Category: Columns

Martha Thomases: “If You Have A Message…”

Martha Thomases: “If You Have A Message…”

The events of the last several weeks, while horrible, raise several issues that affect us not only as citizens, but as creative people and fans of the popular arts.

How do we respond to racism and other forms of bigotry in our government. Do we cooperate and try to change the minds of the people in power? Do we quit and make a statement? Do we resist? Do we perform non-violent acts of civil disobedience and fill the jails?

In my life, I’ve advocated (and disagreed with) all of these things. Different times in my life, different circumstances, different perspectives. Therefore, I hesitate to call out people who make different choices than I do, as long as we share the goals of a fair and just, egalitarian, non-hateful non-violent society.

When the artists who were chosen for the Kennedy Center honors refused to attend a White House celebration hosted by a president they considered immoral, I was pleased. I was even more pleased to see the result of their resistance.

And I was also delighted by the clever way in which the Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned, with a hidden message for people who love puzzles.

Should people in the arts resist? Should we try to change people’s minds with art? Should we use art to share our points of view in the hopes of understanding each other?

Absolutely.

My mom’s favorite author as a child was E. Nesbit, and she turned me on to those books as soon as my reading level allowed. I loved the fantasy, but I also loved the insight into the lives of children like myself, but also not like myself. Nesbit was a Fabian Socialist, but none of her characters or their struggles pit the proletariat against the capitalists.

Later on, a librarian gave me A Wrinkle in Time, with a heroine as committed to social justice and compassion for all people as I wanted to be.

Neither of those authors was marketed as political propagandists. Both heavily influenced my political development.

(Also, decades later, reading a dedication to Nesbit in the front of The Books of Magic started my friendship with Neil Gaiman.)

We watched a fair amount of television in my house, all gathering around our only set on Sunday nights to watch Ed Sullivan. Even before the Beatles, I loved the show because of the stand-up comics. Often New York Jews, they sounded like my relatives, only smarter. And then there were guys like Dick Gregory, who didn’t start out political (at least to my child’s ears at the time) and then became radicalized and inspired me for the rest of my life. I will miss him and his Twitter feed.

In comics, I was knocked out by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’s brilliant Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories, which, unfortunately, are still much too relevant.

Not everyone reading this will share my passion for these stories and story-tellers. Some of them will quote Moss Hart and say, “If you have a message, call Western Union.” That’s an easy way to dismiss work you don’t like, or that makes you uncomfortable.

ComicMix is sending a message this fall, with Mine! A Comics Collection to Benefit Planned Parenthood. I’m really excited about this project. Not only do I have a story in it, illustrated by the brilliant Bob Camp, but the book shows how committed our community is to making healthcare available to all.

Looking around the Internet, I notice some people complaining about our book and Planned Parenthood, with the usual lies and distortions about the services it provides. I don’t know where they get their information, but I know this much is true: Planned Parenthood is often the only place where people of all ages and genders can get cancer screenings, STD tests and treatments. Especially in rural communities, there might be no place else to get a PAP test or a mammogram. It might be the only place to get pre-natal care.

If you haven’t pledged already, please consider donating whatever you can afford. We have some really cool stuff for perks, and the book looks to be awesome. I’m sure a first edition is a terrific investment.

Dennis O’Neil: Team-Ups!

So it’s a ball boiler inside the Manhattan office building because although I’m pretty sure air conditioning existed it did not become ubiquitous until after the war that the good ol’ US of A was sliding into. What we’re looking at is an open window on an upper floor and somehow (are we pigeons?) we get inside and behold! Three middle-aged men, suit jackets draped over chairs, ties loosened, discussing the comic books they edit. They have had solid successes with characters a couple of young guys named Bill Everett and Carl Burgos brought in. The topic under discussion: more! More of Burgos’s Human Torch, of Everett’s Sub-Mariner: and yes, of course, more profits, and maybe this year’s Christmas bonus will be worth more than a subway token. Then one of the three (wise men?) has The Idea: Combine ‘em! Put them in the same issue…no, put ‘em in the same story.

And so they did, and a few months later your grandpa (great grandpa?) was sitting on a porch swing with his best gal reading about the meeting of Subby and The Torch, and being scolded by Best Gal for wasting time and money on those stupid funny books! (Okay, skeptics, can you prove that this stuff didn’t happen? Go ahead, Mr. Philosophy Dude, let’s see you prove a negative.)

Whatever the particulars, regardless of what did or did not actually occur, the Torch-Sub-Mariner stories went on sale and the few readable copies left are very early examples of what would later be a comic book staple, the team-up.

