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The Illusion of Change: A Conversation with Sean Howe About Marvel Comics


“Comic books are about presenting the illusion of change,” once said Stan ‘The Man’ Lee, “without ever actually changing a a thing.” 

…Or maybe he didn’t. The origin story of attribution for this portentous quote has been as ambiguous as Wolverine’s.  And that’s kind of the point.

The illusion of perpetual change without ever actually changing reveals the contemporary state of the comic book industry, and of the institution that is Marvel Comics.

In his extensive history of the company, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story author Sean Howe reveals the story Marvel never could: of it’s own origin and the commercial weight of ideas. 

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is about the mechanics of myth-making. Packed with McFarlane-like detail, Howe reveals the joyous hyperbole of Marvel’s super-sausage-making process. While the human characters are sometimes as mundane as the Queens and Brooklyn neighborhoods where they lived, the story of Marvel is as exciting as the comics themselves.

The House of Ideas has always been home to scrappy innovation. From the early Golden Age pulp days of Timely Comics, through the creation of historic character archetypes like the Fantastic Four in the 1960’s, Lee’s Marvel was a boisterous, break-neck bullpen that helped birth contemporary myth.

And, somewhere along the way, emerged the Marvel Comics story, a fascinating tale about a cast-off company comprised of forgotten geniuses, creative malcontents, and business bamboozlers. 

By the 1970s, in an attempt to either escape or sell the characters he helped create, Lee escaped from New York City’s publishing industry to the film business in Los Angeles. In his wake Lee left a hole in Marvel filled by business innovation and a creative renaissance.  In a sage-like move that would make today’s Apple proud, Marvel embraced the burgeoning Direct Market, an innovative approach to fostering the independent retail stores across the country. The Direct Market allowed retailers to obtain non-returnable product at deeply discounted price. The deep discounts allowed comic book retail stores – and Marvel itself – to focus on more specific, target markets. Of target marketing attempts fell flat and lead to silly pulp stores. 

While silly and cynical products failed, the Direct Market helped foster the burgeoning fandom industry, and lead to a creative boom by some of Marvel’s writers and artists. Creators, some famous, many now long-forgotten, were left to invent wildly imaginative stories, and to adapt characters from a previous generation. Creative muscle flexed on cast-offs like Wolverine and Daredevil lead to a commercial explosion that helped define the industry through the 80’s and 90’s.

Marvel’s true identity today is as a company trapped somewhere between blockbusters movies and the old retail Direct Market. As comic book store across the country shutter, the intellectual property of the characters and stories has never been more valuable. The Direct Market threatens to choke digital evolution, and young fans are just that: fans, not consumers, of the core product.

Last week I sat down in the studio with Sean to discuss where the Marvel story began, and where it’s going. 

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Win the Room, EP 6 – Brand Anthropology With Mary van de Wiel

Win the Room, EP 6 – Brand Anthropology With Mary van de Wiel

In which host Kelly Hadous of Win the Room dives deep in to organic branding with Mary van de Wiel of Zing Your Brand.

Find more great shows on KoPoint.

Thanks for listening.

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KoPoint Is Dead. Long Live KoPoint!

At the end of the month, KoPoint, INC – the corporate entity – will cease to exist. KoPoint did not make enough money to scale the content or the business, so I’ve decided to dissolve the business. Closing my first company was a difficult but necessary decision.

Dissolving the corporate entity will allow KoPoint to flourish as a non-commercial creative venture! We will continue to publish great programs from our studio in soho. I’m fortunate to have worked with many great producers over the past year, and I’m looking forward to creating more cool shows with interesting people. Programming will focus more on interviews and structured conversations around interesting and niche topics. Programming will also remain awesome.

Here’s what’s happening with the business:

  • I’m dissolving KoPoint, INC. While I’m proud of the company and what we created, I also need to make real decisions about what generates revenue at scale, and what does not. 
  • We’re doubling down on zombies. Really! In April we’ll launch The Zombie Apocalypse, INC. We recently acquired the domain TheZombieApocalypse.com, our zombie blog has taken off, and to that end we’re launching an ecommerce store. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that in addition to creating zombie merch, our small team has written a cool ebook, and is finishing an audiobook to be available in iTunes and on vinyl this summer. 

As a creative force, KoPoint was a driving success. In a year, we produced great programs and talked with fascinating people. We built a small but loyal audio-focused audience. We sold some advertising. And KoPoint will continue to grow! Dropping the corporate pretense allows KoPoint to focus on creating relaxed and organic content.

Here’s what’s happening with KoPoint podcasts and content:

  • We’re going to doubledown on audio. KoPoint.com will be a very flat and simple page with links to our iTunes and audio feeds.
  • KoPoint’s primary podcast will feature more of my voice, joined in structured conversation with interesting people.
  • We’ll continue to produce great shows from our studio in soho in-house shows will return in late-Spring. Shows will be more focused, and probably only one at a time. For example, we’ll do another season of Beer Diplomacy in late-Spring, with a renewed emphasis on NYC stand-up comedy. We’ll also do one-off longform episodes of the Comic Book Podcast with creators who live and work in NYC.
  • We’ll release a few of our remaining syndicated shows. I have several cool stocked episodes from KoPoint producers to be released in the coming weeks.
  • The KoPoint Wire – a curated feed of stuff our producers like – will return at wire.kopoint.com.

I’d like to thank SumAll for their continued support, the great hosts and producers I’ve worked with over the past year, and my rock-solid underwriters. KoPoint is, was, and will be devoted to creating excellent content with dedicated producers.

Thanks for listening, stay tuned, and long live The Zombie Apocalypse!

– Dan Patterson

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Parenting the Internet | Managing the Gray

Parenting | Managing the Gray

CC Chapman

My parenting philosophy is pretty straight forward. Be an honest person and treat other people as you want to be treated.

That is how I live my life and how I want my children too.

But, I also believe that you should stand behind whatever you say.

In today’s world where anyone can hide behind their keyboard and screen, it feels to me that the Internet is making too many people soft.

If they get challenged in the littlest ways they back down, run away or try to pretend that it never happened.

THAT is what is discussed on this episode of Managing the Gray. A bit of a rant, laced with encouragement to not be soft and to stand up for what you believe in.

Thanks for listening.

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Win the Room, EP 3 – How to Win with Roger Wu and Regina Walton

Win the Room, EP 3 – How to Win with Roger Wu and Regina Walton

Recorded live at KoPoint

Kelly: My two special guests this week are Roger Wu and Regina Walton.

Roger Wu is a charismatic and gifted entrepreneur with an innate talent for networking. In this interview we dive into how Roger has created a formidable network. We talk about the meet and greet and how to keep your network alive. Roger started the first http://pinterest.com/-Meetup in New York City and is the founder of giftfinder.com. To find out more about Roger Wu visit www.rogerwu.com.

Regina Walton- Regina Walton is an eclectic, straight to the point visionary who knows how to navigate the unpredictable terrain of social media. She has helped many develop their unique swag through a formidable social presence. To find out more, go to Regina Walton

Thanks for listening.

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