In this very space last week, I suggested there was a reason Marvel’s sales are off that is in addition to the negative reader reaction to such events as Civil War 2 and Secret Empire.
Let’s spread some numbers around. Buying into these mega-events is expensive. Each consists of dozens and dozens of comics — mini-series, tie-ins, one-shots, and so on. Each event takes about 50 or 60 hours to read in their entirety. The post-event comics come out after that, and you might be compelled to check out a few of the ongoing titles where the event changed the characters therein, although Marvel usually abandons those changes around the time the next relevant movie comes out. That’s more money and more time.
The whole thing takes the better part of a year to unfold; longer, as these days each Marvel event tends to segue into the next. You’ve got to work hard and spend a lot of money to complete a satisfying story, even if – as in the case for many with Civil War 2 and Secret Empire, you didn’t find the story all that satisfying.
However, for roughly the price of three individual comic books you can buy a ticket to the latest Marvel movie and get what is usually a satisfying experience — and your friends can join you in that experience. Of course, one should add the cost of an overpriced box of Snow Caps or some such to the tab.
You can watch as many Marvel teevee shows as you can absorb, and many of them are quite entertaining. Or if you want, you can wheel a cooler filled with snacks and drinks into your bathroom, bring in a tablet or a laptop computer, and stream an entire season of one of Marvel’s many, many Netflix series. As long as nobody else needs that toilet, you’re in superhero heaven with a story complete with a beginning, a middle and an end. I, for one, found the recent Marvel’s The Defenders to be very entertaining. Your opinion might differ, but it really shouldn’t.
If you’re already a Netflix subscriber, it’s free. If not, well one month of Netflix costs a hell of a lot less than one week’s worth of the current Mighty Marvel Event and you get enough other Netflix shows and movies to fill the Pacific Ocean. You will spend less time, energy and money following your favorite Marvel media madness than plowing your way through a pile of event comics that are mediocre at best.
So, I ask you this: even this particular competitive environment… who needs to buy all those comic books? And maybe that’s okay by Marvel’s owner, the Mickey Mouse corporation. They understand how to make and how to market movies and video. This comic book stuff goes against everything the bean-counters learned in MBA school – as far as those suits are concerned, everybody in the comics racket talks like Bizarro Number One.
Indeed, the profit of Marvel’s new comic book output for an entire year is dwarfed by the profit from the last Avengers-themed motion picture alone — even if those publishing profits had somehow mysteriously doubled.
I’m not suggesting Disney might not want to publish new comics, but as a return on investment, those resources might be more profitably allocated to the media side.
Shhhh! Don’t tell the Mouse! He can be a real rat, and rats don’t eat staples.
Many wags think someday Mr. and Ms. Consumer will shout enough is enough and demand superhero shows be replaced by… I dunno, maybe westerns or something equally trendy. I’m sure we won’t be seeing half-billion-dollar cape flicks in the theater with the near-monthly frequency we’re seeing now, but who knows? We’ve always had superhero movies and superhero stories, from the Scarlet Pimpernel to Sherlock Holmes to Zorro to Tarzan. The only question is quantity.
Does Disney care? Well, they’ll say they do, but they own all those Disney properties which, these days, includes the Marvel characters, the Star Wars empire, the Muppets, and Pixar. It’s not like they won’t have anything to whenever the superhero trend fades a bit.
Disney did not do much in the way of original Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons for several decades, and they don’t do all that much with them today. Yet they continue to sell a lot of Mouse and Duck product of all sorts. They do not need to publish Marvel comic books in order to keep Captain America and Groot in the public mind.
The original It miniseries came out when I was in first grade. My parents, being reasonable people, didn’t let me watch it, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know it existed back then. But an elementary school has kids in it so much older than six and while I wouldn’t want my 10 or 11 year-old watching It they were certainly out there. The imagery from that miniseries became the urban legends of our school. The unused fifth floor had an evil clown living there and on an on. Why did an elementary school in a busy urban area have an entire unused floor? I assume to make urban legends easier to stick. I saw the miniseries myself in middle school and honestly was still probably too young to deal with all that stuff. I’ve been scared of It for as long as I can remember. I don’t think they should make movies based on It, I think all the copies of the book should be put in some giant box and never be touched again. It scares me to the bone with almost no provocation needed and this new movie is spectacularly terrifying, I believe even to people without all the built-in baggage I brought to it.
