Wakandacon, a three-day Afrofuturistic convention that celebrates Black culture, was created last year by siblings and Chicagoland natives Ali, David, and Matt Barthwell. They were inspired by the futuristic society depicted in Marvel’s comic book series and box-office hit Black Panther to curate a space for Black creatives that recaptures the communal magic of Wakanda. At the heart of the convention is the concept of Afrofuturism, an artistic and cultural framework for imagining tech-savvy, self-determined futures for Black communities.
Black Panther has seven Academy Award nominations.
I saw Marvel’s game changer the first week it was in theaters. I stopped going to movies during the first-week decades ago, but I know so many people who directly or indirectly had some input. I wanted to check it out asap.
Black Panther did something few movies accomplish becoming a pop culture “have to.” Much like E.T., the question was “What did you think of Black Panther?” Not “Did you see Black Panther?” The film is a massive success, and frankly I have witnessed few pull off what this one did— namely, become a national conversation.
the original flick wasn’t bad either.
I enjoyed the movie, but my admiration was for the overwhelming effect it had on people, particularly Black people. Never in a million years did I EVER think a Black grandmother and I would be talking superheroes standing in line to buy popcorn.
Most of the older people of color I know regard comics as just for kids. This 80-year young woman first took her grandkids to see it with the intention of seeing another film while they were watching BP. Noticing mostly adults and a few kids, she decided to sit in to make sure it was age appropriate.
I met her at her second screening— this time, no kids. She had come with some from her church group. What she thought she knew about comics wasn’t new to me.
She was amazed at the amount of Black superhero content out there.
Marvel Comics was the only comic book company she had heard of.
Superman Batman Wonder Woman were all from Marvel she thought.
DC was the District Of Colombia.
These beliefs play an essential part in comics diversity and the lack of such there seems to be, but I’ll cover that in “The Ugly Side Of Comics Part 3.”
The major takeaway was how happy she was that Black Panther would pave the way for Black Superheroes (read: Role Models) in the not too distant future.
There is renewed excitement in the Black Comic community, some who likewise believe THIS is the moment for BLACK SUPERHEROES from Black creators.
What could be a better time with Black Panther nominated for not just an Academy Award but SEVEN, including BEST PICTURE? The expectations are growing that the hunt is on for the next Black superhero and for good measure it should come from a Black creator, so it’s authentic.
guys can play in the Black pop culture space, but it’s not easy. Authenticity
is key. As an example:
Vanilla Ice: Nope
of all this Black Panther buzz, it will never win Best Picture, and frankly, I
don’t want it to win. Why? We are not ready as an industry for what would come,
and I suspect neither is the Academy.
The planet would explode from the massive number of haters in America who see superheroes like the grandmother did, as kid stuff.
In all the articles on Black Panther nominations, I’ve seen the writers never fail to mention it’s the first superhero film to be nominated. The interesting thing about that is seldom did I see ‘first comic book’ film to be nominated. Another result of a comic book movie winning: producers would look to produce comic book movies that could also be nominated for prestigious awards.
Think Lobo staring Daniel Day-Lewis.
America as a whole still thinks about comics as they do the slinky toy—stupid and useless. Both good only to entertain those not old or smart enough to appreciate what real art is. Americans see reading as something they must do (I have to brush up on…) or want to do (…just want to lay in bed on a beach in front of a fire on a desert island, etc. with a good book). Comics have no place in either of those categories.
The Academy has faced all sorts of drama over diversity, and lo and behold, look at the Best Picture nods this year— three out of eight feature Black story lines.
Black Panther, BlackkKlansman and Green Book and another Black themed film If Beale Street Could Talk received three Oscar nods, including Regina King for the best-supporting actress. That’s not a coincidence by any means. Hollywood wastes no time when it comes to image.
Image, that’s one of the reasons Black Pantherwill not win Best Picture.
I liked Black Panther, but it’s not the best picture out of a field that also features Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Roma, A Star Is Born and Vice.
The odds-on favorite is Roma. I have not seen it and know zero people who have. Why this film isn’t in the Best Foreign Film category is beyond me— that aside, it seems the type of message film Hollywood likes to showcase as a way to cement their ‘fine art’ persona.
Black Panther won’t win because Hollywood wouldn’t knowingly take a cultural hit by defending a ‘comic book’ movie.
