Opponents vs. enemies

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The fury that’s blazed since Donald Trump started running for president has lit up one of the big divides in politics: opponents vs. enemies.

Opponents vilify each other’s viewpoints, attack each other’s methods and practices, and fight publicly and secretly to ruin each other’s plans. But they can also acknowledge each other’s sincerity, respect each other’s abilities, agree on compromises, and even enjoy a drink or a party together.

Enemies find it disgusting to compromise with people on the other side, much less socialize with them. For enemies, playing politics in a gentlemanly or ladylike manner — as if issues like war, policing, health care, and environmental pollution, which literally kill people, matter only as much as a round of polo — is obscene. The other side isn’t just wrong but also evil, and our side must not merely defeat it but destroy it.

Ronald Reagan had opponents; Donald Trump has (and makes) enemies.

I prefer being an opponent, but that’s just me. I enjoy a good debate but shy away when matters get mean.

(Where credit is due: If memory serves, I’ve borrowed the opponents-vs.-enemies distinction from Marvin Olasky, a communist turned Christian conservative. My thanks to Mr. Olasky, whom I consider an opponent.)

Convention event publicity — part two: during the con

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So you’re at the con, surrounded by chaos. Getting there was a nightmare, you can’t hear over the noise of the crowd and the exhibits, and you’ve got to be in twelve different places at once.

It’s the best time to publicize your event.

Much of what follows is stuff that you should prepare before the con. But no matter how thoroughly you prepped your publicity beforehand, make sure that it reaches people during the con.

Make the event’s web page mobile-friendly. People at a con are more likely to use their phones than their laptop computers.
• Choose a responsive design (https://developers.google.com/web/fundamentals/design-and-ui/responsive/).
• Simplify images and minimize text to make your pages load quickly.
• Use big text and big buttons on screen for easy visibility and interaction.
• Test, retest, and re-retest your mobile site before and during the con to ensure that it contains everything you want and is easily readable.

Make friends with the con’s staff. Ask them how you can make their lives easier. Here’s why:
• The press relations officer can aid you in reaching journalists.
• The editor of the program book can ensure that your listing or writeup appears in full and on the right page.
• If you’re planning an event at a booth, the people in charge of the exhibit hall and con security can help your event go smoothly.
• If you’re running a panel, the programming officer can make sure that you have enough chairs for your speakers and that their microphones work.
• Don’t neglect the lower-level staff, either. Showing them friendliness and respect can make them want to help you, while rudeness can make them care nothing about your needs.

Print flyers that display the event’s key information: when it begins, where it takes place (with a map, if necessary), who’s involved (with photos), and what the attendees can expect to happen. And then:
• Put a fat stack of flyers on the con’s freebie table. Go by the freebie table from time to time during the con and make sure that other giveaways haven’t buried the flyers.
• Hand flyers to people standing in line to get into events like yours.
• If the con has a press room, leave flyers there.
• If the con permits, leave flyers at the registration area, particularly press registration.
• If the con permits, hang copies of your flyers outside the event to help attendees find the event and to catch the eye of passers-by.
• If fan groups have exhibitor tables, leave flyers with any group that might be interested in attending your event.

Roam the convention center, especially the exhibit hall.
• Look for journalists (you can detect them by their press badges or professional camera equipment); invite them to your event.
• If you see someone wearing a T-shirt related to your event, invite him or her. For instance, if your event is related to gaming, and you see someone in an “I Can’t Adult Now I’m Gaming” shirt, offer that person a flyer and invite him or her to your event.
• When you talk with people about your event, ask them if they’d mind if you put them on the event’s contact list. Add their contact info to the list of people whom you’ve been telling about the event.

Send reminders of the event to your contact list and your social media outlets once a day during the con.

Keep publicizing even after the event begins. If someone at your event says or does anything interesting, write a note about it and shoot a photo or a video. Post them on social media and remind people that the excitement is going on right now. Include the event’s location and the time when the event ends.

Good luck!

At the edge of the corporate cliff

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An organization posts a job opening, finds a candidate, interviews the candidate by phone, interviews the candidate in person, seems to like the candidate — and then withdraws the job. The company doesn’t reject the candidate; it simply puts the job on hold, indefinitely.

If an organization commits itself enough to budget the job’s salary and other expenses, and to put the human resources department, the hiring manager, and other people through resume-sifting and interviewing, why does it pull back?

I recognize that circumstances can change. An organization posts an opening in January and expects the hiring process to take 30 days — but in that time the organization’s management can change or the economy can slump or something else can happen.

