I wrote last time about digital comics and I realize there was another big question for me as we cross the digital Rubicon into this brave new world: will there be letter columns?
Now you might point out to me, “John, most comics don’t have letter columns now.” I’ve always felt that was a mistake. In fact, I think it’s one of the reasons for the decline of comics, if not of the entire Western Civilization as we know it. My first work in comics appeared in a letter column. During the Overlord saga in Thor, I pretty much figured out who the mysterious Overlord really was. (I think it was Odin or some manifestation of Odin or something.) I even was awarded a Mighty Marvel No-Prize for my efforts, which was supposed to be for service above and beyond the call of duty to Marvel before they cheapened it for giving it out to every slob who wrote in and said, “Make Mine Marvel!” and yes it still burns me today that they did that but never mind. (For those of you who are interested, the No-Prize consisted of a an envelope mailed to you that clearly stamped “No Prize” on the front. You opened the envelope and it was empty – there was no prize! That was the gag. My first reaction was that somebody slipped up and forgotten to include my No-Prize in the envelope. I did eventually get the joke. I’m not always real swift but I get there.)
I had a better letter published in a Savage Sword Of Conan. One story had Conan betrayed by his female companion and he snarled at her, “Waitress!” Of course, they meant to say “Traitress!” Obviously, an error no one caught but my letter tried to prove that it wasn’t an error but a nice bit of characterization, showing that Conan obviously had bad experiences with female serving staff; thus, the worst thing he could call the wench was “Waitress!” I remember my closing line was, “After all, have you ever seen the big Cimmerian lug tip?!” I figured the letter was clever enough to make the letter column, and it did.
Welcome back to my angry little corner of the Interwebs, folks. Since my column last week seemed to find some harmonious affinity amongst the fine folks reading, I figured I’d continue riding my snarky-train one more week. Don’t fret, I’ve got plenty of anger to dispense at Marvel, Image, Todd MacFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Robert Kirkman, and the new Voltron show on Nickelodeon.
For today, though? I’m shining my hate-fueled lantern of justice on my favorite hero. Yes my friends, this li’l rant is on Green Lantern. Let’s start appropriately, shall we?
In Brightest Day,
In Blackest Night,
Hal Jordan beamed as he soared in flight,
The other lanterns can’t seem to be
Treated just as equally.
Rayner’s got heart,
And Garnder’s got ‘tude,
And John Stewart’s still the one black dude…
Geoff Johns and the DC Elite,
Think the Silver Age is totally neat!
But Sinestro now wears the crown,
For a few months, until sales are down.
Then Jordan’s back, to fight all fears,
And retcon the last two damned years!
The summer before my Bar Mitzvah I was hauled off to a Jewish summer camp, where my bunkmate loaned me his copies of the Green Lantern. Rayner, the newly crowned emerald knight, was DC’s answer to Peter Parker. An every-kid who had actual fun being a superhero. Long story short? It sold me on comics. Soon thereafter, I declared him my BFF in fiction, and I’ve maintained a subscription to the Green Lantern books since the mid-to-late 90s. Not to be just a one-Lantern guy, I’ve since read tons of stories starring (amongst others…) Hal Jordan. I even own the first volume of his “archived” appearances. Suffice to say, I “get” Hal and why he’s the number one ring bearer. From his cocksure attitude to his “not the black guy, Irish guy, or 90s kid with stubble and girl problems” whiteyness, he’s the model DCU hero. An inoffensive guy with a “this was cool in the 60s” secret identity, who Geoff Johns could angst up. I guess the question to ask here is simple: Is Hal Jordan any better than Barry Allen right now? (more…)
The staff at my regular comic shop wants to know what I think about the DC re-launch. I’ve been shopping there for decades, and I buy DC comics every time I go in there. I don’t only buy DC, but I buy almost everything they publish.
That’s the way it’s been for me for more than 50 years. I’ve liked Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and the Legion of Super-Heroes for that long. As I’ve grown up, I’ve liked other characters, and I’ve learned to follow not just the heroes I like, but also the writers and artists.
So here’s what I tell them when they ask me what I think: “It doesn’t make any difference to me.”
Superman has relaunched once in my lifetime. I can’t count how often Wonder Woman has been rebooted. The Legion is so complicated that I have trouble keeping it straight and I’ve been reading it for 50 years!