I think the film to beat is BlacKKKlansman. That sends a message that the Entertainment industry is diverse, and pimp slaps the Trump Administration as a bonus.
Sadly, I think those in the Black comic space waiting for Hollywood to make their creation the next Black Panther are wasting their time. More on that in “The Ugly Side of Comics 3.”
Black Panther will not win Best Picture
The Industry isn’t ready if it does
Hollywood isn’t ready so it won’t
the good news.
is a glorious opportunity to DEMAND from Hollywood the RESPECT comics deserve.
Credit on screen with the power players
Mention the creators in all press across all media
There is a comic book property up for SEVEN ACADEMY AWARDS— now is the time we start acting like the creative genius’ we are. Or we can go on complaining about silly shit. Shit that never leads us any closer to the promised land of respect.
Bill Maher is a prominent voice of common sense to some on the left and a bleeding-heart liberal to some on the right. Regardless of how you feel about him, there is no denying he carries a lot of media weight. You would think a guy as current and hip as Bill would know that comics can be serious literature. He didn’t know or didn’t care— regardless, his influence is vast and he thinks comics are juvenile tripe. He passed that along to his viewers. Since his first comments were met with a bit of anger Bill has doubled down when called on his stance.
Time Magazine thinks comics can be significant works of literature which is why Watchmen is on the Time 100 Greatest Novels list. Just click the smiley face and see for yourselves. Somebody get that info to Bill.
One last thing: last year a Marvel executive said, ‘Diversity does not sell.’ Black Panther features an all-Black cast begins in Africa ends in an African American hood is dotted throughout by Black inside jokes and has hard Right-wing haters.
much blacker than that.
film made a BILLION dollars in less than four weeks and is the biggest grossing
superhero movie of all time.
Hey Marvel, diversity does not sell? Oh well, Black Panther may be a fluke.
How’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, working out for you?
Ebony magazine reports that Black Panther is going to have an even bigger impact in America than expected, as people are signing up voters at screenings.
#WakandaTheVote is a measure from the Electoral Justice Project (EJP) which will allow moviegoers to register to vote at Black Panther screenings throughout the nation. The mission was the brainchild of EJP founders Kayla Reed, Jessica Byrd and Rukia Lumumba.“This weekend we wanted to meet our people in Wakanda,” Byrd and Reed told Blavity. “We know that for some it’s a superhero world, but we know that the world we deserve is still waiting to be built — and we want to build it! This upcoming spring and November 2018 midterm elections are an important step in building that new world, and we want to take every opportunity to engage our communities in the conversation of electoral justice. We will be registering people to vote at movie theaters across the country so that we can #wakandathevote at the ballot box.”
We confess we look forward to seeing certain people freak out over this.
As I was watching the 2017 Emmy Awards last Sunday, I thought about how much the television industry has changed. It’s a cliché to say that this is the Golden Age of Television, but, in many ways, that is true.
However, that is not what I want to talk about.
Women and people of color won an unusually high percentage of awards. I mean, women always win in the “Best Actress” categories, but there were women (and people of color) (and queer people) winning in the writing and directing categories as well. This didn’t go unnoticed. To quote from Master of None writer Lena Waithe’s acceptance speech “And last, but certainly not least, my L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. family. I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day, when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world — because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.
Those words describe my favorite thing about superhero comics.
Winning awards, especially in the entertainment industry, is not necessarily a matter of quality. A lot of awards get won by people who are good at marketing, or who are owed the most favors. This year seemed to me to represent a real sea change.
There are so many ways to watch “television” these days that sometimes I wonder if we should find a different noun. If I’m watching on my phone (which I never do, because I am old and my eyes are as well) or my computer, is that TV? Maybe, but websites aren’t referred to as “magazines” even when the content is the same. Is it fair to make broadcast television, which is subject to restrictions from government licensing and advertisers, compete with cable and streaming companies? Is it fair to ask me to judge which awards are appropriate when I haven’t seen everything, and I’m already paying for four premium services? Am I made out of money here?
This abundance is, to my mind, a good thing. There are so many different kinds of things to watch. I’m not into reality television but, if you are, there are all sorts of non-fiction programs. Some are good and some aren’t. I very much want to like the Emmy-winning Atlanta, but I can’t figure it out, and I’m fine with that. It’s okay that everything good is not for me. It’s great that there is something good for everybody.
