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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Comic Crunch: Oak, North, Renascentia & Shadowland: Blood In The Streets

Welcome to the very first edition of Comic Crunch; where we round up a shortlist of comics that we've picked up off the radar, and we shed some light on the books with a quick very non-spoiler opinion of them.  In the end, we score and deliver a verdict of Most Must Have.  Over time we come into some books we intend on reviewing, but with limited resources, time constraints and reprioritizing, we don't always have the time to review these books right away.  With Comic Crunch, we have the opportunity to cycle back to these projects at a smaller scale.  This time around, we have two books that came our way via our Facebook group, including one we've become familiar with here before.  Oak and North are both books that we were given earlier access to.   The other two books on today's docket, Renascentia and Marvel's Shadowland: Blood in the Streets, are books that I picked up at Wizard World this past August.   Without wasting any more precious time, let's get into our takes on these titles.


Oak Cover Art - Centered Title
Book 1 Cover Art - Click Here To Read Oak Today!
This is the story your soul already knows. This is the tale the Earth needs you to tell. These are the words you've been waiting for, the battle cry to break the bad spell, spoken with love by the spirits of life itself. - Janice Erlbaum 
Back after two decades, Al Diaz tells us the story of Oak's resurrection.  In what is more of a rebirthing for the character we get a mirrored tale of reason and purpose, the value of life and freedom, the difference between consequences and mistakes, and that imperfection remain even in balance.  Quick to lay the building blocks of the new structural foundation, book one serves as a most necessary jump-on point, with several underlying themes to explore going forward with upcoming issues.  While the plots and general messages going forward are rolled adequately and promises a deep realm of issues for its main characters, supporting cast takes a back seat with their introduction being minimal, but clear that each character will be brought into scope as the current arcs plotline centers on them. We are left with some solid threads going into the next issue including an overall motive, developmental potential, the first consequences for the bad guys, hints at the good guys being forced to reconcile with regret in the coming days, and mysteries yet to set in. The strongest aspect of this title, however, is in the art. With a strong and bold color pallet rotating to the atmospheric conditions and time of day, the artist paints the pace. Smooth penciling and clear emotions, posture, and reactions help balance the load for character development and narrative.  Al engulfs you into the scenery making this a well balanced, well-paced, and comprehensive publication.   Book one cements itself as a must read, for an investment into an entrenching lore that is bursting at the seam to be unleashed. I would certainly recommend Oak to anyone looking for a meaty read to gradually sink their teeth into, as a savory flavor is coming from this titles foundation.

Al Diaz
Dmitriy Averyanov
Javi Diaz
Dean Haspiel
Jensen Blake

El : Capitan : Ink
Full Cycle Publications

A Chat With OAK Creator, Al Diaz.



Book 1 Cover - Click Here To Read North Today!
North is a title that came our way via our Facebook Group, when the writer of the book, Scott Sawyer promoted their first entry.  Mr. Sawyer was gracious enough to also give us a first look for our site.  Now we return to what slipped between the cracks in a title that not only embodies the existence of Comic Crunch but embodies existence itself.  When you read North, you are reading what appears to be a story of Identity.  Misfits finding their way through the world together.  Lost souls pulled to their true north.  We open to an ensemble introduction to the team through a series of quick and effective flashbacks, set against a perilous cliffhanger, in more ways than one.  The opening sequences to these characters each lay essential foundational components to a wide array of diverse and decisive personas.  The dialogue is straight to the point, yet witty and emotional nonetheless.  All of this goes down even smoother with the bold and bright color pallet that makes you almost taste the frigid air they breathe.  The art in this book quite literally paints the picture, with great panel layouts and smooth transitions.  In the end, the reader is left with much of many layers to chew on as you feed on the vines they've laid into book two. This is one of the more engaging and well-crafted titles I've read in recent years. I would be sure to follow the series into book two to see what they have to offer from what promises to be an epic adventure.

Scott Sawyer
Andrew Thomas

Novel Comics


Book 1 Cover
Renascentia #1 works to lay the introduction of an ambitious sci-fi horror that promises intrigue and heartwrenching parallels to the reality we would come to expect in such a scenario.  The story is that of a mission for hope, turned corrupted by those that felt they were qualified to play with other peoples lives.   In the first issue, we see this story beginning to unfold through the eyes of a drone of sorts as it explores the aftermath of a human experiment gone wrong and the logs of the betrayed; each pulling you further into the stakes.   The book leaves us with the introduction of our protagonist who will have to venture a now desolate and barren spacecraft that once took a crew of hundreds to maintain, and battle through the only life force that seems to remain.  Hopefully, while doing so, the doctor can still save humanity.  If not by finding the said cure, perhaps by correcting the further damage that has been done.  Will the next book hold a direct confrontation with the antagonistic organism we see or will we find out just what went wrong with and how this antagonist came to be?  In the end, will we see that hope in "Sanctuary" proved futile due to the arbitrary actions that resulted in humans demise in the first place, or will the protagonist show that while most may fail by having too high of a self-regard, it only takes one mind and soul to change the world?  Regardless of what comes next, this book doesn't rely solely on its storytelling to stand tall. The direction of the art in this book captures the fear that sits on the ship, with fantastic paneling and pacing set against a black and white granulate color scheme that screams chaos and sorrow.   I will definitely be looking to book #2 for further exploration with this title.

