Category: Columns

Ed Catto: Thrill Ride with Robert Loren Fleming – Part 2

This is the final part of my conversation with comics writer Robert Loren Fleming on the tragic backstory and forgotten history of DC’s Thriller comic book series. As I explained last week, this is actually an addendum to my recent article on this 80s cult favorite in TwoMorrow’s Back Issue Magazine.

Thriller was poised to be the next big thing from DC, but it seemed like many forces conspired against it. Despite it all, Thriller achieved a certain status. How did so many things go off the rails? The behind the scenes stories are as fascinating as the story between the covers.

Hazing, Publishing Style

There were some difficult things going on backstage at DC in those days. One of the uglier things was the hazing. It included everything from ripping up freelancers checks to harassing a female worker to the point where she was ready to clobber a co-worker on her way out.

At the end of last week’s column, Thriller’s artist, Trevor Von Eeden had just finished the first Green Arrow mini-series. He was finally ready to start on Thriller. Management threw a curve ball and told him his next assignment would be a Batwoman special. However, Von Eeden firmly reminded them that the deal they had struck was he could start on Thriller once he finished the Green Arrow mini-series.

So for Thriller, Fleming would provide full scripts and write the dialog. Artist Von Eeden was given the authority to make changes in the scripts, but he seldom did.

Suspiciously enough, it went further than that. No editors had made any changes. “That’s not a good thing. That’s highly unusual,” remembers Fleming. That should have been a red warning light to the creative team back then. “They wanted to screw with us,” said Fleming. As the new kid on the block who had, in essence, jumped the line to land a prestigious job writing a comic he envisioned, Fleming had made many enemies within the organization.

Fleming would later learn that someone had taken the script from executive editor Dick Giordano’s office, and then made the case that it needed a total rewrite. “They were going to have me rewrite it until it wasn’t Thriller.”

A few days before Fleming was supposed to start the rewrite, he was surprised to learn that Trevor Von Eeden had dropped off the all the pages of the first issue.

Plans for the rewrite were scrapped and Fleming was instructed to merely adjust the dialog to match the pages.

Now, years later, Fleming can understand the frustrations of the established folks at DC. It’s clear, as a young writer, he (Fleming) just wasn’t ready for a full writing assignment yet. At the same time, he also now realizes that the readers just weren’t ready for it then either. If it had come out five years later, it would have been much better received.

It wasn’t all bad at DC Comics. Fleming did have some supporters – specifically, the marketing department’s Mike Flynn and Roger Slifer. They were two of Fleming’s friends. They took a paste-up of the penciled pages, with Fleming’s hand-written word balloons, to use as part of a press release. Even though these pages were not properly lettered, public reaction to these pages was strong.

DC’s Marketing Department promoted it as a comic you couldn’t read fast enough, a line that Fleming had supplied. Soon, Fleming found himself on the convention circuit with a presentation, created by the Marketing Department, to tease the comic to retailers and fans nationwide.

Launching Thriller at that time through one of the major publishers was a blessing and curse. From our current vantage point, it’s difficult to remember that publishing a series like Thriller didn’t really have the many options that would be available today at Image or one of the smaller publishers.

Help Wanted

“I was keenly aware (back then) that it would have been great to get help <creating the comic>

But it was ‘do it on my own or not do it’,” said Fleming. He recalls that Dick Giordano was too far up the management chain, and stretched too thin, to be a hands-on helper for the title. Thriller’s editor, Alan Gold, was also new to the comics industry, having recently switched careers from editing medical textbooks. “He didn’t have a clue what we were doing.”

There was a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Fleming did manage to get in the good graces of legendary editor Julie Schwartz. “By the time I did a few Ambush Bug <issues>, Julie was in my camp. Most people would acknowledge Julie was probably the best editor at that time,” remembers Fleming.

Fleming is able to recognize the shortcomings of Thriller. “I have absolutely less affection for Thriller than the fans. I see it as a mess,” said Fleming. But he heaps praise on his collaborator, artist Trevor Von Eeden. “If we had had a routine artist, no one would be talking about this.”

A Thrilling Prescience

So many story elements of Thriller, a series created in the 80s that takes place in the “near future”, seem to have predicted actual future events. Fleming talked about how much of what he created for the book was simply an extrapolation from the headlines of the day. The long list is impressive and canny and includes things like America’s escalated conflict with Islam, self-driving cars, and the grisly filming of political decapitations.

On the other hand, Fleming admits that Thriller’s “black president was just a cheesy cliché” meant to signal the future. “Of course, I tied him to one of my characters,” he added.

What Could Have Been

Fleming touched on what could have happened. “Trevor and I never had a falling out,” said Fleming. “In fact, a few years later, we did a pilot for a Salvo series.” Salvo was the unflinching marksman, and one of Thriller’s Seven Seconds, in the original series.

