The VML “25@25 Podcast” featuring yours truly

I suppose I’ve been pretty fortunate to land a job in Advertising working for the United States Navy. It’s no secret that I’m a former sailor and I hold my experience in the Navy in high regard, it’s helped shape me into the man I am today. So here I am, working at one of the premiere digital advertising agencies in the world overseeing the digital efforts of the United States Navy as part of The Navy Partnership. Not bad.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of VML and to celebrate, they’ve chosen 25 people who contribute to the culture of the agency and make it a great place to work. I’m proud to have been selected to be among those 25. Last week I got to sit down with our Global CEO, Jon Cook, and spend some quality time discussing my experiences in the Navy, and my work on the Navy’s advertising & marketing efforts. It was a great conversation and I had fun doing it, even if it got a little serious in parts… 

Take a listen. You get to hear a little bit of me being me. 

My Trip to Mile High Comics!

Mile High Comics
The world famous Mile High Comics Warehouse Store. Yes, it’s that big. Click the image to open a full-sized version and get up close and personal.

I originally wrote this back on Jun 29, 2015 and saved it in my drafts. I just found it and figured I’d go ahead and publish it. So without further ado… 

When I was much younger and used to ride my bike a couple miles away to the local Drug Fair or Safeway to buy my comics, there was no such thing as a “comic book store”. Comic Book Collecting wasn’t really a hobby, it was just something you did. Comic book conventions were mythical events taking place in exotic locations like New York and San Diego, (and from the photos, mainly in basements). So there were a handful of names you were familiar with if you were one of those people who was seeking out comics in the 70s. Chuck Rozanski/Mile High Comics was one of those names. I grew up sending out self-addressed stamped envelopes to him and others, and including my quarter, and getting the latest “list” of comics for sale along with prices. Prior to the invention of the Comic Book Price Guide, one of the only ways to gauge the “value” of a book was to see what mail order comic book companies like Chucks were charging for books. This was where I first learned that Amazing Fantasy 15, Fantastic Four 48, Showcase 4, and a host of other books were considered “key” books and commanded higher prices than other books around the same time.

This was how I learned about comic book collecting.

By the time the late 70s and early 80s rolled around, word of the Edgar Church Mile High Collection began circulating. I’d hear people talking about the collection Chuck had purchased and the unheard of quality of the books. Mile High Comics and Chuck were legendary among the small circle of people I knew who were into what was becoming a real hobby.

I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but one of the few places that have eluded me have been Denver and for some reason or another I’ve never had a chance to travel there. As luck would have it, I recently spoke at a conference in Denver, had a couple hours free, and the hotel I was staying at had free bicycles that they’d let you check out to ride around town. You couldn’t ask for a better combination of enablers. I was finally going to get a chance to visit the World Famous Mile High Comics Jason Street Warehouse.

The ride from the hotel was about 20 minutes or so to get to the other side of the city and over to the area where the warehouse was. It was a warehouse district (duh!) with plenty of other facilities nearby… with a very distinct smell… I remembered that Colorado had recently legalized weed. You never forget that smell.

You can’t prepare yourself for what you see when you walk into the warehouse. You think you can, you have this image in your head about what you think it’s going to look like, but it wildly exceeds whatever you’re thinking. Right off the bat there’s a display case filled to the brim with gold and silver age keys. Amazing Fantasy 15, Showcase 4, etc… I was mesmerized.

The size and expanse of the place is mind-boggling. You can just walk and walk and walk and never see the same thing twice. Walls of variants, toys, collectibles, and row after row of comics. I’ve been to comic book conventions that have been held in smaller spaces with significantly fewer comics available. There’s a section of trade paperbacks that is larger than even the largest comic book shops I’ve seen. It’s massive.

Chuck wasn’t there the day I arrived, but he had been in and out and it appeared that I had just missed him, so I spent some time talking with the amazing staff. They were kind, patient (I was such a tourist), and even invited me “upstairs” to a loft area overlooking the whole warehouse where I was able to take the panoramic photo above.

I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to finally get a chance to visit the mecca of comic book collecting and I’m here to tell you, it did NOT disappoint. If you love comic books, and you’re ever within driving distance of Denver, you owe it to yourself to go. It’s something you’ll never forget.

