Mint Julip at the Mandarin Oriental

Work

The view from the 35th floor “lobby” of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel really is stunning. It looks out from the TimeWarner Center onto Columbus Circle and the south side of Central Park, and you feel like you’re in one of those movies about New York being the center of the universe.

I was at the Mandarin Oriental this morning for a meeting with a hedge fund manager from L.A. Let’s call him Mint Julip. About two months ago, Mint’s personal assistant called me out of the blue. The assistant (let’s call her Kathy T.) told me Mint was head of this boutique Hollywood capital advisor firm with lots of celebrity clients. She mentioned his two personal assistants (she being one of them) and seven fund managers. Well, la-de-da!

Seems Mint was working on a textbook about “value” investing (a la Warren Buffett), and he wanted to talk to me about adapting his book into a graphic novel. He hoped to tell me about his idea, find out what my upcoming schedule was, how I work, etc. Because of Titans of Finance, I get half-baked calls this like every so often; most times, they lead to nothing. But I said sure, and Kathy said she’d be back in touch. I figured that was the last I’d hear from Mint Julip.

But a couple of weeks later, I heard from Kathy again. Mint had ordered all my recent books — A Few Perfect Hours, The Vagabonds, Titans — and was still very interested in meeting with me. Could she call me after the holidays to set something up? Lo and behold, shortly after the new year, Kathy called me a third time. Mint was going to be in New York sometime between January 17th – January 19th, and what was my availability? They were serious! I’m always game for a new experience, so I said I would be around. (They tried to rope Titans’ writer R. Walker into the meeting as well, but he doesn’t respond well to being “summoned.” I don’t blame him. Also, he’s got other fish to fry.)

We eventually settled on a meet-up this morning at Mint’s hotel, the super-snazzy Mandarin Oriental, where rooms start at about $500 a night. (They actually have giant kimonos on the wall and Asian hostesses, but that’s another story.) After a short while, Mint came down from his suite and joined me at my lounge table, and all alone too — no personal assistants! A wiry 50-year-old with intense eyes, Mint was armed with a green apple and a Blackberry, which he was constantly reading or typing into during our conversation. He had the confident air of someone with a lot of money.

Turns out Mint really was just interested in meeting me, getting a sense of who I was. He reminded me of the Jewish version of a Mafia don, checking me out to make sure I’m “good people.” He insisted he’d really enjoyed Titans and A Few Perfect Hours, and thought I’d be a good fit for his book concept. It was fun talking to someone who actually knew many of the characters from Titans, and hearing his take on how they across in the comic. I’m not sure if he appreciated the book’s ironic component, but he enjoyed it nonetheless. (Rich and powerful people don’t need irony to get by in the world.) It was also interesting getting his reading of A Few Perfect Hours. I can’t say he read the book very carefully — he made some mention of Cambodia, which I have never visited — but he got the gist of it. (Rich and powerful people are too busy to read things carefully.)

Anyway, without going into the details of Mint’s project, in a weird way it would be a marriage of A Few Perfect Hours with Titans: a personal, even spiritual, journey with a finance angle. Whatever works, I guess. I’ve heard of nuttier books that have become best-sellers…

The upshot of the thing was that I kinda dug Mint. And who knows? He might just be wacky — and wealthy — enough to maybe make this book happen. As he said, if his publisher won’t go for him taking his book and making it into a graphic novel, then he’d be willing to foot the bill himself. It’s such a kooky idea, that I may just go along for the ride. For now, we’re going to wait to see what develops over the next 2-4 months. I’ll let you know as things progress.

Perseverance Pays Off

Publicity, Work
Titans of Finance: True Tales of Money and Business
Titans of Finance: True Tales of Money and Business

In 1968, Robert Crumb patrolled the intersection of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, selling copies of his comic Zap out of a baby carriage. On October 3, 2002, I stood on the corner of Broad and Wall Street in New York City, selling copies of my comic Titans of Finance out of a Nike sports bag. How times have changed.