“I was always trying to revisit Thriller,” admits Fleming. This would have been a prequel revealing the backstory of the marksman, Salvo. It would also detail how he first met Janet Valentine, (White Satin), and her husband Quo. “Quo was basically Bruce Lee,’” chuckles Fleming.

An earlier incarnation of the evil Scabbard – named Sheath Largos – featured prominently in the prequel. If the original Thriller series had continued, Scabbard was slated to return from the dead. “He was War of the Worlds in reverse,” reveals Fleming. “Scabbard was actually a mechanical alien in the shape of a sword who grew a fleshy body around itself simply for transportation.”

“That’s why we did Scabbard in Ambush Bug,” said Fleming. “You see something bursting out. It’s flesh growing. Keith (Giffen, his collaborator on Ambush Bug) knew what I was going to do.”

The Thrill is Gone, Baby

Fleming admits that it would unlikely he’d ever return to the series.

“One reason is because it was science fiction, it makes it hard to contemplate going back. “Things have changed so much. The thing about science fiction is that it reflects what’s happening when it’s being written,” explained Fleming.

But there’s a lot of lessons he takes away from it all.

First and foremost is that not knowing the rules is a good thing. The exuberance of youth actually allowed Fleming and Von Eeden to courageously create a series that, in retrospect, is astounding that it even exists. “Thriller was world-building before it was in vogue for comics,” said Fleming.

There’s a sense of pride but also a sense of generous humility. “The best thing about it was Trevor’s artwork,” remembers Fleming. “His artwork took it to a new level.” Fleming also explained how he meets many fans who explain that this groundbreaking series inspired them to break into the industry.

“The reason for going into this – the generally accepted wisdom was that Thriller was a big failure,” reflects Fleming. “It wasn’t a failure. Thriller was created so I could become a writer. In that way, it was a success. I did become a writer… from zero to sixty. I became a comic book writer.”
And that sounds like a thrill to me.

Interested in the full article in Back Issue #98? You can snag it here.

Marc Alan Fishman: Dragon Con is for Lovers

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This past weekend, Unshaven Kyle Gnepper and I braved a 10-hour car ride from Chicago to Atlanta to present our wares at the annual Dragon Con. While I could spend my article telling all of you the harrowing tale of how our booth was stolen and then how it turned out to be a simple clerical error, I figure it’s easier to spare you the banal details. Long story short, it always pays off to be flexible, kind, and eager to make the best out of any situation.

Since our table-saga is off the table, I could discuss how for the first time in now our tenth year of presenting at cons I finally bit the bullet to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Kyle and remain in pitch mode the entire duration of the con in order to see our goals be met. I could wax poetic about how it felt to step outside my comfort zone and really connect with complete strangers without fear. Long story short, we met our goals. I was tired every night, but feel like Kyle and I found our brotherly bond again after too-long a time. It will remain something I’ll fondly talk about for cons to come.

No table woes. No astonishing sales lecture. What’s left? The most important part of the con: The people.

As I’ve said before, Dragon Con is the con I would personally go to as a fan. The sheer amount of programming they offer in addition to a fantastic vendor floor and artist alley adds up to an experience that truly celebrates pop culture in nearly every form and facet. From our vantage point in the alley – thanks in part to Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s sad cancellation (which in turn landed us their spot) Kyle and I were privy to just about every single con goer who made their way onto the show floor. To be clear: we heard rumor of tens of thousands of people attending the con, of which, I’d feign a guess that a solid half made their way into our portion of the America Mart in downtown Atlanta.

Beyond the amazing cosplay, happy families, and great geeks on-the-hunt-for-wares, something caught my eye. As wave after wave of people passed by, I noted gay couples, Lesbian couples, transgendered folks, asexual folks. Literally every race, creed, and color. And nary a one of them without a smile plastered across their maws. It was, above all else: inspiring.

And it hit me right in the cockles, I tells ya. Here, amidst the aisles of the Artist Alley, a procession of positivity parlayed publications and posters devoid of anything but an untethered celebration of pop-culture. It reminded me that while there’s plenty of nerd-rage between specific sects of fans – be it western comics versus manga, Trek versus Wars, or steampunk versus whatever group fears gears – there is a commonality that binds all folks who clip a comic con badge to their person. An acceptance of everyone’s right to be themselves. Because, where else but a Comic Con can we unabashedly declare not only our love for some specific nerdy-milieu, and meet nothing but acceptance to it by all who surround us. Because we too are different, and we too want this place to remain a sacred space where all are allowed to let our freak flags fly.