Instead of fighting over pieces of the pie, creative people (including, in this instance, producers) have made more pie.
More than 25 years ago, when Milestone Media started publishing, this was their attitude. Instead of complaining that the Big Two comics publishers were run by white men, with heroes who were white men, aimed at an audience of white men, Milestone created new characters to appeal to new audiences. Those comics sold like crazy until DC, for whatever reasons, screwed up the marketing. Even now, if you go to a comics convention, you’ll see cosplayers in Milestone-inspired costumes.
Not everyone is happy about this. Insufferable preppie Tucker Carlson who looks and sounds like a lot of the guys who were popular in my high school, and now think high school is the way the entire world is supposed to work, used the Emmy Awards as an excuse to lambaste Ta-Nahiei Coates. Not that Coates needs any advice from me, but he should be fairly pleased that he is such a good writer that he’s getting under Carlson’s skin. If I was Marvel, I would promote Black Panther with Carlson’s clip.
I think it is because there are so many ways to watch “television” these days that we have so much good TV. I think we can apply the same lessons to comics and graphic storytelling. I love my local comic book store but, if I was a new customer, I would be lost trying to find something to read. Bookstores, with a longer history of appealing to different tastes, would work better for my introduction to the medium. And, if I wasn’t ready to invest in printed paper, I’d appreciate a way to sample things online.
Online comics are no more my thing than Survivor (not that they are similar in any other way), but both attract millions of eyeballs every year. Both provide a way for creative people to earn some money and express themselves.
Time and the marketplace will determine what’s good and/or what people want.
Roxane Gay’s new book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is a knock-out of a book. It kept me glued to my couch for a long weekend. I finished reading it about ten days ago, and I cannot stop thinking about it.
Does it have anything to do with comics? Well, Gay wrote a mini-series for Marvel. Beyond that, if you want to know more, you’ll have to keep reading.
In addition to being an accomplished author and journalist, Roxane Gay is, in her own words, a morbidly obese woman of color. Hunger is about what happened to her, how she got this way, and what it’s like to live the way she lives. It’s incredibly honest, so much so that I couldn’t look away, even as I squirmed in recognition.
I am not morbidly obese. Sure, I could drop twenty or thirty pounds to look more like the mannequins in the department stores, but I can pass. I am not a woman of color. As a Jew, my people have a history of persecution, but I can pass. Unlike Gay, I was not gang-raped when I was twelve years old. Because I have these privileges, I could sneer at her with my societally-approved advantages, but I can’t. I feel my own version of what she feels, and I went through my own version of what she went through.
Gay started to overeat because she wanted to make herself unattractive to men so she wouldn’t get attacked again. She knew that a woman who is overweight is considered to be ugly – and an ugly woman is invisible. By building a wall around herself, she would be safe.
Her descriptions of her experiences are harrowing. Strangers in the supermarket take away food from her shopping cart. People complain to airlines about having to sit next to her, even if she pays for two seats. Instead of taking her ideas seriously, critics comment on her looks. Everything about her life, good or bad, is dismissed by those who only see her size.
And then there are the people who think they are helping her. The people who tell her that maybe she doesn’t really want dessert. The people who suggest exercise. I can assure you that every woman in Western society who is larger than a Size 0 knows about diet and exercise.
Still, reading about her pain, the Jewish mother in me did want to lean in and offer Gay some advice. She talks about regularly starting (and giving up on) a diet-and-exercise plan, and my first suggestion is to uncouple those two things. Various eating systems have made me feel variously better and worse, but if I didn’t exercise, I would go mad. I don’t do work because I expect it to make me a fashion model or an Olympic athlete but because it keeps me sane. Working up a sweat on a regular basis burns up a lot of my hostility. My resting pulse is 48. I can’t claim I’m never angry or never hating, but it doesn’t burn me up inside.
Except I know that she is a different person than I am, and what works for me as a coping system might not work for her. I’ll try to shut up about that now.
Women obsess about our appearances because society consistently tells us that it is our most important duty. My mother used to beg me to lose weight, starting when I was twelve (5’ 3” and 113 pounds), telling me that “boys don’t like fat girls.” Even now, at 64 years of age, when I know that my life is about more than boys liking me, those thoughts won’t go away.