But still, one thing remains the same: if you try hard enough, you can find your audience. I was there with hundreds of other folks for Ralph Nader’s “Crackdown on Corporate Crime” rally. Nader’s goal was to “focus attention on the vast array of corporate misdeeds and to propose sound remedies that will help shareholders, taxpayers, workers, and consumers tame the reckless and out-of control corporate bosses.” Nader was joined by such progressive luminaries as former NYC mayoral hopeful Mark Green, NY Green Party Gubernatorial Candidate Stanley Aronowitz, singer/songwriter Patti Smith, and talk show host Phil Donahue.

Being interviewed

Needless to say, this was a perfect opportunity for me to hawk Titans, billed as “True Tales of Money & Business,” featuring stories of greed, betrayal and indictments, and starring folks like Revlon chairman (and ex-Marvel Comics owner) Ron Perelman, “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, and bond trader Monroe Trout. As Pete Seeger says, “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose.” Last September, when the book came out, the last thing people wanted to read was business-world satire. After all, we had just seen thousands of Wall Streeters massacred in the fall of the World Trade Center. But, a year later, what with the Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, and Haliburton scandals leading the business news every day, there’s a built-in audience for what writer R. Walker & I have to say.

You see, despite Titans being favorably mentioned in the New York Times, Money magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger’s and Fortune Small Business, we’ve had very limited sales, somewhere in the 1500-2000 range. Obviously, this is because the book targets those with an interest in the business world (and a good sense of humor) — not your typical comics specialty store customer. But Barnes & Noble won’t carry it because it fits neither of their rigid definitions of a book or a magazine, and how else to get eyeballs? Well, with Nader’s rally, I had finally found my audience.

The day was overcast, giving the tall downtown buildings a gray brooding presence as the crowds began to gather. A giant pink inflatable pig dominated the intersection in front of Federal Hall and the Stock Exchange. The police had set up barricades, sending demonstrators out in two directions away from the stage, yet still allowing passers-by to reach their destinations.

As rally organizers got things going and folks started to congregate for the speeches, people of all political stripes and agendas began to appear. There were your expected bands of Green Party student activists, the obligatory Socialist Worker flacks and miscellaneous single-issue protestors. As I donned my “costume” of suit, tie and sandwich board and prepared to enter the fray, I was joined by Pot Whore, a blond-wig-red-lipstick-wearing woman in a g-string and black bra. She bought the first copy, and I was on my way.

“Fight Corporate Greed”

My buddy and fellow cartoonist volunteered to be my sidekick for the event, and I couldn’t have done it without him. As a freelancer who more often than not works in his underwear, I found the oppressive monkey suit (a $5 thrift store purchase from my college days) a real challenge to endure. But Dean kept me on topic, spied out the best venues for prospective sales and steered copies into the hands of interested buyers. My sales pitch stressed that Titans featured real stories of corporate CEOs, all taken from the business pages, hand-drawn by yours truly. People were intrigued by the sandwich board’s slogans and my verbal hawking and came over to see what I had to offer. Over 90% of them ended up buying a copy. Many people were excited to buy directly from the artist, and I even signed a copy and did a sketch for one middle-aged woman (using Dean’s broad back as a writing surface, natch). Always looking to do my part in the fight against corporate greed, I sold the book for $3.00 — 50 cents off the cover price.

What was wonderful about the rally was how diverse it was. I sold books to people you wouldn’t see in a comic shop in a hundred years: middle-aged working class black men, red diaper baby boomers, college-age radicals, and activist grandmas. In two hours time, I sold almost 40 copies, more than I’ve vended — total — at three separate comic conventions (Baltimore, MOCCA, and SPX). I love the idea of all those disparate people taking the book home and enjoying the fruits of my labors, having a laugh at some of the stories inside, and maybe even learning a thing or two about the business world.

Traders: Titans in training?

At one point, Dean reached across the barricades to show Titans to some local stock traders, who were lounging outside the Exchange watching the rally. “Hey, number 273,” Dean yelled to one, “Check this out! You might like it.” “I wouldn’t wipe my ass with that shit,” the trader retorted before he stomped off in anger. Apparently, he didn’t approve of our implicit criticism of the hyper-capitalist system. Dean grinned and shrugged, and we immediately sold a few copies to some nearby observers.