After four solid days of seeing every gender, sexual orientation, and science fiction fandom stroll past our twelve-foot storefront, Kyle and I left Atlanta tired but accomplished. Between the two of us, over 500 books crossed the border from our racks to the hands of happy fans. We sold every single poster we brought. And I personally sold out of every pre-made Pokémon card I packed. As Kyle and traversed the interstate from Georgia through Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana, our minds darted through the memories logged. But none stick out more for me (save perhaps that one customer who demanded one of every book we had on the table) then the cavalcade of comradery I saw at the show. A reaffirmation that the ties that bind me to comic books help me ground myself surrounded by like-minded people who celebrate our world in every way it presents itself. Amidst all the insanity our current overlords spew from on high… it was worth it to have four days devoid of hate; all hail Dragon Con, as it truly is for love.

Martha Thomases: The Next Big Thing

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News flash! Time passes!

When I was a child, I was mesmerized by the very concept of time. How was it discovered? Why are units of time, like minutes and hours and days, all measured in multiples of 6? What was there before time? Could time ever end? If so, what would replace it? Eventually, these thoughts made me throw up, and I would have to make myself think about other stuff.

But here’s the thing: Time happens. Whether you think about it or not.

I am reminded of this when I look at the list of contributors to Mine! A Comics Collection to Benefit Planned Parenthood. In addition to talents like Neil Gaiman and Jill Thompson, there are a bunch of people whom I know personally on the list but there are also a whole lot I don’t know.

For example, there’s Gabby Rivera. And Tee Franklin. And Yona Harvey. And Dave Kelly and Lara Antal.

All of these people do amazing work. All of them were new to me. This is because I am old and stuck in my ways, and even when I try to keep up, time passes.

It’s not just comics. Movie actors have a tendency to age as well. To me, Keanu Reeves is a young time-traveler, not a 53-year old man. Christina Ricci is Wednesday Addams, not a grown-up with breasts. All of the people I would cast in a movie about the Teen Titans are no longer teenagers.

Don’t even start me on popular music. Rock’n’roll is barely even a thing anymore. The angry young men (and women) of my punk rock days are now old cranks if they survived. Nobody wants to be the Next Dylan.

This is all fine. The entertainment (and art!) that I loved is still available to me. It’s easier to find than ever before, even when it was new. And new generations of artists are always being born, always working to create work that is meaningful to them, and to their peers.

There are some downsides to this, and I blame capitalism. There are financial incentives to those publishers (and producers, and manufacturers) who are first to find the Next Big Thing, or at least the Flavor of the Month. They can sign new talent for less than they pay more experienced workers, and they can offer something shiny and new to the marketplace. As part of the marketplace, I enjoy more choices.

As someone of a certain age, I don’t like being passed over for someone who will work for less money.

Being of that age, I’m also really worried about having access to affordable health care. Obviously, a huge chunk of the comics community agrees with me, because so many are contributing work to Mine! They know that, without Planned Parenthood, millions of people wouldn’t be able to get tested (and treated, if necessary) for STDs. Poor women and women without insurance (which might be all of us, if the GOP has its way) wouldn’t be able to get mammograms or other kinds of cancer screenings. They wouldn’t be able to get pre-natal and post-natal care. People would not be able to plan parenthood, one of the most important decisions a person can make.

The Mine! campaign runs for one more week. There are lots of cool perks you can get, and lots of good you can do by chipping in to make this book happen. I’m looking forward to reading stories by some of my favorites and discovering good work from more people I don’t yet know.

Consider a pledge today and you could find the same kind of fun. You could get a book and have a good time.

Molly Jackson: Conventions for All!

Diversity amongst geeks has been a popular topic as of late. You would be hard pressed to find a comic convention without at least one diversity panel. Usually, though, there are panels about the diversity amongst fans, creators, cosplayers, actors, and fictional characters.

Usually, these panels focus on the heavy hitters of diversity: race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. And yes, these are all very important issues that need to be discussed. I know. I’ve argued on these very points myself on numerous occasions. Still, these aren’t the only groups that should be discussed. One group intersects them all. The disabled.

I bring this up because over the weekend, comics writer & Mine! Contributor Tee Franklin announced she would be no longer attending Baltimore Comic Con (Full Disclosure: Various ComicMix staffhumans are guests at the Baltimore Comic Con). This is because, despite her notes about her needs, the convention placed her in a distant spot from the door and bathrooms. Because of Franklin’s disability, she would not be able to make the regular walk through the floor. When she asked for a table change, the con staff told her sorry but there is nothing we can do. So Tee made the decision to skip BCC, which has disappointed a number of her fans. And this isn’t a unique event. This is Franklin’s first year doing conventions, and three of the four shows failed to assist her.

At least one table swap was offered by another creator, but by that time Franklin had already decided to skip no matter what. As a popular creator, this is a serious blow to attendees but teaches valuable lessons that every convention needs to be aware of.

When we talk about diversity, we should mean everyone. Every single person has a unique experience and view of the world. And everyone wants to see people like themselves successful. That’s why characters like Oracle have always been so important to this community, and why writers like Jill Pantozzi were so disappointed when they changed her back to Batgirl. I find Faith from Valiant inspiring and I would be upset if they suddenly made her skinny.

