Friday, May 30, 2008

Interview with Writers Mark Parsons & Tom Cohen

It's a great week for comics!
Some of the highlights include the release of GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 (featuring the long-awaited finish to the story by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday), Dave (CEREBUS) Sim's JUDENHASS, which could become this generation's must-read Holocaust comics story, DC's FINAL CRISIS #1 (by the stellar team of writer Grant Morrison and artist JG Jones), Tom Beland's TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD Archives (though it's more like an "essential"), Jack Kirby's OMAC: One Man Army Corps hardcover and Mark Millar's MARVEL 1985 #1...and the proverbial so much more! This list just begins to skim the surface of cool stuff hitting the racks on Thursday May 29 for New Releases Day.

But there's also a new comic book I want to give special attention to---and that's where the following interview comes in. Enjoy!
Since the opening of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in 1988, a select few comics' aficionados in the Contra Costa area have gone on to become staff members here. Less than 50 in 20 years, in fact.

While Mark Parsons was the first person hired to work here, he never quite left comics behind. And I'm proud to report that MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #9, with the first story from Mark and his writing partner Tom Cohen, hits the racks Thursday May 29. I wanted to check in with Mark and Tom about their process of becoming writers for Marvel…while also continuing our celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Flying Colors by quizzing Mark about some of those early days here in the shop.

FlyCoJoe: So what exactly have you been up to in the 19 years since you left your--- *ahem*--- first job in comics?

Mark: Went off to film school in London ---and about four weeks later Stan Lee came to Flying Colors for a signing--- bad timing for me! Worked in the UK as an assistant editor for film & TV, then moved to LA, where I spent about eight years as a freelance script and book reader, mostly for James Cameron's production company Lightstorm and the William Morris Agency. The Lightstorm experience was like getting a PHD in science fiction--- I got to read great chunks of classic Sci-Fi literature from the pulp era onwards.

Imagine that! They PAID me to read Philip K Dick, Kim Robinson, Neal Stephenson et al (current hot Sci-Fi author tip: read Charles Stross). For awhile, I wrote for a pop culture website that went belly up when the dot-com boom petered out. I had a year of planned articles accepted then it all went *poof*! That company was also getting visits from US Marshals (it's a long story regarding bilking aged Floridians into "investing" in "new media"), so it was probably a good thing it all collapsed.

I then worked as an associate producer on various cable TV shows for two years and moved into ghost writing non-fiction "self-help" books--- business, fitness, therapy, etc-- which is what I do now. So if you buy a self-help book, it could be me advising you, but you will never know!

On the personal side, I got married and have a six year old daughter. It was fun taking Helena and Maya to visit you & Libby at Flying Colors early in 2008. When I met Helena back in film school, one of the things we bonded over was Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN, which I introduced her to. She is Brazilian, so she grew up on European comics like Tin Tin, Asterix and Lucky Luke as well as various Brazilian comics like Turma do PererĂª and Mafalda.

FlyCoJoe: Any memories from your time here at Flying Colors?

Mark: I remember seeing your ad in the local paper and being psyched to get an interview. I was between college and film school and working in a comic shop sounded like a great way to keep my finger on the pop culture pulse --- and stay away from desk jobs!

I also remember our first meeting, when you explained how you had designed FC as a pop culture store that offered something for everyone in the family. This was a new approach back in '89. The comics shops I had frequented in Atlanta and Nashville were classic "collectors turn hobby into small business" situations. I loved 'em, but not very welcoming to "civilians." So I felt like I was part of something new and cutting edge. Thanks for the job, btw!

FC was a great place to work: great stock, amazing design. I enjoyed approaching and helping new customers, showing them all manner of coolness they'd not been exposed to, whether it was indie comics, Spirit reprints, Marvel Masterworks or just interesting "new" writers, like Grant Morrison or Neal Gaiman. I recall enthusing about SANDMAN and DOOM PATROL to many customers.

I remember Jim Lee doing several signings. He was on Punisher War Journal and was already a star name. Those were very successful signings and twenty years later FC and Lee are still going strong.

