Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Manga and Anime and Comic Book Fandom

As part of my job at Phantom of the Attic Comics I spent the weekend at Tekkoshocon, Pittsburgh's annual Manga and Anime convention. We set up every year as a way of promoting the store and hopefully selling some merchandise. While Phantom has always stocked a certain amount of Manga (actually we were on that trend long before it exploded in bookstores across America), it has never been our focus. We view it as another piece of the giant puzzle that is comic book retail, but for a long time there was simply no competing with the giant book chains in terms of depth of stock or pricing.

For the uninitiated Manga refers pretty specifically to comics produced in Japan. In Japan it refers to all comics. Manga is simply their word for comics (likewise, the term Anime refers to Japanese animation). Here in America Manga has come to refer to Japanese comics as a way of distinguishing them from American books. It has also, probably unfairly, come to refer to some very specific stylistic qualities, i.e. big eyes, small mouths, and wildly exaggerated hair, among others, that have very little to do with content. In Understanding Comics Scott McCloud makes the point that the word Comics does not refer to a genre. Any kind of story can be told using comics as a format. I think far too many people use the word Manga in the same way. It is not a genre, and Manga is not an all-inclusive term that defines content.

Manga developed on a parallel course with American comics, and the ways in which they have always influenced and been influenced by the other are too numerous to recount. It's part of the lecture I give on the topic in my Comics and Pop Culture class at Chatham University.

The distinctions between American comics and Manga seem somewhat arbitrary to me, and based more on surface qualities than anything else. There was a time when there was no distinction that really mattered. Most people of my generation have fond memories of watching cartoons like Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion, and Astro Boy when they were kids. They were simply cartoons then. We didn't know their origin nor did we care. In the 80s shows like Robotech, Battle For the Planets, and Voltron appeared on American TV and while my generation was now older, we still watched and enjoyed a lot of this. Translated Manga began to appear in comics shops in the 80s as well. Comico published Macross (the series Robotech was based on). Series like Appleseed, Grey, and Akira appeared and we accepted them as part of the Direct Sales explosion of new titles that were appearing at that time. Many American creators were directly influenced by Manga. Wendy Pini on Elfquest is one. It can easily be seen in Scott McCloud's Zot! and later in his seminal Understanding Comics. Frank Miller's Ronin is pretty directly a result of him reading Lone Wolf and Cub.

But somewhere in the last thirty years there has been a tremendous backlash against Manga among older fans and I gotta say, I just don't understand it. These are stories that feature Superheroes, Fantasy and Science Fiction... you know, all of the things that drive most American comics. But I hear it from customers all of the time. When I posted on Facebook that this was the topic of my lecture this week many of the comments were derogatory toward Manga in general. Usually, these comments come from people who have never really read anything that closely resembles Manga, but the prejudice still exists.
I have to wonder why.

So let's explore that topic a little and see if we can come up with some answers.

Now I should begin with the caveat that I really don't read a lot of Manga. I too have been guilty of some of these prejudices. Some of it is that I have a really difficult time reading right to left, the way most Manga is published, instead of the left to right style I have always read in. I've tried, but I just can't make my brain do it. If I had been exposed to this at a much younger age I'm sure this wouldn't be a problem, but at 52 my brain isn't as flexible as it would have been when I was 10. It's a shame because I'm sure this has prevented me from reading some very good work.

I am more familiar with Manga than many people simply because of my profession. Over the last eighteen years I've sold a lot of it and seen series come and go. I have friends and customers who are really into it. I have godchildren who are pretty much full-fledged comics geeks and I have Manga to thank for that (though my influence no doubt played some part in that as well). My experiences at Tekkoshocon have given me some measure of insight into Manga fandom and culture as well, and it's not what the uninitiated think it is.

So what's the disconnect?

I think part of it is simply the factor of age. As much as we old folks hate to admit it we all get stuck in our past to some degree or another. Whatever it was that first turned us on to a hobby, whether it's music, or books, or sports or comics, that's the stuff that stays with us forever. Comics were never cooler than when we were twelve years old, no matter when that happened to be. The stuff that defined the experience for us still defines what we think comics should be. Many of the same people who I find disdainful of Manga really don't like what's going on at Marvel and DC right now with their favorite superheroes either. The art style has changed. The storytelling is different. Therefore, in an example of bad logic, they are not as good as my memory tells me the old comics were. Nostalgia preserves comics far better than any mylar bag. With Marvel and DC, because the same characters are still being published, we carry a fondness for these characters and an ongoing desire to recapture the feeling they once brought to you. With Manga, if you've never read any of it, it's easier to simply dismiss it wholesale. Everything about it is foreign to your experience. Putting it down is easier than engaging the vastness of genres and styles that are actually included.

