A little over a week ago, the United States of America was on the verge of defaulting for the first time in its history. The chaos isn’t over – witness the roller coaster ride of the stock market over the last seven days – but that week the pundits on radio, on Fox and MSNBC and CNN, and on The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert, conservatives, liberals, progressives, Tea Baggers (excuse me, I mean Tea Partiers) – everywhere you had ears and eyes in working order, people were bloviating (to borrow a word from Bill O’Reilly) about the #1 question on everyone’s minds….
What If The United States Of America Defaults?
Mike Gold and I spent hours on the phone talking about the possibility – well, to be truthful, I was the one ranting about the goddamn Repugnanticans (my own coined word for what passes as the party of Lincoln these days) while Mike –who would be described by people like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin and Karl Rove and Rick Perry and Dick Cheney as nothing but a typical gadfly of the lefty Jewish intelligentsia cabal – tried to reassure me that the U.S. wouldn’t default. And in that strange way in which my mind equates things, the What If? and my column and comics and politics started swirling and mixing and merging and uniting and jumbling up all together like that giant melting pot America is supposed to be, and somehow I ended up equating the political wars of 2011 with a little Marvel comic book called What If…? and DC’s sundry imaginary stories of pick-your-favorite-DC-hero.
What If was a comic book I loved. The “Imaginary Stories” of DC captured my, well, imagination. They validated the child whom I had been, the fantasist that is still there, has never left me, and I know never will. That girl was always asking questions, always dreaming, always wanting more; she believed – still believes – that the world is more than we know, that magic is real and impossible things do happen. Things like, What If? I lay on my back and stare into the blue sky long enough, I’ll be able to see through and into and past it to the very depths of the universe, and maybe even all the way to the very end of the universe where I would see – what? God? Another universe? The Door at the End of the Universe? Things like, looking out my window late at night when the world is fast asleep and the lilac tree outside my window is gently stirring from the breath of the South Wind, perfuming my room with What If?
Welcome back to ComicMix’s resident snark machine. So far, I’d taken a nice big steaming load all over Barry Allen, Hal Jordon, and the X-Men. Last week, for those counting, I shilled for my own book. Based on the lack of comments, I realized ya’ll don’t care bout that. I figured I needed your love back, so I should turn my attention back to being a mean so-and-so.
I wanted to folks, I really did. But wouldn’t you know it, I’m still all fuzzy inside from last week. Since it’s rare I’m not completely bitter about something, it’s high time I send up some praise for something I’m reading. Simply put, of all the books I’ve read in the past four to five years, none have been more consistently good as Secret Six. Now that’s it’s over, this article is my way of uncapping the twist-off to my bottle of Old Milwaukee, and pouring it out on the street corner. My last week of cheerful glee is dedicated to you, Catman and company.
Let’s get the wiki-notes on the series here first, for those eternally late to the party: Secret Six used to be a hero book back in the late 60s. I didn’t read it. It was retconned/updated in the late 80s. Didn’t read that one either. In 2005 though, the team was brought back as a villainous mercenary team (by way of Gail Simone) in Villains United. I read it. I liked it. A year later, the team surfaced again, in a mini-series. Bought that one too. Loved it. And in 2008, the book was given on-going status. And into my subscription pile it went.
Oh, Secret Six… how I love you. Let me count the twisted ways. First and foremost? The characterization. The book has always followed a cast of ne’er-do-wells, and it knows that. They kill. They maim. They slaughter. But it’s never violence for violence sake. Unlike the bloated 90s where villainy became a trend, here it’s used to drive the book. I’ve never liked the idea of a mercenary book. It’s akin to playing D+D. Just because your character wants money, doesn’t make it interesting. Simone, with her cast of cretins keeps the book running on a near existential exploration of what bad is. But never is that drive just there to run the book through it’s paces. Only in a single set of issues did I ever find myself musing on if the book was on cruise control. But I digress. Gail Simone’s best asset throughout the three year run was never forgetting that a team book is best served through its characters.