I also remember you bringing your three young daughters to the store-- now they're all grown up. Time flies!

FlyCoJoe: I remember from your time here on staff you taught me a thing or three about indie comics since I knew almost nothing at the time if it wasn't about super-heroes. It was through you that I first developed a real appreciation for indie stars like Los Bros Hernandez and Dave Sim.

Mark:LOVE & ROCKETS and CEREBUS were my big indie faves back in the day. I guess technically Eisner's SPIRIT reprints from Kitchen Sink would also qualify. It was also neat watching people's tastes change as they expanded from DC titles to become Marvel fans, or over to CEREBUS or LOVE & ROCKETS. That was my big thing: turning people on to new, cool interesting comics. Do they call that "hand selling?" Whatever it's called, it's a hallmark of the best shops and that's what you encouraged and trained everybody to do.

FlyCoJoe: Just wondering if you have secret plans for any creator-owned projects?

Mark: While Tom and I would love to do more mainstream superhero work, I have several solo projects in various genres that I'd like to pitch to places like Boom, Dark Horse or IDW (that's aiming high, I know!).

I wish I could draw, as I'd love to do a comic about my days in boarding school in Liverpool back in the punk era of 1977-1979. Alas, I only doodle in margins, so I don't see that happening unless I totally luck out and find a young Eddie Campbell or something like that! I've been circling the idea of starting a Young Adult (YA) novel about those experiences, but at the moment ghost writing is crowding that out.

FlyCoJoe: Let's now bring in your writing collaborator Tom Cohen to the discussion. How long have you two worked together on your writing?

: Mark & I met when he was a script reader for Lightstorm --- I was a development exec there and we became fast friends over our mutual enthusiasms for all things comics and movies. Regular pow-wows to talk the latest in such things led to "wouldn't it be cool if…" conversations and eventually, hatching our own story ideas.

Mark: We've been working on ideas for four years now. We started with an INVADERS pitch that morphed into a cool WWII espionage tale that touched on almost every corner of the Marvel universe. That pitch got us in the door, so to speak, at Marvel and we pitched a few things to Andy Schmidt. We worked up loads of short story ideas for Spider Man Unlimited--- then the book got cancelled. But Andy liked what we'd been sending enough to ask us if we'd like to pitch for MCP…

FlyCoJoe: Any particular writers that have influenced your work?

Mark: Kirby, Lee, Alan Moore, Claremont and Miller were formative influences. All of them blew me away when I first read their work. After I recently reread some Essential DEFENDERS volumes, I can also see how Steve Gerber warped by elementary school mind in a massive way. I have also been a huge fan of Grant Morrison's work ever since I pulled ANIMAL MAN #1 off the shelves at FC. In terms of non-comics genre writers, Stephen King looms large, as does Clive Barker.

Tom: Pretty much any of the classic era 1960s & 70s Marvel writers and creators – guys like Lee, Kirby, Doug Moench, Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman and Len Wein all made huge impressions on me as a kid. Outside of comics I'm a big hard-boiled crime fiction and noir fan – James Ellroy is a fave (natch!) but also cats like Mickey Spillane and Wade Miller (which was actually a pseudonym for a writing duo).

FlyCoJoe: How did the writing gig for Marvel Comics Presents come about?

Mark: Picking up from earlier…Tom and I went to San Diego Comic-Con with the idea of getting to know some Marvel editors and asking them if they'd be interested in our formerINVADERS mini series pitch. This idea horrified me, as I am terrible at selling myself and networking. If I have nothing to "sell" or ask of anybody, I'm fine, but if I feel like I have an agenda, then I get slightly uncomfortable.

Luckily, Tom had been working as a development executive for years and was used to the whole networking dynamic. Still, we got lucky. Fabian Nicieza, who had pitched movie projects to Tom a few times, was unexpectedly at Comic-Con San Diego and we met up with him. As soon as he heard we had a pitch he offered to send it to executive editor Tom Brevoort, with the caveat that Brevoort would probably never get back to us because he's super busy. And indeed nothing seemed to happen.