Age plays another part in this as well. A significant percentage of the Manga that has been translated and brought to America in the last twenty years is aimed at a younger demographic, specifically teens. The sad truth, all my compatriot old dudes, is we're not the demographic Manga is produced for. It's okay if we don't like it or if it doesn't speak to us. It's not supposed to. We have gotten older and we expect our hobby to come along with us, and in many ways it has. But it has also continued to be produced for a completely different audience. One of the ongoing conversations in American comics fandom for the last thirty years has been the issue of “Why aren't more kids reading comics?” “What can we do to bring young people into the hobby?” Why don't they make comics for kids anymore?” The answer to that question is, they have been. But because it's Manga and not the same stuff you loved as a kid you don't recognize it as such.

The Manga explosion in national bookstores did more to bring young people into the hobby of reading comics than anything the major publishers have done in decades. Maybe not the comics you like, but comics none the less. Remember... the old folks didn't like the comics you were reading back then either. Thousands upon thousands of young people are now fans of comics as a storytelling medium as a direct result of Manga. The ten year olds who were into Fruits Basket and Naruto are now twenty year olds who are reading the Avengers and Captain Marvel and Batman and Saga. The increased presence of our favorite characters in the form of the movies has made these young readers more aware of them as well, and because they already read comics it's a natural transition that is taking place. Statistically more people are reading comics in some form than in years and years. Manga has played a huge role in this.

I also think there is a gender issue involved. Just like a lot of Manga is aimed at a younger audience a lot of it is aimed at a female demographic. That's an area our traditional comics publishers have been, and continue to be, notoriously bad at. As a result of this marketing more young women read comics than at anytime since the height of the Romance Comics genre (and that was in the late 40s and early 50s, so it's been a while). If you're a forty year old man, this stuff really isn't aimed at you, and that's all right. Not every book in the bookstore is aimed at you either. But, if you have a ten year old daughter that you want to read comics then Sailer Moon or Fruits Basket are probably better choices than that Walt Simonson run on Thor from the 80s that you love so much.

There are so many cliches and misperceptions as to what Manga is all about. On Saturday I posted a Facebook update with a Tekko anecdote because it was funny to those of us who know. In retrospect, based partly on the responses it garnered, I realize it helped promote a negative stereotype. In brief, my co-worker, a twenty-something woman, was approached by a middle aged man at our table. He was decked out in My Little Pony gear and asked her if she knew where the hentai table was (I'll wait a moment while those of you who don't know what this is take a moment to look it up. Warning, NSFW and you might want to clear your browser after. Back? Okay then). Was he being inappropriate in approaching her, or were his social skills just that bad? Either way, it was a little weird and amusing. But I realized by the responses this story received that a lot of people seemed to assume he represented the typical fan at Tekko, and that's just not true. He was very much the anomaly. But this has become the image a lot of people have of Manga and Anime. It's an unfair prejudice that does damage to the entire industry. It's not like American comics, or novels, or music, or whatever, don't have their share of strange sexual and pornographic imagery. Taking one example of something you find weird and generalizing it to the entire scope of an art form is simply lazy thinking.

I want to go on record here and say that as a comics retailer who sets up at conventions (not as many as lots of other stores do, but my fair share over the years), Tekko is by far the most fun show I work. There are two words that sum up the overall atmosphere of Tekko, and they are things that I feel are increasingly lacking at other comics related conventions I attend. The two words are enthusiasm and joy. This is a Con filled with hundreds of people who really, really love their hobby. They are having so much fun. Everyone is in costume. They are excitedly discussing their favorite books and characters and getting really excited by the paraphernalia in the dealers room. There is music and people dance. There's gaming and cheering and a whole lot of laughter. As someone who admittedly does not read most of what is available I still find the atmosphere to be contagious. It's difficult not to get caught up in it.

And isn't this what we want from comics fans? Enthusiasm and joy both seem to be conspicuously absent from other shows. Not entirely, obviously. Comics conventions are not dire halls of mourning, but the comparison between a Methodist funeral and a New Orleans style wake is not a big leap in my experience.

