I had other ideas of things I’d write about this week. I’ve been reading a lot of Jon Sable lately, so I was thinking of writing about that. That might be next week’s column. It was also Pride this past weekend, so I decided on a light piece on Pride with some comic and graphic novel recommendations. I’m still gonna recommend some stuff to you, but this piece isn’t going to be as light as I originally attended.
I attended as a spectator down Christopher Street across the street from the Stonewall Inn. The streets were packed and everyone seemed to be in the right mindset. One of the first groups to walk was the Pulse Nightclub remembrance from G.A.G., Gays Against Guns. They all dressed in white representing one of the forty-nine who were killed by that senseless shooting. This was very powerful both last year and this weekend and I’m sure will be a fixture of Pride for many years to come if not ‘til the very end.
As the parade continued I was able to work my way to a better view. Many floats went by packed with people from all sorts of groups. From pro-LGBT religious groups to Target and Citibank. I did quite enjoy that when the Citibank float was passing by my view that Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” was blasting from said float. The humor was not lost on me. And yes, Citibank, It is too late to say sorry for those Thank You Points I got screwed out of when you changed your policy.
Something happened during the parade that I should have expected, but didn’t.
There was a protest. And it happened just about right in front of me with a few people in the way to somewhat obscure it. At first we all had no idea what the protest was for. No one around me knew if this was an anti-LGBT protest, which was what many of us thought at first, or if it was a far-left protest… which is what it ended up being.
There were twelve protesters. They had an anti-police brutality/anti-corporation banner. Something about no justice, no pride. They intentionally stopped the parade in front of Stonewall and in front of the NYPD band.
The crowd was all over the place. Someone close by was chanting black lives matter, which is important but was confusing while we were still figuring out what the protesters were there for, which was not Black Lives Matter. Most of the protesters seemed to white men or at least white passing. Some of the crowd started chanting for the police to remove the protesters after ten or so minutes. Eventually the police did so to some cheers and some confusion. It was a peaceful process.
Despite this, it still left me feeling odd and conflicted. On the one hand a lot of people were standing around waiting and not quite understanding what was happening, many of the protesters appeared to be on the more privileged end of queer spectrum, and the parade itself is already an act of defiance with a lot of messages regarding resistance and proper representation of the entire queer spectrum. On the other hand, protest is a fundamental right. Telling anyone where and when protest is appropriate is antithetical to the entire process. It is a slippery slope and far too important a right to risk restriction, whether you agree with the protest or not. It was also handled so peacefully that having any criticism of it just seems a bit out of place.
Despite the fact that this was a nationally televised event, I was still nervous at what the police may do and wonder what could have been if it wasn’t nationally televised. And it was all the more troubling that this was right by Stonewall.
I don’t know how I feel about everything that happened there other than conflicted. I don’t have the answers, but it’s the kind of incident we should be discussing together.
I stayed and watched the parade for another a couple of hours before heading out. Afterwards, I swung past Carmine Street Comics, which had some queer comics creators promoting their work. It was a pretty queer day all around.
This year was an important year for Pride, just as every year before it and every year after that it happens. Some places across the world didn’t have as successful a Pride as we had this year and it’s important to know and remember that.
There are so many more creators like them out there too. Queer comics is a whole world in among itself and they produce some of the most thought provoking and forward-thinking comics you will ever read.
I hope you had a chance to celebrate Pride this month, and I hope you keep celebrating by reading the works of those creators and a whole lot more.
…there’s only two episodes left this season—three, if you count the Christmas special—and there just seems to me to be an awful lot to be discovered yet. I don’t want to think that Moffat is coasting his way to the end of his association with Doctor Who; he hasn’t yet disappointed me. I loved the denouement of last season, so I’m still crossing my fingers—but…
That’s from last week’s column, in which I bemoaned my disappointment in Doctor Who this season. Then, on Saturday night, came the eleventh episode, “World Enough and Time.”
Wow! And also Holy Cow!
I really, really don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, so do not expect any mention of the story. I’m even struggling right now as to whether or not to include some of the dialogue…hmm…nope, not going to do it, too many hints in there. But I will say that once again director Rachel Talalay shows off her Mistressly–make that Masterly—skill and vision. And that show runner Steven Moffat is delivering a swan song that is enough to get the fat lady at the opera to stop singing in a fit of total pique.
If you haven’t read it yet, check out my friend and fellow columnist’s Saturday column, the eponymous Marc Alan Fishman and the Rise of the Mennists. (Not to be confused with Mennonites, a branch of the Anabaptist Church often confused with the Amish, though if you change one letter to an “a” and make it “Mannonite, that could work, too, with apologies to ComicMix-er Adriane Nash) And the answer to the question he asks (“Is there something in the water these days?”) is, im-not-so-ho, a simple “yes,” though I will qualify his question by changing one humor to another, so that it should ask, “Is there something in the air these days?” Yes, Mark, it’s in the water and it’s in the air, and it’s everywhere. The pundits call it “populism,” but that’s total Orwellian newspeak bullshit. Professor Cas Mudde of the University of George told Uri Freidman of The Atlantic magazine that:
Populists are dividers, not uniters, They split society into two homogenous and antagonistic groups: the pure people on the one end and the corrupt elite on the other, and say they’re guided by the ‘will of the people.’ The United States is what political scientists call a ‘liberal democracy,’ a system ‘based on pluralism—on the idea that you have different groups with different interests and values, which are all legitimate.
Populists, in contrast, are not pluralist. They consider just one group—whatever they mean by ‘the people’—legitimate.