I predict that, within five years, everything that’s important will be the same in the DC Universe as it is now, or as it was at some time in the past.
In the meantime, DC’s publicist, David Hyde, is kicking ass with his publicity efforts. I hope that enough people sample the new comics to see if they like them. It’s been a very long time since new readers have been courted so aggressively.
Unfortunately, there is one aspect of this I don’t like. Dan Didio and Jim Lee have described their characters as “brands.” This is the way the MBAs who run Warner Bros. talk about their properties, and I understand how, when one wants to appear savvy to one’s boss, one appropriates the bosses’ jargon.
“Brand” is a marketing term. Tide is a brand. Nike is a brand. It’s a corporate identity that promises consumers something they want, whether that something is reliably clean clothes or athletic shoes that let the wearer perform like a superstar.
Superman is not a brand. He’s a character. He’s a character that changes according to the whims of the creative teams making his stories. He may implicitly promise consumers something they want (truth, justice and the American way), but he keeps them as readers because of his human qualities, the details of his life that fascinate us, amuse us and excite us.
As his publicist, I observed these phenomena in the 1990s. When Clark Kent and Lois Lane got engaged, the world went crazy. They didn’t do this because of branding, but because it was a sweet, human story. It’s always been my opinion that the reason the “Death of Superman” story was such a big deal was not because Superman died (he’s died plenty), but because the public had been following his relationship with Lois, and felt the loss along with her.
I’ve enjoyed Superman’s marriage. I enjoy stories of happy couples, whether they are detectives or ghosts or super-heroes. Millions of people watched Smallville to see Clark and Lois get married.
The Sinestro to whom I refer is the comic book villain who morphed into a character in a film that recently abandoned a multiplex near you titled Green Lantern, as opposed to all the other Sinestros in your life. He is humanoid except for a truly odd complexion and he has the kind of moustache that was sported by such luminaries of yesteryear as Clark Gable, William Powell and Thomas E. Dewey, who was a politician and thus not like all the other Thomas E. Deweys of your acquaintance.
I have no trouble with the complexion – after all, the dude was born on Korugar – but that moustache kind of niggles me. I am an evolutionary (he boasts, thrusting out his chest) and so have no problem believing in the theory of parallel evolution (which, according to Wikipedia, posits “the development of a similar trait in related but distinct species descending from the same ancestor” and that’s all the classroomy stuff I’ll inflict on you this week, I promise.) So what we have here is an ancient something-or-other that left… what? seeds? germs? – on both Korugar and Earth, and these eventually spawned sentient bipeds and what we jokingly refer to as civilizations, and so forth…As noted above: no problem.
But can we stretch our parallel evolutionary hypothesis so far as to accommodate the belief that on both Korugar and Earth there evolved alpha males with a penchant for decorative lip hair? If we can, the story might go something like this: Sinestro’s mom had a schoolgirl crush on the Korugarian version of Gable, Powell, or Dewey (or could this wannabe vixen have had a crush on all three? could she have been that profligate with her unrequited affection?) She gave birth to the infant Sinestro and, as the lad was growing up, continually impressed on him that real men – we’re talking macho studs who are suave, witty, sophisticated and ooze testosterone – these magenta-complexioned winners insist on having hirsute upper lips?
Oh, my… we could spin the speculation further and guess that the adolescent Sinny found that he could not raise decent facial hair and the frustration of having to disappoint Ma caused him to mull the possibility of becoming evil and by the time his hormones kicked in – on Korugar, puberty often comes late? – he had pretty much decided on a career in villainy? (Could the tale take a Faustian turn and narrate young Sin’s bargain with a Korugian devil who traded a handsome ‘stache for the lad’s immortal soul? Oh, my, my, my…)
We will resist further speculation and merely suggest, hat in hand, head bowed, that regardless of what may or may not have occurred on Korugar (and are you sure it doesn’t exist) the makers of Green Lantern might have decided against adding a moustache to the already cumbersome makeup they inflicted on actor Mark Strong and…
But wait! The fellow in the Simpsons t-shirt is telling me that according to one version of the Sinestro origin, the character was actually modeled on British actor David Niven. Well! I’m glad we cleared that up.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
The Feminist Press