And then, the passing of years and The Justice Society of America, the Marvel Family, and a plethora of other costumed teams, until the arrival of the X-Men just abut the time when comics as a whole were getting a mighty, second wind and emerging from a decade-long obscurity, victims of the Eisenhower era witch hunts.

Comics were back!

And movies were following the trail they blazed. After a few single-hero flicks, the movies found the X-Men and a billion dollar franchise was born. Hold it! – not exactly born: rather, evolved from earlier existence as comic book characters. Fortunes were, and are, being made. More of them to come.

And the fossil who goes by my name can kick back and realize that the Netflix video enterprise, a first cousin to the movies mentioned above, is a super-group comprised entirely of character I’ve worked on. Yep, The Defenders, starring Iron Fist and Power Man, who were partners in their comic book home, and Daredevil and Patsy Walker.

Who?

Patsy made the giant leap from comics about post-teens to grim superheroic private eye Jessica Jones. Patsy’s light and bright escapades were closely related to other Marvel stuff like Millie the Model and if you didn’t know that, well, now you do.

As of this writing, I’ve only seen two of the Defenders programs and so have not earned the right to have an opinion about the whole series.

Catch me next week. Maybe by then I’ll have earned the aforementioned figured out the subject of the preceding 517 words.

Mike Gold: Jack Kirby’s Moxie

Next Monday marks the 100th anniversary of Jack Kirby’s birth. For one horrible moment, let us consider the following question: what if that birth never happened?

No Captain America. No Fourth World. Probably no romance comics. No Challengers of the Unknown. No Kamandi. No “Marvel Age of Comics.”

Think about that last one for a moment. The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Hulk, Nick Fury, Thor, Silver Surfer, Black Panther… most likely, they would not have existed; certainly not as the astonishing successes they were.

I will avoid suggesting the American comic book medium would have disappeared decades ago if not for Jack Kirby, although a case could be made for that argument. If Marvel Comics didn’t happen the way it happened, it’s possible that direct sales to comic book stores would not have happened, and that little phenomenon certainly has kept this racket alive.

Nobody put more power, more energy, more excitement onto a single page. Even when he dialogued his own work when he created the Fourth World for DC Comics – and, to be fair, his dialogue was damn close to self-parody – his story, his concepts and his ability to deliver sheer entertainment were so strong the reader would forgive his few shortcomings. In fact, after a couple panels, we usually didn’t notice.

From time to time, artists of subsequent generations would be accused of being too “Kirby-esque.” Well, all artists (including writers, musicians, filmmakers, etc.) tend to reveal their influences, particularly in their early stuff. In comics, there always has been a fine line between influence and imitation. And that applies to Jack himself: the visage of Etrigan the Demon, first published in 1972, bears very close resemblance to a mask worn by Prince Valiant on Christmas Day 1937, drawn by the great Hal Foster. And Jack always was upfront about the source material.

I look at this “influence” thing a bit differently. Instead of accusing an artist of being Kirby-esque, I wonder why some of the others are not. In the early days of their careers, a little Jack Kirby moxie would have helped guide them to their own distinctive abilities.

Sometimes I wonder if some later generation of comics talent will not know of Jack Kirby’s work. I have met many a young’un who was sadly unfamiliar with the work of Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Wally Wood, Jack Cole… to name but a few.

I need not worry. If there is one person who has an indelible legacy in the comic art medium, it is Jack Kirby.

•     •     •     •     •

Plug number one: I will be at Wizard World Chicago starting tomorrow, and I will be on two panels: one discussing the bombastic Doctor Who convention of 1982, the first major big-time Who show in the States. For three hot, sweaty days Chicago’s Congress Hotel looked like the San Diego Convention Center on steroids. The other panel will be a tribute to legendary artist Jerry Robinson, on occasion of the publishing of Jerry’s last memoir, Jerry and The Joker. Both panels are on Saturday.

 •     •     •     •     • 

Plug number two: Martha Thomases said it best last Friday, and since I’m about to drive off to the above-mentioned convention I shall re-appropriate her words:

Just a reminder: If you haven’t already, get thee to this Kickstarter page and pledge some money for Mine! the anthology book ComicMix is producing to benefit Planned Parenthood. You might not know it from the Fake News Media, but Planned Parenthood provides necessary health care to millions of people of all ages and genders. In some communities, it is the only place where women can receive pre-natal and post-natal care. In some communities, it is the only place where poor women can get vital cancer screenings. In some communities, it is the only health clinic available, for women and men.