Populists don’t give a shit about “people”. It’s all about “us”. It’s all about standing against “them.” And “them” can be anyone or any thing: an ethnicity or a political philosophy or gender preference or a religion or a color or a lifestyle.
And it’s been nurtured and allowed, nay, encouraged, to come out from underneath the rocks into the sunshine by Il Trumpci.
So, given the political climate, all that crap that has been tweeted and spewed about a fucking movie and its star, Gal Gadot, given the political climate, shouldn’t be surprising.
It’s just sad.
I’ll leave you with two quotes. The first is from the great Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist:
In the 16th century, Nicollò Machiavelli—in an attempt to get back in the good graces of the powerful—wrote a slim volume called The Prince. In that book he showed the powers that be how to control the people. That book is a statement: separate and rule, divide and conquer. That’s five hundred years ago, and it still works, because we allow ourselves to be led around with holes through our noses.
And the second is from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, American politician, diplomat, and civil rights activist:
Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer. We must not let that happen here!
I’m a sucker for crime fiction, whether it’s served up by Raymond Chandler or by Harlan Coben. As a kid, my passion for adventure stories started it all. But like a Chevy Impala on a rain-soaked highway, my interest slid all over the road. I’d devour mysteries, detective novels, pulps and crime thrillers.
In the world of comics, lately we’ve been treated to outstanding fantastic crime thrillers. Ed Brubaker leads the way, of course, with his various crime noir and spy series. Greg Rucka’s stuff is always fun and I hope Oni publishes more Stumptown soon. And other publishers, like Dynamite, IDW, and Boom! Studios have been providing strong contributions as well.
In the traditional book world, Hard Case Crime has been on the forefront of hardboiled crime fiction. Charles Ardai is the man behind it all, and he combines his love for this genre with a great eye for pulpy artwork to create some of the best crime thriller books and paperbacks out there. Some of the books are new, others are lost classics.
It’s been refreshing to enjoy favorite classic detective authors, like Brett Holiday and Mickey Spillane as Hard Case Crime re-publishes their works. Newer favorites, like Max Allan Collins and Lawrence Block are there too. I like to try new authors too. I enjoyed John Lange’s newly re-printed Zero Cool… but then I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a pseudonym for Michael Crichton.
Recently, Hard Case Crime has teamed with their distributor Titan Comics to create a line of comics. Like Hard Case paperbacks, these comics’ covers, titles, and premises all grab readers by the throat and pull ‘em in.
Fay Dalton’s stunning Normandy Gold #1 cover piqued my interest when I first saw it in Diamond Previews. It’s a hauntingly beautiful illustration evocative of every paperback and movie poster you saw in the 70s. Titan offers a number of others #1 variants by other artists, including a quiet, but menacing, portrait of the heroine by interior artist Steve Scott.
Normandy Gold is a fish-out-of-water story. A small town sheriff hunts for her sister’s killer in the big city. The big city, in this case, is Washington, DC. And it’s set in the swinging seventies.
The retro-cool seventies vibe is important to this series. I almost wish there was a suggested soundtrack. All the tropes are here: the big cars, the dorky men’s sports coats, phones with cords, bushy mustaches and women’s fashion. But they are presented with a stark authenticity and effectively immerse the reader into the story.
That’s in a big part due to series artist Steve Scott. He’s a gifted artist with a great line, top notch rendering skills, and a natural pacing. You may have seen his mainstream work, including a few Batman stories a few years ago. Here, Scott effortlessly presents all those big gas-guzzling cars, opulent office buildings and Sonny-and-Cher vintage fashions with a natural ease that keeps you in the story and keeps you hungry for more.
The other creators are a big deal too. The creative team of Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin write the series. I’m not familiar with their work but after this, I want to read more from them.
This past week there was some outrage – Outrage!, I tell you – over the fact that the talented James Robinson, obviously a man, was taking over DC’s Wonder Woman comic series. As the Wonder Woman movie was such a hit and was driven by a female director and a female lead, some outraged fans assumed a female writer should helm the comic.
Look, we need diversity in all areas. Culturally, we’re all at a point where we all understand that everyone benefits from hearing lots of different voices. But that shouldn’t mean that only women write female characters or only Chinese-American writers write Chinese-American characters. In fact, just last night I had a passionate “front porch’ discussion with my wife and long-time comics expert John Cresco. And no, no wine or beer was involved. Maybe next time.
But it is fantastic when new venues open up to new voices. So here we have a female detective written by female writers. I tend to think, however, that Abbot and Gaylin got this writing gig because they are damn fine writers, not because of their sex. Normandy Gold #1 is crisp storytelling with just enough hints into a complicated character’s background. The reader is intrigued, but not rushed.
I hope fans concerned about finding opportunities for female writers give this series a try, and/or pick up back issues of Chelsea Cain’s recent Mockingbird.
Be warned, as, with so many hardboiled detective stories, there are a few salacious scenes. But they are important to the story and almost expected in this genre.
Normandy Gold is at least the second comic heroine with that catchy first name. In Milton Caniff’s long-running newspaper strip, Terry and the Pirates, Normandy Drake was the niece of a wealthy man who had captured the heart of one of the lead characters. I hope this Normandy likewise captures fans’ hearts.
The female detective in comics is a small subgenre. Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree was such a treasure. Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano’s Jonni Thunder, A.K.A.Thunderbolt was also a favorite (more on her later). The torch has been passed recently to well-rounded characters like Dex Parios and Jessica Jones. Normandy’s a welcome addition to the club. I’m eager for the next issue.