Franklin has only been tabling at cons a short time, and it’s possible that the conventions aren’t equipped to deal with disabled exhibitors. However, I doubt she is the first or even the fiftieth to make these requests. BCC has announced changes to their exhibitor planning to alleviate this issue from happening again in the future, which is a step in the right direction but comes too late for 2017. As we continue on this journey of diversity, we must remain inclusive of everyone, not just the groups we remember.

mine-logo-150x84-5665459Speaking of diversity, Mine! A comics collection to benefit Planned Parenthood has a wide variety of creators, including Tee Franklin. Please check out this amazing Kickstarter, and join us in helping spread the word about Planned Parenthood’s important work.

Mike Gold: This Empire Strikes Out

Well, it’s over. Or… is it?

Does anybody else remember Marvel’s Kree – Skrull War? It was one of those mammoth, Marvel Universe shifting events: damn near everybody was in it, it had tons of intergalactic action, some serious character development… everything you could want in a major storyline. Of course, its legendary status was exacerbated with a truly stellar list of creative talent: Roy Thomas, Sal and John Buscema, and Neal Adams.

Here’s the part that might stun “younger” (as in “not-geriatric”) readers. The entire story was told in eight issues! No tie-ins, no auxiliary sidebar rack-space-wasting and largely unnecessary crossovers and mini-serieses. No phony “death” scenes and, therefore, no waiting until those dead people were mysteriously resurrected.

Now, let’s compare that with Marvel’s just-sort-of-ended Secret Empire “event.” You know, the one that came close to burning down the House of Ideas.

Putting aside the antipathy and even outrage expressed by those few fans and retailers who prefer heroes with white robes and pointy hats, Secret Empire consisted of 11 issues written by Nick Spencer (yes, I’m counting issue #0), “fleshed out” by what seemed like thousands of additional comic book tie-ins, auxiliary sidebar rack-space-wasting and largely unnecessary crossovers and mini-serieses and phony “death” scenes. And by “fleshed out,” I refer you to Franz Kafka’s short story “In The Penal Colony.”

Here’s the rub. Spencer’s basic story concept is solid. The cosmic cube, given the form of a little girl who just wants to make everybody happy by improving the world, screws up and retcons time so that the pre-Captain America Steve Rogers actually was a Hydra sleeper agent. He still became Captain America and (I think) just about everything that happened in the Marvel Universe still happened, until Captain America wakes up, takes over Hydra and then takes over America.

There’s nothing wrong with that story, and it could have been told in less than 11 issues, preferably in alternating issues of Spencer’s two Captain America titles. The story would have reflected on writer’s vision and not be watered-down and screwed-up by an infinite number of additional hands. The “Crusty Bunker” model only works when you are seriously behind schedule and have no other options. I suspect readers would have enjoyed it, and retailers would have been eager to rack the series.

It’s not even over. There are several epilog issues coming, some as crossovers, some as “stand-alones” – depending upon your definition of standing alone.

Just as Secret Empire really was an extension of Avengers: Standoff and Civil War 2, Secret Empire leads into a whole bunch of remarkably superfluous-sounding events. You want to restore the original numbering to end long-time confusion and create brand-new confusion? Then do it. You want to restore the “classic” characters to their original white and almost-entirely male visages? Then do it. We all knew you would eventually.

But if you want to restore the magic that was Marvel Comics, then stop doing all these meaningless, overwrought and overpublished events. Stop telling two-issue stories in eight. Stop tying in to more comics simultaneously than most readers can afford to buy, even if we had the time to read them all.

Secret Empire could have been a contender. It could have risen to the level of the Kree – Skrull War. It could have brought big ol’ smiles to the readers’ faces and left retailers with a lot less unsold inventory.

There’s at least one additional reason why so many people have soured on Marvel Comics, and I’ll tell you all about it next week… if I remember.

Joe Corallo: A Certain Point Of View

Okay, so I haven’t written musings on my feelings on fandom in quite a bit, so here goes nothing!

Marvel’s Secret Empire event has received a lot of flack for continuing the storyline of Captain America as a secret Hydra agent. Much of that flack has revolved around the notion that Cap being associated with Hydra is an affront to co-creator Jack Kirby, a Jewish man and a World War II veteran. By having Cap be associated with Hydra, it goes against the creator’s intent.

But – how much so we actually care about a creator’s intent?

From my experiences, it seems we don’t really care that much about a creator’s original intent if the story is considered good. A prominent example is how Gene Roddenberry was opposed to the idea of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (or at least some reported it as such) and was made anyway after his passing. The show for many Trek fans is one of. if not the best Trek despite its perceived deviation from some of Roddenberry’s core principles as previously expressed in the show.