The heart of the book began with Catman. Once nothing more than a complete joke (see Brad Meltzer’s run on Green Arrow), Simone put the claws back on, so-to-speak. Driven by a moral code, but knowing his own strengths… he rooted the book firmly as a natural leader. By the final stand of the Six in #36, one could picture him going toe to toe with any of the cape-and-cowled, and easily being top cat.
Over time, the focus of the book shifted to many others on the team. Simone never left a teammate as just a warm body. Ragdoll, Deadshot, Scandal Savage and badass banshee Jeanette all took turns in the limelight. More than any of them though, it was the treatment of Batman B-Lister, Bane, that stole the show for me.
Once relegated to his “oh, the guy who broke Batman’s back” status, and then a brief (and terrible) turn as an anti-hero left him as a carcass of a character. Placing him at first as just the “big guy who looks good standing in the back” on the team… it was a beautifully slow burn Simone lit under the character that ultimately ended the book. It was a thing of beauty. Spoiler alerts be damned. With the books cancelation upon them, Simone and her team (including the always fantastic, and forever underrated Jim Califiore) let Bane close the book. Driven by the idea that his own moral code would bring him 666 feet under heaven, Bane snapped.
In spite of his better efforts, Simone had hid his truly evil ways under layers of humor, sincerity, and near genial moments since his addition to the book. With literally nothing left to lose, the beast hands out viles of venom to the team for a last stand in Gotham. Ten years ago, it would have been fodder for “hulked-up villains” for an issue, devoid of depth. Here? Gail lets his heart bleed out on his sleeve; It was an emotional catharsis for a character I’d grown to honestly love reading every month. If someone at DC is reading this, I only pray they don’t let this get shuffled in the impending star-wipe.
For all I’ve bitched and moaned about in my column thus far, Secret Six represented every counter argument to my problems. Barry Allen? Milquetoast personified. Try out Ragdoll, who can’t deliver a single line in 36 issues that didn’t equally creep me out, make me laugh, or give a glimmer of depth when most writers would relegate him to just comic relief. Hal Jordan? Once a cocksure ring slinger turned “just another heroic white guy.” Give me Deadshot any day. In 36 issues, he was rarely without a quip, and a “I’m here for the fun, seriously” attitude. Brilliant.
And the X-Men? They change teams more than I change polo shirts. Secret Six has too, but somehow they never lost their core. And when new members entered the team, Gail hasn’t just thrown them into the background to fill out an action sequence. Hell, with the addition of King Shark (a mort if I ever saw one) just a handful of issues before their demise, she still managed to make him a hilarious and awesome addition. I think that bears repeating. She made king fucking shark a character I liked. While Johns, Lee, and DiDio continue to de-pants its women, Gail, Nicola Scott, and eventually Jim Califiore opted to display their women with class, grit, and nuance. Class. Grit. Nuance. Someone please pay attention. This is how books need to be written.
I tried to find a counter point to the love-in kiddos. I really did. But Secret Six for the last three years has been nothing short of wild entertainment. Simone and her excellent artists brought balance to a team book that focused its time and efforts in who they were as much as what they were. I for one will miss them, and honestly, because she’s not attached to the newly minted Suicide Squad (a sister concept to this one) I have little plan to return. They say go out with a bang. Gail went out with a nuclear explosion to the nads. Until her name (or maybe Ostrander’s…) graces a villainous page again, I’ll nurse my new-found cancer left in its wake. Ain’t that a shot of Tabasco in the eye.
Please note… I don’t actually have cancer. But there’s a hole in my soul where this book dug its claws in. Knowing that it’s replacement is a book with Harley Quinn dressed as a psychoslut is such that I cry myself to sleep at night.
There used to be ten comic book stores within a mile of my apartment. Now, there are two.
To be fair, this is two more than most people have. And when I expand the radius to two miles, there are more than a dozen. Which, again, is more than most people have. There used to be a lot more bookstores, too, even before the Borders bankruptcy. Some of this is the ebb and flow of commerce, and some of it is specific to publishing.
