Category: Columns

MIKE GOLD: Whips and Comics

In this very space a few days ago, John Ostrander said, By this time next year, we may know if we’re still viable or making buggy whips.” He was referring to comics creators, to comics fans, and to the entire comics art medium.

The first person I heard refer to comics with this term was master cartoonist Stan Lynde. In case you’re challenged in matters relating to newspaper comic strips, Stan was the creator and writer/artist of the strips Rick O’Shay and Latigo. He’s a master storyteller, a brilliant humorist and an artist of fantastic prowess. The time was close to 20 years ago, and Mike Grell and I were at a very enjoyable comic book convention at Billings Montana. One of the promoters promised to introduce me to Stan. This was a real fanboy moment for me.

As it turned out Stan and Lynda Lynde were two of the nicest people on the planet, and probably the universe. After dinner (where I consumed the best prime rib ever), they invited Mike and me to their place in the bluffs overlooking Billings. There Mike and I gazed upon acres of Stan’s paintings, original strip art, awards, historical memorabilia, and simply awesome sundry stuff. We talked for several hours and the subject got around to his career. Stan shared all kinds of great stuff – how one of his assistants was Robert Crumb, who, in many respects, was the anti-Stan Lynde. How Little Orphan Annie creator Harold Gray was an egotistical, arrogant bastard – those are my words, not Stan’s. And how, when he was coming to the end of his tenure his signature creation Rick O’Shay, his first wife asked him how long he was going to be making buggy whips.

That phrase impressed me. Were newspaper strips buggy whips? Maybe. Continuity strips certainly were – today, we have Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, Alley Oop, The Phantom, Mandrake, Judge Parker and barely a handful of others. Tracy’s picked up a few papers since our pal Joe Staton took over the art; on the other hand I know Mandrake is still alive solely because it’s online at King Features Syndicate. But the argument itself stayed with me, and during the past two decades I’ve endured the effluvium of the buggy whip factory as it surrounded the comic book medium.

The fact that the newspaper comic strip form remains alive is due to the Internet: a lot of newspapers run lots and lots of strips on their websites and the major syndicates have very low-cost services which email comics directly to their subscribers.

Not to put words in Brother John’s mouth, but the Internet is the only thing staving comic books off from the buggy whip wing of the American cultural museum. I think John’s right: we should know in about a year if that works. If not, ComicMix will become, oh, I don’t know, either a B&D site with all those whips, or a B&B site where you can score a nice home cooked meal.

As we passed midnight Stan drove us back to our hotel. As we were walking to the door and I said something to the effect of “hot damn.” Brother Grell responded, “You better believe it.” Even then Mike and I were two hardened veterans of the comics racket but we effortlessly allowed ourselves to bathe in the most crystal clear waters of fanboy heaven. We shared a truly inspirational time and we actually leapt up in the air out of our shared enthusiasm.

And that’s why I think comics might just have a future after all.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

MICHAEL DAVIS: Back To The Future

“Just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in.”
Michael Corleone

“This is a moment of history.”
Jim Lee

“ I told you so.”
Michael Davis

“Bitch better have my money.”
Fly Guy

Michael Corleone was talking about not being able to escape the Mafia.

Jim Lee was talking about the DC Comics Reboot.

I’m taking about my return to ComicMix.

Fly guy was talking about a bitch having his money.

Don’t waste anytime trying to figure out why I used the Fly Guy quote. I’ll just tell you, I simply like saying, “Bitch better have my money.”

I’m told there are a lot more ComicMix users now then when I was writing here. Because of that I’m going to write a brief bio of myself in case you never heard of me.

My name is Michael Davis and I’m Master Of The Universe. I’m also a writer, TV producer artist and dealmaker. I work in mainstream publishing, comics, television and the music industry, yada, yada, blah, blah. When ComicMix started I wrote a wildly popular column called “Straight No Chaser”.  I was fired from ComicMix because I was black.

OK, the black thing is just what I told girls at comic conventions when I wanted them to feel bad for me. Now I’ll tell them ComicMix brought me back because of pressure from the NAACP and President Obama.