A prime opposite example would be George Lucas and how his vision, particularly in the prequels, of Star Wars is viewed less favorably than Star Wars: The Force Awakens despite the fact that George was not a big fan of the film. He felt the movie was what the fans may have wanted, but not the direction he would have gone. There are many accounts, books, and documentaries covering the franchise and Lucas’ involvement in Star Wars where some try to take credit away from him by saying the original film was saved by editing and it was Irvin Kershner who made The Empire Strikes Back the success that it was. Is that because that’s ultimately how it really played out, or is there some stretching of the truth to fit a narrative that the fans want because George Lucas fell out of their favor from the prequels?

Returning to comics, there is quite a lot we can discuss Jack Kirby and his Captain America co-creator, Joe Simon. They also created Cap’s sidekick, Bucky, who went on to become a Russian assassin during the Cold War known as The Winter Soldier. I think we can all agree that was not their original intention with the character. Some of Kirby’s other works like X-Men are largely impacted more now by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and others than by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; many of which have gone against what X-Men was originally about at its core to much wilder success. Instead of people that were considered freaks trying to get by in a world that hates them, the focus of the X books moved to mostly attractive characters dealing with soap opera type angst. That being said, Jack did do his fair share of romance comics as well.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t put some historical context when we consider these things. It’s absolutely understandable and justifiable for people to react based on those factors with something like Hydra Cap. Perhaps a slightly changed story that struck a different chord with the audience would have had a different result with a similar origin. We can’t know for sure.

One of my favorite Legion of Super-Hero stories is Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Olivier Coipel’s Legion Lost. I think it’s perfectly paced and incredibly compelling. It’s hard for me to not want to read all 12 issues in one sitting. That being said, the story absolutely goes against the original intent of the Legion. These characters were made to be optimistic children following in the ways of Superman. In Legion Lost they are a terrified group in a dark future where everything seems grim and dark. Part of why it works is that there aren’t many stories like this. That’s part of what made things like The Dark Knight Returns stand out before a lot of people wanted to copy that success, despite it not being much like the Batman we knew at the time.

While yes, some people do care about what a creator’s original intent is, it often seems to be much more about the quality of the story telling. If you like the story it just doesn’t matter as much. If you don’t like the story, it’s a reason you can draw from in your argument supporting your feelings. It just might not be a very good or persuasive reason.

Thanks for reading my rant! Maybe next week I’ll talk about shipping characters. I have a lot of opinions on shipping characters.

Mindy Newell: Piggy

Get ready for some brouhaha. Actually, the brouhaha has already started.

As I was reading the Friday issue of The New York Times, my eyes fell upon this: “In ‘Lord of the Flies’ Remake, Girls Survive Instead.”

The film will be under Warner Bros.’ auspice and will be written and directed by Scott McGhee and David Siegel, who co-directed The Deep End (2001) and What Maisie Knew (2013). Two men. But that’s not what bothers me – although I’m sure others will certainly be bothered. On a business level, McGhee and Siegel were the ones who brought it to Warner Bros., so they certainly have the right to want to write and direct the film. (I don’t know whether or not the deal includes a clause in which Warner Bros. has the right to “exchange” (i.e. fire) them if the studio isn’t happy with their work, and even if it does, and Warner Bros. does so, it doesn’t mean that any women would be given the project.) And on a personal level, I’ve never believed that men aren’t capable of writing or directing a “woman’s story” if it is the right man with the right talent. And vice-versa, by the way.

What does bother me is apparently there are people, mostly women, who apparently think that women are not capable of cruelty and power mongering. For example, Roxanne Gay, author, essayist, journalist, professor, and comic book writer

(whose latest book, Hunger: A Memoir of My Body was the driving force behind ComicMix cohort Martha Thomases’ August 11th column tweeted this:

roxane gay@rgay, 6:30 PM – 30 Aug 2017

An all women remake of Lord of the Flies makes no sense because… the plot of that book wouldn’t happen with all women.

And this, from Clara Mae, a TV writer and contributor to WomenWriteAboutComics.com:

Clara Mae‏ @ubeempress, 3:58 PM – 30 Aug 2017

Lord of the Flies starring only girls: “Girls get marooned on an island. Band together to find food, shelter, rescue. Nobody dies. The end.”

William Golding also believed that “gender was also crucial to the larger point of the story (from the Times article):

If you land with a group of little boys, they are more like scaled-down society than a group of little girls would be. Don’t ask me why, and this is a terrible thing to say, because I’m going to be chased from hell to breakfast by all the women who talk about equality. This has nothing to do with equality at all. I mean, I think women are foolish to pretend they’re equal to men – they’re far superior and always have been. But one thing you cannot do with them is take a bunch of them and boil them down, so to speak, into a set of little girls who would then become a kind of image of civilization, of society.’”