I prefer watching movies on the big screen first, as big a screen as I can get. That said, I don’t always get to see them first in the movie theater. Any number of films that have become my faves I saw first on the small screen. Sometimes there’s a good reason for this; sometimes there’s no particular reason.
42 was one of those films.
It starred Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson who was the black baseball player who first integrated Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. (You may know Boseman better as the Black Panther in MCU films.) It also stars Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who hired Robinson. (Ford you know from… well, you know Harrison Ford.) It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who also wrote and directed A Knight’s Tale.
As with all biopics, the question can be fairly asked – how true is it? How close to the actual facts? From what I can tell from my research, it’s pretty close. It condenses some events and combines several people into one at times, but my understanding is that it does a fair job with history as it was lived.
That’s all I ask of a biopic. Historical fiction of any stripe is not the same as history. I know from experience; I wrote my historical Western comic, The Kents (DC) and I tried to get the facts right as often as I could but I was, first and foremost, telling a story and narrative demands always took precedence.
The best example of this that I know is Shakespeare’s Richard III. The play depicts him as a humpbacked villain and many people accept this version and that he killed the poor Little Princes in the Tower of London. Not true. Richard was deposed and killed by Henry Tudor who then became Henry VII and who had much better reasons for wanting those princes dead. His son became Henry VIII and his grand-daughter became Queen Elizabeth I, who was Queen in Shakespeare’s time. Not politic to suggest her grandfather was a monster.
So Shakespeare’s play in not valid as history but what he was doing was painting a portrait of evil. Since Elizabeth had no heir, he was also showing what sort of person you did not want on the throne or in any seat of power. (koff! Trump! koff!) That is what’s important and part of the reason Richard III remains so powerful. And 42 is far more accurate than Richard III.
Late in the movie, Branch Rickey tells Robinson about a little white boy he saw playing baseball in a sandlot. “And do you know what he was doing?” Rickey asks his first baseman. “He was pretending he was you.” That was the importance of the film as well; if we have any humanity, we identify with Jackie Robinson.
Movies and television in the past few decades has done this time and again; asked us to identify with people who are different races than we are, different genders, different sexual orientations, different background, different economic and sociological make-ups. Comics do it as well. The characters may not look like us but they feel like us because, underneath, they are us and we are them. The exterior differences are not what matter; it’s the heart and soul that matters and there we are one. That’s the basic truth of story, of art – we are one.
That’s not to say the exterior details don’t matter; 42 makes that plain. But the movie also makes us see how petty those details are.
Every time I come across the movie on one of the stations, I tell myself I’m only going to watch a few scenes and then, before I know it, I’ve watched it through to the end. Again. It just pulls me in.
Nothing and I mean nothing in that article was new. I’ve written about what and why I thought the holdup at Milestone was many times. The only thing that was new was the title.
Every move Milestone has made I’ve predicted beforehand, and done so in writing.
But as always put a new spin on an old point, and people see something bright and shiny and want to play with it.
NOW people are paying attention.
Paying attention to see whether or not I’m going to throw more shade at my former partners. I didn’t throw any in the first place. I told the truth Milestone 2.0 formed almost seven years ago, and there are no books.
Milestone is dead for four reasons.
Three I wrote about.
Except for Denys Cowan comics are not a priority for the partners.
Milestone has no infrastructure.
Here’s reason number four and the biggest reason Milestone is dead and will remain dead:
Dwayne McDuffie is gone.
Milestone died the moment Dwayne went to pitch God a story.
Dwayne McDuffie left us much, but the magic that was Milestone Media is gone forever. Hope makes us think it can live again.
Years ago, when I heard my favorite toy from my youth Captain Action was to be recreated by Playing Mantis Toys, waves of nostalgia hit me. The day couldn’t come fast enough for me to own one.
When that day came, driving to Toys R Us, my reminiscence of playing with Captain Action when I was six years old transported me there in my mind. When I arrived home, I made a place to display my new Caption Action next to the original.
My original surrounded by a Lucite box the regeneration taken out of its box posed to stand on its own. Gone was my six-year-old self, taken away by the realization you can’t go home again. I was a middle-aged man. Captain Action was a toy, an action figure, and to those who don’t share my nerd ways, a doll.
Like George Webber in the Chet Baker novel, I found out the hard way; you can’t replace the memory with reality. That moment in time did what moments in time do.
I doubt if those who were there during the heyday of Milestone Media will ever stop wanting those days to return magically. Alas like respect for Vanilla Ice those days are gone forever.
MILESTONE IS DEAD.
There’s a chance new readers could experience that magic. Everything old is new again and if not seen before it’s brand new.
LONG LIVE MILESTONE.
Enter Milestone 2.0— but well before 2015 when the was announcement was made.
Milestone Media was poised to return in 2000. Bob Johnson, the former owner and CEO Black Entertainment Television, was ready to do it. I put the deal together, but when it became apparent one partner was not wanted I didn’t do the deal I said then; “If not all of us, none of us.”
M2.0 was poised to debut at San Diego Comic-Con International in 2013. SDCC was to honor Milestone’s for our 20th Anniversary. Derek Dingle was not invited nor remembered. I told Comic Con we would pass if Derek wasn’t involved. “If not all of us, none of us.”
Those two examples should tell people who I am.
There are those who believe me a troubled man ripe with problems, using only my perceived brashness as evidence. Perception isn’t evidence— it’s opinion.