Sea Story Podcast by America’s Navy

Sea Story Podcast by America's Navy
Sea Story is an ongoing series that brings you extraordinary tales of action, danger, and adventure—all directly told by the real Navy Sailors who’ve lived them. Sea Story is an official podcast of America’s Navy. [Click to Listen!]
One of the oldest traditions among sailors is the telling of “Sea Stories”. Those legendary tales told by sailors since the earliest days of sailing the oceans of the world. Every sailor has a sea story and if they say they don’t, they’re lying… or they’re just avoiding telling you something that they probably only share with other sailors. Bringing this time-honored tradition into the twenty-first century provided an opportunity that perfectly blended audience, content, and innovation and resulted in one of the most successful launches in recent memory… the Sea Story Podcast. 

By having real sailors tell true stories of adventure and drama, we allowed the men and women of the Navy to share what life is like aboard ship, overseas, and under the oceans in the most authentic way possible. 

The response has been overwhelming. Within the first month, Apple selected “Sea Story” for its “New and Noteworthy” promotional section within its podcast app, driving organic attention and resulting in huge audience numbers. Engagement, listens, likes and shares far exceeded expectations and everyone who listened became hooked. 

Give it a listen, subscribe, download and enjoy hearing from real sailors in the fleet what it’s like to live the life of a sailor in the world’s greatest Navy.

America’s Navy 2016 Army / Navy Game Facebook Live “Midshipmen March to the Stadium”

In an organization steeped in tradition, few resonate as deeply as the Midshipmen March to the Stadium, the annual tradition of marching United States Naval Academy Midshipmen to take their place inside the stadium for the annual Army Navy football game. It’s a spectacular sight and nothing galvanizes the worldwide Navy audience faster than the first appearance of the Midshipmen of Annapolis at the start of one of the most watched college football games of the year.

At the 2016 Army Navy Game, the 117th meeting between the Army Black Knights and the Navy Midshipmen, we deployed a team in a realtime social command center with video & photography support as well as live community management. The team embedded themselves within the atmosphere of the game, providing up to the minute activity across the Navy’s social channels. Engaging at times with over ten times the volume of social activity during the course of the day and generating high performing content.

The flexibility of the lean, agile team allowed for spontaneous content capture enabling us to respond in realtime. The US Navy’s first Facebook live broadcast of the march to the stadium generated over 280,000 views, 3,100 shares and 11,000 “reactions” over the course of its fifteen minutes.

Capital One Café

Over the late winter and spring of 2016 I was fortunate enough to work on an amazing opportunity to help Capital One reimagine their retail banking business through a combination of rich digital user experience and incredible in-store display technology. When Cap One acquired ING, they also got a handful of cafes in the deal. ING, not being a traditional banking institution, had begun using cafes for their retail banking business. When Capital One looked closely, they discovered that the cafes were doing extraordinarily well. This led to them expanding the cafe program and turning it into a National Expansion.

This is where we were brought in.

Realizing that there was a real opportunity here to create something truly groundbreaking, Huge and Capital One partnered together on the overhaul of their retail cafe customer experience. Through a combination of hardware and platform partnerships, Huge brought strategic creative and UX insight to bear along with creative technology, to design and develop a first-of-its-kind retail banking experience. High definition touch-enabled signage, synchronized messaging, day-parted content that included games and quizzes about financial topics… even the ability to call a customer service representative over for assistance on a topic. This was banking reimagined. Probably one of the most successful projects I’ve been involved with. 

Huge Cafe Atlanta

I had such a great time working on this, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this project. Apple Watch? Check. Anticipatory Mobile App? Check. Coffee? Double check! One of the things that I believe is (or should be) on everyone’s bucket list is a chance to create something that’s never been done before. This was my opportunity to check that off mine. Richly rewarding, amazingly collaborative… and let’s be honest, cool as hell. This is why I love doing what I do.

At the time, it was such a radical idea: An agency opening up a coffee shop. In hindsight it seems like such a no-brainer. Where else were we going to “eat our own dog-food”? If we’re going to pitch our expertise, what better way to do it than by seeing it being done in the real world? Creating an anticipatory experience using the Apple Watch was one thing, building a solid business case for the watch was the real win. By building a service layer on top of the cafe’s POS system that integrated the watch directly, we empowered baristas and enabled seamless integration with our customers’ cafe experience.

Along the way we got to eat a lot of delicious dog-food. 

Daddy Daughter Podcast Episode 10 – DragonCon, Fall break, WWE, Cosplay & assorted geekery!