My column WAS wildly popular. If you hear differently remember that’s the white man trying to keep me down.

As I mentioned my column was called Straight No Chaser. I can’t call my return to ComicMix that because I continue my weekly rants under that title at my WILDLY popular website, www.michaeldavisworld.com.

If anyone tells you it’s not wildly popular, remember,

White man.

Down.

Me.

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MINDY NEWELL: Back In The Saddle Again

There’s a scene in Sleepless In Seattle where Tom Hanks, whose libido has been dead in the water since his wife died, comes home from work to discover his young son hanging out with a friend in his room – and that’s a literal hanging out, as the two of them are cozy cuddling on one of those mod hanging chairs built for one. Oh, did I forget to mention that the son’s friend is grrrl? One of those 9-going-on-24 types who seem to have waaaay too much information ‘bout the birds and the bees and who looks on grown-ups as burnt-out Muggies without a clue about the magic in the world and who you just have to tolerate because, well, that’s just the way life is.

“H-A-G,” the girl says to Tom. And, proving her point, he says, “Huh?”

“Hi and good-bye,” she sighs with a sad shake of her head.

“Oh. Yeah. Right” says Tom, and closes the door. Now Tom is such a brilliant actor, and you can just see the thoughts going through his head about just being kicked out of his son’s room, number one being, my 9 year old son is gettin’ some! And number two being fuck that! And the soundtrack gears up and Gene Autry sings “I’m Back in the Saddle Again” while we watch Tom going through his Rolodex and dialing the number of that cute interior decorator he works with.

So how does that relate to comics? As you’ll learn as you read my columns, my mind works in mysterious ways and I have given up trying to understand how that works.

See, it was a Saturday. A few days earlier Mike Gold had asked me to write for ComicMix. I was so flattered that I said yes immediately, and then after we hung up I’m like, “What the hell am I doing? Why did I say yes? I haven’t written anything in years. I’ve haven’t been involved with comics for years. I don’t even have an account at my local comics store anymore. I’m calling him back and telling him, thanks, but no thanks.” Only I didn’t. I watched Sleepless on HBO instead.

So the next day is Sunday and I’m driving out to Watchung to see my parents, and I’m listening to the Buffy “Once More With Feeling” soundtrack for like the millionth time and singing along and all of a sudden in the middle of I’ll Never Tell my mind flashes on that scene with Tom and his son and the wise-ass girl and Gene Autry singing in the background and I say to myself, Back in the Saddle Again. What a great title for my column.

So here I am.

I was going to write today about how I got into comics. See, I’m a nurse. An R.N. With extensive education and fancy certificates. I don’t talk about my “other career” at work. (For a reason. I’ll tell you about that later on, maybe.) But somehow someone always finds out. Through their kid, or their cousin, or their accountant, who are readers or collectors and “your name came up in conversation yesterday and my boyfriend asked me if you’re the Mindy Newell who wrote Wonder Woman. And I googled you and, wow, you worked for DC?” And then, you know, gossip, and in the middle of a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, the surgeon says to me, “Somebody told me you wrote the Legion of Super-Heroes. I loved the Legion. Read it all the time when I was growing up.” Once I had a patient who couldn’t get over that the writer of the Amethyst mini-series was his nurse.

And on the other side, the people who do read and work in comics, they always find it fascinating that I work in the operating room. A lot of them – maybe it has do with being comics fans? – always ask me about the blood, they all think there’s a lot of blood in the operating room, they’re like “how do you handle all that blood and guts and stuff?” and their eyes are glowing with excitement, and I swear, some of them, their mouths are watering, and I know they think I work in The Tomb of Dracula, but I love to fuck with them, and so I tell them that there really isn’t a lot of blood in the operating room, and that it can really be quite boring, but no one ever believes me, and they look so disappointed, so for those of you who really need that blood gratification, I will say that, yeah, sometimes there is tons of the red stuff, and that’s when it’s Avengers Asssemble!!

I promise I’ll tell you next time how I got into comics.

Oh, and one more thing.

I love being back in the saddle again.

Hope you’ll join me.

TUESDAY: Michael Davis!