A Misguided perception can quickly become a reality. Spreading opinion as fact rarely helps and aimed at a person long enough can do some serious damage.
No doubt some people reading this are still under the impression that Dwayne McDuffie created Milestone. He didn’t nor was he Milestone’s first Editor and Chief. Denys Cowan created Milestone, and I was there at that very moment he came up with the idea and co-signed.
Make no mistake: Dwayne was the heart and soul of our company. Nobody was more Milestone than Dwayne.
Except for perhaps Dwayne, no one has done more to keep Milestone alive in the eyes of the public than I. Since his passing I’ve done more to keep Milestone viable than all the other partners combined.
That’s a well-documented fact, but why bring it up now?
Because the perception that I had little to do with Milestone by some taints others into believing that. I’ve said this many time I don’t let people define my brand or me with lies.
Milestone’s history, my history is important to this narrative.
I’ve stated Milestone of old is dead. What about Milestone NOW?
Milestone will publish.
Milestone will be embraced by the fans.
Milestone will fail.
Many retailers see those characters as ‘Black’ only. They aren’t, but DC will make no attempts to counter that. I don’t blame DC— it’s too risky a play, especially when they don’t own the Milestone characters.
If I’m correct, Milestone will try and get DC to handle the heavy lifting. That’s schedule, dealing with Diamond, editorial checks, and balances or put another way Milestone’s infrastructure.
I have no way of knowing but if faced with that DC may just balk. I would. Why on earth would DC devote the workforce to handle the shitty little details for characters they don’t own?
OK—let’s say they assign a team to handle Milestone’s infrastructure. No way in hell will that team works only on Milestone stuff.
Every move in any corporation has a cost to it. The cost of a DC team doing nothing but Milestone work is a non-starter. That team must come from Milestone; if such a group existed now there would be books. There are no books. If it’s a DC team, they will have to have Milestone added to their existing workload.
That’s a HUGE problem for two MASSIVE reasons.
When faced with what’s important, DC will always get the nod. ALWAYS.
Here’s some of that truth some won’t like: Milestone’s infrastructure went away when I did. I’ve produced three major universes since Milestone.
The other partners combined?
Motown Machineworks: Used as ‘illustrated concepts’ Machineworks books were mini-series canceled when sold into another medium. Law: Man, Against Time, was sold to FOX. Casual Heroes optioned by the Cartoon Network. Alas, all these deals died when Motown’s parent company at the time Polygram decided Motown should return to the core business. That’s OK those concepts reverted to me and in the case of Causal Heroes, Kevin McCarthy and me.
The Action Files: Created and developed by Simon & Schuster (S&S) as a high-interest low-level reading program the Action Files (AF) has since moved to Pearson Learning and is the only curriculum based comic book program taught in the schools.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster & Pearson Learning
The Guardian Line: Created as a vehicle to reach young African Americans within the church and home. They did not preach or talk down to the reader.
They did contain good vs. evil value lessons as does the clear majority of all superhero comics.
Fun Fact: The books were killed in the direct market. Retailers saw them as preachy and corny. As I said they were not, but once again perception dictated the mindset, so retailors played it safe. The publisher is Urban Ministries Inc.(UMI) a Black Christian publisher and despite how the books looked (like DC and Marvel) and read (Like Image and Dark Horse) retailors stayed away.
My pitch for the Guardian Line was: imagine the film Devil’s Advocate but with superheroes.
Why is ‘killed in the direct market’ a fun fact? UMI is the biggest Black media company in America. They control because they own their distribution channels. They don’t need the direct market to sell over a million copies of the line. That, according to CEO Jeffery Wright, is a “low guesstimate”— he was in transit so he couldn’t give me exact figures. No outside advertising or marketing; all sales were generated via UMI’s database.
No idea what the numbers are on the Action Files. They must be massive because there is now a non-teacher guide version available on Amazon. The Action Files books have been in the schools for over twenty years. The Guardian Line celebrated its 10th last year.
Fun Fact: I hate the way those books look and read. They were ridiculously over art directed by people on the publisher’s side with NO CLUE how to do comics. I could not stand to see my creation butchered so I parted ways with Simon & Schuster on that project only to return on another sometime later.
When Pearson (the world’s biggest educational publisher) brought the S&S education imprints, I opened talks with them to revamp the series then I got sick and had to abandon all my creative endeavors for a while. I’m better now not perfect, but the revamp is going to happen.
MILESTONE IS DEAD. That’s the Milestone of our memory.
LONG LIVE MILESTONE. The promise of what a new Milestone Media can mean to our future.
Here are my bottom line recap and summary.
The old Milestone is dead the new Milestone has a chance to build on its legacy. That will not happen by repeating the errors of the past and not acknowledging the power of the retailors and the love of our fans. Retailers do much more than order books. They engage the fans Milestone must engage them.
Years with no news isn’t the way to engage anyone and to expect perceptions to change without reaching out to both fans and retailors frequently is just plain arrogance and stupid. Those guys are far from stupid so whatever the reason for their silence I hope they fix it and fast.
In my opinion, Milestone needs the following:
Mainstream distribution beyond Diamond directly into areas DC can’t reach.
Specialized distribution into areas that will generate additional revenue.
Access to new talent.
A forum that champions their message and destroys perceptions.
Just so happens I know a guy with distribution beyond Diamond directly into areas DC can’t reach such as the Black church household and school system. This guy also has the following:
Access to some of the biggest talent in the business via Bad Boy Studios.
The Black Panel the leading pop culture forum specializing in diversity columns in Bleeding Cool, Comicmix, and his popular returning website.