But Fabian had also intro'd us to editor C.B. Cebulski who in turn intro'd us to editor Andy Schmidt. By the next year's San Diego Con, we had another mini series idea and Tom Cohen had made email contact with Andy, who recalled the WWII pitch we'd sent in. So we went to see him and as luck would have it, he had been on the con floor for hours, right next to this huge, booming video game booth. He hadn't eaten, so we got that proverbial chance to buy an editor lunch. Andy agreed to check out our new project, which turned out not to be his cup of tea, but he kept looking at short story pitches we'd send in and that lead to Marvel Comics Presents.

Andy helped us out a great deal, gave us excellent feedback and it's no wonder his Comics Experience comic book school is such a success. This is the guy who managed to bring back MADROX, X-FORCE and kicked off the ANNIHILATION boom for Marvel's entire cosmic/Sci-Fi line.

FlyCoJoe: Did you go with the classic Marvel writing style of giving the artist plot only?

Mark: Plot first, then full script ---about five drafts--- all edited by Andy. Once he signed off on the script, it was off to artists.

FlyCoJoe: It's quite a coup for a pair of new writers to get an artist of Ed McGuinness's caliber---on a HULK story, no less--- for your first published story. How did that happen?

Mark: Again, that's was all down to Andy Schmidt. Marvel Comics Presents was designed to be a mix of established and new talent and we just drew the lucky superstar straw.

Tom: Andy Schmidt didn't utter a peep about who he was approaching. We had this fantasy list of names starting with flashback classics like Trimpe, Severin, Sal Buscema and so forth. I can't remember who the newer artists we were hoping for or thinking about, but they weren't a marquee name like Ed McGuinness. And you can imagine how we felt when we got that email!

We're pretty darn proud of our MCP story. It was initially due out in issue #3, but got bumped, so we've been waiting --- as has family and friends all over the globe--- for want seems an eternity. The tale stands alone, but it does open up the possibility of a whole new avenue for gamma-powered chicanery, so who knows, if we get lucky, maybe we can go back there and tell more tales…

FlyCoJoe: And I know family, friends and Flying Colors' Faithful hope that happens, too!

(Check out MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #9, on sale Thursday May 29 at Flying Colors and better comic book stores everywhere!)

Peace 'n' Hulkin' Out---


Friday, May 23, 2008

Remembering Rory---Photos & Stories

Here's another look and a few more stories about Rory Root, my friend and the owner of Comic Relief who sadly passed away this past Monday.

Rory was one of the early organizers of WonderCon. Along with his former business partner in Comic Relief, Mike Patchen, Rory lent funds to the organizing committee one year to float the convention until ticket sales helped us pay all of our bills. If I recall, the only thing Rory and Mike asked for in exchange was that first row of booths, so Comic Relief would be the first display fans would see as they came into the show. Knowing that the #1 rule of marketing is to "be first in the market", Rory and Mike knew what they were doing.

Rory's Comic Relief was the recipient of the'93 Eisner "Spirit of Comics" award for retailing excellence. Flying Colors was a finalist that year, as we were again in '94. But, somehow, some way, when Rory was a judge in 1995, Flying Colors was honored as the recipient. I'm not saying we didn't deserve it, or that there was some hanky panky, but it's good to know the judges!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got to know Rory before I opened Flying Colors when I helped the NCCDA (Northern California Comic Dealers Association), an early retailer trade association, with its advertising and promotion. It was a point of pride for us---Rory, Bob Borden, Lindsay Chu, Bob Smoot, Clayton Tavernier, Michael Pandolfo and others---we were able to band together to do some successful advertising programs and get a number of publishers to pay for most of them.

At the San Diego Con one year (maybe '91), the NCCDA had a meeting with Carole Kalish, who was then head of Marvel's sales department. We asked for more money to advertise and she objected, telling all of us there that we had accounted for 80% of Marvel's discretionary ad budget the previous year. Since Rory was always in on those negotiations, it became a point of pride for him---and all NCCDA retailers. Because we organized and got creative with the way we promoted our stores, we pushed ahead of retailers in larger markets. And it was due in no small part to Rory's persistence in asking for more from his suppliers.