Most of the comic book stores near me closed in the early 1990s, when the direct market imploded. Speculators stopped buying, and there simply weren’t enough reading fans to support so many stores. With bookstores, the same kind of competition had an effect. Instead of speculators, bookstores suffered from Internet offering lower prices and free delivery. More recently, the success of Kindles and other e-readers means that fewer readers are buying physical books.
Comic fans have been reading comics online for years. You, yourself, can read comics – for free – on this very site. It’s possible to illegally download comics you’d otherwise have to pay for, through a process I’ve always thought was too complicated to bother with. Also, I don’t mind artists and writers getting paid.
Starting next month, DC Comics will offer readers the chance to buy comics digitally at the same time (and at the same price) they are available in stores. Naturally, comic book stores are less than thrilled about this.
I wonder why the Guardians of the Universe never got past the projectile–hurling stage.
Yes, we’re again riding the Green Lantern hobby horse and noticing that his almighty ring operates a lot like Doctor Strange’s conjuration and Harry Potter’s wand. They operate a lot like guns. They shoot stuff out. Exactly what the stuff is made of isn’t much defined, but it generally does what bullets do: hit and smash and shatter.
Ask yourself: wouldn’t the weaponry of the oldest, wisest, most technologically advanced cadre of blue-skinned savants in the whole, star-spangled universe be better than high-tech battering rams?
Turn, now, to Marvel Comics’ Master of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Stephen Strange, and young Master Potter of Hogwarts. Their eldritch pyrotechnics are pretty impressive, especially on a big screen in 3D, but, really, in essence aren’t they just glorified roman candles? If magic exists (and can you say with absolute certainty that it doesn’t?) isn’t it more subtle?
Might not it…oh, say, cause tiny, undetectable alterations in the invisible rhythms and perturbations of nature? Can’t it achieve its ends gently?
And from here, it’s a short step back to the Guardians and their rings, particularly if you subscribe to Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Magic, technology… at certain levels they look the same and, in the examples we’ve cited, they get their results with methods that, while they’re gussied up, are still pretty damn primitive. If you were a Guardian tasked with ring design, wouldn’t you consider having the ring alter reality just a jot, maybe by changing, ever so slightly, the ratios of the various forces in the hearts of subatomic particles, or branching off into an alternate reality where things aren’t so hairy, or by remixing the chemicals in the bad guy’s brain so that person is not deeply unhappy and therefore is not motivated to act out by destroying downtown Pismo Beach, or wherever? (Okay, admittedly, that last one’s a little creepy.)
Well, the answer’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? We’re wired to react to the tangible, things our senses can respond to, which may be why we tend to put faces on our deities instead of regarding them, as some do, as grounds of being or the like. Comics and movies are dramatic media and, what’s more they’re visual dramatic media and it’s strongly recommended, if not demanded, that visual drama show us as plainly as possible what the good guys are contending with, and how they’re contending with it. I’m afraid that imperceptible perturbations of energies in tiny, tiny whatsises just won’t answer the need.
The uncomfortable next question might be: are our visual dramas teaching us that tangible force – call it violence – is the only possible response to our problems?
Just what are we doing in those foreign nations, anyway?
Recommended Reading: Given the subject of this week’s blather, it seems appropriate that I make you aware of a comic book, first published 50 years ago, titled Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. You can get it from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, P.O. Box 271, Nyack, NY 10960. Phone: 845 358 4601. Cost is three bucks per copy, and that includes shipping and handling in the U.S.
Hey, here’s a real shock. From all the teaser press releases Marvel sent out yesterday alone, it appears November will see the return of Fantastic Four. Amazing! Incredible! Astonishing! And all sorts of other adjectives Marvel has copyrighted as part of title names.
They’re doing this just in time to miss the actual 50th anniversary of Fantastic Four #1, which happened this past week. Nice timing, guys! It’s sort of like Fleetway launching 2000 AD back in 1977… but calling it 1976AD.
