DC last time around, it shouldn't surprise you to learn I voted for Marvel this time, too. But there were some other surprises.
Fantagraphics dropped from third to fifth place as Dark Horse, IDW, and Bongo made significant gains in the polling once we took DC out of the running. Image and Gemstone picked up new votes as well, making this race that much more interesting.
We took Marvel out of the running for the final ballot on this question. Look for those results later this week.
Next on my "to do" list is writing and posting this week's new questions. I would tell you what they are, but, as I said, writing them is the next thing on my list. You can check them out and cast your votes by going to:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: