Author: Martha Thomases

Martha Thomases brought more comics to the attention of more people than anyone else in the industry. Her work promoting The Death of Superman made an entire nation share in the tragedy of one of our most iconic American heroes. As a freelance journalist, she has been published in the Village Voice, High Times, Spy, the National Lampoon, Metropolitan Home, and more. For Marvel comics she created the series Dakota North. Martha worked as a researcher and assistant for the author Norman Mailer on several of his books, including the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Executioner's Song, On Women and Their Elegance, Ancient Evenings, and Harlot's Ghost.

Martha Thomases: Shop ‘Till You Drop?

Black Friday is not my thing. It involves a bunch of stuff I don’t like: Getting out of bed when it’s dark out… crowds… pants.

But a lot of people enjoy it, despite my skepticisms, and there are even reasons that explain the brain chemistry of this pleasure. Far be it from me to deny anyone a dose of dopamine.

Or a present.

If you read the link, you’ll learn that a lot of the fun of Black Friday involves successfully scoring a good deal in a like-minded crowd. I suppose it’s part of our hunter/gatherer DNA. However, nowhere in the study does it say that Black Friday, or even a real bargain, guarantees that the shopper finds the right present for a loved one.

Now, some of my favorite presents have been glaringly bad. My husband once bought me an enormous yellow dress that hit me in the middle of my calf (and nowhere else) so that I looked like a yellow bag of take-out food, and he was so proud of himself for getting something that was (then) stylish that I wore it a bunch.

Still, very few of us set out to select an inappropriate gift. We want our friends and families to love our selections, to love us for knowing them so well,

Hence, books.

No one is insulted to get a book. No one curses in the middle of the night when they step on a kids’ book on the way to the bathroom. A book says you, the giver, think of the recipient as someone who is smart and curious.

In this day and age, we need books more than ever. Our society is more polarized than any other time I can recall, and we all have a tendency to listen only to ourselves and not consider other points of view. A good book, fiction or non-fiction, puts the reader into someone else’s head.

Look how little we know about history. I can sneer at people who don’t know the real story because I read a graphic novel written to educate children.

It’s possible that by the time the gift-giving holidays are upon us, we will have stopped talking about sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace. But until then, there is this. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and I wanted to share it: “If you consistently maintain that women are a sort of shiny, bewildering object that is handed out to you when you amass sufficient money or power, one that may eventually be useful as a container for potential humans but otherwise does nothing but emit an irritating buzzing noise whenever its mouth falls open, you don’t have to worry that you will ever face consequences for mistreating one.”

That line is from Alexandra Petri, who was a new voice to me. And she’s hilarious.

If you have someone in your life who has a problem understanding that women are human, there are some very entertaining books that might change their minds while they laugh. I happen to like this one a lot. And if you or your friends have limited contact with people from other parts of the world (geographically or sociologically), there are books for that, too.

Have a great weekend, whether you go shopping or not. If you do, think about books as gifts. You can still buy chocolate, sweaters and television sets, but if you get Legos, remember to include slippers, too.

Martha Thomases: What Comes Around.

This is my last column before Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It doesn’t require presents or cards or anything but food and gratitude.

I am, of course, grateful to be alive, to have my son (the genius) and my brilliant new daughter-in-law, a doctor! But you, Constant Reader, don’t come here to read about my life. You come here to read about my opinions.

This year, I am especially grateful that when women speak, they are now believed.

As my ComicMix colleagues so eloquently described, the days of dismissing charges of sexual harassment as something women make up because we are overly sensitive are, for the moment at least, over. No, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of these stories, nor do I think firing Eddie Berganza makes everything better.

(It does not.)

That said, we are definitely in a better place than we were before this round of charges of sexual abuse began, way, way back with Harvey Weinstein. Women are speaking up and making change, rather than waiting for men to rescue them. My favorite superheroines do this prominently.

A new generation of superhero supports these strong women.

As I mentioned last week, women in comics have always talked among ourselves, sharing warnings and tips about which men to avoid. We looked out for each other. More recently, some of us have risked our livelihoods to tell our stories. And now, in an ironic twist worthy of an E. Nelson Bridwell story, the Superman office seems to be run by women editors.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m gloating about Eddie losing his job. There are hardly an instance when that’s an unequivocally good thing. A man his age, and with his now-damaged reputation is going to find it difficult to find another gig.

However, the women who were denied work because they wouldn’t have sex with him, the women who left comics because he was so unpleasant to them, the women who never even got in the door because DC would rather protect their boy than tempt him, also had their livelihoods threatened. Actions have consequences, and Eddie and DC management were the ones who was able to choose how they wanted to act.

It’s my theory that the reason women are coming forward in large numbers now can be traced back to the Women’s March last January. There have been large demonstrations held simultaneously around the world before, but this time, for whatever reason, we spoke to each other. We listened to each other. Women, people of color, immigrants, queer people and other outsiders realized that we didn’t need insiders. Together, the outsiders could do what needed to get done.

The stereotype suggests that feminism is something that is just for white women. The experiences of women in comics demonstrates over and over again that this is untrue. Yes, white feminists get a disproportionate amount of media attention but then, white people of all kinds get a disproportionate amount of media attention.

True feminists insist on celebrating all kinds of women, and there are so many of us that it is unprofitable to ignore us. In fact, we are a desirable and affluent market for would-be feminist toys.

And it’s not exclusively feminists who are speaking up against Business As Usual in the entertainment industry. There’s a new documentary about stereotyping South Asians, and it’s getting a lot of good word-of-mouth. Things are shifting (too) slowly in behind-the-camera job in television.

There is still a lot of work to be done in the years ahead. There will, inevitably, be setbacks as well as progress. Still, this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to the women and men who got us this far.

Martha Thomases: The Casting Couch

Now even Louis C. K.

How far we have come in the one year after Trump was “elected” President, despite his boasts about being able to grab women by the pussy and being able to walk into the Miss Universe dressing rooms while contestants were changing. Women and queer people of all genders refuse to obediently walk off and let the men-folk run things. Instead, we are speaking up and telling our stories.

In January, with the Women’s March, I think we realized that, together, we could create our own system. We could create an environment in which we would be believed, and from which we could create change.

You may remember a time, lo these many weeks ago, when Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was first held up to the glare of publicity. In the last few days, we’ve heard horrible things about Kevin Spacey and Charlie Sheen.

Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly had already fallen victim to the news of their own bad behavior. These new revelations demonstrate that sexual harassment in the workplace is not a partisan issue.

Not all of this kind happens in show business, although the so-called “casting couch” gets its name from the exploitive behavior of people in charge of hiring casts. It exists in every business that has a hierarchical structure, including tech, politics and so much more.

Including comics.

Yes, that last link is to an old story, but it is newly relevant. Because the problem isn’t only the people in power sexually abuse people in their employ (yes, this sometimes includes women. The problem is also that, even when the abuse is known, the company will often cover for the abuser.

The Weinstein Company knew about Harvey. Netflix knew about Spacey. Fox knew about O’Reily.

And DC Entertainment knew about Eddie Berganza. Their response was to protect him by limiting his exposure to what I think the Catholics call “occasions of sin.” In other words, women were not allowed to work with him.

I don’t want to sound like I’m excusing sexual harassment and abuse, but the problem is not always only with the perpetrator. When I read about Weinstein and Berganza (and Scott Allie) and Spacey, I feel terrible for them. I mean, they are horrible people and they shouldn’t have any authority over anyone else, much less command big salaries and respect, but I think they have a sickness.

The real crime is committed by those who choose to change the workplace to protect them and not the people they abuse. Instead of setting up a fund to pay-off victims, run businesses so there are no victims. And instead of limiting the opportunities of women to work on Superman comics, limit the authority of the man causing the problem in the first place.

The next steps are to connect the dots from actual abuse to other, more subtle ways of marginalizing women. I know that I’ve been the subject of gossip, suggesting that I slept my way into various jobs. I’ve heard parallel stories about other women — and men. As long as we are body parts first and humans with skills and talents later (if at all), we will never get the credit we deserve.

I’m part of a few on-line groups of women in comics, and in the last few weeks, there have been more than the normal number of warnings about other professionals in the business. Some are well-known, and some are new to me. I’m not going to name any names here because 1) the stories are told in confidence and I’m not going to violate a trust and 2) the laws about slander are much tougher when the stories are published, and I don’t have the first-hand knowledge. Also, you, Constant Reader, don’t need to know the specifics.

You need to know that we talk.

Women have always talked among themselves about predatory men. We’ve always warned newcomers about who was too “handsy,” who told lewd jokes, who to being alone with.

Now, we’re warning you.

Martha Thomases: With A Rebel Yell, She Cried Thor! Thor! Thor!

The hype was timed perfectly for this one. The new Marvel Studios movie, Thor: Ragnorak, was not going to be just another super-hero movie. It was directed by a respected indie director with comedy chops. The advertising wasn’t too heavy, nor did I feel like I had seen all the good stuff in the trailers.

Still, I was a bit worried. Thor: The Dark World, was, in my opinion, the worst of the Marvel Studio movies. When I watch it, instead of getting caught up in the story and the characters, I wonder what it felt like to be an actor on that set, wearing those ridiculous outfits. I wondered why a movie so dependent on Norse mythology was made so many years before Wonder Woman, which relied on Greek mythology (my personal favorite, no matter what the cool kids say).

I was again invited to a Marvel Friends & Family screening on Monday, and I can report that Ragnorak is big fun, especially if you can see it in a big theater, on a big screen, with all the seats filled with rabid geeks. There’s a lot of character-based humor. There are a couple of really great villains, including my long-time crush, Jeff Goldblum, whom I have loved since at least California Split. Cate Blanchett, as Hela, Goddess of Death, is not only evil incarnate, but she will make you believe that you, too, could fight in skin-tight leather and a spiked head-dress wider than your average car.

Tim Hiddleston is back as Loki, Idris Elba is again Heimdal, and Anthony Hopkins is Odin. It’s great having the band back together.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Mark Ruffalo co-stars in this film as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. For those of us who have seen the Avengers movies, this is fun. If you’re a fan of classic superhero stories, where two heroes meet, fight, and then team-up, this is fun. If you haven’t done either of those things, the relationship might be unintelligible, but then, you probably aren’t in the audience.

Benedict Cumberbatch is his brooding, handsome self as Doctor Strange, in a scene that is entirely unnecessary, although it is fun.

The best new character (to the Marvel movie oeuvre) is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. A hard-living, hard-drinking mercenary with a past that ties her directly to Odin and Hela, she is a fully realized character from her first appearance, when she tried to take Thor as her prisoner and falls down drunk. The character is tough and vulnerable and completely capable, and Thompson never reduces her to the kind of “strong female character” we get all too often in mass-market movies.

According to the link above, “Thompson even summoned the courage to pitch Waititi on making Valkyrie bisexual, based on her comic book relationship with anthropologist Annabelle Riggs. ‘There’s this great illustration of them in a kiss,’ swoons Thompson, and while Valkyrie has yet to meet Annabelle in her Hollywood timeline – and who knows if she’ll get to – she convinced Waititi to shoot a glimpse of a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom. He kept it in the film as long as he could; eventually the bit had to be cut because it distracted from the scene’s vital exposition.”

This is a problem for me. There are so many scenes in which some random action is taking place so the characters can explain themselves and their motivations that they might as well have hired Michael York. I would have preferred more time with Valkyrie and fewer scenes of Asgardians walking through caves and forests.

As required by law, the movie ends with a bombastic CGI fight scene. It’s loud and there are lots of explosions, but these scenes exhaust me. The best part of this one is Fenrir, the giant wolf. The worst part is waiting for the Asgardians to line up for the getaway vehicle.

About these Asgardians. They are very white. This isn’t really a big deal for me, since nearly every Norse person alive when the myths were created was probably white. However, the Thor films, to their credit, have made a point of including actors of all races among the gods. We see a few swarthy faces in the crowd scenes, and there are Asian actors prominently featured in a couple of fights, but mostly, we see hundreds of helpless blondes, waiting for Thor to rescue them. The scenes on other realms have more varied body types and colors, and as a result, even those extras seem to have more personality.

Still, I was excited to see a movie in which a white male hero has a respectful, comradely relationship with a woman warrior of color. There was no flirtation. There was no “will they or won’t they” vibe. Or, at least, no more than there was between Loki and Hulk.

The gods can do it. Now let’s see if we can get corporate executives to do it, too.

Martha Thomases and the Multi-Dimensional Geeks

This past weekend I had a truly multi-dimensional geek experience.

I went to the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, which is the San Diego Comic-Con of fiber nerds. I went with two women I’ve known since we were in boarding school together. One is now a judge in appellate court, and the other works for a local historical society. I would like to say that we had a highfalutin’ philosophical discourse as we drove to the Dutchess County New York Fairgrounds and carefully walked among the sheep, but mostly we talked about yarn and comics. One of my friends had read a piece in her local newspaper about the traditional book publishers who exhibited at New York Comic-Con (alas, I cannot find a link). I tried to explain that this was nothing new, but I’m not sure I succeeded.

I wish she had been able to come with me on Sunday, when another friend was kind enough to take me to the American Museum of Natural History for a panel about “Ethno-Graphics” about anthropology and graphic story-telling.

I was unfamiliar with two of the panelists, Lucio Zago, the writer and artist for Williamsburg Shorts and Sherine Hamdy, one of the writers of Lissa, and only a little bit aware of the third, Edgard Miranda-Rodriguez, creator of La Borinquena.

The moderator, Catrin Einhorn, is an editor at The New York Times. She seemed quite knowledgeable about anthropology, and perhaps a bit less informed about graphic story-telling. It’s also possible that she spoke less about that aspect so that the panelists could speak more.

Lucio Zago’s book about Williamsburg and the gentrification it has experienced since the early 1990s when he first moved there, sounds sweet and graceful. Alas, according to this, it is out of print. I don’t know if it was ever available beyond the Kickstarter through which he raised funds to publish, and a few copies for local bookshops. In any case, he seemed to be a bit of an outlier at this particular occasion.

Sherine Hamdy’s book, Lissa, is published by an academic publisher, the University of Toronto Press, and is the first book in what is planned to be an entire line of graphic novels. Although a fictional story about two young women and their families, Lissa is a thoroughly researched examination of religion, culture, medicine and class in the United States and Egypt. The back matter runs over a hundred pages, including original research and interpretations of other studies. I’m very curious about this new publishing venture, and whether these graphic novels, like other publications from academic presses, are used as textbooks as well as entertainment.

Edgard Miranda-Rodriguez was a bit familiar to me from this write-up, but I had no idea what a firebrand he was. He created a Puerto Rican super-heroine because that is exactly the comic book he most wanted to read when he was a kid, and it’s the comic he most wants his kids to read now. He was careful and deliberate to credit other Puerto Ricans working in the medium today (especially ), and more than anything I wanted to ask him if he knew Ivan Velez.

I wanted to ask all three panelists such questions, what one friend of mine calls “Jewish Geography,” although it doesn’t have to be just about Jewish people. It’s what happens when you meet a person for the first time, and try to establish some common ground by asking a few questions (“Where are you from?”) and seeing if you know any of the same people. The panel wasn’t about who these folks knew, however, but rather the anthropological elements of their work, so I restrained myself. Instead, I satisfied my need to feel important by recommending the Eisner-winning Sonny Liew book, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye to the helpless woman sitting next to me, unable to escape my attention.

My high-school friend might enjoy it, too. It’s published by Pantheon, a real book publisher.

Martha Thomases: What’s In It For Me?

So, a lot of us here enjoy discussions of diversity in comics (and, no, I don’t mean this schmuck). It’s an interesting subject to consider in light of popular culture, contemporary politics, and the meaning of life.

It is also interesting in terms of marketing.

When we talk about comics marketing, especially in terms of diversity, I think we often miss the point. This may be because, in my experience, comics marketing tends to involve advertising in comic books and sending posters to comic book shops. These methods are terrific for attracting the attention of people who already read comics, but they are less effective for reaching people who don’t.