Daddy Daughter Podcast Logo
Our new Daddy Daughter Podcast logo, drawn by the amazing @SageCoffey on Twitter!

It was an amazing summer. We went to Heroes Con, took a trip to the beach, saw the WWE, and ended the summer with a family trip to DragonCon! This time was extra special as Abby cosplayed for the very first time! We talk Fall break, DragonCon, WWE Divas, Cosplay, and give a much deserved shout out to Sage Coffey who drew our new Daddy Daughter Podcast Logo!

I know what you’re asking yourself… you’re saying, “self… where can I listen to this amazing podcast with some regularity? How can I subscribe?”

Well look no further, true believer! You can subscribe via iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud to get it automatically updated to your choice of podcasting software and if you’re so inclined you can follow us on Twitter as well! We’re @DaddyPodcast and you can follow along and even ask us questions there, we answer every one in the podcast!

Hope you had a great summer!

Daddy Daughter Podcast Episode 9 – Heroes Con And Summer Vacation!

After an extended break for the summer, we’re back! Father’s day this year was awesome, and we can’t wait to tell you all about it. We spent the Father’s Day weekend in Charlotte at the annual Heroes Convention and we had a blast. We saw cosplayers, met Stan “The Man” Lee, collected sketches from our favorite comic creators, and generally had a great time. Abby and I discuss all things Heroes Con as well as diving into some Minecraft stuff, and some Summer Vacation stuff. Hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed making!

Hey, don’t forget, if you enjoy the podcast… you can subscribe via iTunes and Stitcher to get it automatically updated to your choice of podcasting software. If you’re so inclined, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter as well, we’re @DaddyPodcast on Twitter and you can follow along and even ask us questions there, we answer every one in the podcast!

Hope you had a great summer!

Heroes Con – Part 2 – It’s Friday!

Heroes Con officially kicked off Friday morning, but for me, it began a day earlier. We packed the cars (the wife and kids were continuing on to the beach for a couple of weeks after the weekend) to drive up Thursday. Wanting to maximizing the time we had at the convention I booked our rooms for Thursday through Sunday, a serendipitous bit of foresight that I’ll be sure and repeat next year, so we could get up early and hit the ground running on Friday after a good night’s sleep. After a shitty drive up – thanks in large part to an accident that turned I-85 into a parking lot for a good hour and a half – we made it to the hotel with enough time to grab our badges and enjoy the pre-opening night bash. Food trucks, a band, and another great opportunity to mingle with a lot of the attending creators, it’s something you definitely want to make plans to attend if you’re gonna go next year. A nice evening unwinding, decompressing, and walking around was a perfect way to kick off the weekend.

Bright and early Friday morning, with everyone well rested, refreshed and badges in hand, we made our way across the street to the convention center. Once again, the decision to arrive a day early and collect badges was another in a string of inadvertent “best decisions we made” over the course of the weekend. The lines were staggering. The only other time I’ve seen THAT many people lining up for geekdom was last year at Dragon Con, and it was the same situation, the ticket line. Since we had our passes, we were able to move past the “I need to get a ticket” line and make our way to the end of the “we already have our passes line”. This line stretched from the entrance around the inside of the convention center, up the stairs and began to make its way around the upper deck. Not a short line, but once the doors opened, it moved along rapidly.

First up was to begin cashing in on that email equity I had worked on the month or two prior. I made a beeline to Ed Piskor’s table and handed over my sketchbook. A fan of “Hip Hop Family Tree” since I began reading it on Boing Boing, Ed was top of my list. I desperately wanted an Afrika Bambaatta sketch by Ed and had worked the better part of the last year on getting the ever-elusive artist to agree to do a commission at the convention. I don’t even think he had completely unpacked all his stuff when I bounded up to his table and introduced myself, “HiI’mJeffSmallWe’veSpokenOverEmail I’mTheGuyWhoWantedTheBambattaSketch IThinkYou’reTheGreatestGuy AndI’mAHugeFanOfHipHopFamilyTree!”. He smiled and I settled down a bit. We chatted about the book, his plans, the upcoming third volume and his experiences since publishing the anthology series and I quickly realized why I loved the guy so much. He’s warm, genuine, authentic, and every bit the person he seems. I handed over my sketchbook and began wandering around, getting my bearings and figuring out where the rest of the people on my list were sitting.