Big Boy Studios

Shadowland: Blood In The Streets

Book 1 Cover
Shadowland was a sprawling event surrounding new york city, more particularly Hells Kitchen.  In this arc, we see Matt Murdock, aka The Daredevil, after he managed to return to the city as the head of The Hand ninja clan.  Murdock at one point kills one of his adversaries and sets a temple upon the city.  With everything we knew in question, several street-level heroes work their ways to the truth.  Blood In The Streets is a four part mini-series that puts international assassin Silver Sable, bionic-armed detective Misty Knight, benevolent mercenary The Paladin, and dark force agent The Shroud in each other paths, and eventually in the path of The Hand.  The biggest strength of this book comes with its inclusive plot that not only peels a layer to a larger scheme but offers a solid and direct tale that you can leave off at.  This series also gives you an immensely new depth to nearly a dozen characters that most readers have yet to know.  The narrative and fleshing is not only done so well for the book, but it allows the readers to be brought into the fold on a larger scale by making you aware of developments that you may have missed out on if you hadn't been following the Hell's Kitchen inhabitants for some time prior.  The story here in itself is particularly satisfying in relation to current television adaptations and just goes to show that even the smallest book can be a game changer.  For those who do continue further into Shadowland, you find yourself with a large yet contained event that changes the landscape of the Marvel Universe.   The second strong point comes with, as I previously mentioned, character interaction and development. This comes from two fronts.  First is with the storytelling that is done with leisurely and natural narratives.  Each character also has solo time that allows you to familiarize yourself with what each has to offer to the readers; both in general and during that point in time.  This, like most of it, comes about in a fluid and necessary plot line.  The art, however, is what really sells all of this.  It's clear and dense with color appropriate to each personality, and it is set on a fantastic storyboard that allows for excellent pacing of the plot, narrative, and action.  While the book is very well done, there really isn't a need for you to read this entry unless you are really looking to expand your connection to the lore and spend some time with these characters.  Blood In the Streets is one of a dozen branching mini-series' and one-shots from the Shadowland event, but from what I can tell, aside from added entertainment value, the main series is the only run that would contain any real purpose.  That being said, while this is one of those books that doesn't really need to be read for the arc, it does offer so much insight into the universe around them.  To recall, while this book is everything that it is supposed to be, and probably one of the smoothest reads I've ever had the pleasure of.  this book is not a "must read" by any means, this book is satisfying and chalk full of lore value; definitely one to not dismiss either.

Antony Johnston
Wellington Alves
Nelson Pereira
Frank Martin 
Dave Sharpe

Marvel Comics

The Verdicts

Oak:  This is the most promising series on the slate with much to come.  This book not only serves as a jumping point for the series but into comics as a whole. This book uses clear and defined art with engaging colors and expressions alongside coherent and clear storyboards and narratives.  The art shines and the storytelling shows much potential.

North:  The most mesmerizing title on the slate for sure, with pop culture references, smooth storytelling, and a beautiful pallet. Book one serves well as a lunch pad with a witty and comical narrative that is served around a simple and principal structure. This book goes down soft, yet strong.

Renascentia:  The most intriguing book on the slate comes in the form of a mind-boggling yet enticing sci-fi horror tease. With minimal narrative, the storyboarding tells you everything you need to know about the series going forward and leaves you questioning humanity and yourself.

Shadowland: Blood In The Streets could be the most rewarding book on the slate for well-invested readers, and yet still gives a nice niche in any readers belt with stellar art and direction, as well as some easy reading that warrants continuous tie-in discoveries.

Most Must-Have Rankings


North brings a smile to your face as you read the beginnings of something to cherish and goes down easy through comical storytelling and plenty of eye candy.

However, the book quite literally leaves you hanging on a thread that can either leave you reeling back for more or find you sliding off the series.


Oak holds the most potential going forward and could be your best investment without the need for extra reading going in and comes across as a well-painted telling of tales.

However, this book, in particular, deems an immediate follow up as it didn't seem to have enough canvas and lacks the immediate satisfaction. While this book gives much depth, it is yet to be fulfilled and aches for a sequel.


Renascentia satisfies your taste immediately and leaves you with something to chew on even after you put it down.

However, as much as this story gives, it hides even more. With much intrigue, we get minimal indication as to whats going and could be because the vision has yet to ferment.  Going forward, we have a high risk vs high reward scenario that wages on a vision we lack any focused scope on.

Shadowland: Blood In The Streets

Blood In The Streets serves readers well for niche times to help tie down vast universe it lies in with smooth and art and storytelling that leaves you thirsting for more of the Marvel Universe.