You might also want to pledge so you can get a cool book, with stories by Neil Gaiman, Trina Robbins, Rachel Pollack, Becky Cloonan, Stuart Moore, Mark Said, Amber Benson, Louise Simonson, Jody Houser… and Mike Gold… and Martha Thomases!

Joe Corallo: Still Mine!ing


This column going up marks the first full week of our Kickstarter campaign for Mine!, our comics anthology to benefit Planned Parenthood. As of this typing, we’re 44% funded. Not bad for one week.

And a busy week at that. It’s been all hands on deck over at ComicMix and Molly Jackson and I have spent time together than we’d care to discuss. It’s a wild ride, and we still have a few weeks to go.

One of our stops on said wild ride was Flame Con. I’ve been going since the first one in 2015 and have tabled at the past two. This year Molly printed out a lot of fliers, brought recording equipment, signs, and coffee. That last part may have been the most important.

Pat and Amy Shand

We had quite a few of our Mine! contributors at the con including Sina Grace, Justin Hall, Marc Andreyko, Pat Shand, Amy Shand, Mags Visaggio, Aria Baci, Alexa Cassaro, Stevie Wilson, Robby Barrett, Rosalarian, Tee Franklin and Fabian Lelay. Molly took some great pictures with everyone, got fliers to their tables, talked us up at panels, and more. We were also approached by people about potential venues for book release parties and signings. One of the people that approached us about that was our contributor Andrea Shockling, who is illustrating ComicMix own Mindy Newell’s story. It was wonderful to get to see so many friends and meet contributors that I hadn’t previously gotten the honor of doing so.

Flame Con, as always, is a positive experience for me. I’ve tabled both years with Robby Barrett and he always does well with his prints. Steven Universe and Pokémon are both still real popular at this convention.

I realized that one of the things about Flame Con I like so much is they don’t have a lot in terms of people looking to flip comics, or those guys with the short boxes on a cart that try to get creators to sign entire long runs or comics they’ve done. Part of that is because they don’t have a lot of people selling back issues and another part is because they don’t have too many legacy creators you could do that with, but it’s still nice. I hope it stays that way as long as it can.

Okay, I know this is short and I didn’t really get into much, but working on this Kickstarter is time-consuming and I have to get right back to that. Thank you so much to everyone that’s pledged and spread the word so far. Keep spreading the word about the Mine! Kickstarter and I’ll be back next week to complain more about how tired I am.

Mindy Newell: The Fox Is In The White House

“Use of the term ‘alt-left’ gained ground quickly online (according to Google Trends charts) when conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity used the term in debate with BuzzFeed writer Rosie Gray over media coverage of the so-called alt-right’. Searches for the term spiked again directly after Trump used it in his 14 August 2017 press conference. It is unclear if Hannity himself coined the term, but we could not find widespread use of the term on Reddit or 4chan, a web form popular with the

‘alt-right,’ prior to his 22 November 2016 use of it.” – Alex Kasprak & Kim LaCapria,

Snopes.com, August 17, 2017

Alt-left?

Is that a keyboard command?

What it is, is a load of horse manure. Crap. Same as anything else that comes out of the mouthpiece of Il Tweetci The Mad known as Sean Hannity. He is the modern-day version of Joseph Goebbels, head of the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, the modern-day version of which is Fox News.

I sometimes wonder how many of those who work at the “fair and balanced” network – the bile rises in my throat as I type that – really believe what they spew, or are they just in it for the paycheck? I mean, why did it take so long for Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, Greta Van Susteren, Julie Roginsky, Michelle Fields, Andrea Tantaros and others to come forward about Fox being the personal harems of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly?

Even Chris Wallace – of whom Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post said, after the third and final Presidential debate in October 2016, which Wallace moderated: “No one could watch the final debate and deny that Chris Wallace is among the best in the business.” – said, “it’s not my job” to fact-check candidates, but that it was the job of the opposing candidate. Really, Mr. Wallace? Given up journalism, have you? For a nice, fat paycheck and a steady gig on Fox on Sunday mornings?

Is there anyone at Fox with even an iota of integrity and self-respect?