I caught up with Wilfredo Torres, artist on one my favorite books out currently, “Jupiter’s Circle”. Connected with Evan “Doc” Shaner, who draws the most amazing Captain Marvel you’ve ever seen. I found Mike Maihack, Klaus Jansen, Tim Sale, Andrew Robinson, Arthur Adams, Geoff Darrow, Craig Rousseau, Babs Tarr, and Kristopher Anka. I stopped by Evan Dorkin’s table. He had apparently had a pretty rough trip into town and was a little flustered trying to unpack and spread out as the convention was opening up. He was a charming curmudgeon as people came up to the table to say hi and get their items signed. He was wearing a wrist brace, made several references to having a sore hand and begged off doing any signing or sketches first thing until he had a chance to settle in. I graciously obliged with as much empathy as I could muster. I felt bad for the guy and made a mental note to steer clear and come back around Saturday or Sunday when he had an opportunity to get collected warm up a little.

The day flew by. We wandered around the floor, met creators, took photos with Cosplayers (So many Deadpools!) and bought some fun things from a couple of the vendors. I wasn’t ready to dig into comics just yet, that’ll wait for the last day. There were some great lunch spots close by, so it was easy to drop off sketchbooks, and wander across the street to grab some pizza with the kids, who were busy checking their Nintendo DSes every few minutes to meet another set of 10 convention-goers in Mii Plaza.

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As the day wound down, I began to get excited for the evening. I was notified earlier that afternoon by an email from the staff that my VIP Stan Lee experience would begin at 6 over at the Hilton, which was a block over. We made our way back to the Marriott to drop off sketchbooks, decompress and relax for a little while. The wife and kids made dinner plans (The Friday evening experience was reserved for those who paid, family could participate in signatures and photos the next day, but the actual meet and greet was limited to a very small room) and I trekked over to the Hilton to meet Stan Lee. Not knowing how many people were signing up for the full VIP experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect walking in. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the meet and greet was limited to 25 people and we had the small room all to ourselves! There was a bar available for people who wanted cocktails (I grabbed a seltzer water, natch) and hors d’oeuvres spread out to snack on while we waited for Stan to arrive.

We chatted among ourselves, I met some great people, we traded stories, and a few minutes after I got there Stan’s assistant came in and prepped us for Stan’s arrival. We could ask anything we wanted (questions that could put Stan in an awkward position regarding upcoming movie spoilers were obviously the only thing off limits) and Stan would promise to get to everyone in the room. With that out of the way, Stan made his was in.

I was completely blown away. I’ve had various little celebrity moments in my life, met actors, writers, astronauts, and even recently met an ex-President, but this guy was Stan “The Man” Lee. This is the man who (along with Jack Kirby and a handful of other brilliant creators) created what’s arguably one of the richest, deepest, and most beloved universes of modern mythology in our collective recent history. There simply is no analog over at DC. There’s no consistent personality you can look at (Julius Schwartz MAYBE comes closest) and say “he drove that”. Say what you want about Stan. He drove that ship. He wrote those words. Editor-in-Chief. That was his title. There probably won’t be another person like him in my lifetime… and he was standing right there in front of me.

He took his seat and began speaking. It was that voice. It was the voice that I grew up with on records (The Merry Marvel Marching Society!), cartoons, TV, movies… it was him. He’s 93 years young, but you wouldn’t even know it to see him. He looks exactly like he looks in the movies and on anything you’ve seen him in. This was the same Stan Lee who answered Brody’s questions about the Thing’s thing and whether or not Mr. Fantastic could stretch EVERY bit of himself. He’s a little challenged in the vision and hearing department, but his assistant sat next to him and carefully repeated our questions to Stan could answer us fully.

I had goosebumps every time he spoke and patiently waited for my turn. I asked him when he realized he was writing comic books for a more sophisticated audience beyond the “funny books” that he started with in the 40’s. “Great question,” he answered and spent the next several minutes talking about what it was like in the early 60’s writing stories that were beginning to appeal to an older and older audience. I just sat there dumbstruck. This was Stan Lee and I was alone with him and a couple dozen people sitting around tables in a small room having a casual conversation about him, his creations, his peers, and his recollections about creating the Marvel Universe.

It was brilliant.

We spent the next hour and a half or so chatting and at the end we all took a group photo, Shelton handed us a limited edition print signed by Stan, we shook his hand, thanked him and made our way out back to the world. I was walking on air. I was only a day into my trip and it had already exceeded every expectation I had… and I still had two more days!