Sometimes, though, it seems that organizations simply lose their nerve, like a novice swimmer walking to the edge of a diving board, bouncing up and down, and then turning back.

Am I wrong?

Rock‘n’roll: Don’t print the legend

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A popular cultural legend is the connection between baby boomers and rock‘n’roll. When rock rose in the 1950s, teenage boomers fought for the music against their parents’ stodgy prejudices.

It’s not true.

In 1955, rock was rising from Southern phenomenon to national craze. Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene,” and Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” were hits. New York disc jockey Alan Freed was a sensation with his rock‘n’roll radio show and package concerts, spawning imitators nationwide. RCA signed Elvis Presley away from Sun Records.

And the oldest baby boomers were nine years old.

So which teenagers made rock‘n’roll the tidal wave that flooded the nation? The forgotten generation: the war babies, born in the run-up to World War II and during the war itself. These kids were 13 and 14 and 15 in ’55.

By the time that the baby boomers, born from 1946 through ’64, hit their teens, the pioneering wave of rock had crashed. Elvis had been drafted, Little Richard had quit rock for religion, scandals had eaten the careers of Alan Freed, Chuck Berry, and fellow pioneer rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, and so on. Producers like Berry Gordy and Phil Spector now created songs and stars as Rolls-Royce created cars — beautifully crafted and gloriously enjoyable, but not as wild as the original rock.

Hail to thee, war babies! You made the world safe for rock‘n’roll!

Convention event publicity — part one: before the con

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It’s con season in the comics world, which means that someone has to captivate attendees into panels, signings, parties, and other events. I’ve done it, and it’s not easy.

But there’s hope. Here is some advice.

Create an online home for the event.

It can be a new website, a new page on an existing website, a Facebook event page, or all three. All of your publicity for the event should direct people to this home, and all of your news about the event should be there. It should also include your contact information for the press and other curious souls.

Announce early.

Tell the world about your event as soon as you know that you’re going to do it.

If you can announce guest speakers, giveaways, or any other attraction, do it; if you know the time, date, venue, and other details, say so. But even if you don’t, get the news out anyway. Start soaking your event into the brains of journalists and con-goers.

Include your contact information and the URL of the event’s online home.

Get to the point.

You can find lots of online advice about formatting press releases, ads, and other announcements, so you don’t need it from me. But whatever you write, keep it short. Readers turn away if you use an ocean of words to present a puddle of news.

For instance, don’t lard your releases with hype like “Company X is proud to announce the biggest news in comics since the invention of the panel!!! You’re not ready for this, people! You think you are? Really? I don’t believe you! But okay, if you insist, brace yourselves, suck in your gut, think happy thoughts, and here we go …” Only Stan Lee can get away with that stuff.

Instead, begin announcements with the top news — say, the addition of a new speaker to a comic-con panel discussion. Follow up with context: information about the speaker, the panel, the convention, and so on. Add any other news that you may have. Finish with your contact information and the event’s URL.

For extra shortness, change passive voice to active, delete adjectives and adverbs, and use the substitutions that I wrote about here and here.

Use visuals.

Blocks of type are dull; photos and drawings attract the eye. Every time you announce a person important to your event — say, a speaker on a convention panel discussion — include a photo. If you can’t get a photo, use other art, like a drawing of a character associated with the speaker.

Use lots of white space. A cluttered page, online or on paper, pushes eyes away.

Use an easily readable font against a contrasting color, and don’t set your font smaller than twelve points. No one wants to squint at your announcements.

Go wide.

In addition to your event’s online home, put your announcements into every venue you can. For instance:

Social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google Plus, you know the sites.

Comics news media. The Beat, CBR, Newsarama, Bleeding Cool, ComicBook.com, Comics Continuum, The Comics Journal, Comics Bulletin, Fanboy Planet — you can find these and other comics news sites on Google and Alexa. Each news site has information on how to submit press releases and tips. Don’t forget about podcasts such as Comic Book Club, The Comic Book Podcast, iFanboy’s podcasts, and Comic Geek Speak, or video channels including Variant Comics, NerdSync, WatchMojo, and Comic Drake.

Comics forums, discussion boards, and groups. Plenty of sites have forums, and some sites, like The Comic Book Forum, are nothing but forums. Even some sites that don’t specialize in comics have forums, like Reddit’s Print Comics and Webcomics subreddit. Beware, though: board members shun flacks who contribute nothing but publicity blasts. Join in conversations and become a friendly part of the community long before you announce your event so that when you tell the community about it, everyone will listen.