JOHN OSTRANDER: The Digital Rubicon

A very intelligent man, one Dennis O’Neil (who you will also find here on ComicMix), and I were talking once about comics’ future. He noted that comics didn’t have to survive. Like the dinosaur, they could die out. Early cars had places for buggy whips; I doubt that you’ll find that feature on your car today. Food we need, water we need, air and so on. Story we need, I think, but comics as a venue for story? Not necessarily.

It’s no secret that comics sales are declining. The numbers of readers are declining, the numbers of stores are declining, the amount of cash being made is declining. It happened once before when comics were sold only on the newsstand, back in the Neolithic Era for you who are too young to remember. What saved it then was the Direct Market but that’s now killing it; the market is constricting and the numbers of readers are finite. What may save it this time is going digital – comics here on the web.

The reason is this is where the eyeballs are. As a product in comic books stores, comics are a very specific market – a destination shop for those who already know the product exists. The problem with selling comics on the internet is that will inevitably undercut the brick and mortar retailers, just as e-books are doing. (Amazon now says it sells more e-books than physical ones.) I love comic book stores. I admire the retailers who have put their hard work and passion into building businesses that cater to we the fans. I’ve made a living for more than twenty years because these people sell my stuff (and, okay, some other stuff, too). However, it’s going to happen. Comics are headed for the digital market big time.

Up until now, the majors have been releasing some titles on the web after the onsale date in stores but that changes in September. DC is renumbering its books and relaunching and all that but, to me, the bigger story is that they’re crossing the Digital Rubicon and putting everything on sale digitally the same day they’re in the stores. If that is successful, expect lots more companies to follow, big and small.

The big question in my mind is – will people buy comics on the web? If so, how much are they willing to pay? If all that happens is that those who go to the stores now buy online, this won’t fly. This has to increase the overall market – the number of eyeballs – or it will not only fail, it could sink much of what’s left of the retail market.

I’m thinking it’s part of the reason for the renumbering and rebooting (despite denials from DC) – to make the books more attractive to new readers. It will also attract some national media attention. It’s also necessary. In an era when superhero movies (and movies made from all kinds of comics – i.e. Cowboys And Aliens) attract huge numbers in the theaters, there is clearly a following for these characters. If even a small percentage of that can be attracted to the comics, it would make an enormous difference. I think DC is making a gutsy move.

Make no mistake, however; whatever happens in September, the comics biz won’t be the same. By this time next year, we may know if we’re still viable or making buggy whips.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

MARC ALAN FISHMAN: Flash Fact – Barry Allen Sucks!

Flash (Barry Allen)

Image via Wikipedia

Hello all you crazy-awesome ComicMix fans. For those who don’t know me (and when you share a space with guys like Mike Gold, John Ostrander, Martha Thomases, Michael Davis, Denny O’Neil, and Mindy Newell? I don’t blame you!) allow me to introduce myself by way of witty, snarky banter. I figured if I am to come out of the gate anew with a comic focused op-ed piece, I might as well start by swinging for the fences. So, let me point to the rafters over center field, and take the biggest swing I can.

Simply put: DC’s Flashpoint is a ten-pound turd in a five gallon bowl.

I use this nasty language, mind you, because I “covered” the event for a podcast I do from time to time… and have spent my hard earned dollars on this bloated excuse to sell toys, and piss off fans.

In June, DC boldly told the world they are “star-wiping” their universe to engage the next era of fans, by removing that pesky continuity. So, while those new and shiny number ones are getting printed, why not release yet-another-epic-that-will-change-the-universe-as-we-know-it™ event? “Flashpoint” was to turn the DCU on its ears. It chortles in every issue with its logo emblazoned on the title card, that it gives us a world where “everything you know has changed in a flash…” My ass. What they’ve done instead, is created an unnecessary mega-crisis for no better reason than “going out with a bang”. So for all us fans who don’t mind a little history to go with our comics… we’re treated to DC choosing to end their current universe’s life on yet-another-Crisis.