However, you soon remember just how much investment the Marvel Universe requires and for most this book doesn't go beyond a Sunday read.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Comic Book Spotlight on 'Cable & Deadpool: If Looks Could Kill'

            When looking back on the history of characters like Cable and Deadpool the fact that these two have remained so popular and marketable is nothing short of a miracle. Deadpool was a character who started out as a Deathstroke rip-off because co-creator Rob Liefeld was bitter over the fact that he couldn’t draw a Teen Titans book. He only really got popular when later creators, (Joe Kelly usually getting the credit), turned him into the meta-joking, fourth-wall breaking looney toon that everyone knows and loves today. Cable, on the other hand hasn’t really changed since his original inception and is generally considered to be the one genuinely good character that Rob Liefeld created who more or less stayed intact when other writers got a hold of him. But, when looking at the character objectively, he’s basically a poster child for everything that was wrong with the comic industry in the 90s and could be used as the center of a case study as to how X-Men writers can’t stop rewriting the Days of Future Past storyline. But it does have to be said that when the two are paired together it usually makes for comedic gold. But sadly, this does not include today's subject matter.
            The Cable and Deadpool series was originally published from May of 2004-April of 2008 and ran for fifty issues. It was written by Fabian Nicieza with artwork primarily done by Mark Brooks and focused on the misadventures of the two characters. Today, however, we’re only going to take a look at the first story arc, If Looks Could Kill. The plot centers on Cable and Deadpool as they go after a virus that can completely alter the looks of a person for completely different reasons. Deadpool goes after it after being hired by a church that wants to change the appearance of everyone on the planet so that they all look the same. Cable, on the other hand, is after it because he knows that the virus is dangerous and wants to destroy it. The two eventually clash and things get increasingly complicated as terrorist groups get involved, the church steps in and Cable’s recently unlocked telekinetic powers increase in their potency. And the storyline is just okay. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. It’s just okay.
            The primary issue with the book is its tone. It tries to be a straightforward story using characters who were never at their best while being straightforward lead characters. Deadpool, for example, isn’t nearly as entertaining as he has been in other books. This version of him is more or less a standard badass mercenary who tells jokes; and not very good ones at that. They mostly amount to incredibly outdated pop cultural references that only people who are really nostalgic for the mid-2000s would laugh at. There are a few good visual gags and some situational humor that gets a few laughs but what you have here is a Deadpool story where Deadpool just isn’t all that funny.
Cable is, unfortunately, in a similar boat. You see, the issue with Cable is that he’s always best used as part of a team or a foil to Deadpool’s over the top antics, (play the 2013 video game or see Deadpool 2 for further evidence of this). In this book, however, the creative team wants him to be a straightforward protagonist. He has gained new abilities that have quickly made him one of the most powerful mutants on the planet and his primary arc is about deciding how to use them. And to be fair this is all well and good and makes for a decent story, but it’s not what you'd expect out of a book featuring these two characters. It feels a little too much like a mainline X-Men story and that’s not really what people should expect out of a book called Cable and Deadpool. But with all that having been said, it’s still not a bad read.
The artwork is all a bit on the cartoony side but everything is well drawn with enough details packed in as to where everything looks authentic in the Marvel universe. At the same time, it’s not overly detailed to the point that its an eyesore. The story is fast-paced enough to where you’re never bored but also knows when to slow down so you aren’t overwhelmed. The main story isn’t exactly The Dark Phoenix Saga but it does provide Cable and Deadpool with a few moral quandaries regarding their roles as superheroes and what they can and should do with their powers. Even if it is hard to imagine anyone wanting this out of a book featuring these two.
In the end, Cable and Deadpool: If Looks Could Kill is by no means offensive or bad but I can’t, for the life of me, think of a reason to recommend it. Especially when there are so many other, better books out there. But if you need your fix of these characters after Deadpool 2 there are certainly worse ways to spend your time.


            So until next time, please Like the Nerd Hub Facebook Page, check out The Nerd Hub Facebook groupSubscribe to us on YouTube and be sure to check out my own personal blog, Trey’s Take On…as well as giving my Facebook Page a Like, contribute a dollar or so to my new Patreon Page and checking me out on Twitter.  Until then, let's hope that the other Cable and Deadpool stories are better then this one.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The REAL Reason Why 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' Is Struggling