Local news media. Your event’s at a con, and the con’s in a community. Contact the nearest and biggest newspapers, TV news shows, radio news producers, online news sites, and other media. Include college and university news organizations; students can account for a huge slice of con attendees. Ditto for servicepeople if the con is near a military base; every base offers news for people in uniform and their families.

Local retailers. Comics retailers and their customers may want to be part of your event. Use the Comic Shop Locator Service to find the shops. Look into the Comics Professional Retail Organization and Comic Book Industry Alliance, too.

People participating in the event. You may think that the speakers on your panel or artists doing a signing at your booth don’t want to receive your press releases about the event, since they already know about it. But they may want to send the news to their contacts, colleagues, and friends, and you want them to. Encourage them to post the news on their websites, social media pages and other places. If you hear that con attendees plan to go to your event, ask them to post the news as well — and to invite their friends.

Everyone you know. Announce your event to everyone who could possibly show up. In addition to email and social media, use Eventbrite or Evite, especially if you’re throwing a party. Put a link to your event’s online home in the signature of every email that you send to anyone, even if he or she can’t possibly get to the con; your event may be in New York and your invalid mom may be in L.A., but Mom may know people in New York who’d want to see you.

When you add something to the event, spread the news.

If you add a speaker to a panel discussion, an extra half-hour to a signing schedule, or a door prize to a party, let the world know. Each addition may build excitement and anticipation.

Next: Publicizing the event at the convention.

Lex Luthor needs love

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Lex Luthor is all about love.

Ever since John Byrne and Marv Wolfman rebuilt him when they revamped Superman in the 1980s, Lex has tried to make the people of Metropolis love him. To earn their love, he became the city’s top job creator, builder, and philanthropist.

Then Superman’s good deeds, good nature, and good looks stole the Metropolitans’ love. Luthor was no longer number one in their hearts.

Luthor grew so furiously jealous that he’s dedicated himself to outshining or even eliminating Superman. To that end, he’s become a superhero, president of the United States, and, frequently, Superman’s would-be murderer.

Why does Lex have to take such extreme measures? Why is he so needy?

Look at his background, at least before DC’s Rebirth.

Lex’s abusive parents never gave him the love that every child craves. Their denying him love when he was most vulnerable to their influence probably made him feel that he didn’t deserve love. If your own parents don’t love you, who would?

Nor did he receive much love after childhood. With unloving parents as role models, he never developed warmth, sweetness, compassion, or other traits that attract the love of others.

The only love-like emotion that Lex has known is the respect that comes from outdoing others — being the smartest, the richest, the most charitable.

But unlike a doting parent or devoted mate who will care for you always, admiring crowds eventually stop cheering and return to their own lives. To keep their love, Lex must achieve greater and greater victories. Or so Lex probably believes.

When Superman usurped Lex’s place as Metropolis’ favorite, he reinforced Lex’s belief that love always vanishes. That may be why Lex, despite temporary victories over Superman, always loses to him in the long run.

It’s a sad paradox. Lex’s need for love makes him keep proving himself worthy of love, even as he knows that love will always go away. If it doesn’t go away on its own, he’ll find a way to make it go away. If someone were to offer him true, lasting love, he wouldn’t know how to accept or reciprocate it.

Lex is smart enough to understand all of the above — but he focuses too much on outward achievement to look closely at his inner life. He’ll be on his emotional treadmill forever.

Lex Luthor: the Charles Foster Kane of the DC Universe.

Convention panels: How to make them enjoyable, part 4 — tips for moderators

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  • If you get to choose the panelists, look for contrasts. Assembling five straight, middle-aged white guys who generally agree with each other can produce a dull panel. Mixing panelists of different races, genders, orientations, ages, viewpoints, and so on can make things interesting, especially if they’re willing to disagree with each other in public.
  • Prepare for the event. To quote veteran moderator Tony Panaccio, “Have some sort of a plan. I always liked to have a little chat with each panelist ahead of time to get their thoughts on the topic of the panel. That way, you can help get the top comments from each panelist even if [you’re] just winging it.”
  • By the way: Don’t wing it. Prepare questions ahead of time. You don’t have to use all of them, but keeping them at hand will keep you from fumfering around in search of things to ask.
  • Bring a pen and note pad to jot down questions about things that the panelists say.
  • Ask the convention organizers for markers, a freestanding easel, and a large (e.g., 27″ x 34″) sketch pad. If a panelist mentions something visual, ask him or her to sketch it on the pad. This action wakes up audience members and holds their attention.
  • Get rid of tables if you can. The typical convention panel is a line of panelists behind a table, sometimes up on a dais. This format separates the panelists from the audience. Removing it brings the audience and the panelists closer, literally and otherwise, making the venue feel more personal — less like a classroom and more like a family living room — and encourages conversation between audience and panelists.
  • For the same reason, ask audience members at the room’s back and sides to come closer to front and center. Audience members tend to scatter throughout the room, which dissipates their energy and interest. Bringing them closer nudges them to pay more attention to the panel.
  • Don’t ask the panelists yes-or-no questions. Ask how-and-why questions. You’ll get more interesting answers.
  • On any panel, some panelists will talk more than others. Try to draw out the ones who don’t talk so much. Often, they have good things to say.
  • Watch the panelists. If they do anything interesting, ask about it. For instance: “Joanne, when I mentioned Stan Lee, you grimaced. Do you have a Stan Lee story?”
  • Watch the time, too. The convention may not warn you that you’ve got only a few minutes left, and you could find yourself having to cut off an interesting anecdote because you didn’t realize that the panel’s gone on too long.