So next time you feel the urge to badmouth Manga remember that you're badmouthing joy. You're putting down something that is exactly how you felt about your favorite comics way back when. You are discounting something has been good for the comics industry. You don't have to like it. I don't read or watch very much of it (though I admit to being completely hooked on the Attack on Titan anime right now). You don't have to appreciate it. Like I said, most of it simply not for you, and that's okay. Appreciate it for what it brings to the hobby. Manga has been a gateway drug for reading comics for thousands of kids, many of whom will continue to read comics, someday maybe even the ones you think are good.

And isn't more people reading comics what we all really want?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

My friend Leigh Anne, over at her Be Less Amazing blog, participated in the Writing Process Blog Tour. She was invited to do this by local Pittsburgh Poet Angele Ellis (you can read her responses HERE). Leigh Anne made a more general call for anyone to participate. I'm doing the same. If you want to be a part of this, answer the questions below and link back to me. I'm curious to see what other people have to say.

What Am I Working On?

Way too many things, probably. I'm currently working on a paid professional comics project involving the Holocaust in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center and the Pittsburgh Toonseum (this is my first public announcement of this). I serve on the steering committee as a comics historian as well. The overall project involves what will be a traveling educational art/history museum installation called “Chutz-Pow!: Real Life Superheroes of the Holocaust.” The idea is to focus on real people who participated in genuinely heroic acts in the midst of this tragedy. We're using the metaphor of the superhero to do this. Many of the earliest comics creators were Jewish and had connections with European Jews during this period. Many served in the military in World War II.

My primary responsibility is writing a 24 page comic book that will be given away as part of the project. I'm telling the stories of five Pittsburgh residents who fit the description of a “real life hero of the Holocaust.” This has involved a tremendous amount of research. The biggest challenge of this for me is trying to fit these tremendous stories into four to eight page vignettes. I'm lucky to be working with four local professional comics artists. This is shaping up to possibly be the biggest, most important writing project of my life so far.

The installation will premiere at the 2014 Pittsburgh Three Rivers Arts Festival. I will be making more specific announcements about this project as the details develop.

In addition to this project I occasionally blog at two different sites, this one and another one over at Word Press. That ones, called Masks, is the home of my very specific ramblings and thoughts on comic book history and serves as a first draft space for what may someday be a book on the topic. This one is home to a wide variety of topics. I write the occasional book review for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Then there are my novels. I have four complete novels available, and I'm currently about 50,000 words into the next one (though it seems to be taking awhile).

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In the course of submitting my novels to agents and publishers I was told many times that while they loved my writing style (one agent called it “lyrical”), the problem was that they didn't know how to market it because it didn't fit comfortably in a specific genre. Three of my novels (I leave Bedivere out because it is pretty specifically Arthurian fiction), straddle the line between Horror and Urban Fantasy. The tropes of each of these are certainly present, but it's difficult to pinpoint either. When I was submitting I would craft my pitch either way depending on what the publisher was looking for. I've had others refer to my work as Dark Fantasy, Slipstream, Magical Realism, and Speculative Fiction. Okay...

So what makes my work different? While I deal with elements of Horror my work isn't as dark as a lot of that genre. Even in my darkest moments I am still inspired by heroic fiction, so I guess that's where the Fantasy comes in. There is a message of hope in my work that that is absent from a lot of Horror, without ever slipping into “the hero who will save the world” cliches. I'm not very interested in the classic monsters of Horror (at least in writng about them). It might be more commercial but the world has enough vampire and werewolf and zombie fiction right now, and don't get me started on the overdone Lovecraftian, tentacled horror from beyond. There's way too much of that to dig through. There are so many other mythologies and folk lore to mine for ideas.

Why do I write what I do?

I've always been drawn to the fantastic. I learned to read from comic books, so the idea of heroes living in a world of monsters and aliens and super powers is my default worldview. I like the metaphor that these genres provide. When we write about monsters we're writing about the monstrous in ourselves. When we write about heroes we're appealing to our own better self. Genre fiction allows us to exaggerate these things and explore the ideas in sometimes deeper ways.

And, simply because I enjoy these genres myself, I find them more fun to write.

How does your writing process work?

When things are going well on a novel I sit down at the keyboard and write. I try for at least 1000 words before I will let myself walk away. There's no magic to it other than showing up for work. I usually have spent a lot of time thinking about the project and what comes next, and I will have a few notes, but in general I'm not a big outliner or planner. Within certain parameters I want to be open to let the story take me where it will. Characters frequently say and do things I never planned until the moment I wrote the lines. When that happens it is usually a sign that the story has become a living thing and I need to listen to what it's trying to tell me.