            So, Solo: A Star Wars Story is officially struggling at the box office which is coming as a surprise to pretty much everyone. The film was expected to release to a $100M+ opening this past weekend at the domestic box office, but only managed to clear $84M with an additional $18M on Memorial Day, bringing its total up to a little over $103M here in the States. Even overseas the film has been foundering, making only a little over $69M in foreign markets with many already declaring the film a bomb. And it’s resulted in a particularly vile subjection of the Star Wars fandom to celebrate.
            As I am sure you all know this particular subject of the fandom reared its ugly head around the time The Last Jedi was released who took to the internet to declare that the film was the worst thing that the Star Wars franchise has ever produced. Most of these complaints, however, tend to devolve into declaring that Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, Disney and it’s so-called SJW agenda, (whatever that even means), are ruining the franchise, despite critical and financial evidence to suggest otherwise. Because of this so-called outrage, these “fans” have demanded that people boycott future Star Wars films so that the people in charge will listen to their demands, whatever they might be. And as you might expect these people are celebrating the fact that Solo is struggling at the box office, declaring that their boycott was a success. And…well…fine. If your existence is so sad and hate-filled that the only pleasure you get is from seeing an otherwise harmless summer blockbuster not make enough money to cover a third world country’s deficit, then take what you can get I suppose. But here is the hard truth: The film is not struggling because of your stupid little boycott.
            You see despite what some have called the “Geek Takeover of Hollywood” the so called hardcore fans of various nostalgia properties like Star Wars only make up a small number of the films overall audience and actually have very little influence when it comes to these kinds of things. The average moviegoer just wants to be entertained for a few hours or so before returning to the grind of daily life. They don’t really care, for example, that Kylo Ren is basically a retooled version of Jacen Solo from the original Expanded Universe and whatever frustrations longtime fans may have from this. That’s why something like say, the Michael Bay Transformer films could get away with four financially successful films but only be an adaptation by name. In fact, the films only stopped being successful with audiences when they grew wise to the fact that all the films were virtually the same and realized that they had better options in other franchises. Likewise, if these so called “Hardcore Star Wars Fans” had nearly as much power over the franchise as they think The Last Jedi wouldn’t have made over $600M in the United States, sold out its DVD/Blu-ray copies on Amazon on its first week and Solo would be doing A LOT worse than it is. You see, the real reason behind the film’s financial difficulty is a bit more complicated, having to do with its release date, marketing, budget, behind the scenes drama and the competition it faced over the weekend.
            The first major cause of the film underperforming has to do with its release date. You see, previous Star Wars films had enjoyed success due in part to the fact that they were released in December and faced little competition throughout the month and the early months of the following year. Solo, however, opened on Memorial Day weekend which, historically is not the best weekend to open a film on. The biggest opening film of that weekend was Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End and that film didn’t even clear a $140M. In fact, out of all of the film’s that were released on Memorial Day weekend, only seven have actually cleared the $100M marker and Solo was the first to do it since X-Men: Days of Future Past back in 2014. Once upon a time, it was a prime spot for major blockbusters, but that hasn’t been the case in a long time. In fact, if you look at films that were released on Memorial Day weekend, the ones that have been considered big hits over the past decade or so had smaller budgets then many of their contemporaries, ensuring a much larger profit.
            Another problem has to do with the film’s competition. Like it or not the film was released on the coattails of Avengers: Infinity War which has been repeatedly breaking records worldwide and has quickly become one of the most talked about summer blockbusters in a long time. In addition, it also had another high-profile sequel to compete with, in Deadpool 2, that was released just a week before. This was yet another major superhero film that quickly earned the biggest opening of any R rated film and audiences are still heading to it in droves. In other words, it’s a film that was released in a packed month, guaranteeing that it wouldn’t make as big of a haul if it were released a week later.
            It’s also worth noting that the film’s marketing was less than stellar. The film only had two main trailers that both looked rather underwhelming. They were less about plot and action and more “Look! We made a Han Solo movie!” And despite the value that the character has to the Star Wars universe, that was never going to be enough. In fact, the arguably most entertaining marketing for the film came from a fan video that cut the trailer to the Star Wars Kinect Game song, I’m Han Solo.
            Another big issue is the fact that the film was surrounded by an air of negative publicity. Despite the best efforts on the part of Lucasfilm whenever the subject of the film came up it would almost always turn to the firing of former directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. This resulted in replacement director Ron Howard having to reshoot the majority of the film, inadvertently leading to this story to continue to circulate for nearly a year before it was released. And that kind of publicity is going to have a negative effect on your box office haul.
            The final and arguably the biggest reason behind the film struggling has to do with its budget. Information on the Solo’s original budget is a little hard to come by but it has been reported that it was raised substantially in order to accommodate Ron Howard’s reshoots with the final price tag being reported around $250M. Exactly how much of an increase this was, however, is unknown but some have speculated that the original budget was around half that amount. And as anyone who saw the film will tell you this lower budgeted number seems to better suit what we saw on the big screen. This was clearly intended to be a smaller, less spectacle-driven Star Wars film; which suggested that the film would have cost less. And had the film cost whatever its original budget was, the story would be “Which new spinoff from this story will we see first?” as opposed to “Solo Struggles at the box office”.
            In the end, Solo: A Star Wars Story’s struggle is kind of a tragic tale. The film overall is fairly good and enthusiastic, if not great, movie and it’s kind of a shame that the box office hasn’t been treating it as well as it might otherwise deserve. It’s just difficult to escape the black hole that is a historically average weekend that is best suited to smaller releases. In addition, it was hit by constant waves of negative publicity, with a lax marketing campaign that did little to sell people on the film. The final nail in the coffin seems to have been a bloated budget that more or less ensured that the film would never make as much money as it might have otherwise. Hopefully, future installments will learn from this film’s mistakes and other smaller Star Wars projects will be more successful as a result; but I can assure you that its current struggles have little to do with an angry fanboy’s boycott.
            So until next time, please Like the Nerd Hub Facebook Page, check out The Nerd Hub Facebook groupSubscribe to us on YouTube and be sure to check out my own personal blog, Trey’s Take On…as well as giving my Facebook Page a Like, contribute a dollar or so to my new Patreon Page and checking me out on Twitter.  Until then, let's hope that future Star Wars spinoffs fair better than this one.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Chat with Al Diaz, the Creator Of 'Oak'.