It’s basically impossible to adapt an 1100 page book and not have to leave an awful lot out. Luckily adaptation is an art form and not just a mechanism for translating a movie literally to the page (Peter Jackson I’m still quite angry with you for those Hobbit movies). It leaves an awful lot out on the way to a 135 minute version of half a giant novel but it certainly gets the gist of it right. There’s an evil clown trying to kill a bunch of kids and said clown has probably been doing it at this same spot for a good long time. Bullies are terrible and adults don’t really care about the plights of children. Oh, and the whole thing is balls-to-the-wall scary the entire time. The atmosphere of menace only lifts for fleeting moments and it took every ounce of my willpower not to watch those moments though my fingers.
I am a bit of a pushover when it comes to horror movies. Even bad ones where you 100% know when the jump scare is coming can get me hunched down in my chair and averting my gaze. It probably isn’t enough to tell you that I was scared during It but so was everyone else in my theater. From my seat in the third row I could see that the entire theater was cringing and averting their eyes. Statistically there must have been some horror mavens in that theater and no one was having an easy time. This is the director of Mama, a movie I’ve often cited as the least comfortable I’ve ever been in a movie theater, finding new and more cunning ways to manipulate feelings of terror. I never want Andy Muschietti to make another horror movie. I can’t stand the idea of him getting better at this. I will be there for It Chapter 2 the day that it opens.
I lived the last month of my life dreading seeing It. I had to stop watching Nick at Nite when I went to bed because they would run commercials for it and it was too much for my subconscious to bear just before asking it to cook up some new dream ideas. It ran a brilliant marketing campaign and backed it up with the scariest movie I’ve seen since Crimson Peak. In a perfect world the story would have had a little more time to breathe but this is already on the long side for a horror movie and I can’t figure out what I would cut. I’m anxiously awaiting the second part and planning what show I will have to watch on Netflix while I go to sleep because I won’t be able to stand those trailers either. I’ll never quite be free of It but at least the rest of the world can live in the same mental hell as I do now. Hooray!
Last week I talked about my opinions and ended with how I might talk about shipping this week, so I am! No, not that shipping. This shipping.
For those of you not in the know, when all those hip, ironic millennials are talking about how they’d “ship that” what they’re referring to is (mostly) romantic relationships between fictional characters. This is the sort of thing we’ve seen throughout history, and before the advent of the internet fans of soap operas are long-running romantic book series did the same thing just without the cool contemporary jargon.
People ship lots of things in those “will they or won’t they?” situations on TV shows. It’s gotten more attention in more geek centric fandoms like Harry Potter, Xena and Star Trek. It gets even more attention in queer geek circles involving same gender pairings as well as triads and other poly relationships. Kirk and Spock from Star Trek is a prominent and early example of pop culture shipping in queer geek fandom.
While shipping is often casually thrown around in fandoms, it sometimes leads to great debate. A recent example of that is with fans of the Supergirl TV show. Many who were shipping Kara and Lena were upset when the cast made jokes about that at SDCC earlier this summer. Last year a Steven Universe artist deleted her Twitter account after she was harassed by fans shipping Amethyst and Peridot. Lauren Zuke had shared art that seemed to support the Lapis and Peridot shippers which initiated the harassment.
There are more examples that exist outside of those two of (arguably) shipping gone wrong, but there are plenty of others and there will be plenty more. So what is a shipper to do? What is someone outside of that aspect of fandom do when things like this happen?
There are definitely a few different ways at looking at these sort of events. We should start by acknowledging that shipping is okay. Hell, it’s often encouraged and teased by people working on these different properties. We also have to understand that for many, LGBT+ representation has been next to nothing for most of these fans lives, including myself. While it’s getting better, it still has a ways to go. Many fans, particularly queer fans, use shipping to fantasize about the representation they’re starved for.
Ultimately, these are properties and franchised owned by corporations or at least owned by people that are not the fans who are shipping in question. Creators need the freedom to do what they would like when they can. It’s often why you like the particular property in the first place.