Heroes Con Charlotte – Part 1 – Introduction

Heroes Convention Charlotte
Best comic book convention ever!

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and actively worked on writing. I used to really enjoy the rigor of keeping on a pretty consistent schedule of blogging and writing. It felt cathartic and it was just something that I really enjoyed. So I took the opportunity of the last couple of weeks to “get back on the horse” so to speak and start to try and write with a little more consistency and regularity.

A couple of weekends ago (Father’s Day to be more accurate) I got the chance to finally spend the weekend at Heroes Con in Charlotte. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Heroes Con is the annual comic book convention put on by Shelton Drum and the team at “Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find”, a really terrific comic book shop that’s been around since I was a kid, up in Charlotte. Shelton’s been putting this convention on for the last 33 years or so, and it’s grown into what I believe is one of the best (if not THE best) comic book convention in America. It’s certainly the ONLY comic book convention that’s singularly focused on comic books and a quick anecdotal survey of the creators who attend reinforces that it’s the most well-thought of, most enjoyed convention of the convention season. I’m sure when a lot of people think of “comic book convention” they think of Comic-Con in San Diego, but I’m here to tell you, there are few conventions annually that stack up against Heroes Con. It’s three days of pure comics, comic art, writing, sessions, cosplay and fun.

Growing up and during college I was a regular Heroes Con attendee, but recent years have been difficult to find a way to go and for probably the last several years I’ve marked it on my calendar as a, “this-year-I-promise-I’m-gonna-go” event, but sure enough, something always came up and I was always vowing to attend, “next year for sure”. Well last year I put my foot down and told myself that come hell or high water I was attending this year and began making plans back in late summer. My somewhat underwhelming experience at Dragon Con and Wizard World (two okay, but lackluster conventions if you’re a comic book fan) last year only steeled my resolve to make sure not another year passed without my ass being squarely in the thick of Heroes Con in 2015. To that end, I began setting aside a nest egg starting back in September and contributing weekly to my “Heroes Con Fund” to ensure that a lack of convention funds was not going to be an issue. I booked my hotel room last fall, bought my wife and I three day passes (kids under 10 are free!) as soon as they were available to buy, and put in for the only personal time off I had on the books for this year. I was set.

As the convention drew closer, I became almost apoplectic with excitement as the guest list was updated. At first the updates were coming in regularly every 30 days or so, but as it got closer and closer to the date, the updates increased and the names being added were bigger and bigger. Bernie Wrightson, Arthur Adams, Klaus Janson, Ed Piskor, Evan Dorkin, Kris Anka, Wilfredo Torres, Evan “Doc” Shaner… it just became a who’s who of artists, writers, colorist. I began to worry if I was going to literally have enough time over the course of three days to get an audience with the growing list of creators. I began to prioritize, plot, email (never underestimate the value of emailing a creator or artist to get on their radar and try to nail down arrangements before the convention) and scheme. I even bought a second sketchbook in a stroke of genius that I can’t take credit for. One evening I was lamenting to my wife that I didn’t think I’d be able to coordinate all the convention sketches I wanted and she casually mentioned, “why don’t you buy a second sketchbook and that way you can halve your effort, doubling your chances?” I sat there for a moment, dumbstruck at the brilliance of her idea and immediately jumped on Amazon to order a second book identical to the one I carry around.

Then, as if it wasn’t possible for me to anticipate something any more, two weeks before the convention the update to end all updates went out. Appearing Saturday only was the founding father of Marvel Comics himself, Stan “The Man” Lee. Special packages were made available at various price points with the highest end, a “VIP Meet ‘n Greet” with Stan being limited to an audience of 25. I was blown away. Sure, it was steep, way pricey… but I had been saving up since last year. I had the cheddar. I gave it a thought, slept on it, asked a couple of friends what they thought (“what, are you crazy? Of course you should do it, there’s no question!) and decided to plunk down the cash and go for the full Stan Lee Experience.

Stan Lee Max Pass 2015
Excelsior! Meeting Stan “The Man” Lee!

So there I was. I had a VIP Meet ‘n Greet on Friday evening and Saturday with Stan Lee, I had more than enough money squirreled away to guarantee a brilliant time, and had commitments for sketches from several of the most sought-after guests on my “must meet” list and a family that was looking forward to driving up to Charlotte and spending Father’s Day weekend in Marriott.

I couldn’t wait. It was going to be epic.

NEXT: Part 2 – Friday, the first day of the convention and I meet Stan Lee!