Unmatched Resources and access to significant funding.
There you go, haters, I just gave you a gift, written proof that it’s all about ME because the above list is all me.
Q. Treated like I’ve been why on earth would I offer any insight, assistant or help?
A. Here’s why it’s not about me (haters go fuck yourselves) it’s about Milestone, and it’s about love.
These two-part series are written with love— there is no malice in my heart, not anymore. I love what Milestone was and what it could be. This is an offer to help because I don’t want Milestone to fail.
All the partners must do is look at my actions as well as what’s written and more importantly what I haven’t written over the last few years.
All this may be moot. Milestone’s play may just be film and television, in that case, all they need is Reggie Hudlin and his impressive resume. There’s a genuine chance none of what I wrote is anywhere near accurate.
Here’s what’s not in dispute; the point of Milestone was to bring in readers who were not being represented. I’ve not only done that but done so in markets any sane publisher would embrace.
The following is for the partners:
I take DC at their word there is no ill will between us. There exists no business reason to avoid my help from their side. I know there is no business reason at Milestone.
If there’s issue with my loudness that’s an issue you’re going to have to own. No disrespect but I’ve been vetted by giants in both the African American and Latino media space a lot bigger than Milestone, the company I helped found.
Low overhead and high revenue are the voice they listen to most days. They also hear the voices of loyalty integrity and purpose.
In other words: yes, I’m loud, but I’m brilliant according to more than a few CEO’s.
Milestone is still the greatest African American comic book company that ever was. You don’t need me to make it more awesome, but you certainly need a guy like me.
Good luck with that.
Denys, you more than anyone know why this is perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever written. The haters will concentrate on this line: Milestone will fail.
Milestone won’t fail.
Regardless of what I write or do. Milestone won’t fail regardless or my involvement or not. Milestone won’t fail even if the upcoming launch falters.
Milestone is you, my friend, and you will not let it.
I write an opinion column, that’s all this is.
No one can do what you can and no one ever will.
Just remember: at 4 am in the morning if you miss the Q111 at Jamaica Avenue, look for the car with the brick in the window.
Meninist: A (satirical) belief showing the hypocrisy of first world feminism by flipping the sexes and complaining about men’s rights in a similar way to what first world feminists do.
Tip of the hat to ComicMix’s Adriane Nash for introducing me to the term via her always well-observed, vitriolic Facebook posts where she often denotes an active war being fought against stupidity – not just against meninists, but idiots from all genders and persuasions. And a polite nod to my comic book compatriot Danny Limor for the inspiration this week.
Is there something in the water these days? With DC finally enjoying both fan praise and box office dollars with the release of Wonder Woman, there’s been a definitive rise in the empowerment of women – if not in actual practice certainly at least via mentions and discussions on all the social feeds I frequent. And everyone is rightfully justified in the celebration of women. Wonder Woman was a phenomenal accomplishment – not because it is a well-written movie that is helmed stem to stern by a woman, but because it was finally a DC release that didn’t rely solely on gritty destruction and seething angst. It was a celebration of compassion and love – two concepts missing from anything else produced by the studio to date.
In our post-modern world, what is loved must also be reviled by the counter-masses. Hence the coined term at the beginning of this article. My feed has been popped here and there with “WTF” posts linking to articles that complain about Gal Gadot’s minuscule paycheck, screeds that posit Warner Bros installed some kind of glass ceiling to prevent the movie from succeeding, to backlash for having the utter gall to offer a presser of the movie to just women. It’s enough to drive me to carve out my Y chromosome in disgust.
Wonder Woman aside, the meninist agenda even crept its way into professional wrestling. At the Money In the Bank pay-per-view not a week back, a history-making titular ladder match specifically booked with just female performers was won by a man. The goal, clearly, to elicit heel heat – unabashed anger against the villains – but transparent enough to be unaccepted by smart fans. It was evident from the finish of the match that Vince McMahon’s creative team sought to be protective of their female talent, but in doing so missed the very point they celebrated with a video package pre-match! To have specifically called out that this was the first time the Money In the Bank Ladder match would have all female participants… only to cause the victor (The Queen of Staten Island, Carmella) to claim her prize by way of a male manager, reduces history to something fans will pray for retconning.
For those following along, the WWE heard the backlash loud and clear and stripped their superstar of her newly-acquired briefcase of doom. But much like the butthurt bloggers denied access to the all-lady Wonder Woman screening, it comes as too little, too late.
So, what gives? For every victory, there is defeat. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but seemingly everyone these days feels compelled to take a side – creating these now more vocal outliers who decry things that need no opposition. Wonder Woman was fantastic. The WWE’s female divisions – that’s right they have enough talent to field no fewer than three decent rosters full of femmes fatale – have literally never been more capable and captivating. To see a group of men who actively shun these things puts a knot in my stomach right next to the one formed by Trump supporters.
Women writ-large face a tougher time garnering the same riches (be it fame, fortune, or good old-fashioned respect). It’s a proven fact. One so well documented, I need not even provide you with an errant Google link’s worth of response. It doesn’t matter to a select few idiots, who thanks to the internet whose voice now carries louder and larger than ever necessary.
To proclaim the victories of women as an unbalancing is as absurd as electing a four-time bankruptee to the highest position of governing…
Nevermind. This is why we can’t have nice things, my fellow nerds.