Fuck that!!, Roxanne and Clara Mae and William. I have some “in-your-face,” upfront and personal experience with the cruelty and power mongering of the sugar and spice set.

I was in eighth grade when my parents moved us to Bayonne Bew Jersey, 12 going on 13. For my parents, originally from Bayonne, it was a homecoming. For my brother – well, all he had to do was show that he could sink a basket, field a baseball, and go deep for the pass, and no problem with the boys. For me, it was quite a different experience.

A week before the move, the family went to the bar mitzvah of one of their friends’ children. On the other hand – one of my mom’s friends had asked her daughter to introduce me to her friends. “Sure, mom,” she said (or something like that). But she dumped me a.s.a.p, running to the bathroom (probably to giggle about the “new girl” who was about to move to Bayonne) with the rest of the gaggle. So there I was, standing by myself. That’s when the bar mitzvah kid, Paul, came over to me. My guess is, now, that his mom or father saw me standing by myself and told him to not leave me like that and to introduce me to his friends. So he did. All his “boy” friends. And suddenly I was inundated with boys. They huddled around me like I was Fran Tarkenton calling the play and they were my offensive team. They were curious, friendly, and even asked me to dance.

Well, the gaggle returned and watched the stranger become the “belle of the bar mitzvah.” I didn’t know it then, but I became Piggy that night.

A week later. First day at my new school. First recess. First day in hell.

I was loudly and openly made fun of for being flat chested. I was loudly and openly made fun of because I wore no makeup. I was loudly and openly made fun of because I didn’t have my period yet. My clothes were loudly and openly made fun of.

And then I was attacked for trying to “steal their boyfriends” at Paul’s bar mitzvah. (Even the girls who hadn’t been there joined in the attack – they had “heard.”)

And it didn’t get better as the school year progressed. I was made fun of for being a tomboy. (Yes, there were other girls who were good at sports, but they weren’t “open” about it.) I was openly snubbed whenever a teacher wasn’t around. I was the butt of jokes – and I distinctly remember one teacher joining in. A chair was pulled out from beneath me just as I was about to sit down, so that I landed on the floor, and ended up getting yelled at by the teacher for “fooling around.”

And it continued into high school.

Yeah, I was Piggy.

And being Piggy has continued into my professional life, in a field (nursing) that is rife with woman – to – woman cruelty. Hell, it’s so common that it’s been given a fancy name in nursing peer-review journals and studies: Lateral and Horizontal Violence in Nursing – Lateral being peer–to–peer, Horizontal being superior–to–subordinate. And it encompasses everything from bullying to sabotaging to actual physical violence. Google it. You’ll be stunned. It happens everywhere around the world, which I discovered when I wrote my college senior thesis on the phenomena – Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Great Britain, Peru. And yes, it still happens in this “post-feminist” era.

So don’t ever tell me that girls…and women…aren’t capable of being Lady(ies) of the Flies.

Ed Catto: Robert Loren Fleming’s Thrill Ride, Part 1

In the 80s, DC comics woke up the comics industry with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. Fans and retailers were anxiously awaiting the next big thing. Thriller, the comic that you couldn’t read fast enough, was supposed to be that next big thing. Management was excited about this fresh title. The DC marketing department got behind it and sent the writer on the road with a presentation. Distributors got behind the first issues. Comic shop retailers aggressively ordered the first issue.

And then…it wilted. Thriller wasn’t the next big thing. It doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of great things about the series. There certainly were. In the recent issue of Back Issue magazine, I looked at Thriller and the tumultuous backstory. As a fan, I always liked the early issues of the series, and now, understanding the backstage drama, I love it, and respect it, even more.

Series co-creator and writer Robert Loren Fleming wasn’t able to fully participate in that article. Since it’s publication, there’s been a resurgence of interest in Thriller. And now, I’ve finally caught up with Robert Loren Fleming. So, as podcaster Karina Longworth always says: “Join us, won’t you?”… for an extended look from at the tragedy of DC Comic Lost Classic Thriller.

Breaking into Comics

Robert Loren Fleming loved comics and was determined to break into the industry with his secret plan. It was the early 80s and he had started at DC as a proofreader. He loved working for the company and being a part of the industry. But he was impatient to become a comics writer. He eventually did and scripted favorites like the Flash and Ambush Bug. But it wasn’t easy to crack the code at DC comics.

“I found out pretty quickly it was kind of a closed shop – pretty hard to break in as a writer,” said Fleming. “It was really difficult to get a story sold.”

The legendary Julie Schwartz even had some advice for Fleming when he was pitching Superman ideas. “Julie told me to go home and not to think about any ideas. He told me twice, in case I missed it,” recalls Fleming with a chuckle.

Upon reflection, Fleming realizes it was a kind of a hazing ritual. If you weren’t tough enough to get through it, you weren’t tough enough to be a writer at DC Comics.

