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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 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 created and grew the 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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RSS is dead! Long live RSS! An Interview with The Old Reader

RSS is dead! Long live RSS!

This interview was recorded the week after Google announced the death of beloved feed parsing app, Google Reader. The headlines regarding Reader’s demise  have been predictably and wonderfully hyperbolic.

Elena Bulygina and Anton Tolchanov, two of the three co-founders of The Old Reader, help us make sense of a post-Google Reader world.

Props to @ChazFrench for his help in understanding the true power of the old Google reader.

Thanks for listening.

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KoPoint: Interview with Maciej Ceglowski of Pinboard.in

KoPoint: Interview with Maciej Ceglowski of Pinboard.in

Maciej Ceglowski is the founder of Pinboard.in, an “anti-social” bookmarking site. As the social web evolves, some trends mature past the initial commodified service value to become strong cottage industries. A for-pay service inspired by the original del.icio.us, Pinboard.in takes a holistic approach to personal data tracking. The service integrates smoothly with the contemporary web of indie apps, and excels at truly frictionless clickstream cacheing.

Dan talks with Caciej about the vision behind a truly personal, counter-social service.

Find more interesting podcasts onKoPoint.

Thanks for listening.

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The Murdoc Jones Show, EP 6 - Carl Blake Invents Pigs

The Murdoc Jones Show, EP 6 - Carl Blake Invents Pigs

Our first by phone guest, Carl Blake of Rustik Rooster Farms. Giddy up kids, as we head to the farm. Carl runs Rustik Rooster Farms and is re-inventing the pig. That’s right – he reinvented a PIG. In an effort to rid the world of confinement and genetically modified awfulness – Carl is a backwoods, redneck computer genius turned heritage pig farmer. Learn How to break your neck in 3 places and almost die – only to rehab yourself with tomato farming, Also learn how to: survive an attack from a Russian Boar named Atlas, how the man has modified your meat, that hydroponics is not just for weed, and a special note the for the Ladies… How to attract famous pig farmers.

Carl is a fantastic dude, and we’re not the only ones who think so. He is appearing on the Colbert Report (link coming when the episode airs) and The New York Times thinks he’s pretty cool as well.

Find more shows like this on KoPoint.

Thanks for listening.

Carl Blake Murdoc Jones Show

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Win the Room, EP 5 - What If With Miggs Borroughs

Win the Room, EP 5 - What If With Miggs Burroughs

Kelly: Miggs Burroughs is a known and well-loved multi-artist, he has talent in many mediums. Miggs is an artist based in Westport CT - my home town! 

We discuss over a glass of wine about how he wins his room, and all things artsy. I delve into the value of his provocative book, a collection of “What If” a series of rhetorical questions that stirs up the mind, and asks us to imagine endless possibilities. This podcast is for anyone who does or wants to think outside of the box.

Find more shows like this on KoPoint.

Thanks for listening.

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Beer Diplomacy, EP 119 - Jesus & Tyrion Lannister

Beer Diplomacy, EP 119 - Jesus & Tyrion Lannister

Recorded on March 18, 2013 at KoPoint Studios in NYC.

This week, Stuart welcomes New York Times best selling author & comedian Baratunde Thurston and host of Tell Your Friends! & comedian Liam McEneaney.  We discuss what’s going on in our lives, the virtues of SoundCloud, gerrymandering, the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, why Republicans don’t win elections, and more!

Thanks, as always, to Dan Patterson for engineering and to SumAll for hosting us in their offices.

Topics can be found here.

Find more great shows like this on KoPoint

Thanks for listening.

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Title of Episode

Artist

Stuart Tracte

Album

Beer Diplomacy

Beer Diplomacy, EP 118 - Title of Episode

Recorded on March 11, 2013 at KoPoint Studios in NYC.

The first foursome at KoPoint Studios, featuring Ty Francis, Alison Leiby, host Stuart Tracte, & Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling! Topics include the caloric value of a mouse click, the Bloomberg soda ban, the North Korean nuclear threat, gun ownership & the appropriateness of comedy. We spent time hearing some great anecdotes from Jackie and just had an all-around good time.

Thanks to Dan Patterson & Sum All for engineering & hosting the show, respectively.

This week’s topics can be found here.

Thanks for listening.

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Ken Segall Keeps it Simple

Artist

Kelly Hadous

Album

Win the Room

Ken Segall Keeps it Simple | Win the Room

Kelly Hadous

Recorded live at KoPoint

Ken Segall Keeps it Simple:  Ken shares how win your room with simplicity.

Bio From KenSegall.com:
My story is a simple one. I’m a writer who worked at ad agencies with high standards, then met a client with absurdly high standards: Steve Jobs. From ‘Think Different’ to iMac and beyond, I found that Steve’s love of simplicity was at the core of Apple’s every success…

Kelly: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work closely with Steve Jobs or name a product so brilliantly that it’s etched forever in the pages of history. Well I was, and that’s why I had to bring my dear friend Ken Segall on WTR radio.

Ken Segall worked closely with Steve Jobs at Apple. Ken is that guy we can thank for coming up with the name iMac, and the rest my friends is naming history. That cute little “i” became the foundation for naming all the other Apple products that followed.

We also chat about marketing ideas, and Ken says just “be yourself” I love it! How many times in a day do we worry and agonize about how we’re perceived, but if we just get out of our own way, then magic starts to happen!

Ken talks to moi at KoPoint, about his behind closed meetings with Steve Jobs and shares some awesome insights on his marketing strategies in Insanely Simple.

Finally, Scoopertino, Ken’s blog about all things sardonic in the unreal apple world is a hoot to say the least, and it always causes quite a stir not only for apple lovers, but the entire produce section.

I just adore Ken and I know you will too!

Share your comments, they’re always appreciated.

- Kelly and WTR team!

Thanks for listening.

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