After Charlottesville and on Saturday after Boston, I was switching between MSNBC, CNN, and Fox – because I was curious as to how the last was reporting it – which left me to wonder if those who work at Fox are given a manual of essays and quotes by Goebbels as part of their orientation packet:

  • If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
  • Arguments must, therefore, be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth was [sic] unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology.
  • Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.
  • This is the secret of propaganda: Those who are to be persuaded by it should be completely immersed in the ideas of the propaganda, without ever noticing that they are being immersed in it.
  • The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitive. In the long run, basic results in influencing public opinion will be achieved only by the man who is able to reduce problems to the simplest terms and who has the courage to keep forever repeating them in this simplified form, despite the objections of the intellectuals.
  • What you want in a media system is ostensible diversity that conceals an actual uniformity.
  • Not every item of news should be published. Rather must those who control news policies endeavor to make every item of news serve a certain purpose.

It’s not just Russia or Steve Bannon and his crew, folks.

The Fox is in the henhouse White House.

 

Ed Catto: It’s A Bat, Bat, Bat, Bat, Bat World

I’m a big fan of Batman. Always have been. Just this past weekend my wonderful Great Aunt Margaret reminded me that I proudly wore a bat-cape as a young boy. Don’t worry, I think I outgrew that by the time I was 22. These days, I let my Batman fan-ness show through with things like my Bat-article in this year’s Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, which focuses on the top Legend of the Dark Knight Batman stories. Jim Steranko provided a gorgeous Batman cover, so it’s a great honor.

But as my interest in comics has broadened, the focus on Batman, per se, has been pushed aside. There are plenty of fans to take my place. Batman attracts a lot of fans. It’s fine by me if it’s time for other fans to step up to the forefront. And it’s just as well. So many of today’s Batman stories, like the Christian Bale Batman movies or Playstation’s Arkham Asylum mythology, just aren’t my cup of tea.

And I know that at some point, there will be a special comic debuting or a reprint published that appeals to my vision of Batman. Recently I was surprised. I ended up having real Batman day.

This particular day started with catching a bit of HBO’s documentary, Starring Adam West. It showcases the actor, as you probably guessed. I only saw 20 minutes in the middle (I’d like to see more later) but there seems to be a healthy focus on Adam West’s role as Batman. The part I saw showed how he was invited to a Texas town and was honored as TV’s Batman.

There was a bit where someone announces him as the first Batman. Adam interrupts to correct him. The announcer adjusts and then refers to him as “the second Batman.” Many longtime fans, like those who read this column, know that two other actors starred as Batman in movie serials and three others voiced Batman in the long-running The Adventures of Superman radio show. It’s obvious that Adam knew that too. Instead of delivering a history lesson, Adam just offers the phrase “the Classic Batman” to the interviewer as a compromise. He’s clever and gracious, as he was throughout the documentary.

Later that very same day, the newest direct-to-DVD animated feature from Warner Bros. was scheduled for a special showing in movie theaters across America. It was one of those Fathom Events where they show something special in a movie theater on a slow movie night – usually a Monday or a Tuesday. My talented friends in the New York Metropolitan Opera, Gloria and Dana Watson, tell me that these Fathom showings have greatly expanded the Met’s audiences.

This animated adventure, Batman and Harley Quinn, heralds the return of creator Bruce Timm. It revisits the Bat-version of Batman: The Animated Series. This Emmy-award winning series has been celebrating its 25 anniversary this year. The recent San Diego Comic-Con found many opportunities to celebrate this ground-breathing series, with panels the famous souvenir book, and even debuting this animated feature.

While my Batman ’66 memories are firmly rooted in my childhood, Batman: The Animated Series reminds me of a totally different time in my life. For me, it’s more of a “young dad” thing. I clearly remember watching the debut episode one Saturday morning with my daughter Cassie. She was always a good sport, putting up with her crazy dad’s interests. I tried to tell her how the female characters from that first episode (Catwoman and Red Claw) were just like Disney heroines, but she was smart enough –even then – not to buy it. But she’d sit with me and we enjoyed so many episodes together.

I’m not sure if I am really a Harley Quinn fan. I’ve been pruning my comic collection and it was pretty easy to part with many Harley comics. But Batman and Harley Quinn offers a nuanced view of the character. Sure, she’s a nut, but this “episode” takes time to show many sides of the character. She can be sympathetic, clever, manipulative, annoying, frustrated and a showboat. And somehow, all these various aspects mix together to create a believable character.

The vocal talents shine in this feature. Kevin Conroy, for many the ‘real’ voice of Batman, is familiar but offers a few surprises along the way. Notable is Paget Brewster. You know her from her many TV appearances, and she brings something new to the villainous Poison Ivy.

It was kick to watch Batman in a theater with a bunch of fans. Batman & Harley Quinn offers plenty of insider jokes to long time Batman and DC fans, and we all laughed together.