Oak Variant Cover, by Javi Diaz of Tattoo.
Some time ago I came across an artist by the name of Al Diaz, while in search of some possible logos that we were looking to have done.  While exploring Al's website, I found some concept art for a comic book by the name of Oak, as well as some art for what looked to be potential offshoots of a larger lore.  Here at The Nerd Hub, we look to work with indies, because we are an indie ourselves and there are no handouts from the upper echelon; so I reached out with questions about the product.  As it would happen, after Al looked into us as well, he found himself clicking with our way of doing things and was not only all for giving us an early look at his book, but he even offered to sit down with us for a discussion to give potential readers a look into Oak and its associated properties.

J.F. - So, thank you for the time you've taken to join me, Al.

A.D. - Thank you, Jack.  It's great to speak with you.

J.F. - Early in your career, where/who did you draw inspiration from while trying to find your place in the medium, and what made you decide to go independent?

A.D. - When I was growing up, I'd have to say, my brother, Javi Diaz had a big influence in my life as an artist.  Javi is talented and gifted in his own right.  We still work together as "The Diaz Bros".  Also, my mentor, Joe Orlando who was just as integral in my life during the mid 90's.  I actually decided to dedicate this first Oak book to him.  During that period, Joe also helped me explore the possibilities of going indie, but he was also the reason DC Comics was interested in the character; the deal didn't pan out, so we just did Oak as an indie release, which was becoming more prevalent during that time for new creators.

J.F. - So as it turns out, Oak is no more new to the medium than yourself.  What was the inspiration behind your decision to relaunch Oak, and what sets this rebirth of the character apart from its last run?

A.D. - Well, the original story iteration of Oak, which was written by another writer over 20 years ago, was a bit macabre for me and at the end of the day, that story arc never sat well with me.  I want a book that will appeal through generations, as opposed to a shock valued hot fling.  When I was a kid, Secret of NIMH had me dazzled by the art and colors, but as I got older I understood that the story was about animal experimentation and the book evolved with me; they don't make stories like that anymore. NIMH's Don Bluth is also a testament to the possibilities that going indie brings.  Don left Disney to create a vision, and in turn, inspired more vision; without him, we wouldn't have Dragons Lair and Space Ace as classic video games.

J.F. - What does this book represent when the foliage is pulled back, in that sense I mean, when reading what are some of the parallels that some of the readers might pick up on?

Oak #1 Feature Cover by, Al Diaz
A.D. - Great point. Oak is the modern day take of a character that can carry the torch for environmental causes or wildlife, without it being preachy or over the top.  In fact, he's completely opposite of that. He was once a "Titan" with responsibilities to Earth.  The environmental message lingers as a slight overtone throughout, but what you find with Oak is someone who is disconnected with the things he once knew and protected, with the exception of his friends Totem Strongheart and Maxwell, (the rabbit).  Also, the resurrection aspect plays a big part because the record skips in his mind at times as a side effect, which is an obstacle he personally needs to overcome.  Oak is a character who’s on a new journey in search of what his purpose is for the present and future in from his resurrected life.  I think we can all relate to that, right?  In the metaphorical context of life, somewhere along the way, we lose ourselves, then we find ourselves again.  The worst case scenario being, we lose ourselves forever, if we don’t learn - hence the birth of a villain, Cashus Hazard in this story arc.  With that said, I wanted to explore the flaws in these characters rather than promote the ideal.  Oak broke a rule because he befriended Totem 20 years ago.  Totem broke Nature’s law in resurrecting Oak.  My point is, mistakes are the result of bad choices, even if you’re a Titan or a Shaman.  If anyone can tell me that they’ve never made a mistake in their life, they’re full of it.  I’m sure a lot of people can relate to error and failure in order to learn from it, get back up and soldier on. Adversity and challenges build the best character.

J.F. - From what I could gather speaking with you previously, Oak seems to live in sorts of parallel to your own life; could you give us the pillar points of relevance?

A.D. - Absolutely.  When I embarked on the decision to get back into comic books, it was a no-brainer, it would be Oak.  His resurgence felt like mine getting back into it.  When I would hit creative obstacles, whether it was visual or writing, I included those in the story, but in a more cryptic fashion via oak's thoughts.  They represent the question, the journey, the failure, the success, and the self-awareness as to what his (mine, yours, ours, etc) purpose is.