We talk about diversity a lot here at ComicMix, partly because it is often in the news, but mostly because it’s an interesting topic. Comics, like most popular entertainment, have generally been most lucrative for straight cis white men, but changes in demographics and delivery have made that less true in recent years. There are now visibly queer, non-binary people of different colors who are also expressing themselves in our medium, sometimes in ways that earn them money.
So I’d like to talk about diversity this week, but not in terms of the politics or the morality. I’m in favor of discussing politics and morality, but that’s not what’s interesting to me right this second. At the moment, I’d like to talk about diversity in terms of capitalism.
In other words, when we acknowledge that our society has many different facets and sub-cultures, we can fine-tune our marketing strategies to make even more money. In the process, we get more different choices in our entertainment. This “marketplace of ideas” is supposed to be the justification not only for capitalism but the First Amendment as well.
It’s not a perfect system. Hollywood, like so many others (myself included), will often find itself in such a rut of conventional thinking that they miss opportunities that would have enriched our imaginations and their bottom line. Still, the major studios move more quickly than their comic-book counterparts.
For example, in most cases, when an entertainment conglomerate was about to launch a superhero movie franchise in which they had invested hundreds of millions of dollars, they would do everything they could to arouse curiosity about the project. However, even though Marvel’s Black Panther film is coming out next February (Black History Month) and the trailer for it has been seen almost 100 million times online, the interest in the character has not been sufficient for the publishing side of the business. The World of Wakanda, written by the best-selling author Roxane Gay, was recently canceled, and it is not certain that a trade collection will be published.
Even if the single issues weren’t profitable, one would think the loss they caused would be just a small fraction of the total marketing budget for the character. And, in the meantime, people who were intrigued about the writer because she had just appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah would be able to find something that might turn them into comic book readers.
Comics don’t market like that. Marvel and DC own characters, not writers. In general, they see no incentive to promote a writer, especially one who hasn’t been brought to the public’s attention by comic book publishers. There are exceptions (Ta-Nehisi Coates, for example), but they are few and far between.
Comic book marketing needs to change, along with comic book publishing and comic book retailing. I don’t know what it’s going to take for that to happen, but we must adapt or die. All retail businesses must do this.
If you read a link above, it’s about how Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods might change the retail experience beyond simply Amazon and Whole Foods. The kinds of trips to stores we make might change, and our experiences within those stores might change. In some cases, we might interact with humans and in some cases, we might not. Our interactions with other humans might be more personal than simply handing a cashier items to be scanned, and might require conversations about our mutual wants and needs. In the process, the kinds of goods and services offered in stores might change as well.
My pal, Mike Gold, frequently jokes about the impending demise of the bookstore at the hands of Amazon and other online retailers. I appreciate Amazon (no pants required), but I love bookstores of all kinds, and I hope he’s wrong. I like grocery stores, too, although I use them less and less for produce, preferring to shop at my local Green Market. If I’m going to go shopping in a store, I like to make my own choices based on what is in front of me and ask advice from someone whose expertise I believe. This is true whether I’m looking for sugar snap peas or something to read.
In my experience, which I sincerely hope is outdated, comic book publishers tend to think of their market as almost exclusively the direct market. When I worked at DC, if I would suggest a particular idea that would appeal to bookstores, for example, I was told that comic book stores would object to such an action. I understand that comic book stores are the largest customers for the product, but they are not the only customers. In fact, I thought that if I were part of the creative team who hoped to earn royalties, and I found out that a big chunk of potential customers for my work was being dismissed, I would be pretty angry.
Bookstores are bigger customers for comics than they used to be, but the business is still, for the most part, not designed for them. Too many publishers decide what to print solely based on single-issue sales, even though the way to grow the market is to provide products for readers in every format that might be appealing. If this means formats that are more appealing to new readers (like graphic novels instead of serialized fiction), give those a try. Certainly, DC, with its Earth-1 series, seems to be willing to take that tiny little chance.
For the most part, however, corporate entertainment companies, at least those that include comic book publishers, seem determined to not only focus on superhero comics … but only certain kinds of superhero comics. They still target that straight, cis white guy, and in a way that seems, to me, to be guaranteed to turn off anyone else. My FaceBook friend, writer and editor Mariah McCourt, recently posted this (I have edited her post for brevity):
The alt-right sees diversity at Marvel Comics as a betrayal by Jews of the “white race.”
“Possibly the most perennial… “debate” in comics is about the sexualized imagery of female characters. For many decades now the depiction of female comic book characters has relied on sexualized exaggeration through a (mostly) straight male creator lens.
“What I have just said is a fact. It’s not an interpretation or an opinion, it’s a fact. … It’s not just true of comics, although it’s definitely one of the more obvious examples. Fine art also has a history of this, which is why there is the entire method & school of art critique that revolves around the concept of the ‘male gaze.’…
“For years now my issue is not that sexualized art exists, or whether that’s inherently offensive or even sexist. It can be and often is, but art having a sexual nature doesn’t bother me.
“What bothers me is when that is the default state of female characters and people try to deny it, excuse it, or otherwise wriggle around that reality. When they argue that all comic characters are exaggerated, as if there isn’t a significant difference in how and why and by whom and for which audience.
“Comics are a medium, not a genre. You can have sexy sex comics, in which case sexualized characters and art make a lot of sense. That would be a pretty understandable context for them to exist in.
“It makes way less sense, when you think about it objectively, to constantly walk a very fine line between softcore art in what are supposedly “mainstream” comics that do not exist to depict sex. They may contain sex, but they aren’t sex comics. So it’s pretty weird for them to constantly default female characters, and almost exclusively female characters, to exaggerated depictions that are clearly sexualized.