Usually, I dive into select comics for my Batman fix. But It was a surprisingly enjoyable day to spend a little time with an old buddy: starting with the HBO documentary and then watching a cartoon… on a big screen. What a year for Geek Culture and Batman fans.

 

John Ostrander Loses It

Twenty years ago this month saw the publication of the first issue of my twelve issue historical western, The Kents (which has since been gathered into a TPB and is on sale at Amazon, among other places; end of plug). The book chronicles how the ancestors of Clark Kent’s adoptive family came to live in Kansas and was set before, during, and after the Civil War.

Of all my work, this is one thing of which I’m exceptionally proud. I did a great deal of research for the project and while by no means a history per se, it has a great deal of history in it.

One of the goals I set for myself was to try to convey to the reader how the characters, the people, of that time felt about the events that engulfed them. We, of course, know how that conflict resolved itself but they did not. Was the nation going to tear itself apart? How many more would die? If I was a soldier, would I die or be wounded or maimed? Would my loved one live or die?

The same uncertainties apply to other conflicts, such as WWI and II, Korea and Vietnam. I recently saw the movie Dunkirk (which I found to be harrowing and brilliant) and, if you know anything about that story, you know how it winds up. However, what the movie makes so plain is that no one actually involved at the time had any real idea of how it would be resolved. If anything, they expected the British and French troops gathered at Dunkirk would be annihilated or captured.

Nobody today knows how our story will end. Over the past days / weeks / months of the Trump presidency, we’ve seen the country roil like a broken thing. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m 68 years old and I’ve never seen anything like it. I doubt not only the competence of the most powerful man in the world but his sanity. He lashes out not only at perceived enemies but at the very institutions that power our democracy.

All of us are in the middle of this story and we do not know how it will end. Do we all understand that it does not have to end well? Our country, our way of governing, is an experiment that could still fail. There is no reason that it has to survive. Every great country or civilization has fallen. Every single one. Some aspect of what they were may continue but the main substance collapses. There are those both within and without our borders who would see us ripped apart. And we appear to be doing it. Our survival is not a given and no one should assume it is.

How will our story be written, a hundred years from now? Will it be a story of triumph and, if so, whose triumph? Or will it be a story of tragedy and a fall from grace? Who will write that story?

Abraham Lincoln, in his famed Gettysburg Address, said, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated {to liberty}, can long endure.” That’s as true today as it was then.

Any bets?

Marc Alan Fishman: “Tales from the Multiverse: The Alt-Left”

With all the stupid that has recently infected our news feeds and such this past week, I’d be remiss to admit I didn’t at least try to find something comic-related to rant about today. I read about half of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s Kros: Hallowed Ground graphic novel – but wouldn’t have anything cathartic to say about it as I’m numb from the dumb. I learned how to make my own salad dressing – but I doubt you’d really care about it or Whole 30. I read all the articles about how Justice League was getting some nifty reshoots to fix errant tonal problems – but again I digress: why sit here and rant about a movie that isn’t out yet, when our glorious leader took to the press and created a new villain for our weary nation!

I won’t regurgitate the circumstances that led the mighty Twittler to coin the phrase “Alt-Left” this week; the odds are in my favor you couldn’t hide from the forthright gaff. Let’s just go in media res here, and talk about the elephant in the room.

Points to me, by the way, for using elephant in the room, as a punny turn of phrase for our Republican Fascist-In-Chief.

The Alt-Right movement, such as it is, is a grotesque that uses rope, leather, and chain to bind white nationalists, white supremacists, and vanilla-ice-cream-only lovers to slough across the land in hopes of finding a way to make it great again. For those playing at home? That was a killer reference to Kros: Hallowed Ground. The Alt-Right likes to postulate that our nation – the one founded by people seeking freedom to live as they saw fit in a religious system they preferred over the one they chose to flee from – is better off as an insular island of a single race and single religion.

Devoid of minorities (racially or religiously) the Alt-Right sees a prosperous and strong country with a rich celebrated history of capitalism and a mighty military. A place where you get rich because you pull yourself up from your boot straps, make a fortune, and only pay enough taxes to keep the lights on (or whatever). Other nations fear us, and do business with us because they fear us. This is their dream scenario. And now, they have an arch-nemesis.

The Alt-Left movement, such as it will now become, is a even-grotesquer that uses smugness, gay-loving, and NPR to bind progressives, LGBTQ folk, and only-artisanal-gelato lovers to slough across the land in hopes of finding a way to smite the Alt-Right. With their cat-ear hats, and pink-batons, they incite violence for those (who through legal channels) were peacefully protesting.