Later, NCCDA merged with an group called ERCBRA (Eastern Regional Comic Book Retailers Association, if I recall correctly) to form the first national retailer trade association called CBRI (Comic Book Retailers International, although I'm not sure we ever had members outside the U.S.). After a few years of trying to make CBRI into something big, the group splintered into regional groups again. So the Bay Area retailers formed BACR (Bay Area Comic Retailers) and since it was difficult for the guys in the South Bay to attend our meetings, they formed their own group called TERM (see photo caption). The photo shown here was, if not the only, one of maybe two meetings of the two Nor-Cal retailer groups.

Which leads us to ComicsPRO, now the largest ever comic book retailer trade association. With all the experience Rory had in various associations over the years, his wisdom in getting ComicsPRO off the ground has been invaluable. He was an active participant in both ComicsPRO annual meetings the last two years, even when his health problems caused him constant pain. Rory Root was part of the forming of all these retailer trade groups. So in addition to being such a supporter of the art of comics, he was a just as big a supporter of improving the business of comics

He didn't complain about his ailments, at least not to me, and we talked a lot. But I also did keep my phone conversations with him to manageable time segments--- I've known and been reminded this week that Rory often had loooonnnggg conversations regularly extending to all hours of the night and early morning. I kept my chats with him mostly to 30 or 40 minutes because that's about all I'm good for on the phone.

Rory did a lot of good things for the business of comics, perhaps the most profound of which was goading publishers and retailers to adopt his bookstore model with the comic book twist. In perhaps his last online interview, Rory along with several other stellar retailers, offered advice to independent comic artists on how to get more exposure in comic shops. That interview can be found at Newsarama .

There's a hole in the comic book world...and with the sadness of Rory's passing, there's also a real sense of gratitude for his key contributions to the ongoing health of the comics' industry.

But more than that, I feel profound gratitude for his friendship over the last 22 or so years. Rory's is a presence that will not soon be forgotten. It's like I've lost a brother...a long-haired hippie of a brother I know I'd never have---but a brother just the same.



Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More About Rory Root

It's been comforting to read the outpouring of admiration, respect and affection for my friend Rory Root all over the comics world blogosphere since his untimely passing, but I know one thing for sure--- neither Rory nor his family would ever want him deified.

He was a giant among retailers, but personally very humble and also cognizant of his own short-comings--- especially his lack of attention to personal health issues. Back when I started writing columns for Comics & Games Retailer magazine, one of my first dealt with my father's health problems and how they reminded me that comic retailers were (and sadly still are) largely in the same bag. Rory called me after the column saw print and said "Joe, I know you were directing that piece to me, so thank you."

That was ten years ago, and in the interim, Rory and I talked a lot about taking better carer of his health (and mine), but it was only in the last few months Rory really started to pay attention to trying to get doubt sensing his own mortality. Almost every time I talked with him on the phone---and we talked usually a few times a week--- he'd mention how long it had been since he quit smoking....and I'd give him an "attaboy".

I talked Tuesday morning with Brian Hibbs from SF's Comix Experience who wrote a very nice tribute to Rory on his Savage Critic site. In it, Brian goes into detail about how Rory could talk rings around Brian---and Hibbs is a mile-a-minute gabber himself.

When I related to Brian that I thought Rory often had a quiet way of getting his points across, Hibbs laughed heartily and said "Rory?! Quiet?!?". I meant that Rory often made his points in softer tones, even if he took all day to say what he wanted. "Brian," I added, "Rory wasn't AM. He was most definitely FM."

Rory was a life-long voracious reader and book collector, which likely led to his drive to take the medium of comics to an equal footing with the rest of the book business. Comic Relief was probably the first comic book specialty store to fully embrace the bookstore model and that focus allowed Rory early entrance into the market of serving schools and libraries with a steady diet of book-format comics. Comics Relief was and is The Comic Bookstore.