In a nutshell, Flashpoint is DC’s attempt at taking an obvious Elseworlds story and shoehorning it into continuity. I honestly don’t care how many well-produced interviews they have Dan DiDio do celebrating the ‘ground breaking’ idea. I don’t care how many Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, or Bleeding Cool articles are written kissing the ass of all the creators involved (and yes, all three have since reviewed many of the series’ minis very poorly). To tell the fans that this event will matter, is akin to the DCU toking up a massive joint, and blowing the Funion fumes right in our face in hopes we’ll get the munchies. I’ve not seen better hype for a dumber product since The Phantom Menace.

On DCU’s “The Source” blog, they asked some hard hitting questions to this effect:

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MARTHA THOMASES: Who is Ana Mendieta?

The world of fine arts is even more male-dominated than the world of popular arts. Although both trivialize the work of women, there are more respected women working in creative departments of film, television, even comics than there are in the better galleries and museums.

As if to prove the point, there is a new graphic novel from the Feminist Press, Who Is Ana Mendieta? Ana Mendieta was a Cuban-born artist best known for her earthworks, which combined her cultural heritage, her body, and specific sites. And, to the broader public, she is best known for her marriage to artist Carl Andre and her death under questionable circumstances.

This book is part of Blind Spot, a series of graphic novels from Feminist Press, which, according to their press release, “reconstruct these cultural biographies to tell a different story.”

Who Is Ana Mendiata? uses the graphic novel medium to full effect. The perspective jumps around from the persona – Ana’s life and relationships – to the professional – the upward trajectory of her career, and her developing themes as an artist – to the political – the art world environment and its attitude towards women. The word balloon placement guides the eye deftly, so that none of this is the least bit confusing. The slightly cartoony art style makes it easy to accept the contradictory opinions of the different characters, even as it encourages a healthy skepticism in the reader.

It makes me a little bit nostalgic to see the debates of the late 1970s to mid-1980s about the importance of women’s contribution to the arts. Critics like Lucy Lippard (who wrote the introduction to this book), artists like Barbara Kruger and Judy Chicago (just a small sample, read the book for more), and the Guerrilla Girls collective, made it an exciting time. Anger makes good graphics.

The same anger also made great music.

It’s interesting that now, more than 25 years later, we still have these arguments. It’s now accepted that women work “outside the home,” as we used to say. And we accept that women can be artists and managers and executives and airline pilots and ditch diggers.

And yet.

Women are still defined primarily as creatures who breed other humans. Our professional accomplishments are limited by our fertility, and the law considers us little more than incubators. Men can be fathers and successful, but women are still expected to choose one or the other area in which to excel.

Life is a good thing, and I’m in favor of continuing the human species. However, I think we limit ourselves when we concentrate on women’s wombs at the expense of their brains. Rosalyn Yalow‘s commitment to life was profound. If she couldn’t type, those people – and her genius – would have been lost to the rest of us.

Whether or not Ana Mendieta created work that appeals to your aesthetic, you owe it to yourself to check out this book … and her art.

Who Is Ana Mendiata?
Christine Redfern & Caro Caron
Introduction by Lucy Lippard
Hardcover: $18.95
ISBN: 978-155861703-2
The Feminist Press

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman!

DENNIS O’NEIL: Universal Upheaval!

So the universe upheaved and a gap appeared in time and here we are, at the far end of that gap. (Or the near end, if we’re looking backwards. But never mind.) We’ve again grubbed residence in Comicmixland and vowed to deliver weekly blather.

But, with a deep bow to Bill Maher, we have new rules—or to be exact, just rules, since when I last did this nobody mentioned rules, though I did promise Mike Gold and myself to do at least 500 words per installment, lest I be mistaken for a carbuncle. The 500 word deal still holds, but Mike has added a new proviso; subject matter should be somehow related to comics.

Pretty draconian, huh?

Actually, Mike’s edict doesn’t much close any doors. First, a lot is happening in comics and related media per se and, second, virtually everything in our media-drenched, perpetual-news-cycling global civilization is connected. Always has been. Really. Remember the butterfly effect: The sumbitch flapping around a garden in Tokyo today will cause your hat to blow off next Tuesday and the breath I just took may have contained an atom that was once part of Cleopatra. (And, more painfully, the monetary crisis in Greece may bump your mortgage.) And we all come from the same place, out there among the stars in the baby cosmos.