The process works better for me when I have some kind of writing routine in place. Recently I have not been showing up to work as often as I would like, at least not on my novels. As I stated above I have been spending a lot of my creative time on the Holocaust project. I'm also teaching a class this semester and a lot of my energy has gone toward that. These are not meant as excuses, simply the reality of time management at the moment. I made a conscious decision to put a hold on the novel I'm working on because I knew these other commitments would eat into my time and energy. The fear is always that once I get off the novel-writing horse it can be difficult to get back on.

But I write because I write. It's a big part of what defines me.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

New Podcast!

I was recently interviewed by Genevieve Barbee for the AP Collector Podcast. You can listen to the whole thing at the following link.

The AP Collector was recently featured as one of "Sixteen Pittsburgh Social Media Mavens To Follow" at Pop City Media.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mentors Part 1: Will Hinerman

For some time now I have wanted to write about some of the mentors I have had in my life. There are many, of course. Too many to really do justice to. I believe everyone we encounter has lessons to teach us if we are receptive. But everyone, if they are really lucky, has a list of people, or one specific person, who they know changed they way they think about life and the way they live in the world. That person who took a special interest in you and helped guide you to your better nature.

I have been very lucky.

I started teaching my class on Comics and Pop Culture at Chatham University again this week. It's been three years since the first time I did this (you can read about that experience here). Being officially in the position of teacher has made me think of my own mentors again. I planned on beginning this blog post some time this week anyway, but then one of those instances of synchronicity hit that made me realize that now was the time to write very specifically about a man named Will Hinerman.

I first met Mr. Hinerman when I was twelve, Seventh Grade. My small, rural school housed Seventh through Twelfth grades in a single building, so that prepubescent kids could wander the same halls as eighteen year old seniors with beards. Not a completely ideal situation (since then the school has been expanded and now has a more overt Middle School/High School division). Hinerman was the Middle School Art teacher. He also taught World History and American History at the high school level. I had always loved history and had devoured the books in my grade school library. Thanks to my love of comics, I also drew. In terms of my primary interests at the time, he was the perfect match.

Now before I get into a lot of the specifics of my relationship with him I do want to address the fact that he was a controversial figure, and while he was my favorite teacher, a lot of other students really hated him. He could be very demanding. I've heard stories from friends who attended Band Camp where he acted as a drill instructor with, if the stories are to be believed, the same exacting standards of a boot camp Marine sergeant.

I saw some of that in him. I started drawing early in life and never really quit. By the time I met him I was at the point of trying to duplicate drawings from my favorite comics by looking at them. When I first showed them to him he was immediately complimentary with what he saw as some raw talent, and then immediately took me to task about my lack of anatomy, perspective and proportion and assigned me the task of drawing skeletons until I knew how the body fit together and worked. He was supportive of my efforts, more than anyone else had ever been, but he didn't let me get away with anything either.

I had art class with him in Seventh and Eighth grades. For most people in my school district that was the end of art classes. If you wanted to continue to take Advanced Art, as it was called, you had to use a study hall or any other free period you had. I spent pretty much every free moment I had in high school living in the Art Room. Yes, I studied art there, and did a whole lot of other art related activities, but it was so much more than that. It was my haven, the place that made my high school years endurable. High school wasn't Hell for me the way it is for some people. I was popular enough without ever being Big Man On Campus, and had enough friends that I was able to escape the geeky loner status that befalls so many other creative types (or comics fans). I was bright enough that the schoolwork was never that big a deal (in fact I now realize how not challenged I really was). So the Art Room was an escape, a refuge from days that could otherwise have been tedious.

In Tenth and Eleventh grades he taught American History and World History. I had always liked history and had read some books, but my classes up to this point were the type of history class that make people hate history; Endless memorizing of dates with no context or sense of how any of this mattered in the present. Hinerman made it come alive for me. He presented the material as stories... wonderful stories of real people whose lives had changed the world. It was presented as a narrative where you could follow the course of world events and see the connections down to the present. He was funny and serious and at times bordered on the profane, as much as he could in a high school setting anyway.