The event was predicted in this very space a couple weeks ago, but I take no credit. It’s sort of like predicting the sun will rise after the rain passes. So they missed a wonderful marketing opportunity that, in all fairness, would have gotten lost in the Captain America movie hysteria anyway. Big deal. They just jerked us around again, proving DC doesn’t have the market cornered in disingenuous redundancy. We’ll live.
The only question is, when will the Human Torch return? Oh, you think he’ll stay dead? Really? No you don’t. You’ve seen Bucky and Phoenix and Aunt May and, oh, damn, everybody else come back from the dead. Maybe they’ll bring back Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch who was an android and, therefore, never really was alive in the first place. But I think he’s committed to the last couple episodes of Torchwood: Miracle Day… and probably Captain America 2: For Whom The Bell Jar Tolls.
(Yeah, it was really cool to see HT in the Cap movie. A genuine fanboy moment that proves I’m not completely jaded. Actually, I’m only jaded for a living.)
Will they go back to some version of the classic costume? Let me answer my own question with another question. Have you bought any action figures lately?
Will Spider-Man stay in the group? I don’t know; lately he’s been bitching about being in too many groups. But unless Johnny Storm returns or Wolverine finds a costume made of unstable molecules with “4X” on the chest, I think he’ll be there for a while. Not a long while. There’ll be a Human Torch there eventually – certainly in time for the next FF movie – and he’ll probably be Johnny.
There are two lessons to be learned here. I’m not addressing this to comics fans, as we learned this lesson a long time ago. I’m addressing this to employees of Marvel and DC Comics.
The first lesson is: no more death stories. They totally lack verisimilitude. And they’re kind of insulting to anyone who has ever lost a loved one. Which is, like, everyone. Second: stop the cancel/replace/revert cycle. We know you’ll revert, usually within two years. It’s just another phony, contrived attempt at attracting sales on the collectibles market. Fight the impulses with another #0 issue complete with nine variant covers, one printed on bubble-gum and shrink-wrapped for your protection.
Ah, well. Even though they could have retitled the book Reed Richards’ Cosmics and Stories, it will be nice to see Fantastic Four back.
When I came back to ComicMix it was decided that the focus would be on comics and related media. My former column was often politically charged and often had nothing to do with comics. I still write weekly rants about politics and other things that drive me nuts on my website, michaeldavisworld.com, but ComicMix should be about comics!!
Glenn Beck has a problem with Marvel’s decision to create a half-Latino, half-black Spider-Man.
Now, now… I’m not going go on a “Glenn Beck is a racist bastard” tirade. I’m a man of my word and this is about comics!
Glenn Beck has written a few best-selling books. so I was wondering what the new Spider-Man would be like written by Mr. Beck. He is a very successful writer and his views would bring something new to the superhero genre…
Spider-Man: The Rice & Beans War
By Glenn Beck
So far Juan and Manny had no problem driving their rented U-Haul truck in Arizona. It was late and as Juan dozed Manny listened to the sweet sounds of James Brown on the trucks radio. Manny loved R&B. Manny’s father was black, his mother Mexican and had inherited traits from them both.
Juan snoozed on while Manny continued to listen to soul music while at the same time he was enjoying rice and beans. This was a happy time for Manny. Whenever he was in his happy place alone with his thoughts he would play his happy place game.
Where oh where is my daddy?
That was the name of the game Manny would play in his head. Manny’s father had left when Manny was just seven years old. He had chosen seven because that’s the best time for a black father to leave his family. Seven gives the child ample time to grow to love daddy thus assuring the pain on the child is, well… painful. Seven also allow the memory of that fateful day, especially the image of daddy walking out the door one last time to be forever etched in the kid’s brain.