Sometimes, if a graphic novel is scheduled to be published, and is either written by a well-known writer or published by a mainstream book publisher or the source material for a critically acclaimed movie, you might see an ad in the book section of a newspaper or magazine. In general, however, it is too expensive to advertise individual monthly comic books on a national level.

But what if we could? To whom should we target the ads?

When I was in college, I did an internship with the research department of a major Chicago advertising agency. We analyzed data from thousands of questionnaires distributed at shopping malls all around the country (shopping malls were still a thing in 1976). New questionnaires were always coming in, because we wanted our analyses to be as up-to-date as possible. One of our clients was General Mills, so the questionnaires included a lot of questions about cake mix and instant mashed potatoes and the like. I learned from this experience that, if you want to reach a shopper who might buy cake mix occasionally, you emphasized the characteristics most appealing to people who baked more than four cakes a month.

(I will now pause and wonder what my life would have been like if I had been raised in a house that smelled like cake four times month).

By that logic, comics marketing is right on track. By promoting the characters, the colorful battle scenes, and sometimes the creative team, the ads appeal to those people who already are familiar with these elements of the story, and are familiar with those kinds of storytelling.

For better or worse, that’s not how marketing works anymore. My internship took place more than 40 years ago. The corporate pressures today are much different, and stockholders aren’t satisfied to simply reach the same customers they’ve always had. Instead, there needs to be more more more!

Toyota, with its Camry model, is a good example. Read the link, because it’s really interesting.

Now, I’m not an expert on Camrys, Toyotas, or automobiles in general. My regular car is the E train. I am not the audience for these ads. Therefore, I can look at the story with a certain level of detachment.

What I notice is that Toyota wants to reach not only the broadest audience (the white/multicultural pop music one) but also as many specific audiences as they can. As a result, they make a general commercial, but then also make commercials aimed at African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American markets. Each of those ads, for the same car, emphasizes traits that are determined to be most attractive to the targets.

(I am not in a position to comment on whether their assumptions about what is appealing are correct. I’m interested in the effort.)

Toyota doesn’t say to Hispanic car-buyers that the Camry is good because it has been selling for decades. Instead, they talk about why Hispanic car-buyers would like it.

Similarly, it isn’t enough for Marvel to say that Iron Man (as an arbitrary example, not to pick on it specifically) is a good comic for you because Marvel has been publishing it forever, or because Robert Downey, Jr. is really cute (although he is). Marvel needs to tell me what’s in it for me if I buy it. Is it a commentary on capitalism, or human nature, or the meaning of life? Is it funny, or scary, or emotionally moving in another way?

What’s in it for me?

And just as Toyota doesn’t only make Camrys, but has lots of different models for people with different driving needs and preferences, comics should (and does!) have lots of different kinds of books for people with different tastes in reading.

If you’re a straight cis white guy who loves comics, that’s great. Most of the titles in your local comic book shop are intended for you. You are still the largest demographic segment in this market. However, in order for the business to grow (and for profits to rise), publishers need to explore books that will appeal to new markets. Some of these experiments will fail because that’s what happens when humans try new things. But some of these experiments will succeed, and then there are more books for everybody.

We will not attract new readers to our books if we demand that they all fit in the same box.

Not even if that box is chocolate cake.

Martha Thomases: Super-Harassment?

Although I have worked at an event he attended, I’ve never been sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein.

There are several possible reasons for this:

  • He was intimidated by my ferocious beauty and talent,
  • He knew he had no power over me since I didn’t work in the film business
  • He was too busy watching Nicole Kidman. because the event was for was her movie.
  • Or, most likely, I’m not his type and beneath his notice.

The Weinstein story has quickly morphed from the story of one man’s fall from power and into a more nuanced conversation about politics and the media. And by “nuanced,” I mean angry hurled accusations back and forth.

In a nutshell, the argument posits that Weinstein isn’t suffering as much for his crimes as Roger Ailes or Bill O’Reilly because he gave money to Hillary and Roger and Bill are conservatives.