So yeah, the world is a vast network of interconnections, and it’s a lot easier to see that now that it was a century ago. It shouldn’t be much of a rhetorical trick to write about comics and still acknowledge that other things exist, and are worthy our notice.

(I wonder: could you have a comprehensive knowledge of comics, beginning with The Yellow Kid and ending with…oh, I dunno – Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men? – could you know that and be ignorant of the history of the United States in the Twentieth Century? Maybe not.)

But where to begin?

Well, this week, nowhere. I’ve already burned away 329 of those 500 words and unless I want to content myself with knocking off a few haiku, there isn’t much room left for pontificating. But next week? Hey, this has been called the summer of the superhero movie, hasn’t it? And although I haven’t seen all of the films in question, and probably won’t in the next seven days (Thor has already hammered back to Asgard, which I think is somewhere just off Sunset Boulevard, and is not available for viewing) but doesn’t utter ignorance of my subject qualify me as a pundit? Darn right! And what’s happening behind the cameras—the changes in management—is worth a bit of uninformed opinionating, too.

A final note: In the previous incarnation of this feature, and in a comic book that the aforementioned Mike Gold and I worked on a couple of decades past, we recommended books we thought might amuse our readers. I’d like to continue recommending reading, but not every week, just when I come across something I think will be of particular interest to y’all.

Happy trails…

FRIDAY… Martha Thomases

MIKE GOLD: Hey, Here’s A Surprise!

Well, I’m having fun.

Back when we started out, ComicMix used to run all these fabulous columns written by all these swell writers and, well, by me too. Those columns disappeared after about a year and a half and a lot of people told us they wanted ‘em back. Among those people were most of the columnists themselves. And me. Man, I bitched up a storm. And nobody can bitch up a storm like me.

So we re-geared out operations (that term creates the ambiance that we actually have a clue as to what we’re doing), and, effective right now, we’re reinstating our daily columns. Joining returning writers Dennis O’Neil, John Ostrander, Martha Thomases, Michael Davis and myself are two newcomers: Marc Alan Fishman and Mindy Newell.

You know Marc from his frequent contributions to ComicMix. He’s just a kid, which is weird because his wife is pregnant with a smaller, younger kid. A life-long comics fan who knows his barbecue, Marc is part of the mighty Unshaven Comics crew. That’s at www.unshavencomicsonline.com, where he’s joined by his buddies and my pals Matt Wright and Kyle Gnepper. Together, they publish indy comics that are truly worth reading; that’s how we found Marc in the first place. Check ‘em out at their website.

Chances are pretty damn good you’ve also heard of Mindy. She’s making her return to comics here at ComicMix; she spent about five years editing at Marvel Comics and ten years writing such features as Wonder Woman, Catwoman, the Legion of Super-Heroes, American Flagg!, Daredevil, Black Widow, The Next Wave… you get the idea. She’s also an operating room nurse, which I think might come in handy around here. Somebody told me – I think it was Mindy – that I cannot live on barbecue alone. I try.

We’ll be focusing more solidly on comics than we did last time around. Not to say we’ve abandoned the heavy political/social stuff: Martha, Michael and I have been writing those type of columns every week for www.michaeldavisworld.com for a couple years now and we’ll be continuing to do so until we get arrested for sedition.

But here at ComicMix we’ll be mostly talking about comics and directly related media and phenomena. We’ll probably be talking about the comics related movies and teevee shows and, if we can find somebody wealthy enough to buy tickets, even to comics related Broadway plays. Perhaps I’ll even do an expose about just how many Wonder Woman statues a 35-year-old woman can squeeze into her basement apartment.

Most important, we invite you to join in on the fun. We’re in for some hectic times in the greater comics world. DC is recreating itself again, and Marvel going nuts with special events. Everybody’s got something new, and new publishers continue to pop up like rabid Whac-a-Moles. Please feel free to comment until your fingers fall off. It’s probable that the relevant columnist will play in and we can get a nice little dialog going. Think of ComicMix as sort of like Twitter with an attention span.

And bring along your sense of humor.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil!