Human Revolution: The Exclusive with Pop Culture Business Guru Rob Salkowitz

Rob and I talk about the deep, meaningful connectedness inherent to comics fandom, and then, we talk about something else entirely, about a Human Revolution…

Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture: What the World’s Wildest Trade Show Can Tell Us About the Future of Entertainment

Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Author: Rob Salkowitz
Publication date: 2012-05

We get to Rob at his most human much later, some two hours into the interview. At this we're still only about half the way through the morning long interview. What's kept me going this far was nothing other than a sense of journalistic plunder. Rob has one of the keenest minds in the arena of business, and with his newest book, Comic Con and the Business of Pop Culture, he's now plumbing the depths of his passion -- pop culture and specifically the subculture of comics fandom. We got to talking about the deep vitality that lies at the core comics fandom, and then we kept going. But now, around the two hour mark, we have something else entirely, we have the human revolution.

"You're the reader, so you tell me", Rob says almost confessionally, "I'm glad you liked it, and I'm glad you think it works well. And I hope it's going to find other readers as its found you". There's a caring and a fatherliness to Rob's reply. A sense of someone who wants to see his children do well, to find themselves. Already I'm far away from the intellectually-motivated mercantilism that I entered into this conversation with. Rob is a crisp, clear-thinker who can articulate solutions where others might find it hard to even see problems, sure. And there is, given the limited time I have with Rob, every impulse to exploit this unique mind, this unique way of looking. But with that turn, there's something else. There's a deep emotional reality his work and his writing. Almost a kind of discipline.

But what comes next is the courage.

Rob's Comic Con is written as a sort of travel-diary for ComicCon 2011. It's Rob and his wife Eunice, at every moment during the trip to San Diego last summer, and even the planning phases for this trip. But more than just a travelog, Comic Con is a deep meditation on the phenomenon of transmedia. On what this new notion means practically, and how it might shepherd us all into a new form of engaging our media in the 21st century. At each moment then, and each stop Rob and Eunice make at Comic Con 2011, Rob offers his insights, observations, meditations on the freedoms and on the limitations implicit in the idea of transmedia.

This book is going to sit very comfortably on three shelves in your local bookstore. It's going to find its way into Comics, naturally. But it will be equally at home on the History/Current Affairs/Culture shelf, and on the Business shelf. It's a testament to publisher McGraw-Hill that they're prepared to publish such an iconoclastic book that doesn't easily fit in with traditional notions of publishing categories. But more so, it's a testament to Rob. To conceive of such a book, where the readers (at least some of the readers will fall into this category) will enter as readers of pop culture, and exit as business strategists. Put simply, Comic Con and the Business of Pop Culture upgrades you. It not only illumines a world you might only have guessed at (a world of business strategy for the popculturalist, or vice versa), but it builds those tools you'll need to competently live in that world.

As Rob himself puts it, Comic Con is written for two audiences. But more than that even, it's written for one audience to fully become the other. And when the courage comes, it looks like this. It looks like Rob fretting about whether or not he might have missed either of these audiences, or worse, whether he might have missed both.

That's not the case I assure him. Not only does Comic Con stand as a viable piece of cultural criticism, but it's evoking my business mind. And the same is true for business readers. Colleagues immersed in business journalism tell me that it's as if suddenly my world of cultural criticism has been opened to them.

The courage, when it comes, looks like a hesitancy on the part of the writer behind the project. A hesitancy in the face of reassurances of success from critics in both fields. It's when I identify this uniquely human moment that a quiet revolution kicks in in my own mind. There's a secret Shakespeare here. Henry V after the victory at Agincourt. "Steward I know not if this day be ours, or no…". But the human revolution that kicks off in my own mind is the realization that the idea of human revolution has been at the heart of what Rob's been writing about ever since the beginning of Comic Con.

Recently, other business books that have entered the cultural mainstream have done this to very different effect. Ken Auletta's Googled has described a sudden and stealthy and irrevocable change in the way in which relate to information. But like those 50s Red Scare movies, the scifi ones where aliens appear on the horizon, rather than actual Reds, Auletta's book reads like a small, neat and ongoing apocalypse.

David Kirkpatrick's The Facebook Effect on the other hand, reads in tight, terse prose reminiscent of a classic Chandler or Thompson (Jim rather than Hunter) or Ellroy. The Facebook Effect happens intellectually, and at a great distance. Comic Con however…

I'm taken back to earlier in the conversation when we spoke about how strange a project this has been for Rob. Strange in that Rob himself has been a comics fan for decades now, and a regular attendee of ComicCon each year for nearly twenty years. The professional of his business consultancy has thus far always been divorced from his personal life as a fan. Comic Con and the Business of Pop Culture pushes those two worlds together like India breaking off from Africa and colliding into Asia.

Part of the strange has been Rob observing his friendships with creators in the comicbook world, friendships built over time, as he might professionally. I ask about this, was there any cognitive dissonance? And I ask specifically about Rob and Eunice's friendship with creators and publishers, Batton Lash and his wife Jackie Estrada. The "Wednesday: Preview" chapter opens with Rob and Eunice helping to set up Batton and Jackie's Exhibit A Press booth.

"It's interesting you should ask this now", Rob begins, "We usually meet Batton and Jackie at San Diego each year, but we've just met them last week at Stumptown, (the comics convention for indie comics)". Rob's focus is the personal again, the deep-seated connectedness between art and artist and appreciator. "He's a very gregarious guy, and he's very easy to get to know. We've known him for a long time and I've shown him the book (Comic Con and the Business of Pop Culture) and everything, and his comment to me was, 'Y'know it's really weird to read about myself in this book in an objective way, and then to step back and realize that this is written by a friend of mine. And yet it reads so objectively'. He said, 'If I had a stranger tell this story, about me I would feel like I'd really gotten the message across'. He was happy with his portrayal in the book. To me it's an act of balance. I admire Batton's independent spirit, I like his work. I think the stories are good, the ones in Supernatural Law. He has some other work where he does political cartoons and things like that, and we sort of agree to disagree on that. Honestly, in this age of polarized politics, this does not get in the least way in terms of our relationship with them".

We continued, I remember, by speaking about the fractured cultural landscape, fractured by politics. Rob has some interesting ideas, ones that I'd love to hear developed in conversation with Ian Bremmer, author of G Zero. But right now, some two hours in, that's not the takeaway for me. For me, for right now, the takeaway has got to be that human revolution, the network of invisible connections we make with our art, in this case comics, and how that artform constructs our social reality. What Bertolt Brecht might have called a "gestus".

But that's not even the real treat of the phase of the conversation that comes next. The real treat is how comics own modes and conventions becomes the foundation-stones of an entirely new kind of media. A media unique 21st century. And as the Seattle morning turns over, we continue to talk.

The exclusive with Rob Salkowitz will continue during the weeks leading up to ComicCon 2012.






Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.


Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.


Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.


'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.


Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".


12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.


Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.


Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.


Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".


Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.