J.F. - And one of the biggest things Oak has to offer, isn't even this main mini-series is it?  What is it that invested readers could expect in the future of this lore?

A.D. - I'm glad you pointed that out, Oak is the catapult of a larger world with other titles that will spin off into their own thing, including my brothers' brainchild that will follow immediately after the success of Oak; Tattoo.

Tattoo Concept Art
J.F. - So, Tattoo would be the next series coming out; what would the narrative be looking to achieve there and what can we expect as to a setting as compared to Oak?

A.D. - Tattoo (working title) is based on Totem's two sons and is set in a present-day as Oak is, but it's overtones and messages are martial arts based.  The idea for each 4-part book is that they carry their own overtone, the environmental vibe is specifically unique to Oak.  The other title will stand on their vibe apart from the rest, but still remain connected by characters.  If there are no snags in the plan, expect book 1 of Tattoo, mid-late 2019.

J.F. - With a universe you've bred to have limitless potential, I'm sure you would like to see stories told from different experiences.  If you were to get a chance to expand beyond comic books, where would you take these tales?

A.D. - I'd say some titles that we have are stronger in certain cross platforms than others.  You can't fit a square into a circle, so you have to be objective and be self-effacing as to whats going to make sense in the big picture.  So, while I have some ideas in mind, whatever speaks to us right at the time is what we go with.

J.F. - Oak's first issue featured a lot of thematic color sets; so I would imagine that other entries within the lore would paint unique pictures as well. We also know that your brother will be leading the art for Tattoo. Would it be safe to say that we could see some unique styles and overtones with each book art as well, and what could that look like for Tattoo?

A.D. - I know for Oak, I wanted to keep track of time during that first book, (daybreak, sunset, etc), and at the same time have the colors play a part for the mood in the story. You'll notice that towards the end of the book, the background colors get darker, more metallic as opposed to how the story starts with a bright day, blue skies, foliage, etc. Also, I wanted to explore making creative use of the page layout, so I used very few square panels in order to convey that. As for Tattoo, my brother's take would probably be radically different than mine, but I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with it. He and I agreed, we would never want Oaks spinoff titles to look the same as Oak and Tattoo.

JF - You've done some extensive work over the years, trying your hand in many fields from music, to strip style comics, to product art and more.  Now you have this new endeavor surrounding puppets? What's that all about?

A.D. - [Laughing], it's crazy you mentioned that. Yeah, there is something in the works with regards to that. I like doing different things at once - I think it has to do with my attention span.  As much as I love the comic book medium, I'm always looking to do different projects. I can't say much on that just yet, but one thing I can say is that I'm looking to offer something for everyone. Oak is my headline young adult project and this would be more geared to adults with the thirst for an irreverent flavor.

J.F. - After you get the ball rolling on Oak, what type of story would you be aiming to accomplish as your next comic book focus?  Sci-Fi with aliens and a hint of horror, a technologically advanced western; or perhaps something more grounded like a crime drama or a buddy road trip?

A.D. - Well, there's a map of what we have planned.  So we definitely have to do the spin-offs for Oak, but we also have some stand-alone titles (which have nothing to do with Oak's lore), and those do involve sci-fi, crime dramas, and other things through a wide array of different times, places, and planets.  In hindsight, the range of our work will allow the people to pick and choose what they like or don't like, and that's all good.

Oak #1 First Look - Black & White

J.F. - Before we go, what would tell other inspiring creators out there looking for their calling?

A.D. - Stay honed in on your craft or vocation, research as much as you can about the pioneers and innovators who came before you.  It sounds cliche, but persistence really pays off.  If others do not allow you to play in their ballpark, forget them and start your own ballpark.  Be sure to include those who have a mutual respect for one another, and make sure you create a ballpark better than the one you weren't allowed in.  This is why I love TNH so much, I really like how TNH didn't like what they were seeing and started their own ballpark; love the autonomy and latitude of what you are doing.

I'd like to thank Al for sitting down with us; as far as the book goes, I actually was given a chance to read it and you can read my perspective in my next 'Comic Book Spotlight'. If you are interested in seeking your own opinion of the book, you can follow the taglines for your own copy.  Don't forget that you can subscribe by email for notifications of new entries, or follow our facebook page. Feel free to drop any questions you may have into the comments below.

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Oak Book 1 (Rise of the Spring Son) is being published by Full Cycle Publications, to be released Summer 2018; Online and at your local comic book retailer.

Images Provided by EL : CAPITÁN : INK

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Cynical Times: Is VALIANT Skating On Familiar Ice In Search For Fortune?