Coincidently, seven is also a great age for mommy to start telling the kid, “Your daddy didn’t want you, that’s why he left!” Or “It’s because of you your daddy didn’t stay with me!” Or my favorite, “He’s not your daddy! Who is? How would I know? I’m a stereotypic Latino single mother and I’ve had dozens of lovers and dozens of children so how the Hell would I know who you daddy is? Now, past me my crack pipe and don’t wake up your new uncle who’s in the bed next to me boy!”
So Manny passed the late night into the early morning playing; where oh where is my daddy?
I was in the midst of a great crusade against the most terrifying villain ever unleashed upon the universe. A tyrant created by an evil greater than Mephisto – or Emperor Palpatine or Darkseid, choose your poison – whose sole purpose is to destroy humanity. A crafty, insidious, and totally nasty piece of work, capable of twisting even the greatest brains ever known – Einstein, Newton, Hawkings, Reed Richards – into Roquefort cheese, of destroying REM sleep, of chaining even the raging Incredible Hulk to a chair for weeks.
Oh, yes, it was a battle for the ages. He tried driving me mad with visions of z-scores and ANOVAs and Pearson Correlations and Chi-Square Tests for Goodness. Of blinding me with rs = 1 – 6∑D2/n(n2-1) and SSA = ∑T2ROW/nROW – G2/N and t = (M1 – M2) – (µ1 – µ2)/s(M1 – M2) equations and incapacitating my ability to write my column.
Who is this creature from which Doctor Doom hides in the blackest caves of the deepest forests of Latveria? Who is this monster that chases Galactus through the Andromeda galaxy? What is this, this thing, which sends Doomsday scurrying for his Mommy?
He is Statistics.
And though in the end I was bloodied and broken, I triumphed.
So where was I?
I had found some typewriting paper in a drawer. I had pulled my old portable manual out from underneath my bed, where it has been collecting dust bunnies for I-couldn’t-remember-how-long. I had gotten a paper towel and some Windex and had wiped off the keys. I had prayed that the ribbon was still good. I had rolled the paper in. Had set the margins.
From time to time I’m going to use this space to talk about professional concerns gleaned from my experiences of the past twenty-five plus years in the industry and pass on words of advice that I got in that time.
For example – if you go to a Convention and you’re a pro, you’re probably going to be asked to autograph copies of your work. Here’s something I didn’t know when I began and was taught by another pro: keep your autograph separate and different from your legal signature (the thing you sign checks and binding contracts with). Walt Simonson, for example, has a great autograph – looks like a dinosaur. I doubt he signs his checks that way. It makes sense. If your autograph is the same as your legal signature, it makes it easier for someone to forge that signature and that’s not good.
Here’s another bit of advice. I was once negotiating a contract at one of the major companies and I had a question about something in the contract that no one could answer. I was told, “Oh, John. Just go ahead and sign it. We’re all family here.”
My answer was – no, we’re not. I know who and what my family is and the company isn’t it. I applied my “Hit By A Bus” theory which goes as follows: if everyone I knew (and liked) at a given company all went out to lunch together and they were all hit by a bus and killed, all I would have would be the contract as written.
I have lots of friends at lots of different companies in lots of different positions ranging from editorial to management to production to the business end. They’re all personnel and can be promoted, demoted, fired, leave, and so on. The company itself can merge with another, change divisions, be sold, be bought, and more than one has gone out of business out from under me. Businesses will make business decisions that are usually based on financial reasons. The famous line from the Godfather, “it’s not personal; it’s just business” remains true.
I don’t fault businesses for that. It’s what they are. I may have friends at a certain business and, yes, I often depend on them to be friends. I never expect a corporation to be my friend. I don’t care what a commercial that’s trying to sell you something tells you to the contrary. A business is not your friend and certainly isn’t your family. They are a corporate entity and they will act like one. Don’t expect anything different.
Short form: read the contract, any contract, and know what you’re getting into. If you need a lawyer to explain it to you, get one. Don’t take the word of anyone working for the company as to what it means; make sure it’s someone who is not part of the corporation. That’s true outside of comics as well as in. If it isn’t in the contract, it doesn’t exist legally. There is no “understanding,” there’s only what’s on paper. Know that before you put your legal signature – not your autograph – on the dotted line. You and your family will be happier as a result.