But the most important time spent with him had very little to do with any formal class. Hinerman challenged me, not just with my art, but with my perceptions of the world. He took a genuine interest in me and I think was invested in opening up my world to things I might otherwise never have been exposed to. He would question my opinions and ideas, make me think about things more deeply. He fostered my curiosity and introduced me to ideas I don't know that I would have encountered at that time of my life without his influence. He got me interested in politics, which played a pretty big role in my life for the first few years after I graduated. I don't know whether to thank him for this or not, because there have been many times in my adult life when I have been so frustrated with the state of our national politics that I wish I could just turn off my brain and allow myself not to care. We debated issues of the day back then, and I am absolutely sure we would stand on opposite sides of the aisle today. I like to think we could still have fun with our debates.

There was a back room in the art department where we kept supplies: paint, paper, clay, all the accoutrements needed for an art class. No one was allowed back there except Hinerman and the Advanced Art students. It was where we would hide when we simply needed to be away from the rest of the school day. I had lots of those early deep meaningful conversations about life, the universe and everything with my friends back there. A lot of my earliest fumblings with girls took place in that back room.

It was equipped with a hooded exhaust fan, ostensibly for when we needed to paint something, or use spray paint or fixative, to vent the room so we didn't die from the fumes. It mostly served as a place for Hinerman to take a smoke break between classes. He was at least a two pack a day man. Of course this was completely against school policy. He never let students smoke back there, though I'm sure some friends took advantage of this when he was away from the room. He also never hesitated to light up in front of us.

Hinerman was one of the first adults to treat me like a grown up, and at times like a peer. One year he and another history teacher, Frank Hunter, had the same prep period. They would get together in the art room to just hang out and talk. A lot of it was history, but a lot of it was simply life stuff. It coincided with a free period that I had, so I was there with them most days. They included me in all of their discussions. I feel confident saying I learned more valuable lessons about real life in these sessions than in most other classes I've ever had. He shared confidences with me about his family life, and in time I went to his home and met his wife and children. At the time he felt like a friend. From my position of advanced age now I know that we weren't on equal footing in terms of what a friendship meant, but I felt like I was more than just another student to him.

He was something of a rebel, and perhaps the most important thing I learned from him was to question authority. Not to openly rebel, necessarily, but to question the very idea of where authority comes from. Just because someone is in that position does not always mean they are right. His teaching methods were somewhat unorthodox, and he challenged the Principal and the rest of the school administration constantly. I'm sure he was a thorn in their collective sides. I'm sure because in spite of his tenure they were looking for ways to fire him.

This next part falls in the category of, “These are my memories of my experiences of events, and it has been a very long time, so the details are purely subjective.”

During my senior year of high school it seemed Mr. Hinerman was under a lot of extra stress. In a few conversations he confided with me that he was on the defensive because he believed there was a concerted effort on the part of the administration to fire him. I realize now that him talking to me about this was probably inappropriate. This really isn't the type of thing a teacher should share with a student. At the time I took it as proof that he valued our friendship and saw me as a peer. He told me a lot of what had transpired in meetings with the administration, and that he had secured a lawyer. He had been collecting his own documented evidence against his accusers to use in case they ever attempted to fire him. Some of it was pretty incriminating, and certainly was information I should not have been privy to. My understanding at the time was that his lawyer had already approached them with some of this information in an effort to get them to back off.

Was he paranoid? Maybe a little. But the tension between him and the administration was obvious.

We went on Christmas vacation and returned to school on January 2, 1979. One of his gifts from his wife Bonnie was a history book called Napoleon and Talleyrand: The Last Two Weeks. This was an era of history I had taken an interest in at the time, and the figure of Talleyrand would intrigue me for years. He was excited to share this with me, and said I could borrow it when he was done.

Two days later when I went to school I was informed by one of the teachers that Will Hinerman had died of a massive heart attack early that morning. He was just about to turn 42.

I'm now over ten years older than he ever lived to be. I remember thinking about him when I turned 42. It's still hard for me to believe he was that young. He seemed older to me, certainly older than I feel, or think I appear to the people in my life. I realize that I saw him as an adult through the yes of an adolescent. We don't have the perspective of age when we're young. But his mannerisms, his way of living in the world, simply seemed older to me.

The synchronicity I mentioned earlier that led me to finally write this was that I commented on a friends picture on Facebook by quoting Mr. Hinerman. She was one of his students as well, and remembered the circumstances and we had a good laugh. I then remembered that he died in January. A few moments of looking at old calendars on the internet and I realized that the day I quoted him was the 35th anniversary of his funeral.