My mom (and Roxane’s) were only trying to teach their daughters how to get ahead. To succeed, we were told, a woman must be thin and fit and beautiful. That was difficult enough. Today, when society pays at least lip service to the idea of diversity, we are supposed to be not only thin and fit and beautiful but also, if we are not, to pretend that it doesn’t matter (even though it does).
It gets even more difficult at menopause. Not only can we no longer bear children, the only true purpose for the female life, and the reason we must be attractive to men, but biology conspires to make us more fat.
We can’t win.
I would like to be like Faith, the Valiant superhero who is large. She wears a skin-tight white costume that does nothing to conceal her size. She is strong and she can fly and she has an interesting life and, in her current incarnation, spends no time at all thinking about her looks or what she eats or how many calories she burns off.
Sure, she also catches bad guys and saves the world, but that’s not why she’s my hero.
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.
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.
The Los Angeles neighborhood of Westwood is home to The University of Southern California, better known as U.C.L.A. It’s a trendy area filled with upscale shops and expensive restaurants.
I’ve never been a fan of Westwood U.C.L.A or trendy, expensive restaurants. I doubt if I ever will be. But because God gets a kick out of such things my new Viacom offices were in Westwood, the reference library I was compelled to use was at U.C.LA, and a trendy, expensive restaurant was where I was on my way to have lunch with Stan Lee.
Stan was kind enough to bring with him Jack Kirby… and the Black Panther.
Together the three may have saved my ass.
Showtime Networks and Marvel Productions were both housed in the same Westwood high-rise. I was just moving into my new offices at Showtime; helping me do so was Adah Glenn.
Adah is a fantastic artist I met some years before. She used her considerable wits to land herself a gig at Motown Animation when I was not hiring. That I assure you is no easy feat.
Adah was placing a box on my desk with one small problem. She missed the casually.
Crash!!! The unmistakable sound of breaking glass when the box hit the floor filled the room.
“I hope that wasn’t my Tiffany lamp,” I said.
“I think I just saw Stan Lee in the lobby” she said, not hearing or not caring about my statement. I gazed over to the box then to her. I did that repeatedly knowing she would get the hint and pick up the box.
She didn’t get the hint.
Instead, she looked at me with no indication whatsoever she’d dropped the box.
“I wish I’d thought of something to say to him. Do you know Stan Lee?” she asked.
Flipping my eyes back and forth as fast as I could I told her; “Yep.”
Nothing. It was like the girl was in a trance, and I’d had enough.
“Ya wanna pick up that box you dropped?”
She looked down and was surprised to see the box at her feet.
“I do that? My bad.” She bent down to pick up the box and said; “Mike, do you know Stan Lee?”
“I know Stan pretty well…”
When later that month I was sitting down with Stan over lunch I recounted that story. He has a hard time believing anyone would react that way. I had a hard time believing Stan didn’t know how he rolled.
I’d met Stan as a fan in the 80s. Although it was a while before we became friends, it was memorable when it happened. I saw Stan walking across the San Diego Comic Con Convention floor in 1993, the first year Milestone had a booth.
“Hey Stan Lee! come on over; you’re the first contestant on The Price Is Right!” I yelled. Why? I meant just to say “hey Stan Lee come on over” but the rest just came out.
Stan, much to my surprise, came over. “What do I win?” He said with a huge smile. The Milestone partners all scampered over and said hello to Stan who gave Denys Cowan a “There he is.” When shaking Denys’ hand acknowledging to all there he and Denys knew each other. That made Denys BMOC (big man on campus) and HNIC (ask a black person) for a bit.
That is until Derek Dingle asked Stan “How do you know Michael?” Before he answered I chimed in with “Stan and I were in the Crips together.” Stan co-signed with; “Those were the days.”
Those were the days indeed.
Stan and I had just done a drive by when we decided to ditch the car and ran into the woods. It was dark as such we were taking care not to make any noise less so we were not discovered. At one point Stan whispered “Something just landed on me.”
It took my eyes a second to adjust to the darkness, but once it did I saw what it was and informed Stan; “It’s a spider…man.”
That’s when I created Spider-Man, but Stan will never acknowledge that or his illegitimate son Spike.
That’s how I opened the Stan Lee Roast at a 1994 convention event. By that time Stan and I were on a friendly basis. In 1995 Stan was kind enough to come by the Motown Animation booth at SDCC to wish me well and take some photos.
“You drive that thing on the street?” Stan asked as we stood in front of the Motown / Image Comics Van. The way he asked the question was so funny I couldn’t answer from laughing so much.