“It is also intellectually dishonest and not even borderline insulting to suggest that comics art cannot be critiqued because it is “not supposed to be realistic”. That is not a valid argument. That is a crappy deflection.
“Plenty of non-comics art is not realistic or exaggerated and it is subject to criticism. Van Gogh, Munch, Picasso. No art is above that. … It exists within the framework of its time, its creator, its intention, its execution, and more. Art does not get a pass. Art is not neutral or stagnant or banal. Or it’s not really art.
“This is all maybe even more true of commercial art, of art that is part of a collective zeitgeist or cultural movements, times, places, and creations.”
Yes, let’s have sexy sex comics. Let’s have comics with stories about adorable puppies and kittens. Let’s have historical comics and science fiction comics and fantasy comics and non-fiction comics. Let’s have graphic memoirs and space operas and unicorns and fighting squadrons. Let’s have biblical comics, Hindu comics, Sharia comics and pagan comics. Let’s have military history and genderqueer confessions.
And then… let’s make those comics available where readers can find them.
If high-flyin’ kick-ass jelly is your pleasure, sir or madam, and you haven’t yet seen Wonder Woman, well, skedaddle. Plenty of action there and you can still see it on the big screen, the way god – Zeus? – intended it to be seen. The USA Today movie maven wrote that during the last battle, the CGI seams were showing. Maybe, but I didn’t see them.
But there’s more to the film than excellent mayhem, seamless or otherwise. Melded into the reinvented mythology that constitutes a lot of WW’s backstory is an advocacy for peace. It doesn’t take much screen time and it’s played gently – this isn’t the kind of story that grabs you by the lapels, shakes you and snarls listen to me! But the message is there and it’s one that seldom encountered in mega-entertainments. War is not glorious. Violence is a last resort.
In the movie, WW’s sister warriors learn combat skills only to be able to protect themselves and their home from invasion. World War I is raging in Europe and we see enough of it to demonstrate that the Amazons’ fears are justified. WW is horrified at the carnage – the slaughter of innocents – and that’s why she gets involved. But we are given no reason to believe that she enjoys any of it.
I don’t know if WW’s pacific sentiments are registering with the popcorn crowd.
It’s not an easy sell, this peace stuff, not in a country whose president crows that we must win more wars if America is to be great. (The president adds “again” to the end of the previous sentence, but I’d rather not do that.) Not that we must strive to end the monstrous cruelty that’s war by deploying troops if absolutely necessary and recalling them as soon as possible. No, our Mr. T wants to win more wars which presumably requires starting new wars.
Let’s be fair. War and its glorification is as old as civilization (older if you count the skirmishes that must have occurred among hunter-gatherers.) It’s that ole debbil evolution again. Our ancestors developed an aptitude for savagery because that enabled them to deal with the perils of their world and, incidentally, allowed their descendants to become big cheeses. (Take a bow, you and I.) And much of our earliest narrative art deals with soldiers: you know – Odysseus, Achilles, Aeneas. That crowd.
So here we are and that which enabled us to survive now threatens to destroy us. And judging by the news media, nobody seems interested in even acknowledging the existence of options other than creating shiny new hells for our children to enjoy. Maybe someone will think of a way to make peace seem as desirable as war.
As I type these words, today is today. Usually, today is yesterday or a day before or so, and if any of our other columnists pulled this stunt I’d be bitching my brains off. But, to paraphrase stand-up philosopher par excellence Mel Brooks, “it’s good to be the king editor.”
I do have an excuse, and a good one at that. I just got back from Manhattan Island where we had a wonderful dinner with the classy part of ComicMix, The Tweeks, a.k.a. Maddy and Anya Ernst. Oh, yeah, their mom Jen was there as well – even in New York City, letting even adult-looking underagers wander about is frowned upon. The “us” part consisted of four members of the ComicMix crew – Tweeks’ producer and associate editor Adriane Nash, columnist Joe Corallo, utility infielder Wizardly Glenn Hauman, along with the amazing Brandy Hauman who hangs around with us to show us what it’s like to have a real job, and the oft-aforementioned geriatric boy editor.
Yeah, that’s my superhero name. Geriatric Boy. It fits me like a glove. And if it don’t fit… But I digress.
We had a wonderful time. Well, at least I did, but I don’t think the others were faking. We stayed so long the restaurant manager sorta suggested they wanted the opportunity to make money off of some other folks. We stood in front of the place jabbering for another hour.
We talked about the stuff you might think a gaggle of ComicMixers would discuss: Star Wars, Doctor Who, food, architecture, theater, improv, opera (a little bit), comics… Jen and I talked about Chicago because that’s what people who lived in Chicago always do. Hell, we do that when we’re only around New Yorkers as well. It seems to annoy the pettier of our east coast clan.
I’m not going to rat anybody out, and I’m certainly not going to discuss Maddy and Anya’s career plans or anything like that. Not only would doing so be rude of me, but I’d also be pre-empting material from The Tweeks’ weekly (if not more often) video blogs. If I did that, Adriane would roll up a copy of the Sunday New York Times and bop me on the nose with it, shouting “bad editor – bad editor.”
Sigh. I hate being a grown-up. Lucky for me, I only do that for a living. And even then, rarely.
Maddy, Anya and Jen live in Orange County, which makes going to that ridiculously overstuffed comic book convention fairly easy – for them. The show is in several weeks, and if you look through the website you can see the high quality of their interviews with celebrities and other people who hire public relations firms. All of them (I believe) are online here at ComicMix, and it’s really fun to watch how they’ve evolved and improved since they started this thing three years ago. When they were eleven. Now, they’re fourteen.