Fans like the ones in the Steven Universe example are not a majority; they’re a loud minority of fans. In the Supergirl example, people working on a show are not obligated to support your shipping of certain characters. Accusations that they are being anti-LGBT+ by doing so is a little off as there are already characters who are in the show.
Yes, they are side characters, and that’s a big part of the problem when we talk about representation and how much still needs to be done.
Creators and people behind different properties need to avoid alienating fans as well. One of the reasons they still get to do what they love is because of the fans. Upsetting fans isn’t necessarily a great model for continued success. Telling fans what to feel and how to enjoy your property isn’t always helpful either.
Intense fandom can be alienating to people too. I know more than a few people, including those in my fellow ComicMix columnist ranks, who aren’t opposed to things like Steven Universe but the rabid fans that pop up in those situations are what gets reported and it makes them want to avoid it. While I do love the show and think it’s important LGBT+ representation particularly for people a bit younger than me, I can’t say I don’t at least somewhat understand why someone would feel that way.
Shipping is A-OK in my book, and you should have at it. Don’t let anyone ever make you feel bad about it. However, if the people behind the property don’t agree with or support your ship, getting mad and attacking people on the internet won’t change that. They can’t make you change your mind or want something different though, so don’t worry about what they say; ship who you like!
Presenting two real-life stories from my days of yore, although names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.
Story The First:
I knew a girl in high school – I wouldn’t say we were friends, but she was someone who had never participated in the Piggy horrors. Sally was an A+ student, on the track to an Ivy League school. Pretty (but not gorgeous) and popular (but quiet about it), she came to me one day and said that she needed to talk to me privately. I was surprised… and a bit suspicious. What did she want? But because Sally had never been overtly mean to me, even though she was part of the clique that instigated most of the callous cruelties upon me, and because I still hoped to be “accepted,” and I wanted to believe for some reason she was about to warn me of some new devilishness about to be inflicted on me – forewarned was forearmed – I agreed. But it had nothing to do with me at all.
Sally was pregnant.
I was, frankly, shocked. Not just about what she said, but also because I was thinking, why are you telling me?
She seemed to be reading my mind about that last part. “I can’t tell Laura, or Toni, or anybody. It would be all over the school in a second. You know how they are.”
Did I ever. Still –
“But they’re your friends.”
All she said was, “I made an appointment with Planned Parenthood in the city. Will you come with me?”
I know exactly why I said “yes.” Out of kindness, certainly. But to be totally honest, I also thought that this could be a way in. Hey, whaddya want? I was a teenager.
We had to cut school the day of her appointment. I met her at the corner bus stop, about an hour after classes started. Sally was very quiet, she didn’t say anything, but I remember she was very pale. As for me, I was sure I would see my father in his car on the way to work. I wasn’t so worried about my mom – I knew she was already at the hospital, where she worked in the ER. At any rate, both of us were very nervous and impatient, waiting for that bus to the PATH train into the city.
At the time – September 1971 – there was a Planned Parenthood in Manhattan on First Avenue between 21st and 20th Streets. I guess – and I don’t blame her – that Sally made the appointment there rather than the one in Jersey City because Jersey City is too close to Bayonne… too close for comfort. Anyway, I don’t know what either of us was expecting, but it was modern and clean and the staff was professional, kind, and, most importantly, totally non-judgmental.
Sally’s name was called. I sat in the waiting room. It seemed like a long time, but the receptionist at the desk assured me everything was fine when I asked.
Interjection – as an RN in the operating room, I can tell you that the actual procedure takes very little time, especially in the first trimester [as Sally was]. Frequently I’m not even done with my charting before it’s over and I have to assist in transferring the patient to the PACU (Post-Anesthesia Care Unit, commonly referred to as the Recovery Room). Most of the intraoperative period is taken up with other things involved in any visit to the OR – anesthesia induction, proper and safe positioning, emergence from anesthesia, transfer to PACU, and monitoring in the PACU, which lasts about an hour or so on average, until discharge.)