Hello all. I thought I’d change things up a tad today… and not just tear into a character, creator, or comic that drives me bonkers. I figured instead it’d be fun to discuss a comic I actually love. OK, this may not actually count. Why? It’s my comic.
Unshaven Comics is my studio/self-publishing/merchandising pet project, alongside my brothers-from-other-mothers, Matt Wright and Kyle Gnepper. Back in 2006 we were lucky fuckers who were given a shot to make a book for an actual publisher. I won’t get into the details, but suffice to say we learned more lessons than we earned dollars. We wouldn’t trade that experience in for the world; especially because it’s how we came to meet Mike Gold. That’s not where the story ends though. In fact, it’s where it all begins.
Having finished a project on someone else’s terms, Unshaven Comics looked around for someone else to work for. Unlucky for us, publishing a tiny educational comic book about immigration isn’t the way to get on anyone’s radar. Thus, we looked inward. Why do a book for someone when you can do one for yourself, right? If comics aren’t going to pay our bills, it might as well be something we give a damn about. Thus, Disposable Razors was born. Pie-eyed, we pitched it to Mike. “Anthologies? They don’t sell.” And like happy drunks, we just kept on keeping on.
Disposable Razors conceptually isn’t a hard sell. For us? It’s an exercise. A single issue to tell a single story that leaves enough of a world developed that should we care to return to it, we can. Issue 1 was Kyle’s baby, Chasing Daylight, wherein a group of four guys learn about the frailty of friendship by way of a demon. Issue 2 was fishtastic: Iron Side: Living Will, wherein a retired geriatric superhero straps up his boots on one last mission before he meets his maker. And as I sit here looking at it… Issue 3 is now a reality as well. This time around the three of Unshaven lads really worked as a team (with Kyle penning half, Matt painting said half, and crazy me writing and drawing the other half). Issue #3 is homage to our childhoods. I need only give you the pitch on this one. The Samurnauts™! Astronaut Samurai led by an immortal Kung-Fu monkey fighting evil demon dinosaurs. I can’t even type that without smiling a little.
A recent exchange with my friends at ComicMix posed an interesting question. “What exactly are you looking for, Unshaven Comics?” In our wildest dreams, Marvel or DC comes to us and says “Hey, how about we give you a shot.” In our less-but-not-really-cause-it’d-be-amazing dreams, Image, Avatar, Boom or Dynamite comes to us and says “Hey, how about we give you a shot.” But in the real world? DC isn’t calling. Marvel ain’t either. Avatar and the like are after licenses, and their creative teams are generally established. Trust me, this kind of talk from me even two years ago, wouldn’t happen. I’m an admitted dreamer. But, getting married? A kid on the way? It has a knack for opening the bigger picture to a guy.
Unshaven Comics was founded because at the time, our early 20s, we had our future at our fingertips. We knew the traditional routes into comics. Matt could have easily made a portfolio, pitched himself to editors at con after con, and if he was lucky? Land a gig doing a backup in an annual. Once. And Kyle? Getting into comics as a writer is about as easy as… well… getting into comics as a writer. And me? A jack of all trades, a master at none. I can color. I can letter. I fancy myself a writer. And if I put my mind to it? I can pencil and ink. If I were lucky, a publisher might use me in a pinch (cough, The Original Johnson, Volume 2). But I digress… Like I said, we were founded on the idea that if we were to make it into the industry, it was all for one, and one for all. Insane? You bet your ass. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Doing our own books means I have to hang up the snark gloves and ask myself what I want to see in a comic. With backs against the wall, and your soul for sale for five bucks a pop, whilst sitting at a six foot table in the midst of real professionals? It’s exhilarating. And with every sale to a stranger, a knot in my stomach forms. Will they like it? Are fooling ourselves? Does the book look professional enough? Oh my god, is there a typo?