For you see, the Alt-Left interjected and caused the violent outbursts in Charlottesville; they didn’t understand that the Alt-Right legally had permits to encircle their counter protestors and shout hate-speech at them. They didn’t understand that the Alt-Right were there to use their freedom of speech, and promises of violence only ceremonially. The Alt-Left, of course, is known to use their fake news to circumvent these truths. You heard it here, folks. I’m telling the truth.

To date, there had never been a name for the Alt Left. President Trump has the best words though; Crooked Hilary, Lying Ted, Little Marco. His ability to deconstruct a foe and rebuild them with simple nomenclature is a thing of beauty. And let’s call a spade a spade: Hilary Clinton has a few dubious marks on her career. Ted Crux lies. A lot. And Marco Rubio is kinda short. I guess. Hence the naming of this previously-unknown beast has shown the light to the true villainy of this nation! The loquacious hydra that seeks to destroy the President who won so many more votes than literally any other candidate ever in the history of this nation!

But therein lies the problem, my friends. I went searching – yes, even on the dark web – and couldn’t find a single Breitbart-for-queers. There wasn’t a single hate-group built on the idea that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. And while I found plenty of very vicious t-shirts proclaiming how gay the occupant of the garment was… I didn’t see a single one with a gun or bomb, or language that implied the use of it was necessary on the opposition. Hell, I even found one company making a comics anthology for that one service that tries to help women. But not a single mention of a backer reward of a molotov cocktail to throw at white nationalist march.

If you spot the Alt Left in the wild, please let me know. Until then: Stay vigilant!

Martha Thomases: Defending…?

Last Friday, my pal Larry Hama invited me to a “friends and family” screening of the first two episodes of Marvel’s The Defenders. I mean the new series debuting on Netflix today, not the classic television show, The Defenders, the source of many many jokes made during the screening.

Also in attendance: Tony Isabella, Michael Gaydos and his adorable son, Arvell Jones, and the families of Archie Goodwin and George Tuska. Plus a bunch of current Marvel folks who had probably already seen the whole series, but who were gracious hosts.

Before the screening began, I was feeling pretty warm and fuzzy about seeing so many of my old friends and meeting people whose work I admired. Hence, I was psyched to enjoy two hours in a comfy chair in a screening room.

Mostly, I had a great time. I have a huge crush on Charlie Cox, the beautiful man who plays Matt Murdock. And I love Rosario Dawson, Mike Colter, and Kristin Ritter. The production design for the series suggests the color schemes associated with each of the four main characters so that Daredevil’s scenes are dark and red, Jessica Jones’ scenes are blue, and Luke Cage’s seem to have been shot in the 1970s.

If only there were no Iron Fist.

I don’t blame Finn Jones. He’s working as hard as he can. Unfortunately, the way Danny Rand has been written for these series, he’s a narcissist. A benevolent narcissist, but still a man who only sees the world as it relates to him. Daredevil is trying to keep crime out of his neighborhood. Luke Cage is the Hero of Harlem. Even Jessica Jones goes out of her way to help a stranger.

Danny Rand only thinks about Danny Rand. Even in his guilt, he can’t see past himself.

I guess this makes a certain amount of sense, given that he was raised by Buddhist monks and taught to look within himself for strength. Buddhists can be rather solipsistic. They aren’t the only ones, certainly, and that’s not all there is to Buddhism, but that’s what I infer from the Netflix series. In any case, his self-absorption has the effect of making the character and his struggles seem less important.

(For another perspective on Buddhism and action heroes, you might want to check out this series, co-written by my high school friend, Tinker Lindsay.)

A few supporting characters from each series are here, so our heroes have someone to provide exposition. I like to see Colleen Wing and Misty Knight and Foggy Nelson and Trish Walker. Sigourney Weaver and Waitlist Ching Ho make excellent villains. And there are many many, many other characters, enough so that it feels like it’s actually shot in New York City, where many millions of people live.

I can’t give a real critical overview of a series from just the first two episodes. It felt like they were taking their time getting to the real story because when the screening ended, the four main characters had not yet all met each other. That seems to me to be a bit too slow.

Still, it’s the tail end of August. What else do you have to do this weekend? I certainly have nothing better.