My suit-and-tie outfit must have given me some kind of goofy look of authority because at one point a very well-dressed man approached me for help. It turned out he was Lebanese, newly arrived from the old country, and was anxious to meet his long-lost relative Ralph Nader! You see, his grandfather and Ralph’s father were brothers, and this man hoped I could arrange a family reunion. He even pulled out a beaten-up copy of the 1973 book, Citizen Nader, showing me a chronology of the Nader family which proved that Nader’s father had immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon in 1912. I was touched by this family drama but admitted I had no special access to Nader. I encouraged him to try talking to Ralph after the rally, handed him a free copy of Titans, and sent him on his way.

Finally, the speeches over and the strains of Smith’s “People Have the Power” echoing away, the crowd started to disperse. Dean and I headed up Nassau Street to start the journey home to Brooklyn. I felt like I had achieved a small but significant victory. What had begun as a publicity stunt had mutated into a full-fledged “marketing success:” I had found my audience, and they had responded.

To top it off, as we left the Federal Hall/Stock Exchange area, Ralph Nader himself, with entourage, passed by. I pressed a copy of Titans into his hands and gave him a quick spiel. As we walked off in opposite directions, Dean looked back and remarked, “Hey, Nader’s reading the book — not listening to the guy talking to him anymore!”; What more could a humble cartoonist want?

Titans, Dean, and Josh
[ here’s man-size’s version ]

Titans of Finance one-shot due in August from Alternative Comics

Work

Regarding American Splendor: Portrait of the Artist in His Declining Years, the Comics Buyer’s Guide says that “the best stories are illustrated by Haspiel … and Neufeld,” so who am I to argue?

And it’s now official: Alternative Comics will indeed by publishing Titans of Finance as a deluxe one-shot this August. 24 pages, printed on money-green paper with dark green ink, all for $3.50. What a bargain! Here’s what our promotional blurb says about the issue: ‘Titans aims for where the action is, delivering America a swift kick in the business. Meet Ron Perelman, the man who made millions while presiding over the Mighty Marvel Comics train wreck. He’s just one of the characters in this ground-breaking collection of true tales from the world of money and business. Over the past five years, Titans has crushed the benchmark S&P 500. You’ve never seen anything like it. Titans features the crisp art of Josh Neufeld, and the incisive scripts of the mysterious R. Walker. These tales “hit the mark,” says Harvey Pekar, and are “a brilliant use of the medium,” according to TheStreet.com’s James J. Cramer.’ (For more info, visit http://www.indyworld.com/tof)

"Titans of Finance" syndicated by TheStreet.com; more

Work

“Titans of Finance,” R. Walker and yours truly’s comics series of true tales of money & business, is now a monthly feature at TheStreet.com! “Titans” tells the tales of Wall Street’s most well-known Icaruses. The strips are entirely based on press accounts, with practically no embellishment. TheStreet.com, an online financial publication that covers Wall Street with an “irreverent and edgy” tone, features commentary by the likes of outrageous hedge fund manager James Cramer. We’re hoping that “Titans” and TSC make good partners in our attempt to “break up the pretensions and self-aggrandizement characteristic of so many ‘self-made’ entrepreneurs, showing how their own all-too-self-denied foibles and obsessions eventually bring their grand schemes to ridiculous ends.” (The Comics Journal)

Anyway, “Titans” runs once a month on TheStreet.com, in the “Weekender” section. They’ve done a fabulous job with translating the comic to the web environment; we think it looks terrific. Check out each “Titans” episode here.

In other “Titans” news, look for a new SEVEN-PAGE story, featuring Revlon Chairman and former owner of Marvel Comics, Ron Perelman, in the indy anthology EXPO 2000, published by the Small Press Expo. A Mighty Marvel Epic, as only R. Walker & I could tell it!

Finally: Is it American Splendor or is it Keyhole? The next two issues of Harvey Pekar’s “neo-realist” comic feature stories illustrated by moi, including a full-color back cover. Look for the newest American Splendor (published by Dark Horse) in stores soon.