Stan and I talked about our history among a great many things over lunch, but mostly we talked about my new venture at Viacom. Since the deal closed the feeling I had made a major blunder was growing. “I gave up my golden parachute to follow a dream, and I’m beginning to think it was a mistake.” I said to Stan.
I told Stan about the comic book reading program.
“That’s a good idea but a hard sell.” He said.
“It’s sold, but now I’m not so sure it’s a good idea,” I responded.
“It’s a great idea. I should know because I did it when I was in the army,” Stan said. Then he told me how he produced the line of instructional comic books for the armed forces. Years later when at Marvel he tried to get comics in the school system but couldn’t crack that market.
Stan Lee couldn’t crack a market? I’m thinking gethefuckoutofhere!
I was convinced he told me that to make me feel better. He assured me he was serious and explained how it was a big deal to get into the schools.
He told me following a dream is rare for most people and said my dream was a noble one because it involved making something to benefit others namely kids with problems reading.
“You unquestionably helped a million kids with a problem reading I’m sure. You certainly helped me.” I told Stan that and how in the fourth grade he and Jack Kirby almost made me kill Ronnie Williams when I slammed a metal backed chair over his head.
“Why on earth did you do that?” Stan inquired through his huge grin. I explained how Ronnie took my copy of Fantastic Four # 73 and I wanted it back. Jack Kirby and he (and some advice from my mother) gave me the strength to get it back.
“Don’t forget the chair.” Stan deadpanned.
I realized this was a good a time as any to tell Stan something else he helped me with, my self-esteem. “Thank you for creating the Black Panther. How much flak did you get back in the day?”
He looked at me for a sec and then said; “Some, but it was the right thing do we thought.”
That may have been the understatement of my comics career. The Black Panther was all my comic book buddies, and I could talk about when we discovered him. Then it was the Falcon, Luke Cage, the Prowler and on and on.
It goes without saying Stan and Jack paved the way for Brotherman and Static, inspiring black creators of today with black heroes from our yesterday. I don’t know any creators of color from my generation who would not give those Lee and Kirby creations at least a nod.
Stan and I made lunch a pretty regular thing while we were both at that Westwood high-rise. Stan moved on launching Stan Lee Media where I almost ended up heading “Stan Lee Kids,” but that’s another story. I moved on not long after Stan left the building.
Stan was right. Comics in the schools were a good idea. My Action Files over twenty years later is still in schools. Some time back they started selling on Amazon (without the Teacher’s Guide), and to my knowledge, the program is still the only curriculum based comic book reading program sold in American schools.
In my mind, Stan has a real place in the history of current black comic characters. Those who don’t think so are welcome to that opinion.
The sheer guts it took to create the Black Panther during the time Jack Kirby, and he did so is enough for me.
They didn’t have to, but they did because ‘it was the right thing to do.’
The last time I saw Stan, it was bittersweet. He was the same old Stan holding court in the lobby of the Marriott. But when I shook his hand and looked into his eyes it was evident my Stan was gone. He didn’t remember me.
“Stan is pushing 100. He can’t remember everything and everybody” I was told this by one of Stan’s entourage who meant well but dropped me even to a deeper sadness. As I started to turn and walk away, this young lady must have seen the grief on my face and touched my arm stopping me.
She said; ” With age, God wipes away many things to lessen our burden. His long life may soon be over that’s not a bad thing he must be exhausted. He may leave us, but he will be at peace.”
… Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Black Panther take me to lunch!
This article features part one in its entirety. If you’d prefer to skip it scroll down to the paragraph break CORE BUSINESS- it’s all caps and in bold. If you can I’d like you to read this from the beginning. I’ve made some changes albeit small ones I feel were warranted.
My apologies for the long delay.
The Black Panthers were at one time the number one target of the FBI in the 60s. They were viewed as terrorists and J. Edger Hoover the longtime leader of the most powerful police force in the world was hell bent on getting rid of them by hook or by crook.
Yep, hook or crook.
It’s no secret the United States Government from time to time will ignore the law. It’s fair to say it goes on often and as far as we know it goes on all the time. When caught those, who swore to uphold the constitution offer apologies for actions that dismissed the law like Trump denies any negative press.
But it’s all bullshit.