•     •     •     •     •

An important reminder: If you haven’t already, get thee to this Kickstarter page and pledge some money for Mine! the anthology book ComicMix is producing to benefit Planned Parenthood. You might not know it from the Fake News Media, but Planned Parenthood provides necessary health care to millions of people of all ages and genders. In some communities, it is the only place where women can receive pre-natal and post-natal care. In some communities, it is the only place where poor women can get vital cancer screenings. In some communities, it is the only health clinic available, for women and men.

You might also want to pledge so you can get a cool book, with stories by Neil Gaiman, Trina Robbins, Rachel Pollack, Jill Thompson, Becky Cloonan, Stuart Moore, Mark Said, Amber Benson, Louise Simonson, Jody Houser… and me me me!

 

Emily S. Whitten: Awesome Con Round Up

Sweet Christmas, everyone – this year’s Awesome Con was busy as all get-out and chock-full of cool things to see and do, and con season is rushing by so fast that I’m just now getting to my recap! (We can also blame the con crud for this, alas. It’s been following me around for a solid month.) As always, there were way more activities than one mere mortal could get to. And on top of that, this was the first year where I really saw multiple events surrounding the con that were either not directly affiliated with the con but inspired by it, or connected to it but not part of the main con experience.

So let’s start there. First off, I was part of a pre-con round-table interview Awesome Con set up with the inestimable Stan Lee. Stan answered many great questions. He talked about what books he enjoyed reading as he was starting to write comics, and I was pleased to hear references to great classic writers (in both “literary” fiction and sci-fi/fantasy) including Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Shakespeare. He emphasized the importance of good character and plot in writing comics, rather than just fight scenes, and the reasons why comics are a good medium to tell stories. He discussed the changing perceptions of comics over the years. He gave his best advice to writers, which is to write for yourself – “because I’m not that unique; so if I like it, surely there will be others out there who will like it too.” He told a fun story about why he started nicknaming creators in the comics credits. He chatted about working with Jack Kirby. And he answered one of my questions, sharing that his favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe cameos to date are the recent one in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and the one where he’s drinking with Thor in a bar – because for that one, he got to be in two scenes! You can listen to the whole interview here and it’s well worth a listen. Enjoy!

Next, I was invited to talk with David Whettstone on DC’s WPFW, 89.3 FM about superheroines and female creators in comics. We had an interesting and in-depth chat that ranged from the history of comics up to modern times and the Wonder Woman movie, and you can listen to it here.

That same night, I headed over to the National Museum of Women in the Arts to moderate a fantastic “Fresh Talks” panel they had put together for the Wednesday of Awesome Con, “Who Are the New Superwomen of the Universe?” The panel was inspired in part by Awesome Con taking place in town, and featured four talented women of the comics world, Carolyn Cocca (author of Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation, which just won an Eisner!), Gabby Rivera (YA author and writer for Marvel’s America series), Ariell Johnson (owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, Philadelphia), and Ashley A. Woods (illustrator, graphic novelist, and artist for the Stranger Comics series, Niobe: She is Life). Each gave an interesting or inspiring presentation, which you can watch in full here:

Carolyn’s focused on the representations of superheroines throughout history to the present, with entertaining illustrative visuals; Gabby gave a lively talk on being a creator and how her community of women inspired her to write and be true to herself; Ariell discussed why and how she became the only black woman comic book store owner on the East Coast; and Ashley talked about her years-long journey to becoming a successful comics artist.

We all then talked about everything from the new Wonder Woman movie to why women should not feel they have to “prove” themselves in comics – because we’ve always been here, and we’re awesome! You can watch the moderated conversation in full here:

The room was packed and the panel was amazing, and I was honored to be a part of it. (Also, it got great feedback which is awesome, because that hopefully means more events like this!)

Thursday brought even more pre-con pop culture awesomeness, with a screening of Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s latest film, and a Q & A with Wright made possible because he was in town as a guest at Awesome Con. Baby Driver is a very cool and unique film, about a hearing-impaired young man who’s ended up in a life of crime due to his ability to be an amazing getaway driver when driving to the right soundtrack – but who really wants to get out, and thinks maybe he can…after just one more job. The main character literally goes by “Baby” in the film; and while he’s not exactly perfect, he’s clearly a good-hearted kid despite his issues. Baby Driver is definitely in a different vein than Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy (although stylistically it’s still clearly an Edgar Wright film), and is both slightly surreal (packed with high-speed bank heists pulled off by quirky characters, all set to the diegetic soundtrack that is mostly dictated by what Baby decides to listen to) and more grounded that the Trilogy, with less geek references and a deeper focus on interpersonal relationships. These include the budding romance between Baby (Ansel Elgort) and Debora (Lily James), Baby’s relationship with his foster father (CJ Jones), and his relationship with crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) and several super quirky colleagues in crime who are played very well by Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Elza Gonzalez, and Jamie Foxx. Overall, Baby Driver is a balanced mix of frenetic action, quieter human moments, and laugh-out-loud humor. And, of course, the soundtrack is off the hook. If you can accept that it’s not the next movie in the Cornetto franchise and go in eager to see something new and different from Edgar Wright, it’s in theaters now, and I definitely recommend it. In fact, I’m planning to go watch it again!