        Awhile back we found out that independent comic company Valiant Entertainment had been purchased by a global entertainment company by the name of DMG Entertainment.  Has anyone heard of these guys?  Probably not, but apparently you should if you know the name Valiant.  This discovery reminded me that while you may know the name, you may not know the story.  This prompted me to take a further look at Valiant, and what I found out, is that this acquisition happens to be a particularly interesting change of events, or perhaps, lack thereof.  You see, this is a road that Valiant has been down before with what is now a lost relic known as Acclaim Entertainment, which ultimately led to a heartbreaking collapse.  Now, with Valiant having risen from the ashes to the third largest publisher in the industry, they have been looking to get a foothold in the ever prosperous cinematic realm.  It's apparent that that's where DMG comes into play.  They've been making moves with Valiant over the last year to get Valiant's properties to the screen.  The partnership has managed them a pretty wholesome deal with Sony who already has a sufficient and long-running stake in comic book properties, a deal with the comic book movie seasoned "Russo Brothers", and a deal with comic book heavies, CBS, and The CW.  Although, while this deal could slingshot Valiant into a "Big Three", it may very well just send them spiraling down a familiar and unfortunate path. For you to truly understand I'll have to ask you to take this time arc with me while I highlight the parallels of Valiants history to today's circumstances in a little story

          In the 1970s, Marvel Comics was undergoing a rapid series of changes in leadership as many found that with Marvels growth, the job would prove too daunting.  Jim Shooter who was brought in as an assistant editor and writer at the time quickly rose the ranks until becoming the ninth editor-in-chief for Marvel.  Shooter did what nobody else could manage to do and got Marvel back on track while also revitalizing the industry as a whole.  However, he did this with a strict grip, and that grip led to many growing weary.  Disputes developed until it became too much for Marvel and they terminated his nine-year tenure in 1987.
          In 1988, Shooter joined Steven J. Massarsky and a group of investors in an attempt to buy Marvel Comics, but their bid fell short to that of Ronald Perelman(No, not Ron Perlman). The group then took their venture capital financing from Triumph Capital and started Voyager Communications in 1989. Valiant, an imprint of Voyager, opened the doors to their fifth-floor loft in Manhatten to numerous writers and artists from Marvel, many of who succumbed to some miscalculations and regime shakeups before finally releasing their first line of original titles in 1992. The titles included Harbinger, X-O Manowar, Rai, and Shadowman, with Eternal Warrior and Archie and Armstrong following up shortly after. At the time, Wizard Entertainment/Wizard Press, now known as Wizard World Inc., was one of the premier magazines of the medium. Wizard ranked Harbinger #1, which would eventually be named "Collectible of the Decade", on its top ten list for a record-breaking eight consecutive weeks, which would only be followed up immediately after with a new record of nine consecutive weeks for Valiants Rai #0. That year Diamond Distributors ranked Valiant as 'Best Publisher under 5% market share' and followed the next year with 'Best Publisher over 5% market share' becoming the only publisher other than Marvel and DC to do so.
         Despite the success for Valiant through 1992 and Jim Shooter even receiving a lifetime achievement award for co-creating the Valiant Universe during a ceremony that also honored Stan Lee for his co-creation of the Marvel Universe, Jim Shooter left the ship before it even lost sight of land. By the end of 1992, Valiant and Shooter had parted ways, with Massarskywho before joining Shooter was nothing m saying, "Jim had a different idea as to the direction of the company, and was asked to leave."  As to if this was the beginning of the downfall or not, I'm not entirely sure, but it is worth noting that this was the first hiccup in Valiant's rise, and will come into play later on.

          In 1994, shortly after Shooters departure and the last of the projects put into play during his time including Ninjak, H.A.R.D. Corps, The Second Life of Doctor Mirage and Timewalker, Voyager Communications was bought by Acclaim Entertainment. Acclaim was a company that was formed by employees who had departed the Atari renegade, Activision. Acclaim was known for its games based off of television, movie and comic licenses. The company was most known for its work with the World Wrestling Federation and its work with Midway Games. To nobody's surprise, Acclaim went on to create a slew of games based on several of Valiant's characters and even put XO Manowar alongside Iron Man. From Massarsky's perspective, this didn't seem like a bad deal; Acclaim was buying up companies and licenses left and right and even became the first gaming company to have a motion capture studio built into their headquarters. In fact, this probably was a solid deal, but unfortunately, as I stated before, Acclaim's biggest income was from the WWF and the company had already been slipping with their production.
          Does anyone remember Dave Mirra's Freestyle BMX? Well, I do. The demo proved this to be a worthy opponent to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and the only game to effectively touched the sport since, but in 1994 Acclaim failed to refactor the games coding properly and lost the license along with several others that felt Acclaim had failed. Now personally, this would have been a major red flag coming into this deal with Acclaim on a downward spiral, but I also wouldn't have gotten rid of Jim Shooter. After years of success with the WWF, their downward spiral hit its bedrock in 2001 when they failed to match THQ's World Championship Wrestling. At the time, the WWF and the WCW were engaging in head to head bout known as the 'Monday Night Wars' that would lead to a revolution within the business. in 1999, the WWF was not happy with Acclaims recent work and ripped the license away from them and handing it to THQ, and delivering the final nail to Acclaims coffin. While they gave valiant effort(Yes, I went there.)to turn things around by picking up the licensing for Extreme Championship Wrestling, ultimately it failed because much like WCW, the ECW fell to the WWF and went bankrupt while still owing Acclaim money. In 2004 Acclaim saw an end to their slow death at the hands of their former bringer of life.