Long before I knew Rory as a retailing colleague, I bought comics from him when he worked at Best of Two Worlds on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. I clearly remember in the early '80s, I was trying to reassemble my run of Amazing Spider-Man and was down to some of the tougher, more expensive lower issue numbers. As I walked into the Best of Two Worlds store that day, just ahead of me was someone selling a stack of early Marvels to Rory over the counter. I caught the tail end of that transaction--- Rory paid $125 for the stack of maybe 50 comics, including Spidey #2, the lowest issue number I needed then, along with Sgt Fury & His Howling Commandoes #1-4, some issues of Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish, and a few other Ditko Spideys.

After paying the guy his $125, I asked Rory if he had any early Spideys for sale. He pulled the #2 out of the just-purchased stack and when I asked its price, it was--- you guessed it--- $125. I didn't know it at the time, but Rory had just given me my first lesson in comic retailing.

While I was still working in radio in the mid-'80s, I also moonlighted doing some promotion and advertising work for a Bay Area comic retailers group called NCCDA (Northern California Comic Dealers' Association). That was the group with the idea to start a convention, dubbed "The Wonderful World of Comics Convention" by retail pioneer John Barrett. Rory was in that group of early organizers for what became WonderCon and it was there that I got to know him and we became friends.

When I finally took the plunge to open Flying Colors, Rory was a retailer friend I knew I could call on to get advice. I can vouch for all those who've been saying that Rory was generous with his time. More than that, I think Rory genuinely cared for his opinions to count in any discussion. And his opinions always seemed to be well-studied.

Rory was also among a select group of retailers from whom I solicited thoughts for another Comics Retailer magazine column on what it takes to run a successful comic specialty retail operation. That column can be found HERE.

For the last seven years, at the end of each Free Comic Book Day, Rory was the only retailer who gave me a phone call to say "thank you" for the good idea with FCBD and to tell me of his store's success with the event. It was truly a gentlemanly thing to do and I know I'll really miss those calls...

When Flying Colors opened in 1988, my daughters were 4, 6 and 8 years old. Rory became one of their comic industry godfathers---Bill Liebowitz and Joe Ferrara being the other two--- and my girls gave him respect and affection which he returned in kind.

He loved good books, good food, good conversation, good laughs--- and he rarely would turn down what he thought was a good deal.

More than 20 years ago, when I was concerned about finding the right people to staff Flying Colors, John Barrett told me not to worry, saying "Good people find good people." Rory was "good people".

One of the keys to the success of Flying Colors has been my friendship with Rory Root--- my colleague and my friend.

Rory, may your new journey lead you to an eternal banquet of delicacies, deep conversations and re-acquaintances with long-lost friends and loved ones. And may your soul find...



Photo by Fae Desmond taken of Rory in his element, among the stacks of books at Comic Relief in Berkeley.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rest in Peace, Rory Root

My friend Rory Root, owner of Comic Relief in Berkeley CA, has passed away. He was 50.

He was admitted to Kaiser Hospital in Oakland CA last Saturday where he underwent emergency surgery for what is believed to have been a ruptured hernia.

Rory was a friend of mine for more than 20 years...and years before that, he was the guy I dealt with when I was buying old comics from the pre-Comic Relief comic shop Best of Two Worlds in Berkeley.

Rory was also one of the industry's most influential retailers, embracing the book-store model in the comic specialty market long before most of his retailing contemporaries. With his huge presence, his ever-present coffee mug and stylish hats, Rory was an easily-recognized retailing luminary at every event he attended.

I miss him already.

Rest in peace, my friend.

(Photos---top: Rory with Libby Field at--- where else?--- Comic Relief, 2006. Bottom: photo taken in 1987 at the first WonderCon, where Rory was one of the original founders and stake-holders. This shot was taken to promote the benefit art auction for Literacy Volunteers of America.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Coming Soon: DC Trinity!