I would have been happy to also cover yet another cool Awesome Con-inspired event that was going on Friday and Saturday at the Library of Congress, where they interviewed ‘70s Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter live, and displayed over 100 unique comics collectibles in their archives (so cool!), but alas, there’s only so much time in the day, and I was too busy to leave during the con. But oh, the fun I had at Awesome Con!

This year, since the fourth North American Discworld Convention is rapidly approaching (September 1-4 at the Sheraton New Orleans! Get your tickets for The Genuan Experience now!), we are in high promotional mode, and had a table on the con floor, which included a standee where folks could get their pictures taken as Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, and Tiffany Aching, and a handy reading guide for the Discworld series. We also put on two panels, one on how Discworld fandom changes lives (too true), and one on the concept of Nature vs. Nurture in Good Omens. I was delighted to see many Discworld and Good Omens fans in attendance, and we had a great time sharing our thoughts.

 

But those weren’t the only panels I saw. I also had a blast moderating a panel for Batman artist Greg Capullo, who is a straight-talking comics pro with some great insights into the creative process. He shared how he honed his skills, which was, in part, to get a bunch of different sketch pads and choose all different subjects, and draw e.g. two hours a day in each pad on specifics, whether it be life drawing, or feet, etc. He noted that although as a professional and working on deadlines all the time, he doesn’t have time for that much practice any more, revelations on how to draw more proficiently still come to him. He also discussed the importance of being able to really listen and take critiques from others in the industry when you are starting out. Greg shared what it was like working with Scott Snyder and the way they had to figure out a collaboration unlike any he had dealt with before, and many other insights. You can listen to most of the excellent panel here (apologies for the missing first minute, where Greg explains that even as a child, he drew all the time, and his teacher recognized his drawing proficiency). What a pleasure it was talking with Greg on stage.

And although I maaaay have overslept and missed the 10 a.m. David Tennant panel (and cried about it later. Why put such a popular panel so early, Awesome Con? Whyyyy), I did make it to the 10 a.m. Stan Lee panel, and that was great fun! (Also, ComicMix made the mistake of giving me access to the official Twitter account, so I was live-tweeting! I’m sure they’ll never regret this move.)

I also did some live-tweeting from the StarTalk Live panel, which I loved both last year and this. This year featured host Colonel Chris Hadfield, veteran of two space shuttle missions and former commander of the International Space Station and co-host actor Scott Adsit. Man, it was fun to see it live – not to mention we got to experience holographic Stephen Hawking beaming in-and-out to share some theories on questions the panel was discussing.

And I did get to see at least part of one more panel. It overlapped with my moderating duties, but I didn’t want to completely miss the Samurai Jack Live Read with Phil LaMarr and Jim Zub, writer and co-creator of the Samurai Jack comics, so I snuck in to see a little bit. It was excellent, with Phil and Jim voicing multiple characters in time with comics panels being projected on screen. Man. I could watch voice actors doing live reads all the time. So much fun!!

Of course along with panels, we can’t forget the fun of walking the exhibit hall and Artist Alley at a con. I got to do at least a little of that, which was also a good opportunity to show off the Gwen Stacy cosplay I finally finished, with my friend Alicia who was doing her Harley Quinn. During my wanderings I bought a queen hedgehog from Cuddles and Rage, got a free copy of Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End from Bria over at the Star Wars 501st booth, took some time out to record a couple of segments on Discworld and on The Golden Age of Geekdom for the Fantastic Forum TV show, and chatted with comics friends like Jim Calafiore, Joe Harris, Sorah Suhng, Daniel Govar, and Tony Moy. It was a blast!

You can see a collection of my livetweets for both the Stan Lee and StarTalk panels over on my Awesome Con Storify and photos over on Flickr. And stay tuned for even more comic-con adventures, because a deluge of San Diego Comic Con columns are coming very soon. Until then, stay cool in the summer heat and Servo Lectio!