Good luck!

Convention panels: How to make them enjoyable, part 3 — tips for panelists

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  • Before you go to the panel, go to the bathroom. I am not kidding. You can probably hold your water for the length of the panel discussion, but audience members may want to talk to you after the panel, and you may embarrass yourself and annoy them if you say, “I’d love to talk to you, but can you wait for like ten or fifteen minutes while I hunt for a bathroom and, y’know, use it?” Emptying yourself out beforehand can prevent this problem.
  • Bring a bottle of water. The convention may not supply it, and talking can be thirsty work. But sip rather than guzzle, lest you run into the bathroom problem again.
  • If possible, answer questions with anecdotes. If the moderator asks how you create a story, you may want to talk about some vague generality like inspiration vs. perspiration; but the audience will get more out of the experience if you pick a specific story that you’ve created and tell what inspired it.
  • When you aren’t talking, look at the person who is. I’ve seen a panelist talking while two other panelists whisper, giggle, or pass notes to each other. The audience notices, and the panelist who’s talking feels that no one’s paying attention. It’s rude and embarrassing.
  • Listen closely when people ask you questions. Time after time, I’ve heard a moderator or audience member ask a question, only to hear a panelist give an answer that doesn’t quite match it. The audience reacts with confusion or annoyance. If you’re not sure about the question, ask the questioner or repeat or clarify it.

Next: Tips for moderators.

Convention panels: How to make them enjoyable, part 2 — tips for audience members

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  • Turn off your phone and put it away. Otherwise, it’ll just distract you and other audience members.
  • If you want to talk with another audience member, go outside. Chatting while the panelists are talking is rude.
  • If you want to ask a question of the panelists, you’ll need to get their attention. Sit up front and wear an eye-catching color; bright red works well. The panel may have time for only a few questions, so prep yours before the moderator asks for them, and raise your hand (or get in line) as soon as the moderator opens the floor.
  • When you speak to the panelists, ask a question. Don’t throw out a comment, an opinion, or even a compliment to the panelists unless you follow it up with a question — for instance, “I think movies based on comics give too much credit to the writers and artists who made the comics. What do you think?”
  • In addition, as my colleague Shane Snoke has said, don’t talk about yourself. You and the other audience members are there because they want to know about the panelists and their work, not about you.
  • If you want to talk with the panelists after the panel, don’t block or delay their leaving the room. The convention probably needs the room for the next panel, and the panelist may have some place to go.

Next: Tips for panelists.

Convention panels: How to make them enjoyable, part 1 — tips for everyone

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Spring and summer are convention season for the comic-book business and other fields as well. I’ve been to hundreds of panel discussions as an audience member, a panelist, and a moderator.

A lot of panels, including some of mine, offer only a few gems of real interest surrounded by endless fog of less interesting talk.

But some have been great, I’ve studied them closely, and I’ve assembled some tips on making panels work. I’ve divided them into a series of blog posts — one for audience members, one for panelists, and one for moderators. Many of these tips apply not just to comics conventions but to any convention or trade show.

To begin, here are some tips for everyone.

  • Keep questions and comments short. Time can move faster than you expect during a panel discussion.
  • Get to panels early. Coming in late, walking around the room and finding a seat distracts everyone else from what a panelist is saying.
  • Avoid trivia. At a trade show for comics retailers, I attended an hour-long panel about the then-new Free Comic Book Day, one of the most important innovations in comics retail worldwide. Since FCBD was new, a lot of retailers had questions about whether and how to implement it. But nearly 20 percent of the time was wasted debating (and I’m not making this up) whether the FCBD store banner should have red highlights or purple ones.

Next: Tips for audience members.