Apparently, there was ample evidence to suggest that a lot of people knew about Weinstein’s disgusting behavior. The conspiracy theorists insist that word didn’t get out because his liberal friends were covering for him.

It’s not that simple. Really.

For one thing, there are a lot of assumptions in this perspective that don’t stand up to the light of day. One is that all of Hollywood (and journalism) are Democrats, and all Democrats are progressives. This is simply not true. There might be a lot of progressive actors, writers, and directors, but the money people — the ones who can get a movie or series produced and distributed — are like money people everywhere, and most likely to be at least fiscally conservative.

Another erroneous assumption is that to be a Democrat and/or a progressive, one toes the line on all progressive issues equally. Someone who supports environmental issues is also a feminist who wants to end economic inequality and have trans teachers in fully-funded public schools. Progressives, like conservatives, are more complicated than that.

A third erroneous assumption is that Weinstein got away with something for a long time. There were rumors, and there were reporters who investigated the rumors for years but couldn’t get anyone to speak on the record. Once they did (last Thursday), it took less than 100 hours for Harvey Weinstein to be fired from the company he co-founded, by a Board of Directors that included his own brother. That happened much more quickly than the dismissals of O’Reilly or Ailes.

Like almost every other business, Hollywood respects and honors success, not a virtue. And like any institution that involves humans, it is imperfect in its attempts to do the right thing.

So. What does this have to do with comics?

For one thing, we have similar stories about men in positions of power and the way they treat women who seek employment. In almost all cases, these rumors are just that — rumors. Our industry is small enough that it’s mathematically difficult to collect a large number of accusations against one person. And women are still new enough as freelancers that we don’t always talk to each other the way we should.

Speaking for myself, I’ve heard stories about men in comics who demand sexual favors for jobs, men who have physically abusive relationships with a partner, and men who are pedophiles. In all of these cases, my first reaction is shock and even disbelief. Understand that I don’t necessarily think the person stepping forward with such accusations is a liar, but the behavior is so far from my perception of the men in question. Sometimes I know that man’s children or other family members.

I’m only suffering cognitive dissonance. I don’t have to make a decision about hiring and firing.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a solution? I don’t, at least not one that is a quick fix. As long as we live in a climate that assumes that men are naturally the people in power and that women in business must learn how to work with men (instead of men and women learning how to work with each other), women will be at a disadvantage. As long as women are seen as sexual objects or decorations first and foremost, and as valued workers second (if at all), we will have a problem with sexual harassment in the workplace.

We need to speak out and to present ourselves as whole people. Men need to complain about the bad behavior of other men, and women need to call out other women (which we do, constantly, but that’s another rant) when we allow it to continue. We need to be professionals and set a higher standard than Hollywood.

Martha Thomases: Hef

Hugh Hefner died last week. I have mixed feelings.

Not about him personally. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know anyone who hung out with him, not for any significant amount of time. Since a lot of his business seemed to involve throwing parties at his home, I probably know people who went to a party or two. You probably do, too.

No, I want to talk about Playboy magazine and its legacy.

Playboy began in 1953, just as I did. From the very beginning, it challenged then-current ideas about how people should live (something I didn’t do for another 15 years or so, and not with such great effect). And from the beginning, it made me uncomfortable.

The women in Playboy were beautiful, but that is all they were. And they were beautiful in a very limited way. For decades, they were almost exclusively white, and mostly blonde. This was Hefner’s type, and he’s entitled to it, but, as a kid trying to figure out her place in the world, the Playboy ideal of beauty was just another club that wouldn’t have me.

Even if it did, there wasn’t much for me to do. A woman in Playboy was an accessory to a successful life, just like the cars and stereo equipment and furniture and liquor and clothes. Her placement next to these other accoutrements were a testament to a man’s taste, not affection.

But wait, you say. Nobody forced these women to pose for the magazine (or work in the clubs, or hang out at the Mansion). That is, technically, true. Some worked for Hefner because it sounded like a kick. Some thought it would get them attention from studio executives and therefore help their acting careers. And some (maybe most? I have no idea) did it because it paid better than other jobs they could get.