       In 2005, with Valiant/Acclaim's original characters rights heading to the auction, Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari founded Valiant Entertainment and purchased the rights to the Valiant Comics library from Acclaim Entertainment's estate. In 2007 Valiant hired back Jim Shooter to write new short stories that would accompany hardcover reprints of classic Valiant Universe stories. Yet again, Valiants properties spoke for themselves and reminded fans what once was and that their favorite characters were still here with two of its three collections being named "The Ten Best Collected Editions" over their respective years. In August of 2011, Valiant took their rebuild to the next step by hiring multiple Marvel and Wizard Entertainment executives, including current Valiant publisher and editor-in-chief Fred Pierce and Warren Simons, former Marvel Comics CEO Peter Cuneo as Valiant's chairman and an investor in Valiant Entertainment and Gavin Cuneo serving as CFO and COO. Keep in mind that at this time Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari continued to serve as CCO and CEO and in May of 2012, Valiant Entertainment began publishing new monthly based on the Valiant Comics universe of characters.
          Valiant Entertainment relaunched the Valiant Comics universe with an event dubbed "The Summer of Valiant" with four ongoing titles, one launching with each new month. With X-O Manowar leading the charge in May, it received over 42,000 pre-orders eventually selling through four full priced printings and three reduced priced printings, making Valiant the largest publisher launch in over a decade. In fact, not only did this prompt Valiant to extend the event with a November launch of Shadowman that took the #1 non-Marvel and/or DC comic of the month spot, but their years work paid off once again when at the end of 2012, Diamond name Valiant the "Publisher of the Year under 5% market share" and nominated X-O Manowar #1 for "Book of the Year" at the Diamond 'Gem Awards'.
          Just like before, despite Valiants success, Dinesh Shamdasani was promoted to the seat previously held by co-founder Jason Kothari. With the change on leadership came a change in focus for the books, only this time things turned out for the better with old titles coming to their originally planned end and newer titles shining bright, including Quantum and Woody which walked away with the most nominations for a title at the 2014 Harvey Awards. Valiant took the next two years continuing with new strong titles and propelling themselves to the third largest publisher in the industry and capping off 2016 with 50 Harvey Award nominations, more than any other publisher.

          Fast forward to January 29th, 2018, when it was announced that already 57% owner DMG Entertainment had acquired full ownership of the company, pushing out Dinesh Shamdasani. Valiant had already been working their way onto the big screen since early 2017 with 5 movies based off of Harbinger and Bloodshot in the works over at Sony and the latter of the titles even having Vin Diesel attached, as well as, Quantum and Woody being brought to life by the Russo Brothers' Getaway Productions and a Doctor Mirage series in the works with comic book heavies CBS and The CW to name a few. Here is where things once again become tricky for Valiant. DMG Entertainment is a company that formed around the time of Valiants rise from the ashes. They made big waves with their productions on Looper and Iron Man 3, but they haven't really done much else.  The little they did do however was right up the alley that Valiant was looking for and DMG was brought in to produce the films with Sony. Somewhere along the line, DMG CEO Dan Mintz and Shamdasani apparently didn't see eye to eye in their vision and thus prompted Mintz to buying the company outright for a venture that he believes is a "tipping point" that is ready for the next level.
          Mintz assures us that comic production will not be affected and that the writer of their series will even play a large part in the cinematic universe, but also states that, "You can expect more strong storytelling with a defined road to other platforms." So now we have two paths for Valiant. On one hand, an overzealous businessman might have bitten off more than he could chew and may once again tank Valiant and along with it, his own company; while on the other, the success Valiant has garnished this time around being significantly more than its first go around, combined with a medium that has already proven to be a sure-fire success in this day of age, Valiant Entertainment could propel itself into what would then be known as "The Big Three".
          What does Valiant need to do that the current "Big Two" can't seem to do? Precisely what they've been doing with the comics. A handful of uber focused stories that are nothing like anything else out there, done with utmost effort and utmost quality. I make it sound easy but that's a huge bar to hurdle, especially for a smaller company like DMG. However, it's not too far-fetched either being also backed by Sony, add to it that Valiant has done this for years now and with writers working adjacent it might just be possible. According to Mintz, he doesn't want to keep the ever popular brand "siloed into the comic book area." Cinema is a huge money maker that could do a lot for Valiant and whether this moves turns out to be a repeat of the past or not, Mintz sure seems to think that this was the right move when stated that, "You don't step into something like this lightly. You don't want a very expensive pet."

Which way do our readers think this will play out? Is Valiant making the right moves this time; will an overly aggressive leader or an overstrained medium giving way when least expected shut things down once again? Was Shooter in too aggressive, or was he backed into the corner?  Be sure to let us know your thoughts on the matters in the comments below and discuss with our team.

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