If not caught these people may have stopped breaking the law, but it’s doubtful they would have been sorry. I gather few are sorry for wrongdoing that benefits them. How many people have you seen come forward to admit how sorry they are for gaming the system when they have no incentive to do so?
The FBI broke all sorts of laws to accomplish their Black Panther agenda. As always don’t take my word for it Google that bitch. Unless you’re blind to the truth backed up with a few court rulings the war on the Panthers was a one-sided American tragedy fueled by a lie and driven home by a liar by the name of J. Edger do I look fat in this dress Hoover.
Yeah, I can talk a lot of shit from my cozy little home in suburban Los Angeles. I can talk smack because I’m secure in the knowledge I’m protected by:
First Amendment Right Freedom of Speech
What I wrote about the F.B.I was true.
I’m just not that important, and neither is ComicMix or Bleeding Cool to anyone in power that may object to my point of view.
I’m not as naïve as the above list would suggest. I’m fully aware my rights are subject to the will of the arresting officer and temperament of the D.A. regardless of my innocence if arrested for a crime I didn’t commit.
Been there had that done to me. Twice.
My circumstances notwithstanding in 2017 there exists a reasonable chance that someone may be believed if they claim police brutally or unjust treatment.
In 1966 the odds of a Black person being believed, slim. I would wager a Jewish person would face the same type of incredulity and given what happened to the three Civil Rights workers in Mississippi June 1964 the same dangers.
In June 1964 in Neshoba County, Mississippi, three civil rights workers were abducted and murdered in an act of racial violence. The victims were Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner from New York City, and James Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi.
All three were associated with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and its member organization the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). They had been working with the “Freedom Summer” campaign by attempting to register African-Americans in the southern states to vote.
This registration effort was a part of contesting over 70 years of laws and practices that supported a systematic policy of disenfranchisement of potential black voters by several Southern states that began in 1890.
The three men had been arrested following a traffic stop in Meridian for speeding, escorted to the local jail and held for some hours.  As the three left towns in their car, they were followed by law enforcement and others. Before leaving Neshoba County their car was pulled over, and all three were abducted, driven to another location, and shot at close range. The three men’s bodies were then transported to an earthen dam where they were buried.
Two of the three men killed for trying to do the right thing were Jewish.
In the 50s and 60s, certain parts of the deep south were deadly. Those who sided with Black people treated as if they were well, Black people often that meant death. It’s one thing to risk your life for your rights another thing indeed to do so for another’s.
In my mind, that’s the textbook definition of noble. That takes a whole other level of balls and commitment.
In 1966 the F.B.I was on a mission to destroy the Black Panther Party and woe be on to those who got in their way.
Marvel Comics was all the rage on college campuses in the 60’s. Stan The Man Lee was the captain of one of the hottest pop culture ships to ever set sail in the ever changing 60s sea. His first mate Jack King Kirby navigated just as much of the Marvel boat as Stan, together they ruled comics, campuses and cool.
Stan wasn’t content to just cruise. He continuously looked to change the comic book landscape he had already transformed. DC wasn’t without some cool stuff, Wein and Wrightson’s Swamp Thing, Adams and O’Neil’s Green Lantern / Green Arrow were a stellar addition to the cool that Stan ushered in. Alas, those came in the late 60s / early 70s.
DC held its own in sales, but in the cool department they were outclassed at every port. Seen by most as still just for kids DC may have sold as much or more but Marvel was- to use 60’s slang- where it’s at.
Put another way, DC was the Good Ship Lollipop… and Marvel was the ever-loving Titanic.
Like the actual Titanic, Stan and Jack faced an Iceberg. Unlike the doomed ship they looked for that potential death dealer on purpose. Those two Jewish guys were about to take a stand and strike a blow for civil rights. Not for themselves for African Americans and doing so rather they knew it or not chuck a serious fuck you to Hoover and his crew.
A Black Panther with a serious attitude showed up in New York and preceded to win over the masses with his message. If J. Edgar wouldn’t wear white after Labor Day, Hoover wanted to do something he was powerless to do it.
That’s because this Black Panther wasn’t real. Stan and Jack made him up out of thin air, or did they? In 2017 it’s hard to imagine meeting someone who had not heard of Donald Trump’s:
Take your pick.
The Black Panther Party was a regular item in print and broadcast news. The year was 1966 what you read in the newspaper or watched on TV was damn near (for many it was) gospel.