It says a lot about our society that, during much of Hefner’s tenure at Playboy, the highest-paying jobs available to most women were limited to those genetically blessed and willing to be naked in front of millions of men.

Hefner took great pride in the fact that he published some of the best (mostly male) writers of his time. He also contributed millions of dollars to free speech issues. Therefore, I found it amusing that, when they published an excerpt from Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, he felt it necessary to bowdlerize a sex scene. These are editorial standards, not censorship, and it was absolutely within Playboy’s rights. But it does suggest that they weren’t as uninhibited as they pretended to be.

Feminists didn’t like Hefner, and the feeling was mutual. Some said his support of free speech and reproductive rights made him an ally. Others said his support of those issues merely made him money. Some said the nude photographs were demeaning to women. Some said that criticism of the nude photographs infantilized the women who posed. There were many different kinds of feminist objections to the magazine, and looking at the variety is an interesting history lesson in feminism, intersectionality, and the marketplace of ideas.

Another publishing giant died soon after Hefner. S. I. Newhouse  inherited Conde Nast from his father, and acted as a publisher, not an editor. However, as the person who hired the editors for the various magazines, he had immense power in the perspectives they presented. It is only fair to point out that the Vogue magazines of my youth were as intimidating and shaming as Playboy, glamorizing another body-type I would never match. Conde Nast, however, also published the late, lamented Mademoiselle (where Sylvia Plath worked as an intern!), Glamour and lots of other titles that presented a lot of other points of view and models of behavior.

More recently, Teen Vogue has expanded its coverage far beyond fashion and make-up, into the kinds of informative features I wish I had available to me when I was the target audience (although there was no Teen Vogue then).

I think that Hugh Hefner was a complicated human being, just as I am, just as I suspect you are, Constant Reader. He was not purely good and he was not purely evil. From the outside, he looks like a narcissist who only liked individual women if they had sex with him, were his children, or followed his orders. In that, he is a lot like our current president. Unlike our current president, he actually created something original and made a business out of it, one that supported a lot of people, including writers, including cartoonists, including Harvey Kurtzman.

Which wins him points from me.

Martha Thomases: Banning Yourself

This week is Banned Book Week. Read a banned book.

Luckily (I say sarcastically), more and more often, this means to read a comic book or graphic novel.

I think this happens because, despite nearly three decades of graphic novels aimed at adults, comics are still perceived as a children’s medium. Almost all defenses of censorship wrap themselves in the guise of protecting kids from “harmful” ideas. What constitutes “harm,” is, of course, wildly unspecific. It can be sexual content. It can be political content. It can be the idea that racial differences don’t make one group of people less (or more) human than another.

Most recently, it seems that most objections to graphic novels have to do with LGBTQ content as if the mere existence of queer people is in and of itself obscene. To quote Marika Tamaki (This One Summer), “I stand by my assertion that any person who wants a book removed from a library for having queer content should have to make their case to a panel of LGBTQ readers as to why their lives shouldn’t be represented in the library.”

Banning other points of view doesn’t make reality change, it only makes the perception of reality change. So banning books with queer characters doesn’t make everybody straight.

I assume most of you know how strongly ComicMix supports the First Amendment. I also assume you know about the many such organizations that support free speech and diversity of opinion.

Therefore, I’m going to talk about another form of censorship — self-censorship. This isn’t a First Amendment issue, but I think it can be just as relevant to you, Constant Reader, and to living your fullest life. I’m going to talk about going out of your way to encounter other points of view.

It is easier than ever to live one’s life without ever hearing a significant disagreement. I, personally, live in one of the most progressive zip codes in the country. I read lots of news and opinions, online and on paper, and while I watch less television news than I used to (talking heads drive me batty, because they rarely dig down into facts but rather tend to blather in sound-bites), I still spend a few hours a day trying to keep up with the world.

And I still don’t see every perspective.

Here’s an example. During the debate over the GOP plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, I heard a lot of different perspectives about what was wrong and right about Obamacare. However, I didn’t see any actual defense about what was in the specific bills designed to replace it. The CBO said the plans would push tens of millions out of the insurance markets, and I couldn’t find a single Congressperson who said this was a good thing, or why.