Sometimes, the reactions we get astound us. We had a girl buy book 1 on a Friday. She came back to the table on Saturday gushing. She bought book 2. Other times? We get slapped right in the jaws. Johanna Draper Carlson of “Comics Worth Reading” stopped by our table last year. She flipped through the issue and a long frown came upon her face. “This is just… not good. But I like your logo!” And she was off. She tripped a little over our now dead egos, and moved on. I could wax poetic as to why I think our comics are the bee’s knees… but frankly I’m the artist. Too close to my work to know if I should just be reading them, not writing them.
For the last five years I have given up a social life. Both my and Matt’s amazing wives have allowed their husbands to spend near every hour that isn’t at work, eating, pooping or sleeping… making comic books. Disposable Razors #3 in fact, was near 225 work-hours, last I counted. And those hours? Not 9 to 5. That’s every night after working day jobs. It’s weekends not spent relaxing on a couch, or watching a movie. From taking reference shots, scripting, penciling, inking, coloring, lettering, editing, reediting and prepping the book to print? The last four months of our life have been nothing short of exhausting. All for 36 quickly read pages of art and words. We’re tired. We’re cranky. We’re hoping people buy it, and don’t spit on us.
And we’ll do it all again tomorrow. Why? Because, when you’re living the dream, you never want to wake up.
According to stories like this, there was quite the kerfuffle at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con about the decline in the number of female artists and writers on the new DC reboot.
Raising questions about this is guaranteed to get one labeled a bitch (or worse). Kudos to Batgirl for being the bitch. It’s a thankless job, but somebody has to do it. However, I’m disturbed by DC’s response. They claim they were looking for the “best available” talent. Apparently, the best indicator of talent is a penis.
Look, I understand that DC (and Marvel, and Dark Horse, and IDW and so on and so on) want to hire writers and artists with built-in fan followings. It’s a competitive market, and anything that helps to sell the product is desirable. I also understand that these publishers want to hire people who have demonstrated an ability to meet deadlines reliably, and the easiest way to do that is to employ people you’ve already employed.
The entertainment media require a steady influx of new talent. Some, like music and movies, demand youth, and too much experience can be considered a drawback. Other branches of publishing, such as books and magazines, all have systems in place to not only keep successful writers, artists and photographers, but also to develop new ones.
Mainstream comics, not so much.
I got my break at Marvel because I hung out at the office a lot. This was back in the mid-1980s, before heinous security measures engulfed New York office buildings. I had interviewed Denny O’Neil for High Times magazine, and exploited our acquaintance (and subsequent friendship) so that I could hang out, use the photocopiers, and make free long-distance calls. Because of this, I was a familiar face, and when Larry Hama wanted to expand the kind of comics he was publishing, he took a chance on me, and we developed Dakota North with Tony Salmons.
No one has since taken a chance on me. Dwayne McDuffie once told me this was all the evidence he needed that comics is a sexist business. As things stand now, most people who enter the field of mainstream comics are former fans. The business won’t attract more women until it creates more comics that girls like. And it probably won’t create more comics that girls like until there are more people who used to be girls making comics. It’s a vicious circle.
The easiest way to break this chain is to make it less profitable. The first step in that direction, at least at DC, seems to be the failure of the Green Lantern movie to make a boatload of money. Geoff Johns, fanboy in chief, seems to be getting the blame. I admit that I kind of liked it, but that’s because I’ve been reading the comics for 50 years … and, also, Ryan Reynolds in a skintight suit. Most people who buy movie tickets don’t have my knowledge of the backstory, and so didn’t have the patience to sit through it.
Bringing in new perspectives isn’t easy. The old ways are easy. Unfortunately, the old ways inevitably produce the old results. Since this is comics, it doesn’t have the same impact as, say, firefighting, but the results of this laziness are the same – ostracizing newcomers and alienating the general public.
Comic book editors, look beyond your slush piles! Seek out new talent at places other than portfolio reviews at comic conventions! There’s a whole world of talent out there.