To say his death had a profound effect on me would be gross understatement. I was devastated, and the next few days are a blur. His wife asked me if I and some of his other students would be his pallbearers. This was the first time I ever did this. He was buried on a hillside in Cameron, West Virginia on a bitter cold afternoon. The car of one of the school administrators got hung up going up the steep driveway into the cemetery and he not only had to walk, but he had to get towed. My friends and I, the other pallbearers and I, found this a fitting revenge and chuckled in our car at his misfortune, fully believing Hinerman had a hand in it.

At some point during the previous few years we had organized the Advanced Art Department into an officially recognized high school club under the name Creative, Imaginative Arts, or the C.I.A. for short. We had printed our own hall passes, signed by Hinerman, to use anytime we were out of class and stopped by a hall monitor. They read, “_______ is on a secret mission for the C.I.A. This note serves as a hall pass.” He would always back us up, even if he had no idea we had cut class. I carried one with me at all times. It got to the point that the regular hall monitors no longer bothered to ask me.

I slipped one of these passes into the coffin.

That day Bonnie gave me Napoleon and Talleyrand. It sits on a bookshelf in my living room today.

The rest of my senior year was completely colored by this event. I was in serious grief. The rest of the members of the C.I.A. looked to me for leadership. We had been pretty close before, but this bonded us even more. Our fear was that we would be disbanded or no longer be allowed to congregate in the art room. A substitute teacher came in for the rest of the year, and we were all unfair to her and saw her as nothing but a lackey for those we viewed as our enemies.

And make no mistake, I viewed the principal and the rest of the administration as my enemies at the time. I was full to the brim with righteous indignation, grief and anger that I needed to direct somewhere. I blamed them for his death. The stress they put on him had caused the heart attack. I was sure of it, overlooking some of the other obvious factors like the two to three pack a day cigarette habit or congenital factors I may have known nothing about. But I needed a target, and whatever respect I may have ever had for those people simply vanished. Now, I was always a “good” kid who never really got in any serious trouble. My grades were good and I was well liked. That continued. I didn't act out in any overt way. Hinerman had taught me better than that.

We were the C.I.A. after all.

It wasn't long before we began to hear rumors that our art club was going to be shut down. The new sub didn't quite know what to do with students coming to the art room off and on all day, even though we continued to work on projects. I was determined to keep that room sacred for us, at least as long as I was there. I asked for a meeting with the principal to discuss the situation.

I sat in his office, puffed up with myself and my anger. But I kept my cool. He started the meeting by standing and looking out his window, his back to me as he spoke. I felt like he was ashamed to face me. “I realize,” he said, “that you and Mr. Hinerman were close, but I'm afraid he misled you about the nature of our relationship.”

I know all about your relationship,” I said. And then I mentioned the lawyers name and proceeded to list all if the things Hinerman had documented about the principal's behavior. The look on his face is a joy I will carry with me forever. I simply said that the C.I.A. would continue until I graduated, then I got up and walked out of his office.

Ah, the amazing arrogance of youth. What a little fucker I was.

But we never heard another word about being disbanded. I graduated 12th or 13th in my class and moved on with the rest of my life. The following year they hired a new permanent art teacher and while there was still an Advanced Art option for high school students the program I knew was gone.

I spent a lot of time feeling like I had to live up to his expectations of me. I came from a family where no one had ever gone to college before (that's not a knock on my family, just the realities of the time and place of the world we all lived in then). As much as I read and was curious about the bigger world I really don't know if I would have pursued the college option if not for Mr. Hinerman pushing me in that direction. To be fair, there were others who did the same, but I believe it started with him. 

I can't imagine what my life would be now if not for his influence.

This is a watercolor Mr. Hinerman
painted. It hung in the art room. I took it
when I graduated and it has been on display
in every house or apartment I have lived in since.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

New Book Review: NOTHIN' TO LOSE: THE MAKING OF KISS (1972-1975)

My latest book review appeared this week in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I write about the latest in a long line of biographies of the band KISS. You can read it by following the link.

I wrote about my experiences at the opening show of the Kiss Dynasty tour in an earlier blog. You can see it HERE.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

New Book Review: Queens of Noise: The True Story of The Runaways

My latest book review appeared this week in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. This time I write about Queens of Noise: The True Story of The Runaways by Evelyn McDonnell. You can read it at

I received an email from Ms. McDonnell thanking me for the great review. She reblogged it at her site. You can see that at

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nerd Exchange Podcast

I was interviewed on the Nerd Exchange Poscast this week. Host Tim Sedwick and talk about comics history and comics business and the nature of collecting. Thanks Tim!