If the Tweeks are any indication, they’re making smarter and more stylish fourteen-year-olds than they did when I was that age. Oh, sure, I was smart all right, but in my case, that word qualified the next word, which was “aleck.”
I’m a big believer in mentoring. Indeed, when it comes to such activity I am a fundamentalist. I’m really proud of Adriane’s work in that regard – and that is the result of her work and not her being my daughter. Which, need I remind you, has been the coolest thing that ever happened to me.
This is not to take anything away from the Tweeks’ parents. Parenting is a different thing from mentoring. Mentors can say “See ya!” when they want to or need to. Parents have their gig forever. I dunno; maybe it’s something to do with “responsibility.”
It was a great evening. It was the reason I really love this job.
Happy summer solstice. If it seems like the longest day of the year… trust your instincts.
Back on November 3rd, a much more innocent time, Pat Shand’s Kickstarter campaign for his graphic novel Destiny – NY Volume One: Who I Used To Be was successfully funded. This past Saturday I received my hard copy of the book in the mail and it’s got my name printed in it as a backer and everything! Since I already read Destiny – NY I figured talking about this book and reviewing it would make for a good column this week. If you keep reading past this point, I’ll assume you agree with me.
For those of you who don’t know Pat Shand, he is a writer and an editor with hundreds of comics under his belt as well as multiple novels. Most of his work is over at Zenescope which Pat recently left to focus more on running his new publishing arm, Continuity Entertainment. The first volume of Destiny, NY is the inaugural title.
Written by Pat Shand with art by co-creator Manuel Preitano, letters and design by Jim Campbell and edited by Shannon Lee, Destiny, NY is a slice of life story about a girl who peaked too early in life, and it’s also a story about magic, murder, and conspiracy in a magical school here in NYC.
Without getting into spoilers, Logan McBride is a girl at an odd point in her life. She’s young but feels she’s accomplished the most important thing she ever will years ago. She still attends magic school but feels it’s pointless and has gotten restless. She has a job as a barista which helps, but it’s not where she wants to be. Her ex-girlfriend and fiancé, Bailey, has moved on and is engaged to a man which she made a spectacle of on social media to Logan’s dismay. However, Logan has just met a badass woman named Lilith and Logan’s life is finally starting to have some meaning to her again.
As all of this is happening, Logan’s friend and one-time hookup, Gia, is finding out her destiny at school might just involve ruining Logan’s life. Things aren’t looking too good for Lilith, either.
Now that I got the facts about of the way, let me get to my favorite part: my opinions.
Let me start with the story itself and Pat Shand. I’ve known him for years. He can write a hip story about the young folks that doesn’t feel forced, and he very often writes women as the leads of his stories. And it works for him. You can tell Pat models himself after Joss Whedon or Kieron Gillen in his writing.
In Destiny, NY nearly all the characters of consequence are women. Nearly all of them are queer. And they aren’t all white. That’s important to me and a lot of other people out there. The character of Bailey, while not the most important character in the story, is openly bisexual in a way that’s treated respectfully and avoids characters erasing her queerness and that’s important. Even when Logan is at her maddest, she never questions Bailey’s bisexuality. I cannot stress to you, dear reader, how that is still a rare thing here in 2017.
One of the unique aspects of the story here is how it’s structured. You could argue, as I would, that Logan is a passive protagonist. Her story is more slice of life and she’s constantly reacting to obstacles the story throws at her despite the fact that she’s carrying the A plot. The B plot, carried by Logan’s friend Gia, is about Gia’s destiny which directly affects the A plot and creates what Logan has to react to as a passive protagonist. This is a unique plot structure in print comics, and Pat should be applauded for the breaking the rules a bit here. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure another publisher would pick up this title without notes to change this structure. Luckily Shannon Lee thought it worked.
Now onto Manuel Preitano. The artwork is gorgeous. It’s very tight, crisp and easy to follow. Manuel’s choice to have flashback scenes done as an ink wash while having bold inks in the present works beautifully and is conveyed so well you don’t miss a bit.
There are some absolutely fantastic layouts that deserve the reader’s lingering attention. I will say that I wanted more layouts like that. Because of the nature of the A plot, we get a lot of pages of shot/reverse shot camera angles, people standing around talking, people sitting down talking, and while that doesn’t always work, this is a story about a magical school and comics is an incredibly visual medium. Since this book is done in black and white, the team loses the ability to transform some mundane scenes with color.
I don’t mean to sound like the book is in any way boring; it’s not. I was fully engaged and banged it out quickly. I’d just like to see Manuel Preitano really let loose and go wild, or for the team to more consistently juxtapose the mundane nature of life with the fantastical world of magic.
Jim Campbell’s lettering and designs mix so perfectly with Preitano’s art that they must have a symbiotic relationship. The pages are very easy to read and are very welcoming. Pat likes to write a lot; maybe a little more than in most big-two books. That makes laying out those bubbles even more of a strategy game which is executed very well here. The only critique I would have here is that there are some narration boxes that are lettered in italics and that’s always harder to read and feels unnecessary when it comes up.
All in all, Destiny, NY Volume One: Who I Used To Be, is a fantastic debut from a promising start-up publisher. Pat, Manuel, Jim, and Shannon should all be proud of the work they did. I’m excited to see what they all have in store for us next.
You can pick up your own copy through their storenvy.