At that time there was an unwritten career path for young writers at DC. And as a proofreader, he was, more or less, on that long track. Aspiring writers would work on the corporate side for a while. Eventually, they’d be given their start with short story assignments for anthology comics. Writing assignments for the company’s prestigious superhero comics wouldn’t be offered for quite some time. If you showed talent and professionalism, you’d be awarded bigger assignments.

His Sneaky Plan

Fleming reasoned that the only way to break into quickly was “to come up with my own personal story and a big idea that it would be so good they have to take it.”

An idea was percolating in Fleming’s head for a new series that would showcase some of the things he loved: pulp adventures, an ensemble cast and a science fiction adventure that would shift away from the traditional superhero stories, dominating the market at that time.

“When I finished it, I took it to four or five editors. They wouldn’t even look at it.” Clearly, Fleming hadn’t yet paid his dues by working on smaller projects first. Looking back, Fleming realizes his secret plan was fueled by the audacity and courage that comes with youth.

He presented his idea to the top guy. “So I took it into Dick Giordano. <This was> jumping the chain of command,” said Fleming. Editor-in-Chief Giordano had no problem with Fleming bringing it directly to him. “He read the thing and 15 minutes later he bought it. Paul Levitz read it a few days later – he signed off too.”

Partnership with TVE

Levitz suggested that a young artist named Trevor Von Eeden be assigned to the series. At that time, the Marvel series Master of Kung Fu, by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy, was a big influence on Fleming. Fleming loved that series’ ensemble cast, the espionage themes and the casting of real people as comic characters. In fact, of the characters in his proposed Thriller series, Quo, was essentially Bruce Lee.

When Levitz showed Fleming the recent Batman Annual by Von Eeden, Fleming could see all of the elements he loved in Master of Kung Fu in the artist’s work. Fleming knew Von Eeden’s style would be perfect for Thriller.

Bucking the System

One of the things Fleming didn’t realize – no up-and-coming young buck ever does – is that you don’t gain a lot of allies internally by jumping over the established system. The editors at that time were not amused.

“It created a strong reaction against me,” said Fleming. “A very negative reaction. One of them (an editor) came out and said to Dick, ‘You’re not going to let Fleming write it, are you?’”

It got worse. The editors conspired to see Flemings non-traditional idea and audacious career tactic fail. They put a number of obstacles in the way of Thriller.

Off Target with The Green Arrow

One obstacle, in particular, was the Green Arrow. At that time, Green Arrow was one of the characters who was always a bridesmaid but never a bride. He was a supporting player in the Justice League of America, a co-star in the groundbreaking Green Lantern – Green Arrow series and a staple of backup stories. He was finally getting the go-ahead to headline a comic with a four issue mini-series, written by Mike W. Barr.

Fleming recalls that Trevor Von Eeden was assigned as the series artist, specifically to keep Von Eeden busy. He’s too busy working on this Green Arrow series. The idea was that he’d be so consumed with this miniseries, and it would take so long for him to draw, that the young artist would lose his passion for Thriller.

But that did not happen. This Green Arrow mini-series looked phenomenal. Von Eeden delivered work that was fresh and exciting. One would think that he spent an inordinate amount of time on it. In reality, Fleming explains, the opposite was true.

Unbelievably, Trevor Von Eden finished all four in an incredibly quick amount of time – something like six or eight weeks. And then both the writer and artist were ready for Thriller.

•     •     •     •     •

Next week we’ll explore more Robert Loren Fleming’s memories and observations about what happens when you actually, against all odds, arrive at the starting line!

Interested in the full article in Back Issue #98? You can snag it here.

John Ostrander: Riding With The King

Last Monday was the 100th birthday of the King o’ Comics, Jack Kirby. The young’uns among you might not know the name (or maybe they do; I try not to be a fuddy-duddy most days) but Kirby was a force unparalleled in the comics medium. If you need a primer, Mike Gold wrote an excellent column about him.

Even if you know Marvel only from the movies, you owe him. Captain America? Jack. The X-Men? Jack. The Black Panther? Jack. The Avengers? Jack. And so on and so forth. And not just at Marvel; King Kirby seemed to be everywhere. And not just superheroes; he did Westerns, monsters, romance. And so on and so forth.

I met him in person exactly once.

The first thing I need to explain is that, before I became a professional writer in comics, I was a bonafide geek. Yeah, I still am.

One of the big thrills when I first started was that at conventions I could meet my heroes as a fellow professional. In theory. Not as a peer; that suggested I was an equal and that was not how I felt.

So – it’s early in my career and I’m working the First Comics booth at the Chicago Comicon along with my wife, Kim Yale. We were the only ones working the booth at that moment. It wasn’t in the main room and we weren’t getting much traffic.

Then this small group of people walk by, talking among themselves, and in the middle of it is Jack Kirby.

OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!

(Point of historical accuracy: Back some 30 or so years ago when this story takes place, we never said “OMG!,” at least not in the Midwest. I just wanted to convey the impact of the moment in modern terms.)

Kim later said she watched me turn into a 14-year old fanboy complete with zits. I can’t imagine that was pleasant.

In the group, I spotted Julie Schwartz, himself a legend and an icon. There’d be no Silver Age DC without Julie. Possibly no modern comics industry.

I knew Julie a little through Mike Gold so I hiss at him, “Julie! Hey, Julie! Hey!”

Julie spots me and ambles over. “Hey, kid, how ya doin’?”

“Julie! Introduce me to the King!” I plead.

Julie looks at me like I’m demented and maybe, at the moment, I am. “It’s Jack,” he tells me. “Just go over and say hi.”

“No no no no no! I can’t I can’t I can’t! Don’t you see?! He’s the King!” “Hey, Julie! Help a guy out!”

Julie gives me a pitying look and says, “C’mon, kid.”

I walk over to the group with Julie and he does a nice intro of me. The King shakes my hand, says “HiHowareya.” I babble something about what an honor gee you’re my hero blah blah blah. And it’s over. The King and his group move on.

I wish I could say that I never washed that hand again but Kim would have insisted.

I doubt very much that the moment would have stayed with Jack Kirby but it has stayed with me in vivid detail for a couple of decades. Over the past few years, I’ve met some fans who treat me sort of like I treated Jack. (Trust me, gang; I’m not that impressive and I can give you references.) There was only one Jack Kirby and there will ever be only one Jack Kirby and he just turned 100.

Happy birthday, Jack. Long live the King.

Marc Alan Fishman: To Boob or Not To Boob

A short one act play, in response to this recent hubbub during the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con.

To boob, or not to boob, that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind of cosplayers to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fans and parents

Or to take arms against a sea of tsk-tsks,

And by opposing, end them.

To diet (to fit in a form-fitting costume) – to sleep on the floor of your con hotel suite –

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That the display of flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d of the fans to see.

For those not playing along, let’s cut to the chase. This past weekend, a cosplay maven – with distinct permission to come in her much-worked-upon Silent Hill cosplay – was jeered and leered at by some in the crowd, and ultimately (and incorrectly) walked back to her hotel room to change.

Per her posting, she had gotten the proper clearances, but miscommunication amongst the staff of the convention center and the con itself led to her removal. To her credit, she took the whole debacle in stride. As she commented in the aforementioned post: she expects some of the reactions she gets in her guise. As is her opinion, the human body can become a work of art; as such, her costume (the effort clearly of many hours of construction and creation) is her craft. If convention attendees find her faux – décolletage to be too much so be it. She clearly takes proper steps to ensure she’s meeting the criteria to cosplay by the rules.

This of course begs us to ask questions. Is she bending the rules to the given extreme? Is a well-produced facsimile of a naked body part – aligned to some measure of a costume – an allowable choice of expression within the confines of a convention? And if you personally find something akin to the display of the naked human body to be unsettling or offensive, are your rights inherently more potent than that of the cosplayer?

Let’s be clear: I’m not a show-runner, and thank Rao for that. What I am though, is a parent. My children, ages five and one, were attending Wizard World Chicago at the same time this particular cosplayer was doing her thing. The cosplay-picture-posing thing… not the being politely escorted away thing. Now, amidst snapping pics and moments with Wolverine, Batman Beyond, Deadpool and the like, my children nor my wife happened to see the naked-esque participant.

But what if they had?

Would I be chiding the choices of a fellow artist? Hardly. As it were, I sincerely agree with her opinion. The human body is not offensive. A nipple or breast out in the air – be it constructed, make-upped, or otherwise displayed – is of no more or less value to me personally than an ankle or an earlobe. If the costume itself requires the display of one’s personal nether-regions (augmented as necessary), and it falls within the rules of the given convention? Let it all hang out!

It mostly comes down to the show-runner. So long as their rules are on display in some fashion, the responsibility will fall on the patrons of the con to choose whether they feel they can enjoy the show or not. For a more family-focused show, perhaps there will be need to be more specific about the display of human flesh. But as with all things: we are all in shared space at a convention. Choosing to air your negative opinion in any way shape or form will always be far more offensive to me than any exposed tit.

As a parent, perhaps I wouldn’t make a choice for my kids to see this particular cosplayer – moreso because she looked genuinely scary – but if they had seen her? So what. My job as a parent isn’t to protect my kids from the world. It’s to help them interpret, understand, and appreciate it.

With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary costume,

But that the dread of something after death –

The undiscover’d titty, from whose bourn

No traveler returns – puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others dress as yet-another-Harley Quinn?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard, their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action. – Soft you now!

The fair Pyramid Head! – Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins rememb’red. Sorry I stared a bit too hard at your cosplay.