One of the BIG events in comics this year will be TRINITY, the weekly series featuring the big guns----SUPERMAN, BATMAN & WONDER WOMAN--- of the DC Comics Universe.
Couple the star quality of the series with the stellar creative team of writer Kurt Busiek (ASTRO CITY) & Mark Bagley (ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN) and surely the result will be great comics.

Take a look at the trailer here---and be sure to let us know if you'd like us to hold a copy for you when the first issue hits the racks on Wednesday June 4.



Saturday, May 10, 2008

FCBD Winners!

A quick mention here of the names drawn as winners at our FREE COMIC BOOK DAY event.

Cory Joseph, Walnut Creek
Mark Colbert, Castro Valley
John Wood, Walnut Creek
Chris Wang, Danville
Sam Taylor, Antioch
Nathan Buford, Orinda
Grant Tudor, Walnut Creek
Carrie Holiday, Concord
Jonathan Villegas, Concord

Within the next week or so, each of these winners will be receiving official notification by mail, with details of which prizes each has won. Be watching you mail box!

Peace 'n' Prizes!


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

FCBD Photo Parade!

Another FREE COMIC BOOK DAY is in the books. And it sure was fun!

Here are a few pix from the day. We'll be posting more photos in the "FCBD" section of the Flying Colors web-site in the coming week or so (hopefully!).

Before the doors opened to the waiting crowd seeking this year's stash of FREE comics, the entire Flying Colors' crew and our professional guests took a moment to read the brand new "FLYING COLORS 20th Anniversary Special Edition". Seated from left to right are our FCBD guests--- writer Cliff MacGillivray, artists Adrian Rivero, Chris Mendoza and writer/artist Jeff "JayBee" Bonivert.

FlyCo Retailing Brigade members Andy and Leticia prepare for the marathon of comic book giveaways with a full spread of delicious FCBD editions. Flying Colors gave away more than 5000 comic books last Saturday!

Speaking of delicious, a most welcome addition to this year's FCBD festivities at Flying Colors was provided by long-time FlyCo Faithful "BJ", a culinary arts student who baked pies, spice bars, mini banana cream pies and peanut butter, chocolate and walnut cookies. All excellent additions to Libby's legendary Creme-de-menthe brownies. Here BJ treats those waiting in line to his homemade spice bars.

IRON MAN was the big winner at the weekend movie box office---and it comes as no surprise that the best place to score some classic IRON MAN stories is at Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff!

Long-time FlyCo Faithful Curtis Yuen (he's been shopping here since our humble beginnings in 1988) and his lovely bride Lillian represented the day very well with their custom Flying Colors and FCBD shirts.

Mike Fantastic, the all-time record holder for FlyCo Retailing Brigade members, was on register duty most of the day on FCBD---and he was still smiling. All of us here at Flying Colors would like to deeply thank all of wonderful supporters who come in week in and week out for bushels of comics & other cool stuff.

The always-cool Sir Alfred of Napa checks out all the FCBD editions before he makes his choices for new (and free) reading material. Alfred is among the many folks who travel from quite a distance to get to the comics' nirvana that is Flying Colors.

I was quite pleased to see that some real live Super Heroes also made the time to attend FCBD. Thanks for coming, FLASH! I am honored you chose to run through our big event!

Flying Colors on FCBD: Come for the free comics, stay for the sweets and socializing in our all-ages friendly section.

Nearly 1000 people came to Flying Colors for Free Comic Book Day on Saturday May 3, 2008. Lots of families and lots of kids---which means many were discovering the fun of comics for the first time. Like these two kids who enjoyed the Kid Houdini and Transformers Animated FCBD special editions.

For more than 160 of the attendees at Flying Colors for FCBD, it was their very first time here. I hope you all come back to get the full view of everything Flying Colors offers---when things are bit less hectic around here.

Finally, here's a few of the FlyCo Faithful flashing their comics and smiles for the camera.

If you'd like to see a couple of the feature stories done in the local press about FREE COMIC BOOK DAY at Flying Colors, check out the Contra Costa Times and the East Bay Business Journal.

More cool stuff is on the way!

Peace 'n' Comics!