When we discuss what’s wrong with the news media, I would say right there is a problem. Reporters weren’t asking that question.

Lucky for me, the New York Times did, finally, run a few Op-Ed pieces defending the Republican plans or criticizing Democratic plans on policy terms, not popularity contests. I disagree with both of these columns (and we can discuss that in the comments, if you like), but I appreciated the thoughtful — even wonky — articulation of the situation.

As a fan of graphic story-telling, I especially enjoy a deep dive into other worldviews. Most recently, I’ve found it in Irmina and The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. The first showed me how it felt to be a loyal German in World War II, and the latter immersed me in the history of Singapore that was entirely new to me (and I studied Asian history in college).

Censorship is wrong, not only because it shuts people out, but because it shuts them up. I will never be able to consider every opinion and perspective, but my life would not be worth living if I couldn’t try.

Martha Thomases: TV or Not TV?

As I was watching the 2017 Emmy Awards last Sunday, I thought about how much the television industry has changed. It’s a cliché to say that this is the Golden Age of Television, but, in many ways, that is true.

However, that is not what I want to talk about.

Women and people of color won an unusually high percentage of awards. I mean, women always win in the “Best Actress” categories, but there were women (and people of color) (and queer people) winning in the writing and directing categories as well. This didn’t go unnoticed. To quote from Master of None writer Lena Waithe’s acceptance speech “And last, but certainly not least, my L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. family. I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day, when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world — because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.

Those words describe my favorite thing about superhero comics.

Winning awards, especially in the entertainment industry, is not necessarily a matter of quality. A lot of awards get won by people who are good at marketing, or who are owed the most favors. This year seemed to me to represent a real sea change.

There are so many ways to watch “television” these days that sometimes I wonder if we should find a different noun. If I’m watching on my phone (which I never do, because I am old and my eyes are as well) or my computer, is that TV? Maybe, but websites aren’t referred to as “magazines” even when the content is the same. Is it fair to make broadcast television, which is subject to restrictions from government licensing and advertisers, compete with cable and streaming companies? Is it fair to ask me to judge which awards are appropriate when I haven’t seen everything, and I’m already paying for four premium services? Am I made out of money here?

This abundance is, to my mind, a good thing. There are so many different kinds of things to watch. I’m not into reality television but, if you are, there are all sorts of non-fiction programs. Some are good and some aren’t. I very much want to like the Emmy-winning Atlanta, but I can’t figure it out, and I’m fine with that. It’s okay that everything good is not for me. It’s great that there is something good for everybody.

Instead of fighting over pieces of the pie, creative people (including, in this instance, producers) have made more pie.

More than 25 years ago, when Milestone Media started publishing, this was their attitude. Instead of complaining that the Big Two comics publishers were run by white men, with heroes who were white men, aimed at an audience of white men, Milestone created new characters to appeal to new audiences. Those comics sold like crazy until DC, for whatever reasons, screwed up the marketing. Even now, if you go to a comics convention, you’ll see cosplayers in Milestone-inspired costumes.

Not everyone is happy about this. Insufferable preppie Tucker Carlson who looks and sounds like a lot of the guys who were popular in my high school, and now think high school is the way the entire world is supposed to work, used the Emmy Awards as an excuse to lambaste Ta-Nahiei Coates. Not that Coates needs any advice from me, but he should be fairly pleased that he is such a good writer that he’s getting under Carlson’s skin. If I was Marvel, I would promote Black Panther with Carlson’s clip.

I think it is because there are so many ways to watch “television” these days that we have so much good TV. I think we can apply the same lessons to comics and graphic storytelling. I love my local comic book store but, if I was a new customer, I would be lost trying to find something to read. Bookstores, with a longer history of appealing to different tastes, would work better for my introduction to the medium. And, if I wasn’t ready to invest in printed paper, I’d appreciate a way to sample things online.

Online comics are no more my thing than Survivor (not that they are similar in any other way), but both attract millions of eyeballs every year. Both provide a way for creative people to earn some money and express themselves.

Time and the marketplace will determine what’s good and/or what people want.