Ya think Lee and Kirby just happened to create a character with the same name as the most wanted radical group this side of the Weather Underground with no knowledge that group existed?
Stan was as tuned in to what American college kids were doing as anyone over 30 could be. He spoke at many universities, and Marvel’s mail was an endless stream of hip American youth feedback.
The question is, did Stan, and Jack create the Black Panther to make a buck or a difference?
I know the answer because I asked my man Stan and his reply affected me… but not in any way you may think.
Part 2: CORE BUISNESS
In 1996 I left Motown Animation Filmworks where I served as President CEO and started my development deal with Viacom companies. My goal was to develop content across the many media businesses Viacom-owned.
Among Viacom’s holdings were Paramount Pictures, MTV Networks, Simon & Schuster, Nickelodeon and more.
My deal was structured under Simon & Schuster where my first project was set up was 20 years in the making. Developing a comic book reading program with a universe of characters I created had been a dream of mine since high school.
Comics in the classroom sounded like a no-brainer. I thought I was a 17-year old genius when first I had the idea. How no one thought about this idea before I did was beyond belief.
It took me another 20 years to find out why.
While at Milestone I put together an overview and presented it to the partners. Derek Dingle, co-founder and President of Milestone, had final say on any new business and he said it sounded like a good idea.
He also maintained we should revisit it after the launch. He was right; many new ventures fail for various reasons, but chief among them is not paying attention to the core business.
Put another way; when you start your comic book company do the best comics you can before deciding to put significant effort into other media or enterprises make sure to handle your core business.
As for me, life is what happens while… you know the rest.
If you don’t know that Lennon quote do yourself a favor and Goggle it. Truer words are rare to find my friend.
Life is what happened to me as such; by the time the books launched Milestone was in my rearview mirror. When our books premièred I was still at the company but had already begun to think outside the box determined to avoid another DC bullet.
Doing so meant I was going to keep my school idea to myself.
At Motown Animation & Filmworks, where I went after leaving Milestone, I put the idea on my short list produced another up to date business plan and was about to partner with a mainstream publishing company.
Then core business reared its ugly head yet again.
Motown’s core business is music my film and television division although successful in the two plus years we were there was doomed. At the time Motown’s parent company was Polygram and the powers that be decided Motown would return to core business despite having its best year ever.
Motown Animation was doomed, but I was very much alive with options. Chief among them: I had a sweet golden parachute.
A golden parachute is an agreement between a company and an employee (usually upper executive) specifying that the employee will receive certain significant benefits if employment is terminated. Most definitions specify the employment termination is because of a merger or takeover, also known as “Change-in-control benefits” but more recently the term has been used to describe perceived excessive CEO (and other executives) severance packages unrelated to change in ownership (also known as a golden handshake). The benefits may include severance pay, cash bonuses, stock options, or other benefits.
I could transition over to Polygram Films for the remainder of my contract. If my deal were not extended at terms end, my golden parachute would still be honored.
I could sit out the balance of my contract watching All My Children at home and still receive full salary. However, that also came with a non-compete.
A non-compete means I could not work with another company doing what I was doing at Motown.
“You’re a fucking idiot!”
That’s what my agent at the William Morris agency told me when, like Captain Kirk, I changed the rules of the game.
I opted for a third option. I left. Left the deal, left the Golden Parachute, left the Polygram job. Left it all for a long shot at a dream. It felt good for about two days until it became clear I fucked up with a capital Fucked Up.
First, William Morris dropped me… followed by my manager and entertainment attorney.
Just that quick I went from Playa to played.
I was told later William Morris may have stood by me if I had not responded in kind when called me a fucking idiot. Really?
Hollywood is very much like the movie. Some (not all) people think because they have a certain amount of power they have the right to belittle you when the feeling hits them.
I’m a grown man and unless I’ve done something to warrant you addressing me like I’m a child the odds of you getting away with talking to me like I am are zero.
On the other hand, I’m not perfect and on occasion have been a fucking idiot indeed and deserved to be called on the carpet. However, me making a hard decision about my life isn’t one of those occasions.
This has cost me both money and opportunities and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regret my actions in some instances. That said, I can’t see myself continuing to deal with someone who berates me for no other reason except they can.
I don’t cast judgment on those who tolerate it. I just don’t.