Afterwards, as we had planned, we used our pooled resources and took a cab home. This was well before Uber or Lyft. Sally didn’t’ say much except to complain about some cramping – totally normal, btw – but the “worry” was off her face; she was visibly relieved. The cab dropped us off about a block from her house; I walked her home, and before she went inside, she turned and said: “See you in school tomorrow.”
No, we didn’t become best friends after that; things pretty much went back to normal, actually. Hey, we were teenagers, and there were rules of engagement. But I do remember that Sally was never around when it was time to “play Piggy with Mindy.
Sally went on to graduate in the top 25 of a class numbering 750 (I finished 145) and went on to that Ivy League school. I didn’t see her much after high school, a couple of parties and a reunion or two at the Jewish Community Center. I don’t even know what she went on to become as an adult, though I’ve heard she was “successful and happy.”
Story The Second:
Jack and Jill were my high school’s dream team. Every high school has one. Jack was the champion quarterback. Jill was the head cheerleader. Jack was the president of the Student Union. Jill was the editor of the school newspaper. Both had bright futures. Early admission to the colleges of their choice, with Jack receiving a full scholarship based on his football prowess to a Big Ten school, and Jill planning on majoring in journalism at NYU.
They were great people.
And they never treated anybody like Piggy.
Anyway, sometime in the late fall of our senior year, after the Thanksgiving holiday, Jill suddenly disappeared from the school hallways. First, we heard that she was sick with mononucleosis (the “kissing disease,” as it used to be called), but as January became March, rumors began spreading, rumors having to do with pregnancy and forced marriages. Especially after Jack dropped out – two months before graduation.
The truth broke free, as truth is apt to do, sometime in the fall of 1971. During the Christmas break when everybody came home from college, it was the talk of the town, the bars, and the parties.
Jill had become pregnant, and, since back in those stupid days, girls “in the family way” were not allowed to finish high school, she had been forced to leave under the cover of the mononucleosis story, though she refused to go to one of those “homes for fallen women” or whatever they were called. (Do they still exist?) Her parents had gotten her a tutor so she could finish her high school degree, but not only had she disappeared from the school hallways, Jill had also been confined to the house to “hide her shame.”
Worse, when Jill wanted to go to Planned Parenthood for advice – and advice only – her parents would not allow it. They were very observant Catholics and the name Planned Parenthood was as abhorrent as the name Judas Iscariot. Jill’s pregnancy was treated as if it were a monstrous sin.
She had also finally admitted that Jack was the father because her father had beaten it out of her. Her father then called his father, and they decided that Jack and Jill would get married right away.
And in 1971, not only could you not be pregnant in high school, you couldn’t be married, either; which meant that Jack had to drop out, too, meaning, of course, that he lost his football scholarship and any hope for college. And in case you’re wondering – no college for Jill, either.
Of course, there was always the future, but…
After they got married and Jill had the baby, and Jack got some kind of job, nothing much, he started drinking. Drinking hard. And doing drugs. Hard drugs.
And that’s how the story stood that Christmas break, the last week of 1971.
But it didn’t end there. About 10 years later I met one of Jill’s cousins at the mall. We got to talking about high school, and eventually – of course – Jack and Jill came up. I’ll never forget that conversation.
Jack’s downward spiral had continued. He lost one job after another. The drinking continued, and he was “chipping” http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=chipping on some weekends, too.
Then he started abusing Jill, and it hadn’t stopped.
“But Jill was always so smart. Why doesn’t she leave?” I said.
“Jesus,” her cousin said.
“Jill’s become really religious. That’s why she won’t leave. I think she thinks she’s atoning for getting pregnant and fucking up Jack’s football scholarship. “
That was the last time I ever heard about Jack and Jill. I have no idea what happened to them. Or their kids.
And, look, guys, I get it. This has been a summer and early fall of donating funds. I understand it’s a matter of priorities. I get the feeling of being “donated out,” too. And our hearts go out to the many caught up in the current round of hurricanes.
Even if it’s just $5, hell, even if’s just a $1, just think about what Bernie Sanders accomplished with an average of $27 to his campaign.
When people think of Planned Parenthood, they think “abortion.” But I’m telling you, and now I am speaking to you as a member of the professional healthcare community, the organization does so much more: Counseling and cancer screenings and preventative and maintenance health care. For women and for men.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.