The Los Angeles neighborhood of Westwood is home to The University of Southern California, better known as U.C.L.A. It’s a trendy area filled with upscale shops and expensive restaurants.
I’ve never been a fan of Westwood U.C.L.A or trendy, expensive restaurants. I doubt if I ever will be. But because God gets a kick out of such things my new Viacom offices were in Westwood. The reference library I was compelled to use was at U.C.LA, and a trendy, expensive restaurant was where I was on my way to have lunch with Stan Lee.
Stan was kind enough to bring with him Jack Kirby and the Black Panther.
This past Wednesday I joined my fellow ComicMix columnist Martha Thomases at the signing for Scout ComicsSolarman #1 at JHU in midtown Manhattan. Present from the creative team were co-writer and Milestone Comics alum Joseph Phillip Illidge as well as illustrator N. Steven Harris. Martha gave a big hug to Joseph Illidge, she introduced me, and they proceeded to catch up. Dakota North even got brought up by Joseph Illidge and not Martha!
On my way home I got a chance to read Solarman #1. For those of you unfamiliar with the character, he was created by Dave Oliphant with Deborah A. Kalman and starred in two issues of his own comic book series at Marvel in early 1989. In the time since then, Dave Oliphant eventually got the publishing rights back and has now found a new home at Scout Comics.
The original iteration of Solarman was a white guy with red hair donning an outfit he clearly nabbed from the Legion of Super-Heroes HQ during a skirmish with Dr. Regulus. Chances are you can probably guess his superpowers as well.
What makes this reboot of Solarman stand out is that the character is now black. Multiple people on the creative team are black as well. And although myself and presumably most comic book readers didn’t read the original two issue run of Solarman so I can’t compare the two, this reboot is a compelling story with a rich and well developed world in just one issue.
Solarman got me thinking a lot about representation in comics. In the past I’ve talked about how at the big two we’ll see a character a woman or minority character take over for a big name like Captain America, Thor, Green Lantern, and so forth. The problem that I and many others have with this is that it is often short lived with their original straight cis white counterparts taking back the reigns. Almost as if to say you’ve had your fun, but now let’s get back to the real story.
A character like Solarman is a bit different. With heavy hitters like Captain America and Thor, people already associate them so heavily with their long time comic and movie counterparts that are straight cis white men. Solarman is a character that is a virtual unknown in comics and never had the opportunity to gain much of a following. By updating Solarman to be a young black man, the vast majority of readers will associate this Solarman as being the default and makes it significantly easier to see this character as staying black for the long term and being a part of long term representation as opposed to being a footnote.
This is going beyond Solarman as well. This year has been seeing an influx of black characters in comics written by black writers. Black Panther is being written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was the highest selling comic of the year so far. Marvel is also introducing a new ongoing with a new black Inhuman hero, Mosaic, being written by Geoffrey Thorne and illustrated by Khary Randolph.
We will also be seeing DC Comics doing something closer to what Scout Comics is doing with Solarman. This fall, DC is rebooting Vigilante in a miniseries titled The Vigilante: Southland, the once problematic by our current standards golden age hero. Vigilante has popped up time and again since then, but arguably never in any significant way. He’s been reimagined as a failed NBA player getting by in life as a maintenance man until being dragged into a conspiracy.
One of the most intriguing sounding titles involving a black hero with a black creative team coming out this September is Black from Black Mask Studios. Written by Kwanza Osajyefo with co-creator and designer Tim Smith 3, art by Jamal Igle, and covers by Khary Randolph, Black is the story of Kareem Jenkins, a young black man gunned down by the police only to find that he’s one of many black people with superpowers.
A powerful concept tackling unfortunately divisive issues like police executing citizens is important for the comics industry to tackle and I’m proud of Black Mask Studios for putting a comic like this in its lineup. It’s certainly one of the comics I’m looking forward to reading most this year.
It seems like the comic industry is starting to make a bigger push at publishers both small and large to better represent the black community both on their pages and behind them. These efforts certainly seem to be more prevalent than they were over the last few years. Of course there is always more work to do to create a better, more inclusive environment in the industry as well as its readership, but these are certainly some positive developments and they should be noted.
These kinds of positive developments will only continue if we support these books though. So please, keep an eye out for comics like Black, The Vigilante: Southland, and Mosaic this fall, catch up on Black Panther if you’re not up to date, and pick up a copy of Solarman #1 if you haven’t yet.